Zelenskyy, Putin Visit Their Troops In Eastern Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited troops on Tuesday in the small eastern city of Avdiivka, a day after the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his military leaders and troops in territories occupied by Moscow’s forces.
Zelenskyy’s office said he was briefed by commanders on the battlefield situation. A video showed him addressing troops in combat gear and handing them awards in what appeared to be a large industrial warehouse with sandbags packed against at least one of the high walls.
“I have the honor to be here today, to thank you for your service, for defending our land, Ukraine, our families,” he said.
Zelenskyy was also shown visiting a hospital where he inspected facilities, met wounded soldiers and handed out more awards.
Russia has targeted Avdiivka during its winter offensive but has made only small territorial advances in the east. The video footage released by Zelenskyy’s office also showed heavily damaged high-rise residential buildings in the city, where Ukrainian officials say about 1,800 civilians remain.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskyy’s office, said Ukrainian troops were successfully repelling Russian attempts to encircle the city. “Our army has already broken the enemy’s plans to break through the [Ukrainian] defenses and advance in the east,” Yermak said on the Telegram messaging app.
The Kremlin said Tuesday that Putin visited Moscow’s forces on Monday, in Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, two provinces that Putin claimed to annex last September. News organizations could not independently confirm his trip to Ukraine and the Kremlin did not announce it until he had left and returned to Russia. It was reportedly Putin’s second trip to occupied Ukraine in two months.
A video released by the Kremlin and broadcast by Russian state television showed Putin arriving by helicopter at the command post for Russian forces in the southern Kherson region and afterward flying to the headquarters of the Russian National Guard of the eastern Luhansk region.
Dressed in a dark suit, Putin appeared to be heading meetings with his top military brass. The locations of the military headquarters in the Kherson and Luhansk regions weren’t disclosed, so it wasn’t possible to assess how close they are to the front line.
His trips to the military headquarters come as Ukraine says it is preparing for a new counteroffensive to reclaim the occupied territories.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, in an apparent reference to Putin’s visit, tweeted Tuesday about the Russian leader touring “the occupied and ruined territories to enjoy the crimes of his minions for the last time.”
Also Tuesday, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations issued a joint statement calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “serious violation of international law” and demanding Russia immediately withdraw its troops without conditions. The G-7 ministers also pledged to keep Russian assets in their jurisdictions frozen “until there is a resolution of the conflict that addresses Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Monday European Union ambassadors in Brussels discussed a decision by some member states to temporarily ban imports of grain and other items from Ukraine.
Slovakia on Monday joined Poland and Hungary in announcing a ban on some food imports from Ukraine, with other central and eastern European countries saying they may follow suit.
The three countries argue a glut of low-priced agricultural imports is hurting their local farmers. Poland and Hungary on Saturday said their bans will remain in effect through June 30.
Spokespersons for the EU’s executive arm said Monday a solution must be found that respects the EU legal framework, The Associated Press reported.
Lavrov in Brazil
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Moscow wants a quick end to the conflict in Ukraine.
At a news conference with Brazilian counterpart Mauro Vieira in Brasilia, Lavrov thanked his counterpart for “understanding of the genesis of the situation in Ukraine.” He added that Russia had “an interest” in the conflict ending as soon as possible.
Russia has reiterated that any peace negotiation in Ukraine must acknowledge the “realities” of Russia’s unilateral annexation of four Ukrainian provinces.
Russia says it was forced to intervene in Ukraine to defend Russian speakers from persecution and prevent the West from using Ukraine as a springboard to threaten Russia’s security.
Kyiv and the West say these are baseless pretexts for a war of conquest where war crimes have been committed.
The White House sharply criticized Brazil for meeting with Lavrov in person, while only speaking to Ukrainian officials by phone.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, “Brazil is parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda” on Ukraine without looking at the facts.
Brazil’s foreign minister pushed back on the criticism, saying of Kirby, “I don’t know how or why he reached that conclusion but I do not agree at all.”