Biden says ‘butcher’ Putin ‘cannot remain in power’

Musicians play for people living in a metro station used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv

US President Joe Biden on Saturday castigated Vladimir Putin over the month-old war in Ukraine, bluntly calling the Russian leader “a butcher” who “cannot remain in power”.

In an impassioned speech from the Royal Castle in Warsaw, delivered after meeting top Ukrainian ministers in Poland and earlier conferring with NATO and EU allies on the conflict, Biden plainly warned Russia: “Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory.”

Personal attacks, one official said, were “narrowing down the window of opportunity” for bilateral relations.

He offered reassurance to Ukrainians in the audience and elsewhere, at a time when nearly four million of them have been driven out of their country. “We stand with you,” he said.

The president said he was “not sure” Moscow has indeed changed its objectives, which, so far, he said had resulted in “strategic failure”.

At least five people were wounded, regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said, as AFP journalists in the city centre saw plumes of thick black smoke.

But his army has made little progress on capturing key cities, and it has hit hospitals, residential buildings and schools in increasingly deadly attacks on civilians.

Biden, who was winding up a whirlwind visit to Poland after holding a series of urgent summits in Brussels with Western allies, earlier met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Warsaw in an emphatic show of support for Kyiv.

In a possible shift on a plan to transfer Soviet-era fighter jets from Poland to Kyiv to boost Ukraine’s firepower in the skies — rejected last month by the Pentagon as too “high risk” — Kuleba said the United States now did not object. 

In a video address, Zelensky reiterated a call for planes while urging allies to supply Ukraine with more weapons.

“During the meeting… with our American colleagues in Poland, we made it clear again,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, announced an additional $100 million in aid to help Ukraine police and border guards purchase armoured vehicles, equipment and medical supplies, a statement said.

On the frontlines, Russia’s far-bigger military continued to combat determined Ukrainian defenders who are using Western-supplied weapons — from near the capital Kyiv to Kharkiv, the eastern Donbas region and the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

Russia’s defence ministry reported a battle for control of two villages near the separatist stronghold of Donetsk and also claimed a missile strike had destroyed an arms and ammunition depot in the Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, on March 25.

“The ambulances carrying wounded children are also queueing. The people have been deprived of water and food for two days,” she wrote on Telegram, blasting Russian troops for “creating obstacles”.

It is very difficult to independently verify what is happening on the ground.

In Kharkiv, where local authorities reported 44 artillery strikes and 140 rocket assaults in a single day, residents were resigned to the incessant bombardments.

“If a bomb drops, we’re going to die anyway,” she said. “We are getting a little used to explosions.”

Residents of the town protested, prompting the invading forces to fire shots in the air and lob stun grenades into the crowd.

“There has been no staff rotation at the NPP for nearly a week now,” the IAEA said.

“Enemy sabotage groups in Kyiv region are still attempting to penetrate the capital,” the Ukrainian General Staff said.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said its forces had recaptured Trostianets, a town near the Russian border that was one of the first to fall under Moscow’s control. 

In the face of unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russia’s army has exhibited poor discipline and morale, suffering from faulty equipment and employing tactics sometimes involving brutality toward civilians, Western analysts say.

Her comments echoed remarks by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the wide-ranging penalties against Russia are “not designed to be permanent” and could “go away” if Moscow changes its behaviour.

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