Fighting rages in Ukraine, US says Putin being ‘misled’

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Fighting raged Wednesday in Ukraine despite Russia’s indication that it planned to deescalate, and US intelligence claimed Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin is angry after being misled by his own military.

Hopes that negotiations in Istanbul could open the door to relative calm in pro-Western Ukraine evaporated in a series of battles, including more Russian bombing of civilian areas and advances by Ukrainian fighters.

As the number of refugees estimated by the United Nations topped four million — close to one in 10 inhabitants — there was no sign of Russia making good on its promise during the talks Tuesday to pull back from the city of Chernigiv and capital Kyiv.

AFP reporters heard frequent explosions coming from the direction of the strategic town of Irpin to the northwest of Kyiv.

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address that “we don’t believe anyone,” vowing Ukrainians will continue to “fight for every metre of our territory.”

There was hope at least for some of the civilians caught under horrific Russian bombardments in the southern city of Mariupol after Russia’s defense ministry said it had accepted a Ukrainian plan to open temporary evacuation corridors.

The ministry said a local ceasefire would take effect at 10:00 am (0700 GMT) Thursday in Mariupol.

As Russia’s assault on populated areas continued, the head of the UN Human Rights Council said that “indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.”

Putin ‘misled’?
More than a month after Russian troops poured into Ukraine, Ukrainian forces have inflicted heavy casualties and destroyed startling quantities of Russian tanks and aircraft with the help of donated US and European weaponry.

Parallel to the fighting on the ground, Moscow is reeling under unprecedented Western sanctions designed to cripple the ruble, block high-tech imports and punish the Russian elite.

US officials said Wednesday that Putin is angry after being shielded from the truth.

Citing US intelligence, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said “he felt misled by the Russian military.”

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described “persistent
tension” between Putin and military staff, with Putin now having “mistrust” in his generals.

Western pressure
At the Istanbul talks, Russian officials pledged to “radically” reduce their attacks because of progress in negotiations on “the neutrality and non-nuclear status” of Ukraine — two central concerns for Moscow.

Both sides initially said the Istanbul meeting had made progress, but the Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough.

“We cannot state that there was anything too promising,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was similarly pessimistic, saying “the war continues.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Western sanctions should remain in place until “every single one” of the Russian troops has left. Johnson spoke of British military aid “going up a gear” and the White House said that President Joe Biden discussed “additional capabilities” in an almost hour-long phone call with Zelensky.

Bedingfield said it could include “anti-ship capability” to hit Russian vessels in the Black Sea.

On a visit to China on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looked to boost support from Moscow’s most important ally.

Lavrov will also go this week to India, which has abstained from UN resolutions censuring Russia and continues to buy Russian oil, despite pressure from Washington.