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Russia warns of ‘direct military confrontation’ with US; Ukraine set to join EU

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A military trainer with Ukraine’s 112th Territorial Defense Brigade works with civilians during a military exercise outside Kiev on February 5. (File Photo)

Russia has warned of a direct military confrontation with the US over its support to Ukraine, even as the former Soviet republic is set to become part of the European Union.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's envoy to Washington, has warned that the current actions of Western nations viz a viz Ukraine could be leading to a direct military confrontation between Russia and the US.

"Western states are directly involved in the current events as they continue to pump Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, thereby inciting further bloodshed," Antonov was quoted as saying by Newsweek magazine.

He said the support being received by Ukraine from the West was escalating the crisis and warned that the consequences of such policies could be severe.

"We warn that such actions are dangerous and provocative as they are directed against our state. They can lead the US and the Russian Federation onto the path of direct military confrontation.

"Any supply of weapons and military equipment from the West, performed by transport convoys through the territory of Ukraine, is a legitimate military target for our Armed Forces."

Antonov also warned that any supply of weapons and military equipment from the West was “a legitimate military target for our Armed Forces.”

Ukrainian forces pushing back Russians: Sullivan

The warning came in the wake of a raft of US weapons and military equipment being dispatched to Ukraine to help the embattled Ukrainian troops push back Russian forces.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in his remarks on CBS News ON Sunday claimed that the Ukrainian forces were pushing back Russian troops so successfully that they had been forced to regroup, refit, and refocus.

“Russia has changed its behavior in this war,” Sullivan said. “They have retreated. They have pulled back from substantial territory in northern and northeastern Ukraine. Chiefly the reason they made those adjustments is because they were beaten by the Ukrainians.”

He said Washington was focused on helping Ukrainians defend against the Russians’ advance in the breakaway Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

“Our job is to help ensure that the Ukrainians are in a position to resist that advance and ultimately to be in the strongest possible position, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table,” he said, adding that Ukraine could win more battles with the help of Western nations.

He further said that it was the responsibility of the US and the international community to “flow weapons and military assistance to Ukraine” to fight against Russia.

“Weapons are arriving every day, including today,” Sullivan affirmed, adding that his government is committed to providing Ukraine with “the weapons it needs.”

The United States has already sent $1.7 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

Weapons shipments have included anti-aircraft Stinger and anti-tank Javelin missiles, as well as ammunition and body armor.

Ukraine expected to join the EU

It came after the top official of the European Commission on Sunday announced that Ukraine could become part of the European Union in a matter of weeks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in an interview with CNN said the process of joining the alliance can take years in normal, but the Ukrainians “are in an extraordinary situation, where we have to take unusual steps.”

“Yesterday, somebody told me: “You know, when our soldiers are dying, I want them to know that their children will be free be and be part of the European Union,” von der Leyen said. “They are in an extraordinary situation, where we have to take unusual steps.”

Ukrainians, she hastened to add, “belong to our European family, without any question.”

Russia appoints new war commander

Russia has appointed a new commander in Ukraine as the simmering conflict enters its 7th week.

According to reports, the Russian government appointed General Alexander Dvornikov, 60, one of Russia's most experienced military officers, as the first central commander on the ground in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Sunday that the coming week would be a crucial time in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, adding that the Russian forces are preparing to carry on larger operations in the former Soviet state.

Analysts say that the next phase of the conflict may begin with a full-scale offensive, which will determine the course of the raging conflict.

Residents in the east have been fleeing their thousands as Ukraine prepares for “important battles” against Moscow's forces, Zelensky said.

"We see the preparations for important battles, some people say decisive ones, in the east,” he said on Saturday at a press conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

“We are ready to fight and to look in parallel to end this war through diplomacy,” Zelensky added.

Zelensky also accused Russia of committing war crimes and not admitting its mistakes.

“When people lack the courage to admit their mistakes, apologize, adapt to reality and learn, they turn into monsters. And when the world ignores it, the monsters decide that it is the world that has to adapt to them. Ukraine will stop all this.” Zelensky said.

Attributing more killings to the Russian forces, the Ukrainian government claimed on Sunday that it had found more than 1,200 bodies in the Kiev region.

According to regional governor Oleg Sinegoubov, bombardments claimed two lives in northeast Kharkiv on Sunday morning, a day after 10 civilians died in a bombing southeast of the city.

Zelensky also condemned atrocities against civilians, and after speaking with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said they had agreed “that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished.”

Biden to talk to Modi amid warning to India 

US President Joe Biden was set to have a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, as the US government stresses that it doesn’t want an uptick in Russian energy imports by India.

In a statement, US Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would continue close consultations on the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and "mitigating its destabilizing impact on global food supply and commodity markets.”

Daleep Singh, US Deputy National Security Adviser for international economics, who visited India recently, said his government would not set any “red line” for India on its energy imports from Russia but does not seek to see a “rapid acceleration” in the number of imports.

Since the start of Western sanctions on Russian energy and the subsequent steep discounts, India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil compared to 16 million barrels for the whole of last year.

White House statement also said that the official meeting would precede the “US-India 2+2 Ministerial” meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, India External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and India Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Biden recently said that only India among the Quad group of countries was “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia over its military operation in Ukraine.

India, in the meantime, has tried to balance its ties with Russia and the West but unlike other members of the Quad countries, it has not imposed any sanctions on Russia.

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