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Furious Kremlin says US is fighting ‘indirect war’ with Russia in Ukraine

The Kremlin on Thursday accused Kyiv and Washington of turning a deaf ear to its concerns and charged the United States was using Ukraine as a battleground to weaken Russia.

The complaints came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returned from a historic trip to Washington where he told Congress that his country was “alive and kicking” and supporting it was an investment in global security.

Moscow’s military chief said Russian forces were concentrated on wresting control of the eastern Donetsk region where the war-battered city of Bakhmut has become an epicentre of fighting.

Zelensky enjoyed a hero’s welcome on a lightning trip on Wednesday in which US President Joe Biden committed nearly $1.8 billion in military supplies including, for the first time, the Patriot missile defence system.

“We can say with regret that so far neither President Biden nor President Zelensky have said even a few words that could be perceived as potential readiness to listen to Russia’s concerns,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

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Before leaving for the US, Zelensky visited the frontline city of Bakhmut on Tuesday. Soldiers presented him with a national flag, and asked him to pass it on to President Biden (Picture via Reuters)
Before leaving for the US, Zelensky visited the frontline city of Bakhmut on Tuesday. Soldiers presented him with a national flag, and asked him to pass it on to President Biden (Picture via Reuters)

Officials in Moscow have repeatedly said in recent months that they have not ruled out talks with Ukraine.

They blamed the closure of diplomatic channels on Zelensky, who has said he will not negotiate while President Vladimir Putin is in power.

“Not a single word was heard warning Zelensky against the continued shelling of residential buildings in towns and villages in Donbas and there were no real calls for peace,” Peskov said.

“This suggests that the United States is continuing its line of de facto fighting an indirect war with Russia to the last Ukrainian,” he added.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu meanwhile visited troops “on the frontline” of Moscow’s Ukraine offensive, with footage showing Shoigu inspecting barracks and walking through trenches.

– Focus on Donetsk –

The ministry did not say where or when the inspection took place.

Separately Russia army chief Valery Gerasimov said Russian troops are “focused on completing the liberation” of Donetsk.

Donetsk, an eastern Ukrainian region, is one four regions Moscow claims to have annexed — despite never fully controlling it.

Gerasimov also said that Russia had used hypersonic missiles for the first time in Ukraine including Kinzhal missiles — part of an arsenal of weapons Putin has described as “invincible.”

“Damage continues to be inflicted on critical transport and energy infrastructure deep inside Ukrainian territory,” Gerasimov added.

Ukraine fears a rising onslaught of missiles and has faced a slew of attacks from drones, many bought by Russia from Iran, as Moscow pummels power plants and other civilian infrastructure as the country shivers in the winter cold.

In Donetsk, an AFP reporter visited the frontline village of Bogorodychne, from which the Russians had been pushed out.

Its pre-conflict population of around 1,000 people had been reduced to Yuri Ponomarenko, 54, who returned several weeks ago, and “a mother and son who never left,” he said.

“I felt that I needed to come back, I just had to,” said Ponomarenko, who braved landmines to return home, where debris and wrecked cars littered the looted village.

– ‘Not charity’ –

In the southern region surrounding the recently recaptured town of Kherson — which has been shelled persistently by Russian forces — officials said they had uncovered a grave with six people showing “signs of torture”.

Zelensky flew in secret to the United States and wore his trademark green military fatigues as he held talks with Biden at the White House and addressed lawmakers.

He thanked the United States for its support and handed Congress a Ukrainian flag fresh from the battlefield.

“Your money is not charity,” Zelensky said in a speech that drew a standing ovation.

“It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

On Thursday, Zelensky said that he stopped in Poland on his return leg and “discussed strategic plans for the future” with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Separately, the former head of Russia’s space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, said he was injured by shelling in Donetsk and would need surgery.

Russia broadcast images of the heavily damaged hotel and restaurant, with parts of the roof destroyed and debris scattered around the rooms and outside in the garden.

Rogozin is an ardent supporter of Putin’s offensive in Ukraine and is leading a team of military advisors to pro-Russian forces fighting alongside Moscow’s troops.

“Some areas are still dangerous… but that does not mean that it should prevent officials from performing their duties,” Peskov said in response to the incident.