Russian President Vladimir Putin could be poised to formally declare war on Ukraine within days, abandoning his “special military operation” terminology in a bid to mobilize more troops and equipment, some experts say.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week that there were no plans to complete the invasion, which began Feb. 24, by Russia’s annual “Victory Day” holiday next Monday. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said he believes Putin, unable to claim victory on the day that commemorates the Nazi surrender to the Russians in 1945, could well formally declare war instead.
“I believe he is going to move from his quote-unquote special operation to ‘This is now war against the Nazis and I need more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder,'” Wallace told LBC radio in London.
US State department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing Monday that it would be a “great irony” if Moscow used the occasion of ‘Victory Day’ to declare war.
“It would allow them to surge conscripts in a way they’re not able to do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives ,” he said.
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►Russia’s progress in eastern Ukraine remains “uneven” despite the Kremlin’s decision to move assets away from Kyiv to focus on the Donbas region, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN on Tuesday. “It has been impeded, it has been slow,” Kirby said. “Uukraines are fighting back stiffly, bravely, skillfully.”
►The CIA says Russians disaffected by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may be trying to get in touch with US intelligence — and it wants them to go to the darknet.
Pope Francis says he was told two weeks ago by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that the war would be over by May 9. The pope, in an interview released Tuesday by the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper, said that in March he offered to travel to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin but had received no response.
“Such brutality, how can you not try to stop it?” the pope said.
He also said he was trying to understand why Russia had invaded Ukraine. Maybe “this barking of NATO at Russia’s door” had prompted it, he was quoted as saying, “An anger that I don’t know if it was provoked, but maybe facilitated.”
Israel’s outrage over inflammatory comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is falling on deaf ears in Moscow. Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday demanded an apology and summoned the Russian ambassador for a “clarification meeting” after Lavrov pressed his claim that his troops were going to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, which is led by a Jewish president. Lavrov also said Hitler “had Jewish origins” and that “wise Jewish people say the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”
Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid described Lavrov’s remark as racist and “both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded Tuesday with a statement saying “we have paid attention to foreign minister Yair Lapid’s anti-historical remarks, which largely explain the current government’s decision to support the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.”
Ukraine’s ambassador-designate to Canada said Monday that Russian military troops had committed sex crimes, including against children, and must be held accountable. Yulia Kovaliv told a Canadian House of Commons Committee Monday that Russia has used sexual violence as a weapon of war. She called for rape and sexual assault to be investigated as war crimes.
Kovaliv also said that Russia also has kidnapped Ukrainian children and taken them into Russian-occupied territories, in addition to Russia itself. Ukraine is working to find the children and bring them back, she said.
According to Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS, more than 1 million people, including nearly 200,000 children, have been taken from Ukraine to Russia since the Russian invasion began, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday. Defense Ministry official Mikhail Mizintsev said those included 11,550 people, including 1,847 children, in the previous 24 hours, “without the participation of the Ukrainian authorities.”
As the US and its allies rush more cannons, tanks and ammunition to Ukraine, Russia’s already diminished military is still looking for victories to justify the huge cost of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Putin is hoping to grab those gains in eastern Ukraine and parts of the Black Sea coastline. If successful, he could claim he’s met an initial objective of securing the Donbas, an area that has been contested by Ukrainians and Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
— Maureen Groppe and Tom Vanden Brook
Russia may try to abduct local mayors in Ukraine’s eastern region and install Kremlin “puppets” in the latest phase of the war, a top State Department official said Monday.
Michael Carpenter, the US Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters the US has seen planned “highly credible” reports of “abductions of mayors and other local officials” in Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions.
The strategy would be part of a push toward annexing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine and to “engineer a referendum” about having those areas join Russia, Carpenter said. He declined to disclose the source of that information but said Russia may make this move in mid-May, adding that Moscow appears to have a similar plan for the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine.
— Deirdre Shesgreen
Contributing: The Associated Press