Ukrainians grieve at soldiers' graves in a Lviv cemetery on Defenders Day
Astana (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was “doing everything right” in its nearly eight-month invasion of Ukraine despite a string of embarrassing defeats against Kyiv’s forces, who will receive $725 million in new US military assistance.
Putin’s comments Friday came hours after Kremlin-installed officials in the southern Kherson region urged residents to leave as Kyiv said its soldiers were advancing on the oblast’s main city.
Moscow also hinted at the extent of the damage dealt to the Crimea bridge – the sole land connection between its mainland and the annexed Ukrainian peninsula – following a blast last Saturday, saying it could take many months to complete repairs.
War in Ukraine: the situation on October 14
“What is happening today is not pleasant. But all the same, (if Russia hadn’t attacked in February) we would have been in the same situation, only the conditions would have been worse for us,” Putin told reporters after a summit in the capital of Kazakhstan.
“So we’re doing everything right,” he insisted.
He did, however, acknowledge that Russia’s ex-Soviet allies were “worried.”
Putin said there was no need for further massive strikes against Ukraine at present and claimed the Kremlin did not intend to destroy its pro-Western neighbour.
“There is no need now for massive strikes. There are other tasks. For now,” he said.
He spoke days after Russia unleashed a wave of missile strikes on cities across Ukraine that left at least 20 civilians dead.
Putin said the strikes were in retaliation for the explosion on the Crimea bridge, which he has described as a “terrorist act”.
The bridge is a logistically crucial transport link for moving military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
- New US military aid -
Washington on Friday announced an additional $725 million in military assistance to Kyiv, including more ammunition for the Himars rocket systems that have been used by Ukraine to wreak havoc on Russian targets.
The Crimea bridge -- a key link for transporting military equipment to Russian soldiers in Ukraine
The aid comes “in the wake of Russia’s brutal missile attacks on civilians across Ukraine” and “mounting evidence of atrocities by Russia’s forces,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
It brings the total US military assistance to Ukraine to $17.6 billion since the Russian invasion on February 24.
“We will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence with extraordinary courage and boundless determination,” Blinken said.
Separately, Elon Musk said his SpaceX would not be able to pay indefinitely for the Starlink satellite internet vital to Ukraine’s communications in the fight against Russian invaders.
Elon Musk's Starlink satellite internet network has been vital to Ukraine's communications in the fight against Russian invaders
The US military confirmed it was communicating with the billionaire’s company about funding for the key network.
Ukraine, which is clawing back territory in both the east and south, feted its first Defenders Day public holiday since the start of Moscow’s invasion, pledging victory.
“On October 14, we express our gratitude… gratitude to everyone who fought for Ukraine in the past. And to everyone who is fighting for it now. To all who won then. And to everyone who will definitely win now,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address to mark the occasion.
“The world is with us, more than ever. This makes us stronger than ever in history,” Zelensky said, referring to unprecedented Western aid.
Saudia Arabia announced $400 million in humanitarian aid for Ukraine, the official SPA news agency reported early Saturday, adding that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had made a phone call to Zelensky.
Saudi Arabia last month played an unexpected role in facilitating a prisoner-of-war swap between Moscow and Kyiv.
The kingdom has however come under growing criticism from Washington after the Saudi-led OPEC group of oil exporters agreed on a drastic production cut with Russia and other allies, which could send energy prices soaring even higher.
- Advance on Kherson -
In southern Ukraine, Kyiv’s forces have been pushing closer and closer to Kherson, the main city in the region of the same name just north of Crimea.
On Friday, Moscow-installed authorities renewed a call for residents to temporarily leave.
“The bombardment of the Kherson region is dangerous for civilians,” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the pro-Russian regional administration said, and urged residents to take a trip for “rest and recreation” elsewhere.
Kyiv, which announced its counter-offensive in the south in August, said it has already recaptured more than 400 square kilometres (155 miles) in the Kherson region in under a week.
A picture on the Telegram account of the governor of Russia's Belgorod region shows flames from a power station following a reported Ukrainian strike
But in the east, pro-Russian forces said they were closing in on the industrial city of Bakhmut after reporting the capture of two villages on the city’s outskirts this week.
An official of the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic, a pro-Kremlin breakaway region in east Ukraine, said “active hostilities were under way” within Bakhmut.
“Our forces are confidently marching and liberating this settlement,” the official, Andriy Marochko, was quoted as saying by Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.