Russia-Ukraine war: Top Russian general reportedly admits invasion not going to plan

Russia and Ukraine have kept a fragile diplomatic path open with a new round of talks as Moscow’s forces pounded away at Kyiv and other cities across the country in a punishing bombardment the Red Cross said has created “nothing short of a nightmare” for civilians.

The latest negotiations, held via video conference, were the fourth round involving higher-level officials from the two countries and the first in a week.

The talks ended without a breakthrough after several hours, with an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the negotiators took “a technical pause” and planned to meet again tomorrow.

The two sides had expressed some optimism in the past few days. Mykhailo Podolyak, the aide to Zelenskyy, tweeted that the negotiators would discuss “peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops & security guarantees.”

Meanwhile, a convoy of 160 civilian cars left the encircled port city of Mariupol along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported.

It was a rare glimmer of hope a week and a half into the lethal siege that has pulverized homes and other buildings and left people desperate for food, water, heat and medicine.

A top Russian general has reportedly admitted that the country’s invasion is not going to plan, as the US warns China over Russia’s overtures for military assistance.

The strong message from Washington comes as the head of Russia’s National Guard has said Moscow expected progress to be far faster than it has been.

Russia has also been accused of using a chemical bomb on civilians that was referred to by the Nazis as a “flaming onion” and inflicts indescribable suffering.

The phosphorus bomb’s signature is a loud bang and a plume of bright white smoke, but its effects are felt most when long white streams carrying chemicals start falling from the sky.

'Not going as fast as we would like'

There have been murmurings from inside Russia for some time that the country’s invasion of Ukraine has not been going to plan.

Now the head of Russia’s National Guard has apparently admitted as much.

Reuters has reported that Viktor Zolotov, a close Putin ally and the President’s former bodyguard, made the observations at a Sunday church service.

“I would like to say that yes, not everything is going as fast as we would like,” Zolotov said in comments that were then posted to the National Guard’s website, reported Reuters.

“But we are going towards our goal step by step and victory will be for us.”

Previously the Kremlin has downplayed suggestions that the so-called “special military operation” has gone awry.

Unverified claims of banned weapon use

A senior Ukrainian official has accused Russian forces of deploying banned white phosphorus bombs in the eastern region of Luhansk.

The use of white phosphorus is prohibited for use in heavily populated areas, though international law allows it in open areas for use as cover for troops.

Oleksi Biloshytsky, head of police in the town of Popasna, said the bombs were causing “indescribable suffering”.

Biloshytsky wrote on Facebook: “It’s what the Nazis called a ‘flaming onion’, and that’s what the Russcists (a portmanteau of ‘Russians’ and ‘fascists’) are dropping on our towns. Indescribable suffering and fires.”

His claims are yet to be verified.

US warns China amid fears of chemical attack

A US official said Russia asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine, a request that heightened tensions about the ongoing war ahead of ameeting in Rome between top aides for the US and Chinese governments.

In advance of the talks, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy.

The prospect of China offering Russia financial help is one of several concerns for President Joe Biden.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said in recent days Russia had requested support from China, including military equipment, to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official did not provide details on the scope of the request. The request was first reported by the Financial Times and The Washington Post.

The Biden administration is also accusing China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be a pretext for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a delicate spot with two of its biggest trading partners: the US and European Union. China needs access to those markets, yet it also has made gestures that are supportive of Moscow, joining with Russia in declaring a friendship with “no limits”. In his talks with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, Sullivan will be looking for limits in what Beijing will do for Moscow.

“I’m not going to sit here publicly and brandish threats,” he told CNN. “But what I will tell you is we are communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there absolutely will be consequences” if China helps Russia “backfill” its losses from the sanctions.

The White House said the talks will focus on the direct impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security.

Biden administration officials say Beijing is spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine was running chemical and biological weapons labs with US support. They say China is effectively providing cover if Russia moves ahead with a biological or chemical weapons attack.

When Russia starts accusing other countries of preparing to launch biological or chemical attacks, Sullivan told NBC’sMeet the Press, “it’s a good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves”.

TheUS accusations about Russian disinformation and Chinese complicity came after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged with no evidence that the US was financing Ukrainian chemical and biological weapons labs.

The Russian claim was echoed by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who claimed there were 26 bio-labs and related facilities in “which the US Department of Defence has absolute control”. The United Nations has received no information backing up such accusations.

Sullivan told Face the Nation on CBS that the Russian rhetoric on chemical and biological warfare is “an indicator that, in fact, the Russians are getting ready to do it and try and pin the blame elsewhere and nobody should fall for that”.

The international community has for years assessed that Russia has used chemical weapons in carrying out assassination attempts against Putin detractors such as Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. Russia also supports the Assad government in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against its people in a decade-long civil war.

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday, CIA Director William Burns also noted grave concern that Russia might be laying the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack of its own, which it would then blame on the US or Ukraine in a false flag operation.

“This is something, as all of you know very well, that is very much a part of Russia’s playbook,” he said. “They’ve used these weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously.”

China’s Xi Jinping hosted Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, just weeks before Russia launched the February 24 invasion.

During Putin’s visit to China last month, the two leaders issued a 5000-word statement declaring limitless friendship.

The Chinese abstained on UN votes censuring Russia and has criticised economic sanctions against Moscow. It has expressed its support for peace talks and offered its services as a mediator. But questions remain over how far Beijing will go to alienate the alliance and put its own economy at risk.

Kyiv attacks continue

As Russian forces continue to press on to Kyiv, an airstrike in the city’s downtown area has killed one person and wounded six others, Ukrainian officials said.

The Ukrainian Emergency Services said the airstrike took place near a checkpoint and caused extensive damage to a residential neighbourhood in the Ukraine capital.

Kateryna Lot said she was in her apartment with a child who was doing homework online when they heard a loud explosion.

“Our windows and the balcony were shattered, part of the floor fell down.

“It was very, very scary.”

She said they ran to a shelter after the explosion.

Ukrainian authorities also said two people died and seven were injured after Russian forces struck an airplane factory in Kyiv, and that two people were killed in the northern Obolonskyi district of the capital when Russian artillery fire hit a nine-storey apartment building.

The United Nations has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded, though it believes the true toll is much higher.

– Additional reporting from NZ Herald other agencies

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