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Zelensky says ‘slower’ Western supplies threaten Ukraine counter-offensive

KYIV – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Friday that “slower” arms supplies from Western countries were threatening his country’s counter-offensive, calling for more “powerful and long-range” weapons to push back Russian forces.

Ukraine launched its pushback against Russian forces in June after stockpiling Western weapons, but has made limited gains as its troops encounter heavily fortified Russian defensive lines.

“All processes are becoming more complicated and slower – from sanctions to the provision of weapons,” Mr Zelensky said, in comments published on the presidential website.

“The longer it takes, the more people suffer… If we are not in the sky and Russia is, they stop us from the sky. They stop our counter-offensive,” he warned.

His comments came as Moscow held local elections on Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory that have been denounced by Kyiv and international groups as a sham.

“Russia’s pseudo-elections in the temporarily occupied territories are worthless,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, accusing Moscow of “grossly violating” its sovereignty.

Russia said voting was currently under way in the four Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – none of which Moscow fully controls – as well as in occupied Crimea.

‘War crime’

Russia continued to pound central and eastern Ukraine with air strikes on Friday, with Ukrainian officials posting images of the destruction on social media.

“A Russian aerial bomb killed three civilians in Odradokamyanka – two women and a man. Four local residents were injured,” Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said, calling the attack a “war crime”.

Odradokamyanka is about 60km upstream of Kherson city, on the west bank of the Dnipro River, which was recaptured by Ukraine’s forces last November.

A separate Russian strike on Friday targeted President Volodymyr Zelensky’s home town of Kryvyi Rig, hitting a police building in the city centre and killing a policeman, Mr Klymenko said.

Photos from the scene showed smoke spewing from the ruins of the building as rescue workers carried an injured person to an ambulance.

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“Rescuers of the State Emergency Service pulled out three more from under the rubble. They are in serious condition,” Mr Klymenko said.

Russia also struck the city of Sumy in north-east Ukraine, officials said, while one man was wounded in a rocket attack on Zaporizhzhia in the south-east.

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‘The next step’

Amid the strikes, Ukraine has been pressing ahead with a counter-offensive to take back occupied territory in its south and east, although gains have been limited.

Mr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have frequently hit back at criticism that the counter-offensive has been too slow.

“When some partners say: What about the counter-offensive, when will the next step be? My answer is that today our steps are probably faster than new sanctions packages,” Mr Zelensky said on Friday.

“There is a specific impact of a specific weapon. The more powerful and long-range it is, the faster the counter-offensive is,” he said.

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Mr Zelensky’s request for new arms supplies came a day after top US diplomat Antony Blinken wrapped up his surprise two-day visit to Ukraine, in which he announced US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) of new wartime aid.

The United States, which has provided Kyiv with more than US$40 billion of security assistance since Russia’s invasion, announced this week it would also supply Kyiv with depleted-uranium tank rounds.

The Kremlin sharply criticised the move.

Row with Musk

A row, meanwhile, erupted between Kyiv and technology billionaire Elon Musk, who revealed he had prevented Ukraine from using his company SpaceX’s satellite Internet network, Starlink, to attack a Russian naval base in Crimea in 2022.

Mr Musk said on X that he had received an “emergency request” from Kyiv to activate the Starlink network over the port of Sevastopol – where Moscow’s Black Sea fleet is based.

“If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation,” he said in the post on Thursday.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak strongly criticised the decision, calling it “more than just a mistake” in a post on X.

“By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet… (Musk) allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities,” he said on Thursday.

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Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, has been repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian drone strikes and sabotage attacks as Kyiv tries to retake the peninsula.

On Friday, Russia’s FSB security service said it had detained a man on suspicion of plotting to bomb a railway in Crimea, while air defences downed a drone over the north of the peninsula. AFP

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