President Joe Biden boards Air Force One for his trip to Europe at Joint Base Andrews, Md., March 23, 2022. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston.
This article was originally published by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.
U.S. President Joe Biden has visited U.S. troops near the Polish border with Ukraine amid signals from Moscow that the Kremlin has scaled back its goals in its unprovoked attack on its neighbor to concentrate on capturing territory claimed by Russia-backed separatists.
Biden shook hands with dozens of soldiers during the surprise visit on March 25 to the city of Rzeszow, less than 100 miles from a military base in the western Ukrainian city of Yavoriv, which was ravaged by Russian air strikes on March 13.
Poland is hosting thousands of U.S. troops stationed there as part of a NATO battlegroup and has taken in more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Biden arrived in Poland from Brussels, where he and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a deal under which the bloc will receive at least 15 billion cubic meters of American liquefied natural gas (LNG) this year amid efforts to wean itself off Russian gas imports.
The U.S. president, who announced a $1 billion aid package for Ukraine the previous day amid an unprecedented series of summits of NATO, EU, and the Group of Seven (G7), was scheduled to also hold talks with Polish leaders on energy and refugee issues.
Before his arrival, Biden said he hoped his visit would “reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks, as well as humanitarian assistance needed both inside Ukraine and outside Ukraine.”
The fighting has pushed almost 4 million civilians out of Ukraine, while tens of thousands of others are still stranded in cities without utilities and dwindling foods supplies.
After a month of fighting, Russia has yet to take a major city in Ukraine, and with Ukrainian forces recapturing some territory in pitched battles just outside of Kyiv, Moscow appeared to be recalibrating its plans.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on March 25 that the first phase of its operation — which has been met with surprisingly stiff resistance, stalling advances in many parts of the country — was mostly complete, and that it would now focus on “liberating” two eastern regions claimed by Russia-backed separatists.
It added that military operations would continue until Russian forces had completed the tasks that had been set, without elaborating.
Days before launching the attack, Russia recognized the separatist-controlled districts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, which Moscow and the separatists call the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.
One of the focuses of Moscow’s invasion has been the southern port city of Mariupol, which lies between Russian-occupied Crimea and the eastern areas held by the separatists.
The heavy fighting has trapped tens of thousands of civilians in the besieged city with dwindling supplies.
Civilian targets around Mariupol have been destroyed by Russian air strikes, including a theater where hundreds were sheltering.
Mariupol officials on March 25 gave their first estimate — based on eyewitness accounts — of the death toll from the strikes on the city’s Drama Theater, saying some 300 civilians are thought to have been killed.
Since the March 16 attack on the Mariupol Drama Theater, Ukrainian authorities had held back on giving any death toll, saying they were still trying to establish verified numbers but were being hampered by continued Russian shelling in nearby neighborhoods.
Mariupol’s city council wrote on Telegram that although “no one wants to believe what happened, the words of those who were inside the building at the time of the terrorist act say otherwise.”
Britain’s Defense Ministry confirmed on March 25 that Ukraine has reoccupied towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers east of Kyiv, helped by Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines.
The ministry added that Ukrainian forces were “likely to continue to attempt to push Russian forces back” towards Hostomel Airfield northwest of Kyiv.
The ministry said that “logistic issues and Ukrainian resistance” were also slowing down Russian attempts to circumvent the southern city of Mykolayiv as they attempted to push toward the key port city of Odesa.
Copyright (c)2020 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
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