TURTSK, Ukraine (AFP) – The United States pressed its allies Tuesday to move “heaven and earth” to keep Kyiv well-armed as Russian forces rained fire on eastern and southern Ukraine amid growing new concerns that the war could spill over the country’s borders.
For the second day in a row, explosions rocked the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester in neighboring Moldova, destroying two powerful radio antennas near the Ukrainian border. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Ukraine has blamed Russia.
In other developments, Poland and Bulgaria said the Kremlin is cutting off natural gas supplies to the two NATO countries As of Wednesday, the first such acts of war. Both countries rejected Russia’s demands for payment in rubles.
Poland has been a major gateway for arms deliveries to Ukraine and this week confirmed it would send the country’s tanks.
The potential impact of the gas cut was not immediately clear. Poland said it was well prepared for such a move after working for years to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.
Analyst Emily MacLean of Rystad Energy said Poland also has ample reserves of natural gas, and will soon benefit from two pipelines that will be operational.
Bulgaria gets more than 90% of its gas from Russia, and officials said they are working to find other sources. McLean cited a Bulgarian deal to buy gas from Azerbaijan.
After two months of fighting, Western weapons helped Ukraine stop the Russian invasion, but the country’s leaders said they needed more support quickly..
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a meeting on Tuesday of officials from about 40 countries at the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, and said more help is on the way.
“This gathering reflects the galvanized world,” Austin said, adding that he wanted officials to leave the meeting “with a shared and transparent understanding of Ukraine’s near-term security requirements because we will continue to move heaven and earth so we can meet them.”
After unexpected fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces thwarted Russia’s attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital, Moscow now says its focus is on capturing Donbass, the Russian-speaking industrial region in eastern Ukraine.
In the small town of Toritsk in the DonbassResidents struggle to survive, collecting rainwater to wash it and fervently hoping to end the fighting.
“It’s bad. Very bad. Hopeless,” Andrei Cheromushkin said. “You feel so helpless that you don’t know what to do and what not to do. Because if you want to do something, you need some money, and there is no money now.”
Russian advances and heavy fighting were reported in the Donbass, where one town, Kremena, apparently fell after days of street fighting, according to the British Army.
In the devastated southern port city of Mariupol, authorities said Russian forces have bombed the Azovstal steel plant with 35 air strikes in the past 24 hours. The factory is the last known stronghold of Ukrainian fighters in the city. About 1,000 civilians were said to have taken refuge there, along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian gunners.
“Russia has significantly intensified its strikes over the past 24 hours and is using heavy fortifications bombs,” said Petro Andryushenko, advisor to the Mayor of Mariupol. “The number of wounded will be clear once the rubble is removed.”
He also accused Russian forces of bombing an escape route from the steel mill.
Outside of Mariupol, local officials said at least nine people were killed and several more wounded in Russian attacks on towns and cities in the east and south. Pavlo Kirilenko, the governor of the Donetsk region in Donbass, said on the messaging app Telegram that Russian forces “continue to deliberately shoot civilians and destroy critical infrastructure.”
Ukrainian authorities say Russian missile fire has destroyed a strategic railway bridge along a road linking the Odessa port area in southern Ukraine with neighboring Romania. There were no reports of injuries.
Ukraine also said Russian forces had bombed the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, which lies in the northeast, outside Donbass, but is seen as key to Russia’s apparent attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces in Donbass from the north, east and south.
Ukrainian forces responded to the Kherson region in the south.
The attack on the bridge near Odessa – along with a series of strikes on major railway stations the day before – appears to represent a major shift in Russia’s approach. So far, Moscow has avoided strategic bridges, perhaps hoping to keep them for its own use in taking over Ukraine. But it now appears to be trying to thwart Ukraine’s efforts to move troops and supplies.
The southern coast of Ukraine and Moldova have been in a state of tension since a high-ranking Russian military officer said last week that the Kremlin’s goal is not only to secure eastern Ukraine but the entire south, so as to open the way to the Trans-Dniester, a long and narrow region. A strip of land of about 470,000 people along the Ukrainian border where about 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed.
It was not clear who was behind the bombings in the Trans-Dniester, but the attacks raised fears that Russia was making trouble in order to create a pretext to either invade the Trans-Dniester or use the area as another springboard to attack Ukraine. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the explosions were carried out by Russia and were “intended to destabilize” with the aim of showing Moldova what would happen if it supported Ukraine.
Austin, the US defense secretary, said the US was still looking into the explosions and trying to determine what was happening, but added: “We certainly don’t want to see any extension” of the conflict.
With the potential pivotal battle in the east, the United States and its NATO allies are seeking to launch artillery and other heavy weapons Just in time to make a difference.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said her government will provide Ukraine with Gibbard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. German Chancellor Olaf Schulz faced increasing pressure to send in heavy weapons such as tanks and other armored vehicles.
Austin noted that more than 30 allies and partners have joined the United States in sending military aid to Ukraine and that more than $5 billion in equipment has been committed.
The US defense secretary said the war had weakened the Russian military, adding: “We’d like to make sure, once again, that they don’t have the same kind of ability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the beginning of this conflict.”
Nikolai Patrushev, a senior Kremlin official, warned that “the policies of the West and the Kyiv regime that it controls will only be the division of Ukraine into several states.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that if the flow of Western weapons continues, talks aimed at ending the fighting will not yield any results.
Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting also continued. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the United Nations said it had agreed in principle on the participation of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in evacuating civilians trapped in a steel plant in Mariupol. Putin said Ukrainian forces were using civilians in the factory as shields and not letting them leave.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalist Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, David Keaton in Kyiv, Alexander Stashevsky in Chernobyl, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
“Bacon fan. Freelance writer. Music enthusiast. Communicator. Lifelong explorer. Organizer. Reader. Gamer. Avid problem solver. Tv geek.”