Putin says Russia wants a buffer zone in Ukraine’s Kharkiv but has no plans to capture the city

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a visit to China that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but that there are no plans to capture the city.

The remarks were Putin’s first on the offensive launched May 10, which opened a new front and displaced thousands of Ukrainians within days. Earlier Friday, a massive Ukrainian drone attack on the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula cut off power in the city of Sevastopol, after an earlier attack damaged aircraft and fuel storage at an airbase.

In southern Russia, Russian authorities said a refinery was also set ablaze.

Moscow launched attacks in the Kharkiv region in response to Ukrainian shelling of Russia’s Belgorod region, Putin told reporters while visiting the Chinese city of Harbin.

“I have said publicly that if it continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a sanitary zone,” he said. “That’s what we are doing.” Russian troops were “advancing daily according to plan,” he said and added there were no plans for now to take the city of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian troops are fighting to halt Russian advances in the Kharkiv region that began late last week. In an effort to increase troop numbers, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed two laws Friday, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing fines for draft dodgers fivefold. The controversial mobilization law goes into effect on Saturday.

A newly recruited soldier of the 3rd assault brigade trains, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 17, 2024. A divisive mobilisation law in Ukraine came into force on Saturday, as Kyiv struggles to boost troop numbers after Russia launched a new offensive. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Russia enlisted prisoners early on in the war, and personnel shortages compelled the new measures. The legislation allows for “parole from serving a sentence and further enlistment for military service” for a specific period for some people charged with criminal offences. It doesn’t extend to those convicted of crimes against Ukraine’s national security.

Penalties will be increased to 25,500 hryvnias ($650) for citizens and 51,000 hryvnias ($1,300) for civil servants and legal entities for ignoring draft notices or failing to update the draft board of their information. Fines were previously 5100 hryvnias ($130) for citizens and 8500 hryvnias ($215) for civil servants and legal entities.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated around 8,000 civilians from the recent flashpoint town of Vovchansk, 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Russian border. The Russian army’s usual tactic is to reduce towns and villages to ruins with aerial strikes before troops move in.


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