Pope says countries should not "play games" with Ukraine on arms aid
Pope Francis suggested on Saturday that some countries were "playing games" with Ukraine by first providing weapons and then considering backing out of their commitments.
Francis made his comments aboard the plane returning from a trip to the French port city of Marseilles. He was responding to a reporter's question about whether he was frustrated that his efforts to bring about peace had not succeeded. He has sent an envoy, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Kyiv, Moscow, Washington and Beijing to meet with leaders there.
He said he did feel "some frustration" and then began talking randomly about the arms industry and the war.
"It seems to me that the interests in this war are not just those related to the Ukrainian-Russian problem but to the sale of weapons, the commerce of weapons," he said.
"We should not play games with the martyrdom of this people. We have to help them resolve things ... I see now that some countries are moving backwards, not wanting to give (Ukraine) arms. A process is starting in which the martyr certainly will be the Ukrainian people and that is an ugly thing," he said.
Asked for a clarification, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope was not taking a stand on whether countries should continue to send weapons to Ukraine or stop sending them.
"It was a reflection on the consequences of the arms industry: the pope, with a paradox, was saying that those who traffic in weapons never pay the consequences of their choices but leave them to be paid by people, like the Ukrainians, who have been martyred," Bruni said.
A number of countries, including the United States, face internal political pressure to stop or curtail spending on weapons sent to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to U.S. lawmakers on Thursday for continued support amid doubts by some Republicans over whether Congress should approve more aid.
Francis has condemned the international arms trade in general but said last year that it is morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against Russian aggression.
** Ukrainian heavy artillery inflicts 'hell' on Russian lines near Bakhmut
The use of heavy weapons supplied by the West in the fierce battle raging on the outskirts of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russia in May, is inflicting a significant toll on enemy lines, Ukrainian commanders have told Reuters.
Buoyed after the capture last week of the key village of Klishchiivka, Ukrainian troops have lauded the 155 millimetre howitzers as key equipment being provided by the United States and its NATO allies.
Unit commander Oleksandr said Ukraine's armed forces "very much rely" on heavy artillery, including the Polish-made Krab gun and the U.S.-made M109 self-propelled howitzer.
"Even one gun can completely turn the situation around. An attack can be stopped with one such gun," he said.
"The main thing is to aim where needed. They (the Russians) hate our hardware. That's what we gather from our intercepts. We hear that we keep giving them hell and they keep wondering how much ammunition we have left."
Oleksandr, 30, described Klishchiivka - a village on the heights south of the devastated town of Bakhmut - as "one of the places they (the Russians) were clinging to."
"We will see what's next. We will develop our success," he said.
Ukrainian commanders have described the capture of Klischiivka and nearby Andriivka as stepping stones to taking back Bakhmut, which fell to the Russians after months of some of the war's heaviest fighting.
The gains have been among the most significant in Ukraine's counteroffensive, which began in June and has struggled to break through entrenched Russian lines.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and senior officials have hailed the advances and rejected criticism in the West that the counteroffensive is progressing too slowly.
Kiev’s counteroffensive unlikely to achieve its goals – US officials to NYT
Officials in Washington have suggested that Ukraine’s military forces won’t be able to cut Russia’s land bridge to Crimea as part of their counteroffensive or achieve other key goals, the New York Times has reported.
“Some American officials have said that the Ukrainian counteroffensive appears likely to fall short of its strategic goals,” the paper reported in an article on Friday.
Kiev’s forces are struggling to achieve the aim of reaching the Sea of Azov in Russia’s Zaporozhye Region, because the minefields set up by Moscow’s forces, they say, have proven to be “a potent defense,” the Times added.
According to US officials, conducting offensive operations would also soon become even more difficult for Ukraine “as the ground becomes soft and muddy” in the region.
The NYT also said that some in Washington have warned that “within a few weeks, the Ukrainian army will need time to rebuild their stockpile of equipment and to rest forces exhausted by the summer fighting.”
The Ukrainian counteroffensive was launched in early June, although Kiev has so far only reported the capture of a handful of small villages some distance away from the main Russian defense lines. President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that Ukraine has lost more than 71,000 troops and over 540 tanks since the beginning of summer, while failing to achieve any significant results on the battlefield.
On Friday, President Vladimir Zelensky told journalists in Washington that Kiev “will do everything not to stop during difficult days in autumn with poor weather and in winter.”
Zelensky claimed that Ukraine has a “very, very comprehensive plan” to “de-occupy” Artyomovsk (known as Bakhmut in Ukraine) and two other cities, which he refused to name, in the coming months.
Ukraine suffered huge losses trying to defend Artyomovsk and the strategic city in Donetsk People’s Republic nonetheless fell under Russian control in May, after months of fighting.
The NYT pointed out that US intelligence and military had warned the Zelensky government against spending its manpower and resources in Artyomovsk, suggesting that it would be better focused on operations in Zaporozhye Region. “Some American officials say the fight in [Artyomovsk] has become something of an obsession for Mr Zelensky and his military leaders,” the paper said.
** Russian forces destroy Western-made weapons in Kherson area
Russia’s Battlegroup Dnepr has destroyed Ukraine’s Western-made weapons in the Kherson area, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
"Russian artillery units continue to perform their combat mission in the special military operation, hitting the Ukrainian armed forces’ artillery positions, wiping out defenses, suppressing enemy command points and firepower. Msta-B crews of Battlegroup Dnepr destroyed Western-made weapons and equipment of the Ukrainian army by counter-battery fire in the Kherson area," the statement reads.
The Defense Ministry added that Russian forces were using high-precision munitions to cause as much damage as possible to the enemy’s armored vehicles and troops. Drone operators monitor the work of howitzer crews, adjusting fire and reporting the results of attacks to those in firing positions in real time.
"[They] mostly try to cross [the Dnieper] at night; most of the action and the work take place during the night as we try to prevent the enemy from reaching this bank," said a crew commander with the call sign Cuba.
The Msta-S is a self-propelled 152 mm howitzer designed to wipe out and suppress various types of enemy combat hardware and troops, destroy defensive sites and deny the maneuver of enemy infantry and tank reserves. The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly released video footage showing these howitzers hammering enemy targets in the special military operation in Ukraine.