By NEBI QENA and CARA ANNA
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – NATO on Wednesday estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed during four weeks of fighting in Ukraine, with the country’s defenders resisting harder than expected and denying Moscow the lightning victory it was hoping for. .
A senior NATO military official said the estimate was based on information from Ukrainian officials on what Russia has released – intentionally or not – and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with basic rules laid down by NATO.
When Russia unleashed its invasion on February 24 in Europe’s largest offensive since World War II and lifted the prospect of nuclear escalation if the West intervened, a rapid overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected government seemed likely.
But with Wednesday marking four full weeks of fighting, Russia is embroiled in a fierce military campaign, with countless deaths, no immediate end in sight, and its economy crippled by Western sanctions. US President Joe Biden and key allies are meeting in Brussels and Warsaw this week to discuss possible new sanctions and more military assistance to Ukraine.
When Biden left the White House on Wednesday to fly to Europe, he warned that there was a “real threat” that Russia could use chemical weapons, and said he would discuss this danger with the other leaders.
The war’s economic and geopolitical shock waves – with sky-high energy prices, fears of global food supplies and Russia and China adapting to a new world order with Cold War echoes – have resonated across a planet that has yet to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
As an apparent reflection of growing division in Russia’s upper echelons, top official Anatoly Chubais has resigned, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency.
Chubais, the architect behind Russia’s post-Soviet privatization campaign, had served in a number of official top positions for three decades. His most recent role was as Putin’s envoy to international organizations.
Peskov would not say whether Chubais had left the country.
With his sad olive t-shirts, unshaven face and passionate appeals to governments around the world, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been transformed into a warlord and Russian President Vladimir Putin the No. 1 antagonist. In a speech to Japan’s parliament on Wednesday, Zelenskyy said four weeks of war had killed thousands, including at least 121 of Ukraine’s children.
“Our people can not even bury their murdered relatives, friends and neighbors adequately. They have to be buried right in the courtyards of destroyed buildings, next to the roads, ”he said.
Repeatedly pushed back by hit Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian troops fire long-range targets and fall back on tactics they used to reduce cities to ruins in Syria and Chechnya.
The main Russian targets are still unfulfilled. The capital, Kiev, has been hit by shelling repeatedly, but is not even surrounded.
Several shells and shots shook the city on Wednesday as black smoke flags rose from the western outskirts as the two sides fought for control of several suburbs. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 264 civilians have been killed in the capital since the war broke out.
In the south, the port city of Mariupol has experienced the worst devastation of the war during weeks of siege and bombing. But Ukrainian forces have prevented its downfall and thwarted an overt bid by Moscow to fully secure a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which was seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Zelenskyy said 100,000 civilians are left in a city that had 430,000 people. It has been crushed by strikes from air, land and sea, and repeated efforts to provide desperately needed food and other supplies to the captives have often failed.
“They bombed us for the last 20 days,” said 39-year-old Viktoria Totsen, who fled Mariupol to Poland. “Over the last five days, planes flew over us every five seconds, dropping bombs everywhere – on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
Speaking in his nightly video speech to his nation on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said efforts to establish humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents were almost all “thwarted by Russian occupiers, by shelling or deliberate terror.”
He accused Russian forces of seizing a humanitarian convoy. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians detained 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss humanitarian aid, prisoners of war and other issues with Russian officials.
“The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in the Donbas, has been enormous,” said Red Cross President Peter Maurer.
It is not clear how much of Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control. Refugee residents say the fighting continues street by street. In their last update, over a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true figure is probably much higher. Airstrikes last week destroyed a theater and an art school where civilians sought refuge.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge used for relief and civilian evacuations, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.
Kateryna Mytkevich, who arrived in Poland after fleeing Chernihiv, wiped her tears as she talked about what she had seen.
The city is without gas, electricity or running water, Mytkevich, 39, said, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed.
“I do not understand why we have such a curse,” she said.
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the Kremlin spokesman insisted that the military operation went “strictly in line” with the plans.
Russia wants to “get rid of Ukraine’s military potential” and “ensure that Ukraine changes from an anti-Russian center to a neutral country,” Peskov said.
Russia officially calls the campaign a “special military operation”. It has effectively banned terms like “invasion” and “war,” and police have arrested thousands of anti-war protesters.
But as casualties rise and rapid victory is no longer in sight, Russia needs to work to strengthen morale. According to a law passed on Wednesday, troops in Ukraine will receive the same benefits as veterans of previous wars, including tax breaks, rebates on utilities and preferential access to medical treatment
Western officials say Ukrainian resistance has halted much of Russia’s advance and that Putin’s forces are facing severe shortages of food, fuel and cold weather equipment.
Russia’s military casualties are unclear, but even conservative Western estimates are in the low thousands.
“We have seen indications that the Ukrainians are going a little more offensive now,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. He said this was especially true in southern Ukraine, including near Kherson.
But Russia’s far stronger, larger military has many Western military experts warning of overconfidence in Ukraine’s long-term odds. The Kremlin’s practice in previous wars has been to defeat the resistance with strikes that flattened cities, killed countless civilians and sent millions on the run.
Talks to end the fighting continue via video. Zelenskyy said that negotiations with Russia are going “step by step, but they are moving forward.”
Without peace, those who were not yet struggling were prepared to do so.
“Everything is a bestseller these days,” said Zakhar Sluzhalyy, who owns a gun shop in the western city of Lviv.
“We are defending our country,” he said. “We are fighting for our freedom and for the rest of Europe.”
Anna reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv and other AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine