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A residential building destroyed in the shelling of Russian troops is pictured in Borodianka, Kyiv Region, northern Ukraine. Ruslan Kaniuka/PA

UN chief says prospects for peace in Ukraine 'keep diminishing' as anniversary nears

It comes after Ukrainian officials said Russian forces are preparing for a large-scale offensive in the coming weeks.

UNITED NATIONS CHIEF Antonio Guterres has warned nations that he fears the likelihood of further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict means the world is heading towards a “wider war.”

The Secretary-General laid out his priorities for the year in a gloomy speech to the UN General Assembly that focused on Russia’s invasion, the climate crisis and extreme poverty.

“The prospects for peace keep diminishing,” he said of the conflict, as it approaches its one-year anniversary.

“The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing. I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”

Guterres noted that top scientists and security experts had moved the “Doomsday Clock” to just 90 seconds to midnight last month, the closest it has ever been to signaling the annihilation of humanity. He said he was taking it as a warning sign.

“We have started 2023 staring down the barrel of a confluence of challenges unlike any in our lifetimes,” he told diplomats in New York.

“We need to wake up – and get to work,” Guterres added.

Guterres also referenced other threats to peace, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Sahel and Haiti.

It comes after Ukrainian officials said that Russian forces are keeping Ukrainian troops tied down with fighting in the eastern Donbas region as Moscow assembles additional combat power there for an expected offensive in the coming weeks.

Weeks of intense fighting continued to rage around the city of Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

They are located in the Donetsk region, which with neighbouring Luhansk region makes up the Donbas region, an industrial area bordering Russia.

“The battles for the region are heating up,” Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks, adding that “the Russians are throwing new units into the battle and eradicating our towns and villages”.

In Luhansk, governor Serhii Haidai said shelling there had subsided because “the Russians have been saving ammunition for a large-scale offensive”.

Military analysts say the Kremlin’s forces may be probing Ukraine defences for weak points or could be making a feint while preparing for a main thrust through southern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is hungry for some battlefield success, especially securing illegally annexed territory in eastern Ukraine, to mark the first anniversary of his invasion on 24 February.

Russian forces made gains in the first few months of the war, though they failed to clinch key objectives and were then driven back from large areas by a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Western military help has been essential for Kyiv. Canadian defence minister Anita Anand tweeted late on Sunday that the first Leopard tank Canada is donating to Ukraine had arrived in Poland. It is part of a broad tank commitment by Ukraine’s Western allies to help it defeat Russia.

Training for Ukrainian military in how to use the tank was due to begin “soon”, Anand said, as the allies race to get Ukraine’s forces ready before the looming offensive.

Ukraine’s presidential office said on Monday that at least one civilian had been killed and 10 others wounded by Russian shelling over the past 24 hours.

Five of those wounded were injured during the shelling of Kharkiv city, where Russian shells struck residential buildings and a university, the presidential office said.

The Russians again fired at targets across the Dnieper River from the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, damaging residential buildings and power lines in Nikopol and Marhanets across the River Dnieper, Ukrainian authorities reported.

Russian forces occupied Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, early in the war, and regular shelling of the area has stoked major safety concerns.

The UN nuclear chief is expected to visit Moscow this week to discuss safety at Zaporizhzhia, according to a senior Russian diplomat.

Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov would not reveal the exact date of International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Grossi’s visit to Russia, but confirmed that it is expected to take place this week and that the safety of the nuclear power plant was “a key issue” on the agenda.

Press Association
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