Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff on Sunday hit back at remarks by Emmanuel Macron in which the French president said it was important not to “humiliate” Russia over the war in Ukraine.
In an interview with French regional newspapers on Saturday, Macron said maintaining dialogue with Vladimr Putin was crucial “so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means”.
In a Telegram post on Sunday as Russian air strikes on Kyiv resumed for the first time since April, Andriy Yermak responded, saying: “Some countries are proposing not to ‘humiliate’ Russia. At the same time we are being shelled: our cities, people.”
“They are trying to take away our territories . . . And the responsibility for crimes, for the genocide of Ukrainians should be as strict as possible. The aggressor’s responsibility is not humiliation, but justice,” Yermak added.
The French president made similar comment in Strasbourg last month, saying a peace settlement would eventually have to be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv.
France has been playing a go-between role since before the Russia invasion with Macron holding frequent calls with leaders of Ukraine, Russia, and other countries. Working with European allies, France’s position has been to support Ukraine militarily and financially, back sanctions against Russia, and to pursue talks with all involved. But Macron has repeatedly said that any negotiated solution has to be reached between Moscow and Kyiv “by respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The Elysée declined to respond to Yermak’s comments on Sunday. Elsewhere in the interview, Macron said that he believed Putin had committed a “historical and fundamental error” by invading Ukraine and that the Russian leader had “isolated himself”, a position that it would be difficult for him to get out of.
The attacks on the Ukrainian capital, which local officials said did not claim any lives, came hours after Russia’s president warned in a state television interview that Moscow would ramp up attacks if western countries continued “supplying longer-range missiles” to Ukraine’s army.
“We will strike at objects that we do not touch yet,” Putin said.
Sunday’s attacks on eastern Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities appeared to be aimed at hitting railway infrastructure, a common target along with fuel depots of almost daily Russian missile strikes across Ukraine in the months since the Russian full-scale invasion began on February 24.
Experts say the strikes are aimed at disrupting the supply of western weapons flowing into the country towards front lines in far eastern Donbas and southern coastal regions.
Russia’s defence ministry said in a post on messaging app Telegram that it used air-based long-range high-precision missiles for the strike on Kyiv. It claimed that it destroyed T-72 tanks given to Ukraine by eastern European countries as well as other unspecified armoured vehicles the ministry said were stored in a car repair facility on Kyiv’s outskirts. Ukrainian officials did not confirm the Russian claims, which it was not possible to verify.
State atomic power company Energoatom said one of Russia’s cruise missiles fired early on Sunday flew “critically low” over South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. It is one of four nuclear plants operating in Ukraine, including Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is in Russian occupied southern regions.
Artillery battles, meanwhile, continued to rage in the Donbas where Ukraine claimed its troops had pushed back Russian forces within the key city of Sievierodonetsk.
“The Russians [last week] controlled 70 per cent of Sievierodonetsk, but within two days they were repelled — the city is now divided in half,” said Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk region.
Sievierodonetsk, which appeared close to falling last week, is one of the last main cities not yet under Russian occupation in Luhansk region. Together with Donetsk province, it compromises Ukraine’s eastern Donbas industrial coal mining and steel heartland. Russian forces have for months unsuccessfully tried to encircle Ukrainian forces in Donbas, including in Donetsk province towns west of Sievierodonetsk.
“Over the last 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have counter-attacked in the contested city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, likely blunting the operational momentum Russian forces previously gained through concentrating combat units and firepower,” the UK’s defence ministry’s intelligence unit tweeted on Sunday.