Russian Onslaught Takes Even Crueler Turn; Patriarchs Duel Over Putin
Attacks on hospitals are seen as ‘an attempt to create terror in the population and to break civilian morale. In Mariupol, they just want the city to give in.’
ATHENS — March 10 will go down as the day that prospects of a Turkish-brokered ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine foundered almost as fast as accounts spread of the scope of Moscow’s cruelty in its war on Ukraine.
With details of the scale of the war’s human suffering being raced to front pages and television screens across the world, the feeble hopes of a truce were dashed early in the day as trilateral talks between the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey faltered.
Jarring confirmations from reliable quarters about the means Moscow is employing in its lust to crush to Ukraine include that from the deputy mayor of Mariupol, the besieged Black Sea port city, who told the BBC that at latest count 1,207 people have been killed there.
He said a number of them were “just bodies that we collected on the street,” adding that 47 people had to be buried in a mass grave due to the impossibility of reaching burial sites outside the city during the heavy Russian bombardment — including of a maternity hospital yesterday.
That raises the question: Why would Vladimir Putin, who, maniacal as he may be, is certainly no idiot, permit the targeting of such obviously civilian infrastructure as hospitals on his watch? One terrible possible answer to that question — that it may in fact be a priority — was supplied by an analyst and former director-general of military think tank RUSI, Michael Clarke.
He told Sky News that “it’s an attempt to create terror in the population and to break civilian morale. In Mariupol, they just want the city to give in.” Mr. Clarke said that “usually they offer people a way out, but they aren’t offering any genuine escape routes in Mariupol — they just want them to surrender,” and added darkly, “essentially, it’s a medieval siege.”
Mr. Clarke pointed to Idlib in Syria in 2019, where he asserted Mr. Putin engineered strikes on 24 hospital facilities ahead of any other military action. The World Health Organization estimates that Russian forces have attacked at least 18 hospitals in Ukraine since the invasion started February 24. Within the last day alone, Russian forces have attacked two additional medical facilities in Zhytomyr in northern Ukraine, according to Sky.
A medieval-siege mindset is particularly deadly when paired with some of the nastiest weapons the 21st century can produce.
The British defense ministry said in a tweet that the Russian defense ministry has confirmed its deployment in Ukraine of the TOS-1A weapon system, which “uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects.” One man’s thermobaric is, of course, another’s thermo-barbaric: These weapons draw in oxygen from the air to generate a high-temperature, long-lasting explosion that, according to a separate Sky report, “are capable of vaporizing human bodies.”
Mr. Putin is not relying on those instruments of death alone: The Interfax Ukrainian news agency reported today that the Russians have laid mines along the shore of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnieper River, which in one area borders the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station that came under attack last week and is now in Russian hands. That report has not been independently confirmed, but if accurate it is another sign that in southern Ukraine in particular, and by force of arms conventional and less so, Mr. Putin is playing his full hand.
Outside Kiev, the ravenous Russ is still playing for time. The capital city’s charismatic mayor, the former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko, knows as well as anyone that Kiev is in the crosshairs.
According to a France24 report, he said that half of the population has fled but warns that the city is now “a fortress” and that “every street, every building, every checkpoint has been fortified.” If the hundreds of thousands or millions of residents who have not fled Kiev are preparing for the worst as Russian tanks are now slowly advancing from every direction, the moxie of the Ukrainian army has been showing them the power of resistance.
On Thursday video footage of a Ukrainian ambush that destroyed a column of Russian tanks outside Kiev was making the rounds of news sites online. The Daily Mail reported that a top Russian commander was killed in that ambush.
One of Mr. Putin’s unlikeliest defenders is a man of the cloth, the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Kirill. The Associated Press reports that the influential patriarch is a longtime ally of Mr. Putin and, having already refrained from criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has now described it as part of a struggle against sin and against pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission to their ranks.
But Kirill’s powerful counterpart in the Eastern Orthodox church, the Istanbul-based ecumenical patriarch, Vartholomeos, told CNN Turk that Mr. Putin “should not have done this,” adding that he has “provoked the hatred of the whole world.”
Maybe not the whole world. The Washington Post reports: “Outside the West, Putin is less isolated than you might think,” and in an intriguing article notes that India’s Narendra Modi describes the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a gripe between Moscow and NATO; Brazil’s Bolsonaro won’t take sides; and a senior South African official still calls Russia “a friend through and through.”
In aviation news, China is now refusing to supply Russian airlines with aircraft parts, Russian news agencies reported Thursday. Not that one can travel very far beyond the confines of Russia aboard Aeroflot these days: The country’s flagship carrier has suspended virtually all its international flights, the Moscow Times reports — though it’s still possible to catch a flight from Moscow to Minsk.