Ukraine’s first lady makes plea to allies as Russia flags expanding war

Russia’s military “tasks” will no longer target “only” the east of Ukraine, the Kremlin’s Foreign Minister says, as the US pledges more weapons for defending forces.

Sergei Lavrov also told state news agency RIA Novosti that Russia’s focus will expand if Ukrainians are given more long-range weapons like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that the US sent to the war zone in June.

Despite the threat, Ukraine is urging allies to arm its forces and to help close the sky so Russia can not continue rocket attacks.

In a first for any international first lady, the wife of Ukraine’s president addressed US Congress explaining she was there not just in an official capacity but “as a mother and a daughter”.

“Usually the wives of presidents are exclusively engaged in peaceful affairs,” Olena Zelenska said on Thursday morning (Australian time).

“Maybe you expected me to talk on those topics … but how can I… when an unprovoked invasive terrorist war is being waged against my country.

“These are Russia’s Hunger Games.”

She said the “answer is right here in Washington DC”, calling on the US to supply air defence systems.

“This is what I’m asking for and what my husband is asking for… as parents…because we want every father and every mother to be able to tell their child ‘go to sleep peacefully’,” Ms Zelenska said.

Europe Union members making emergency gas plans

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has accused Russia of “blackmailing” the European Union as she unveiled a plan to slash gas demand in the bloc.

The EU fears Russia could cut gas deliveries as winter approaches.

Under the emergency plan, EU members have been urged to decrease gas consumption by 15 per cent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier warned that gas supplies sent to Europe via the huge Nord Stream 1 pipeline were at risk of being reduced further.

The pipeline has been closed for maintenance for 10 days and Russia has confirmed it is due to restart on Thursday. Sources told Reuters, however, the pipeline would operate at less than its full capacity.

More weapons for Ukraine

Allies are not backing down from their pledges to send more long-range artillery systems and the EU has also discussed imposing additional sanctions.

On Wednesday US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin expanded on previous commitments by offering another four HIMARS – meaning defending forces would have a total of 16 of those longe-range systems.

“[We] will keep finding innovative ways to sustain our long-term support for the brave men and women of the Ukrainian armed forces and we will tailor our assistance to ensure that Ukraine has the technology, the ammunition and the sheer firepower to defend itself,” Mr Austin said during a virtual meeting with allies.

He said the war was in a “critical phase”.

Ukrainian forces have used HIMARS to strike about 30 targets, including Russian logistics and ammunition hubs. Early this week, HIMARS hit a strategic bridge in the Russian-occupied Kherson region.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had rejected diplomacy and wanted “blood, not talks”.

“By confessing dreams to grab more Ukrainian land, Russian Foreign Minister proves that Russia rejects diplomacy and focuses on war and terror,” Mr Kuleba said.

Mr Lavrov had told RIA Novosti geographical realities had changed since Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held peace talks in Turkey in late March that failed to produce any breakthrough.

At that time, he said, the focus was on the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), self-styled Russian-backed breakaway entities in eastern Ukraine from which Russia has said it aims to drive out Ukrainian government forces.

“Now the geography is different, it’s far from being just the DPR and LPR, it’s also Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and a number of other territories,” Mr Lavrov said, referring to territories well beyond the Donbas that Russian forces have wholly or partly seized.

“This process is continuing logically and persistently,” he said, adding that Russia might need to push even deeper.

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