KYIV, Feb 24 (Reuters) – The war in Ukraine entered its second year on Friday with no end in sight, a U.N. vote demanding Russia withdraw its forces and global leaders set to bolster Ukraine aid and impose new sanctions on Moscow and countries supporting its war effort.
As fighting raged on in Ukraine’s east and south, its allies around the world showed their support on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
Paris lit up the Eiffel Tower in the Ukrainian flag colours of blue and yellow and people draped in Ukrainian flags, with hands on their hearts, gathered at a vigil in London holding a banner: “If you stand for freedom, stand for Ukraine”.
“There will be a life after this war, because Ukraine will win,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a speech.
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on Thursday demanding that Russia pull out and stop fighting.
There were 141 votes in favour and 32 abstentions. Six countries joined Russia to vote no – Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua and Syria.
Russia’s ally China abstained on the U.N. vote.
Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy dismissed the action at the United Nations as “useless”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the vote.
“This resolution is a powerful signal of unflagging global support for Ukraine,” he said in a post on Twitter.
The Ukraine military reported increased Russian activity in the east and south as the anniversary approached, with at least 25 towns and villages in three northern regions along the Russian border under fire.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year to seize Kyiv and topple the pro-European government, but those hopes were dashed by a fierce defence and military blunders that embarrassed Moscow.
Ukraine had success with counter-offensives in late 2022 to grab back much of the territory it had lost. Russia now controls around a fifth of Ukraine.
UN member states vote for resolution calling on Russia to leave Ukraine
The war, which Russia calls a “special military operation” to protect its sovereignty, has settled into attritional trench warfare, with rising losses on both sides, particularly this year in fighting in and around the eastern town of Bakhmut.
Some U.S. and Western officials estimate Russia’s casualties at nearly 200,000 dead and wounded, while in November the top U.S. general said more than 100,000 troops on each side had been killed or wounded.
It is impossible to independently verify casualties in what has become the worst conflict in Europe since World War Two.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes, but it denies targeting civilians.
The war has damaged the world economy and a Cold War chill has set into international relations, with Putin raising the spectre of nuclear weapons and signalling a desire to double down on the conflict, despite major battlefield defeats.
With Zelenskiy insisting on Moscow’s withdrawal, the prospects of peace appear bleak.
“We don’t know when the war will end. But what we do know is that when the war ends, we need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters on Thursday.
“We need to prevent Russia from chipping away at European security,” he said.
SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE
U.S. President Joe Biden will meet virtually on Friday with G7 leaders and Zelenskiy to mark the anniversary and announce new sanctions against those aiding Russia’s war effort.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would provide an additional $2 billion in assistance and new G7 sanctions will target countries that are seeking to backfill products that are denied to Russia because of sanctions.
G20 financial leaders meeting near Bengaluru must condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Reuters on Friday, adding that Europe was working on new sanctions against Moscow.
“Sanctions will be more and more efficient, more and more effective,” said Le Maire, speaking on the first day of the G20 meeting.
India, which holds the current G20 presidency, does not want the bloc to discuss additional sanctions and is pressing to avoid using the word “war” in the communique to describe the year-old conflict, G20 officials told Reuters.
The United States has said China is considering providing weapons to Russia, which could intensify the conflict into a confrontation between Russia and China on one side and Ukraine and the U.S.-led NATO on the other.
Putin on Thursday hailed “new frontiers” in ties between Moscow and Beijing and said China’s leader Xi Jinping would visit. Xi is expected to deliver a “peace speech” on Friday, though some analysts have cast doubt on whether China’s efforts to act as peacemaker will go beyond rhetoric.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in a position paper on Friday that dialogue and negotiation were the only viable ways to resolve the conflict.
Ukraine and its allies say the invasion is an unjustified land grab aimed at subjugating a sovereign state.
Further ratcheting up tension, Putin announced plans on Thursday to deploy new Sarmat multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles this year. This week, he suspended Russia’s participation with the United States in the New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, on nuclear arms control.
Russia’s military focus is on seizing the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which together form the industrial area known as the Donbas near the Russian border.
Close to a Ukrainian tank park near Bakhmut, which has become Russia’s main target, constant explosions could be heard on Thursday.
“If we give up Bakhmut, everything else will get even more complicated. We can’t give it up, under any circumstance. We will hold through,” Junior Sergeant Oleh Slavin, a tank operator, told Reuters.
Reporting by Max Hunder and Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Yiming Woo near Bakhmut; Writing by Mike Collett-White, Grant McCool and Michael Perry; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Diane Craft, Himani Sarkar and Kim Coghill
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