MOSCOW: Russia reorganised the command of its flagging offensive in Ukraine, selecting a general with extensive combat experience in Syria to lead the mission as Western nations poured more weapons into the country in anticipation of a renewed Russian assault in the east.
The appointment of the general, Alexander Dvornikov, as the top battlefield commander came as Britain announced that it was sending an anti-aircraft missile system, 800 anti-tank missiles and assorted armored vehicles to Ukraine, and as Slovakia handed the Ukrainian military a long-range S-300 air defense system, with the blessing of the US. The appointment of Dvornikov was an effort to revive a struggling campaign, US officials said.
In another show of support for Ukraine, PM Boris Johnson made a surprise visit Saturday to Kyiv, the capital, where he met with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, flanked by the flags of both nations. Johnson and Zelenskyy planned to discuss further support for Ukraine, including a “new package of financial and military aid,” the UK government said.
The effort by Johnson and other Western leaders to bolster Ukraine came as fears of a new Russian onslaught escalated one day after a missile attack on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk killed over 50, including children, and injured many more who were heeding official warnings to flee. Moscow denied responsibility. Japan said it would join the US and European nations in supporting investigations into what PM Fumio Kishida called “unforgivable war crimes”.
Western analysts and European intelligence officials believe that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is trying to achieve battlefield gains by May 9, when he is planning to give a victory day speech to the Russian public, commemorating both the Soviet victory in World War II and the military operation in Ukraine.
Russian troops have been regrouping in the east after withdrawing from areas around Kyiv, under fire from Ukrainian forces. The massing of forces has prompted officials in Kramatorsk and other eastern cities to urge residents to flee. On Friday, the day of the missile strike in Kramatorsk, more than 6,600 people managed to flee besieged Ukrainian cities — a record number for the week.