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KYIV — Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, announced by President Vladimir Putin on Friday, will not affect Kyiv’s resolve to free them with military force, said an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“For our plans, [Russia’s annexation] doesn’t matter,” Mykhailo Podolyak told POLITICO, speaking before the signing ceremony in Moscow orchestrated by Putin. The Russian leader railed at the United States and the West, denounced the Ukrainian government, and warned: “We will protect our land using all our forces.”
The annexation comes on a day when Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly encircled thousands of Russian troops near the city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, and a couple of weeks after a successful counteroffensive that pushed Russian forces from the region near Kharkiv — the country’s second city.
The nation “should liberate all its territories,” Podolyak said.
Ukrainian troops have “likely nearly completed” the encirclement of Russian troops in Lyman in the Donetsk region, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
“Virtually all approaches, logistics routes of the enemy, through which it delivered ammunition and manpower, are already under our fire control,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the Ukrainian eastern military grouping, told Ukrainian television.
Moscow has not commented on the situation.
Podolyak also shrugged off Putin’s announcement of a “partial” mobilization of reservists last week, with thousands called up and thousands more fleeing the country.
“The mobilization shows that Russia has run out of a professional army,” Podolyak said, adding: “This army is being replaced by absolutely untrained people. A living resource has been thrown onto the front lines, and it will simply be exterminated.”
“This may sound paradoxical, but it’s actually to our advantage that Russia has announced this mobilization,” he said. “This shows the people of Russia that the country really is at war, that it’s not doing very well in this war, and that the Russians themselves will be the ones to pay the price.”
The mobilization is prompting Kyiv to call for more weapons from its Western allies.
“For example, 100 more 155mm-caliber missiles would solve the problem, if you will excuse me for putting it that way, of additional human resources being utilized by Russia on the field of battle,” Podolyak said.
On Wednesday, U.S. authorities announced a $1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine, including 18 additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
“Russia now has one card left to play in this war: nuclear weapons. Against a non-nuclear nation. That’s absurd,” Podolyak said.
The worry is how Putin will react to Ukraine’s efforts to liberate the territories seized by Russia, and if the Kremlin will see that as an attack on Russia itself. However, Ukrainian attacks on Crimea and even strikes into Russia proper over the course of the seven-month war have not led to such a retaliation.
Last week, Putin warned: “We doubtlessly will use all weapons resources at our disposal … This is not a bluff.”
U.S. President Biden has warned Putin of the consequences of using nuclear or chemical weapons. Podolyak wants those warnings to be “clearly communicated” to Moscow and for “very tough retaliation measures aimed at the destruction of Russia’s defense infrastructure” to follow.
“For instance, Russia’s naval forces in the Black Sea could be completely destroyed,” he said. “This would be a proportionate response to Russia’s attempt to launch a tactical nuclear strike against the combat positions of the Ukrainian army.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine “will keep doing its job” to liberate its territory, he said.
“We have no other options when it comes to ending the war properly. We can’t leave some enclave [under Russian occupation] or create a new dividing line,” he said, referring to the frozen conflict that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Donbas war in 2014-2015.