Putin threatens further escalation if West arms Ukraine with long-range missiles
Vladimir Putin (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday threatened to further escalate the war in Ukraine in light of Western countries' continued military assistance to the former Soviet state, warning the U.S. and other countries against providing long-range rocket systems capable of hitting targets in Russia.

A shipment of such weapons would prompt Russian forces to target "objects that we haven't yet struck," said Putin in a televised interview.

The Russian president made the comments as at least five airstrikes hit Kyiv early Sunday morning, following weeks of relative calm in the capital, and fighting continued in the eastern Donbas region.

Ukraine denied claims by Russia that it had destroyed tanks sent by Western countries, with the country's railroad chief saying the Russians had attacked grain wagons—further threatening food supplies for the rest of the world.

Last week, the U.S. announced it had approved a $700 million security assistance package for Ukraine, including four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems capable of striking Russian targets that are 50 miles away.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, peace groups including CodePink, which has consistently advocated for the U.S. to lead efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Russia and Ukraine, warned that the decision to arm the Ukrainians with a more advanced missile system added "fuel to the fire deliberately."

Putin on Sunday asserted the delivery of increasingly advanced Western weapons "has only one goal: To drag out the armed conflict as much as possible."

Analysts and peace advocates say the conflict, now past its 100th day, has already effectively devolved into a proxy war between NATO and Moscow with no end in sight.

The Biden administration said last week that it had provided the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Ukraine after getting assurances that the country would not use the weapons to attack inside Russia, but Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, said the shipment represented "the slippery slope leading to a direct U.S. confrontation with Russia."

Meanwhile, Energoatom, Ukraine's state-run agency that operates its four nuclear power stations, warned that a Russian cruise missile "flew critically low" over the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear plant near the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk on Sunday morning.

Russian forces "still do not understand that even the smallest fragment of a missile that can hit a working power unit can cause a nuclear catastrophe and radiation leak," the agency said.

CNN reported Saturday that the U.S. and other Western allies have met regularly in recent weeks to discuss ending the war through a negotiated settlement, with officials discussing one proposal for Ukraine to commit to staying out of NATO in exchange for security guarantees and to hold negotiations with Russia regarding the future of the Donbas region and Crimea.

Ukraine is focused on winning a decisive victory in the eastern and southern regions and is unlikely to support any deal "that cedes territory," one official told CNN.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that while "almost all wars end at some stage at the negotiating table," officials "have to be prepared for the long haul... because what we see is that this war has now become a war of attrition."