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Ukraine sees Russia land-grab attempt before more weapons arrive

*EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content* A Ukrainian policeman covers the body of a victim killed by a Russian strike at a hardware superstore, in Kharkiv, on May 25, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov said at least two people were killed when two Russian guided bombs hit a construction hypermarket.    (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Daryna Krasnolutska, Stephanie Baker Bloomberg News

Russian forces are trying to seize as much Ukrainian territory as possible in an effort to force Kyiv’s allies to agree to a freeze in fighting before weapons deliveries fill a crucial gap, a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

As the European Union considers letting Ukraine strike targets inside Russia with weapons sent by member states, Kremlin forces have been exploiting their advantage in weaponry and manpower as they opened a new front with an incursion into the northeastern Kharkiv region this month.

Although US weapons have begun to arrive on the battlefield, it will take weeks of gradual increases to reach critical volumes, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.

“At the moment, Russian troops have the absolute advantage in shells, missiles, etc,” Podolyak said in an interview. “They will try to press along the frontline to advance. And then they may try to force the pro-Ukrainian coalition to accept unacceptable terms: ‘Let’s freeze the conflict, we will stay where we are – or otherwise we will continue to kill.’”

Russia’s military has increased missile and glide-bomb attacks against Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and home to 1.5 million before the invasion, from inside its own territory. Kremlin troops were also able stretch Kyiv’s forces further with the attack on the surrounding region.

Russian forces have launched more than 10,000 glide bombs from positions about 5 kilometers (3 miles) back from the Ukrainian border, Podolyak said. One recent such attack on a home-improvement superstore in Kharkiv this month killed at least 18 people.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that Ukraine must be allowed to use European-supplied weapons to target the military sites the missiles are fired from inside Russia. The issue will be discussed by NATO foreign ministers meeting in Prague this week.

Podolyak said air power is crucial. Kyiv now needs at least 60 Western fighter jets to cover a frontline that was extended by another 70 kilometers from the 1,200 kilometers before the Kharkiv incursion, he said. Taking into account the length of the contact line and intensity of fighting 100-120 such planes would be “optimal,” Podolyak said.

Ukrainian pilots are in the final stages of training in jets, the presidential aide said, adding that if Kyiv gets everything it seeks, the military will regain the initiative as it did in late 2022, when it forced Russian troops out of occupied territory in Kharkiv and the southern region of Kherson.

Still, Ukraine needs permission to strike inside Russian territory close to the border and get the promised jets for effective defense, Podolyak said.

“We need to end the dominance of Russian tactical aviation, otherwise this defensive war will be very difficult because Russia will just flood areas close to the battlefield with bombs,” Podolyak said.