Russia used its newest Kinzhal hypersonic missiles for the first time in Ukraine to destroy a weapons storage site in the country’s west as President Volodymyr Zelensky made a fresh appeal for talks with Moscow Saturday.
Russia has never before admitted using the high-precision weapon in combat, and state news agency RIA Novosti said it was the first use of the Kinzhal hypersonic weapons during the conflict in pro-Western Ukraine.
“The Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse containing missiles and aviation ammunition in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region [on Friday],” the Russian defense ministry said Saturday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has termed the Kinzhal (Dagger) missile “an ideal weapon” that flies at 10 times the speed of sound and can overcome air-defense systems.
The Kinzhal missile was one of an array of new weapons Putin unveiled in his state-of-the-nation address in 2018.
The region of Ivano-Frankivsk shares a 50-kilometer-long border with NATO member Romania.
As bitter fighting between local forces and Russian troops rages across the country more than three weeks into the invasion, the two sides are already holding negotiations remotely.
But so far, as in previous rounds, the talks have yielded little progress, with both sides blaming the other, and none have been at the presidential level.
“This is the time to meet, to talk, time for renewing territorial integrity and fairness for Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a video posted to Facebook.
“Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such, that several generations will not recover.”
Russia’s offensive remains largely stalled, a US defense official said, with troops about 30 kilometer east of the capital Kyiv and facing heavy resistance.
The official added that Russian forces had made no further progress into the northeastern city of Kharkiv, which they have encircled, and that Ukrainians were also defending the northern city of Chernihiv.
Britain’s defense ministry said Russia was struggling to provide its forward troops “with even basic essentials such as food and fuel” because of Ukrainian attacks on their supply lines.
But Russia’s defense ministry said Friday that the army and its separatist allies had made a breakthrough in Mariupol, which has been under Russian shelling for days, and were now inside the city.
“In Mariupol, units of the Donetsk People’s Republic, with the support of the Russian armed forces, are squeezing the encirclement and fighting against nationalists in the city centre,” the ministry said.
The mayor of the city confirmed to the BBC that gun battles had reached the heart of Mariupol.
On Friday rescuers were still searching for hundreds of people trapped under the wreckage of a bombed theater there.
At the time of the attack, Mariupol’s city council said that over 1,000 people were sheltering in the theatre’s basement when it was hit on Wednesday.
On Friday, the council said one person had been badly wounded, but there were no dead, the only casualty tally given so far.
There was still no information about potential fatalities, Zelensky said, but 130 people had been saved so far—some “heavily injured.”
Some 9,000 people had been evacuated from Mariupol, he added.
As Putin’s ground offensive has met with fierce Ukrainian resistance, Moscow has increasingly turned to indiscriminate air and long-range strikes.
Russia wants Ukraine to disarm and disavow all Western alliances—steps that Kyiv says would turn it into a vassal state of Moscow.
Russia’s top negotiator said Friday that Moscow and Kyiv had brought their positions “as close as possible” on a proposal for Ukraine to become a neutral state.
But Mikhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Zelensky taking part in the negotiations, said his country’s position had not budged.
“All statements are intended, inter alia, to provoke tension in the media,” he wrote on Twitter.
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