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Putin warns against ‘constant escalation’ in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there would be “serious consequences” if Western countries gave approval to Ukraine to use their weapons in strikes on Russian territory.

“This constant escalation can lead to serious consquences,” Mr Putin said during a visit to Uzbekistan.

He said: “In Europe, especially in small countries, they should be aware what they are playing with.

“They should remember that, as countries with small, densely populated territories… They should keep this in mind before talking about striking Russia.”

Mr Putin also said that Ukraine should hold a presidential election following the expiry of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s five-year term.

Mr Zelensky has not faced an election despite the expiry of his term, something he and Kyiv’s allies deem the right decision in wartime.

Mr Putin said the only legitimate authority in Ukraine now was parliament and that its head should be given power.

Meanwhile Kyiv’s defence minister has said Ukraine will receive its first supplies of F-16 fighter jets “very soon”, but around half of its needed foreign military aid is arriving late.

Rustem Umerov, 42, told Reuters in an interview in Kyiv that Russia was deploying more manpower and equipment to the front, more than 27 months after its full-scale invasion.

Kyiv’s forces have managed to stabilise the new front in the northeastern Kharkiv region where Russia attacked earlier this month.

But Mr Umerov said Moscow was preparing for a new push.

“Their objective is to open a new front in the north to start using all their manpower, firing power, against us, they are continuing with their objective to destroy the nation,” he said.

“We are withstanding, but of course we need more weapons, we need more firing power, we need long-range missiles, not to allow them to enter our state,” he added.

Ukraine has struggled to recruit the number of troops it requires to rotate exhausted soldiers

He said Ukraine was grateful for the military aid and weapons supplied by its partners, but that only half of the promised deliveries arrived on time.

Every delay benefited Ukraine’s much larger and better-equipped foe, with a front line stretching 1,200 km, he said.

Even before Russian forces crossed this month into the northern part of the Kharkiv region, capturing border villages and forcing thousands of civilians to flee, it had been slowly advancing for months in the eastern Donetsk region.

“Time is super-crucial and, to repel the attacks, we need to have [the deliveries] on time in place,” Mr Umerov said.

Ukraine has also struggled to recruit the number of troops it requires to replenish and rotate exhausted soldiers, some of whom have been fighting since February 2022.

A new mobilisation law came into force last week.

Mr Umerov said up to 1.2 million men had updated their military records online, as the legislation requires, to help draft officers, but did not say how many the government wants to, or thinks it will be able to, call up.

Military analysts put the number of Ukrainian defence personnel, including security and law enforcement, at more than one million.

The minister said Russia had about 500,000 troops in Ukraine and near its borders, and was preparing to add another 200,000 – 300,000.

Mr Umerov said he expected the F-16 fighter jets to be delivered “hopefully very, very soon” (File image)

Mr Umerov, an ethnic Crimean Tatar which is a Turkic minority from the peninsula seized by Russia in 2014, reiterated that Kyiv was determined to liberate all its territory up to its internationally-recognised 1991 borders, including Crimea.

But the main military objective for the coming months would be to hold its defensive lines and to suppress the enemy while enhancing Ukrainian military capabilities in the air, at sea and on land.

He said he expected the F-16 fighter jets to be delivered “hopefully very, very soon”.

Asked how many Kyiv expected to receive, he said, in English: “We need as much as we may get.

“At this stage, we are focused on training our personnel …pilots, we are focused on infrastructure, we are focused on bringing operational and maintenance teams and we are working on modernisation or bringing on more platforms.”

He said Ukraine was also continuing to step up its own production of weapons and drones, as well as its electronic warfare capabilities.

Peace summit

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (R) and Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder (L) with Mr Zelensky during a trip to rally Western support

Mr Zelensky urged US President Joe Biden to attend a June peace summit in Switzerland, as he accused Mr Putin of trying to derail the gathering.

Mr Zelensky’s appeal came as he secured a commitment from Belgium to supply 30 F-16 fighter jets by 2028, on the latest leg of a tour to rally Western support.

Ukraine is pushing to whip up attendance at the peace conference next month where it hopes to win broad international backing for its vision of the terms needed to end Russia’s war.

But the meeting threatens to be overshadowed if key Ukraine backer Mr Biden, who is locked in campaigning against Donald Trump and has given no sign he would participate, ultimately stays away.

“If (Biden) is not present, it will be just like applauding Putin: personally applauding and doing so standing,” Mr Zelensky said at a press conference alongside Belgium’s Alexander De Croo.

The Ukrainian leader said that Mr Putin was “very scared” of the peace summit and was trying to derail the event set for June 15-16.

“He has been trying to thwart this summit and continues to do so,” said Mr Zelensky, who has ruled out Russian participation in the gathering.

Moscow meanwhile dismissed the proposed peace summit without Russia as “absurd”.

“The conference is, from our point of view, completely hopeless in terms of finding some ways to resolve the conflict around Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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