UN secretary general describes war in Ukraine as ‘absurdity’ in 21st century

António Guterres visits Borodianka outside Kyiv where Russian forces are accused of massacring civilians

The UN secretary general has described the war in Ukraine as “an absurdity” in the 21st century on a visit to the scene of civilian killings outside Kyiv, as Russia warned the west that increasing arms supplies to Ukraine would endanger European security.

António Guterres was touring Borodianka on Thursday, where Russian forces are accused of massacring civilians before their withdrawal, on his first visit to Ukraine since the start of the invasion on 24 February, before talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“I imagine my family in one of those houses that is now destroyed and black,” said the UN secretary general, who has been criticised for visiting Ukraine only after having first met Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow.

“I see my granddaughters running away in panic,” Guterres said. “The war is an absurdity in the 21st century. The war is evil. There is no way a war can be acceptable in the 21st century.”

Guterres was accompanied by local military and civilian governors who showed him residential buildings that had been destroyed in Russian attacks. He was also due to visit the towns of Bucha and Irpin, sites of further alleged Russian war crimes.


The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned on Thursday that an increased western supply of heavy weapons to Kyiv – as urged by the British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, on Wednesday – would endanger European security.

“The tendency to pump weapons, including heavy weapons, into Ukraine, these are the actions that threaten the security of the continent, provoke instability,” Peskov said in response to Truss’s call for Kyiv’s allies to “ramp up” military production, including tanks and planes, to help Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, also warned the west on Thursday to stop encouraging Ukraine to strike at targets inside Russian territory, saying it was “trying our patience”. Multiple targets, including fuel and ammunition depots, have been hit in Russian provinces bordering Ukraine in recent days.

“Such aggression against Russia cannot remain without an answer,” Zakharova said. “We would like Kyiv and western capitals to take seriously the statement that further provocation prompting Ukraine to strike against Russian facilities will be met with a harsh response from Russia.”

Zakharova added that western envoys in Ukraine would not be immune from Russian retaliatory attacks, saying “advisers from western countries” in Ukraine “will not necessarily be a problem for Russia’s response measures”.

The senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak defended Ukraine’s right to strike inside Russian, saying: “Ukraine will defend itself in any way, including strikes on the warehouses and bases of the killers in Russia. The world recognises this right.”

Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, on Thursday also repeated the UK’s assertion that it was “legitimate under international law” for Ukrainian forces to target Russian logistics infrastructure, but he said such attacks were unlikely to use British weapons.

He also denied Nato was locked in a “proxy war” with Russia, but said the west would provide increased support to Ukraine if the Russian attacks continued. “Sometimes that will include planes and tanks,” he said, adding that he expected Putin, “having failed in nearly all his objectives” to dig in “like a cancerous growth”.

Germany’s parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a petition backing the delivery of weapons, including heavy arms, to Ukraine to help it fend off Russian attacks.

As Russia’s assault on Ukraine, now in its 10th week, continues to radically reshape security and economic ties across Europe, Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said non-aligned Finland and Sweden would be welcome in the alliance.

“It is, of course, for Finland and Sweden to decide whether they would like to apply for membership in Nato or not,” Stoltenberg said on Thursday. “But if they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be welcomed with open arms.”

Nordic media said this week the two countries, which are deliberating the question of Nato membership, had agreed to submit simultaneous applications to the US-led alliance in mid-May. Moscow has said that would force it to bolster its defences in the Baltic, including with nuclear weapons, to “restore balance”.

While Russia presses its military offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine, its economic battle with the west threatens to disrupt gas supplies to Europe.

In a retaliatory strike against western sanctions, Moscow on Wednesday halted gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria for refusing to pay for supplies in roubles, a move Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, called “blackmail”.

Zelenskiy repeated the term in an overnight national address, saying Moscow’s “European energy blackmail” showed it considered “not only gas, but any trade as a weapon” and that “no one in Europe can hope to maintain any normal economic cooperation with Russia”.

The Financial Times, however, reported that some of Europe’s largest gas importers in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia were preparing to pay for their supplies in roubles via accounts with Russia’s Gazprombank . The commission has warned this would undercut the EU’s sanctions and endanger the bloc’s unity.


Jon Henley and Julian Borger in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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