Russian forces have continued their offensive to conquer eastern Ukraine with air strikes on several towns in the Donbas basin, although Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the military campaign has not yet begun “seriously.”

The bombings left one dead and several wounded in Kramatorsk, the capital of Donetsk province, which together with Lugansk make up Donbas.

An explosion left a large crater in a courtyard between a hotel and residential buildings, AFP journalists noted.

But the Russian offensive, which began more than four months ago and left thousands dead and millions displaced, has not yet “begun in earnest”, Putin told a meeting with parliamentarians in Moscow.

Putin also challenged Western powers that give military support to Ukraine.

“We currently hear that [Westerns] want to defeat us on a battlefield. What to tell them? Let them try!” he declared.

Even so, he left the door open for a negotiation. “We do not refuse to hold peace negotiations, but those who refuse should know that it will be more difficult for them to reach an agreement with us” later on, she said.

Russian forces claim to control the entire Lugansk region and now want to conquer Donetsk, to gain complete control of the mining basin, which was already partly in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

Sloviansk and its twin city Kramatorsk are announced as the next targets for Russian forces.

“The enemy intends to launch attacks in the direction of Sloviansk,” shelling neighboring towns, the Ukrainian army said.

The city’s mayor, Vadim Liakh, reported on Wednesday that the evacuation of civilians was continuing.

About 23,000 people remained in the city that day, out of the 110,000 who lived there before the war, Liakh said.

“What are we going to do? We have nowhere to go, no one needs us,” lamented 72-year-old Sloviansk resident Galyna Vasylivna.

In Moscow, a prosecutor on Thursday called for seven years in prison against a local politician, accused of spreading “false information” about the military in the context of the offensive.

The day before, Russia adopted a text that introduces harsh prison sentences for those who urge to act against security.

The resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party, a step prior to his departure from power, shook the international scene.

Johnson, beset by scandals and pressured by his own Conservative Party, has been one of the Western leaders who has been most supportive of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky called him to express his “sadness” at his resignation.

“We have no doubt that UK support will continue, but his personal leadership and charisma made him special,” Zelensky said.

A little earlier, the Ukrainian presidency thanked Johnson for his support in the “most difficult moments” of the war.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, expressed its desire to see “more professional people” come to power in the United Kingdom.

The British political crisis came to a head on the eve of a ministerial meeting in Indonesia of the G20 of industrialized and emerging powers, in which Russia and Ukraine’s Western allies will participate.

That meeting is likely to see “a fairly tough confrontation,” a French diplomatic source said.

Tension also increased between Ukraine and Turkey after a Russian grain cargo ship sailed off the Turkish coast and returned to Russia.

Ukraine, which accuses Moscow of stealing its wheat crops, assures that the “Zhibek Zholy”, which set sail last Thursday from the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk -under Russian control-, was carrying 7,000 tons of illegally obtained grain.

In his late-night video message, Zelensky insisted on demanding more weapons from his international allies.

“The greater the military support to Ukraine now, the faster the war will end with our victory and the less will be the losses for all the countries of the world,” he said.

According to the US space agency (NASA), based on satellite data, Russia controls 22% of agricultural land in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia caused an interruption in the exports of both countries, with consequences in the increase in the prices of cereals and fertilizers throughout the world and in the supply of energy in Europe.

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