US sources reported that the Washington administration postponed providing Ukraine with long-range missiles to avoid a dangerous Russian response, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of committing genocide after finding mass graves containing hundreds of bodies in the city of Izyum in the northeastern province of Kharkiv.

NBC News quoted two military sources as saying that senior military officials advised the White House not to send these missiles with a range of more than 300 km to Ukraine, fearing that this would lead to a wider war with Russia.

The two military sources said that these officials expressed concern that the Ukrainian forces would use long-range missiles against targets inside Russian territory, which would expand the scope of the war with Russia.

NBC indicated that many Republican and Democratic members of Congress support the Ukrainian request, but it indicated that the Biden administration announced last month that Kyiv does not need long-range missiles, and that other missiles of the highest range have proven their effectiveness against Russian forces.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that providing Ukraine with long-range missiles means that the United States has crossed a red line and has become a direct player in the conflict.

Washington has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid, and on Thursday the Biden administration unveiled a new $600 million aid package that includes additional missile and artillery systems.

A march of the Gray Eagle model deployed by the US military in Poland to reassure US allies (Reuters)

military aid

In the context, POLITICO quoted sources as saying that Kyiv and Washington are discussing the possibility of sending Patriot systems, F-16s and "Gray Eagle" drones as part of long-term financing agreements.

The sources added that just talking about the possibility of sending Patriot systems to Ukraine is a major shift from what was the case in the past.

The US website stated that Ukraine had stopped publicly demanding advanced US weapons, but the pursuit of weapons capable of turning the tide of the war did not stop behind the scenes.

This comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to foreign powers to increase arms supplies, saying that the outcome of the war depends on the speed of their delivery.

For his part, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said that his country urgently needs more weapons to liberate the rest of Ukrainians and save their lives.

In Washington, US National Security Council Communications Coordinator John Kirby said his country will continue to provide Ukraine with defensive capabilities to meet its needs.

Kirby added that his country will continue to provide support to ensure Ukraine's success on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.

Putin downplays and warns

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin downplayed the counter-offensive that allowed Ukrainian forces to retake Russian-occupied areas in the (northeastern) Kharkiv Province, and warned that Moscow would respond more forcefully if its forces came under more pressure.

At a press conference after the conclusion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, smiling Putin said, "The Kyiv authorities have announced that they are carrying out a counter-attack operation. Well, let's see how it proceeds and how it turns out."

The Russian president again defended what he describes as the special military operation launched by his forces in Ukraine since last February 24, considering that it was necessary to prevent what he called a Western plot to dismantle Russia.

Putin said that Russia's main goal is the liberation of the Donbas region (eastern Ukraine), accusing Kyiv of refusing to negotiate

mass graves

On the other hand, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that there is some evidence that Russia committed war crimes in the areas recaptured by Ukrainian forces, after Kyiv confirmed the discovery of mass graves containing about 500 bodies in the city of Izyum in Kharkiv.

Zelensky added that his country would open an investigation into the crimes committed with international cooperation, and demanded that Russia be held accountable for these acts, saying that making a deal with Russia out of fear would bring the worst result.

The governor of Kharkiv Oleg Senegubov confirmed that most of the victims were killed in a "violent manner", with their hands tied.

In contrast, Russian officials denied that their forces had committed any atrocities at Izyum.

In international reactions, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that his country had received reports of mass graves in Ukraine, and that this was a terrifying part of the ongoing story, as he put it.

US National Security Council Communications Coordinator John Kirby also described the accounts of the mass killings at Izium as horrific.

In other international reactions, the European Union's foreign policy coordinator, Josep Borrell, expressed the union's shock at this matter, and French President Emmanuel Macron strongly condemned what he called the atrocities committed in the Ukrainian region of Izyum.

If this large number of bodies is confirmed, the mass graves at Izium will be the largest ever found in Europe since the burial grounds of the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Military Developments

On the ground, after the Ukrainian counter-attack in Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials played down the possibility that their forces would continue to advance at the same pace, noting that Russian forces plan to defend the territories they control in the neighboring Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

In the south, where the Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-attack for weeks to retake the city of Kherson and other nearby areas, the building of the pro-Russian Military and Civil Administration in the city was subjected to what is believed to be Ukrainian missile bombardment.

And the Russian state media agency published a video clip showing smoke rising from the building, while the Russian administration said that the bombing caused the death of 3 people.

Also in the south, pro-Russian authorities said that a man and his wife who were working on arranging a referendum on the Ukrainian city of Berdyansk to Russia were killed during Thursday evening.

In the east, Russian news agencies reported that the Prosecutor General of the pro-Russian separatist administration in Luhansk and his deputy were killed in an explosion in their offices.

Moscow also talked about cross-border strikes in the Belgorod region (southwest of Russia), and the region had previously been subjected to what is believed to be Ukrainian attacks.