Russia deepens Iran ties against West, hits Ukraine with more missiles

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By Natalia Zinets

KYIV (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin met Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on Tuesday, stressing closer ties in the face of Western pressure over the war in Ukraine, where Russian forces struck more targets across the country.

During his Iran visit Putin also met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss a deal that would resume Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports, now blockaded by Russia. Putin said that not all the issues had been resolved yet on grain shipments, "but the fact that there is movement is already good."

It was Putin's first in-person meeting with a NATO leader since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and was a pointed message to the West about Russian plans to forge closer strategic ties with Iran, China and India to help offset Western sanctions imposed over the invasion.

The trip shows how isolated Russia has become, said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby also said the United States was preparing to unveil another weapons package for Ukraine. Citing U.S. intelligence, he accused Russia of laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory.

In Moscow, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said that any peace in Ukraine would be the way Moscow wanted it.

"Russia will achieve all its goals. There will be peace - on our terms," said Medvedev, who is now deputy head of the Kremlin's Security Council.

The Kremlin has said there is no time limit to a conflict it calls a "special military operation" to ensure its own security. Ukraine and the West condemn it as an unprovoked aggressive war meant to grab territory and erase the identity of a nation that was under Moscow's thumb in the former Soviet Union until 1991.

Russia was trying to "drag" Ukraine into a protracted conflict into the winter, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff Andriy Yermak said in a magazine interview.

"It is very important for us not to enter the winter. After winter, when the Russians will have more time to dig in, it will certainly be more difficult," for any Ukrainian counter-offensive, Yermak said.

FAMILIAR PATTERN

More than two weeks have passed since Russia's last major territorial gain - capturing the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk. Ukraine's General Army Staff said on Tuesday that Moscow's forces were busy shoring up their positions in recently-seized territory and mounting limited but unsuccessful ground assaults in numerous different locations.

Ukraine's air force said it had shot down a Russian fighter jet with a missile on Tuesday over Nova Kakhovka, to the east of the city of Kherson, which is occupied by Moscow's forces. In a Facebook post, the air force said the plane was most likely a Sukhoi Su-35.

Reuters could not immediately verify the Ukrainian account.

But in a now familiar pattern, Russian missiles slammed into targets across Ukraine. At least one person was killed in a missile strike on the centre of the eastern city of Kramatorsk, the regional governor said.

Buildings in a town in the Kharkiv region were also hit, with footage showing piles of rubble being cleared by excavators.

Putin's talks with Turkey's Erdogan will focus on a plan to get Ukrainian grain exports moving again, unblocking supplies that are vital to feed millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are expected to sign a deal later this week aimed at resuming the shipping of grain from Ukraine across the Black Sea.

'NEITHER BREAK NOR GIVE UP'

Footage from Ukraine's Odesa region showed badly-damaged buildings smouldering from Russian barrages.

Oleksii Matsulevych, a spokesman for the regional administration, said on Telegram the Russian strike had injured at least four people, burned houses to the ground, and set other homes on fire.

Presidential adviser Yermak wrote on Twitter that the houses had been struck by seven Russian Kalibr cruise missiles.

"A terrorist state is longing to defeat those (who are) fearless with fear," he said. "We will neither break nor give up."

Russia's defence ministry said its forces had destroyed ammunition depots in the area that were storing weapons supplied to Kyiv by the United States and European countries.

Reuters could not immediately verify that assertion.

Russia says it does not deliberately target civilians or civilian infrastructure and only uses precision weapons to degrade Ukraine's military.

Kyiv says the ruins of numerous residential buildings hit by Russian forces across Ukraine belie Moscow's narrative.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Andrew Osborn, Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Rosalba O'Brien)