Residents remove debris and carry belongings out of a shop destroyed in recent shelling in the Donetsk region on Tuesday. (ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO / REUTERS)
One of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest aides said on Tuesday that Moscow was now fighting the US-led NATO military alliance in Ukraine and that the West was trying to wipe Russia from the political map of the world.
"The events in Ukraine are not a clash between Moscow and Kyiv — this is a military confrontation between Russia and NATO, and above all the United States and Britain," Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.
"The Westerners' plans are to continue to pull Russia apart, and eventually just erase it from the political map of the world."
The US had sown chaos in Afghanistan, Vietnam and the Middle East, and has been trying for years to undermine Russia's "unique" culture and language, Patrushev said.
"There is no place for our country in the West," he said.
In response, he said Russia would achieve economic sovereignty and financial independence, while also building up its armed forces and special services to deter any potential aggressor.
When asked about Patrushev's remarks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said NATO and the US were part of the Ukraine conflict.
"They have de facto already become an indirect party to this conflict, pumping Ukraine with weapons, technologies, intelligence information and so on," Peskov told a regular news conference.
Russia's special military operation in Ukraine has triggered one of the deadliest European conflicts since World War II and the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Meanwhile, about 100 Ukrainian troops will head to Oklahoma's Fort Sill as soon as next week to begin training on the Patriot missile defense system, getting Kyiv closer to obtaining the long-sought protection against Russia's missile attacks, The Associated Press reported.
The number of Ukrainians coming to Fort Sill is approximately the number it takes to operate one battery, and they will focus on learning to operate and also maintain the Patriot, Pentagon spokesman Air Force General Pat Ryder said on Tuesday.
The US pledged one Patriot battery in December as part of several large military assistance packages it has provided to Ukraine in recent weeks. Last week, Germany pledged an additional Patriot battery.
Each Patriot battery consists of a truck-mounted launching system with eight launchers that can hold up to four missile interceptors each, a ground radar, a control station and a generator. The army said it currently has 16 Patriot battalions.
On the battlefield, fighting for salt mining town Soledar raged in subzero temperatures on Wednesday as Russia's paramilitary group Wagner claimed it had taken control, with its fighters training their fire on a pocket of resistance in the town center.
Agencies contributed to this story.