Russian officials shift line on hospital bombing in Ukraine’s Mariupol

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Russia on Thursday shifted its stance over the bombing of a Ukrainian hospital in the city of Mariupol, with a mix of statements that veered between aggressive denials and a call to establish clear facts.

Ukrainian's president on Wednesday accused Russia of carrying out genocide after officials said Russian aircraft had bombed the hospital, burying patients in rubble despite a ceasefire deal for people to flee the besieged city.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked for comment in the immediate aftermath, told Reuters: “Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets.”

On Thursday he said the Kremlin would look into the incident.

“We will definitely ask our military, because you and I don't have clear information about what happened there,” Peskov told reporters. “And the military are very likely to provide some information.”

Other Russian officials took a more aggressive line on Thursday, rejecting the hospital bombing as fake news.

“This is information terrorism,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia's first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, went further, saying the building that was hit was a former maternity hospital that had been taken over by Ukrainian troops.

“That’s how fake news is born,” he said, adding that Russia had warned on March 7 that the hospital had been turned into a military object from which Ukrainians were firing.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed on Thursday that the hospital in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol had been serving as a military base for nationalists.

“This maternity hospital has long been occupied by the Azov Battalion and other radicals. They drove out the women in labor, nurses, and general staff. It was the base of the ultra-radical Azov Battalion,” Lavrov said, following talks in Turkey with his Ukrainian counterpart.

The contrasting tone and content of the statements were unusual for Russian officials, who since the start of Russia's invasion on February 24 have maintained tight unity and consistency in their messaging.

Moscow says it is conducting a special military operation to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and the West reject these as false pretexts for an invasion of a democratic country of 44 million people.

On Wednesday, the United States denied renewed Russian accusations that Washington was operating biowarfare labs in Ukraine, calling the claims “laughable.”

Read more: Three killed, including child, in attack on Mariupol hospital: Ukraine officials

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