President Vladimir Putin threatened further missile attacks on Ukraine after Russia hit Kyiv and other cities in the most intense barrage of strikes since the first days of its invasion, marking a dangerous new escalation in the war.
“If attempts to commit terrorist acts on our territory continue, the responses from Russia will be harsh and their scale will correspond to the level of threat to Russia,” Putin said in televised comments to a meeting of his Security Council on Monday. “No one should have any doubts.”
He confirmed Monday’s “massive strikes” targeted energy and communications infrastructure in Ukraine, as well as military command installations. Those came a day after Putin accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out an explosion Saturday that damaged a road and rail bridge connecting Crimea across the Kerch Strait to Russia.
The broad burst of firepower prompted an outcry from international leaders, who said the assault was a significant escalation that targeted civilians and the nation’s infrastructure. Group of Seven leaders plan to hold an emergency video conference together with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to address the attack on Tuesday.
“They are trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the Earth,” Zelenskiy said on his Telegram channel, urging people to stay in bomb shelters as air-raid alerts sounded in every region of the country except occupied Crimea. “Unfortunately there are dead and wounded.”
Russia launched 83 missile strikes at Ukraine on Monday fired from Astrakhan in southern Russia, 43 of which were intercepted, a spokesman for air defense, Yuriy Ihnat, said. The assault also included Iranian-made Shahed-136 unmanned drones from Belarus and Crimea, the military said.
At least 10 explosions were reported in Kyiv. Russian forces continued a missile assault on the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, local authorities said, and explosions took place in Odesa, Dnipro and Lviv in Ukraine’s west, far from the front lines. The governor of the southern Mykolaiv region, Vitaly Kim, said at least 47 rockets had been fired from southern Russia.
“Such acts have no place in the 21st century,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Twitter, pledging additional military support. “I condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
Zelenskiy said he spoke earlier with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which holds the G-7 presidency. The Ukrainian leader also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Ukraine’s air defense.
Ukraine hasn’t officially claimed responsibility for the blast on the multi billion-dollar Crimea bridge that was a signature project for Putin and intended to symbolize Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in 2014.
Likening Ukraine’s government to “an international terrorist organization,” Putin accused Kyiv of attempting attacks on the Kursk Nuclear Power Plant as well as gas pipelines.
The missile strikes come after Russia’s Defense Ministry announced the appointment of a new commander of its invasion forces in Ukraine, Air Force General Sergei Surovikin, following a series of recent military reverses. In the past he led Russian forces in Syria, where Kremlin troops carried out a bombardment campaign that destroyed much of Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city.
Russia is attacking energy infrastructure in regions across the country, Zelenskiy said in a video address from outside his presidential offices, warning of possible electricity outages. “Their second target is people. They intentionally chose the time so that most harm is done” as Ukrainians began the working week.
At least five people were killed and 12 wounded in the center of Kyiv, Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, said on his Telegram channel.
In a signal that the nearly eight-month-old conflict is expanding, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his nation and Russia agreed to deploy a regional grouping of armed forces. Russia has used Belarus as a staging point for its invasion, but Belarusian troops have so far stayed out of the war.
The bombardment of Kyiv and other population centers is retaliation for the attack on the Crimea bridge and also marks a new phase in Russia’s war, said Alexei Chesnakov, a former senior Kremlin official and adviser on Ukraine policy.
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“We’ve entered a period of escalation,” Chesnakov said. Russia has “harsher options” to regain the upper hand.
The foreign minister of Moldova, a former Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine, said that three cruise missiles launched on Ukraine by Russian ships in the Black Sea illegally crossed its airspace. The Russian envoy was summoned, Minister Nicu Popescu said on Twitter.
Pro-Kremlin voices who’d urged Putin to respond harshly to the Crimea bridge explosion welcomed the strikes. “The place of the Devil is burned with fire,” Sergei Markov, a political consultant to the presidential staff, said Monday on Telegram, where he posted video footage of the bombardment of central Kyiv.
Putin blamed “Ukraine’s secret services” for the attack at a weekend meeting with the head of Russia’s Investigative Commission, Alexander Bastrykin, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin website.
Russian authorities have said they’ve resumed rail services on the bridge that stretches for 19 kilometers (12 miles) across the Kerch Strait. The link is an important route for the Kremlin to resupply its forces in Crimea and in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine, where Russian troops are facing a Ukrainian military counteroffensive.
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