Gunmen kill 11 at Russian military base in final blow to war in Ukraine

Oct 16 (Reuters) – Gunmen shot dead 11 people at a Russian military training ground on Saturday, the Defense Ministry said, in the latest strike against President Vladimir Putin’s forces since invading Ukraine.

The RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying that 15 other people were injured in Saturday’s shooting in the southwestern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, when two men gunned down a group who had volunteered to take part in the war .

The two attackers, nationals of an unspecified former Soviet republic, were said to have been shot dead. Some independent Russian media reported that the death toll was higher than official figures.

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The attack came a week after a blast damaged a bridge in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. At the beginning of the war, Russia’s flagship exploded in the Black Sea and sank.

“During a firearms training session with people who have voluntarily expressed a desire to take part in the special military operation (against Ukraine), the terrorists opened fire with small arms on the unit’s personnel,” RIA quoted a statement from the Defense Ministry as saying.

Just a day earlier, Putin said Russia should be ready to call up reservists in two weeks, promising an end to a split mobilization that has seen hundreds of thousands of men called to fight in Ukraine and large numbers forced to flee the country.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a YouTube interview that the attackers were from the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan and opened fire on the others after a dispute over religion.

Tajikistan is a predominantly Muslim country, while around half of Russians belong to various branches of Christianity. The Russian ministry had said the attackers came from a nation in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which includes nine former Soviet republics including Tajikistan.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the comments of Arestovych, a prominent commentator on the war, or independently verify the number of casualties and other details of the incident.

Independent Russian news website SOTA Vision said the attack occurred in the small town of Zoloti near the Ukrainian border and about 105 km (65 miles) south-east of Belgorod.

Zelenskyy said Saturday that despite repeated Russian attacks, Ukrainian troops are still holding the strategic eastern city of Bakhmut, while the situation in the wider Donbass region remains very difficult.

Though Ukrainian forces have retaken thousands of square kilometers (miles) of land in recent offensives in the east and south, officials say progress is likely to slow once Kiev’s forces meet more determined resistance.

Ukrainian armed forces and civilians rely on the Starlink internet service, provided by Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX. Musk said Friday he could no longer afford to fund the service, but said Saturday he will continue to do so.

Zelenskyi said nearly 65,000 Russians have been killed since the Feb. 24 invasion, a number far higher than Moscow’s official Sept. 21 estimate of 5,937 dead. In August, the Pentagon said Russia suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties, either killed or wounded.

RUSSIAN MISSILE, DRONE ATTACKS

Putin ordered the mobilization three weeks ago in response to Russia’s battlefield defeats in Ukraine. He has also announced the annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian provinces and threatened the use of nuclear weapons.

Zelenskyi also said in an evening address that Russian missiles and drones continued to hit Ukrainian cities, causing destruction and casualties.

Kyiv said on Friday it expects the United States and Germany to deliver sophisticated anti-aircraft systems this month to help defend against the missiles.

The fighting is particularly intense in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which border Russia. Together they form the larger industrial Donbass, which Moscow has yet to fully conquer.

Russian forces have repeatedly attempted to take Bakhmut, which lies on a main road leading to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Both are located in the Donetsk region.

Separately, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a Facebook post that troops repelled a total of 11 separate Russian attacks near Kramatorsk, Bakhmut and the town of Avdiivka north of Donetsk on Saturday.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by David Ljunggren and Matt Spetalnick; Adaptation by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler

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