Ukraine promises to strengthen its armed forces after major Russian airstrikes
By Max Hunder and Jonathan Landay
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine vowed to beef up its armed forces after Russia launched its biggest airstrikes on cities since the start of the war, forcing thousands to flee to bomb shelters and prompting Kyiv to halt electricity exports to Europe.
Rockets hit cities across Ukraine on Monday morning, killing 12 people and injuring scores as they slammed into intersections, parks and tourist attractions.
According to Ukrainian officials, explosions were reported in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil and Zhytomyr in western Ukraine, Dnipro and Kremenchuk in central, Zaporizhia in the south and Kharkiv in the east.
The barrage of dozens of cruise missiles fired from air, land and sea was the most widespread wave of airstrikes to hit from the front line, at least since the first salvos on the first day of the war, April 24 . February.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “massive” long-range strikes after an attack on the bridge linking Russia with the annexed peninsula of Crimea over the weekend and threatened more attacks in the future should Ukraine reach Russian territory.
Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to US President Joe Biden on Monday and then wrote on Telegram that air defense is “the number one priority in our defense cooperation“.
“We will do everything we can to strengthen our armed forces,” he said in a speech on Monday evening. “We will make the battlefield more painful for the enemy.”
Biden told Zelenskyy that the US would provide advanced air defense systems. The Pentagon said Sept. 27 it would begin deliveries of the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System in the next two months.
Moscow’s attacks prompted thousands of Ukrainians to rush to air raid shelters as air raid sirens sounded.
Zelenskiy said 12 people were killed and officials reported dozens injured after the attacks.
The attacks were deliberately timed to kill people and cripple Ukraine’s power grid, he said. Its prime minister reported that 11 key infrastructure targets in eight regions were hit, leaving parts of the country without electricity, water or heat.
In an attempt to end blackouts, Ukraine halted electricity exports to the European Union at a time when the continent is already facing soaring electricity prices that have fueled inflation, hampered industrial activity and caused sky-high consumer bills.
The President of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the group of oil producers known as OPEC+, which rebuffed the US last week by announcing severe cuts, will travel to Russia on Tuesday to meet with Putin and announce a “military de-escalation” to urge,” UAE state news agency WAM reported.
The Kremlin’s airstrikes come three days after a blast damaged the bridge it built after conquering Crimea in 2014. Russia blamed Ukraine and called the deadly blast “terrorism”.
“Leaving such acts unanswered is simply impossible,” Putin said, citing other unspecified attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure.
Ukraine, which views the bridge as a military target in support of Russia’s war effort, celebrated the blast without taking responsibility.
After weeks of suffering setbacks on the battlefield, Russian authorities at home are facing the first sustained public criticism of the war, with commentators on state TV calling for increasingly tougher measures.
Since early September, Ukrainian forces have stormed through front lines and recaptured areas.
Putin responded by ordering the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists, announcing the annexation of occupied territories and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry appointed General Sergei Surovikin, who is well-regarded in Syria, as commander of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. A Russian airstrike in Syria helped the government crush its enemies.
Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.
Monday’s explosions tore a huge crater next to a children’s playground in one of the busiest parks in central Kyiv. The remains of an apparent missile were buried and smoking in the mud. Later in the morning more volleys hit the capital.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in its evening update that Russia had carried out at least 84 missile and airstrikes, and Ukraine’s air defenses had destroyed 43 cruise missiles and 13 drones.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had achieved all intended goals.
Reuters could not independently verify Battlefield accounts.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal promised to restore supplies as soon as possible.
In another sign of possible escalation, Putin’s closest ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, said he had ordered troops deployed alongside Russian forces near Ukraine, which he accused of plotting attacks on Belarus with its Western backers.
Russia used Belarus as a base early in the war, but Lukashenko did not deploy his troops.
(Report from Reuters offices; Letter from Costas Pitas)
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