Live Updates: Putin’s ‘Mass Strike’ on Ukraine Draws Furious Condemnation

For months, Russia’s state media insisted that the country was only hitting military targets in Ukraine, leaving out the suffering that the invasion has brought to millions of civilians.

On Monday, the mask came off. Russian state television showed gas lines in Ukraine, empty store shelves and a long-range forecast promising months of freezing temperatures there. And rather than focus on the civilian destruction in Russian-held areas as they usually do, news broadcasts in Russia showed columns of smoke and carnage in central Kyiv.

“There’s no hot water, part of the city is without power,” one anchor announced, describing the scene in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

The sharp shift was a sign that domestic pressure over Russia’s flailing war effort had escalated to the point where President Vladimir V. Putin felt a decisive show of force was necessary.

His military has come under increasingly withering criticism from the war’s supporters for not being aggressive enough in its assault on Ukraine, a chorus that reached a fever pitch after Saturday’s attack on the 12-mile bridge to the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea — a symbol of Mr. Putin’s rule.

With Monday’s brutal escalation of the war effort, Mr. Putin in part appears to be responding to those critics, momentarily quieting the clamors of hard liners furious with the Russian military’s humiliating setbacks on the battlefield.

“This is important from the domestic political perspective, first and foremost,” Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political analyst and former Putin speechwriter, said of Monday’s strikes. “It was important to demonstrate to the ruling class that Putin is still capable, that the Army is still good for something.”

But with his escalation, Mr. Putin is also betting that Russian elites — and the public at large — do indeed see it as a sign of strength, rather than a desperate effort to inflict more pain in a war that Russia appears to be losing.

“The response was supposed to show power, but in fact it showed powerlessness,” Mr. Gallyamov said. “There’s nothing else the army can do.”

After Monday’s strikes, some of the invasion’s harshest critics among the Russian hawks declared that the military was finally doing its job. The strongman leader of the Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov — who recently excoriated the army’s “incompetent” leadership — said in a Telegram post that he was now “100 percent happy” with the war effort.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

“Run, Zelensky, run,” he wrote, referring to Ukraine’s president.

Other cheerleaders of the war triumphantly recalled Mr. Putin’s declaration in July that Russia had not “started anything yet in earnest” in Ukraine.

“Now, it seems, it’s started,” one state television talk show host, Olga Skabeyeva, said.

Mr. Putin described Monday’s strikes as a response to Ukrainian “terrorist acts,” casting them as a one-time assault to deter future Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory. In his home city of St. Petersburg, where he had traveled on Friday for his 70th birthday, Mr. Putin spoke on national television for just over three minutes in what the Kremlin characterized as the start of a meeting with his Security Council.

He made a point of saying the strikes came at the military’s initiative, an apparent effort to head off assertions that he was plotting the war effort in isolation.

“This morning, at the suggestion of the Ministry of Defense and according to the plan of the Russian General Staff, a massive strike with air, sea and land-based high-precision long-range weapons was launched against Ukrainian energy, military command and communications facilities,” Mr. Putin said. “If attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on our territory continue, the measures taken by Russia will be tough and in their scale will correspond to the level of threats posed to the Russian Federation. No one should have any doubt about it.”

In his speech, Mr. Putin made one notable omission: he did not mention the West as the ultimate culprit behind Saturday’s Crimean bridge explosion or other suspected Ukrainian attacks. That was a departure from the typical Kremlin rhetoric that portrays Washington and London as the puppeteers behind Ukraine’s resistance.

The shift was a possible signal that the Russian leader was interested in controlling the escalation of the war, and that he was not on the verge of provoking a direct conflict with NATO.

But some signs pointed to Mr. Putin being prepared for a wider escalation of the war. On Saturday, he appointed a general known for his ruthlessness, Sergei Surovikin, to lead the war effort in Ukraine. And Mr. Putin’s closest international ally, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, declared on Monday that thousands of Russian soldiers would soon arrive in the country to form a joint military group with Belarusian forces — creating the specter of a new threat to Ukraine’s north.

Greg Yudin, a professor of political philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, said Mr. Putin had bent to pressure from right-wing hawks who are calling for even more escalation. He said he expected that Mr. Putin would “sooner or later” heighten the threats of potentially using tactical nuclear weapons.

In central Moscow, many people said they were unaware of what had happened in Ukraine. People soaked up the sun in the chic neighborhood of central Tsvetno, or rushed to work or appointments.

Some younger people, more attuned to social media, said they were aware of the strikes on Ukraine but felt powerless to assign blame. “It is bad when people are killed for any reason,” said Sasha, 19, a university student. Still, she went on, “In any fight, both sides are responsible.”

In Russia, the penalties for criticizing the war — or even using the term war — come with hefty fines and even jail time, so many Russians are cautious about making comments that might have a negative connotation about the war.

Valerie Hopkins reported from Moscow. Alina Lobzina also contributed reporting.

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Deadly Strikes Hit Key Southern City as Russia Restores Some Traffic on Damaged Bridge

Credit…Maxar Technologies

Within hours of a blast that damaged the sole bridge linking Crimea with Russia early Saturday, hard-line military bloggers and Russian officials were calling for a swift and strong response from Moscow.

One high-level politician said that anything less than an “extremely harsh” response would show weakness from the Kremlin, which is facing continued losses on the battlefield and mounting criticism at home.

For President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who presided over the bridge’s opening in 2018, the explosion seemed to be a highly personal affront, underscoring his failure to get a handle on a relentless series of Ukrainian attacks.

Some news media commentators demanded that Russia destroy Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure and the transportation systems used to import Western armaments.

Evgeny Poddubny, a war correspondent for the state RT outlet, said that nobody in the Ukrainian leadership seemed to fear Russia anymore.

“The enemy has stopped being afraid, and this circumstance needs to be corrected promptly,” he wrote in RT’s Telegram channel. “Commanders of formations, heads of intelligence agencies, politicians of the Kyiv criminal regime sleep peacefully, wake up without a headache and in a good mood, without a sense of inevitability of punishment for crimes committed.”

KERCH

STRAIT

Sevastapol

Kerch Strait

Bridge

◀ Crimea

Tuzla Island

Area of

explosion

Krasnodar, Russia ▶

Four-lane

roadway

Outer two lanes

collapsed here.

Two

railroad

tracks

Several tanker cars

of a train could be

seen burning here.

Sevastapol

Kerch Strait

Bridge

KERCH

STRAIT

◀ Crimea

Tuzla

Island

Area of

explosion

Krasnodar, Russia ▶

Four-lane

roadway

Outer two lanes

collapsed here.

Two

railroad

tracks

Several tanker cars

of a train could be

seen burning here.

Aleksandr Kots, a war correspondent for the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, wrote on Telegram that disabling the bridge bodes ill for Moscow’s already troubled efforts to hold onto territory in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine — and most likely foreshadowed a future attack on Crimea itself.

He described the “consistency” that Ukraine was showing in the war as “enviable” and called for Russia to “hammer Ukraine into the 18th century, without meaningless reflection on how this will affect the civilian population.”

While there were no official claims of responsibility, Ukrainian officials, who in the past have said the bridge would be a legitimate target for a strike, indicated that the explosion was no accident and made no secret of their satisfaction.

“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, wrote in a Twitter post on Saturday. “Everything illegal, must be destroyed. Everything stolen returned to Ukraine. All Russian occupiers expelled.”

The explosion is emblematic of a Russian military in disarray. Russian forces were unable to protect the road and rail crossing despite its centrality to the war effort, its personal importance to Mr. Putin and its potent symbolism as the literal connection between Russia and Crimea.

For Russia, the rail crossing “has played a key role in moving heavy military vehicles to the southern front during the invasion,” the British defense intelligence agency wrote in its daily assessment on Sunday. It added that although the extent of the damage to the rail line was uncertain, “any serious disruption to its capacity will highly likely have a significant impact on Russia’s already strained ability to sustain its forces in southern Ukraine.”

Hours after the explosion, the Kremlin appointed Gen. Sergei Surovikin, yet another new commander, to oversee its forces in Ukraine. Previous leadership shake-ups have done little to right the military’s floundering performance.

General Surovikin, 55, has long had a reputation for corruption and brutality, military analysts said.

“He is known as a pretty ruthless commander who is short with subordinates and is known for his temper,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at C.N.A., a defense research institute based in Virginia.

His appointment was quickly praised by some of the biggest supporters of the war, including Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group that was deployed heavily in Syria. He made a rare public endorsement of the general, calling him “legendary.”

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Kremlin says annexation and retreat are not a contradiction amid Ukrainian successes

  • Putin signs annexation documents
  • Russian forces battle counter-offensive
  • Putin appoints officials to run regions
  • Kremlin: the territories will be returned

LONDON, Oct 5 (Reuters) – As President Vladimir Putin completed paperwork for the annexation of four regions of Ukraine on Wednesday, the Kremlin said there was no contradiction between Russian retreats and Putin’s vow that they would always be part of Russia.

In the biggest expansion of Russian territory in at least half a century, Putin signed laws admitting the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region into Russia.

The conclusion of the legalities of the annexation of up to 18% of Ukrainian territory came as Russian forces battled to halt Ukrainian counter-offensives within it, especially north of Kherson and west of Luhansk.

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Asked if there was a contradiction between Putin’s rhetoric and the reality of retreat on the ground, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “There is no contradiction whatsoever. They will be with Russia forever and they will be returned.”

The wording of the laws is unclear about what exact borders Russia is claiming for the annexed territories and Peskov declined to give clear guidance.

“Certain territories will still be returned and we will continue to consult with the population that expresses a desire to live with Russia,” Peskov said.

The contrast between a set of defeats on the battlefield and lofty language from the Kremlin about Russia’s might have raised concerns within the Russian elite about the conduct of the war.

Such is the depth of feeling over the retreats that two Putin allies publicly scolded the military top brass about the failings.

ANNEXATION

Russia declared the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

More than seven months into a war that has killed tens of thousands and triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, Russia’s most basic aims are still not achieved.

The areas that are being annexed are not all under control of Russian forces and Ukrainian forces have recently driven them back.

Together with Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, Putin’s total claim amounts to more than 22% of Ukrainian territory, though the exact borders of the four regions he is annexing are still yet to be finally clarified.

Moscow, which recognised Ukraine’s post-Soviet borders in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, will never give the regions back, Putin said on Friday at a grand Kremlin treaty-signing ceremony which brought the partially controlled regions into Russia.

Russia’s parliament said people living in the annexed regions would be granted Russian passports, the Russian Central Bank would oversee financial stability and the Russian rouble would be the official currency.

In justifying the Feb. 24 invasion, Putin said that Russian speakers in Ukraine had been persecuted by Ukraine which, he said, the West was trying to use to undermine Russian security.

Ukraine and its Western backers say that Putin has no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab. Kyiv denies Russian speakers were persecuted.

Now Putin casts the war as a battle for Russia’s survival against the United States and its allies, which he says want to destroy Russia and grab its vast natural resources.

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Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Philippa Fletcher

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Russia to Push Ahead With Land Grab in Ukraine After Sham Votes

Credit…Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

The Kremlin announced that it would hold a ceremony on Friday to begin absorbing four Ukrainian territories, pressing ahead with a widely condemned annexation effort even as Ukrainian forces gain ground in some of those areas.

President Vladimir V. Putin will deliver a “voluminous” speech, his spokesman said on Thursday, seeking to ignore his military’s struggles in Ukraine, rising domestic dissent and worldwide denunciations of referendums in the occupied regions, where some were made to vote at gunpoint.

Even though Russia has failed to fully control the four territories it seeks to annex despite months of bloody fighting, the Kremlin was preparing a show designed to present a sheen of legitimacy to its illegal takeover. The authorities in Moscow put up billboards and a giant video screen in Red Square and announced road closures for Friday. State media described it as preparations for a rally and concert “in support of the outcome of the referendums.”

The annexation move has been greeted with international condemnation, and Ukraine has essentially ignored the Kremlin’s plans. Russian officials have spoken of defending their claims to the annexed territory by any means, a hint at the potential use of nuclear weapons.

Senior U.S. officials say they do not believe Mr. Putin is poised to use nuclear weapons now, given the response it would draw from the West as well as from Moscow’s allies like China and India.

For his part, Mr. Putin did not mention his annexation plans in a brief television appearance on Thursday, but he did seek to portray himself as being on the right side of history, asserting “the formation of a more just world order is taking place.”

“Unipolar hegemony is inexorably collapsing,” Mr. Putin said. “This is an objective reality that the West categorically refuses to accept.”

In Ukraine Kyiv’s forces pressed on with a counteroffensive that has enabled them to retake territory in the northeast of the country this month and make inroads into Donetsk and Luhansk, two of the regions where referendums were held.

In a speech late on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine reiterated his denunciation of the votes and said he was working with foreign leaders to coordinate a strong international response.

“Our key task now is to coordinate actions with partners in response to sham referendums organized by Russia and all related threats,” Mr. Zelensky said.

The billboards proclaimed: “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson — Russia!” naming the regions in southern and eastern Ukraine where Russian proxy officials staged votes in the last week.

All four regions are partially occupied by Russian troops and the referendums, put on hastily in the face of the military setbacks for the Kremlin, purported to return big majorities in favor of joining Russia.

Governments around the world say the votes lacked democratic legitimacy, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the coercion of voters, the absence of independent observers and the flight of many civilians from the areas because of fighting. In addition, the government in Kyiv told its citizens not to participate.

The sequence of choreographed steps for a region to join the Russian Federation is laid out in the country’s constitution and is expected to be followed in the coming days. That follows the pattern of a similar vote in Crimea, a region of southern Ukraine that was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Following the announcements of the purported results, Russian proxy officials in the four occupied areas appealed on Wednesday to join Russia.

In part of a carefully orchestrated process, the Russian proxy leaders in the territories were also expected to sign agreements with Moscow on Friday. The constitutional court, which is seen as a rubber stamp for the Kremlin, would then approve the agreements, and they would be ratified by both chambers of Russia’s Parliament.

At the same time, the Kremlin would introduce a draft law on the admission of the territories into Russia, which would be approved by the lower house of Parliament, the State Duma. Once Russia’s Federation Council passes the bill, it would be signed into law by Mr. Putin.

The Duma’s speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, announced on Wednesday that the Duma should hold its accession sessions to approve the annexation next Monday and Tuesday.

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Russian Forces Retreat Amid Ukrainian Counteroffensive

Ukraine’s action to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded.

Ukrainian troops on Sunday successfully pressed their swift counteroffensive in the northeastern part of the country, even as a nuclear power plant in the Russia-occupied south completely shut down in a bid to prevent a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.

Kyiv’s action to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded, leaving behind significant numbers of weapons and munitions in a hasty retreat as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday.

A jubilant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mocked the Russians in a video address Saturday night, saying that “the Russian army in these days is demonstrating the best that it can do — showing its back.”

He posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the national flag over Chkalovske, another town reclaimed in the counteroffensive.

While most attention was focused on the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was reconnected to Ukraine’s electricity grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor to safeguard the plant amid the fighting.

The plant, one of the 10 biggest atomic power stations in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for shelling around it.

Since a Sept. 5 fire caused by shelling knocked the plant off transmission lines, the reactor was powering crucial safety equipment in so-called “island mode” — an unreliable regime that left the plant increasingly vulnerable to a potential nuclear accident.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation at the plant in a call Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said.

Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyy, announced that its forces had recaptured about 160 square miles since the counteroffensive began in early September. He noted that Ukrainian troops are only about 30 miles from the border with Russia.

Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control of more than 40 settlements in the Kharkiv region, noting he couldn’t give a precise number because the operation is still unfolding.

Defense Minister Anna Malyar said Ukrainian forces are firing shells containing propaganda into areas where they seek to advance.

“One of the ways of informational work with the enemy in areas where there is no Internet is launching propaganda shells,” she wrote on Facebook. “Before moving forward, our defenders say hello to the Russian invaders and give them the last opportunity to surrender. Otherwise, only death awaits them on Ukrainian soil.”

The Russian pullback marked the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war. The Kharkiv campaign came as a surprise for Moscow, which had relocated many of its troops from the region to the south in expectation of a counteroffensive there.

In an awkward attempt to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday the troops’ withdrawal from Izyum and other areas was intended to strengthen Moscow’s forces in the neighboring Donetsk region to the south.

The explanation sounded similar to the justification Russia gave for pulling back from the Kyiv region earlier this year when they failed to take the capital.

The Russian forces around Izyum have been key for Moscow’s effort to capture the Donetsk region, and their pullback will dramatically weaken its capability to press its offensive on Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk to the south.

A map released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday showed its forces retreating to a narrow patch of land along the border.

Igor Strelkov, who led Russia-backed forces when the separatist conflict in the Donbas erupted in 2014, mocked the Russian Defense Ministry’s explanation of the retreat, suggesting that handing over Russia’s own territory near the border was a “contribution to a Ukrainian settlement.”

The retreat drew an angry response from Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who bemoaned it as a major defeat and urged the Kremlin to step up its war efforts. Many scathingly criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks and other lavish festivities in Moscow that marked a city holiday on Saturday despite the debacle in Ukraine.

Just as the Russian forces were hastily pulling back from Izyum under Ukrainian fire on Saturday, Putin attended the opening of a huge Ferris wheel at a Moscow park, although it reportedly closed for repairs soon thereafter. He also inaugurated a new transport link and a sports arena.

The action underlined the Kremlin’s narrative that the war it calls a “special military operation” was going according to plan without affecting Russians’ everyday lives.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow festivities as a grave mistake.

“The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. “Authorities mustn’t celebrate when people are mourning.”

In a sign of a potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, said the retreat resulted from blunders by the Russian military leadership.

“They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said. “If they don’t make changes in the strategy of conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will be forced to contact the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.”

Despite Ukraine’s gains, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of NATO warned Friday the war would likely drag on for months. Blinken said the conflict was entering a critical period and urged the West to keep supporting Ukraine through what could be a difficult winter.

The U.S. and its NATO allies have been working to make sure that Ukrainian forces have “the things that they most need right on the moment,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“And we are seeing the Ukrainians with a tremendous patriotic resolve — but also after eight years of joint training with the U.S. military, going back to 2014 with the Crimea invasion — we’re seeing the combined effect of collaborative training and resources that are right on time right at the moment, showing that Vladimir Putin’s grandiose dissolutions about what he might do in Ukraine are hollow and they’re failing,” he told CNN.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Prepare bomb shelters in Crimea, Zelenskiy adviser tells residents

A view shows the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters following a reported combat drone attack in Sevastopol, Crimea July 31, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer/

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KYIV, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Ukraine on Monday told residents of Russian-annexed Crimea to prepare bomb shelters and stock up on supplies as Kyiv presses ahead with plans for a major counteroffensive to drive Russian troops out of occupied Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine has for weeks been telling residents in its occupied south to be ready and to evacuate before it launches a counter-offensive. Still, Monday’s warning was notable because it was addressed to residents of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, in contrast to areas captured by Russia during this year’s invasion.

The Black Sea peninsula is thought to be out of range of Ukrainian weapons, though several recent explosions at Russian military sites in Crimea have called that into question. Kyiv has declined to claim responsibility for the incidents.

“We ask residents of occupied territories, including the Crimean peninsula, to follow (Ukrainian) officials’ recommendations during de-occupation measures,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.

“In particular, to prepare a bomb shelter, stock up with sufficient amounts of water and charge powerbanks. Everything will be Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter.

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Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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