Russia strikes Kyiv, other cities in Ukraine in wake of bridge explosion
(VIENNA) – Russia launched attacks striking the center of Kyiv and dozens of regions in Ukraine on Monday in apparent retaliation for what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “terrorist attack” on a crucial bridge linking Russia to the occupied Crimean Peninsula.
The missile strikes on the heart of the capital city, in addition to rocket attacks across the country, marked a dramatic escalation by Russia as its troops are being pushed back on thousands of miles of territory in a lightning counteroffensive by Ukrainian armed forces and Putin comes under increasing pressure for the failings of what he calls a “special military operation.”
At least five civilian deaths were reported and 12 people were wounded in Kyiv on Monday as at least 83 missiles were fired on the country. Ukraine’s armed forces said that air defenses succeeded in downing 43 missiles.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address from Kyiv that Russia had attacked a dozen regions in his country — including Lviv in the west, Mykolaiv in the south, Dnipro in the east and Kharkiv in the north — with missiles and Iranian drones. He also labeled Russian officials “terrorists” and said that the aim of their attacks was to destroy Ukraine’s energy systems and target civilians.
“They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system. They are hopeless. The second target is people. Such a time and such targets were specially chosen to cause as much damage as possible,” Zelensky said, but added, “Ukraine was before this enemy appeared, Ukraine will be after him.”
The early morning attacks on Kyiv appeared to land in the center of the city, with video and photos showing a crater in a playground in a central park in the city, damage across the street from the opera theater and the windows of buildings blown out.
Zelensky said he held urgent calls with Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron to address an emergency session of the Group of Seven nations.
“We discussed the strengthening of our air defense, the need for a tough European and international reaction, as well as increased pressure on the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said of his call with Macron.
Russia’s attacks also appeared to cross into Ukraine’s neighboring countries, with Moldova’s minister of foreign affairs, Nicu Popescu, saying that the Russian ambassador was being summoned after three cruise missiles launched from Russian ships in the Black Sea crossed Moldova’s airspace.
“Moldova condemns in strongest possible terms violation of its airspace by three Russian cruise missiles as Russia attacked Ukrainian cities this morning,” Popescu tweeted. “We condemn Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine.”
The attacks on Ukraine came a day after Russian missile strikes on the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia killed at least 13 people and injured more than 50, including at least six children.
Ukrainians had been bracing for such attacks following the massive explosion on the Kerch Bridge early Saturday morning. The road and rail line is viewed as personally important for Putin, both a symbolic and physical representation of Russia’s control over Crimea since Moscow invaded in 2014.
In a video address Sunday night, Putin called the explosion on the bridge a “terrorist act” and blamed Ukraine’s special services as the “initiators, performers and masterminds.”
But Ukrainian officials, while celebrating the bridge destruction, have withheld claiming responsibility, raising questions among security experts if Ukraine actually carried out the attack.
“Among the experts, there were serious considerations, we discussed this a lot, should we do it and should we do it now?” said Hanna Shelest, director of security programs at the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism.”
“On the one hand we understand the importance of it for logistics, because the Russian weapons and fuel supply for the southern front are definitely happening through this bridge and it would be good not to have it,” she said.
“But at the same time, understanding the symbolism for the Russian president, the risks of the response were higher than the real consequences, because you always can target all those stockpiles of ammunition directly, by HIMARS, what they’ve been doing all these months,” she added, referring to the long-range multiple rocket launcher systems provided by the U.S.
“We’ve been celebrating the idea of the bridge, but not that we did it,” Shelest said. “Not one Ukrainian service said anything about it, ‘we can do it’ or ‘how it happened.’ ”
The New York Times reported that a senior Ukrainian official corroborated Russian reports that Kyiv was behind the attack, but spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a government ban on discussing the blast.
The barrage of attacks on Ukraine follows the appointment Saturday of Air Force Gen. Sergei Surovikin as the overall commander of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, Reuters reported. Surovikin previously served in Tajikistan, Chechnya and Syria.
Further, Putin’s unpredictability in carrying out the war in Ukraine has triggered alarm among the U.S., allies and security experts that the Russian leader is on the brink of deploying nuclear weapons, to catastrophic effect.
The Russian leader has repeatedly raised Russia’s nuclear capabilities, warning against viewing his threats as a “bluff” against what he says are Russia’s national security interests.
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen on Sunday during an interview on ABC likened Putin to a cornered animal after mounting losses in Ukraine and said he is becoming “more and more dangerous” to the world.
President Biden last week warned the world was close to “Armageddon” amid Putin’s nuclear threats.
— Updated at 9:06 a.m.