Putin Escalates War With Civilian Strikes As Army Struggles At Front
Kremlin hints that it might use nuclear weapons in the conflict led to widespread criticism from the US and its allies.
(Bloomberg) -- President Vladimir Putin’s blitz of missiles against dozens of civilian targets in Ukraine, including critical energy infrastructure marks a major escalation as he tries to overcome a string of humiliating reverses.
Russian officials and Kremlin allies cheered Monday’s strikes, which hardline nationalist voices had been urging, as Putin warned of more attacks if Ukraine continues what he called “terrorist acts” on Russian territory. The European Union denounced the missile strikes as “war crimes” and French President Emmanuel Macron said they reflected “a deep change in the nature” of the war.
The bombardment killed at least 11 and wounded 64 others, and knocked out electricity in five regions - Lviv, Poltava, Sumy, Kharkiv and Ternopil - disrupting power in the capital Kyiv and other parts of the country.
“As of today we can say that Putin has been persuaded to move to a more aggressive line,” Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik consultancy wrote in Telegram. “The further it goes, the worse it gets - there is no turning back.”
Russia in recent weeks suffered the worst defeats since the early days of Putin’s nearly eight-month-old invasion, as Ukrainian forces took back swathes of occupied territory in the east and south, sending Russian troops into retreat. Ukraine’s gains accelerated even as the Kremlin last month hurriedly annexed four regions it partially controls after staging votes condemned as illegal by the United Nations.
Putin Threatens More Strikes on Ukraine After Missile Blitz
Kremlin hints that it might use nuclear weapons in the conflict led to widespread criticism from the US and its allies, as well as a warning from US President Joe Biden that Putin might bring “Armageddon.” But the threats from Moscow didn’t succeed in sapping Western support for Kyiv, which vowed to continue fighting to eject Russian forces from its territory.
Inside Russia, the battlefield setbacks triggered a wave of recriminations, with one Kremlin-backed occupation official even suggesting that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu should shoot himself. Saturday’s explosion on Putin’s showcase bridge to Crimea, which took place the day after the Russian leader celebrated his 70th birthday and which the Kremlin blamed on Ukraine, only added to the feeling of powerlessness.
The attacks on Ukraine Monday raised hopes among many who had called for an even-more aggressive approach to a war that’s already killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a protege of Putin who’s been a top critic of army chiefs, said after the attack that he’s “100% happy” with the military campaign. “We warned you Zelenskiy, that Russia hadn’t really started, so quit whining and better run before the next one flies in,” Kadyrov said on Telegram.
“The Crimea bridge right from the start was a red line that shouldn’t be crossed,” Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-run RT, said on Twitter. “Now you got your reply.”
“Russian popular opinion demands massive attacks and the total destruction of infrastructure that might be used by the army of Ukraine,” Sergei Markov, a political consultant who often works for the Kremlin, wrote in Telegram.
While Putin moved to shore up his over-stretched military force in Ukraine by ordering the mobilization of 300,000 reservists, triggering a mass exodus of draft-age men desperate to flee Russia, military experts doubt the deployment of poorly-trained conscripts will achieve much.
Eight Years of Fighting Hardened Ukraine’s Army Into a Winner
The missile strikes followed the appointment of a new commander of its invasion forces in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, who led Russian forces in Syria where they staged a bombardment campaign that destroyed much of the second city, Aleppo.
A broader Russian campaign to wipe out energy and other installations could cause immense disruption as winter approaches, rapidly increasing the cost of Western financial support for Ukraine and possibly triggering a new outflow of refugees.
Russian opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former lawmaker, said the bombing would provoke “even greater fury of the Ukrainians from the battles, even more sanctions, even more Western aid to Ukraine, even greater isolation of Russia, faster military defeat of the Kremlin.”
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