Friday, June 14, 2024

Strikes across Ukraine are revenge for bridge attack – Putin

Vladimir Putin says Monday’s widespread Russian strikes on Ukraine are retaliation for Saturday’s attack on a key bridge. Putin blames the bridge explosion on Ukraine, and threatens more strikes in response to what he calls “terrorist attacks.”

The attack on the bridge badly damaged the only link between Russia and occupied Crimea – a key route for military supplies for the war. Monday’s missile strikes on cities across Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, mark a significant escalation. It’s the first time Kyiv has been targeted in months; Ukraine says 11 people have been killed across the country.

Meanwhile, the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has ordered his troops to deploy with Russian forces near Ukraine. He claims Ukraine and Nato are planning to launch an attack on his country, but offered no evidence.

Alexander Lukashenko – the leader of Belarus – is under pressure to show solidarity with Vladimir Putin in this war, especially as Russia’s international isolation increases. Belarusian territory, which lies to the north of Ukraine, has been key to the invasion from the start. Russian tanks rolled across the Belarusian border on the way to Kyiv at the beginning of the conflict, and Belarus is still a launchpad for Russian missiles.

But Lukashenko’s watchword is “stability” and he’s always pledged not to involve his country’s soldiers directly in the fighting – not to get “dragged into” this war. He knows there’s no appetite for that at home, and this is the president who faced unprecedented, giant street protests two years ago against his highly controversial re-election.

He’s imprisoned hundreds of his critics and thousands more have fled the country. He survived as leader in large part because of Vladimir Putin’s overt support. Today’s talk of forming a “joint task force” with Russia looks more like gesturing than a switch to direct involvement. But Lukashenko is walking a political tightrope. Belarus is one to watch.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is “deeply shocked” by today’s large-scale missile attacks, his spokesman says. The wave of strikes “reportedly resulted in widespread damage to civilian areas and led to dozens of people being killed and injured”, and “constitutes another unacceptable escalation of the war”, Stéphane Dujarric says in a statement. “As always, civilians are paying the highest price,” he adds.

A Ukrainian MP has told the press that the mood in Kyiv in response to this morning’s strikes has been “not fear, but fury”. Inna Sovsun says she rushed to shelter with her 10-year-old son in an underground metro station after hearing a second round of missile strikes.

“People were rather calm given the circumstances,” she says, detailing the provisions that others took with them, including water, food, blankets and power banks for their gadgets. Although Sovsun felt concerned when her son started asking whether he would die, she says the boy “gathered himself” and they then spent three hours in the refuge before emerging again.

Many people inside were angry with Russia rather than scared, such says, because their day got “interrupted for no good reason”. There has been a sense of normality in the capital recently. Kyiv had not been attacked for a long time, and fighting was limited to distant parts of the country.

The attacks – Russia’s reaction to Saturday’s explosion that hit the only bridge linking Russia to Crimea – will also be seen as a message that nowhere in Ukraine is safe.

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