- Ukraine shoots down 30 drones
- Putin arrives in Belarus to meet his ally Lukashenko
- Russian forces in Belarus are conducting exercises – Interfax
- China and Russia conduct annual naval exercises
Kyiv (Reuters) – Moscow on Monday launched a “kamikaze” drone attack that hit key infrastructure in and around Kyiv hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to arrive in Belarus, sparking fears that he would pressure his ally to join in a new assault on Russia. Kyiv. Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Air Force said that its air defenses shot down 30 drones, in the third Russian air attack on the Ukrainian capital in six days and the latest in a series of attacks since last October that targeted the Ukrainian power grid, causing a comprehensive blackout amid freezing temperatures.
Officials said at least three people were injured and nine buildings damaged in the Kyiv region.
Ukraine’s Atomic Energy Agency has accused Russia of sending one of its drones over part of the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, in the Mykolaiv region.
“This is an absolutely unacceptable violation of nuclear and radiological safety,” Energoatom wrote on Telegram.
The invading Russian forces currently occupy the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, near the front line in southeastern Ukraine.
The “kamikaze” drones used in the attacks are cheaply produced, disposable drones that fly toward their target before descending rapidly and exploding on impact.
A Reuters witness said a fire broke out in the middle of the night at an energy facility in the Shevchenkivsky district, in the center of the country, which is often a target.
“I heard an explosion. Within three or four minutes, I heard another explosion,” said an elderly man who works as a guard at a nearby hospital.
Solomyansky district in the western part of Kyiv, which is a busy transportation hub and includes a train station and one of the city’s two passenger airports, was also hit.
Kyiv officials said 18 out of 23 drones were shot down over the city of 3.6 million people.
“As a result of the attack on the capital, critical infrastructure facilities were damaged,” Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app.
“Engineers are working to rapidly stabilize the situation with power and heat supplies.”
Olessky Kuleba, governor of the region around Kyiv, said infrastructure and private homes had been damaged and two people were wounded. He said the attack caused “extremely serious” damage and that three areas were without electricity.
There has been ongoing Russian and Belarusian military activity for months in Belarus, a close ally of the Kremlin that Moscow’s forces used as a launching pad for their failed assault on Kyiv in February.
Putin’s trip, for talks with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, is his first to Minsk since 2019 — before the pandemic and a wave of Belarusian protests in 2020 that Lukashenko crushed with strong Kremlin support.
“During (these talks) questions of further aggression against Ukraine and broader participation of the Belarusian Armed Forces in the operation against Ukraine will be raised, especially, in our opinion, also on the ground,” said Serhiy Naev, commander of the Ukrainian Joint Forces. He said before Putin arrived.
Lukashenko has repeatedly said that he does not intend to send his country’s troops to Ukraine.
The Kremlin has refused to suggest that Putin wants to push Belarus into a more active role in the conflict. The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying such reports were “unfounded” and “stupid”.
Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry, that Russian forces, which moved to Belarus in October, will conduct tactical exercises in battalion form.
It was not immediately clear when they would start.
The 10-month-old conflict in Ukraine is the largest in Europe since World War Two, killing tens of thousands of people, driving millions from their homes and turning cities into rubble.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the armed forces were still holding out in the town of Bakhmut, which has seen the heaviest fighting in many weeks as Russia tries to advance in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
“The battlefield in Bakhmut is very important,” he said. “We control the city, although the occupiers are doing everything so that no wall remains undamaged.”
On Monday, Zelensky called on Western leaders to meet in Latvia, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to supply a wide range of weapons systems.
Denis Pushlin, the Russian official for the part of the Donetsk region that Moscow controls, said that Ukrainian forces had bombed a hospital in the city of Donetsk, killing one person and wounding several others.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that in the past 24 hours its forces shot down four US Harm anti-radiation missiles over the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, the state-run Tass news agency reported.
Reuters could not independently verify accounts of the battlefield.
Putin describes what he calls Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine as the moment when Moscow finally stood up to the US-led Western bloc seeking to profit from the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 by destroying Russia.
Kyiv and the West say that assertion is absurd and that Putin has no justification for what they see as an imperial-style war of aggression that has put Russia in control of about a fifth of Ukraine.
Moscow said on Monday that Russian and Chinese forces will conduct joint naval exercises between December 21 and 27, involving missile and artillery firing, in the East China Sea.
While the exercises have been held annually since 2012, Moscow has sought to strengthen its political, security and economic ties with Beijing in recent months and sees Chinese President Xi Jinping as a key ally in an anti-Western alliance.
Writing by Lincoln Feist and Nick McPhee Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Thomas Janowski
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