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Russia bombs Ukraine heavily following attack on Crimea bridge

In a major escalation in the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered massive bombing of Ukraine's power grid in what he said was retaliation for a Ukrainian strike on the crucial Kerch Bridge in Crimea.

(CN) — Russia unleashed a withering attack Monday on Ukrainian cities and power grid, knocking out electricity in many parts of the country, in retaliation for an alleged Ukrainian sabotage attack on a critical bridge connecting Crimea and Russia.

In a television announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday's attack on the Kerch Bridge in Crimea was an act of terrorism that must be punished. He warned that Russia was prepared to pummel Ukraine with even harsher strikes in the future.

“If attempts continue to carry out terror attacks on our territory, Russia’s responses will be tough and by their scope correspond to the level of threats created for the Russian Federation,” Putin said during a meeting with Russia’s Security Council, as reported by Tass, the Russia state news agency. “No one must have any doubts about that.”

Russia launched more than 80 rockets against major power plants in Ukraine and other targets, including in central Kyiv, causing extensive damage. Ukraine said its air defenses intercepted about half of the rockets. Also, Russia deployed attack drones; reportedly, it also used Iranian-made Shaded-136, a kamikaze drone.

Bombs struck targets in Ukraine's largest cities, including Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk and elsewhere. Videos posted showed massive plumes of smoke at several locations. Putin said long-range precision rockets launched by warplanes, naval craft and artillery were shot at energy, military command and communications facilities.

At least 11 people were killed and at least 89 wounded in the strikes, which were condemned by NATO, the European Union and Washington. The massive bombardment caused outrage and panic in Ukraine. Long lines of cars were seen waiting at gas stations, supermarket shelves were emptying out and people were told to reduce their electricity use due to the power grid damage.

There was extensive damage in Kyiv, the capital. Ukrainian officials said dozens of residential buildings, schools, a kindergarten, cultural buildings, healthcare facilities and two administrative buildings were damaged.

Reportedly, the headquarters of Ukraine's secret security agency, the Security Service of Ukraine, was targeted by drones, though details about the attack and damage caused remained unclear. The street where the agency is located, Vladimirskaya Street, was hit. Ukraine's presidential building is not far away.

Putin accused the spy agency, known as the SBU, of being behind the attack on the Kerch Bridge. He's also accused the SBU, the successor of Ukraine's Soviet KGB, of planting a bomb that killed Darya Dugina, a journalist and daughter of Alexander Dugin, a well-known far-right nationalist philosopher. She was killed late August while driving in Moscow, though her father may have been the intended target. The U.S. has distanced itself from both the Dugina killing and the Kerch Bridge blast, but Washington is providing Kyiv with massive amounts of arms, training, advice and intelligence.

Also, a building in central Kyiv housing a German consulate was among those hit, though the consulate has been closed since February. Many countries closed their diplomatic offices in Kyiv as tensions ratcheted up before Putin launched the invasion and after the invasion started.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Ukrainians to remain tough in their fight against Russia.

“We are dealing with terrorists,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. “They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system. They are incorrigible.”

He said the attacks will not weaken Ukraine's resolve.

“There may be temporary power outages now, but there will never be an outage of our confidence – our confidence in victory,” Zelenskyy vowed. “Why such strikes exactly? The enemy wants us to be afraid, wants to make people run. But we can only run forward – and we demonstrate this on the battlefield.”

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The strikes came after portions of the Kerch Bridge were blown up in what Putin called a “terrorist act.” The bridge was built following Putin's annexation of Crimea in 2014 to connect the peninsula with mainland Russia.

Kyiv has threatened attacking the bridge for months and apparently succeeded in doing so Saturday. A portion of the bridge was seen on satellite images lying in the sea.

“These attacks killed and injured civilians and destroyed targets with no military purpose. They once again demonstrate the utter brutality of Mr. Putin’s illegal war on the Ukrainian people,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Biden said Russia's attacks “only further reinforce our commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.” He added that the West will continue to “impose costs on Russia for its aggression, hold Putin and Russia accountable for its atrocities and war crimes, and provide the support necessary for Ukrainian forces to defend their country and their freedom.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “shocked and appalled” by the attacks.

“Russia once again has shown to the world what it stands for – it is terror and brutality,” she said. “Those who are responsible have to be held accountable. We are mourning the victims, and I send my heartfelt condolences to our Ukrainian friends. I know Ukrainians will not be intimidated, and Ukrainians know that we will stand by their side as long as it takes.”

The further intensification of the war comes amid escalating war rhetoric with Kyiv pleading for longer-distance rockets and more advanced weapons from the United States so it can hit targets inside Russia; the Kremlin is intimating it could use nuclear weapons; and Biden over the weekend warned of “Armageddon.”

Monday's strikes showed Putin is prepared to raise the stakes in a war that he is at risk of losing. Launching the invasion, of course, was the biggest gamble he's made but after sending in his troops Putin has often appeared unwilling to commit entirely to the war.

So far, Russia has used its air force sparingly, declined to launch an amphibious attack on Odesa, not dropped massive numbers of bombs on Kyiv and other cities, retreated from Kyiv without much of a fight and avoided striking administrative centers, such as government buildings in Kyiv.

In other words, Putin has not used shock-and-awe tactics and rather has doggedly insisted on calling the invasion a “special military operation” and, despite wreaking massive damage, apparently tried to limit the amount of destruction inflicted on civilian infrastructure and civilians.

But with Monday's attacks, it appears the Kremlin is ready to put aside any caution it may have wanted to exercise and is preparing to bring Ukraine to its knees militarily.

For months, Putin has been seen by Russian hawks as too weak because of his supposed cautious approach to the war. His latest moves, though, reveal Putin's willingness to listen to the hawks. In a major escalation, following Russian retreats in Kharkiv and Kherson, Putin ordered his army to round up 300,000 more troops and he ordered the annexation of four Ukrainian regions into the Russian Federation.

In the West, many experts, including officials in the White House, have viewed Russia's failures on the battlefield not so much as a sign of prudence by Putin but rather as evidence that his army is weaker than feared and that he is unwilling to commit everything, even his legacy and presidency, to a war that many Russians are reluctant to fight.

Under this logic, many Western officials have expressed confidence that Ukraine can be armed with ever more advanced weapons and given the chance to beat back Russian forces and win the war.

But Monday's bombings showed that the Kremlin is ready to escalate by digging even deeper into its arsenal and manpower while also refusing to swerve from the path it is now on. In the eyes of the West, Russia has become a criminal outcast; in response, Putin calls the West the criminals and argues his actions are building a “multi-polar” world and smashing American domination.

For Ukraine, an even more aggressive Russia poses many dangers, chief among them the risk of the Kremlin launching “tactical nuclear weapons.” But there is also a possibility that Russia may be contemplating its own counteroffensives against Ukraine, for instance a new attack from the north via Belarus.

In recent weeks, speculation has grown over the possibility that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will become directly involved in the war. Lukashenko is a close ally of Putin's and his government, just like Russia's, is under heavy Western sanctions due to his authoritarian government's brutal actions following a crackdown on protests against his re-election in 2020. Lukashenko has been Belarus' first and only president since he was elected in 1994. He was accused of rigging the vote in the most recent election.

Belarus allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine from its territory and Moscow continues to carry out attacks from Belarus.

On Monday, Lukashenko claimed that the West was pushing Ukraine to open a front in the war against Belarus.

“I have already said that Ukraine today it is not just discussing but planning strikes on Belarusian territory,” he said, as reported by Tass. “They are being pushed by their patrons towards unleashing a war against Belarus in order to drag us into it and to deal with Russia and Belarus simultaneously.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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