By Oleksandr Stashevskyi
Kyiv: Russia shattered weeks of relative calm in the Ukrainian capital with long-range missiles fired toward Kyiv, an apparent Kremlin show-of-force as Western leaders meet in Europe to strengthen their military and economic support of Ukraine.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the missiles hit at least two residential buildings on Sunday local time, killing one person and injuring six others, including a seven-year-old girl and her mother. The strikes also damaged a nearby kindergarten, where a crater pocked the courtyard.
US President Joe Biden called the attacks “barbarism” as he arrived in Germany for a Group of Seven summit.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said the missiles – the first air-launched weapons to successfully target the capital since June 5 – were fired from warplanes over the Caspian Sea, more than 1,500 kilometres away.
Kyiv’s mayor told journalists he thought the airstrikes were “maybe a symbolic attack” ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid this week. A former commander of US forces in Europe said the strikes also were a signal to the leaders of G7 nations meeting overnight in Germany.
“Russia is saying, ‘We can do this all day long. You guys are powerless to stop us’,” retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of US Army forces in Europe, said. “The Russians are humiliating the leaders of the West.”
The G7 leaders were set to announce more military aid for Ukraine and the latest in a long series of international economic sanctions on Russia over the war: new bans on imports of Russian gold.
Despite the growing economic cost, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the West needed to maintain a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The price of backing down, the price of allowing Putin to succeed, to hack off huge parts of Ukraine, to continue with his programme of conquest, that price will be far, far higher,” he told reporters.
In a phone interview, retired US general Hodges told The Associated Press that Russia has a limited stock of precision missiles and “if they are using them, it’s going to be for a special purpose”.
Russian forces tried to seize control of Kyiv early in the war but, after Ukrainian troops repelled them, had largely shifted focus to southern and eastern Ukraine.
Russian rockets rained down elsewhere in Ukraine over the weekend, including some long-range bombers fired from neighbouring Kremlin ally Belarus, Ukraine’s air command said.
In the east, Russian troops fought to consolidate their gains by battling to swallow up the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Sunday that Russia was conducting intense airstrikes on the city of Lysychansk, destroying its television tower and seriously damaging a road bridge.
“There’s very much destruction. Lysychansk is almost unrecognisable,” he wrote on Facebook.
For weeks, Lysychansk and the nearby city of Sievierodonetsk have been subject to a bloody and destructive offensive by Russian forces and their separatist allies aimed at capturing all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
They have made steady and slow progress, with Haidai confirming Saturday that Sievierodonetsk, including a chemical plant where hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians were holed up, had fallen.
Commenting on the battle for Sievierodonetsk, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said late Saturday that Russian and Moscow-backed separatist forces now control not only the city but the villages surrounding it. He said the Russian military had thwarted Ukrainian forces’ attempt to turn the Azot chemical plant into a “stubborn centre of resistance.”
Meanwhile, on the economic front, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said banning imports of Russian gold would represent a significant escalation of sanctions.
“That is the second-most lucrative export that Russia has after energy.” Blinken told American news channel CNN. “It’s about $19 billion a year. And most of that is within the G7 countries. So cutting that off, denying access to about $19 billion of revenues a year, that’s significant.”
AP with Reuters