KVIV/Moscow, Dec. 26 (Reuters) – Russian forces bombed several cities in Ukraine on Christmas Day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready for talks.
Russia launched more than 10 rocket attacks on the Kubiansk district of Kharkiv region on Sunday, shelled more than 25 towns along the Kubiansk-Lyman front and hit nearly 20 towns in Zaporizhia, Ukraine’s top military command said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday it had killed around 60 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed Ukrainian military equipment along the Kubiansk-Lyman line of contact.
Reuters could not independently verify the news.
Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine — which Moscow calls a “special military operation” — sparked the biggest European conflict since World War II and the worst confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Despite Putin’s latest offer of talks, the 10-month standoff is far from over.
“We are ready to negotiate with all those involved about acceptable solutions, but it depends on them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,” Putin said in an interview with Rossiya 1 state television broadcast on Sunday.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Putin needs to return to reality and admit that it is Russia that does not want negotiations.
“Russia is attacking Ukraine alone and killing civilians,” tweeted adviser Mykhailo Podoliak. “Russia does not want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.”
Russian attacks on power stations have left millions without power, and Zelensky said Moscow intends to make the last few days of 2022 dark and difficult.
“This year Russia has lost everything it could have. … I know the darkness will not prevent the aggressors from leading new defeats. But we must be prepared for any scenario,” he said in a video address on Christmas Day evening.
Ukraine traditionally does not celebrate Christmas on December 25, but on January 7, like Russia. However, this year some Orthodox Ukrainians decided to celebrate the holiday on December 25 and Ukrainian officials, starting with Zelensky and Ukraine’s prime minister, issued Christmas greetings on Sunday.
The Kremlin says it will fight until it achieves all its territorial objectives, while Kyiv says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is expelled from the country.
Asked if the geopolitical conflict with the West was approaching a dangerous level, Putin said Sunday: “I don’t think it’s very dangerous.”
Kiev and the West say Putin has no justification for an imperialist-style war of aggression.
Russian-supplied Iskander tactical missile systems capable of carrying nuclear weapons and S-400 air defense systems are stationed in Belarus and are ready to perform their intended missions, a senior Belarusian Defense Ministry official said on Sunday.
“Our soldiers and personnel have fully completed their training at the Joint Combat Training Centers of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus,” Leonid Kaczynski, head of the ministry’s Main Ideological Directorate, said in a video released. In the Telegram messaging app.
“Weapons of this type (Iskander and S-400 systems) are in combat duty today and are fully ready to perform their intended tasks,” Kaczynski added.
It is unclear how many Iskander systems have been deployed to Belarus, after Putin said in June that Moscow would provide Minsk and air defense systems.
Following Putin’s visit to Minsk on December 19, amid fears in Kiev he will press Belarus to join a new ground offensive and open a new front in his faltering invasion.
Russian forces used Belarus as a launching pad to stop an attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in February, and recent months have seen heightened tension in Russian and Belarusian military operations.
The mobile guided missile system codenamed Iskander-M, named “SS-26 Stone” by NATO, replaced the Soviet-era “Scud”. Guided missiles have a range of up to 500 km (300 miles) and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
That limitation reaches deep into Belarus’s neighbors: Ukraine and NATO member Poland, which have strained relations with Minsk.
The S-400 system is a Russian mobile, surface-to-air missile (SAM) interceptor system capable of engaging aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles and has a terminal ballistic missile defense capability.
Ukrainian and Russian media reported Monday that explosions were heard at Russia’s Engels air base, hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the Ukrainian frontline.
The governor of Russia’s Saratov region, home to the Engels air base, said law enforcement agencies were verifying information about an “incident at a military station.”
“There is no emergency in the residential areas of (Engels) city,” the region’s governor, Roman Busargin, said on the Telegram messaging app. “Civilian infrastructure was not damaged.”
The air base near the city of Saratov, about 730 km (450 miles) southeast of Moscow, was hit on December 5 in what Russia said were Ukrainian drone strikes on two Russian air bases. Analysts said the strikes left Moscow with a major reputational blow and raised questions about why its defenses had failed.
Ukraine has never publicly claimed responsibility for the attacks inside Russia, but has attributed such incidents to “karma” for Russia’s invasion.
Report by Reuters Bureau; Written by Michael Perry; Editing by Himani Sarkar
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