Ukraine attacks hurt Putin’s efforts to reassure Russians

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The sound of air raid sirens is common in Belgorod Russian border town whose residents are in danger following a Ukrainian missile attack over the New Year holiday weekend, which killed and injured dozens.

A Ukrainian drone this month caused a spectacular explosion at a giant fuel export terminal on the Baltic Sea southwest of St. Petersburg, forcing the energy company Novatek to shut down operations for several days.

Last week, an apparent drone attack on the Black Sea port of Tuapse in the southern Krasnodar region struck and set fire to one of Russia’s largest refineries, while another large refinery in the Volga River city of Yaroslavl, north of Moscow The attack took place early on Monday. , but officials said there was no damage.

There have also been attacks on an ammunition factory in the Tambov region and on arms producers and military facilities in the Bryansk, Smolensk and Tula regions.

Such attacks are a huge blow to President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reassure Russians that life in the country is largely untouched by the nearly 2-year-old war.

“Ukraine has increased its ability to retaliate against Russia,” Michael Kaufman, a military expert at the Carnegie Endowment, said in a recent podcast.

“You are seeing an increase in Ukrainian attacks against Russia’s critical infrastructure, retaliatory attacks against cities like Belgorod, and major attacks against a Russian military base in Crimea,” he said.

As Putin advances his campaign Presidential elections in March He wants to maintain an atmosphere of normalcy. But continued Ukrainian attacks have raised the visibility of the war on Russian soil, and there are other signs that the conflict is increasingly challenging the Kremlin’s tight control over the political landscape.

Thousands of people have signed petitions across Russia Supporting a long-term presidential bid Liberal politician Boris Nadezhdin, who has made ending the war his main campaign issue. The wives of some soldiers arrested in the partial mobilization in 2022 have pressed for their release. And despite strict restrictions on protests, hundreds of people Rally in Bashkortostan provinceClash with police to protest against jailing of a local activist.

Definitely Strike on December 30 in Belgorod Bloody tension increased in the minds of many Russians. The city of 340,000, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the Ukrainian border, was hit by missiles over a holiday weekend when people were shopping, ice skating and celebrating the New Year. Officials said 25 people, including five children, were killed and more than 100 were injured.

Residents described seeing victims with horrific injuries and blood stains on sidewalks. A resident told RBC news outlet that she saw a baby’s carriage hit by shrapnel and his bloodied parents lying next to him. A drugstore clerk said the injured pedestrians ran to his pharmacy to ask for help.

“I see requests on social networks from people who write: ‘We are scared, please help us get to a safe place!'” regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said, adding that several hundred people were evacuated. , including more than 1,000 children. For camps in neighboring areas.

Holidays and religious celebrations were either muted or canceled altogether.

About 600 apartments and several private houses were damaged in the shelling and more than 500 cars were hit by shrapnel. Bus stops are being strengthened with concrete blocks and sand bags.

Residents say they get scared by any loud noise these days and are afraid to go out. Schools in the city and near the border have started online classes by mid-February.

This is not the first time that Belgorod has been hit by war, with drone strikes and other attacks occurring early in the conflict. In April 2023, a bomb accidentally went off A Russian warplane explodes on a road, leaving a large crater and injuring two people.

On January 24, the Defense Ministry said military transport aircraft Shot down in the Belgorod area while carrying Ukrainian POWs, killing all 74 on board. Although Russia has released evidence it says proves Ukrainian POWs were on board the plane, officials in Kiev dispute this and instead accuse Moscow of using the incident to hurt Ukrainian morale. Tried to plead guilty.

Putin said the shelling of Belgorod on 30 December made him “boil with anger”, calling it an act of desperation following Kiev’s failure. Ukraine counter-attacks.

“They want to show their people and the sponsors who give them money, weapons and ammunition that they can retaliate against Russia’s actions,” he said. “They want to show that they can also do something, but instead of carrying out military tasks, they use barbaric methods and indiscriminately attack peaceful settlements with weapons.”

Throughout the war, the Kremlin claims that Russia has hit only military targets in Ukraine – despite extensive evidence to the contrary and heavy civilian casualties in places like Kiev, Mariupol and Kharkiv.

Ukrainian officials rarely comment on attacks inside Russia but insist on their right to use all means to counter Moscow’s aggression.

At a press conference in August, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia had launched more than 6,500 missiles and 3,500 drones since the war began, the majority of which were at civilian targets. In a New Year address to the nation, he vowed: “He who brings hell to our land will one day see it from his window.”

Russian hawks have pointed to Belgorod as a turning point for the Kremlin to raise the stakes in the war.

Nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, whose daughter was killed in an August 2022 car bomb attack on Ukraine, argues that Russia should respond by escalating the fighting and announcing widespread mobilization.

“I would like to believe that Russia will now take off the white gloves and start the real fight,” he wrote. “Should we follow the rules at a time when the gates of hell open? Our task for 2024 is to restructure the state and society to put it on a military footing and throw all our resources into achieving victory.”

Russian military bloggers noted the challenges of identifying Ukrainian rocket launchers moving into positions up to 40 kilometers (25 mi) down the border, stressing the need for better surveillance. Many regretted Russia’s withdrawal from the region in September 2022 amid Kiev’s intensified counteroffensive, arguing that more Ukrainian territory should be annexed to secure Belgorod and other border areas.

While large-scale fighting along the 1,500-kilometre (930 mi) frontline has stalled over the winter, missile and drone attacks inside Russia have demonstrated Ukraine’s long-range strike capability, straining Moscow’s security assets.

“Ukraine’s continued attacks on areas deep in Russia’s rear areas could increase pressure on Russia’s air defenses,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a recent analysis.

If this is Kiev’s plan, it is similar to what Russia did a year ago by targeting Ukraine’s power grid in the hope that repairs would take time. In the end, Ukraine managed to obtain enough spare parts and make quick fixes so that Moscow’s campaign failed. Now, it is Russia that needs to find a strategy to counter.

Sergei Vakulenko, an energy analyst at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said it could be challenging for Russian refineries to immediately repair the damage.

While Ukraine’s small drones may not cause major destruction, he said, “they could damage not only pipelines, but also compressors, valves, control units and other pieces of equipment that cannot be operated because of sanctions.” It’s hard to change.”

“If we are to see the beginning of a wave of attacks on western Russia’s oil refineries, the consequences will be grave,” Vakulenko said in a commentary.

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Watch AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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