Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that his forces would intensify strikes on military targets in Ukraine, after an unprecedented Ukrainian attack over the weekend on the Russian city of Belgorod.
The attack on Saturday, which killed 25 people including five children, came after Moscow launched a large-scale attack on Ukrainian cities.
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Meanwhile, Kyiv said Russia had targeted the country with a “record” number of drones on New Year’s Day.
“We’re going to intensify the strikes. No crime against civilians will rest unpunished, that’s for certain,” Putin said during a visit to a military hospital.
His comments came at the end of a deadly week in Ukraine, with both sides hitting each other with large-scale attacks.
Putin said Russia would continue to hit what he called “military installations”.
“We are doing that today and tomorrow we will continue doing it,” Putin said almost two years into Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine.
“What happened in Belgorod is a terrorist act,” Putin told wounded Russian soldiers sitting near him in hospital pyjamas and sanitary masks.
“There is no other way to call it.”
He accused Ukrainian forces of targeting “right in the city centre, where people were walking around, before New Year’s Eve”, and alleged they had “purposefully hit the civilian population”.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov announced Monday that the death toll from the attack on the city had risen to 25, saying medics were unable to save a toddler who was seriously injured in the attack.
“This is an irreparable loss for all of us,” Gladkov said, adding that 109 people were wounded, 45 of whom were still in medical facilities.
Speaking about the situation on the battlefield, Putin said the “strategic initiative” in the drawn-out conflict in Ukraine was on the Russian side since the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the summer.
He also claimed that Moscow wanted to end the conflict “as quickly as possible” but “only on our terms”, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.
– ‘Record’ drones –
Ukraine said Monday that it had foiled a “record” number of Russian drones on the night of New Year’s Eve, after a week of escalation.
The Ukrainian air force said Russia launched 90 Iranian-made Shahed drones on the last night of the year, of which 87 were destroyed.
Two people were killed when a drone struck a two-storey residential building in the northeastern Sumy region, the Ukrainian interior ministry said Monday, with another person wounded.
Kyiv also said Russian shelling killed one person on New Year’s Day in the southern Odesa region and another person in Kherson, also in the south.
Ukraine’s air force said a total of 10 Shahed drones were launched Monday afternoon, of which nine were intercepted.
The barrage came after Russia pounded Ukraine in the last days of 2023, killing 39 people in one of the biggest strikes in the war.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian shelling of the Moscow-held city of Donetsk killed four people, according to Russian-installed authorities.
“As a result of Ukrainian shelling of central Donetsk on New Year’s Eve we can say that there are four dead and 13 wounded,” the head of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said in a video on Telegram.
He accused Ukraine of “having an aim to cause as much harm as possible to the civilian population because it used cluster munitions”.
A journalist was among those killed, according to TASS.
The United States has supplied Kyiv with cluster munitions, a move that was criticised even by its own allies.
Cluster munitions are a controversial weapon designed to disperse or release tiny explosives that can pose a lasting threat even after a conflict ends, in particular for civilians.