President Zelensky has accused Russia of “terrorist” acts after cruise missiles destroyed vital infrastructure, leaving millions of people in Ukraine without electricity. The strikes came after Russia’s army was forced into a humiliating retreat.
Large swathes of central and eastern Ukraine were hit by blackouts on Sunday night when Russian missiles slammed into a power station in Kharkiv, Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, said. Power cuts hit the Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Poltava and Sumy regions. Water supplies were also hit. Officials said that power was gradually being restored.
Officials alleged the strikes were Russia’s revenge for a stunning Ukrainian army counteroffensive that forced President Putin’s army to abandon a number of key towns in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine has recaptured territory at least twice the size of Greater London in just five days, according to the British defence ministry. The rout is one of Russia’s biggest setbacks since Putin started the invasion in February.
As Ukraine’s cities were plunged into darkness, Zelensky pledged that the Russian attacks would not break his country. “Even through the impenetrable darkness, Ukraine and the civilised world clearly see these terrorist acts,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram. “These were deliberate and cynical missile strikes on civilian critical infrastructure.”
Addressing the Kremlin directly, the Ukrainian president went on. “Do you still think that you can scare us, break us, or force us to make concessions? Read my lips: Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you.”
Neither Putin nor Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, has commented on Ukraine’s advances. On Saturday, as his forces were retreating in the Kharkiv region, Putin opened a ferris wheel in Moscow to celebrate the 875th anniversary of the founding of the city. The wheel broke down shortly afterwards.
Hardliners in Moscow are furious at the scale of the Russian army’s collapse. Igor Girkin, a former FSB officer who commanded pro-Kremlin forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, compared it to the 1905 Battle of Mukden — a catastrophic defeat in the Russo-Japanese war that triggered an uprising against Nicholas II, Russia’s last tsar.
The recriminations have also reached the Russian media. Boris Nadezhdin, a former MP, told national television that Putin had been misled by his advisers into believing that Ukrainians would welcome the Russian army as a liberating force. “The president didn’t just sit there and think ‘Why don’t I start a special operation?’ Someone told him that the Ukrainians would surrender, that they would flee, that they would want to join Russia.”
Another pundit said that the analysis by foreign policy experts before the invasion had been “criminally, catastrophically wrong”. The tightly controlled nature of national television in Russia means that the comments were likely to have been sanctioned by the Kremlin’s censors.
In Moscow and St Petersburg, 35 councillors signed an open letter calling for Putin’s dismissal. “Putin’s actions harm the future of Russia and its citizens,” it read. City councillors are low profile and have little power, however, and the Kremlin is unlikely to be overly concerned unless it triggers a wider show of dissent.
As the Russian military tries to regroup, Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s national security council, suggested that Ukrainian forces would chase Putin’s army back across the border. “Ukraine’s armed forces will halt [the counteroffensive] where our interests end and that will depend on many circumstances,” he told the Voice of America radio station.
Zelensky told CNN that Ukraine would not negotiate with Russia until it had recaptured all of its land, from Crimea to Donbas. Ukraine said that its forces had recaptured almost 200 square miles of territory in the Kherson region, in the south of the country, over the past two weeks.
A Kremlin-installed official in the Kharkiv region said that Ukrainian troops outnumbered Moscow’s forces by a factor of eight during the counteroffensive in the region. The attacks appeared to wrongfoot Russian troops, many of which had been redeployed to defend Kherson against a Ukrainian offensive in what appeared to be part of a clever strategy by Kyiv to trick Moscow.
Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, described the counteroffensive as the “most dramatic reverse for the Russians since they retreated from the advance on Kyiv in April”.
“The message going into the winter now is there can be no more doubts that Ukraine can win if supported properly. Victory is now visible and credible,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that Russia would continue its military campaign. “The special military operation continues and will continue until the objectives that were originally set are achieved.” He said there were no prospects of peace talks with Kyiv. He did not respond when asked whether Putin remained confident in his military chiefs.
In a separate move, the US is seeking to increase exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe amid fears that President Putin could plunge the world into economic crisis with an energy switch-off this winter.
While senior US officials have said they do not believe Putin would take this step, the White House has reviewed its options for supplying more of its shale gas to help European nations avoid recession if prices rise further.
The Biden administration has already overseen a big expansion in LNG shipped to Europe, sending around 70 per cent of US export gas to the continent this year. It has exceeded its aim of supplying an extra 15 billion cubic metres of natural gas, delivering 30 billion cubic metres to Europe since March, more than twice the amount as the same period last year.
However the White House has concluded that there appears to be no quick way of increasing the capacity of terminals that ship gas across the Atlantic.
[Read more: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/zelensky-accuses-moscow-of-terrorism-after-russian-strikes-lead-to-blackouts-bqgk5lsjf]