Putin visits Belarus as drones hit Kyiv

KYIV: Russia launched a swarm of attack drones at critical infrastructure in Kyiv on Monday in strikes that Ukraine said provoked emergency blackouts in a dozen regions. The attacks came as Russia said it had shot down several US-made missiles over its airspace near Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin was due to visit neighbouring Belarus, used as a staging ground the invasion of Ukraine.

“I first heard the air raid siren howling from the street… I thought there is going to be a drone attack. For the first time, it scared me,” Natalia Dobrovolska, a 68-year-old resident of Kyiv told AFP. She described hearing multiple explosions before power shut off in her building in western Kyiv. Officials said Russia had dispatched 35 attack drones nationwide, including 23 over Kyiv. Ukraine said it had downed 30 of the aerial weapons, including Iranian-made “Shaheds”, which have pummelled the capital in recent weeks.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said critical infrastructure facilities were “damaged” but there were no known casualties. Energy operator Ukrenergo said emergency electricity outages were scheduled in the capital and nearly a dozen regions. Moscow said its air defence systems had shot down four US-made missiles over Belgorod, a Russian region bordering Ukraine, in one of its first such claims in nearly 10 months of fighting.

Border situation a ‘priority’

“Four American ‘HARM’ anti-radar missiles were shot down in the airspace over the Belgorod region,” the defence ministry said on social media. Ukraine has experienced frequent and deadly aerial attacks in the 10 months since Russia invaded in late February.

After a series of battlefield setbacks and lost territory this summer and autumn, Moscow stepped up its aerial campaign to target the country’s energy grid. With winter setting in, missile and drone attacks have plunged cities around the country into darkness, and severed water and heat supplies to millions of Ukrainians.

After a major Russian assault aiming more than 70 missiles on cities last Friday, the national electricity operator was forced to impose emergency rolling blackouts as it raced to repair the battered energy grid.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said as of Sunday evening, nine million people have had their energy restored. Ukraine has an estimated population of 40 million. Zelensky also described the situation on Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus as a “constant priority”.

“We are preparing for all possible defence scenarios,” Zelensky said, adding that he had recently discussed border regions with military commanders. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is a long-time Kremlin ally and allowed Russian troops to use Belarusian territory as a launchpad for Moscow’s invasion.

Putin visit Belarus

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was already in Minsk on Monday alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. With Putin also expected to arrive, Russia announced its forces were running military drills with Belarusian forces.

The defence ministry released footage of drills in Belarus, showing soldiers conducting tank manoeuvres, and practising artillery and sniper fire at a snow-dusted training ground. “From the morning until the evening twilight-there is not a single second of silence at the training grounds of Belarus,” the ministry said.

In October, Belarus announced the formation of a joint regional force with Moscow with several thousand Russian servicemen arriving in the ex-Soviet country. It did not say where the drills were taking place or how long they will last.

The deployment of Russian troops in Belarus had raised fears that Belarusian troops could join them in their offensive in Ukraine. In fighting that has spilled over into Russian regions bordering Ukraine, one person was killed, and others were wounded Sunday in Belgorod following attacks that the local authorities blamed on Kyiv. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Ukrainian strikes left around 14,000 people without power in a district of the Belgorod region. – AFP



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