MOSCOW, Russia – President Vladimir Putin vowed on Thursday to continue destroying Ukraine’s energy grid despite an outcry against the systematic attacks that have plunged millions into the cold and darkness as winter descends.
Instead, he accused Ukraine of starting a trend of attacking civilian infrastructure and pointed to an explosion on a key bridge between mainland Russia and the annexed Crimean Peninsula, which he recently visited.
“There is a lot of noise about our strikes against a neighboring country’s energy infrastructure. This will not affect our combat missions,” Putin said at a military awards ceremony in the Kremlin.
Weeks of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine have crippled vital infrastructure at a critical time as temperatures drop ahead of the long winter months that have already left Ukrainians without water, heat and gas.
He presented the strikes in response to October’s explosion on the Kerch Bridge, and also accused Kyiv of blowing up power lines at the Kursk nuclear power plant and failing to supply water to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
“Yes, we’ll do that,” Putin said of the strikes in Ukraine. “But who started it?”
Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo said on Thursday it was still reeling from last week’s strikes and was running a “significant deficit”.
“Risks” for Crimea
“The situation is complicated by weather conditions,” she added, saying snow, frost and wind would put infrastructure under pressure.
Putin’s pledge to continue attacking the grid came as the Kremlin acknowledged the Crimean peninsula was vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks after officials said they shot down a drone near a key naval base.
“There are certainly risks because the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organizing terrorist attacks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“On the other hand, the information we receive suggests that effective countermeasures are being taken,” he added.
Moscow-appointed Crimea governor Sergei Aksyonov said last month that Russia was strengthening fortifications in the peninsula following the attacks.
And the governors of two Russian regions bordering Ukraine said they inspected the construction of defense lines days after Ukrainian drones attacked key military airfields.
In the latest incident over Crimea on Thursday, Russia said it shot down a drone over the Black Sea near Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula that hosts a key Russian naval base.
“As always, our military did a good job,” said the governor of the Sevastopol administrative region, Mikhail Razvozhayev.
The peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014 after a so-called referendum that Ukraine and the West never recognized. Moscow said in September it had annexed four more regions of Ukraine, although it does not have full control over them.
Since February there have been multiple explosions at or near Russian military installations in Crimea, including a coordinated drone attack on a key Russian naval port in Sevastopol.
Thursday’s downing of the drone came after a series of attacks deep in Russia — including Engels Airfield, a strategic bomber military base — for which Ukraine has taken no responsibility.
Separately, the Russian Security Services (FSB) arrested two people accused of spying for Ukraine in Crimea and accused them of “treason,” the agency’s press service said on Thursday.
The FSB “stopped the illegal activities of two Russian citizens suspected of high treason in the form of espionage for the security service of Ukraine,” it said in a statement.
One of those arrested was “a supporter of Ukrainian nationalist ideology and was recruited by the Ukrainian intelligence services in 2016,” the statement said.
He is suspected of “sending data on the location of Russian Defense Ministry facilities to a foreign security agency that could be used against Russia’s security.”
tears of the Pope
The Kremlin had previously criticized Time magazine’s decision to nominate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as “Person of the Year”, saying it reflected “Russophobic” tendencies in Western countries.
News website Politico also called Zelenskyy the “most influential” person in Europe.
And during a ceremony in Rome on Thursday, Pope Francis was briefly brought to tears as he prayed for the people of Ukraine.
He had to pause for a moment, his body shaking with emotion, before he could finish his prayer. The crowd around him erupted in applause.
One of Turkey’s most influential marine biologists, Bayram Ozturk, advocated the creation of an “ecological corridor” to save dolphins and other sea creatures from destruction during the conflict.
His Marine Research Foundation organized a conference in Istanbul on Friday where Ozturk will exchange views with colleagues from the other Black Sea side states. — Agence France-Presse