Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Ukraine war: New Russian naval ships; Putin-Xi meeting; and missile lands in Belarus

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1. Russia launches massive missile barrage across Ukraine

Multiple regions of Ukraine, including its capital Kyiv, faced a new “massive” Russian missile attack on Thursday.

Air raid sirens rang out across the country for five hours — one of the longest alarms of the war.

Ukraine’s military said it had shot down 54 missiles out of 69 launched in the assault, including 16 around Kyiv where three people were reported injured and 40% of residents were without power.

Damage was also reported at an electricity station in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and in the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Odesa.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Lviv said on Telegram that 90% of his city near the Polish border had been left without electricity.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the attack as “senseless barbarism”.

Waves of weekly Russian air strikes in recent months have targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, leaving millions without power and heating in often freezing temperatures.

“Ukrainian air defense forces demonstrated an incredible level of skill and efficiency,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Telegram.

“In some areas, emergency shutdowns may be applied to avoid accidents in the networks. Our power engineers are already working to repair everything,” he added.

According to the Ukrainian deputy head of the president’s office, two people were killed in Russian strikes on Wednesday.

Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and says its missile strikes on infrastructure are militarily legitimate.

2. Vladimir Putin oversees commissioning of new warships

Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw the commissioning of new warships and vowed on Thursday to further strengthen his country’s navy.

“We will speed up and increase the volumes of construction of ships of various projects, equip them with the most modern weapons, and conduct the operational and combat training using the experience received during the special military operation,” Putin said, referring to Russia’s 10-month-old campaign in Ukraine.

The newly commissioned vessels included a corvette, a minesweeper, and the Generalissimus Suvorov nuclear submarine.

The submarine armed with Bulava nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles is the sixth craft of the new Borei class to join the Russian navy.

“It will ensure Russia’s security for decades ahead,” Putin said.

Another submarine of the same type, Emperor Alexander III, was launched during Thursday’s ceremony. The navy plans to commission it following sea trials.

For nearly 23 years in power, Putin has made rebuilding his army a priority following the fall of the former Soviet Union (USSR).

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based on the annexed Crimean peninsula, was sunk by Ukrainian forces in April.

3. Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile reportedly lands in Belarus

A Ukrainian S-300 missile reportedly fell in Belarus on Thursday morning, according to Belarusian news agency BelTA.

The incident occurred between 10:00 and 11:00 local time amid “massive” Russian strikes on Ukraine. No damage or casualties have been reported.

The anti-aircraft missile was reportedly shot down by Belarusian air defense systems near the village of Gorbakha in the southwestern region of Brest, which borders Ukraine.

It is the first time Minsk has reported an incident since Russia invaded Ukraine, using Belarus as a rear base for its forces.

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko was “immediately” notified about what happened, the defense ministry said in a statement.

Authorities investigating the event are investigating whether the rocket was a stray missile, similar to the one which exploded along the Polish side of the Poland-Ukraine border.

Russia’s air defense also claimed on Thursday that it had shot down a drone near the Engels military base, around 500 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.

Fragments of the drone damaged a car and house without causing any casualties, according to regional governor Roman Boussargine.

The Engels base was hit by a deadly strike on Monday, killing three people, that Russia has blamed on Ukraine.

4. Putin to hold video conference with Xi Jinping

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold a video conference on Friday, the Kremlin announced — part of the accelerated rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing since the invasion of Ukraine started on February 24.

“The exchange of views on the most acute regional problems will be very important, some [problems] are closer to us, Russia, and others are closer to China,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

“Our leaders will address these issues in the spirit of our true strategic partnership,” said Peskov, adding that the meeting will take place “in the first part of the day” Moscow time.

There will also be discussions about “bilateral relations” and “the sharp increase in the volume of trade” between the two countries, Peskov noted.

Moscow and Beijing present themselves as a geopolitical counterweight to the United States and its allies and have conducted several joint military exercises in recent months, including naval maneuvers this week in the East China Sea.

5. Catherine the Great statue removed from Odesa

A monument to the eighteenth-century empress Catherine the Great was removed from public display in Odesa overnight as part of Ukraine’s efforts to cleanse its public spaces of vestiges of Russia’s influence.

The statue was originally erected in 1900, a century after Catherine died, but was only restored to its current site in 2007 by the city authorities.

It had been in storage since 1920 when it was taken down by the Soviets.

When an online poll on the future of the statue was held in October, 50.2% of Odesa residents wanted it destroyed completely, 36.12% thought it should stay with a historical explanation, 8.3% voted for it to stay unchanged, while 4.2% wanted it removed to a museum.

Read more and watch video here.

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