President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Moscow would intensify strikes on military targets in Ukraine, after an unprecedented Ukrainian attack over the weekend on the Russian city of Belgorod.
The Ukrainian attack on Saturday, which killed 25 people including five children, came after Moscow launched a large-scale attack on Ukrainian cities.
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 announced, speaking 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.”
Putin 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 said 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.
He said a total of 109 people were wounded, 45 of which are still in medical facilities.
Speaking about the situation on the battlefield, Putin said he believed 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 Moscow wanted to end the conflict — which has dragged on for almost two years — “as quickly as possible” but “only on our terms”, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.
– ‘Record’ drones –
Ukraine said Monday 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 — 87 of which it destroyed.
Two were killed in a drone attack on 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.
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 Russian-installed head of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said in a video on Telegram, adding that Ukraine used cluster munitions.
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 the Russian news agency TASS.
The US has supplied Kyiv with cluster munitions, in a move that was criticised even by its own allies.
Cluster munitions are a controversial weapon designed to disperse or release tiny explosives.
They explode mid-air and scatter bomblets over a wide area, and also pose a lasting threat.