KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A new round of missile attacks struck the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia Tuesday, as the death toll from the previous day’s widespread Russian missile barrage across Ukraine rose to 19.
Missiles struck a school, a medical facility and residential buildings in Zaporizhzhia, city council secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said. The State Emergency Service said 12 S-300 missiles slammed into public facilities, setting off a large fire in the area. One person was killed.
The S-300 was originally designed as a long-range surface-to-air missile. Russia has increasingly resorted to using repurposed versions of the weapon to strike targets on the ground.
The morning’s air raid warnings extended throughout the country, sending some residents back into shelters after months of relative calm in the capital and many other cities. That earlier lull had led many Ukrainians to ignore the regular sirens, but Monday’s attacks gave them new urgency.
Besides the usual sirens, residents in the capital, Kyiv, were jolted early Tuesday by a new type of loud alarm that blared automatically from mobile phones. The caustic-sounding alert was accompanied by a text warning of the possibility of missile strikes.
The state emergency service said 19 people died and 105 people were wounded in Monday’s missile strikes that targeted critical infrastructure facilities in Kyiv and 12 other regions. More than 300 cities and towns were without power, from the Ukrainian capital all the way to Lviv on the border with Poland. Many of the attacks occurred far from the war’s front lines.
With Ukrainian forces growing increasingly bold following a series of battlefield successes, a cornered Kremlin is ratcheting up Cold War-era rhetoric and fanning concerns it could broaden the war and suck in more combatants.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, warned Tuesday that Western military assistance to Kyiv including training Ukrainian soldiers in NATO countries and feeding Ukraine real-time satellite data to target Russian forces has “increasingly drawn Western nations into the conflict on the part of the Kyiv regime.”
Ryabkov said in remarks carried by the state RIA-Novosti news agency that “Russia will be forced to take relevant countermeasures, including asymmetrical ones.”
He said that although Russia isn’t “interested in a direct clash” with the US and NATO, “we hope that Washington and other Western capitals are aware of the danger of an uncontrollable escalation.”
Ryabkov’s warning follows Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s announcement that he and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to create a joint “regional grouping of troops” to thwart what Lukashenko claimed is a potential Ukrainian assault on Belarus.
The Ukrainian army general staff said Tuesday it has not seen evidence of troop movements or a buildup of offensive forces in Belarus but warned that Russia could continue to strike “peaceful neighborhoods” and critical infrastructure in Ukraine with missiles.
“The enemy is not able to stop the successful counteroffensive of the Defense Forces in the Kharkiv and Kherson directions, so it is trying to intimidate and sow panic among the population of Ukraine,” the military’s general staff said.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it’s unlikely a joint Russian-Belarus force would launch an attack on Ukraine from the north.
Analysts at the think tank said the Russian component of such a force would “likely be comprised of low-readiness mobilized men or conscripts who likely will not pose a significant conventional military threat to Ukraine.”
One use for the joint force could be to keep some Ukrainian troops bogged down around Kyiv to defend the capital, preventing them from being deployed to more active fronts where they can press their counter-offensive, the institute said.
Although Ukrainian officials said Russia’s missile strikes on Monday made no “practical military sense,” Putin said the “precision weapons” attack was in retaliation for what he claimed were Kyiv’s “terrorist” actions — a reference to Ukraine’s attempts to repel Moscow’s invasion, including an attack Saturday on a key bridge between Russia and the annexed Crimean Peninsula. Putin alleged the bridge attack was masterminded by Ukrainian special services.
Putin vowed a “tough” and “proportionate” response if further Ukrainian attacks threaten Russia’s security. “No one should have any doubts about it,” he told Russia’s Security Council by video.
Putin’s increasingly frequent descriptions of Ukraine’s actions as terrorism could portend even more bold and draconian actions. But in Monday’s speech, Putin — whose partial troop mobilization order last month triggered an exodus of hundreds of thousands of men of fighting age — stopped short of escalating his “special military operation” to a counterterrorism campaign or martial law.
That didn’t stop the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament on Tuesday from likening Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to deceased al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He also said Western politicians supporting Ukraine “are effectively sponsoring terrorism” and that “there can be no talks with terrorists.”
Zelensky has repeatedly called on world leaders to declare Russia a terrorist state because of its attacks on civilians and alleged war crimes.