KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — The United States said Tuesday it hadn’t “enabled” Ukraine to carry out strikes inside Russia, after a spate of drone attacks on military-linked facilities deep within Russian territory.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin convened his security council in the wake of the apparent drone strikes, Kyiv did not directly claim responsibility but neither did it criticize the action, which killed three people and damaged long-range bombers and a fuel depot, according to reports from Russia.
“We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.
Washington has held back from supplying Ukraine forces with long-range ATACMS missiles that could strike inside Russia out of fears it could lead to a direct confrontation between Russian forces and those of the US and NATO.
But experts believe Ukraine was able to modify old long-distance Soviet-era reconnaissance drones on its own to target them at the bases in the Kursk, Ryazan and Saratov on Monday.
But Blinken did not criticize the strikes.
Instead, he said, the United States is determined “to make sure that they (Ukraine) have in their hands — along with many other partners around the world — the equipment that they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom.”
But US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that the US was “absolutely not” doing anything to prevent Ukraine from acquiring its own long-range attack capabilities.
Zelensky visits city near front
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile visited Sloviansk near the eastern frontline Tuesday, describing fighting as “difficult” with Russian forces pushing to capture the industrial city of Bakhmut.
Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors bearing the city name and calling for a moment of silence to commemorate killed Ukrainian soldiers.
“The east of Ukraine today is the most difficult front. And I am honored to be here now with our defending troops in Donbas. I believe that next time we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk and in Crimea as well,” Zelensky said.
He was referring to three regions the Russians or their proxies have controlled since 2014.
Russian forces have made a concentrated push since August to capture Bakhmut, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Sloviansk, at what Western defense analysts say has been a great cost in lives and equipment.
Daily shelling from both sides has been heaviest along the front line in the area.
In the nearby Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, its Moscow-appointed mayor said that Ukrainian shelling had killed six civilians and injured others.
Putin call meeting after drone attacks
The Kremlin said Putin met senior officials Tuesday to discuss “domestic security” and said that Russia was taking “necessary” measures to fend off more Ukrainian attacks.
One of the Ukraine attacks struck the key Engels airfield in the Saratov region, where Russia keeps some of its strategic nuclear bombers.
Ukraine says aircraft at Engels are also used to launch missiles at it from outside its territory.
For weeks Moscow has rained missiles down onto Ukraine’s electricity and water supply infrastructure, raising the pressure of the war on the country’s civilian population as the country moves into winter and power cuts leave them vulnerable to the cold.
Latvia pulls plug on Russia TV channel
Meanwhile, Latvia announced Tuesday it was revoking the license for exiled Russian independent channel Dozhd, or TV Rain, for multiple violations that included showing the annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russia.
The channel, since 2010 a main voice for Russia’s opposition, moved to Latvia after Russian authorities blocked its broadcasts for critical coverage of the war in Ukraine.
But since then the channel has been accused of supporting Russian soldiers and failing to ensure Latvian language translation, according to the LETA news agency.
“TV Rain will stop broadcasting on December 8,” Ivars Abolins, head of the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council said on Twitter.
“The laws of Latvia must be respected by everyone,” Abolins added.
TV Rain called the accusations “unfair and absurd”, saying that it would remain on YouTube.