Russia hammers Ukraine with missile strikes after Zelensky calls for peace

AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gives a speech to the media in Kherson, southern Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.

KYIV, Ukraine – Russia responded to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for peace in a speech to Group of 20 leaders on Tuesday by firing volleys of missiles into cities across Ukraine, hitting residential areas far from the front lines in one of the biggest strikes yet on the country.

The capital of Kyiv, Kharkiv in the east, and Lviv in the west, were among at least six major cities reporting strikes after air raid sirens wailed around the country in the early afternoon, just hours after Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Bali, Indonesia.

At least 85 missiles were fired at targets around the country, Ukrainian officials said, making Tuesday’s attack one of the most widespread of the nearly nine-month-old war. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary target and parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

The barrage of missiles came less than a week after Russian forces retreated in defeat from the southern port city of Kherson, the latest big battlefield setback in President Vladimir Putin’s failing war. In surrendering Kherson, Russia lost control of the only regional capital that its forces had managed to capture since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Mayors throughout Ukraine took to Twitter and Telegram to urge residents to take shelter as successive waves of missile strikes were launched.

Two apartment buildings were on fire in a residential area of Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko wrote on Twitter, though it was unclear whether the damage was inflicted by a successful missile strike or parts of a missile intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses.

A power plant was located near one of the buildings that was on fire in Kyiv, and the mayor of Kharkiv, in the northeast, said parts of the city were without power after hits on energy infrastructure there. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Many of Tuesday’s strikes were in the center and north of the country, areas that have been relatively untouched by the war for most of the year, Ukrainian presidential adviser Kirill Timoshenko said.

Timoshenko urged Ukrainians to conserve energy and warned of rolling power blackouts. “The situation in the capital is extremely difficult,” he said. “Use electricity sparingly and keep it up! The terrorists will still be defeated.”

Ukrainian officials said the attack offered the latest tangible proof that Moscow was not interested in peace talks, despite public assertions in recent weeks that Russia is prepared to negotiate a settlement.

“Russia responds to Zelensky’s powerful speech at G-20 with a new missile strike,” Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Twitter. “Does anyone seriously think that the Kremlin really wants peace? It wants obedience.”

Zelensky’s 10 conditions for a peace settlement included a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all occupied territories, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, the payment of reparations by Russia, the release of all prisoners and deported Ukrainian citizens and accountability for war crimes.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was left to defend Russia’s war on Ukraine at the G-20 summit after Putin declined to attend in person, insisted on Tuesday that Russia was willing to negotiate with Ukraine about an end to the war and he accused Kyiv of avoiding peace talks.

Russia, however, still insists that Ukraine must accept the loss of illegally annexed territory, including the regions of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia.

In recent days, Russian state propagandists have reiterated that Russia’s conditions for an end to the war remain the “denazification and demilitarization” of Ukraine, even as officials like Lavrov claim there are no preconditions for talks.

“If anyone refuses, it is Ukraine – and the longer it refuses, the more difficult it will be to agree,” Lavrov said in comments to reporters, state media reported. He said Ukraine put forward proposals that were “unrealistic and inadequate.”

Ukraine’s central demand is that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine and restore Ukraine’s control over its borders.

“Russia must withdraw all its troops and armed formations from the territory of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in his speech to G-20 leaders, which he began by noting that a copy of his peace plan had been provided to each of them in their own language “in demonstration of respect.”

“Ukraine’s control over all sections of our state border with Russia must be restored,” Zelensky said. “This will result in a real and complete cessation of hostilities. Every day of delay means new deaths of Ukrainians, new threats to the world, and an insane increase in losses due to [the] continuation of the Russian aggression – losses for everyone in the world.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also blamed Kyiv, saying that “de facto and de jure Ukraine cannot and does not want to negotiate,” so the war would continue.

Lavrov described Zelensky’s G-20 speech as “Russophobic and aggressive” and called on Western nations to “discipline” him – in comments that once more underscored Russia’s view of Ukraine as a nonstate, lacking its own agency.

“We want to see concrete evidence that the West is seriously interested in disciplining Zelensky and explaining to him that this cannot continue, that this is not in the interests of the Ukrainian people and themselves,” Lavrov told reporters.

The Kremlin earlier said that Putin had decided not to attend G-20 in person because of his schedule and “the need for him to be in the Russian Federation” although Putin has traveled outside Russia since invading Ukraine, including to the Uzbek city of Samarkand, and to Tehran, the capital of Iran.

Instead of traveling to Bali, Putin met with a patriotic group, the Pobeda committee, and he accused Western nations of distorting history to weaken Russia and “create prerequisites for new aggressive actions” against it.

Despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed to be a victim of external aggression or insisted that it had no choice but to attack.

Putin also signed a decree naming two Ukrainian cities – Mariupol and Melitopol – which are under occupation in territory Russia illegally claimed to have annexed, as Russian “Cities of Military Glory,” emphasizing yet again Russia’s land grabs in Ukraine.

Peskov also insisted that Kherson, which Moscow surrendered last week, remains the capital of Kherson region.

While the missile attacks Tuesday were part of an ongoing strategy by the Kremlin to degrade Ukraine’s infrastructure as winter approaches, the airstrikes also seemed intended to demonstrate that Russia can still inflect damage despite repeatedly being forced to retreat from its military objectives.

As Russia becomes more isolated and autocratic, Putin has crushed dissent, promoted militaristic nationalists, and carried out a repressive crusade against activists, journalists and human rights advocates.

On Tuesday, he lashed out at people he called traitors in Russia whom he accused of using “pseudo-nationalistic interests” to hide their betrayals.

Putin said the country must “unmask all attempts of this kind and show the truth – good or bad, but objective information, make sure of this once again, figure it out and leave this truth for future generations.”

Peskov ruled out the payment of reparations to Ukraine, calling this an effort to rob Russia’s foreign currency and gold reserves, after a nonbinding United Nations General Assembly vote Monday calling on Russia to compensate Ukraine for war damage. “This decision is not legally binding, that is how we will treat it,” Peskov said. “We are categorically against it.”