Russian missiles fall on Ukrainian cities as Putin says he is open to dialogue

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Russian missiles fall on Ukrainian cities as Putin says he is open to dialogue

The war in Ukraine did not stop for Christmas despite Russian President Vladimir Putin saying he was open to negotiations, and his army launched more than 40 rocket attacks on Christmas Day, the Ukrainian military said on Monday.

Three Russian servicemen were killed early Monday when the wreckage of a Ukrainian drone that was shot down while attacking a base in the Russian-controlled Saratov region fell, Russian news agencies reported, based on information from the Defense Ministry.

This is the second attack on the base so far this month. The base, near the city of Saratov, about 730 km southeast of Moscow and hundreds of kilometers from the front lines in Ukraine, was hit on Dec. 5 in what Russia said were Ukrainian drone strikes on two Russian air bases that day.

Reuters could not immediately verify these reports.

On Sunday, Putin again said he was open to negotiations and blamed Ukraine and its Western allies for not engaging in talks, a stance the United States had previously branded as posing in the face of relentless Russian attacks.

“We are willing to negotiate acceptable solutions with all involved, but that depends on them; it’s not us who refuse to negotiate, it’s them,” Putin said in an interview on Rossiya 1 state television.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Putin had to come back to reality and acknowledge that it was Russia that did not want talks.

“Russia attacked Ukraine alone and is killing citizens,” adviser Mikhailo Podoliak said on Twitter. “Russia doesn’t want negotiations, but it tries to shirk its responsibility.”

Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine — which Russia calls a “special military operation” — has triggered the biggest European conflict since World War II and the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Russian attacks on Ukrainian power plants have left millions without electricity, and Zelenskiy said Moscow will try to make the final days of 2022 dark and difficult.

“Russia has lost everything it could this year. … I know that darkness will not prevent us from leading the occupiers to further defeats. But we have to be prepared for any scenario,” he said in a speech on Christmas Day.

Ukraine traditionally celebrates Christmas on January 7, as does Russia.

However, this year some Orthodox Ukrainians decided to celebrate it on December 25 and Ukrainian officials, including Zelenskiy and Ukraine’s prime minister, congratulated Christmas on Sunday.

FIGHTING

The Ukrainian military reported early Monday that Russian forces had shelled dozens of cities in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions in the past 24 hours.

“In the direction of Kherson, the enemy continues to shell with artillery the populated areas along the right bank of the Dnieper River,” he said.

Ukrainian forces launched attacks on nearly 20 Russian targets.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that its military had killed about 60 Ukrainian servicemen the previous day along the Kupiansk-Lyman contact line and destroyed numerous pieces of Ukrainian military equipment.

Reuters could not immediately verify these reports.

The Kremlin says it will fight until it achieves all its territorial objectives, while Kiev says it will not rest until all Russian soldiers are expelled from the country.

Asked whether the geopolitical conflict with the West was approaching a dangerous level, Putin replied on Sunday: “I don’t think it’s that dangerous.”

Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they call an imperial-style war of occupation.

BELARUSIAN MISSILES

Iskander tactical missile systems, which can carry nuclear warheads, and Russian-supplied S-400 air defense systems have been mobilized in Belarus and are operational, a senior Belarusian Defense Ministry official said Sunday.

“These types of weapons are today in combat service and are fully prepared to perform the tasks for which they were conceived,” Leonid Kasinsky, head of the ministry, said in a video posted on the Telegram messaging app.

It was unclear how many of the Iskander systems had been deployed in Belarus after Putin said in June that Moscow would supply Minsk with these and air defense systems.

Putin visited Minsk on Dec. 19, prompting speculation in Kiev that he would pressure Belarus to join a new offensive in its faltering invasion.

The Russian military used Belarus as a launching pad for its thwarted attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in February, and in recent months there has been increasing Russian and Belarusian military activity.

The Iskander-M, a mobile guided missile system called “SS-26 Stone” by NATO, replaced the Soviet-era “Scud.” The guided missiles have a range of up to 500 km and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

The S-400 system is a Russian mobile surface-to-air missile interception system capable of attacking aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles, and has terminal ballistic missile defense capability.

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