Russian drones hit Kyiv, Putin in Belarus amid fears of ally joining offensive under pressure

KYIV: Russia hit key infrastructure in and around Kyiv in a “kamikaze” drone attack on Monday, hours before President Putin arrived in Belarus, fuelling fears he will pressure his ally to join a new offensive on Ukraine.
The Ukrainian air force said its air defences shot down 30 drones in what was the third Russian air strike on Kyiv in six days and the latest in a series of assaults since October targeting the energy grid, causing sweeping blackouts amid sub-zero temperatures. Officials said at least three people were injured and nine buildings damaged in the Kyiv region. The Ukrainian atomic energy agency accused Russia of sending one of the drones over part of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the Mykolaiv region. “This is an absolutely unacceptable violation of nuclear and radiation safety,” Energoatom wrote on Telegram.
The “kamikaze” drones used in the attacks are cheaply produced, disposable unmanned aircraft that fly towards their target before plummeting at speed and detonating on impact. A Reuters witness said that during the night a fire raged at an energy facility in the often-targeted Shevchenkivskyi district of central Kyiv. The Solomianskyi district in the western part of Kyiv, a transport hub and home to a train station and one of the city’s two passenger airports, was also hit. Kyiv officials said 18 out of 23 drones were shot down over the city of 3.6 million people.
Meanwhile, to the northwest of Ukraine, there has been constant Russian and Belarusian military activity for months in Belarus, a close Kremlin ally that Moscow’s troops used as a launch pad for their abortive attack on Kyiv in February. Putin’s trip, for talks with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, was his first to Minsk since 2019. “During (these talks) questions will be worked out for further aggression against Ukraine and the broader involvement of the Belarusian armed forces in the operation against Ukraine, in particular, in our opinion, also on the ground,” Ukrainian joint forces commander Serhiy Nayev said before Putin’s arrival. Lukashenko has said repeatedly he has no intention of sending troops into Ukraine. The Kremlin too dismissed the suggestion that Putin wanted to push Belarus into a more active role in the conflict. Russian troops that moved to Belarus in October will conduct battalion tactical exercises, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing the defence ministry.
Ukrainian President Zelensky said the forces were holding firm in the town of Bakhmut – scene of the fiercest fighting for many weeks. On Monday, Zelensky appealed to Western leaders meeting in Latvia to supply a wide range of weapons. He also said in his address by videolink that the drones used in Monday’s strikes were part of a new batch of around 250 acquired by Russia from Iran.

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