Russia steps up pace of missile strikes on civilian targets

KYIV, Ukraine – An attack on a shopping center on Monday killed 19 civilians. A rocket attack on a sleepy beach town on Friday kills at least 21 residents. Cluster bombs on Saturday hit a residential block in an industrial center, killing four.

The pace of Russian attacks on civilian targets, often with outdated and inaccurate missiles, is accelerating, Ukrainian and Western officials and Russian analysts say as Russia’s forces run out of more advanced weapons in their struggle to make progress in the fifth month. . of the conflict.

More than 200 rockets were fired into Ukrainian government-controlled territory in the second half of June, more than double the number in the first half of the month. Gene. Oleksii Hromov said at a press conference on Thursday.

Some of the deadliest strikes of the war have taken place in the past week. In Monday’s attack on a shopping center in the central city of Kremenchuk, Russia fired two Kh-class missiles. The same type of rocket tore into an apartment building in the Black Sea resort of Serhiivka on Friday.

Soviet Kh-class missiles, designed to target ships, entered the country’s arsenal in the 1960s, leading analysts to speculate about Russia’s declining ability to attack with modern weapons as its forces prepare for the next stage of the conflict.

The use of such weapons “to terrorize Ukrainian cities from the air is further proof of Russia’s declining stocks of long-range precision ammunition,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst.

That assessment was echoed by the United Kingdom’s defense attaché Mick Smeath, who on Saturday said the use of old anti-ship missiles pointed to Russia’s dwindling modern weapons.

On Saturday, Russian troops forced their way into Lysychansk, the last city in eastern Luhansk province to remain outside Russian control, according to the Moscow state news agency, social media reports of pro-Russian troops and a Ukrainian soldier stationed in the city. Both sides said fighting continues in parts of the city.

Military analysts warn that Russia now faces the difficult task of maintaining its slowing offensive in neighboring Donetsk province to achieve its declared war goal of capturing Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region as losses mount.

Russia’s increasing use of Kh-class missiles has coincided with rising estimates of Russian military casualties by Western intelligence agencies. British defense chief Ben Wallace said last week that 25,000 Russian soldiers had died in the war. That number, the highest estimate yet by a senior Western official, could not be independently confirmed. The most recent Pentagon estimate put Russian losses at 15,000.

“Moscow doesn’t want to end the war, but it needs to catch its breath to heal wounds and partially replenish its arms stock,” Mr Luzin said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday evening that Russian forces had lobbied more than 3,000 missiles at Ukraine in four months of the war.

More broadly, Ukrainian officials are warning that the sharp increase in civilian attacks could mark a new phase of the war, as Russia tries to make up for its shrinking military capacity with efforts to degrade Ukraine’s morale.

“The Russians have moved on to the concept of war where they want to cause widespread panic in Ukraine,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr Zelensky, told Ukrainian television station Channel 24 on Saturday. He said Russia was doing it to put the Ukrainian government under pressure to cede territory in exchange for peace, allowing the Kremlin to claim victory.

Since the start of the war, Russia has maintained an increasingly untenable stance that it only fires at military targets and that all affected civilian facilities have been co-opted by Ukraine for military use.

These claims have resonated with the Russian people, many of whom are influenced by state-controlled television networks and conservative pro-war online commentators who bolster the party line.

In recent days, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has stepped up its efforts to avoid blame — especially among the Russian public, many of whom have deep cultural and family ties to Ukraine — by portraying the bombing of civilian targets as false flag operations by the Ukrainian government.

For example, the Russian army claimed Friday without evidence that the attack on Odessa, until recently a predominantly Russian-speaking city, was staged by paid actors. Rising attacks on civilian targets come as both sides have claimed some military gains in recent days.

Ukraine withdrew at least some of its soldiers from Lysychansk on Saturday to escape a possible encirclement by Russian troops who broke through defenses in the south of the city, said Ukrainian soldier Sergiy, who recently withdrew from the city. He asked not to mention his last name for security reasons.

The withdrawal was confirmed on Russian state television by Apti Alaudinov, a commander from Russia’s Chechnya region, stationed in Donbas.

On the southern tip of the Eastern Front, Ukrainian forces continue a volatile counter-offensive that has brought them within 20 miles of the city of Kherson, a provincial capital captured by Russia in the early days of the war.

A senior US Department of Defense official said last week that the Ukrainians not only recaptured southern villages but also demonstrated the ability to hold recaptured territory.

The Ukrainian army also claimed on Friday to have attacked Russian military targets near Kherson. “Our pilots operated in pairs, hitting ammunition depots and a cluster of enemy troops and equipment” in Russian-occupied villages north of the city, Southern Command said in a Facebook post.

Military analysts have attributed some of Ukraine’s incremental gains in the south to the steady flow of advanced Western weapons to its military.

Recently, the first batch of US-made multiple rocket launchers, called High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, entered the battlefield. Armed with satellite-guided missiles, they have a range of more than 40 miles — greater than anything Ukraine had before.

Still, only four of the launchers and their US-trained crews have joined the fray, with four more expected this month. Ukrainian officials say they need as many as 300 multiple rocket launchers to fight Russia, which is firing several times as many rounds as Ukrainian forces in the artillery-driven war of attrition.

Military analysts have warned that despite Ukraine’s gains in the south, they are currently unable to launch a wide-ranging counter-offensive to take the city of Kherson, where Russian defenders are well entrenched – a sign of a protracted conflict in the lies ahead.

Valerie Hopkins message from Kyiv, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Warsaw and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Berlin. Reporting contributed by: Marc Santora in Warsaw, Ivan Nechepurenko in Tbilisi, Georgia, Daniel Victor in London, and Eric Schmitt and John Ismay in Washington.

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