Moscow has threatened to intensify missile strikes on Kyiv after claiming to have bombed a weapons plant in the Ukrainian capital in the wake of the sinking of the Moskva, flagship of Russia’s powerful Black Sea fleet.
Ukraine says it fired the anti-ship rockets that crippled the Moskva, while Russia said it sank while being towed to port following explosions, a major fire and the evacuation of crew; it did not say what caused the blaze or give details of any casualties.
In the early hours of Friday air-raid sirens sounded in all Ukraine’s regions and loud explosions were heard in several cities, including Kyiv, where Russia said it destroyed a factory for “making and repairing anti-aircraft missile systems…and anti-ship missiles”.
The defence ministry in Moscow said the “amount and scale of missile strikes against targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or sabotage committed by the Kiev nationalist regime on Russian territory” .
Russia has accused Ukraine of launching artillery and rocket attacks on villages near their shared border in recent days, and said several civilians were hurt in incidents that Kyiv says are being staged by Moscow’s forces to whip up public support for their invasion.
Russia’s troops have failed to take any of Ukraine’s biggest cities in seven weeks of fighting, and its politicians and state media are increasingly framing the conflict as a battle between Moscow’s forces and the might of Nato states that are supposedly propping up a radical nationalist regime in Kyiv and using it to try to weaken the Kremlin.
“The main thing is to liberate (Ukraine) from these nationalist battalions…The operation continues and the tasks that are set are well known. They must be completed and will be completed. There should be no doubt,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Russian forces have faced fierce resistance in every area of Ukraine that they invaded, but Mr Peskov linked heavy fighting to the presence of “nationalist battalions” that he said were “all liable to be destroyed”.
Ukraine hopes for a delivery of heavy weapons from the United States in the coming days as it prepares to counter an expected Russian onslaught in the eastern Donbas region, and Moscow has warned that it will regard vehicles delivering arms as military targets.
Russia reportedly passed a diplomatic note to the US this week calling on Washington “and its allies to stop the irresponsible militarisation of Ukraine, which implies unpredictable consequences for regional and international security”.
US state department spokesman Ned Price said: “The Russians have said some things privately, they have said some things publicly; nothing will dissuade us from the strategy that we’ve embarked on.”