Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment Tuesday on the Ukrainian intelligence service’s claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military chiefs to complete the seizure of the industrial Donbas region of eastern Ukraine by March.
Peskov, asked to comment on the claim, said, “I cannot, and have zero intention of doing it,” Russia’s state-run Tass media outlet reported.
Andrey Yusov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian intelligence service, said Putin issued the order to Valery Gerasimov, the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. The report comes as Western nations scramble to provide Ukraine with tanks and missile defense systems aimed at repelling the Russian invasion that began almost 11 months ago.
The Donbas region has been the primary focus of the war for months. It includes the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or provinces, where Russian-backed militants have attempted to establish self-described “people’s republics.” Russian “annexed” the region late last year but has failed to gain full military control.
►Army Gen. Mark Milley, the top U.S. military officer, met for the first time Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, near the Ukraine-Poland border.
►Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska urged world leaders and corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s gathering in Davos, Switzerland, to use their influence to counter the worldwide harm from Russia’s war in Ukraine, such as food shortages.
►Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that his country’s military would increase its forces from the current 1.15 million servicemembers to 1.5 million by 2026. He also pledged to boost the number of training grounds – including “in the new territories of Russia,” apparently Ukraine.
►Amid pressure to supply Ukraine with advanced tanks, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz named regional official Boris Pistorius as defense minister. Pistorius replaces Christine Lambrecht, who resigned Monday under heavy criticism for the country’s hesitant response to the war in Ukraine.
►Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other U.S. officials met in Kyiv with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday. They reiterated Washington’s “strong and steadfast commitment to Ukraine,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS begin for Russians behind missile strike; Ukraine soldiers arrive at Fort Sill: Live updates
Death toll rises in Russian missile strike at Dnipro apartment building
Six children were among at least 45 people killed when a Russian missile slammed into a central Ukraine apartment building last weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday.
National Police Chief Igor Klymenko said search and rescue operations have been completed at the site of the nine-story building that housed about 1,700 people in Dnipro. Sixteen children were among the 79 people injured – 28 of them hospitalized, 10 in serious condition, Klymenko said in a Facebook update.
Twenty people remain missing, including four children. Some people were trapped on upper floors, and some signaled for help with lights on their cellphones. About 400 people lost their homes.
“There is no doubt: Every person guilty of this war crime will be identified and brought to justice,” Zelenskyy said.
The Kremlin denied responsibility, claiming Ukrainian air defense systems caused the damage.
“The Russian armed forces do not strike residential buildings or social infrastructure,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “They strike military targets.”
The missile that hit the Dnipro apartment building Saturday was one of dozens fired by Russia targeting Ukraine infrastructure and probably hit the apartment building by accident, the British Defense Ministry said Tuesday in its latest assessment of the war. An AS-4 KITCHEN large anti-ship missile, launched from a Russian bomber, was the likely culprit, the assessment said.
“Russia falsely implied a Ukrainian air defense missile was responsible,” the assessment says. “KITCHEN is notoriously inaccurate when used against ground targets as its radar guidance system is poor at differentiating targets in urban areas.”
Similar weapons have been responsible for other civilian mass casualties, including a strike on a Kremenchuk shopping center in June that killed at least 20 people.
“While some missiles such as KITCHEN are unsuitable for precision strike, evidence from the Ukraine war suggests that dysfunction of Russia’s long-range strike capability is more profound,” the assessment says.
Ukraine official resigns after mistakenly blaming building strike on air defense
A high-level Ukrainian official has resigned after erroneously saying the Russian missile that struck the Dnipro building Saturday exploded and fell after the Ukrainian air defenses shot it down – a report Russia promptly seized to escape blame for an attack that killed dozens of civilians.
Presidential adviser Oleksii Arestovich said he “made a serious mistake” in his remarks during a Saturday night interview, which caused an outcry. The Ukraine air force immediately refuted his statement, saying the country’s military is not capable of downing Russia’s Kh-22 missiles, the type that hit the apartment building
“Since the beginning of Russia’s military aggression, more than 210 missiles of this type have been launched on the territory of Ukraine,” the air force said. “Not one was shot down by means of anti-aircraft defense.”
Arestovich owned up to his error in a Facebook post, saying, “I would like to show an example of civilized behavior: a mistake in principle, therefore, resignation.”
The Australian Open tennis tournament banned flags from Russia and Belarus on Tuesday after officials deemed them disruptive. National flags are typically allowed at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, but those representing Russia and Belarus – the country that invaded Ukraine in February and Moscow’s enabler, respectively – have been excluded.
“Our initial policy was that fans could bring (flags) in but could not use them to cause disruption,” Tennis Australia said in a statement. “Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside. We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure that this is the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis.”
One Russian flag was displayed while Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl defeated Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova in three sets Monday. Later in the day, highly ranked Russian player Daniil Medvedev was presented his country’s flag to autograph after his 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Marcos Giron.
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from last year’s Wimbledon tournament because of the war in Ukraine. They have been granted permission to compete at the other three Grand Slam events but as “neutral” athletes without acknowledgment of their home nation.
Contributing: The Associated Press