Russian strikes pounded a military factory near Kyiv that makes the missiles Ukraine claims it used to sink the Moskva naval flagship, with Moscow yesterday vowing renewed attacks on the capital.
A workshop and an administrative building at the Vizar plant, which lies near Kyiv’s international Zhuliany airport, were seriously damaged in the overnight strikes, an AFP journalist saw.
Russia had earlier announced it had used Kalibr sea-based long-range missiles to hit the factory, which Ukraine’s state weapons manufacturer Ukroboronprom says produced Neptune missiles.
“There were five hits. My employee was in the office and got thrown off his feet by the blast,” Andrei Sizov, a 47-year-old owner of a nearby wood workshop, told AFP.
“They are making us pay for destroying the Moskva,” he said. It was the first major Russian strike around the Ukrainian capital in over two weeks.
The governor of Ukraine’s southern Odessa region, Maxim Marchenko, said the 186-metre-long Russian missile cruiser was hit by Ukrainian Neptune missiles on Wednesday.
The Moskva had been leading Russia’s naval effort in the seven-week conflict, and the circumstances around its sinking and the fate of its crew of over 500 remain murky.
Russia’s defence ministry said a blast on the vessel was the result of exploding ammunition and that the resulting damage had caused it to “lose its balance” as it was being towed to port on Thursday.
The fleet has been blockading the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, where Russian officials say they are in full control although Ukrainian fighters are still holed up in the city’s fortress-like steelworks.
Moscow, which invaded Ukraine partly because of deepening ties between Kyiv and Nato, yesterday warned of unspecified “consequences” should Finland and Sweden join the US-led defence alliance.
The two countries are considering joining Nato after Russia’s devastating invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
“They will automatically find themselves on the NATO frontline,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Shortly afterwards, Finland’s European Affairs Minister Tytti Tuppurainen said it was “highly likely” that her country would apply for Nato membership.
Unlike Sweden, Finland neighbours Russia, from which it declared independence in 1917 after 150 years of Russian rule.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned Thursday that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons close to the three Baltic states and Scandinavia if Finland or Sweden decided to join Nato.
Russian forces last month started withdrawing from around the Ukrainian capital as they are redeployed to focus on territory in the east of the country, but the city remains vulnerable to missile strikes.
“The number and scale of missile strikes against targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or sabotage committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime on Russian territory,” Russia’s defence ministry said.
The Washington Post yesterday reported that Russia had warned the United States that there would be “unpredictable consequences” if Washington keeps arming Ukraine.
“We call on the United States and its allies to stop the irresponsible militarization of Ukraine, which implies unpredictable consequences for regional and international security,” the Post quoted Russia saying in a diplomatic note to the United States.
Seizing the eastern Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists control the Donetsk and Lugansk areas, would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the occupied Crimean peninsula.
In Geneva, the UN refugee agency said that more than five million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Moscow on Thursday accused Ukraine of sending helicopters to bomb a village in Russia’s Bryansk region — not far from the border with Ukraine — injuring eight people.
Later the same day, the head of Russia’s Belgorod region said a village close to the border was shelled by Ukraine, while residents from this and a nearby village had been evacuated as a precaution.
Kyiv has denied the helicopter attack, instead accusing Russia of staging the incidents to stir up “anti-Ukrainian hysteria” in the country.
Separately, the Russian defence ministry yesterday said its strategic rocket forces “eliminated up to 30 Polish mercenaries” in a strike on the village of Izyumskoe, not far from the city of Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, CIA director William Burns on Thursday said Russia’s setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine could lead President Vladimir Putin to resort to using a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon.
“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” Burns said during a speech in Atlanta.
The Kremlin said it placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the assault began February 24, but the United States has not seen “a lot of practical evidence” of actual deployments that would cause more worry, Burns added, speaking to students at Georgia Tech university.