Russian missiles hit Ukrainian energy system again

Russian forces struck several Ukraine energy facilities with drones and missiles Saturday morning, in a major airstrike that targeted cities across the country, including some near borders with NATO members.

The Ukrainian air force said that Russia fired 53 missiles on its territory, that it shot down two-thirds of them, and that some were heading towards the western regions of Zakarpattia and Lviv, which border Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, countries that part of NATO. The Polish military said its fighter planes and those of other allies were scrambled to protect their borders in case a Russian weapon crossed them, as has happened in the past.

Saturday's attack was Russia's sixth attack on energy facilities in Ukraine since March, part of a broader campaign apparently aimed at cutting off electricity in some areas of the country and making life miserable for civilians.

The missile barrage, which a senior Ukrainian official said wounded around 20 people and targeted a part of the country less affected by the war, could add urgency to Kiev's recent calls for help from allies to protect its regions vulnerable. The attack follows a week in which several NATO allies signaled approval for Ukraine's limited launch of Western weapons against Russia, culminating on Thursday with the United States.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky argued in a New York Times interview last month that if Ukraine's Western neighbors shot down Russian missiles approaching their borders — without their planes crossing Ukrainian airspace — it would alleviate the burden on the Ukrainian army. , which is facing a shortage of ammunition and air defense weapons.

“Technically, all this is possible,” Zelensky said. “Shoot down Russian missiles already in Ukrainian territory, from their planes.”

Ukraine's shortage of air defense systems has left some areas far more exposed than others. Russia has taken advantage of this situation in recent months, targeting cities and regions that do not enjoy the same protection as Kiev, the capital, which is protected by powerful American-made Patriot systems.

This was also evident in Saturday's attack, which hit energy plants in five regions of western, central and southeastern Ukraine. DTEK, the country's largest private power company, reported serious damage to two of its power plants. “And once again, it was an extremely difficult night for the Ukrainian energy industry,” the company said in a statement.

Authorities have said Ukraine has lost about eight gigawatts of capacity since March – about half its generating capacity at the start of the year – prompting them to introduce rolling blackouts in a bid to save energy. Ukrenergo, Ukraine's national electricity operator, said customers will face power outages from 6pm to midnight on Saturday.

Saturday's attack appears to have particularly hit Ukraine's western regions, which have been spared heavier bombardment for much of the war.

Maksym Kozytskyi, governor of the Lviv region near Poland, said six cruise missiles hit three “critical infrastructure facilities” in the region, without specifying exactly what was hit. Just south of Lviv, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, local officials said a fire broke out at a power plant.

The Ukrainian Air Force also said the missiles were heading towards the city of Mukachevo in the southwestern region of Zakarpattia, less than 25 miles from the borders with Hungary and Slovakia.

Ukrainian officials have argued that if its allies used their own air defense systems to shoot down Russian missiles flying near their borders, it would allow Kiev to redeploy its air defense weapons stationed in those areas to other areas exposed to almost daily air attacks. .

“It is important to shoot down Russian missiles in Ukraine's sovereign airspace and thus allow Ukraine to concentrate its scarce anti-missile systems in the east and south of the country,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelensky, said in a post. on the messaging app Telegram on Friday.

Ukrainian authorities, for example, have discussed with Poland the possibility of shooting down Russian missiles with Polish air defenses.

They also suggested that a Franco-Italian SAMP/T air defense system stationed in Romania, on the border with southwestern Ukraine, could be used to shoot down Russian missiles. But two French officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military matters, said France was reluctant to do so, partly because the system was needed to protect NATO troops stationed in Romania.

Analysts say taking Russian weapons out of NATO territory is the kind of involvement that the United States and European governments have resisted because it could provoke retaliation from Russia.

But Ukrainian officials may cite attacks like Saturday's in making their case, just as they highlighted Russia's recent offensive in the northeast when they urged their allies to lift a ban on Ukraine's use of Western weapons to attack inside Russia.

Zelensky, in his interview with the Times, argued that shooting down Russian missiles from NATO territory would not lead to escalation.

“Why can't we take them down? Is she defended? YES. Is this an attack on Russia? No. Are you shooting down Russian planes and killing Russian pilots? No,” the Ukrainian leader said. “So what's the problem with involving NATO countries in the war? There is no such problem. It's defense.”

But Putin warned last week that all Western countries helping Ukraine strike at Russia should be aware of “what they are playing with.”

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