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Putin reiterates nuclear threat as Ukraine launches drone strikes on Russian oil refineries

2024-03-13T070216Z_1023192421_RC2UK6ARK5

Ukraine launched a sweeping drone attack on Russian regions on Wednesday, causing a fire at Rosneft’s biggest oil refinery in what President Vladimir Putin said was an attempt to disrupt Russia’s presidential election.

Russia and Ukraine have both used drones to strike critical infrastructure, military installations and troop concentrations in their more than two-year war, with Kyiv hitting Russian refineries and energy facilities in recent months.

Russian authorities reported another major attack by Ukrainian drones a day after a Ukrainian attack damaging Lukoil’s NORSI refinery in Russian territory.

The Russian defense ministry said air defences downed 58 drones over six regions. One of the drones hit an oil refinery in the Ryazan region, injuring at least two people and sparking a fire. Another drone was downed as it was approaching a refinery near St. Petersburg.

Operations at the Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia’s southern Rostov region were stopped on Wednesday after downed drones fell on its territory, regional governor Vasily Golubev said on the Telegram messaging app.

There were no casualties, he said, and the damage was being assessed.

Russia this week has faced some of the most significant attacks on its territory since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine more than two years ago.

Pro-Kyiv militias made up of mainly Russian citizens this week said they had crossed over Russia’s border and captured a village in Kursk.

Security around oil refineries, a key source of Russia’s income, was tightened in some regions, Russian media reported.

In an interview with Russian state television on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine was upping its attacks on Russian territory in order to interfere with the presidential elections later this week.

“It’s simple. This is all happening against the backdrop of failures on the front line. They did not achieve any of the goals that they set for themselves last year,” Putin said.

“I have no doubt that the main goal is, if not to disrupt the presidential elections in Russia then to somehow interfere with the normal process,” he said.

Ukraine reports deadly Russian strikes

Ukraine, meanwhile, reported more Russian attacks early Wednesday.

A Russian strike killed two people and wounded another five in the town of Myrnohrad in the eastern region of Donetsk, about 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) from the front line, according to Governor Vadym Filashkin. Local rescuers managed to pull a 13-year-old girl out of the rubble of an apartment building that was hit by a Russian missile.

A five-story building in the northern city of Sumy was struck by a drone launched from Russia overnight and 10 people were rescued from the rubble, including eight who sustained injuries, according to the regional administration.

In President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s hometown in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, the death toll from a Russian missile attack the previous night rose to four, said Governor Serhii Lysak. He said that 43 people were wounded, including 12 children.

“Every day our cities and villages suffer similar attacks. Every day Ukraine loses people because of Russian evil,” said Zelensky.

Russia ‘ready’ to use nuclear weapons, Putin says

Putin on Wednesday warned that Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty or independence is threatened, issuing another blunt warning to the West.

The Russian leader has repeatedly talked about his readiness to use nuclear weapons since invading Ukraine in February 2022

The latest threat came just days before the March 15-17 Russian presidential election in which Putin is all but certain to win another six-year term.  

“Our triad, the nuclear triad, it is more modern than any other triad. Only we and the Americans actually have such triads. And we have advanced much more here,” Putin said in a wide-ranging interview. 

“We are ready to use weapons, including any weapons – including the weapons you mentioned – if it is a question of the existence of the Russian state or damage to our sovereignty and independence,” said Putin.

The Russian leader also dismissed recent comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, who last month declined to rule out putting boots on the ground, a significant shift in rhetoric as Ukraine struggles on the battlefield.

“The fact is that the militaries of Western countries have been present in Ukraine for a long time,” the Russian leader claimed, referring to what the Kremlin says are mercenaries.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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