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Russia and Ukraine Report Widespread Aerial Attacks posted at 10:52:15 UTC via nytimes.com


 Russia and Ukraine Report Widespread Aerial Attacks

posted at 10:52:15 UTC via nytimes.com

Moscow Aug. 30, 1:51 p.m.

Washington Aug. 30, 6:51 a.m.

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The governor of Pskov, Russia, shared videos on his Telegram account showing smoke rising from the city’s airport and rounds being fired into the sky.CreditCredit…Mikhail Vedernikov via Storyful

In what appeared to be the largest-scale drone attacks on Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, six regions were targeted, and military transport planes were damaged near the country’s border with Estonia, Russian officials said Wednesday.

In Ukraine, officials said Wednesday that at least two people had been killed following aerial attacks in Kyiv, in what the head of the capital’s regional administration described as one of the most “powerful” attacks since spring.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said that the attacks on Russian territory would “not go unpunished,” and also apportioned blame to the United States and to Ukraine’s other Western allies for supporting Kyiv.

Russian officials said drone attacks had targeted six regions in the west and southwest of the country. An attack on the airport in Pskov, 30 miles from the Estonian border, damaged four Il-76 military cargo aircraft, engulfing two of them in flames, a regional governor in Russia said in a statement. Russia’s defense ministry said at least eight Ukrainian drones had been intercepted over at least five other regions of the country but did not address the event in Pskov.

No injuries were reported in the attacks.

In Ukraine, explosions and air defense missiles shook Kyiv around 5 a.m. The capital was targeted with missiles and drones on a scale not seen since the spring, said Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv regional military administration, in a statement. A barrage of drones flew at the city, later followed by missiles, more than 20 of which were shot down, he said. Two people in the city were killed by debris, according to Mr. Popko and the city’s mayor.

Russia’s Pskov region is home to a famous paratrooper division of the country’s military that was implicated in last year’s massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. To the west, it borders Estonia and Latvia, both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Gov. Mikhail Vedernikov of Pskov posted on Telegram videos showing a large fire with billowing smoke setting the night sky aglow in the distance, and what appeared to be air defenses being fired at incoming drones.

Elsewhere in the country, Russia’s defense ministry said, at least eight Ukrainian drones had been intercepted over five regions to the south and southwest of Moscow. The drones were shot down in the Bryansk, Oryol, Kaluga and Ryazan regions, as well as in the Ruza district on the outskirts of the Moscow region, the ministry said.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on the attacks. They have adhered to a policy of not directly claiming responsibility for attacks inside Russia but have made it clear that they view bringing the war home to average Russians as a valid way to fight against Moscow’s invasion.

U.S. officials said the stepped-up drone attacks — Russia has said the Moscow region alone had been targeted more than a dozen times this month — were aimed at bolstering morale among the Ukrainian public and demonstrating Kyiv’s ability to strike in the heart of Russia.

Andrew E. Kramer and Valeriya Safronova contributed reporting.

Russian police officers standing in front of a building that was reportedly damaged by a Ukrainian drone in Moscow last month.Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

Ukraine has increased its frequency of drone attacks on Russia in recent weeks, a tactic U.S. officials say is intended to demonstrate to the Ukrainian public that Kyiv can still strike back, especially as the counteroffensive against entrenched Russian troops moves slowly.

This month, Ukrainian drones near Moscow forced the Kremlin to temporarily shut down airports serving the capital. Last week, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Ukraine had launched 42 drones at the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula and fired a missile that was intercepted not far from Moscow. And on Wednesday, Russian officials said that Ukrainian drone attacks had targeted six regions in the west and southwest of the country, in what appeared to be one of the largest-scale drone assaults on Russia in months.

Throughout the summer, the intensifying strikes — many of which have been carried out with Ukrainian-made drones — have hit a building in central Moscow, an international airport and a supersonic bomber stationed south of St. Petersburg.

Although the attacks destroyed the bomber, they have done little significant damage to Russia’s overall military might, U.S. officials have said. No Russians have been killed in the strikes on Moscow, most of which occurred early in the day, reducing damage and disruption. The timing may be for operational security or to avoid Russia’s air defenses, but it has also helped ensure that the attacks did not prompt escalatory attacks by Russia.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence service, known as the G.U.R., did not directly claim responsibility for the attacks, but he said strikes on Moscow would continue.

“Russian elites and ordinary Russians now understand that war is not somewhere far away on the territory of Ukraine, which they hate,” Mr. Yusov said in an interview last month, as the drone campaign began to intensify. “War is also in Moscow, it’s already on their territory.”

But U.S. officials say there is a more important audience. If there is a strategic target, it is to bolster the morale of Ukraine’s population and troops, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

Christiaan Triebert, Andrew E. Kramer and Anton Troianovski contributed reporting.

Ukrainian soldiers preparing to fire artillery on Russian targets in the Bakhmut region on Monday. The Pentagon announced its 45th package of wartime military aid to Ukraine on Tuesday.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The Pentagon will provide up to $250 million in military aid to Ukraine as part of a new package of weapons and equipment announced on Tuesday that will include AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles for air defense.

The package is the 45th such tranche to be drawn from the Defense Department’s existing stockpile of weapons and equipment since August 2021. The inventory of matériel to be provided to Kyiv in this round, according to a Defense Department statement emailed to reporters, also includes ammunition and other equipment, the likes of which the U.S. has sent in large quantities: guided rockets for HIMARS launchers155-millimeter artillery shellsJavelin anti-tank missiles, air-to-ground rockets, Humvee trucks and three million rounds of small arms ammunition.

“The U.S. will continue to work with its allies and partners to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to meet its immediate battlefield needs and longer-term security assistance requirements,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

In order to assist Ukrainian soldiers in breaching Russian minefields as part of their counteroffensive, the Defense Department will also send mine-clearing equipment and demolition munitions that could be used to blast through Russian lines.

The most notable element of the package is the AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, which are heat-seeking air-to-air weapons that can be fired from NASAMS, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, launchers on the ground. Built as a joint product of Norway and the American defense firm Raytheon, NASAMS uses the kinds of missiles built for NATO warplanes and repurposes them for ground-based air defense systems. The U.S. military uses them for the aerial defense of Washington.

A Navy report called the Sidewinder “one of the oldest, least expensive, and most successful missiles in the U.S. weapons inventory” and noted that more than 40 nations have adopted the weapon for their militaries. It is smaller and lighter in weight than the AIM-7 Sparrow missiles that the Pentagon have previously sent to Kyiv for use in NASAMS launchers.

According to a U.S. Air Force fact sheet, the specific model of Sidewinder that will be sent to Ukraine first arrived in the Pentagon’s arsenal in 1983.

This newest drawdown of matériel does not contain any 155-mm artillery cluster weapons, Ms. Singh said. The White House’s decision in July to provide those shells, each of which contain 72 small anti-tank and anti-personnel grenades, was condemned by many human rights organizations. Shells of this type have been banned by more than 100 countries because of the risk they pose to civilians during and after their use, since the grenades’ failure rate of 14 percent or more produces many duds that can produce de facto minefields. Neither the United States nor Russia nor Ukraine has signed the treaty prohibiting their stockpiling or use.

The United States has provided at least $23.8 billion in military hardware from Pentagon stockpiles during the Biden administration, and has also sent approximately $19.7 billion in financing for Ukraine to purchase goods directly from the American defense industry. The United States has also committed more than $2.6 billion to Ukraine in humanitarian aid, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the State Department’s ShareAmerica platform.

In May, with the Biden administration under intensifying pressure to explain how it intended to continue supporting Ukraine militarily without asking Congress for more appropriations, the Pentagon recalculated the value of the matériel it had sent to Ukraine, freeing up at least $3 billion in additional funds for Kyiv. The two aid packages the Pentagon has announced since, including Tuesday’s, have been smaller than most of the previous tranches.

“We’re confident that we will have enough money to meet Ukraine’s need through the fiscal year,” Ms. Singh said, noting that the department has requested supplemental funding from Congress.

— John Ismay Reporting from Washington

The police presence was heavy on Tuesday at the Porokhovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the press service of Yevgeny V. Prigozhin said he had been buried. Credit…Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times
The funeral of Wagner’s logistics chief, Valery Chekalov, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday.Credit…Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times
A makeshift memorial to deceased Wagner group leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday.Credit…Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Russian mercenary chief who died in a plane crash last week, has been buried in a private ceremony in St. Petersburg, his press service said on Tuesday, ending days of speculation over how he would be laid to rest.

The announcement on the Telegram messaging app came as a surprise. Hours earlier, the Kremlin said it had no information about Mr. Prigozhin’s funeral except that President Vladimir V. Putin would not attend.

Mr. Prigozhin’s funeral “took place in a private format,” his press service said. “Those wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoye cemetery” in St. Petersburg.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Porokhovskoye cemetery was being heavily guarded by Russian police, riot police, and national guardsmen, who did not allow people to enter, suggesting the lengths the state has gone to to keep the public mourning for Mr. Prigozhin at a minimum.

Details about Mr. Prigozhin’s funeral, including the date and whether members of the public would be allowed to attend, were unclear for days. Rumors had swirled about ceremonies at other cemeteries, though Porokhovskoye had not been mentioned, and police had cordoned off some of them and set up metal detectors at the Serafimovsky Cemetery, where Mr. Putin’s parents are buried.

The secrecy reflected the sensitivities surrounding Mr. Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Mr. Putin who launched a failed mutiny against Moscow’s military leadership in June. He was killed along with nine others, including top leaders of his Wagner private military company, in the crash of a private jet northwest of Moscow last Wednesday.

Mr. Prigozhin had received the Hero of Russia designation, one of the Russian military’s top honors, which generally accords special burials, including an honor guard and a military band.

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People paid tribute to Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Russian mercenary chief, and Dmitri Utkin, a longtime lieutenant.CreditCredit…Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

The confusion was in line with the murky details about the crash. Its cause remains unclear, but U.S. and Western officials believe it was prompted by an explosion on board. Many Western officials have said they think it is likely that Mr. Putin may have played a role in having Mr. Prigozhin killed as retribution for the mercenary chief’s short-lived mutiny in June.

After the crash, Russian authorities released the plane’s flight manifest, showing the names of the 10 people who were supposed to be on board, and said that all aboard had been killed. That left room for days of speculation about whether Mr. Prigozhin was really on the plane.

The deaths were not officially confirmed until Sunday, when Russian investigators said that genetic testing showed that the victims of the crash matched the names on the manifest.

Wagner’s logistics chief, Valery Chekalov, who was also on the plane, was buried Tuesday morning in Northern Cemetery in St. Petersburg, in a ceremony that was not publicized in advance. Several hundred people came to pay their respects.

Some analysts speculated that the Russian authorities were seeking to avoid a public outpouring of support for Mr. Prigozhin and his top lieutenants.

“It seems that the authorities, as expected, want to avoid a spontaneous rally in memory of the top leadership of Wagner and to do so, have imposed a fog around the burial place,” Farida Rustamova, an independent journalist, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Valeriya Safronova, Nanna Heitmann and Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.

— Valerie Hopkins reporting from St. Petersburg, Russia

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking to reporters on Tuesday.Credit…Leigh Vogel for The New York Times

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that it was “very clear” what had happened to Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Russian mercenary chief who died in a plane crash last week, citing the Kremlin’s “long history of killing its opponents.”

During a White House news briefing on Tuesday, hours after Mr. Prigozhin’s burial in a cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia, she recapped how Mr. Prigozhin had led his Wagner mercenaries in a short-lived mutiny in June before making a deal to relocate to Belarus.

“Now two months after he struck that deal, he’s been killed,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “So it’s, you know, it’s pretty evident what happened here.”

Mr. Jean-Pierre’s comments appeared to be the Biden administration’s strongest suggestion yet that the Kremlin played a role in the crash that killed Mr. Prigozhin last Wednesday, while stopping short of making a direct accusation.

On the day of the crash, President Biden was asked if he thought Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, was behind it. “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” Mr. Biden answered. “But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”

In the days since, U.S. and Western officials have said they believe the crash was caused by an explosion on board. Russian officials say investigations are underway.

Many Western officials have said they think it is likely that Mr. Putin played a role in Mr. Prigozhin’s death as retribution for his June mutiny. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, has called such suggestions “an absolute lie.”

On Tuesday, when asked when the Biden administration would release a formal assessment of the plane crash, Ms. Jean-Pierre instead referred to “what Mr. Putin tends to do.”

“It’s very clear what happened here,” she said, without providing additional details.

The Russian authorities have tightly controlled information about the crash, and did not directly confirm Mr. Prigozhin’s death for days. While the flight manifest was released on the day of the crash, and the authorities said all on board had been killed, there was no confirmation that he had been on board until Sunday, when officials said DNA testing had shown matches with all the names on the manifest.

A school library damaged by recent shelling in Kupiansk.Credit…Bram Janssen/Associated Press

The fighting around Kupiansk, in the north of eastern Ukraine, has renewed questions for both Russia and Ukraine about where to send reinforcements along a front line that is hundreds of miles long.

As Russia makes small gains in the area, Kupiansk has found itself in the cross hairs of the fighting. The city is under constant shelling and Russian troops are now only a few miles to its north.

“The Russians seem to be making some progress,” Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, acknowledged during a news conference on Monday.

Russian forces seized the city at the outset of the war, using it as a logistical center, before the Ukrainian military recaptured it last September. Losing it again would be a major blow for Ukraine, which has spread troops and firepower all along the front line in an attempt to hold onto its land. Last week, Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s top general in the east, called for more reinforcements in the Kupiansk area.

But that approach has come under criticism from Western officials who say that Ukraine should concentrate its troops on the southern front in order to achieve the main goal of its ongoing counteroffensive: to cut off Russian supply lines in the south by driving a wedge through the so-called land bridge between Russia and the occupied Crimean Peninsula.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has dismissed the criticism, saying that Ukrainian forces would not be shifted away from places like Kupiansk.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense last week said that “there is a realistic possibility Russia will increase the intensity of its offensive efforts” on the front near Kupiansk and a city to its south, Lyman, in the next two months.

But it remains unclear whether Russian forces would want to take the whole of Kupiansk, which would mean then trying to hold a city on the banks of a major river and with limited supply lines. That situation would be similar to what Russia’s forces faced last year in the southern city of Kherson, from which they eventually retreated.

Instead, Russian troops could try to advance to the river, the Oskil, which runs north and south, and use it as a natural barrier against further Ukrainian attacks.

Meanwhile, Russia has to hold off a Ukrainian push in the south. Ukraine’s military said Monday that its forces had retaken the village of Robotyne, pushing through Russia’s initial lines of defense — a tactical gain that could give Ukrainian troops an opening for a larger breakthrough on the southern front.

Recent reports from military analysts have suggested that Russia’s military might be moving forces from the east to the south to reinforce its defenses there, which could ease the pressure on Kupiansk.

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