Russia launched a new barrage of missiles at targets across Ukraine on Tuesday, hobbling the country’s electricity infrastructure just days after withdrawing its forces from the strategically important city of Kherson.
The Ukrainian air force said more than 90 missiles were fired as part of the offensive, which Kyiv said was the largest daily fusillade since the Kremlin retaliated after last month’s destruction of a crucial bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland.
“Most are targeting energy infrastructure,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to the country. “It’s clear what the enemy wants to achieve,” he added, repeating claims that Russia’s invading forces are trying to plunge the country into a winter freeze.
The Russian attack came the same day Zelenskyy told fellow world leaders that while he was open to peace talks to end the war, he would not pause fighting over winter.
In a video address to the heads of the world’s largest economies, meeting at a G20 summit in Bali, Zelenskyy reiterated that Ukrainian borders were inviolable and were not open to negotiation.
“We will not allow Russia to wait it out, build up its forces and then start a new series of terror and global destabilisation,” he said. “I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be stopped,” Zelenskyy added, delivering a snub to Moscow by addressing leaders of the “G19”.
His comments follow suggestions by some US officials, including military chief General Mark Milley, that winter may provide an opportunity to begin negotiations with Russia and that Ukraine might never be able to expel Moscow’s forces from all its territory.
The White House condemned the missile strikes while world leaders were meeting in Bali, with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan saying the strikes “will serve to only deepen the concerns among the G20 about the destabilising impact of Putin’s war”.
Ukrenergo, the state energy company, ordered emergency power outages across the country and “in particular, the capital”.
Some western diplomats have privately said that talks could start on the basis of the front line that preceded Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and fuelled a war in the eastern Donbas region with the use of local proxy forces.
The western suggestions came as Ukrainian forces recaptured Kherson last week, dealing a significant blow to the Russian army that had occupied the southern provincial capital since March. On Monday, Zelenskyy visited the city. Ukraine has regained more than half of its territory seized by Russian forces since February 24.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Zelenskyy’s statement was confirmation that Kyiv had “no desire to hold negotiations”, state newswire Ria Novosti reported. Russian president Vladimir Putin did not attend the G20 and was represented by his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter after the missile strikes: “Russian missiles are killing people and ruining infrastructure across Ukraine right now. This is what Russia has to say on the issue of peace talks.”
He added: “Stop proposing Ukraine to accept Russian ultimatums! This terror can only be stopped with the strength of our weapons & principles.”
Meanwhile, Russia-backed officials in Nova Kakhovka, a city on the Dnipro river’s eastern bank near Kherson, were evacuated on Tuesday as fighting continued during a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Civil servants and municipal employees had been “relocated to safer places” in Kherson region after coming under Ukrainian artillery fire from across the river, the Moscow-controlled occupation administration said.
In his speech to the G20, Zelenskyy also repeated his previous request for the total withdrawal of Russian troops and called for the release of all prisoners of war and the return of Ukrainians forcibly deported by Moscow.
He added that energy security would be pivotal to Ukraine’s success and a lasting peace. About 40 per cent of Ukraine’s power infrastructure has been destroyed by Russian missile and drone strikes since early October.
“Every week, Russia blows up our power plants, transformers and electricity supply lines,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukrainian officials have stressed in recent days that they intend to keep fighting, despite mixed messages from the west about whether it is time to more seriously consider negotiations with Russia.
In a call on Monday, Ukraine military chief General Valerii Zaluzhny told his US counterpart Milley that “we will fight as long as we have the strength”. Ukraine would press ahead with the government’s goal to liberate all its territory occupied by Russian forces, he said. “We will not stop on this path under any circumstances. The Ukrainian military will not accept any negotiations, agreements or compromises,” Zaluzhny was quoted as telling Milley.