Russia hits Ukraine with missiles, says promised tanks show U.S., Europe's "direct involvement" in the war is "growing"
Russia launched a wave of new missile and drone attacks against Ukraine Thursday, killing at least 11 people, including one in the capital Kyiv, according to emergency officials, and targeting the country's already-battered energy infrastructure. The strikes forced officials to switch off the electricity in a couple regions to cope with reduced capacity.
Air raid sirens wailed across the country Thursday morning heralding the latest strikes. Ukraine's national emergency service agency said later that 11 people were killed and the same number wounded in the strikes, which came as Russia reacted to a landmark decision by U.S. President Joe Biden to supply Ukraine with modern, powerful M1 Abrams main battle tanks.
While the 31 American tanks won't actually reach the battlefields of eastern Ukraine for months, given the need to train and equip Ukrainian forces to use the advanced hardware, the commitment from Mr. Biden came with a similar promise from Germany to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine — and to permit other European nations to send German-made Leopards from their stocks.
Hundreds of Leopard tanks are sitting in military bases across Europe, and they can be delivered to Ukraine on a shorter timescale than the Abrams.
Both the U.S. and Germany have said the aim is to give Ukrainian forces dozens of tanks, likely about 100, to enable them to punch through Russian front lines and retake occupied territory.
The question is whether the tanks can be deployed in time to help the country stave off a new Russian offensive expected in the coming weeks or months — or to lead the charge in a Ukrainian counteroffensive against Moscow.
Russia sent mixed signals in the wake of the Wednesday announcements by Washington and Berlin, playing down the strategic value of the Western military hardware to Ukraine, but also renewing warnings about the risks of the war growing into a wider regional conflict as NATO states increase their stake in the fight.
"There are constant statements from European capitals, from Washington, that the sending of various weapons systems, including tanks, to Ukraine in no way means the involvement of these countries or the alliance [NATO] in the hostilities that are taking place in Ukraine," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday. "We categorically disagree with this... everything that the alliance I mentioned and the capital [Washington] does is perceived as direct involvement in the conflict, and we see that it is growing."
A senior Russian politician and ally of President Vladimir Putin cast a dire warning exactly one week ago of how Moscow might respond to a perceived military defeat in Ukraine.
"The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war can trigger a nuclear war," former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who now serves as deputy chairman of the Security Council, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
It's not clear exactly how long it will take European NATO countries to move Leopard 2 tanks into Ukraine in significant numbers and train the country's forces to use them, but Germany's leader said that training would begin on German soil within just days.
The battle over territory in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, more than half of which is occupied by Russian forces, has been grueling. Tank battles have played out for months, with Ukraine relying on its stocks of Soviet-era hardware.
CBS News national security analyst H.R. McMaster, a former U.S. national security adviser and longtime battlefield commander, says the American tanks in particular — once they arrive — will give Ukraine a much-needed boost in firepower against the Russians.
"If the crew knows what it's doing, is well trained, does the preps, the fire checks, maintains that tank well, you just can't miss," he said, "and everything you hit is catastrophically destroyed."
The Leopards will also mark a significant upgrade, moving faster and packing more firepower and personnel armor than the tanks Ukraine currently has at its disposal.
But until the machines actually join the fight, the grueling back-and-forth battle — and Russia's devastating aerial assault — will likely grind on until one side launches a new offensive.
Ukraine said it shot down the majority of the missiles launched by Russia on Thursday, and all of the drones sent across the border.
Ukraine's Energy Minister, German Galushchenko, said Russia was trying to "create a systemic failure in Ukraine's energy system," confirming that "emergency shutdowns have been introduced," with the biggest impacts being felt around the capital, around the central city of Vinnytsia, and near the southern port city of Odesa.
The situation around the Black Sea port "may last for several days until the damaged power facilities are restored," according to the power company in the region.
At the request of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the United Nations' culture agency UNESCO added Odesa's historic center to its World Heritage list as an endangered city on Wednesday, CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk reported.
UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said Odesa was a "free city, a world city and a legendary port" that was now under "reinforced protection," as the U.N. will now ensure that repairs are made to any damage inflicted on central Odesa amid Russia's war on Ukraine. Russia tried to block the UNESCO designation, and then denounced it.
The Russian missiles that hit critical power infrastructure in Odesa and the other regions, and killed 11 people, were a stark reminder, meanwhile, that the war Vladimir Putin launched almost one year ago is far from over.
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