Russia Destroys Ukraine With Drones, Missiles As “Dear Friend” Xi Departs

Russia blasted an apartment block in Ukraine with missiles on Wednesday and swarmed cities with drone attacks overnight, in a display of force as President Vladimir Putin bid farewell to his visiting “dear friend” and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, according to Reuters.

Firefighters battled a blaze in two adjacent tall residential buildings in Zaporizhzhia, where officials said at least one person had been killed and 33 wounded by a twin Russian missile strike.

”Right now, residential areas where ordinary people and children live are being fired at,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted, with security camera video showing one of the buildings exploding as it was struck in broad daylight.

“This must not become ‘just another day’ in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. The world needs greater unity and determination to defeat Russian terror faster and protect lives,” he wrote.

A playground and a car park at the scene were littered with glass, debris and wrecked cars. Emergency workers carried out the wounded or escorted those who could walk.

An elderly woman with scratches on her face sat alone on a bench, wiping tears and whispering prayers.

“When I got out, there was destruction, smoke, people screaming, debris. Then the firefighters and rescuers came,” said Ivan Nalyvaiko, 24.

In Rzhyshchiv, a riverside town south of the capital, at least six people were killed, 18 injured and three still missing after a drone struck two college dormitories. Reuters saw a five-storey building with a collapsed section of the top floor.

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During the night, sirens blared across the capital and swathes of northern Ukraine, and the military said it had shot down 16 of 21 Iranian-made Shahed suicide drones.

In an apparent reference to the Chinese president’s visit to the Russian capital, Zelenskiy tweeted: “Every time someone tries to hear the word ‘peace’ in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes.”

Zelenskiy visited troops near the front line on Wednesday. His office released video of him handing out medals to soldiers, which it said was filmed near Bakhmut, the eastern city where Ukrainian forces are mounting a defence in what has become Europe’s deadliest infantry battle since World War Two.

Hosting Xi in Moscow this week was Putin’s grandest diplomatic gesture since he launched the war a year ago and became a pariah in the West. The two men referred to each other as “dear friend”, promised economic cooperation, condemned the West and described relations as the best they have ever been.

They “shared the view that this relationship has gone far beyond the bilateral scope and acquired critical importance for the global landscape and the future of humanity,” said a statement released by China.

Xi departed telling Putin: “Now there are changes that haven’t happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes.”

But the public remarks were notably short of specifics, and during the visit Xi had almost nothing to say about the Ukraine war, beyond that China’s position was “impartial”.

The White House urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. Washington also criticised the timing of the trip, just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges, which Beijing has joined Moscow in rejecting.

PEACE PLAN

China under Xi has promoted itself as a neutral peacemaker, proposing a plan for Ukraine last month which the West largely dismissed as vague at best, and at worst a ploy to buy time for Putin to regroup his forces.

“A ceasefire right now, freezing the lines where they are, basically gives him the time and space he needs to try to re-equip, to re-man, to make up for that resource expenditure,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.

Putin praised Xi for the plan, and blamed Kyiv and the West for rejecting it. Kyiv, for its part, has cautiously welcomed the Chinese proposal while urging Beijing to consider Ukraine’s own peace plan. Zelenskiy has called on Xi to speak to him.

Ukraine says there can be no peace unless Russia withdraws from occupied land. Moscow says Kyiv must recognise territorial “realities”, referring to Russia’s claim to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine.

After Ukraine recaptured territory throughout the second half of 2022, Moscow launched a massive winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail.

Despite the bloodiest fighting of the war, which both sides describe as a meat grinder, the front line has barely moved for four months.

Russia’s only notable gains have been around Bakhmut, but Kyiv has decided in recent weeks not to withdraw there, saying its defenders were inflicting enough losses on the Russian attackers to justify holding out.

In an intelligence update, Britain’s ministry of defence said Moscow’s Bakhmut assault could be running out of steam. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days west of Bakhmut was likely to relieve pressure on Ukraine’s supply route to the city, the Wednesday update said.

There was still a risk the Ukrainian garrison could be surrounded, but there was now “a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained”.

Britain also rejected accusations from Moscow that supplying Ukraine with ammunition made from depleted uranium created a risk of “nuclear collision”. Britain on Monday confirmed it was supplying Ukraine with such shells, used by many militaries to penetrate armour due to the metal’s high density.

“There is no threat to Russia, this is purely about helping Ukraine defend itself,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

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