Russian missiles crashed into infrastructure targets across Ukraine on Tuesday morning as Moscow stepped up what looked like a deliberate campaign to destroy electricity and water facilities before winter, Reuters reported.
The major of Zhytomyr, a city of 263,000 people, said the attacks had knocked out the power and water supply, and two explosions rocked an energy facility in the southeastern city of Dnipro, a city of nearly 1 million, causing serious damage, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a Ukrainian presidential aide.
In the southern Ukrainian port of Mykolaiv, a missile slammed into an apartment building killing at least one man, a Reuters witness said, and blasts were heard and smoke seen rising in Kyiv, the capital.
There were also reports of power facilities being targeted in the city of Kharkiv, a city with a pre-war population of 1.43 million people, close to the Russian border.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of terrorising and killing civilians with the air attacks, which came a day after drone strikes on Kyiv and other cities killed at least four people.
“Ukraine is under fire by the occupiers. They continue to do what they do best – terrorise and kill civilians,” Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
“The terrorist state will not change anything for itself with such actions. It will only confirm its destructive and murderous essence, for which it will certainly be held to account.”
There was no immediate word on how many people had been killed in the strikes.
Russia earlier this month named General Sergei Suvorikin as overall commander of what Moscow calls its “special operation” in Ukraine. Suvorikin served in Syria and Chechnya where Russian forces pounded cities in a scorched earth policy against its foes.
Nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media because of his alleged toughness, his appointment was followed by the biggest wave of missile strikes against Ukraine since Moscow invaded on Feb. 24.
Russia carried out its latest strikes on Tuesday after the United States warned it would hold Moscow accountable for any war crimes.
Moscow denies targeting civilians. Its defence ministry has said it is carrying out attacks on military targets and energy infrastructure across Ukraine using high-precision weapons.
In the port city of Mykolaiv, a Reuters witness said they had heard three explosions in the early hours of Tuesday.
A missile had completely destroyed one wing of a building in the downtown area, leaving a massive crater, they said. A fire crew was seen pulling the dead body of a man from the rubble.
The Russian strikes followed advances by Ukrainian forces in the east and south and came after an Oct. 8 blast on a bridge linking mainland Russia to Crimea – the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that the White House “strongly condemns Russia’s missile strikes” and spoke of Putin’s “brutality”.
India raises defence budget to $72.6 bln amid tensions with China
India proposed on Wednesday 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defence spending for the 2023-24 financial year, 13% up from the previous period’s initial estimates, aiming to add more fighter jets and roads along its tense border with China, Reuters reported.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 1.63 trillion rupees for defence capital outlays – an expenditure that would include new weapons, aircraft, warships and other military hardware, as she unveiled nearly $550 billion of total federal spending in the annual budget for 2023-24 starting in April.
She said 2.77 trillion rupees would be devoted to military salaries and benefits in 2023-24, 1.38 trillion on pensions for retired soldiers, and further amounts for miscellaneous items.
itharaman also revised the defence budget for the current financial year ending in March to 5.85 trillion rupees from earlier estimates of 5.25 trillion.
In the past few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up spending to modernise the military, while underlining his government’s commitment to boosting domestic production to supply forces deployed along two contentious borders, Reuters reported.
Laxman Behera, a defence expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the hike in the defence budget was “reasonable but not sufficient”, considering requirements for military modernisation.
“The government has tried to allocate reasonable funds for defence forces while balancing other priorities during the pre-election budget,” he said, noting India needed more funds in view of growing friction with China along disputed borders.
The total Indian defence budget, estimated at about 2% of GDP, is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) in allocations for 2022, which New Delhi sees as posing a threat to neighbours including India and Japan, read the report.
“The overall increase in the armed forces’ budget is as anticipated, but likely lower than what they asked for to beef up operational capabilities,” said Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser for acquisitions at the Defence Ministry.
India plans to spend near 242 billion rupees ($3 billion) for naval fleet construction and 571.4 billion rupees ($7 billion) for air force procurements including more aircraft, the latest budget document showed.
The South Asian giant employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces, with large numbers deployed along borders with nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan.
Although the defence budget allocations fell short of military expectations, they are likely to grow as the economy recovers from two years of pandemic curbs, according to Behera.
India and China share a 3,500-kilometre (2,100-mile) frontier that has been disputed since the 1950s. The two sides went to war over it in 1962.
At least 24 soldiers were killed when the armies of the Asian giants clashed in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, in 2020 but tensions eased after military and diplomatic talks, Reuters reported.
A fresh clash erupted in the eastern Himalayas in December last year but no deaths were reported.
Families seek loved ones after Pakistan mosque blast kills 100, all but 3 police
Distraught relatives thronged hospitals in Pakistan’s Peshawar on Tuesday to look for their kin a day after a suicide bombing ripped through a crowded mosque in a heavily fortified area of the city, killing 100 people, all but three of them police, Reuters reported.
The attack, in the Police Lines district, was the deadliest in a decade to hit this restive, northwestern city near the Afghan border and comes amid a surge in violence against the police.
“My son, my child,” cried an elderly woman walking alongside an ambulance carrying coffins, as rescue workers stretchered wounded people to a hospital emergency unit.
At least 170 people were wounded in the blast, which demolished the upper storey of the mosque as hundreds of worshippers performed noon prayers, read the report.
Riaz Mahsud, a senior local government official, said the casualty toll was likely to rise as workers searched through the debris.
“So far, 100 bodies have been brought to Lady Reading Hospital,” a spokesman for the largest medical facility in the city, Mohammad Asim, said in a statement.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told parliament that 97 of the 100 were police officials.
Authorities say they do not know how the bomber managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city centre that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families, Reuters reported.
Given the security concerns in Peshawar, the mosque was built to allow police to pray without leaving the area. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck.
The attack is the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what is the deadliest attack on Pakistan’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades. The most active militant group in the area is the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad.
No group has officially owned the attack, but Sanaullah said a breakaway faction of the TTP called Khurasani had claimed responsibility.
The TTP denied responsibility, though it has stepped up attacks since withdrawing from a peace deal with the government last year, Reuters reported.
The policy to release militants under a amnesty as part of the deal has resulted in the bombing, Sanaullah said, adding that some of the militants who were set free also included some on death row.
The bombing took place a day before an IMF mission arrived in Islamabad for talks on a stalled $7 billion bailout.
US general says country will be at war with China in 2025
A U.S. general said in a memo on Friday that he believes the country will be at war with China by 2025, according to several news outlets that obtained a copy of the communication, The Hill reported.
“I hope I am wrong,” Gen. Mike Minihan, a four-star Air Force general who leads the Air Mobility Command (AMC), said in the memo to troops under his command, which was first reported by NBC News.
However, he added: “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”
Minihan told AMC personnel to accept some increased risk in training as they prepare for the “China fight” and sometime in February to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most. Aim for the head.”
He also urged personnel in his command to get their personal affairs in order to “ensure they are legally ready and prepared” in March, The Hill reported.
However, a Defense Department spokesperson told NBC that Minihan’s comments “are not representative of the department’s view on China.”
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