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‘Who started it?’ Putin sips champagne as he defends assault on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure

By Sebastian Shukla and Sophie Tanno, CNN

President Vladimir Putin made rare public comments specifically addressing the Russian military’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure Thursday, while clutching a glass of champagne at a Kremlin reception.

Speaking after an awards ceremony for “Heroes of Russia,” he addressed the group of soldiers receiving the awards. He said of the attacks, “yes, we are doing it. But who started it?”

Nine months after he ordered Russia’s military to invade Ukraine, Putin went on to list a series of events he blames on the Ukrainians: “Who hit the Crimean bridge? Who blew up the power lines from the Kursk nuclear power plant?”

His comments referred to a blast on the Kerch Bridge on October 8, when a truck on the strategic crossing exploded, causing large damage. The Ukrainians have never claimed responsibility, but the Kremlin was quick to accuse Kyiv.

In the days following the bridge explosion, Putin said, “further acts of terrorism on the territory of Russia will be harsh… have no doubt about that.”

Last week Putin appeared on the Kerch Bridge, where he was shown repairs and drove a car across the structure that he himself officially opened in 2018.

In his Kremlin appearance Thursday, he continued to say: “Who is not supplying water to Donetsk? Not supplying water to a city of million is an act of genocide.”

He ended his apparently off-the-cuff comments by claiming that people seem to refrain from mentioning that water has been cut off from Donetsk. “No one has said a word about it anywhere. At all! Complete silence.”

The Russian president tersely compared the difference in reactions to attacks on Russia and attacks on Ukraine, saying, “as soon as we make a move, do something in response — noise, clamor, crackle for the whole universe.”

He concluded the speech by adding that “it won’t interfere with our combat missions,” before raising a toast to the listening soldiers and sipping from his champagne glass.

Ukraine has been facing a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources since early October. The onslaught has left millions across the country facing power cuts amid freezing temperatures.

On Monday, Russia unleashed a fresh wave of drone and missile attacks targeting energy infrastructure across Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strikes caused extensive power outages in several regions, including Kyiv and Odesa.

Repair work to fix infrastructure facilities across Ukraine is ongoing. Most power plants are now supplying energy to the national grid after they were temporarily shut down in late November when Moscow sent a barrage of missiles to target energy “generation facilities,” Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s state-run energy operator, said.

However, there remains a “significant deficit” in the nation’s power system caused by months of strikes, triggering limits on consumption, the operator said. Ukrainian authorities are engaged in the delicate work of trying to balance the national power grid, leaving many households without electricity.

In a statement in November, Ukrenergo acknowledged that the race to restore power to homes is being hampered by “strong winds, rain and sub-zero temperatures.”

“The pace of restoration [to household consumers] is slowed down by difficult weather conditions,” it said, with the damage “made worse by the freezing and rupture of wires in distribution networks.”

A top Ukrainian official said the attacks on the country’s energy grid amount to genocide. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin made the comments while speaking to the BBC last month.

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CNN’s Jo Shelley, Olga Voitovych, Hannah Richie and Victoria Butenk contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

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