As Ukrainian officials warned that Moscow was preparing to launch yet another wave of missile strikes aimed at destroying the nation’s energy grid, Russia’s foreign minister on Thursday defended Moscow’s attacks, calling infrastructure a legitimate military target despite warnings by the United Nations that they could amount to war crimes.
Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, spoke at a news conference hours after Ukrainian officials said that Russian attacks had disabled the power grid in the southern city of Kherson and six million people across the country were still without power after previous assaults.
Drawing on familiar Kremlin themes framing the Ukraine war as a battle with the West, Mr. Lavrov said that Russia is hitting targets that are used to replenish Ukrainian forces with weapons provided by Western nations and that the Ukrainian forces rely on to operate. He did not elaborate.
The Ukrainian military has said that its forces have their own autonomous energy supply and the strikes had no impact on their fighting capability.
But the impact on civilians is mounting. The strikes have knocked out electricity and water for millions of people in Ukraine, and Ukrainian and Western officials have accused Russia of trying to make life miserable for people by striking residential areas, electrical transformers, power plants and other civilian targets.
“As Ukraine continues to seize momentum on the battlefield, President Putin continues to focus his ire and his fire on Ukraine’s civilian population,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a meeting of NATO allies this week. “Heat, water, electricity — for the children, for the elderly, for the sick — these are President Putin’s new targets. He’s hitting them hard. This brutalization of Ukraine’s people is barbaric.”
Ukrainian officials say it could take months to repair the damage already done to the grid and there was no indication the attacks would stop.
“There is still a threat of missile strikes on critical infrastructure of Ukraine and military facilities in the near future,” Brig. Gen. Oleksii Hromov, a member of Ukraine’s General Staff, warned on Thursday. “The enemy’s goal is to cause panic in the population.”
Soon after he spoke, air raid alarms sounded across the country, though they were followed by an all-clear.
Mr. Lavrov said that Russia used high-precision weapons against Ukrainian energy facilities that support Kyiv’s combat operations and are used “to pump up Ukraine with Western weapons for it to kill Russians.”
He defended Russia’s strikes against Ukrainian areas that Moscow has illegally annexed and now considers its own territory, such as the Kherson region, comparing its assaults to Stalingrad, which was leveled during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II when Soviet forces achieved a pivotal victory against Nazi Germany.
“Stalingrad was our territory too and we have beaten Germans there so much that they ran away,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Repeating Russia’s talking points, he accused the United States and Europe of being “directly involved” in the Ukraine conflict, which, he said, was sparked by NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe and Western meddling in Ukraine’s affairs.
He also dismissed as “laughable” the idea that Moscow is trying to engage Kyiv in cease-fire negotiations as a way to buy time and replenish its forces amid setbacks on the battlefield. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, has warned that a cease-fire would allow Russia’s “depleted invasion forces to take a break before returning for further aggression.”
“We have never asked for any negotiations,” Mr. Lavrov said. “But we have always said that if someone is interested in finding a negotiated solution, we are ready to listen.”
Mr. Lavrov also accused NATO of stirring up tensions elsewhere in the world, including with China, and of trying to drag India into what he called “an anti-Russian and anti-Chinese alliance.” India and China have both called for de-escalation after Russian strikes.