Russia’s missile-wielding embassies are urging the West to withdraw

The latest in a litany of horrors in Ukraine came this week as Russian firepower rained down on civilians in a busy mall far from the front lines of a war in its fifth month.

The timing was probably no coincidence.

While much of the war of attrition in eastern Ukraine is unseen, the brutality of Russian missile attacks on a downtown Kremenchuk shopping mall and on residential buildings in the capital Kyiv unfolded before the eyes of the world, and particularly as Western leaders gathered to a summit trio in Europe.

Rescue workers work on a damaged apartment building in Kyiv. Rockets hit a house and a kindergarten last Friday, injuring six people and killing one.

Sopa Pictures | Light Rocket | Getty Images

Were the attacks a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin as the West sought to arm Ukraine with more effective weapons to bolster its resistance and put Ukraine on the path to joining the European Union?

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko suggested so when rockets hit the capital on June 26, three days after EU leaders unanimously decided to make Ukraine a candidate country.

It was “perhaps a symbolic attack” as the Group of Seven’s economic powerhouses and then NATO leaders prepared to meet and put further pressure on Moscow, he said. At least six people were killed in the strike in Kyiv, which destroyed an apartment building.

Former commanding general of US Army Europe forces, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges went further by linking the attack and the meetings. “The Russians are humiliating the leaders of the West,” he said.

A day after the Kyiv attack, as G-7 leaders met in Germany to discuss further support for Ukraine during their annual summit, Russia fired rockets at a crowded shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, at least 19 people were killed.

US President Joe Biden, center, attends a working lunch with other G7 leaders to discuss shaping the global economy. The group of the seven leading economic powerhouses meets in Germany for their three-day annual meeting.

Kenny Holston | The New York Times via AP, Pool

The timing of both attacks appeared to be linked to the European meetings of US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, all of whom support Ukraine.

Defying the evidence, Putin and his officials deny that Russia attacked residential areas. Putin has denied that Russian forces were targeting the Kremenchuk mall, saying it was aimed at a nearby weapons depot. But Ukrainian officials and witnesses said a missile hit the mall directly.

It was hardly the first time that outbreaks of violence were widely taken as a sign of Moscow’s displeasure. In late April, Russian missiles hit Kyiv, barely an hour after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a press conference with visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“That says a lot about Russia’s true attitude towards global institutions,” Zelenskyy said at the time. Kiev’s mayor called the attack Putin’s way of showing the “middle finger”.

The Russian President recently warned that Moscow would attack targets it had previously spared if the West supplied Ukraine with weapons that could reach Russia. If Kyiv gets long-range missiles, Russia “will draw appropriate conclusions and use our means of destruction, of which we have plenty,” Putin said.

On Friday, a day after Russian forces staged a high-profile retreat from Snake Island near the Black Sea port city of Odessa after what Ukraine described as a barrage of artillery and rocket attacks, Russia bombed residential areas in a coastal city in the near Odessa and killed at least 21 people, including two children.

While Russia’s messages can be blunt and devastating, Zelenskyi’s Ukraine’s signals have focused daily on increasing Moscow’s cruelty to a world that daily risks growing weary of war.

As interest wanes, so may the concerted support seen at global summits. and with it the urgency to deliver the heavier weapons Ukraine craves.

Zelenskyy tends to couple requests for more help with the reminder that, in the end, all of Europe is at stake.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends the NATO summit via video link as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues June 29, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

He described the Mall attack as “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history”.

For all of Ukraine’s undeniable suffering, that was a bold claim or exaggeration in the context of extremist attacks resulting in mass deaths in Paris, Nice, Brussels, Madrid and London in this century alone.

For Zelenskyy and Ukraine, the underlying demand cannot be repeated often enough: deliver more heavy weapons, faster, before Russia may make irreversible gains in the eastern industrial region of Donbas, where street fighting is taking place.

In his nightly public addresses, Zelenskyy also takes care to capture the traumatic toll of everyday life in Ukraine, reaching out far beyond global leaders to the wider world.

This week he accused Russia of “sabotaging people’s attempts to lead normal lives.”

Pictures of the mall’s smoking debris said the rest. Russia’s missile-wielding embassies are urging the West to withdraw

Joshua Buckhalter

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