Time International Desk: Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday vowed to continue attacking Ukrainian energy systems despite global criticism of strikes that have left millions without electricity and water at the start of winter.
‘There’s a lot of noise about our strikes on the energy infrastructure of a neighbouring country. Yes, we do that. But who started it?’ Putin said at an awards ceremony in the Kremlin, adding that the criticism would ‘not interfere with our combat missions.’
He presented the strikes as a response to a blast on Moscow’s bridge to annexed Crimea and other attacks, accusing Kyiv of blowing up power lines from the Kursk nuclear power plant and not supplying water to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
‘Not supplying water to a city of more than a million people is an act of genocide,’ Putin said.
He accused the West of ‘complete silence’ on this and of bias against Russia.
‘As soon as we move and do something in response, there is uproar and clamour spreading through the whole universe,’ he said.
Putin said on Wednesday that nuclear tensions were rising, though he insisted ‘we have not gone crazy’ and Moscow would not be the first to deploy atomic weapons in the Ukraine conflict.
Speaking more than nine months after his forces launched their military operation, Putin warned the conflict could be ‘lengthy’.
Russian forces have missed most of their key military goals since February, raising fears that the battlefield stalemate could see Russia resort to its nuclear arsenal to achieve a breakthrough.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross announced it had recently visited some Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war but said it wants regular access to them all, following ill-treatment and torture allegations.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine recently detailed the mistreatment of POWs by their Russian and Ukrainian captors, including torture, beatings, electric shocks, and humiliating treatment while naked.
‘The International Committee of the Red Cross last week carried out one two-day visit to Ukrainian prisoners of war, with another happening this week,’ the ICRC said.
‘During the same period, visits were also carried out to Russian prisoners of war, with more visits planned by the end of the month,’ the statement added.
The ICRC has been repeatedly criticised by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on the ultra-sensitive subject of POW visits.
He has accused the Geneva-based organisation of not pushing hard enough to gain access to Ukrainian troops captured by Russian forces.
The ICRC has voiced frustration at not being able to fulfil its mission enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, which define the laws of war.
It needs certain guarantees around access and the Russians have long turned a deaf ear.
The visits enabled the ICRC to assess the condition and treatment of the POWs and give news to their families, the organisation said, without giving details of their living conditions or treatment.
It said it was also able to distribute books, personal hygiene items, blankets and warm clothes.
The ICRC is now delivering messages from POWs to their families.
‘Most updates are short notes of love and personal news. Some ask family members not to worry,’ the statement said.
‘Others ask them for cigarettes, socks, and sweets. All these messages are a lifeline for anguished relatives.’
ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric said such visits were ‘an important step forward in preserving humanity amidst the brutality of the international armed conflict.
‘We are able to check how prisoners of war are being treated and to make sure families receive updates. My expectation is that these visits lead to more regular access to all prisoners of war.’
The organisation wants to go much further.
‘We have seen hundreds of prisoners of war, but we still do not have access to see all of them,’ ICRC spokeswoman Jennifer Sparks said.
The ICRC is not giving exact numbers of POWs visited and said Red Cross teams had not been able to visit the Olenivka prison in eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by pro-Russian forces.
The jail was bombed in late July, killing dozens of Ukrainian prisoners. Kyiv accuses Russian-controlled forces while Moscow blames the Ukrainian army.