Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted Thursday that Russia has been attacking Ukrainian energy infrastructure and leaving countless Ukrainians without clean water and power as a way to exact revenge for attacks on Crimea.
“Yes, we do it,” Putin said, carrying a glass of champagne on the sidelines of a ceremony, according to TASS. “Who started? Who hit the Crimean bridge, who blew up power lines from the Kursk nuclear power plant.”
The Russian president, who appeared to smirk while he made the remarks about attacking civilians in Ukraine, indicated that Russia would continue to strike energy infrastructure.
Russia has been pummeling Ukrainian infrastructure with relentless missile attacks since early October, after a series of incidents in Crimea. Putin’s brazen comments at the ceremony come almost two months after Russia blamed Ukraine for an attack on the Kerch bridge.
The bridge, which Putin built to link Russia to Crimea after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, has carried a great deal of symbolic significance for Putin, whose Crimea annexation buoyed domestic support for his presidency.
The admission coincides with with a spate of recent attacks on Russian territory, including on an air field in Kursk in the southwest, on the Engels air base near Moscow, and the Ryazan region.
The attacks could be a signal that Ukraine’s government may now be more willing to take the fight into Russia proper, now that Moscow has entered its tenth month of waging an unprovoked war on Ukraine.
Ukraine has claimed responsibility for some attacks in Crimea, including one against Russia’s Saki air base there. Ukrainian missiles also attacked and sunk Russia’s Moskva, of its Black Sea fleet, early this year. Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for some of the latest incidents, although some have hinted at Ukraine’s responsibility. A senior Ukrainian official told The New York Times early this week that Ukraine carried out the attacks in Russia using drones.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also indicated that the recent attacks in Russia might be payback.
“The Earth is round—discovery made by Galileo,” Podolyak said Monday. “If something is launched into other countries' airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point.”
While Putin may try to frame Russian efforts to cripple Ukrainian infrastructure just as winter settles in as revenge, the attacks have raised questions about whether the Kremlin recognizes that Putin’s war plans are faltering.
The attacks on energy infrastructure, though, are still the source of much suffering for Ukrainian civilians.
Ukrainian authorities have been warning that if Russia keeps up its campaign of attacking critical energy infrastructure, Ukrainians may not be able to sustain living there. Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, told Reuters that the capital may become uninhabitable soon.
“Kyiv might lose power, water, and heat supply. The apocalypse might happen, like in Hollywood films, when it's not possible to live in homes considering the low temperature,” Klitschko said.
Podolyak Thursday accused Putin of committing genocide by attacking energy infrastructure. “Putin's classic triad, or the Kremlin's bets for this winter… Genocidal energy attacks to leave millions without electricity and cause a flood of refugees,” he said on Twitter.
Kremlin officials have appeared increasingly on edge about whether Ukraine will initiate a military campaign to seize Crimea back from Russia. Moscow acknowledged this week that the peninsula is at “risk” after weeks of urging Russian residents to remain calm.
“There are certainly risks because the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organizing terrorist attacks,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.
Attacks on Crimea appear to strike a particular nerve in Moscow. Russia has previously warned that an attack on Crimea would trigger quick retaliation from Moscow, a threat that has worried European leaders, the Ukrainian official in charge of Crimea, Tamila Tasheva, previously told The Daily Beast.
The Ukrainians are firm that taking back Crimea is not an escalation—even if Russia views it that way—since it is actually a liberation of occupied Ukrainian territory.
“To de-occupy Crimea, it’s not an escalation. It’s our way for a liberation,” Tasheva said.