Russia pounds dozens of Ukraine towns, warns of escalation

Russia pounds dozens of Ukraine towns, warns of escalation


Mykolaiv town "massively shelled", says mayor

KYIV (Reuters) - Russian missiles pounded more than 40 Ukrainian cities and towns, officials said on Thursday, as NATO allies meeting in Brussels unveiled plans to beef up Europe’s air defences after committing more military aid to Kyiv.

The new pledges prompted Moscow to renew warnings that Western states’ help made them "a direct party to the conflict" and that admitting Ukraine to Western military alliance NATO could trigger World War Three.

"Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War Three," deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Alexander Venediktov, told the state TASS news agency on Thursday as the United States vowed to defend "every inch" of allied territory.

Moscow has repeatedly justified the Feb. 24 invasion that has killed tens of thousands of people, in what it calls a "special operation", by saying Ukraine’s ambitions to join the alliance posed a threat to Russia’s security.

NATO is not likely to quickly allow Ukraine to join, not least because its membership during an ongoing war would put the United States and allies into direct conflict with Russia.

Even before the war, NATO had dragged its feet on Ukrainian membership. Shortly after Russia’s invasion in February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signalled he was willing to consider neutrality.

But hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed partially occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as Russian land on Sept. 30, Zelenskiy made a fast-track bid to join.

In the past 24 hours Russian missiles hit more than 40 settlements, while Ukrainian air force carried out 32 strikes on 25 Russian targets, Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said.

The southern port city of Mykolaiv came under massive bombardment, local officials said.

“It is known that a number of civilian objects were hit," regional governor Vitaly Kim said in a social media post.

He said the top two floors of a five-story residential building were completely destroyed and the rest were under rubble.