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Russian strikes on Ukraine’s cities are an implicit nuclear threat 

After a bomb partially destroyed the Crimean Kerch Bridge, Vladimir Putin has retaliated by targeting parks and universities in Kyiv and Lviv.

By Ido Vock

A wave of explosions has hit Ukraine’s largest cities this morning. Rocket attacks have been reported in the capital, Kyiv, as well as in Lviv, Dnipro and several other cities. Many of the areas targeted are in the centre and west of the country, which had been quiet for months after fighting shifted to the east. Numerous deaths and casualties have been reported by Ukrainian authorities.

The attacks come after the Kerch Bridge connecting Russia and occupied Crimea – a symbol of the annexation of the peninsula closely linked to Vladimir Putin personally – was partially destroyed on Sunday 9 October. Kyiv has not officially claimed responsibility for the explosion, reportedly caused by a truck bomb, although Ukrainian officials have anonymously said the explosion was their work and the Ukrainian post office has announced it will release a stamp commemorating the occasion.

[See also: How much territory does Ukraine control? Use this interactive map to find out]

Russia had already hit a block of flats in Zaporizhzhia on Sunday night following the bridge explosion, which killed at least 17 people.

The myriad attacks on cities across the country on Monday – reportedly primarily on civilian targets such as playgrounds and universities – highlights Russia’s willingness to retaliate by hitting non-military targets, even as it has taken consistent defeats on the battlefield in recent weeks, as the Ukrainian counteroffensives continue to make progress. Ukrainian forces have recaptured thousands of square kilometres of territory, principally in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.

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Russian leadership had been under increased criticism in recent days. Hardliners such as the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, focused criticism on the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, blaming him earlier this month for Russia’s recent defeats and calling for harsher measures against Ukrainian targets. The attacks on Ukrainian cities is a response to calls for further escalation from figures within the Kremlin.

[See also: Vladimir Putin’s land grab is an act of desperation]

Attacks on civilian targets in peaceful cities will strengthen, not weaken, Ukrainian resolve. But they can be framed by Moscow as fair retaliation for the attack on the Kerch Bridge, even though the bridge likely qualifies as a military target as it was used to supply Russian forces fighting in southern Ukraine. Meanwhile many of the Ukrainian targets hit this morning, including parks, were purely civilian in nature. Surveillance video appeared to show the Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian walkway in central Kyiv, hit by a rocket. Symbolically, the bridge – with no military value whatsoever – is located metres away from a Soviet-era arch built to commemorate the “reunification” of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

Above all, though, the attacks carry with them an implicit nuclear threat, according to the historian Sergey Radchenko. Moscow is showing that it has the capability to target Ukrainian cities with missiles. There is no guarantee that the next one couldn’t be carrying a nuclear warhead, goes the message to Ukraine and the West.

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