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MOSCOW — 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.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Thursday that the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula was vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks after officials said they had shot down a drone near a key naval base.
The latest drone attack comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin recently visited the only bridge connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland to survey work to repair the key artery damaged in a blast Moscow blamed on Kiyv.
"There are certainly risks because the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organising terrorist attacks. But, on the other hand, information we get indicates that effective countermeasures are being taken," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The Moscow-appointed governor of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov said last month that Russia was strengthening fortifications on the peninsula in the wake of recent attacks.
The governors of two Russian regions bordering Ukraine have said they inspected the construction of defence lines days after Ukrainian drones struck key military airfields.
In the latest incident over Crimea on Thursday, Russia said it had shot down a drone over the Black Sea near Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula that hosts a key Russian naval base.
“As per usual our military carried out its work well,” said the governor of the Sevastopol administrative region, Mikhail Razvozhayev.
The peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014 after a so-called referendum that Ukraine and the West never recognised.
The Russian military used Crimea as one of its lauching pads for its military intervention in Ukraine on February 24 and it has been regularly attacked by drones.
There have been several explosions at or near Russian military installations in Crimea since February, including a coordinated drone attack on a key Russian naval port at Sevastopol.
In October, the Kerch bridge linking the peninsula to the Russian mainland was partially destroyed in an attack that Moscow attributed to Ukraine.
The shooting down of the drone on Thursday came after a series of attacks deep in Russia, including the Engels airfield, a strategic bomber military base, for which Ukraine has not claimed responsibility.
Separately, the Russian security services (FSB) arrested two people accused of spying for Ukraine on Crimea and accused them of “treason”, the agency’s press service said Thursday.
The FSB “halted the illegal activities of two Russian citizens suspected of committing high treason in the form of spying in the interests of the Security Service of Ukraine”, it said in a statement.
One of those detained is “a supporter of Ukrainian nationalist ideology and was recruited by the Ukrainian secret services in 2016”, the statement said.
He is suspected of “transferring data on the location of Russia’s defence ministry facilities to a foreign security agency, which could be used against Russia’s security”.
In moves similar to the 2014 Crimean “referendum”, Russia in September claimed to annex four Ukrainian regions, Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, even if it never fully controlled them.
Faced with a series of humiliating defeats that included a retreat from Kherson, the only regional capital it held, Russia turned to pummelling Ukraine’s energy grid.
On Wednesday the country’s energy system was still reeling from a “significant deficit of electricity”, Ukrainian energy operator Ukrenergo said.
“The situation is complicated by weather conditions: In many regions in the west of the country, frost, rain with snow and strong gusts of wind cause icing of wires and their damage,” the company said.
Putin on Thursday vowed to continue attacking Ukrainian energy systems despite global criticism of strikes that have left millions without electricity and water as winter approaches.
Eleven Ukrainian civilians died and eight were injured on Wednesday, according to the the deputy head of the presidency Kyrylo Tymoshenko.
Meanwhile on Thursday the Kremlin said Time magazine’s decision to name Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as “Person of the Year” reflected “Russophobic” trends in Western countries.
The comments came after Zelensky was ranked “Person of the Year” by the magazine on Wednesday and the “Most Influential” person in Europe by Politico on Thursday.
Zelensky thanked Politico for the award, accepting it on behalf of the Ukrainian people who “faced the threat of losing everything and found strength”.