By DASHA LITVINOVA
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Moscow’s barrage of missile strikes on cities all across Ukraine has elicited celebratory comments from Russian officials and pro-Kremlin pundits, who in recent weeks have actively criticized the Russian military for a series of embarrassing setbacks on the battlefield.
Russian nationalist commentators and state media war correspondents lauded Monday’s attack as an appropriate, and long-awaited, response to a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive and a weekend attack on the bridge between Russia and Crimea, the prized Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.
Many of them argued that Moscow should keep up the intensity of Monday’s strikes to win the war now. Some analysts suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin was becoming a hostage of his allies’ views on how the campaign in Ukraine should unfold.
“Putin’s initiative is weakening, and he is becoming more dependent on circumstances and those who are forging the ‘victory’ (in Ukraine) for him,” Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the independent R.Politik think tank, wrote in an online commentary Monday.
“The fear of defeat is so strong, especially for those who are now fully immersed in this military venture, that Putin’s indecisiveness, with his logic of ‘We have not started anything yet’ and ‘Restrained tactics have paid off’ has become a problem,” the analyst said.
For weeks, Putin’s supporters have called for drastic battlefield steps in Ukraine. The exhortations intensified over the weekend after an explosion on the Kerch Bridge linking Crimea to Russia; the bridge, Europe’s longest, is a prominent symbol of Russian military might. Putin himself opened the span in 2018.
“And?” Margarita Simonyan, head of Russia’s state-funded RT television, wondered on social media about Moscow’s response to the Saturday bridge attack.
“This is one of those cases when the country needs to show we can hit back,” wrote Alexander Kots, a war correspondent for the popular pro-Kremlin tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Senior Russian lawmaker Sergei Mironov, who leads the state-backed A Just Russia party, tweeted Saturday that Moscow should disregard Western opinion in formulating its answer to the conspicuous attack.
“It is time for fighting! Fiercely, even cruelly. Without looking back at whatever censures from the West,” Mironov tweeted Saturday. “There won’t be any bigger sanctions. They won’t say any worse words. We need to do our thing. We started it — we should go till the end. There is no way back. Time to respond!”
The response came Monday morning, when Russia simultaneously launched dozens of missiles at Ukrainian cities, killing and wounding scores and inflicting unprecedented damage on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. The strikes, which hit 15 Ukrainian cities, most of them regional capitals, knocked out power lines, damaged railway stations and roads, and left cities without water supplies.
For the first time in months, Russian missiles exploded in the heart of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in dangerous proximity to government buildings.
Putin said Monday the strikes were in retaliation for what he called Kyiv’s “terrorist” actions targeting the Kerch Bridge, and vowed a “tough” and “proportionate” response should Ukraine carry out further attacks that threaten Russia’s security.
“No one should have any doubts about it,” he said.
“Here comes the response,” RT’s Simonyan tweeted on Monday after the attacks. “The Crimean bridge was that very red line from the very beginning.”
Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, a Russian region in the North Caucasus, said he was now “100% happy” with the course of the Kremlin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. Kadyrov was among the most ardent proponents of “more drastic measures,” including the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.
The Moscow-installed governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, described Monday’s strikes as “good news.”
The cheering by Kremlin supporters came with demands for Putin and the Russian military to keep up the pace and intensity of the attacks and the damage inflicted on Ukraine’s infrastructure.
Aksyonov said that “had such actions to destroy the enemy’s infrastructure been taken every day, then we would have finished everything in May and the Kyiv regime would have been defeated.”
“I hope that now the pace of the operation will not slow down,” Aksyonov wrote.
RT’s top host, Anton Krasovsky, posted a video of himself Monday dancing on a balcony in a cap bearing a Z, the symbol that Russian forces painted on military vehicles while invading Ukraine. In another Telegram post, he said the damage to Ukraine’s power lines was “not enough! Not enough!”
Another state TV journalist, Andrei Medvedev, called Monday’s attacks “a logical step, which not just the society has long demanded — the military situation demanded a different approach to the hostilities.”
“And so it happened. But does it change much?” Medvedev, who works for Russia’s state TV group VGTRK and holds a seat on the Moscow City Council, wrote on Telegram.
“If the strikes on the critical infrastructure become regular, if the strikes on railways, bridges and power plants become part of our tactics, then yes, it does change (the situation),” Medvedev wrote. “But for now, according to (official) statements, a decision to plunge Ukraine into medieval times has not been made,”
Political analyst Stanovaya said in a Telegram post that Putin had faced “powerful pressures” before Monday’s bombardment “to move onto aggressive actions, massive bombings,” and that prompted the Russian leader to act.
“As of today, one can say that Putin was persuaded to resort to a more aggressive line. And it corresponds with his understanding on the situation. But it is a slippery slope — there is no way back,” Stanovaya wrote.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine