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Putin admits attacks on civilian infrastructure, asking: ‘Who started it?’

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an awards ceremony at the Kremlin on Dec. 8. (Sergey Karpuhin/Sputnik/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that Moscow is targeting Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure, and has vowed to continue the strikes — which as winter sets in, have left millions of people without heating, light and water.

“There is a lot of noise right now about our strikes against the energy infrastructure of the neighboring country,” Putin said, during an awards ceremony Thursday at the Kremlin. “Yes, we are doing this. But who started it?”

Holding a drink and speaking with a sneer, he said international condemnation of the strikes “will not prevent us from completing our military objectives.”

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Since early October, Moscow has fired barrages of missiles at energy and infrastructure sites across Ukraine, leading to rolling blackouts and depriving whole neighborhoods of water, electricity and in some cases heat as the freezing winter temperatures descend.

Ukrainian officials and some Western leaders have described Moscow’s actions as potential war crimes due to their impact on civilians. The Kremlin insists that the bombardments have a military purpose, but in his remarks Thursday, Putin cast them as tit-for-tat revenge.

The Russian president accused Kyiv of provoking the strikes, highlighting, in particular, an attack in early October on the Crimean Bridge — a $4 billion symbol of Putin’s imperial ambitions in Ukraine, connecting Crimea with mainland Russia.

Kyiv did not officially claim responsibility for that explosion but the event was widely celebrated in Ukraine and officials have privately acknowledged the role of Ukrainian special services.

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“Who struck the Crimean Bridge?” Putin asked. “Who blew up the power lines of the Kursk nuclear power station?”

Putin also accused the world of remaining silent as Ukraine mistreated citizens in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donetsk — though it was Russia that fomented a separatist war there beginning in 2014.

“Who is not providing water to Donetsk,” Putin asked. “Not providing water to a city of 1 million people is an act of genocide.”

Since Moscow’s attacks on infrastructure began, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on citizens to ration their power usage and seek shelter during air raid warnings.

“To get through this winter, we need to help each other more than ever and care for each other even more,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram on Thursday. “To get through the winter, we must be more resilient and more united than ever.”

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