On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities detained a man they believe assisted Russia in planning a missile attack that left at least 11 people dead, including three teenagers, at a well-known pizzeria in eastern Ukraine.
According to the Ukrainian National Police, 61 additional people were hurt in the attack on Kramatorsk on Tuesday night. It was the most recent bombardment of a Ukrainian city; throughout the 16-month conflict, Russia has frequently used this tactic.
In spite of domestic political and military unrest following a brief armed uprising in Russia last weekend, this strike and others that were carried out across Ukraine late Tuesday and early Wednesday showed that the Kremlin is continuing its aerial assault.
Although the government has been quiet about recent battlefield developments as it seeks to gain momentum in its recently launched counteroffensive, there hasn't been any apparent military effort by Ukraine to take advantage of that unrest.
The weekend uprising by prison recruits and other mercenaries belonging to the Wagner private army, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, sent shockwaves through the Kremlin. Wagner has been instrumental in Russia's military operations in Ukraine. The uprising posed the gravest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin's hold on power to date.
In an effort to restore his authority, Putin met with military personnel in the Kremlin on Tuesday before traveling to the predominantly Muslim region of Dagestan's Caspian city of Derbent on Wednesday for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. He met with officials, went to a historic mosque and an ancient citadel, walked past cheering crowds by a fountain, and engaged in rare handshakes and small talk for the normally reticent and covert Russian leader.
Following Russia's announcement that he wouldn't be held accountable for the uprising, Prigozhin reportedly went into exile in nearby Belarus on Tuesday, according to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The location of Prigozhin could not be independently verified.
Wagner can set up a temporary camp in Belarus, according to Lukashenko, but it's not clear how many mercenaries will relocate there.
The upcoming deployment of Wagner to Belarus has alarmed the country's neighbors. The head of Poland's ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, announced plans to fortify the country's eastern border, stating that 8000 Wagner troops are anticipated to enter Belarus.
The mutiny, according to Lithuania's foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, "shows how fast detachments from within Russia mobilize and move within its territory," underscoring "a more volatile, more unpredictable environment for our region."
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, downplayed worries that Wagner would represent a threat from Belarus. He added that the Ukrainian military is confident in the continued "unchanged and controllable" security along the Belarusian border. He claimed that the group's mercenaries would probably not travel there in great numbers.
On Wednesday, US Vice President Joe Biden claimed that Putin had been weakened by the unrest, though he added that it was "hard to tell" to what extent.
“He’s clearly losing the war in (Ukraine),” Biden said of Putin before departing Washington for Chicago. “He’s losing the war at home and he has become a bit of a pariah around the world.”
Putin has been weakened by the uprising, according to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who also noted that it revealed: "the autocratic structures, the structures of power have cracks." Speaking to German public broadcaster ARD, he admitted that the rebellion had caught Germany's foreign intelligence agency off guard.
According to the Kramatorsk city council's educational department, the attack claimed the lives of two sisters, both 14 years old. It stated in a Telegram post that "Russian missiles stopped the beating of the hearts of two angels."
According to Attorney General Andrii Kostin, the other deceased teenager was 17 years old.
According to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, the attack also caused damage to 18 multi-story buildings, 65 homes, five schools, two kindergartens, a shopping center, an administrative building, and a recreational building.
In a city where 52 civilians were killed in a Russian missile strike on a train station last year, roughly six weeks after the start of the war, rescuers were still searching the rubble for bodies and additional survivors.
The National Police later claimed that Iskander short-range ballistic missiles were used in the attack on Kramatorsk on Tuesday, contradicting the initial claims made by officials that an S-300 missile, a surface-to-air missile that Russia's forces have modified for loosely targeted city attacks, was used.
The regional headquarters of the Ukrainian army is located in the frontline city of Kramatorsk. Along with locals, journalists, aid workers, and soldiers frequented the pizza joint.
The man, who worked for a gas transportation company, was detained, according to the Ukrainian Security Service, on suspicion of filming the restaurant for the Russians and informing them of its popularity.
It made its claim without any supporting details. Despite the fact that many civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes, Russia has maintained throughout the war that it does not aim at civilian targets. On Wednesday, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, reiterated that assertion.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not mention the pizza restaurant that was struck, only that its forces had struck a facility in Kramatorsk used by Ukrainian army officers.
Kramatorsk is located in Donetsk, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Russia partially controls but annexed last September. Additionally, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge the annexations, but Kyiv has refused to engage in negotiations until Russian troops leave all occupied territories.
According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, "Putin's conviction that he can outlast Ukraine and he can outlast all of us" is the biggest obstacle currently standing in the way of peace negotiations.
“The more we are able to disabuse him of that notion, the more likely it is that at some point he’ll come to the table,” Blinken said at the Council on Foreign Relations. He added that the Nato summit in Lithuania in two weeks will offer “a very robust package for Ukraine, political and practical.”