LIVE: Russia launches a new missile attack as U.S. and Europe impose oil caps
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Russia launched a new wave of airstrikes on Ukrainian cities Monday, marking its latest attempt to knock out power and other basic services to civilians as the country copes with subfreezing temperatures.
In a video posted to social media, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country's air missile defense system had a high success rate in stopping the strikes, resulting in only a few casualties and largely sparing the nationwide power system.
Here's what else we're following:
- New measures designed to slash Russia's oil revenue take effect Monday.
- Explosions at two military airbases deep inside Russia reportedly killed three people and damaged nuclear-capable bombers.
- The source of missile debris found in Moldova is still unknown, local authorities say.
What to watch this week for more Ukraine updates
We're wrapping up live updates for today. For the latest on Ukraine, Russia and the world's reactions, follow NPR's coverage here.
Here's a quick look at what might be making news this week:
- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is touring Europe this week, including visits to London, Rome, Paris, Berlin and Prague.
- The United Nations high commissioner on human rights is due to give a news conference Wednesday after a trip to several Ukrainian locations.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to give remarks virtually on Wednesday for a discussion with the United States Institute of Peace on how to hold Russian officials accountable.
➡️ You can read our full recap of today's missile strike here.
Ukrainian embassies receive packages with animal parts in what officials call an intimidation ploy
Nearly two dozen packages containing either explosives or animal parts — specifically, animal eyes — have been sent to Ukrainian embassies and consulates across Europe in recent days, officials say.
Ukrainian stations in Spain received several letter bombs last week. On Wednesday, an employee at Ukraine's embassy in Madrid was injured while handling a letter addressed to the country's ambassador to Spain. Spanish officials later said a letter bomb was also sent to the country's prime minister and the U.S. embassy in Madrid and stepped up security as a result.
The embassy of Ukraine in Spain also received a package like the one sent to other diplomatic stations, Nikolenko said on Friday.
Most recently, Spanish police seized three envelopes containing what were "believed to be animal eyes" that were addressed to the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid, its Consulate General in Barcelona and its Consulate in Malaga, Nikolenko said on Monday. The mail was seized from the post office, and authorities have launched an investigation.
There have been 21 such cases of threats to Ukrainian embassies in 12 countries, Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine's foreign ministry, said on Facebook on Monday. Letters and packages have been sent to diplomatic outposts in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic, he said last week.
The packages containing animal eyes were "soaked in a liquid of a characteristic color and had a corresponding smell."
A Ukrainian official in Rome said the package sent to that embassy contained a fish eye, while Czech police said an envelope sent to the Ukrainian consulate in the Czech city of Brno contained "animal tissue."
Nikolenko also wrote of several other incidents, including the entrance to the ambassador's residence in the Vatican being vandalized (human feces were left in front of the door, an unnamed source told Reuters), the embassy in Kazakhstan receiving "a message of a mine that was later unconfirmed" and the U.S. embassy getting a letter with a "photocopy of a critical article about Ukraine."
"Like most other envelopes, the letter came synchronously with others from the territory of one European country," Nikolenko wrote.
Ukrainian officials — including Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba — allege that one specific country is behind the mail, but have stopped short of blaming Russia by name.
"We have reasons to consider what's going on a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of embassies and [consulates] of Ukraine," Kuleba said, according to Nikolenko's post. "Not being able to stop Ukraine on the diplomatic front, they try to intimidate us. However, I can immediately say that these attempts are futile. We will continue to effectively work for Ukraine's victory."
Kuleba told CNN on Friday that he believes the culprit is either Russia or someone who sympathizes with the Russian cause, though the final conclusion will be made by investigators. When contacted for comment, Russia' foreign ministry spokesperson simply responded, "psycho."
“I feel tempted ... to name Russia straight away, because first of all you have to answer the question, who benefits?" Kuleba said. “Maybe this terror response is the Russian answer to the diplomatic horror that we created for Russia on the international arena, and this is how they try to fight back while they are losing the real diplomatic battles one after another.”
Ukraine's government has put its embassies and consulates under heightened security measures and is urging foreign governments to guarantee maximum protection of Ukrainian diplomatic institutions in accordance with international law.
Moscow blames Ukraine for explosions at Russian air bases
Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed Ukraine for two separate explosions that rocked Russian air bases early Monday — calling them “terrorist acts” that left three people dead but did little damage otherwise to military infrastructure.
In his evening briefing, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine had been attempting to destroy long-range bombers at airfields in two regions southeast of Moscow, using Soviet-made drones — but claimed the weapons were successfully intercepted by Russian missile defense systems.
"As a result of the jet-propelled drones falling and exploding at the air bases, the shell of the fuselage of two airplanes received insignificant damage,” said Konashenkov.
Three Russian military crew technicians who serviced the planes were also killed and four other servicemen were taken to hospital, added the spokesman.
Konashenkov’s statement confirmed earlier press reports that the explosions occurred at the Engels air base in the Saratov region and the Dyagilevo military airbase outside the city of Ryazan — hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border.
He also appeared to understate the size of the explosion: Surveillance videos of the incident at Engels air base showed a large flash in the dark morning skies.
Both the Russian bases house long-range bombers — and the Engels base has been linked to Russian planes taking part in attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, according to Ukraine.
Konashenkov also suggested that Russia’s response to what he called “terrorist attacks” had come in the form of new “massive and high precision" rocket attacks on Ukrainian military and energy infrastructure later that day.
“All targets were met,” said Konashenkov.
Will the oil sanctions actually hamper Russian finances?
Two measures that took effect today aim to financially kneecap the world's second-largest oil producer, hindering its ability to attack Ukraine.
The first, a European Union boycott, will stop member nations from buying most Russian oil. The second imposes a price cap of $60 per barrel on Russian exports for countries in the G-7 alliance.
It is not yet clear how much oil the pair of measures could take off the global market. Russia has been able to reroute much, but not all, of its former Europe shipments to customers in India, China and Turkey.
While the U.S. and European allies want to punish Russia, they also want to avoid a sudden lost of Russian crude oil that could send oil and gasoline prices skyrocketing.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the moves were steps towards "destabilizing the world energy market" and said that Moscow would ignore the price caps.
The cap of $60 a barrel is near the current price of Russian oil. Oil use also declines in the winter, in part because fewer people are driving.
With the global economy slowing, oil prices have been falling since summertime highs, with international benchmark Brent closing Friday at $85.42 per barrel, down from $98 a month ago. That has eased gasoline prices for drivers around the world.
Average gas prices have fallen for U.S. drivers in recent days to $3.41 per gallon, according to the motoring club federation AAA.
“If Russia ends up taking off more oil than about a million barrels per day, then the world becomes short on oil, and there would need to be an offset somewhere, whether that’s from OPEC or not,” said Jacques Rousseau, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners.
“That’s going to be the key factor — is to figure out how much Russian oil is really leaving the market.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this post.
➡️ Read more about the new oil sanctions here
Financial Times names Zelenskyy its 2022 person of the year
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the person of the year, according to The Financial Times.
The London-based business publication announced its 2022 pick on Monday, alongside an interview with the wartime president.
It is honoring Zelenskyy's "extraordinary display of leadership and fortitude," lauding his leadership and citing his decision to stay in Kyiv rather than evacuate to the U.S. as "one of the most consequential moments in the war."
Still, Zelenskyy told the newspaper that he doesn't consider himself courageous.
“I am more responsible than I am brave," he said. " I just hate to let people down.”
Other honorees from the past decade include philanthropist George Soros, Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler, then-President Donald Trump, Germany's then-Chancellor Angela Merkel and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Time Magazine also famously chooses a person of the year (notably, it also chose Musk last year), and released its 10-person shortlist on Monday. Zelenskyy is on that list too.
So are Chinese President Xi Jinping, Elon Musk (this time, in the context of his Twitter takeover), U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, gun safety advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court, Janet Yellen and protesters in Iran, among others. The winner will be announced on Wednesday.
Ukrainian Air Force: 60 out of 70 Russian missiles were intercepted
In a post on the social media app Telegram, the Ukrainian Air Force said it intercepted more than 60 of the 70 Russian missiles launched Monday.
"Anti-aircraft missile units, aviation, mobile fire groups of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other components of the Defense Forces were involved in repelling the air attack," reads the post.
"Let's keep together to victory!"
Russia launched 38 cruise missiles from aircraft, 22 cruise missiles from its Black Sea Fleet and six guided air missiles, according to the Ukrainian account.
Ukrainian Air Defense systems have seen a high rate of success in recent weeks, often intercepting two-thirds to three-quarters of incoming missiles, according to the country's officials.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the system shot down 21 of 31 missiles that targeted the capital city in the last nationwide strike, on Nov. 23.
A Putin-Biden bilateral meeting? Don't bet on it
Late last week, President Biden said he'd be willing to talk to his Russian counterpart "if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he's looking for a way to end the hour."
Asked about those comments at the White House, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin remains open to negotiations, so long as they help secure Russia's "national interests."
But Peskov noted Biden's demand that Putin "pull out of Ukraine" made talks unlikely.
"The U.S. still doesn't recognize new territories of the Russian Federation," Peskov said, in a reference to four regions of Ukraine the Kremlin illegally annexed to international condemnation in September.
"That complicates the search for grounds on which to hold mutual discussion."
➡️ Read more on Putin's latest strategy here.
Ukrainian singers brought 'Carol of the Bells' to Carnegie Hall a century ago — and yesterday
Did you know that Carol of the Bells comes from Ukraine?
Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych wrote Shchedryk in 1916, originally as a winter folk song.
The Ukrainian National Chorus brought the carol to the U.S. a few years later, when they performed it during a concert at Carnegie Hall in October 1922 (and throughout their tours of America and Europe). At that time, Ukraine was working to assert its independence and define its own identity (it would end up becoming part of the Soviet Union in December 1922).
American composer Peter Wilhousky gave the song its English lyrics and title in 1936, creating the contemporary Christmas staple. Its Ukrainian roots have been largely buried — until now.
Shchedryk Children’s Choir, along with several choruses and soloists, took to the famed stage on Sunday to perform a slew of Ukrainian carols.
⚡️The famous Ukrainian carol 'Shchedryk,' also known as 'Carol of the Bells,' was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Dec. 4.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) December 5, 2022
The carol had its first performance at Carnegie hall 100 years ago, in 1922.
The concert included the Shchedryk Children’s Choir from Kyiv. pic.twitter.com/N0i3bwXOvQ
Just a few days earlier, the children's choir performed the carol at New York City's Grand Central station. Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, shared a video of the performance on Twitter, calling it "light amid darkness."
Light amid darkness. Beautiful performance of the Ukrainian carol Shchedryk, also known as Carol of the Bells, by the Children’s Choir of Ukraine at Grand Central. Proud @USEmbassyKyiv joined @UA_Institute and @razomforukraine in bringing Shchedryk back to NYC.— Ambassador Bridget A. Brink (@USAmbKyiv) December 1, 2022
Sunday's concert was truly an international production, organized by entities including Ukraine's foreign ministry, the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations and the Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.
It aimed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that first concert, shine a spotlight on Ukraine's distinct culture and support its efforts to defend — and rebuild — itself from Russian attacks.
Proceeds from the event are going to United 24, the global non-governmental organization and crowdfunding platform that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy launched in May. Funds from the concert will be specifically allocated towards the reconstruction of public services, organizers say.
The concert also featured recorded messages from Zelenskyy and the first lady, and a speech from American film director Martin Scorsese — one of the concert's hosts — urging audiences to donate to the campaign, the Kyiv Independent reports.
Marichka Marczyk, one of Sunday's soloists, spoke to NPR'sAll Things Considered last week about performing in such an important concert — "it's responsibility, it's happiness, it's like everything," she said.
"My brother is on the front line, fighting for our freedom, independence for me to be free, live in a peaceful sky and sing [these] Ukrainian old traditional songs," she added. "So my performance I am dedicating to him and for all the Ukrainian people who [are] now fighting for freedom."
Zelenskyy says air defense systems stopped most Russian missiles during today's attack
In a video posted to social media, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country's air missile defense systems intercepted the bulk of Moscow's missiles, keeping the damage in today's attack at only a few casualties.
"Power engineers have already started to restore electricity. Our people never give up," he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also said on the social media platform Telegram that energy facilities in three Ukrainian regions — Kyiv, Vinnytsia and Odesa — were hit by Russian strikes.
But he added that the nationwide power system remains functioning and intact, even as emergency power cuts persisted in some regions.
U.S. intelligence director says the overall pace of war will slow this winter
Ahead of today's Russian strikes, U.S. National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said that fighting in the war was running at a "reduced tempo."
Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, yesterday, Haines said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's advisers could be shielding him from bad news and that he "is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia."
"But it's still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are," Haines said, according to the Associated Press.
Looking ahead, Haines said, "honestly we're seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict" and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
"But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that," she said.
"And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe."
➡️ Read more here.
Missile debris found in Moldova, near Ukrainian border
The Moldovan Interior Ministry wrote in a Facebook post that missile debris landed in an orchard in the city of Briceni, which is just a few miles from the Ukrainian border.
"The explosive object was discovered by a border police patrol, which, due to today's Russian bombings, have intensified their [patrol]," officials wrote, adding that specialized services were expected on site shortly.
"At this moment, the area where the rocket was discovered has been isolated by police patrol and border police."
It's unclear whether the debris came from a Russian missile or whether it came from a Ukrainian air defense missile trying to shoot down a Russian missile.
This appears to be the second time that the war has spilled over into Moldova, a Ukrainian border country that has strongly condemned Russia's attacks. The debris that landed in Moldova on October 31 appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian air defense system and caused only minor damage.
Ukraine's defense system was also found to be responsible for two deaths in Poland last month. Early reports falsely suggested that the damage in Poland was caused by Russia, briefly stirring up fears that Ukraine's most powerful allies might join the conflict, sparking World War III.
The attack hit as Ukraine scrambles to prepare its power grid for frigid winter temps
Russia has been unleashing large-scale strikes on Ukraine's power systems since Oct. 10 in what appears to be an effort to cut off power to civilians as the country heads into winter.
The temperature is below freezing in much of the country — it was 17 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday morning in Kyiv.
The last nationwide attack was on Nov. 23 and caused significant damage to the electricity grid, knocking out power in most major cities, including Kyiv. The blackouts caused heat and water to be cut.
Ukrainian power companies have been working to restore power, and they say the country is producing about 70% of the energy it needs.
That means power cuts are still in effect nationwide. That typically involves at least one power outage a day of four hours or so, but sometimes there can be two or three such outages.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his government has set up 4,000 centers to take care of civilians during extended power cuts.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has warned of blackouts that could last for days. He's urging city residents to move in with relatives in the countryside, where they can burn wood for heat. But so far, he says, they're staying put.
As a large country with an expansive power grid, Ukraine transmits electricity from power stations at up to 750,000 volts, energy officials say. When the electricity reaches neighborhoods, transformers greatly reduce the voltage as the power then goes to homes and businesses.
The Russians have targeted and destroyed many of these high-voltage transformers, and Ukraine acknowledges it's struggling to find replacements.
In normal times, this can take months because the transformers have to be made to Ukraine's specifications. European networks, for example, tend to use transformers that handle a maximum of 400,000 volts and therefore aren't suitable for Ukraine.
German chancellor warns the West against dividing the world into a new Cold War
In an opinion piece for the U.S. magazineForeign Affairs, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote that the world is now in the midst of a “Global Zeitenwende (turning point),” with Russia’s war in Ukraine putting an end to an era when Western liberal powers were largely unchallenged.
"New powers have emerged or reemerged, including an economically strong and politically assertive China," Scholz wrote. "In this new multipolar world, different countries and models of government are competing for power and influence."
Scholz also said that Germany’s unique history gives it a special responsibility to fight fascism, authoritarianism and imperialism, and he called on Western countries to build new partnerships to stand up for democratic values and protect open societies.
But, in a not-so-veiled warning, he added that the West must “avoid the temptation to once again divide the world into blocs.”
Much of what Scholz wrote in it is a repetition of what he’s been saying in public speeches for months, but he also confirmed that Germany, as part of its own military Zeitenwende is ordering 35 F-35 fighter jets as part of its reinvestment to its armed defense.
Reports: Explosions rock two military airfields deep inside Russia
Explosions rocked two separate Russian military airfields this morning — killing at least three people and damaging two nuclear-capable bombers, according to both state and independent media reports.
At the Engels-1 air base in the Saratov region — about 500 miles southeast of Moscow — two Tu-95 long-range strategic nuclear bombers were damaged by an alleged drone attack, reported the Astra News service.
Surveillance videos claiming to have captured the explosion showed a bright flash break out near the airbase. NPR could not verify the video's authenticity.
Both incidents took place far from the Ukrainian border but come amid a spate of mishaps in Russia that Ukrainian authorities have blamed on “karma."
The Engels airfield incident occurred just days after Ukrainian media published stories alleging the Engels base was being used as a hub to attack its energy infrastructure.
Sanctions and price caps on Russian oil take effect today
Today marked the day that the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom would follow price caps on Russian oil, agreeing to pay no more than $60 a barrel. The European Union's ban on some Russian crude oil exports also takes effect.
Both sanctions are designed to stop Russia from earning money to finance its attack on Ukraine.
NPR's Jackie Northam told Morning Edition that it's too soon to tell how this could impact global markets.
"Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has long warned Russia will not sell oil to any countries taking part in this price cap, and that was repeated yesterday by Russia's deputy prime minister," she said.
"We could be looking at Russia having to shut down wells if it can't get all the oil out, something that they've said they're prepared to do, if they have to."
"Russia has been slowly weaning itself off oil and trying to get other countries to buy its oil ... major customers such as China, India and Turkey have been on a buying spree of heavily discounted Russian oil. They haven't signed onto [the G-7's plan] at all."
Read Northam's explainer on the sanctions here.
Here's what we know about the latest strikes
Russia let loose another wave of airstrikes on Ukrainian cities today, the latest large-scale attempt to damage Ukraine's power systems as part of a strategy Russia launched in October.
"The enemy is again attacking the territory of Ukraine with missiles," Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a top official in the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Telegram.
He said several homes were hit in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, killing two people and wounding two more.
Also in the south, reports from the port city of Odesa said a large fire had broken out and the water supply had been cut off.
In the capital, Kyiv, many residents took shelter in the city's subway system.
Loud explosions were reported in several other cities around the country, though it was not immediately clear if those were incoming Russian missiles or Ukraine's air defense weapons trying to shoot them down.