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Zelensky adviser quits after claim Ukraine shot down missile that hit flats

Wednesday 18/January/2023 - 03:41 PM
The Reference

A high-profile Ukrainian presidential adviser has resigned after he sparked fury by saying that a Russian missile that killed dozens of people was deflected on to a block of flats by Ukraine’s air defences.

At least 45 people, including five children, were killed and dozens more were injured when a Russian KH-22 cruise missile slammed into a residential building in Dnipro on Saturday. The attack was one of the deadliest by Russia since the start of the war.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said in an online interview just hours after the attack that “[the missile] was shot down and fell on the entranceway [to the flats]. It exploded where it fell.”

His allegation was seized on by Kremlin propaganda as “evidence” that Russia does not target civilians. “You’ve seen the conclusions of the Ukrainian representatives, who say that this tragedy was the result of the actions of air defence missiles,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said.

The Ukrainian air force said, however, that it does not have the ability to shoot down KH-22 missiles, which travel at speeds of up to 2,500mph and are notoriously inaccurate. In June a similar missile hit a shopping centre in the nearby city of Kremenchuk, killing more than 20 people.

Borys Filatov, the mayor of Dnipro, demanded that the SBU intelligence agency carry out an investigation into Arestovych, 47. “I swear before God that the missile strike was direct,” he wrote on Telegram. Ukrainian MPs had also called for his dismissal.

Arestovych said that he had been voicing a preliminary theory but admitted that he had made a “serious mistake” and would step down from his post. He posted a letter of his resignation letter on social media yesterday morning.

“I want to provide an example of civilised behaviour — a fundamental error means I should resign,” he wrote. He also offered his “sincere apologies” to the families of the victims. President Zelensky’s office said later that it had accepted Arestovych’s resignation.

Some Ukrainian media outlets noted that the air force had claimed on at least three previous occasions to have downed KH-22s. The air force replied, however, that its previous statements were “erroneous” and that other types of missiles had initially been mistaken for KH-22s.

“More than 210 missiles of this type have been fired at the territory of Ukraine,” said Yuriy Ignat, an air force spokesman. “Not a single one has been shot down by means of air defence.”

A former army intelligence officer, actor and military analyst, Arestovych has become a household name in Ukraine since the start of the war. He has a murky past, however: in the early 2000s he was the deputy head of a far-right Ukrainian group called Bratstvo (Brotherhood) and attended conferences in Moscow organised by Alexander Dugin, a hardline Russian nationalist thinker. Arestovych said last year that he was operating undercover as a member of Ukrainian military intelligence at the time.

In his daily address President Zelensky called the attack in Dnipro a “war crime” and appealed to Russians who had failed to condemn the war to speak out. “Your cowardly silence, your attempt to wait out the things that are happening, will only end with these same terrorists coming for you, too, one day,” he said.

His comments came as the Kremlin denied rumours that President Putin would formally declare war on Ukraine. Putin is due to speak today in St Petersburg, his home town, at an event to remember the siege of the city by Nazi forces during the Second World War.

 “Putin will not announce a new wave of mobilisation or a change in the regime of the special military operation,” Peskov said, using Russia’s term for its invasion. “These are all rumours. Don’t listen to them.”

James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, called on America and other allies last night to go “further and faster” in supporting Ukraine. He made the comments in Washington while alongside Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, who responded: “I would anticipate that you will hear more announcements in the days to come.”

On Monday Britain announced that it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Western allies are due to meet at the US Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday to discuss further assistance.

“Stay tuned on that,” Blinken said. “We are determined to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to succeed on the battlefield.”

Germany announced on January 5 that it was following the US in sending a Patriot missile defence battery to Ukraine and will also supply Marder combat vehicles. However, Zelensky is hoping that Germany will send heavier Leopard 2 tanks.

Britain hopes that the announcement of its 14 tanks will encourage others, notably the US and Germany but possibly including France and Italy, to provide some of theirs. Poland has signalled it is willing to send some of its Leopard 2 tanks but they cannot be re-exported without agreement by Berlin.

Cleverly said that Britain decided to send the tanks to the Ukrainians because “what we recognise they need is the ability to push back hard in the east and in the south” — areas that Russia has tried to seize since it began its invasion nearly 11 months ago.

 “If Putin believed that the world would succumb to Ukraine fatigue and lose the will to resist his ambitions, then that was once again another colossal misjudgment on his part,” Cleverly said.