Zelensky’s motorcade nearly hit by Russian missile as ‘Ukraine prepares for counter-offensive’

Head of UN's nuclear watchdog also visits Russia amid concern about Ukrainian power plant

Tara Cobham
Wednesday 06 March 2024 22:46 GMT
Alexei Navalny’s wife calls for Russians to protest on election day

Volodymyr Zelensky’s motorcade was nearly hit by a Russian missile on Wednesday as the Ukrainian President visited the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Zelensky was with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis when the missile hit infrastructure close enough for the leaders to see the strike, with sources estimating the attack happened a mere 500 to 800 metre distance from the delegations.

“You see who we’re dealing with, they don’t care where to hit,” Zelensky told reporters in the wake of the incident, which killed five people, according to a Ukrainian navy spokesperson.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, second from left, and Greece’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, third from left, walk in a residential area damaged by Russian attack in Odessa (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

Mitsotakis, who was on his first visit to the country since Russia's invasion in February 2022, said that during the tour the delegation heard sirens and a big explosion as they headed towards their cars. Confirming his country’s continued support of Ukraine, he told Zelensky: “My presence here reflects the respect of the entire free world for your people and underlines Greece’s commitment to remain by your side.”

A top military commander on Wednesday said the Ukrainian military will stabilise the battlefield situation shortly and aims to form units for counter-offensive actions later this year.

Ukrainian forces experienced a setback following nine months of mostly stable front lines, when the eastern city of Avdiivka fell into Russian hands earlier in February after months of devastating attacks.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard checking for Russian drones in the sky as a soldier in a tractor digs a trench system in the Zaporizhzhia region in January (AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian troops were forced to leave several settlements neighbouring the city due to Russia’s continued offensive amid its own depleting stockpiles of munitions. Meanwhile, a vital aid package from the US has been stalled by Republicans in Congress.

“We will stabilise the situation shortly,” Oleksandr Pavliuk, appointed as ground force commander during the recent top military reshuffle, said in televised comments, “and do everything possible to prepare the troops for more active actions, and to seize the initiative.”

He added that current work was aimed at withdrawing military units that lost their potential and restoring them to later form a force for counter-offensive actions this year.

Drone view shows rescue crews working at the site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike that killed several residents in Odesa earlier this week (via REUTERS)

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia would try to prepare a new offensive this spring or summer, but that Kyiv had a battlefield plan of its own.

Ukrainian drones on Wednesday struck one of Russia’s largest iron ore plants, with the attack claimed by a source in Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency. Ukraine has stepped up long-range drones to strike targets deep inside Russia.

It comes as the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog visited Russia amid concern about a Ukrainian power plant caught in the crossfire since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in 2022 and seized the facility.

International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi met Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (AP)

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi arrived at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday evening, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

The IAEA has repeatedly expressed alarm about the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest, amid fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe.

The plant's six reactors have been shut down for months but it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Mr Grossi met Russian President Vladimir Putin and said on X, formerly Twitter, that they had an "important exchange" about the plant and nuclear non-proliferation issues.

Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to the UK has said there is “no need to apologise” for the security breaches which led to a call between top military officials being leaked by Russian sources. Miguel Berger told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme one of the participants had likely dialled in via an insecure line.

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