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Russia Targets Communications Infrastructure in Northeastern Ukraine 

This photo taken from video released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on March 13, 2024, shows destruction of a Ukrainian armed forces helicopter in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
This photo taken from video released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on March 13, 2024, shows destruction of a Ukrainian armed forces helicopter in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russian drones and missiles hit communications infrastructure in northeastern Ukraine on Thursday, in what appeared to be an effort to block access to information, officials in Kyiv said.

The assault affected television and radio signals in five cities and towns in the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv, according to the officials.

"In addition to physically destroying the infrastructure objects, the enemy is trying to jam Ukrainian radio stations and the satellite signal of Ukrainian television," the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection said.

The agency said that the overnight attack was part of Moscow's "information warfare" to hinder Ukrainians' access to "truthful information."

The Sumy governor said repairs were underway to restore television and radio signals and that mobile phone signals had been mostly restored.

Russia intercepts drones

Earlier Thursday, Russia's Defense Ministry said it destroyed 15 Ukrainian drones and eight missiles, while officials in a Russian region bordering Ukraine said one person was killed and several others injured by a Ukrainian drone attack.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the regional governor of Belgorod, said preliminary information indicated a man in a car was killed in the attack, while several other people were injured.

A drone flies over Belgorod, Russia, March 14, 2024.
A drone flies over Belgorod, Russia, March 14, 2024.

Gladkov said another drone crashed into a tree, with a blast wave damaging two houses but causing no injuries.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it intercepted 12 of the drones over the Belgorod region and three others over the Kursk region of western Russia.

In Ukraine, Oleh Synehubov, governor of the eastern Kharkiv region, reported a Russian missile strike.

Synehubov said there were no reported casualties from the attack.

Putin vows to protect Russian state

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow is prepared to use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty or independence is threatened, warning the United States again that if it sent troops to fight in Ukraine it would be considered a major escalation of the conflict.

In an interview with state television, Putin said that there had been no need for the use of nuclear weapons in Russia's two-year invasion of Ukraine and that he did not think the world was headed to a nuclear confrontation. He described U.S. President Joe Biden as a veteran politician who understands the danger of nuclear warfare.

But Putin's remarks appeared to be one of his recurring messages to the West that Russia intends to protect its territorial gains in Ukraine and is ready to use nuclear weapons in case of a threat to "the existence of the Russian state, our sovereignty and independence."

"All that is written in our strategy. We haven't changed it," he said.

In an apparent reference to NATO allies that support Kyiv, Putin also declared that "the nations that say they have no red lines regarding Russia should realize that Russia won't have any red lines regarding them, either."

But he also said that in the U.S. "there are enough specialists in the field of Russian-American relations and in the field of strategic restraint. Therefore, I don't think that here everything is rushing to [nuclear confrontation], but we are ready" for this.

U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, "Russia's nuclear rhetoric has been reckless and irresponsible throughout this conflict. It is Russia that brutally invaded Ukraine without provocation or justification, and we will continue to support Ukraine as they defend their people and their sovereign territory from Russian aggression."

Biden says no plans to send US troops

A senior White House official said, "As we understand it, Mr. Putin was restating Russia's nuclear doctrine that they will use nuclear weapons if their sovereignty is threatened, so this isn't a new stance for them. We have not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine."

Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. has no intention of sending U.S. troops to fight alongside Kyiv's forces, although French President Emmanuel Macron recently would not rule out the possibility of Western troops joining the stalemated conflict that has no end in sight.

In a Thursday interview on French television, Macron again declined to rule out sending Western troops to Ukraine.

"If Russia wins this war, Europe's credibility will be reduced to zero," Macron said.

"If war spreads in Europe, Russia would be to blame," Macron continued. "But if we decided to be weak, if we decided today that we would not respond, it would be choosing defeat already. And I don't want that."

Western countries have, however, continued to arm Ukraine, with the U.S. this week cobbling together $300 million worth of ammunition, anti-aircraft missiles, artillery rounds and "some anti-armor systems" from its military stockpiles in a new tranche of aid to help Kyiv's forces. But a much broader $60 billion aid package that Biden supports is stalled in Congress.

After holding meetings in Washington on Thursday, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the outcome of the war in Ukraine would be determined this spring and summer.

"The next months will be decisive," Borrell said. "Many analysts expect a major Russian offensive this summer, and Ukraine cannot wait until the result of the next U.S. elections."

With Congress continuing to block a substantial aid package for Ukraine, Borrell said his message to U.S. policymakers was, "Whatever has to be done, has to be done quickly."

"It's true for us. We have to speed up," Borrell said about Europe's contributions to the Ukrainian war effort. "We have to increase our support, to do more and quicker. That's why we are increasing our industrial defense capacities. And it is also true for the U.S."

'A matter of survival'

In his nightly address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that defeating the Russian invasion "is a matter of survival for democratic systems."

"Ukraine is capable of defending itself, given sufficient support," Zelenskyy said. "And having defended ourselves, we can ensure that no other international criminal will be tempted by aggression like Putin. We can protect life, and we must do so."

On the battlefield, Ukraine's military used drones to target Russian oil refineries Wednesday, damaging a site in the Ryazan region.

Pavel Malkov, regional governor in Ryazan, said an attack at an oil refinery there caused a fire and some injuries, according to preliminary reports.

Officials in the Leningrad region said Russian air defenses shot down a Ukrainian drone as it approached a refinery and that there was no damage.

The attacks were part of a wave of Ukrainian drones launched into Russian territory for the second consecutive day.

Alexander Gusev, governor of the Voronezh region that borders Ukraine, said Wednesday that air defenses shot down more than 30 Ukrainian drones overnight.

VOA White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report. Some information came from Agence France-Presse, Reuters and The Associated Press.

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