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Russia launches another Ukraine drone attack as Nato chief hits out at Pope ‘white flag’ comments as dangerous

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said that providing military aid to Ukraine was the best option to push towards a peaceful solution  (Getty)
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said that providing military aid to Ukraine was the best option to push towards a peaceful solution (Getty)

Russia has launched dozens of Iranian-made drones in its sixth attack in a month on the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa – as the head of Nato became the latest ally of Kyiv to reject a call from Pope Francis to have “the courage of the white flag” and negotiate an end to Russia’s invasion.

Oleh Kiper, governor of Odesa Oblast, which runs along the Black Sea, said Russia fired at least 25 Shahed kamikaze drones at the region, with air defences active for almost two hours in the early morning of yesterday. Mr Kiper said roughly 15 were shot down and infrastructure was damaged as a result.

“Another massive night-time drone attack by the Russians in the Odesa region,” Mr Kiper said on the Telegram messenger service.

“Unfortunately, it was not possible to avoid the hits. In the Odesa district, an infrastructure facility was damaged, administrative buildings were damaged. A fire broke out on the spot, which was promptly extinguished. The shock wave knocked out the glazing of private houses around, the debris caused destruction to commercial buildings.”

Russia had already launched 175 drones in March prior to the attack, according to an update from president Volodymyr Zelensky late on Sunday, meaning that the total for the month is now 200. Roughly 165 have been downed, according to Ukrainian estimates.

It came as the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that Pope Francis was wrong to suggest that Kyiv should raise the white flag and enter peace talks with Russia. Asked about the pontiff’s remarks, Mr Stoltenberg told Reuters: “If we want a negotiated peaceful lasting solution, the way to get there is to provide military support to Ukraine.”

“It’s not the time to talk about surrender by the Ukrainians. That will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians. It will also be dangerous for all of us,” he added. “What happens around a negotiating table is inextricably linked to the strength on the battlefield.”

Odesa has faced a number of strikes from Russia in recent weeks (Getty)
Odesa has faced a number of strikes from Russia in recent weeks (Getty)

Ukraine has consistently rejected the suggestion that it should negotiate a peace deal with Russia, calling for the Kremlin to withdraw its forces back to the 1991 borders. Russia currently occupies nearly 20 per cent of Ukraine.

President Zelensky accused the pontiff of engaging in “virtual mediation”, while his foreign minister said Kyiv would never capitulate.

“In Ukraine, there were many once-white walls of houses and churches that are now scorched and ruined by Russian shells,” Mr Zelensky said. “This speaks very eloquently about who has to stop for the war to end.”

Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “The strongest is the one who, in the battle between good and evil, stands on the side of good rather than attempting to put them on the same footing and call it ‘negotiations’.

“Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags.”

Pope Francis’s comments have angered Ukrainian politicians and others in Europe (Reuters)
Pope Francis’s comments have angered Ukrainian politicians and others in Europe (Reuters)

Russia has intensified bombardments of Ukrainian ports, including Odesa, and grain infrastructure after Moscow last summer pulled out of a United Nations-brokered deal that allowed some food exports to flow, despite the war, now in its third year. Ukraine is a major agricultural producer and exporter and Kyiv has since set up an alternative corridor to ship its products via its Black Sea ports near Odesa. Ukrainian officials have said that exports of different cargo – including grains and metal – from Ukrainian Black Sea ports reached nearly pre-invasion levels last month.

Ukrlandfarming, one of Ukraine’s largest agrarian holdings, said that a Russian missile attack on the eastern Ukrainian Dnipro region over the weekend had destroyed a large grain silo. “On the evening of 9 March 2024, the enemy launched a missile attack on the Dnipro region. A 58-year-old man, our employee, was injured. The production facilities of our company were completely destroyed,” the company said in a statement.

Analysts from the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) said last month the Ukrainian agricultural sector has suffered almost $80bn (£62bn) in direct and indirect losses linked to Russia’s invasion.

The figure included losses of $5.8bn from the destruction of equipment, $1.8bn from damage to silos and almost $2bn from ruined agricultural products. At the beginning of January 2023, analysts estimated such losses at $38bn.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s intelligence services released an hour-long video discussing their various attacks on occupied Ukraine, saying it amounted to preparation for a serious operation in Crimea.

The peninsula has been under Russian occupation since Moscow illegally annexed it in 2014 following the pro-European Maidan revolution in Kyiv saw the ousting of the pro-Kremlin regime in the capital.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency has been repeatedly attacking Russian ships and enemy forces in Crimea and around the occupied south.

“These are all preparatory measures for a serious operation in Crimea,” said Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s intelligence chief. “This is a test of the correctness of our statements about the ways of approach and departure from there. In addition, it is a good message for the population that has been living under occupation for 10 years. Many of them believe that they have been forgotten.”