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In this image made from video provided by Ukrainian State Emergency Service, firefighters work Monday, June 27, 2022, to extinguish a fire at a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine.

In this image made from video provided by Ukrainian State Emergency Service, firefighters work Monday, June 27, 2022, to extinguish a fire at a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian State Emergency Service via AP)

WASHINGTON — Russian forces in recent days have launched roughly 60 missile strikes in Ukraine, including attacks on the capital city of Kyiv, in what Pentagon officials contend could be retaliation for U.S. and allies providing rocket systems to the Ukrainians to help them defend their country.

The Russian strikes represent an uptick from the pace of their missile attacks in recent weeks as the war has evolved into a more artillery-focused battle in Ukraine’s eastern region of the Donbas, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday. Some of the weekend strikes hit targets in Kyiv, Lviv, Chernihiv and Odesa, all of which are in central or western Ukraine.

“There were more [Russian] missiles fired over the last week than we had seen in recent weeks,” the official told Pentagon reporters on the condition of anonymity. “It certainly could be related to the Ukrainian movement of [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems] in the theater or can be a larger part of their battle strategy here."

The official did not give a tally of the number of strikes in previous weeks.

Earlier this month, the United States, United Kingdom and Germany sent Ukraine rocket systems, some of which have already been deployed throughout the country, the Pentagon said last week. So far, the U.S. alone has pledged eight rocket systems to Ukraine.

The weapons, which are mounted on trucks, allow Ukraine to strike Russian forces from about 45 miles away with 500-pound, precision-guided rockets, which make an effect that Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl likened to more “of an airstrike rather than a launch of salvos.”

“In other words, you can do a lot with a little or you don't need a lot to have a significant effect,” Kahl had said.

Though Ukrainian forces have been using the rocket systems “very well,” the Pentagon official said, Ukraine lost a strategic foothold last week when its forces withdrew from Sievierodonetsk, one of the last cities that remained under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.

Despite the loss of Sievierodonetsk, which has roughly 100,000 residents, the official said Ukraine’s ability to hold off the Russians from taking the city during the past four months with just a “small number of Ukrainians” will be something military academics will “probably all study in the future.”

“The fact that in the end, several hundred Ukrainians continued to hold off the Russian army in that part of the world in a pretty significant fight, it speaks again to the tenacity of the Ukrainian soldier and their leadership,” the official said.

Still, the official said the city’s loss was a blow to Ukraine, which has been under attack for 124 days. Mariupol, a port city in southern Ukraine with a population of more than 440,000 people, was the last major city lost to Russian forces during the invasion.

“If I'm a Ukrainian, every foot of Ukrainian soil I give up is pretty important to me, and so I don't want to understate the impact of losing ground,” the official said. “Similarly to Mariupol, I think there was a great deal of symbolism in [losing] Sievierodonetsk."

The ratcheted-up missile offensive of the Russians also came as Western leaders meet in Europe this week to discuss support for Ukraine. On Monday, the Group of Seven, or G-7, which is made up leaders from the major industrial nations of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, held a summit and plan to announce “significant new sanction commitments to further intensify our economic measures against Russia,” the White House said in a statement.

“Our measures will continue to sap [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s military-industrial complex of critical components, prevent the central bank’s foreign reserves from propping up an ailing economy and deprive Putin of the resources he needs to wage his war, and hold the kleptocracy to account for its ill-gotten gains,” the White House said. “The effectiveness of our measures will only compound over time to further isolate Russia from the world economy.”

The Pentagon official said the G-7 summit also might have played a role in Russia’s decision to increase its missile strikes and target Kyiv.

"We're not quite sure about the Russian objectives of the strikes,” the official said. “They certainly can be a protest against the G-7, [too]."

More Western leaders will meet Tuesday at what is expected to be a historic NATO summit in Madrid. The international security alliance of 30 countries is expected to discuss adding Finland and Sweden to the group.

If accepted into NATO, the historically neutral northern European countries will extend the borders of the alliance with Russia — something that Putin has opposed.

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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