The latest in a litany of horrors in Ukraine came this week, when a Russian missile struck civilians in a busy shopping mall, far from the front lines of a war in its fifth month.
The timing of it was probably not a coincidence.
While much of the war of attrition in eastern Ukraine is happening hidden from view, the brutality of the Russian missile attacks on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk and residential buildings in the capital kyiv was view of the whole world, especially the leaders of the West who met for a trio of summits in Europe.
Were the attacks a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin as the West sought to equip Ukraine with more effective weapons to bolster its resistance and lead Ukraine onto the path that will lead the country to join the European Union?
kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko suggested as much when missiles hit the capital on June 26, three days after EU leaders unanimously agreed to make Ukraine a candidate country to join the bloc.
It was “perhaps a symbolic attack” as the Group of Seven and later NATO leaders were preparing to meet and put more pressure on Moscow, according to Klitschko. At least six people were killed in the attack in kyiv that collapsed an apartment building.
The former commanding general of US Army forces in Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, went further in linking the attack to the meetings.
“The Russians are humiliating the leaders of the West,” he said.
A day after the kyiv attack, as G7 leaders met in Germany to discuss further support for Ukraine during their annual summit, Russia fired missiles at a crowded shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, killing at least 19 people.
The timing of both attacks appeared to be juxtaposed with European meetings of US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, all supporters of Ukraine.
In defiance of the evidence, Putin and his officials deny that Russia has targeted residential areas. Putin has denied that Russian forces attacked the Kremenchuk shopping mall, saying the missiles were aimed at a nearby arsenal. But Ukrainian officials and witnesses said a missile directly hit the mall.
It was not the first time that outbursts of violence have been widely seen as signs of Moscow’s discontent. In late April, Russian missiles fell on kyiv just an hour after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a press conference accompanied by visiting United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“This says a lot about Russia’s true attitude towards global institutions,” Zelenskyy said at the time. For his part, the mayor of kyiv called the attack Putin’s way of showing the “middle finger.”