Gunmen kill 11 at Russian military base in latest blow to Ukraine war

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Oct 16 (Reuters) – Gunmen shot dead 11 people at a Russian military training ground on Saturday, the Defense Ministry said, in the latest blow to President Vladimir Putin’s forces since invading Ukraine .

The RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying 15 other people were injured in Saturday’s shooting in the southwestern region of Belgorod, bordering Ukraine, when two men shot down a group who had volunteered to take part in the war.

He said the two assailants – nationals of an unspecified former Soviet republic – had been shot dead. Some Russian independent media reported that the number of victims was higher than official figures.

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The attack came a week after an explosion damaged a bridge in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. Earlier in the war, the Russian flagship in the Black Sea exploded and sank .

“During a firearms training session with individuals who voluntarily expressed a desire to participate in the special military operation (against Ukraine), the terrorists opened fire with small arms on the unit personnel,” RIA said, citing a Department of Defense statement.

Just a day earlier, Putin said Russia should be done calling up reservists in two weeks, promising an end to a divisive mobilization that has seen hundreds of thousands of men called up to fight in Ukraine and a large numbers flee the country.

Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a YouTube interview that the attackers were from the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan and opened fire on the others after a dispute over religion.

Tajikistan is a predominantly Muslim nation, while about half of Russians follow various branches of Christianity. The Russian ministry said the attackers came from a country in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which groups together nine former Soviet republics, including Tajikistan.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the comments of Arestovitch, a prominent war commentator, or independently verify the death toll and other details of the incident.

Independent Russian news site SOTA Vision said the attack happened in the small town of Soloti, near the Ukrainian border and about 105 km (65 miles) southeast of Belgorod.

Zelenskiy said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops were still holding the eastern strategic town of Bakhmut despite repeated Russian attacks while the situation in the greater Donbass region remained very difficult.

Although Ukrainian troops recaptured thousands of square kilometers (miles) of land in recent offensives in the east and south, officials say progress is expected to slow once Kyiv forces encounter more determined resistance.

Ukrainian forces and civilians rely on the Starlink internet service provided by Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX. Musk said on Friday he could no longer afford to fund the service, but on Saturday he said he would continue to do so.

Zelenskiy said nearly 65,000 Russians had been killed so far since the Feb. 24 invasion, a figure well above Moscow’s official Sept. 21 estimate of 5,937 dead. In August, the Pentagon said Russia had suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties, killed or injured.

RUSSIAN MISSILE, DRONE ATTACKS

Putin ordered the mobilization three weeks ago, as part of a response to Russian defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine. He also proclaimed the annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian provinces and threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Zelenskiy, speaking in an evening speech, also said Russian missiles and drones continued to hit Ukrainian cities, causing destruction and casualties.

Kyiv said on Friday it expected the United States and Germany to deliver sophisticated anti-aircraft systems this month to help defend against missiles.

The fighting is particularly intense in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, bordering Russia. Together they make up the largest industrial Donbass, which Moscow has yet to fully capture.

Russian forces have repeatedly attempted to seize Bakhmut, which is on a main road leading to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Both are located in the Donetsk region.

Separately, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in a Facebook post that troops on Saturday repelled a total of 11 separate Russian attacks near Kramatorsk, Bakhmut and the town of Avdiivka, just north of Donetsk.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by David Ljunggren and Matt Spetalnick; edited by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

David Ljunggren

Thomson Reuters

Covers political, economic and general news from Canada as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and winner of Reuters Treasury Scoop of the Year.

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