France's Foreign Ministry commented on a Dec. 30 strike on the Russian city of Belgorod, saying at a press briefing on Jan. 3 that Russia, as the aggressor in the war, bears responsibility for civilian casualties on its own soil.
Moscow blamed Ukraine for the strike, claiming 24 people were killed and over 100 others were injured. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
"There is an aggressor state, Russia, which is carrying out a strategy of terror by deliberately striking essential civilian infrastructure, in violation of international humanitarian law, and an attacked state, Ukraine, which is acting in self-defense, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter," a representative of the French Foreign Ministry said on Jan. 3.
"Russia can put an end to this conflict and the human tragedies that accompany it, for which it bears full responsibility. To do this, it must withdraw all of its troops from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine. This is the essential condition for restoring lasting peace and preserving an international order based on law."
The Dec. 30 strike on Belgorod, about 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, took place the day after Russia launched the largest air attack against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion, reportedly killing over 5o people and wounding another 170.
Russia claimed that Ukrainian forces had carried out an alleged targeted attack against civilians in Belgorod and called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. However, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, Belgorod was hit by "several rockets and cluster parts from downed Vilkha missiles."
Several Ukrainian media outlets reported, citing anonymous sources in Ukraine's special services, that Ukrainian forces had launched an attack on military facilities in Belgorod in response to Russia's Dec. 29 massive attack on Ukraine.
Debris from the used weapons fell in the city center "due to the unprofessional actions of the Russian air defense," according to the sources.
The Kyiv Independent could not independently verify any of the claims above. Kyiv generally does not comment on reports of attacks and explosions on Russian soil.
During the Russia-initiated emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, U.S. official John Kelley said that "ordinary Russian civilians are also bearing the brunt of the Kremlin's brutal war."
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin on Jan. 1 vowed to intensify attacks on Ukraine in retaliation for the strike on Belgorod. Putin also claimed that Russia avoids attacking civilians, although each country's track record says the exact opposite.
Russia attacked Ukraine with at least 500 missiles and drones in just five days, killing and injuring dozens of civilians, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Jan. 2.