By Pavel Polityuk and Guy Faulconbridge
KVIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) -The war on Ukraine did not pause for Christmas despite Russian President Vladimir Putin saying he was open to negotiations, with his forces launching more than 40 rocket attacks on Christmas Day, Ukraine’s military said on Monday.
Three Russian military personnel were killed early on Monday by falling wreckage of a Ukrainian drone that was shot down as it was attacking a base in Russia’s Saratov region, Russian news agencies reported, citing the defence ministry.
It was the second attack on the base this month. The base, near the city of Saratov, about 730 km (450 miles) southeast of Moscow and hundreds of kilometres from the front lines in Ukraine, was hit on Dec. 5 in what Russia said was Ukrainian drone attacks on two Russian air bases that day.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
Putin on Sunday again said he was open to negotiations and blamed Ukraine and its Western allies failing to engage in talks, a stance the United States has previously dismissed as posturing given the relentless Russian attacks.
«We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,» Putin said in an interview on Rossiya 1 state television.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Putin needed to return to reality and acknowledge it was Russia that did not want talks.
«Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens,» the adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter. «Russia doesn’t want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.»
Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine – which Russia calls a «special military operation» – has triggered the biggest European conflict since World War Two and the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power stations have left millions without electricity, and Zelenskiy said Moscow would aim to make the last days of 2022 dark and difficult.
«Russia has lost everything it could this year. … I know darkness will not prevent us from leading the occupiers to new defeats. But we have to be ready for any scenario,» he said in a Christmas Day address.
Ukraine traditionally celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, as does Russia.
However, this year some Orthodox Ukrainians decided to celebrate on Dec. 25 and Ukrainian officials, including Zelenskiy and Ukraine’s prime minister, issued Christmas wishes on Sunday.
Ukraine’s military said early on Monday Russian forces had in the previous 24 hours shelled dozens of towns in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzia regions.
«In the Kherson direction, the enemy continues artillery shelling of populated areas along the right bank of the Dnipro River,» it said.
Ukrainian forces launched attacks on almost 20 Russian targets, it said.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday its forces had killed about 60 Ukrainian servicemen the previous day along the Kupiansk-Lyman line of contact and destroyed numerous pieces of Ukrainian military equipment.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
The Kremlin says it will fight until all its territorial aims are achieved, while Kyiv says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is ejected from the country.
Asked if the geopolitical conflict with the West was approaching a dangerous level, Putin on Sunday said: «I don’t think it’s so dangerous.»
Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they cast as an imperial-style war of occupation.
Russian-supplied Iskander tactical missile systems, which can carry nuclear warheads, and S-400 air defence systems have been deployed to Belarus and are operational, a senior Belarusian defence ministry official said on Sunday.
«These types of weapons are on combat duty today and they are fully prepared to perform tasks for their intended purpose,» the ministry official, Leonid Kasinsky, said in a video posted on the Telegram messaging app.
It was not clear how many of the Iskander systems had been deployed to Belarus after Putin said in June that Moscow would supply Minsk with them and the air defence systems.
Putin visited Minsk on Dec. 19 raising speculation in Kyiv he would pressure Belarus to join a new offensive in his faltering invasion.
Russian forces used Belarus as a launch pad for their abortive attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in February, and there has been a growing flurry of Russian and Belarusian military activity in recent months.
The Iskander-M, a mobile guided missile system code named «SS-26 Stone» by NATO, replaced the Soviet-era «Scud». The guided missiles have a range of up to 500 km (300 miles) and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
The S-400 system is a Russian mobile, surface-to-air missile interception system capable of engaging aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles, and has a terminal ballistic missile defence capability.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel)