Ukraine war latest: Russian drone strike allegations against UK 'designed to distract attention' from battlefield losses (2023)

Key points
  • Russian allegations against UK designed to distract attention from their losses on the battlefield, FCDO says
  • 'World has every assurance' Russia will not use nuclear weapons, ambassador says
  • Putin likely to face increasing pressure from officials - as Russian soldiers in Kherson left 'demoralised and leaderless'
  • Europe's biggest nuclear power plant disconnected after Russian shellingand being transferred into Moscow's control
  • No sign of 'dirty bomb' at Ukraine's nuclear sites
  • Analysis:Johnson's close relationship with Zelenskyy still holds sway - that Sunak will find difficult to match
  • Live reporting by Bhvishya Patel. Updates also from Alex Rossi in Ukraine and Diana Magnay in Moscow

21:57:08

Russian deportations of citizens 'grossly violate international law', Ukraine says

The deportations of Ukrainian citizens from two regions occupied by pro-Russian forces "grossly violate international law", Ukraine has said.

In recent weeks, Russia has been ordering civilians in the southern Kherson region to evacuate from areas on the west bank of the Dnipro river, and this week told those in a 15km buffer zone on the east bank to leave as well.

In a statement, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said Moscow's forces were also forcing people to leave the Zaporizhzhia region, further to the east.

"Russia's infliction of large-scale humanitarian suffering on innocent children, women and the elderly is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," it added.

For context: Most of the Kherson region was seized in the first days of Russia's invasion in February.

But Russian-installed official in the region, Kirill Stremousov, said today that Kremlin troops were likely to quit the western bank of the Dnipro river, where Moscow has been evacuating citizens in recent weeks.

Boats were filmed two weeks ago carrying Kherson residents further into Russian-held territory after claims that "shelling of residential blocks by the Ukrainian armed forces is expected".

Kherson is strategically important and a prime objective for both sides because of its major river and seaport.

21:26:38

Russia's claims designed to create distraction from very real challenges on the frontline

By Deborah Haynes, security and defence editor

Russia seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession with the UK over Ukraine.

The Kremlin has made various allegations about British special forces being linked to attacks against Russian targets in Ukraine and a set of blasts along a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

Andrei Kelin, the Russian ambassador to London, even told Sky News's Mark Austin that his country had evidence that proves "British specialists" were involved in drone attacks against Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea over the weekend.

The UK has previously dismissed such allegations as absurd.

At the same time, it makes no secret of being one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine.

Britain's willingness to send ever-more lethal weapons to help the Ukrainian military as well as a decision to establish a UK-based training programme to turn Ukrainian recruits into soldiers means it is - in a very overt way - bolstering Ukraine's ability to push Russia’s invaders back.

London's pro-active approach also was instrumental in prompting other European allies to join the effort as well as giving encouragement to the United States.

Moscow's attempts to accuse the UK of more direct military action could be designed to put pressure on the new British government to reduce its level of support – something that would potentially have a knock-on effect against western military aide more broadly.

What seems certain, is that Russia's claims are designed to create a distraction away from its very real challenges on the frontline in Ukraine as well as its decision to target civilian infrastructure with merciless barrages of missiles.

21:07:34

Iran could supply Russia with ballistic missiles, NATO chief warns

Iran is considering supplying Russia with ballistic missiles for its war in Ukraine, in addition to the drones Tehran has already delivered, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

During a news conference in Istanbul, the NATO chief said: "We see Iran offering drones and considering ballistic missile deliveries to Russia.

"This is unacceptable. No country should provide support to Moscow in this illegal war."

Yesterday, the chief UN lawyer pushed back on a Russian argument that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could not report to the Security Council on Western accusations that Moscow used Iran-made drones in Ukraine in violation of a 2015 resolution.

Russia has argued that there is no mandate for Mr Guterres to send UN experts to Ukraine to inspect the downed drones.

Tehran denies supplying the drones to Moscow and Russia has denied its forces used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.

20:42:49

Zelenskyy expects to 'open new page in cooperation' with Israel

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu for winning the Israeli election and said he expects to "open a new page in cooperation" with the new government.

"Ukraine and Israel share common values and challenges, which now require effective cooperation," Mr Zelenskyy tweeted tonight.

Mr Netanyahu is expected to form the country's most right-wing government in history when he takes power, likely in the coming weeks, after Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid conceded defeat.

20:04:23

Russian allegations against UK designed to distract attention from their losses on the battlefield, FCDO says

Earlier today Russia warned the UK that it could face "unpredictable and dangerous" consequences for its "confrontational actions".

The Russian Foreign Ministry made the remarks in a statement, adding that it has "delivered a protest with Britain's ambassador".

Moscow said Deborah Bronnert was summoned to the ministry earlier today, over the alleged involvement of British specialists in a Ukrainian drone strike on Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea.

"The demarche stressed that such confrontational actions by the British threatened to escalate the situation and could lead to unpredictable and dangerous consequences," the ministry said in a statement.

Now, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has responded to the claims.

In a statement, the government said: "In recent days, Russia has made a range of allegations against the UK, clearly designed to distract attention from Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine; Russia's losses on the battlefield and its bombing of civilian populations and energy infrastructure without any regard for international law and the loss of innocent life.

"We do not plan to give a running commentary on these allegations; it is no secret that the United Kingdom has taken a public lead in our support to Ukraine - this has been enduring since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

"Approximately 50 countries attended the last Ukraine Contact Group in Ramstein, signalling the broad and enduring international support for Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and democracy."

19:41:19

In pictures: Scenes of destruction in Donetsk region

These images show damaged buildings and rubble strewn across the ground after fighting in the village of Dolyna, which sits in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.

In the Donetsk region, battles are continuing for the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, where authorities have said the population are living without electricity or heat and are under constant shelling.

Over the past day, six cities and villages in the region have been attacked by heavy artillery, while in the northeast, Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv was hit by three missiles, officials said.

19:15:05

US embassy officials visit jailed basketball star Brittney Griner

US representatives have met with basketball star Brittney Griner who was jailed for nine years for cannabis oil possession in Moscow.

In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters: "We are told she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances."

The visit is the first consular access to Griner since early August, when the two-time Olympic gold medallist was found guilty of narcotics possession and smuggling for bringing cannabis infused vape cartridges into Russia.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport on 17 February after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

She pleaded guilty to charges and told the court she had no intention to break the law when she flew to Russia to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.

Last month, the basketball star lost her appeal against the sentence.

The Russian court did, however, say that the time she will have to serve will be recalculated and each day she spent in pre-trial detention will be counted as 1.5 days in prison, meaning she will probably serve about eight years in prison.

18:49:05

Ukraine capable of retaking Kherson, US defence secretary says

We have been reporting today on the situation around the southern port city of Kherson - the only major Ukrainian city that Russian forces have captured intact.

Earlier today, a Russian-installed official revealed that soldiers were likely to withdraw from the key port city.

And speculation grew today after photos circulated on the internet showed the main administrative building in the city with Russia's flag no longer flying over it.

Now, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin has said he believes Ukrainian forces will be able to retake Kherson from Russian forces.

He said: "On the issue of whether the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnipro river and (in) Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that."

18:28:17

Zelenskyy says he will not take part in G20 summit if Putin does

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he will not take part in a summit in Indonesia of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies if Vladimir Putin attends.

Speaking to reporters in Kyiv, Mr Zelenskyy said he had been invited to participate in the summit this month by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

"My personal position and the position of Ukraine was that if the leader of the Russian Federation takes part, then Ukraine will not take part. We'll see what it will be like in the future," he said.

The comments come as the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said international partners needed to continue to support Ukraine as the country prepared to keep up its fight against Russia's invasion.

17:00:01

'World has every assurance' Russia will not use nuclear weapons, ambassador says

By Samuel Osborne, news reporter

Russia will not use nuclear weapons in its conflict in Ukraine, the country's ambassador to the UK has told Sky News.

In an interview with Mark Austin, Andrey Kelin said: "The nuclear war cannot be won and it should never be fought. And we stick strongly to this statement."

The interview came after Russia summoned the British ambassador over Moscow's claim British Navy personnel were involved in a Ukrainian drone attack on Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea.

Asked to provide evidence of Russia's claims, Mr Kelin said: "We perfectly know about [the] participation of British specialists in [the] training, preparation and execution of violence against the Russian infrastructure and the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. We know that it has been done."

Asked if Moscow could use a tactical nuclear weapon in the conflict, Mr Kelin replied: "No. The world has every assurance that Russia is not going to use [a] tactical nuclear weapon in [the] Ukrainian conflict."

Russiahas accused the West of "encouraging provocations with weapons of mass destruction".

Moscow has been ramping up its nuclear rhetoric since it invadedUkraine, most recently by accusing Kyiv of planning to use a "dirty bomb," though it did not offer evidence. Kyiv has denied it has any such plan.

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