Putin rules out second mobilisation but admits war in Ukraine could be 'long process'

Vladimir Putin has warned that the risk of nuclear war is "rising" and that Russia has the most "advanced weapons".

The Russian president said that Moscow had not "gone mad" and sees its own nuclear arsenal as a purely defensive deterrent.

"When we are struck, we strike back," he said during a televised meeting of his Human Rights Council.

He stressed that his country's strategy was based on a "so-called retaliatory strike" policy, and noted that it was the US not Russia that had deployed so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons in other countries.

However, he added that Russia would defend its territory and its allies "with all available means".

Meanwhile, Putin also ruled out a second mobilisation of reservists to stem Moscow's continuing losses on the battlefield, but he admitted that the war in Ukraine could be a "long process".

Putin said that out of these reservists drafted in the autumn, only 150,000 have been deployed in Ukraine. Of those, 77,000 are in combat units and the remainder performing defensive functions.

03:03 PM

Today's main events

Today’s live blog is closing. Here is a roundup of the day’s main event:

  • Fighting is raging in Bakhmut as Russian troops battle to seize the city following setbacks elsewhere.

  • Russia has begun extending defensive positions along its border with Ukraine, including inside its Belgorod region, according to the British Ministry of Defence (MoD).

  • The Russian government has responded to accusations from opposition leaders and pro-war Telegram channels that it is seeking a second mobilisation.

  • At least 333 Ukrainian children have gone missing since Russia’s invasion on Feb 24.

  • The bodies of 49 soldiers have been uncovered by Ukraine, according to the Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories.

  • It is possible for Europe to make it through the winter without cutting off gas users despite reduced Russian supplies, but even cooling homes and increased costs might not be enough in the coming years, according to analysts.

02:42 PM

Russia's Putin says military campaign in Ukraine could be 'long process'

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that what he calls Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine could be a "long process".

02:42 PM

Watch: Russia intensifies fighting in Bakhmut

Fighting is raging in Bakhmut as Russian troops battle to seize the city following setbacks elsewhere.

The relentless shelling captured in video clips comes as Russian military leaders grow more desperate for a symbolic victory.

Russia is seeking to gain a greater foothold in Donbas, pushing the bulk of the fighting in Ukraine eastward.

02:18 PM

Russia preparing defences

Roman Starovoit, governor of the Kursk region of Russia, has shown off concrete anti-tank structures being installed in fields amid renewed efforts to bolster defences inside the country.

Concrete anti-tank structures being installed in fields
Concrete anti-tank structures being installed in fields
Concrete anti-tank structures being installed in fields
Concrete anti-tank structures being installed in fields

01:57 PM

Pope compares Ukrainian suffering to Nazi death operation

Pope Francis has compared Russia's invasion of Ukraine to a Nazi operation that killed some two million people, mostly Jews, in the first years of World War Two.

Speaking to Polish pilgrims at his weekly general audience, Francis noted that the Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland, had recently commemorated the anniversary of Operation Reinhard.

This was the code name for a secret operation in a part of occupied Poland which the Nazis called the "General Government" area, that included territory now in Ukraine.

"May the memory of this horrible event arouse intentions and actions of peace in everyone," he said, specifically mentioning the operation, saying it was one of "extermination".

He added: "And history is repeating itself. We see now what is happening in Ukraine."

01:28 PM

Over 1,000 cultural sites destroyed

At least 1,000 cultural sites have been destroyed since Russia’s invasion, according to the Ministry of Culture.

Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, said this total includes mostly libraries and clubs that were “either damaged or completely destroyed”.

The destroyed Drama Theatre in Mariupol - SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The destroyed Drama Theatre in Mariupol - SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

01:10 PM

Volodymyr Zelensky Time's Person of the Year

The “spirit of Ukraine” and President Volodymyr Zelensky have been named Time magazine’s 2022 Person of the Year.

"Zelensky's success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious. It spread through Ukraine’s political leadership in the first days of the invasion, as everyone realized the president had stuck around," Time wrote in acknowledging the 44-year-old leader.

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12:48 PM

Ukraine says embassy threats marked with German Tesla sender address

Ukraine said Wednesday that its embassies abroad have recently received 31 suspicious or threatening packages that had been marked with a sender's address of a Tesla dealership in Germany.

Kyiv's diplomatic offices in Madrid late last month said a security guard was lightly injured after opening a letter bomb addressed to the embassy and Ukraine has reported further incidents since.

"In total we already have 31 cases in 15 countries," Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, specifying Ukrainian diplomatic offices in Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Denmark had recently received packages.

"All the envelopes have the same sender address: the Tesla car dealership in the German town of Sindelfingen. Usually, the shipment was made from post offices that were not equipped with video surveillance systems," Kuleba added.

He added that Ukrainian embassies and consulates for one week had been "operating under heightened security measures", including with pyrotechnicians and forensics.

"Criminals also took measures not to leave traces of their DNA on the packages," Kuleba added, saying that he was in touch with counterparts in impacted countries.

12:29 PM

Russian forces killed hundreds of civilians early in Ukraine war, UN report says

At least 441 civilians were killed by Russian forces in the early days of Moscow's invasion, the United Nations human rights office said on Wednesday, documenting summary executions and attacks in dozens of towns across three regions.

The actual number of victims in the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions was likely to be much higher, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report looking into the invasion's start on Feb 24 until early April, when Russian forces withdrew from the three areas.

"The acts in question were committed by Russian armed forces in control of these areas and led to the deaths of 441 civilians (341 men, 72 women, 20 boys and 8 girls)," the report said.

Through the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), OHCHR gathered evidence from 102 towns and villages.

The Russian foreign and defence ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

12:00 PM

Fighting in Bakhmut rages

Fighting is raging in Bakhmut as Russian troops battle to seize the city following setbacks elsewhere.

The relentless shelling captured in video clips comes as Russian military leaders grow more desperate for a symbolic victory.

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Russia is seeking to gain a greater foothold in Donbas, pushing the bulk of the fighting in Ukraine eastward.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that of all his forces’ battles, the “most difficult” is in Bakhmut.

Ukrainian military sources estimate that on some days hundreds of Russian soldiers have been killed trying to overrun their positions around their city.

11:42 AM

Russia trying to 'freeze' war before spring assault

Russia was looking to stall the fighting in Ukraine over the winter in order to build up its forces for a renewed assault next year, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

"What we see now is that Russia is actually attempting to try to have some kind of freeze of this war, at least for a short period of time, so they can regroup, repair, recover and then try to launch a bigger offensive next spring," Mr Stoltenberg told a public event hosted by the Financial Times.

Snow and cold weather has hit Ukraine - Chris Strickland
Snow and cold weather has hit Ukraine - Chris Strickland

Mr Stoltenberg said Nato members were continuing their "unprecedented" supply of arms and support to Ukraine despite concerns that the conflict is draining Western stockpiles.

"As important as adding new systems, is to ensure that systems or weapons we have already delivered, are actually operational or working in an effective way," Mr Stoltenberg said. "Meaning that they need a vast amount of ammunition, spare parts and also maintenance."

11:23 AM

Total of 333 Ukrainian children missing

At least 333 Ukrainian children have gone missing since Russia’s invasion on Feb 24.

The Ombudsman’s Office wrote on Facebook:

“The Children of War children’s search portal data as of 7 December 2022: 333 children – missing, 13,112 – deported, 8,017 – found.”

10:59 AM

The latest in pictures

Here is a roundup of the latest picture coming out of Ukraine:

Ukrainian soldier takes a selfie with President Volodymyr Zelensky - Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via/UPI/Shutterstock
Ukrainian soldier takes a selfie with President Volodymyr Zelensky - Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via/UPI/Shutterstock
Russian military hardware wreckage displayed as a symbol of defiance by Ukraine in Kyiv - Chris Strickland
Russian military hardware wreckage displayed as a symbol of defiance by Ukraine in Kyiv - Chris Strickland
Worshippers at St. Michael's Monastery of the Orthodox Church in Kyiv - Chris Strickland
Worshippers at St. Michael's Monastery of the Orthodox Church in Kyiv - Chris Strickland
Ukrainian soldiers fire French MO-120-RT-61 120 mm rifled towed mortar at Russian positions in the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region - AP Photo/LIBKOS
Ukrainian soldiers fire French MO-120-RT-61 120 mm rifled towed mortar at Russian positions in the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region - AP Photo/LIBKOS
Rescuers remove debris inside destroyed apartments of a residential building hit by shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine - REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
Rescuers remove debris inside destroyed apartments of a residential building hit by shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine - REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

10:31 AM

16 dead, including soldiers, in Donetsk road accident

More than a dozen people have died in a road accident in the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk, which is mostly controlled by Russian forces, the Moscow-installed region's head said Wednesday.

"A tragedy on the T-0517 highway claimed the lives of 16 people, among them were some of our defenders," the Russia-appointed head of Donetsk Denis Pushilin said on Telegram.

Four other passengers were injured in the accident that took place between Torez and Shakhtarsk, according to Pushilin.

He offered "sincere condolences" and wished a "speedy recovery" to the injured.

10:08 AM

Kremlin denies 'second mobilisation' and urges citizens to ignore 'provocative messages'

The Russian government has responded to accusations from opposition leaders and pro-war Telegram channels that it is seeking a second mobilisation.

Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary, said Russians should rely on communications from President Vladimir Putin and the Ministry of Defence alone, ignoring "provocative messages" published on social media platforms.

There have been growing rumours that Putin may announce another mobilisation order in 2023.

In September, a partial mobilisation of 300,000 reservists was launched.

09:59 AM

Belarus moves military gear amid fears of attack on Ukraine

Belarus plans to move military equipment and forces on Wednesday and Thursday in what it said was a counter-terrorism exercise, amid fears that Russia may mount a new attack on Ukraine from the territory of its Belarusian ally.

"During this period, it is planned to move military equipment and personnel of the national security forces," the state BelTA news agency cited the country's Security Council as saying.

"The movement of citizens (transport) along certain public roads and areas would be restricted and the use of imitation weapons for training purposes is planned."

There was no information on what parts of the country could be affected.

Belarus has said it will not enter the war in neighbouring Ukraine, but President Alexander Lukashenko has in the past ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, citing threats to Belarus from Kyiv and the West.

Belarus and Russia are formally part of a "union state" and are closely allied economically and militarily, with Russia using Belarus as a staging post for its Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine.

09:37 AM

Russian forces in Belgorod hint at fears of Ukrainian invasion

Russia has begun extending defensive positions along its border with Ukraine, including inside its Belgorod region, according to the British Ministry of Defence (MOD).

The MOD said that the governor of the area announced that he was creating “self-defence units”.

“Trench digging has been reported in Belgorod since at least April 2022, but the new constructions are probably more elaborate systems, designed to rebuff mechanised assault,” the MOD said.

There are possibilities that Russian authorities are “promoting defensive preparations within internationally recognised Russian territory to burnish patriotic feeling”, they added, which could illustrate some “Russia decision-makers’ genuine (but false) belief that there is a credible threat of invasion by Ukrainian forces”.

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“Paucity in strategic assessment is one of the critical weaknesses in the central Russian government architecture: as highlighted by Russia’s original decision to invade Ukraine."

It added that “impartial official analysis is almost certainly frequently undermined by a tendency toward group-think and politically expedient conclusions.”

09:21 AM

Blinken says US neither encourages nor enables Ukraine to strike inside Russia

The United States has neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, but repeated Washington's determination to make sure Kyiv has the equipment it needs to defend itself.

A third Russian airfield was ablaze on Tuesday from a drone strike, a day after Ukraine demonstrated an apparent new ability to penetrate hundreds of miles deep into Russian airspace with attacks on two Russian air bases.

Kyiv did not directly claim responsibility for the strikes, but nonetheless celebrated them.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken - AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Secretary of State Antony Blinken - AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

08:55 AM

Bodies of 49 soldiers found by Ukraine

The bodies of 49 soldiers have been uncovered by Ukraine, according to the Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories.

In total, 827 bodies have been found since the Office of the Commissioner on Persons Gone Missing under Special Circumstances started its work.

"Currently, together with the law enforcement agencies, we're doing everything possible to return the bodies of the defenders," said Oleh Kotenko, the operation’s leader.

"The work is constantly underway to find out the locations where the deceased fighters are likely to be."

Exchanges of bodies are being negotiated with Russia. In October, the talks resulted in 62 bodies being returned to Ukraine.

08:29 AM

Europe will scrape through winter amid energy crisis, experts say

It is possible for Europe to make it through the winter without cutting off gas users despite reduced Russian supplies, but even cooling homes and increased costs might not be enough in the coming years, according to analysts.

As Russia tightens gas supplies to Europe via pipeline, a competitive war for liquefied natural gas (LNG) has ensued, sending prices skyrocketing.

Prices have been frozen for customers in countries including Spain and France, but in Belgium and others suppliers have passed down higher costs.

This year, the European wholesale reference price per megawatt hour hit €300 before dropping to €100, up from the previous average of €20.

“It’s the most chaotic time I’ve witnessed in all of those years,” Graham Freedman, a European gas analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, told AFP.

08:03 AM

Overnight attack leaves three injured, including 15-year-old

An overnight attack in Zaporizhzhia has wounded a teenager and damaged homes.

Drones and missiles rained down on two villages, injuring three people, including a 15-year-old girl.

Last night, Russia attacked two communities of Zaporizhzia region - NOELreports
Last night, Russia attacked two communities of Zaporizhzia region - NOELreports
Last night, Russia attacked two communities of Zaporizhzia region - NOELreports
Last night, Russia attacked two communities of Zaporizhzia region - NOELreports

Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the region's military administration, said "half a dozen" drones were shot down.

Mr Starukh said that over the past day and night 54 Russian strikes were carried out.

Yesterday afternoon, five people were injured, including a woman who is now in a "very serious condition", he added.

07:39 AM

US lawmakers authorise $800 million more for Ukraine in defence bill

US lawmakers agreed to provide Ukraine at least $800 million in additional security assistance next year and to boost Taiwan with billions in aid over the next several years, according to an $858 billion defence policy bill unveiled on Tuesday.

The Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes the additional spending for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, an increase of $500 million over President Joe Biden's request earlier this year.

The bill also strengthens the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, with $11.5 billion in new investments. And it authorises the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act of 2022, legislation to increase security cooperation with Taiwan with up to $10 billion in spending over five years.

The compromise version of the NDAA, a must-pass bill setting policy for the Pentagon, is the result of months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The overall bill authorizes $45 billion more in defence spending than Mr Biden requested, as congressional negotiators sought to address the effects of global inflation and provide additional security assistance for Ukraine.

07:13 AM

Poland will place German Patriot missiles on its territory

Poland is preparing to deploy the German Patriot air defence system on its territory after Berlin refused to place this system in Ukraine, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Twitter.

Germany last month offered Poland the Patriot system to help secure its airspace after a stray missile crashed and killed two people in Poland. Polish Defence Minister later asked Germany to send the fire units to Ukraine instead.

"After talking to the German Defense Ministry, I was disappointed to accept the decision to reject Ukraine's support. Deploying the Patriots to western Ukraine would increase the security of Poles and Ukrainians," Mr Blaszczak tweeted on Tuesday evening.

"So we proceed to working arrangements for placing the launchers in Poland and connecting them to our command system," added Mr Blaszczak.

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