In Ukraine’s Donbas, ten years of war and Russification

On April 7, 2014, a coup by pro-Russian militants in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine was the spark that ignited the Donbas war. In the heart of this industrial region, populated at the time by six million mostly Russian-speaking inhabitants, the armed confrontation began between an expansionist Russia and a Ukraine aspiring to consolidate its independence. The Donbas has become a desolate landscape after ten years of war, and Russification has been brutally imposed.

Mentioned in international news bulletins during the past ten years of war in the Donbas, the names of dozens of towns like Bakhmut or Avdiivka  became known far beyond Ukraine’s borders. These places now lie in ruins, along with the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and Donetsk International Airport

With the benefit of historical perspective, the battlegrounds in Donbas appear to be the precursor of Russia’ s large-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

Donetsk and Luhansk, the two administrative regions, or oblasts, which make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, were officially annexed by Russia in September 2022. According to Moscow, they are now part of the Russian Federation. This annexation is deemed illegal by the Ukrainians, who still control part of the region, and by the vast majority of the international community.

Ten years after the fighting began, the Donbas remains the scene of bloody trench warfare, resembling a modern-day version of the Battle of Verdun. According to military analysts, the Ukrainians fire up to 60,000 artillery shells a month across the 1,000-kilometre-long front line, while their Russian adversaries can fire between 300,000 and 600,000 shells.

At the heart of Russian and Soviet mythologies

The region, named after the Donets river and its mining basin (Donets basin), has been part of Ukraine since it became an independent state in 1991. Larger than the Netherlands, the Donbas was formerly part of the Russian Empire, and then the USSR.

The region’s largest city, Donetsk, entered the industrial age thanks to a Welshman, John Hughes, who in 1869 founded a huge metallurgical complex of coal mines and foundries that revolutionised the local economy. By 1900, 68% of the Russian empire’s coal was extracted in the Donetsk basin.

According to an imperial census carried out in 1897, a third of the Donbas population were Russians attracted to the region by the development of mining and heavy industry. In the same census the Tsarist administration recorded that Ukrainians made up half the population while minority communities included Jews, Tatars, Germans and Greeks.

In the years 1924-1961, the town was named “Stalino”. It was the scene of the exploits of the coal miner Alekseï Stakhanov, whose prodigious output made him a champion of Soviet productivity and a hero of Stalinist propaganda. During the Soviet era, from Moscow’s perspective, the Donbas and its workforce were an industrial bastion – and an integral part of Russia.

“Donbas in the heart of Russia”. Soviet poster, 1921. Wikimedia Commons © Auteur inconnu. Wikimedia Commons

“In the Soviet imagination, Donbas was the furnace of the entire Soviet Union,” explains historian Galia Ackerman. “With the rise of industrialisation, many Russian skilled workers and engineers arrived in the region. The Donbas was very strongly Russified in the 1930s.” 

In 1991, however, 83% of the population of the Donbas region voted in favour of Ukrainian independence. In the years that followed, the predominantly Russian-speaking population struggled with the transition to a post-communist system, a period marked by de-industrialisation and a severe economic crisis.

In every Ukrainian presidential election over the following decades, voters in Donbas, like those in other regions of eastern Ukraine, cast their votes for political parties close to Russia.

In the 2010 elections, Viktor Yanukovych ‘s Party of Regions won 80-90% of the vote against the pro-European party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Just prior to the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, the Donbas was “a blighted region where the population was impoverished and greatly missed the Soviet Union”, says Ackerman. “There were local mafias and a number of oligarchs who had taken over most of the heavy industry. There were towns where all life depended on the boss – social services, medicine, everything.” Many journalists have observed that these local bosses also controlled the media and tolerated no opposition.

Secession, and self-proclaimed people’s republics

In the aftermath of the Maidan Revolution, parties favouring closer ties with the EU had prevailed. On February 22, 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Donetsk and then to Russia.  The parliamentary deputies in Kyiv then quickly repealed the law making Russian one of the country’s official languages.

The next day, anti-Maidan demonstrations broke out in Donbas and in Russian-speaking cities elsewhere in Ukraine, notably Odesa. Russian forces seized strategic sites in Crimea on February 27, then completed the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in just three weeks.

Anti-Maidan protests in Ukraine continued throughout March. In Western countries, these demonstrators began to be referred to as “pro-Russian separatists”. In Kyiv, they were described as terrorists.

The Russian state media began referring to a “Russian Spring” in Ukraine, and labelled supporters of the new pro-European Ukrainian leadership as fascists. 

For Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in the war in Ukraine at Glasgow University, “Donbas is certainly Russian-speaking, but there was no organised separatism in Donbas before 2014. It’s not a region that had organised separatist aspirations before that.”

On April 7, 2014, a group of around 1,000 pro-Russian activists seized the buildings and weapons stores of the Ukrainian security service, the SBU,  in Donetsk and Luhansk. On April 12, another armed group, led by a former colonel of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) occupied several police and SBU buildings in Sloviansk, and a similar scenario unfolded in Kramatorsk. “The whole of the Donbas seemed destined for the same fate as Crimea,” write the military historians Michel Goya and Jean Lopez in their book “L’ours et le renard: Histoire immédiate de la guerre en Ukraine” (The Bear and the Fox: Immediate history of the war in Ukraine).

In yellow, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that make up Ukraine's Donbas region. The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014.
In yellow, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that make up Ukraine’s Donbas region. The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. © Studio graphique FMM

According to Goya and Lopez, the Russian regime then decided on a strategy “aimed at the partition of Ukraine”, its efforts to subjugate the entire country having twice been thwarted, in 2005 during the Orange Revolution, then in 2013-2014 during the Maidan Uprising.

The historians note that “the Kremlin has no shortage of ideologues to theorise about the creation of a buffer state and to revive the old Tsarist term ‘New Russia’ ” – a term designating Ukrainian provinces “where Russian speakers are in a relative majority or significant minority,”  including the provinces of Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Dniepropetrovsk, Zaporijjia, Mikolayev, Kherson and Odesa.

For the geographer and diplomat Michel Foucher, the methods Russia used to seize power and annex territory, applied so smoothly in Crimea, were once again put to use in April 2014. “The historical argument, the role of special forces, the use of violence, a false pretence of a referendum, all of this is replicated in the Donbas,” he says. On May 11, 2014, two referendums – not recognised by Ukraine or Western countries – were held in Donetsk and Luhansk. The “yes” vote for independence from Ukraine won massively in both cases, and marked the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

The first Donbas war: April 2014 – February 2015

The day after the pro-Russian separatists took power, Kyiv immediately launched an “anti-terrorist operation”. Its army was still poorly organised, and relied on volunteer battalions often drawn from the nationalist and radical movements like the Azov Brigade or Pravy Sektor.

Then came a sequence of troop movements and armed clashes. In July, pro-Ukrainian forces pushed back the separatists at Mariupol, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut. On July 17,  a Malaysia Airlines airliner carrying 298 passengers and crew was shot down by surface-to-air missiles in eastern Ukraine over territory controlled by pro-Russian forces.

In August, pro-Kyiv forces were on the verge of retaking the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Faced with the deteriorating military situation, Moscow sent reinforcements. “Russian armed forces entered the Donbas probably at the end of July and in August,” says Aliyev. “They were certainly already present in large numbers and several Russian brigades were deployed in Ukraine, although Russia obviously denied all this.”

A Ukrainian flag flies over the control tower of Donetsk  International Airport during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine,Oct. 17, 2014
A Ukrainian flag flies over the traffic control tower of Donetsk International Airport during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. © Dmitry Lovetsky, AP

“By the end of August, the number of Russian soldiers in Ukraine was between 3,500 and 6,500,” write Goya and Lopez, enabling the pro-Russian forces to launch a lightning offensive that was only halted by the signing of the first in the series of Minsk agreements, which established a ceasefire on September 4, 2014.

On January 14, 2015, a new Russian offensive was launched in support of the “separatist” forces. It resulted in the capture of Donetsk International Airport and the fall of the Debaltseve pocket after very intense fighting.

On February 12, 2015, the so-called Minsk II agreements formalised the de facto partition of Ukrainian territory, marking a victory for Russia.

In the years that followed, and until the full-scale Russian attack on February 24, 2022, “violations of the ceasefire and the multiple truces, small-scale attacks and artillery fire hardly ever ceased, without the line of contact between the forces really moving. The war in Donbas killed 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers and 3,000 to 5,000 civilians” on both sides, note Goya and Lopez.

Separatism or proxy war?

In Ukraine, many people blamed Europeans and Americans for their passivity in the face of the Russian aggression in 2014. From Kyiv’s point of, the “pro-Russian separatists” were being guided by Moscow – the separatists would never have taken up arms to protect their identity and language without Moscow’s endorsement and active support.

For the analyst Aliyev, the outbreak of war in the Donbas was the first step towards Russia’s large-scale military intervention in Ukraine. “Until 2022, Russia maintained a permanent military presence in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which varied in size depending on the situation. During periods of intense confrontation with Ukraine, regular military personnel were deployed in greater numbers. At other times, the security services of the Russian military sent units to help the local separatists”, he explains.

As the conflict progressed, local players with regional ambitions – such as Alexander Zakharchenko, the first leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – were eliminated.  Considered insufficiently compliant by his Russian allies, Zakharchenko was assassinated in a 2018 car bomb attack. His counterpart in the Luhansk People’s Republic was replaced on Moscow’s orders. Since then, the two breakaway republics have been led by political figures who have pledged allegiance to the Kremlin.

“Between 2016 and 2022, these two entities became almost entirely dependent on the Russian Federation in every way: financially, economically and militarily. Moscow paid salaries, pensions and so on. It is probably from this period onwards that we can speak of Russia’s governance by proxy,” says Aliyev.

The second Donbas war and the nibbling away of Ukraine’s territory

On February 21, 2022, three days before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia recognised the independence and sovereignty of the two self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. On February 24, Russian troops launched an all-out assault on Ukrainian territory, notably from Belarus, Crimea and Donbas.

In the first days of the war, Russian forces advanced across Ukraine, only to be halted by the Ukrainian army and territorial defence volunteers.

After the failure of the Russian advance toward Kyiv, followed by its withdrawal from the northeast of Ukraine at the end of March, Russia officially declared that the real aim of the “special operation”, as the Kremlin called it, was the “liberation of the Donbas”.

In a speech on February 24, Vladimir Putin claimed to want to disarm and “denazify” the whole of Ukraine.

The front line in Donbas: Russian armed forces control the territories to the east of the current front line (the red line). The front line between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces from 2015 to Febru
The front line in Donbas: Russian armed forces control the territories to the east of the current front line (the red line). The front line between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces from 2015 to February 2022 is indicated by the yellow line. © Studio graphique FMM

In May and June 2022, Ukrainian forces were forced to evacuate Lyman, Severodonetsk and Lyssychansk in the Luhansk region. Further south, Russian troops succeeded in taking Mariupol after a bloody siege. This industrial port of 400,000 inhabitants on the Sea of Azov was mercilessly bombed.

Seventy percent of the city was destroyed, including the theatre that served as a refuge for civilians. According to the Ukrainian authorities, at least 20,000 inhabitants perished in the fighting. Azovstal, Europe’s largest steelworks, had been built “in the 1950s with underground shelters to house 30,000 people in the event of a nuclear war” and was completely destroyed “after being shelled with 3-ton bombs”, according to Goya and Lopez.

A Ukrainian fighter belonging to the Azov regiment in the basement of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol on May 10, 2022.
A Ukrainian fighter belonging to the Azov regiment in the basement of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol on May 10, 2022. © Dmytro Kozatsky, AP

After a successful counter-offensive in September 2022 that enabled Ukraine to retake a number of localities in the two Donbas oblasts, the main clash took place in Bakhmut, which the mercenaries of Russia’s Wagner Group finally captured on May 25, 2023. The long bloody battle, referred to by combatants as a “meat grinder”, resulted in the total destruction of this town of 70,000 inhabitants.

After a new Ukrainian counter-offensive in the summer of 2023 – this time without territorial gains – Russian forces resumed their strategy of nibbling away at the front line and seized the small town of Avdiivka in February 2024, at the cost of heavy casualties and the town’s total destruction.

On the defensive, Ukrainian forces have since begun to reinforce the fortifications of the Donbas front line in order to hold out against an enemy that is trying to crush them via a deluge of artillery shells. “The battle of Donbas: ‘destroying a lot and advancing a little’ “, note Goya and Lopez, describing Russian tactics.

“The Russians are adapting objectives and goals according to the reality on the ground, they are literally trying to seize and occupy every piece of land in Ukraine. That seems to be their objective at the moment,” says Aliyev.

The ‘New Russia’?

In the part of the Donbas that has been outside Ukrainian sovereignty for ten years, a return to the pre-2014 situation now seems highly unlikely. The breakaway Ukrainian republics that seceded in 2014 have since 2022 become official Russian territories, where the ruble circulates and a large proportion of the inhabitants have acquired Russian citizenship.

In March 2024, for the first time, the inhabitants of Donbas took part in a Russian presidential election, as did the inhabitants of other Ukrainian areas partially occupied by the Russian army such as Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, under strong pressure from the new authorities.

“Russification began in 2014. They changed the textbooks. They simply killed or imprisoned or drove away all those who were pro-Ukrainian. We mustn’t forget that there are nearly a million Donbas inhabitants who fled to Ukraine during the occupation of Donbas by pro-Russian and Russian forces,” Ackerman says.

Given the restricted access to this densely populated industrial region, it is difficult to accurately assess the destruction, reconstruction and degree of Russification in the territories conquered by Russia.

In August 2022, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin presented Vladimir Putin with a plan to rebuild Mariupol within three years, including the redevelopment of the devastated Azovstal steelworks industrial zone, which was to be converted into a “technology hub”.

Since then, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has made a series of visits to the seaside city – not to mention the Russian president’s visit in March 2023 – with the aim of turning Mariupol into a showcase for the “New Russia” (“Novorossiya”).

Russian television frequently reports from Mariupol on the construction of brand new apartment blocks, schools and medical centres. “There’s a massive influx of Russians to Mariupol because it’s a city by the sea, and the sales pitch to Russians is ‘Come join us, real estate is cheap’. The town is being completely rebuilt, the incoming population replacing those that have left,” explains historian Ackerman.

People stand near the sculpture of the name of the city of Mariupol written in Russian and painted in the colours of the Russian national flag during celebration of Russia Day in the city on June 12,
People stand near the sculpture of the name of the city of Mariupol written in Russian and painted in the colours of the Russian flag during celebrations of Russia Day in the city on June 12, 2022. © AP photo

Faced with Russian expansionism, European diplomacy seems to have no influence at all on the Russia-Ukraine war that has been raging for ten years on the fringes of Europe.

The Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015, sponsored by France and Germany, were a resounding failure.

In February 2023, French geographer and diplomat Michel Foucher estimated that “the military situation on the ground could lead to a kind of freeze around stable, well-defended front lines on both sides, without any agreed settlement or even any ceasefire”.

After a decade of war in the Donbas, the question diplomats will have to consider in years to come is how to determine where the EU ends and where Russia begins.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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Two years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine reorients its strategy to focus on defence

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the lack of troops and ammunition and the depth of Russia’s field fortifications are forcing Kyiv to adopt a more defensive strategy. As it waits for more Western support, the Ukrainian army is holding out for better days.

Is “defend now, attack better later” Ukraine’s best shot? Two years after Russian forces invaded its territory, Ukraine has officially adopted a new strategy focused on defence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that the situation on the front lines was “extremely difficult” in his daily address on February 19.

Since the failure of Kyiv’s summer counteroffensive, which cost Valerii Zaluzhnyi his position as commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, it is no longer time for major manoeuvres aimed at finding a breech in the Russian strategy, according to high-ranking Ukrainian sources. “We changed from an offensive to a defensive operation,” admitted the country’s new army chief, General Oleksandr Syrsky, in an interview with German channel ZDF broadcast on February 13.

Read moreZelensky’s A-team: Who is who among Ukraine’s new army commanders

It is hard to imagine any other option for the Ukrainian army. For months it has been up against an imposing Russian defensive line of trenches, concrete cones and minefields stretching 15 to 20km deep, preventing any armoured vehicle from piercing through.

“After regaining some of the territories that had been captured by the Russians, the summer of 2023 marked a turning point in the conflict. The deep Russian defensive lines exhausted the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians still have gaps and command problems, but they learn quickly and their ability to adapt should never be underestimated,” says Guillaume Lasconjarias, a military historian and lecturer at France’s Sorbonne University.

In the Ukrainian battlefield, the massive use of drones is also having a serious impact on offensive operations. . With these “eyes” positioned all along the front line by both sides, the battlefield has now become “transparent”, rendering obsolete the element of surprise so dear to military strategists.

“To concentrate efforts in one point is less and less possible. Instead, we are now seeing strategies based on multiple ‘stabbing’ motions. But in the end, this leads to exhaustion,” says Lasconjarias.

Ammo crisis

As a result, the front line is deadlocked and neither side seems able to bend their opponent. “As in World War I, we have reached such a technological level that we find ourselves at a dead end,” Zaluzhnyi admitted back in November 2023 in an interview published in British weekly The Economist.

“We must also take into account the recent change of leadership within the Ukrainian armed forces. A change of leadership requires the armed forces to take a moment to reorganise and reorient their structure and actions so they can be in line with the plans of the new chief of staff. Returning to a more defensive strategy in the short term may help to achieve this reorganisation,” says Nicolo Fasola, a specialist in Russian military issues at the University of Bologna.

The alarming shortage of ammunition is also forcing Kyiv to adopt a more cautious stance. In this static warfare, hundreds of thousands of shells are fired by each army every month. However, the blocking of aid by the US Congress and the delays in deliveries promised by Europe are severely handicapping Ukraine’s capacities.

According to military experts, the “fire ratio” – which measures the difference in the rate of artillery fire between enemies – is currently one to ten in favour of Russia.

“Even if it seemed to even out last summer, the volume of fire has always been in favour of the Russians. In the Russian-Soviet military tradition, artillery is an extremely important factor in shaping the battlefield. Faced with this large and diversified artillery, the Ukrainians have more precise cannons, such as the French Caesar or the American M777. But they have two problems: they have to move more often to avoid destruction, and they can fire back only when they know they are going to hit the target because of their lack of ammunition,” explains Guillaume Lasconjarias.

“Ukraine’s resources are becoming more limited,” adds Fasola. “It should also be stressed that most of the sophisticated equipment supplied to Kyiv has not been used effectively. It is illusory to think that the Ukrainian armed forces, which could not be trained in an in-depth way, could use these resources as efficiently as a Western army.”

Preserving Ukrainian national unity

The recent withdrawal from the eastern town of Avdiivka illustrates Kyiv’s new defensive posture. After months of fierce fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff made the difficult choice of a tactical withdrawal. If it offered a symbolic victory to the Kremlin, this decision also preserved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. This decision is in stark contrast to the all-out tactics seen during the bloody battle of Bakhmut, a town in the Donbas region that fell into Russian hands in May 2023.

Along with flagging stocks of ammunition, dwindling manpower is another of the Ukrainian army’s major problems. According to a declassified document sent to the US Congress, Kyiv has suffered losses estimated at 70,000 dead and 120,000 wounded in two years. Russian losses are estimated at 315,000 dead or wounded.

In addition to the losses, the exhaustion of Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom have been deployed since the start of hostilities, means that rotations will also be necessary over the coming months.

“The real challenge for 2024 is for Ukraine to be able to regain some of the flexibility of its deployed brigades, which are now exhausted. It will also be necessary in order to mobilise newcomers, train them, equip them and take them to the front. This raises the question of the public’s ongoing acceptance of the conflict,” says Lasconjarias.

Watch moreIn Spain, Ukrainian civilians prepare for battle at a training centre near Madrid

A draft law wants to solve this problem. The controversial bill aimed at facilitating mobilisation was given the thumbs-up by the Ukrainian parliament on its first reading in early February. But the text has also triggered a lively public debate at a time when the stalemate in the war, the stagnation of the front and the uncertainty hanging over Western support have naturally affected the morale of both the troops and the population. Zelensky will have to work his way out of this down phase to preserve the national unity, which has so often been praised by his Western partners.

“From a military point of view, it seems impossible to avoid some form of conscription extension, but its political cost will be high,” says Fasola. “It also raises the problem of troop management, because if people are recruited by force or against their will, there are two possibilities: either you treat your troops as Russia does, meaning with no regard for their dignity and free will, or you end up with people who don’t want to fight or follow orders, which is very problematic for military strategy and effectiveness.”

‘War of attrition slowly but steadily in Russia’s favour’

While waiting to rebuild its offensive potential, the Ukrainian army will be trying over the coming months to inflict as many losses as possible on its Russian enemy while conserving its troops and ammunition. Beyond just holding out in a defensive posture, Ukraine is likely to continue its in-depth attacks against logistical infrastructures, particularly in the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod and in the annexed Crimean Peninsula in the hope of weakening Russia’s military system.

Kyiv’s official objective remains unchanged: to reconquer the territories annexed or occupied by Russia since 2014, which represents 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory.

Read moreMaidan Revolution protesters lament enduring corruption in Ukraine, 10 years on

According to analysts, only increased Western support could enable General Syrsky’s troops to move forward again. Such a scenario is far from certain, especially from the US: Democrats and Republicans are tearing each other apart in Congress over the question, and former president Donald Trump, who is hostile to continued US aid, is leading polls ahead of November’s US presidential election.

Moscow and Kyiv are “racing to rebuild their offensive capacities. If further Western funds are not released, if Russia gains the upper hand in one way or another, Moscow will have the opportunity to make further progress,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a researcher at the Washington-based Center for New American Security, told AFP. “The dynamic has changed,” says the analyst, stressing that “from Putin’s point of view, 2024 is a crucial year”.

According to the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24, Russia should be able to continue supplying the front line with troops and equipment throughout the year, but to no gain or advantage, at least in the short term. “The front line is not likely to change radically. Over the next few months, Russia will continue to gradually erode Ukrainian control of the front line, which will nevertheless be very costly for Moscow,” predicts Fasola. “I expect the war to continue in the same way as it is today, as a war of attrition that is unfolding slightly, slowly, but steadily in Russia’s favour.”

This story has been adapted from its original in French.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

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Putin unveils new Russian nuclear submarines to flex naval muscle beyond Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated two new nuclear-powered submarines this week, promising to reinforce the country’s “military-naval might”. The submarines will be assigned to Russia’s Pacific fleet, underscoring Moscow’s desire to project its naval power well beyond Ukraine.

Amid freezing temperatures in the northern city of Severodvinsk, Putin extolled the virtues of the Russian navy’s two new nuclear-powered submarines on Monday. “With such vessels and such weapons, Russia will feel that it is safe,” Putin told officials and naval officers at the inauguration ceremony.

Fresh out of production, the submarines – named Krasnoyarsk and Emperor Alexander III – represent the pinnacle of Russian maritime power, each serving a specific purpose.

The Krasnoyarsk belongs to the Yasen-M class of attack submarines capable of launching both cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles (which travel at speeds exceeding Mach-5, or 6,125 km/h). Its primary purpose is “to strike targets on land or hunt other submarines at sea,” says Basil Germond, a specialist in maritime military security at Lancaster University in the UK.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his speech as he attends a flag-raising ceremony for newly-built nuclear submarines at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk on December 11, 2023. © Kirill Iodas, AP

The Emperor Alexander III is an elite Borei-A class submarine capable of firing nuclear missiles. “This submarine serves the primary purpose of the Russian navy: nuclear deterrence,” says Sim Tack, a military analyst for Force Analysis, a conflict monitoring company. 

Both submarines replace ageing models from the Soviet era in circulation since the 1980s. The Borei-A, for instance, is “much more manoeuvrable and discreet than its predecessor,” says Will Kingston-Cox, a Russia specialist at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.

Beyond Ukraine 

Russia has often used submarines in the Black Sea to support the war effort in Ukraine with coastal bombardments. However, the Krasnoyarsk and Emperor Alexander III will not be used in the protracted conflict with the former Soviet republic. Instead, they are to be deployed in the Pacific.

Indeed, Putin’s inauguration speech seemed particularly disconnected from the war in Ukraine. “We will quantitatively strengthen the combat readiness of the Russian Navy, our naval power in the Arctic, the Far East, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Caspian Sea – the most important strategic areas of the world’s oceans,” Putin said.

Read moreWar in Ukraine boosts depressed Russian regions amid defence sector boom

“The commitment of expensive naval resources to areas beyond Ukraine and Eastern Europe likely aims to threaten NATO and its allies across multiple regions,” wrote the Institute for the Study of War, a North American military think tank, in its daily briefing on the war in Ukraine on Tuesday. 

Stationed in Vladivostok and several surrounding bases, Russia’s Pacific fleet has several advantages. It is the only Russian fleet that does not have to pass through a bottleneck to reach the high seas – no Øresund Strait (between Denmark and Sweden), no Bosphorus Strait or Dardanelles in northwestern Turkey – all of which are under high levels of surveillance from NATO countries.

Stationing submarines in the Pacific – often considered the territory of the US Navy and its NATO allies – also indicates a geopolitical strategy. “It is a way for Moscow to demonstrate it still considers the United States its main adversary and that, despite the war in Ukraine, Russia is also preparing to face them,” says Germond. 

Second-strike capability 

It is no coincidence that Putin chose to invest in submarines rather than other types of warships, says Germond. “Russia has never managed to create a fleet capable of competing with the West. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union could not develop an aircraft carrier that could rival those of the Americans.”

In contrast, Russia’s heavy investment in submarines has long provided guarantees against a hypothetical American nuclear attack. They are an essential element of Russia’s deterrence strategy, providing what analysts call a “second-strike capability” – a nuclear power will think twice before bombing another if it knows that somewhere under the water, submarines are hiding, ready to retaliate. 

The inauguration also serves as a reminder that Russia has ambitions beyond Ukraine. “[Putin] updated Russia’s maritime doctrine in July 2022 to emphasise the need to become a global naval power,” says Kingston-Cox. 

These submarines are supposed to illustrate Moscow’s ability to simultaneously conduct a war in Ukraine and a naval modernisation program. “The Russian military’s long-term restructuring and expansion effort aims to prepare Russia for a future large-scale conventional war against NATO,” writes the Institute for the Study of War. 

The Kremlin is certainly trying to convey the image of maritime power, but two submarines – nuclear-powered or not – will do little to change the balance of power in the Pacific, according to the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24.


Moscow has signalled it does not intend to stop at two new submarines. On Monday, Putin said eight more – five Yasen-M and three Borei-A – would follow in the years to come. That is a costly plan, considering Borei-A class submarines cost over €650 million each

“The submarines will come at the expense of resources allocated to other branches of the military,” says Jeff Hawn, a specialist in Russian military matters and an external consultant for the New Lines Institute, an American geopolitical research centre. While a few submarines will not cause Russia’s demise in Ukraine, “they demonstrate how schizophrenic Moscow can be in military matters”, he adds. 

Yet Putin can ill afford to abandon his maritime modernisation program, however costly it is.

“Vladimir Putin has constantly repeated that the West represents a threat, and he must now prove to his public that he is taking the necessary measures to defend Russia,” says Tack. 

The Russian president also needs a powerful navy to back up his claim to uphold Moscow’s standing among the powers that matter. That message is even more important now “that he has officially announced his candidacy for the presidential election in March 2024”, says Hawn.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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Russia woos Haftar, but can the Derna floods give Libyans another chance?

Moscow seized the disaster diplomacy initiative after the deadly Derna floods, with Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov arriving in eastern Libya with a promise of aid. Russia is helping Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar while seeking geostrategic payback. But the Derna tragedy has also drawn the US back into Libya, and that could be a game-changer.

On a moonless night shortly after two dams in the port city of Derna collapsed, killing thousands, a hulking Russian Ilyushin IL-76 military cargo aircraft landed at an airport near Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“Russian Defence Ministry sends logistical reinforcements, rescue & search equipment after Storm Daniel,” noted a post by a local Libyan news site days after the landing on X, formerly Twitter.

Accompanying photographs showed teams unloading aid packages from the aircraft while a military truck, draped with the flags of Russia and Libya, waits on the tarmac at Benghazi’s Benina airport.

The messaging was clear and gained momentum over the next few days: the Russian defence ministry was on the ground, providing a rapid response in eastern Libya, a region controlled by strongman Khalifa Haftar, head of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

On Sunday, September 17 – a week after “Libya’s 9/11” as the Derna disaster has been dubbed – Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov himself was in town, meeting Haftar at the strongman’s Benghazi office.

The Russian defence ministry’s No. 2 is fast becoming Moscow’s “Africa Man”, making several trips to the continent, particularly coup-hit former French colonies such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Yevkurov was last in Libya when Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash near Moscow on August 23. Over the past few years, Wagner provided indispensable services to Haftar, securing oil wells and deploying fighters during the eastern Libyan strongman’s 2019 assault on the capital, Tripoli, in western Libya. Following the Wagner chief’s demise, Yevkurov is seen as the main organiser of the post-Prigozhin era of Russian relationships with Africa.

Read moreRussian general, master spy duo organise in Africa after Prigozhin’s demise

Just a day after Prigozhin’s death, Haftar showed that he was ahead of the intrigues in Moscow when his Benghazi media office released a photograph of the Russian deputy defence minister gifting the Libyan strongman a pistol during his visit.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov offers Khalifa Haftar a pistol in Benghazi on August 24, 2023. © Khalifa Khaftar media office via AFP

With its 1,700-kilometer Mediterranean coastline across from southern Europe, and its desert land borders providing a gateway to the Sahel and central Africa, Libya is considered vital to Russia’s interests across the two continents. The oil-rich North African nation is divided between the UN-recognised government administering western Libya and Haftar-controlled territory in the east.

Russia has proved to be a new, loyal ally to Haftar. But the septuagenarian Libyan strongman is not known for his geopolitical fidelity. In the course of an intrigue-packed military career, Haftar has switched sides, worked with rival powers, and managed to save his skin while amassing a fortune. The Derna disaster has repositioned him at the centre of a North African “Great Game”, with the victims of the floods in danger of turning into pawns.

Seeking docking rights for Russian warships

Russia’s outreach in eastern Libya predates the Derna disaster and has been largely opaque and shadowy.

Just two days before Yevkurov’s humanitarian trip to Benghazi, the Wall Street Journal published a report warning that Russia was seeking access for its warships in eastern Libya.

“The Russians have requested access to the ports of either Benghazi or Tobruk,” the US daily reported, citing Libyan officials and advisers. Yevkurov’s meeting with Haftar in August focused on discussing “long-term docking rights in areas he controls in the war-torn country’s east,” the newspaper added.

Prigozhin’s death and the Russian defence ministry’s efforts to fold Wagner mercenaries – including around 1,200 fighters still stationed in Haftar’s facilities – into a direct chain of command have increased the geopolitical stakes, according to Emad Baadi, nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council.

“It’s about securing a warm water port on the Mediterranean, at Europe and NATO’s southern flank, which has been a covert objective of Russia for quite a long time, but on which it hadn’t made inroads, partly because its presence in Libya was never made fully official, let’s say. This is slightly changing now, given the increased high profile, and nature of the visits that we’ve seen with the deputy minister of defence,” said Baadi.

Since NATO intervened in the 2011 uprising to oust Muammar Gaddafi, Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently criticised the operation and used Libya as an example of the Western military alliance’s failure.

More than a decade later, Putin is determined to turn that failure to Russia’s advantage.

“I think they are in Libya to stay, both for resource extraction and strategic positioning, from where they can basically threaten southern Europe and destabilise the security of southern Europe,” said a Western diplomat who declined to be named. “Putin wants to undermine democracy in Europe and what better way to do that than to use Libya as a launching pad for cynically sending illegal migrants into southern Europe. I think this is a medium-to-long-term strategic plan.”

From Tartus to Tobruk, or Benghazi

Russia’s efforts to lobby Haftar for naval access are aimed at duplicating Moscow’s achievements in Syria following the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to experts.

Following its 2015 intervention on Assad’s behalf, Russia has substantially increased the use of its naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only Mediterranean port to which Moscow has access.

With a naval presence in either Benghazi or Tobruk, Russia could significantly increase its reach, by having “surface-to-air missiles deployed, anti-ship cruise missiles, electronic warfare equipment, but more importantly, be able to deploy the Russian Mediterranean fleet to set port,” said Baadi.

“This setup in having both, the eastern flank of Europe [from Tartus] and also the southern flank of Europe [from Libya] presents a strategic advantage, both vis-a-vis Europe and against NATO as well,” he added.

‘Discussing fire safety with an arsonist’

Given the geostrategic stakes, the US is keeping a close eye on Russia’s outreach to Haftar in the wake of the Derna flooding.

Just days after Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov left Benghazi, the Americans were on the tarmac.

On Thursday, September 21, General Michael Langley, commander of the US Africa Command, and Richard Norland, US special envoy to Libya, arrived in Benghazi in an aircraft bearing humanitarian aid.

After a stop in Tripoli, where they held talks with representatives of the country’s internationally recognised government, the two senior US officials met the strongman of eastern Libya.

“Gen. Langley met with LNA commander Haftar in Benghazi to discuss the importance of forming a democratically elected national government, reunifying the Libyan military, and safeguarding Libyan sovereignty by removing foreign mercenaries,” the US Embassy in Libya said in an X post.

The messaging drew snide quips from Libya analysts monitoring the LNA’s crackdown on journalists and activists following a protest by flood-hit Derna residents outside the city’s landmark Al Sahaba mosque.

“Meeting Haftar to discuss democratic elections is like discussing fire safety with an arsonist. Shut the door on your way out mate,” said Anas El Gomati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, on X.

“I think the West is very naïve about how to engage with Haftar,” said Tarek Megerisi, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “My advice to the US would be to take a very strong line in pushing back against the securitisation of the Derna crisis,” he added, referring to what Amnesty International has called the LNA’s “well-honed machinery of repression to silence criticism, muzzle civil society and evade responsibility”.

‘America’s man’ or ‘Russia’s man’ in Libya?

US policy on Libya over the past few years has been characterised by muddle and absence, according to many analysts.

“Washington is playing catchup on Libya because policy is always overshadowed by other priorities,” said Frederic Wehrey, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Libya surfaces in US consciousness when there are threat concerns: ISIS [the Islamic State group], energy security and Russia’s spoiling influence in Libya.”

Since 2014 – when his military “Operation Dignity” on Benghazi split the country in two – Haftar has positioned himself as an indispensable Libyan player who has at various points engaged with the US, Russia, France, Italy, the EU, Egypt and the UAE, even as he dismays officials in global and regional capitals.

A Gaddafi-era army officer, Haftar began the post-2011 chapter as “America’s man” – the product of a 20-year stay in Virginia after the CIA failed to find another country to house his commando force engaged in covert operations against the longtime Libyan dictator. 

“In the back of Russia’s mind, Haftar is still “America’s man” in Libya, especially after the twenty years that Haftar spent in Virginia,” noted Khalil El Hasse in a Washington Institute briefing.

“On whether Haftar is America’s man or Russia’s man, I think he thrives on being in the grey zone – which is fully, neither. But I do think that the Americans have displayed a naiveite that perhaps the Russians have not because the Russians are as opportunistic, if not more opportunistic, than Haftar himself,” said Baadi.

The US and its European allies have played the opportunistic game with Haftar, but they are falling behind Russia in strategy and the Libyan people have been the biggest losers, according to experts.

“A variety of international powers have crafted their relationship with this personality under the guise of counterterrorism,” said Stephanie Williams, former UN special envoy to Libya and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution. “Nations tend to prioritise these kind of discrete files – whether it’s counterterrorism or oil or counter-migration – at the expense of frankly, the kind of institution-building that was needed in the wake of 2011.”

More than a decade after Gaddafi’s ouster, the international roadmap for the North African country is focused on a “Libyan-led” process towards parliamentary and presidential elections.

The process, led by the current UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, a veteran Senegalese diplomat, has a whiff of dismaying familiarity for most Libyans, who have endured election cancellations, obstructions and irregularities by their political elites.

During the September 10 protests outside the Al Sahaba mosque in Derna, residents vented their rage against Aguila Saleh, the eastern-based parliament speaker and Haftar ally. At 79, Saleh is viewed as a symbol of Libya’s political malaise, unilaterally pushing “legislation” through the chamber that favour his cronies and Haftar allies.

Saleh’s nephew, Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi, was Derna’s appointed mayor when the dam disaster that was “decades in the making” struck. Ghaithi was sacked shortly after the tragedy.

Read moreLibya’s deadly dam collapse was decades in the making

The Derna disaster could provide a tipping point for change, and it’s one that should be seized by countries supporting democracy in Libya before the Russians – under a new “Africa man” – can play spoiler.

“Derna does in fact represent an opportunity for responsible international and regional actors to correct the trajectory of their policy on Libya, to first of all stand with the Libyan people,” said Williams. “There is a moral responsibility now because what happened in Libya is going to happen somewhere else, we’re going have a climate change-driven event that will be compounded by conflict, chaos and misgovernance.”

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Notorious Russian general, master spy duo organise in Africa after Prigozhin’s demise

In recent weeks, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and General Andrei Averyanov from the GRU military intelligence agency have made several trips to Africa. The two are increasingly seen as the main organisers of the post-Prigozhin era of Russian relationships with Africa following the Wagner Group chief’s demise in a fiery plane crash at the end of August. 

Yunus-bek Yevkurov, Russia‘s Deputy Defence Minister, and Andrei Averyanov, a notorious general from the GRU military intelligence agency, touched down in Bamako, Mali, on Saturday, September 16.  They were slated to meet political leaders from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to local media and various sources on Telegram.

This was not the first of the duo’s visits to Africa. They have made several visits to the continent since the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin on August 23, 2023… and even prior to that. Yevkurov, always flanked by Averyanov, was in Libya – one of the main African bases for Wagner’s mercenaries – the day before the plane crash back in Russia which killed the Wagner Group chief, as well as two others from the organisation’s top leadership who could have replaced him. 

Yevkurov, the negotiator

The meeting in Mali was not coincidental: Yevkurov and Averyanov were scheduled to hold talks with representatives of the countries Prigozhin had last visited. Riley Moeder, an Africa specialist studying the role of Wagner’s mercenaries on the continent at the New Lines Institute, an American geopolitical research center, holds that Russia is playing on a sense of continuity: “Prigozhin was filmed in that region before his plane crashed, and this region is looking for support. So Moscow wants to assure them that it remains committed to that region,” she says.

The Russian deputy defence minister had already visited Mali and Burkina Faso in the first week of September to assure local authorities that Moscow would “do everything in its power to help” them, The New York Times reported in an investigation into the future of Wagner’s African “empire” published on September 8.

Yevkurov and Averyanov would therefore appear to African leaders to be the successors to the late Wagner boss. What’s more, as The New York Times reports in the same investigation, they also met with some of the remaining Wagner mercenaries in Mali. Several media outlets have already presented the GRU’s Averyanov as “Prigozhin’s successor” in Africa.

Indeed, the profiles of both men correspond to some of the roles hitherto played by Wagner’s former leader.

For example, Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov is a decorated general with “quite a good military reputation”, says Ivan Klyszcz, a specialist in Russian foreign policy at the International Centre for Defence and Security in Estonia. That may be enough to inspire respect among the Wagner mercenaries.

Yevkurov also has a solid reputation as a peacemaker and negotiator from his time spent in Ingushetia, an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation located in the Greater Caucasus mountain range. He led this Russian republic from 2008 to 2019, at a time when the region “was more violent than Chechnya“, says Klyszcz, who has focussed on this part of Russia. “The region was almost as safe as everywhere else in Russia when he left.”

For the Kremlin, Yevkurov has a certain diplomatic finesse that is perfectly suited for being “the new face of relations between the Russian government when dealing with these African regimes”, says Andreas Heinemann-Gruder, a Russia specialist who studies private paramilitary groups at the University of Bonn.

Averyanov and the GRU assassins

Diplomatic finesse is arguably not Averyanov’s strong suit. General Averyanov is best known for having led the GRU’s infamous 29155 unit, which specialises in covert operations like sabotage and assassination. Spies from this unit are suspected of having blown up an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic in 2014, attempting to stage a pro-Serbian coup in Montenegro in 2016 and the attempted poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018. 

Read moreUnit 29155, the Russian spies specialising in ‘sabotage and assassinations’

In other words, “[Averyanov’s] qualification is preparing special operations abroad. He is the ‘hit and kill guy’ you call when you need this kind of service,” says Heinemann-Gruder.

What’s in it for African regimes? “Averyanov can … take over some elements of regime security, and not only bodyguard services, but also in [his] area of specialisation: repression and targeted assassination,” adds Klyszcz.

But Averyanov is more than a cold-blooded killer. “Averyanov is a decorated veteran from Afghanistan and Chechnya and was also active in Moldova and Crimea. As with all Russian special operatives, he is trained to take the initiative, operate cut off from superiors’ orders, and make links with local allies,” says Jeff Hawn, Russia specialist and an external consultant for the New Lines Institute. This pedigree makes him an ideal candidate to negotiate with local military groups, just as Wagner’s managers would do when arriving in a new country in Africa.  

Yevkurov, the shrewd politician, and Averyanov, the master spy, thus appear to be as different as they are complementary. However, they both have one quality in common setting them apart from the late Yevgeny Prigozhin: “They’re both reliable, loyal soldiers who are not the type of personality which could be expected to ‘go rogue’,” says Hawn. 

“Loyalty is a very powerful advantage in the Putin system right now,” says Klyszcz. This would be especially the case for anyone aspiring to take over for Prigozhin, who, after his abortive rebellion attempt against the Russian defence ministry in June, came to epitomise treachery in the eyes of the Russian leadership.

More openly official support

Is all of this enough for the Kremlin to hand the keys to Wagner’s kingdom in Africa to the duo? According to the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24, they will play a role, but not as sole operators. Yevkurov and Averyanov embody, as representatives of the Russian state, a move from the semi-clandestine operations and relations carried out by Wagner to more open relations with the African regimes in place. “It’s no longer hybrid warfare but official support. They show that communication is continuing with Russia, but now through official channels,” says Heinemann-Gruder. 

But this does not mean that the structures set up by Wagner will simply be absorbed by the Russian ministry of defence. Wagner’s very decentralised model is still useful to Moscow, because “it’s easier to adapt to local situations. What is happening in Mali is not what is happening in the Central African Republic,” says Moeder. The situation in Mali, with its imperative to fight terrorism, has little in common with the nature of operations in the Central African Republic, where Wagner’s main aim is to secure lucrative mining activities. Wagner also runs propaganda operations in several countries and even manages a brewery and vodka distillery in the Central African Republic.

Such diverse activities and hybrid warfare, wherein conventional tactics are blended with subversive actions,  “require greater dexterity than the Russian security bureaucracy is likely capable of”, writes Joseph Siegle, Director of the Center for African Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, in an article published on The Conversation.

Finally, it will still be useful to let the mercenaries carry out certain actions to be able to continue denying official involvement on the part of Moscow in the event of exactions or reprisals in a country.

Yevkurov and Averyanov are thus an important part of the first stage of the reorganisation of Russian operations in Africa. “The Russians are beginning to learn some lessons from past experience with Wagner and other PMCs (private military companies). We can expect less autonomy and clear political leadership,” says Heinemann-Gruder.

And if Moscow’s progress in taking control of operations is rather slow, it’s also because the Wagner Group also has well-entrenched financial interests in Africa. “There is a web of [Russian] oligarchs and businessmen who benefitted from Prigozhin’s businesses and shell companies, and who have everything to gain from the system remaining,” says Moeder. Moscow’s interests therefore also lie in making sure that everyone involved in Wagner’s African operations continues to benefit. 

This article was translated from the original in French. 

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Days after the Wagner mutiny, the spectres of ‘Black Saturday’ continue to haunt Russians

The dramatic events that unfolded in Russia over the weekend with an armed column of Wagner private military company marching towards Moscow have sent chills across the world — any radical challenge to Russia’s government of President Vladimir Putin could affect not just the lives of Russians, but also the stability of the world order, already pretty fragile.

Editorial | Rebellion in Russia: on the mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner private military company

The “march of justice”, as Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman and once President Putin’s trusted associate, called his rebellion, was unprecedented in Russia’s modern history but was very short-lived. Still it exposed cracks in the Russian statehood and society. 

While there were different narratives on the origins of Mr. Prigozhin’s move — political ambitions, strive for profits, a bid to challenge the current status quo, or an overreaching hand of the West — the key question yet to have a solid answer is whether the mutiny, and the way it was aborted, undermines the strength or Vladimir Putin or amplifies it. And, more important, whether it was the final act or just the beginning.

“This is not the end of the story, but the beginning. Military mutiny, even unsuccessful, is a harbinger. Key events (revolution, coup, civil war) unfold later, after some time lag. History has no formulas for the future, but such a scenario has some significant tradition (probability),” political scientist Kirill Rogov, founder of the Re: Russia, a discussion platform addressing key issues of Russian politics, economy and society, wrote on his Telegram channel. He pointed out that the mutiny marked a point where those people who took the oath and are ready to “serve the motherland” suddenly discovered a completely different understanding of where the “motherland” is.

Mr. Putin in his address to the nation on Saturday, while the mutiny was unfolding, made it clear: as the motherland is engaged in a “severe struggle for its future” which would decide the “the fate of our nation”, consolidation of all forces is required. He called actions that divide the country’s unity “a betrayal of our people and the comrades who are currently fighting on the front lines”, and compared the current situation with 1917 when, during the First World War, intrigues and disputes “behind the Army and the people turned into the greatest upheaval,” resulting in the collapse of the Army, the disintegration of the state, and a civil war.

Fear of bloodshed

The real-time footage shared by dozens of Russian Telegram channels on Saturday, in which residents are seen shaking hands, hugging and taking photos with Wagner fighters who took control of a regional military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don — a city of over 1 million close to the Ukraine border — must have sent shudders through the power elites.

Servicemen of the Wagner Group military company sit atop of a tank, as local civilians pose for a photo prior to their leave an area at the HQ of the Southern Military District in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24, 2023.
| Photo Credit:

As Russian political analysts note, many of the issues raised by Mr. Prigozhin — corruption, poor decision making resulting in high casualties on the frontline, or the idea of invading Ukraine itself — resonate with the common people. In an interview released hours before he announced his ‘march of justice’ towards Moscow, Mr. Prigozhin stated Russia had lost tens of thousands of troops, and accused Defence minister Sergei Shoigu of being the mastermind behind the invasion of Ukraine, driven by his personal ambition to enhance his own position.

Mr. Prigozhin also claimed that Mr. Shoigu was supported by oligarchs seeking to exploit Ukrainian resources. Such statements, like many others that Mr. Prigozhin has earlier made, could result in heavy prison terms (from 5 to 15 years) if those were made by ordinary Russians. 

However, a majority of Russians, who recall the events of 1991 (the disintegration of the Soviet Union) with great pain, irrespective of their political views, were rather alarmed at seeing their countrymen embracing Wagner fighters who shot down, as was later confirmed by the President, several helicopters and a military plane of the Russian armed forces, killing at least 13 people. The fear of bloodshed is extremely strong in the nation that has lived through many wars over the past 100 years. 

In the latest comment released by Mr. Prigozhin on Monday evening, he reiterated his claim that the decision to turn the military column around was made “to avoid bloodshed”, and he stressed several times that there was “no death” on the ground during a nearly 24-hour long march. In the same statement, Mr. Prigozhin, however, confirmed that Wagner shot down Russian Air Force aircraft, adding that it was for self-defence.

File picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin seen on monitors as he addressed the nation after Yevgeny Prigozhin called for armed rebellion on June 24, 2023

File picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin seen on monitors as he addressed the nation after Yevgeny Prigozhin called for armed rebellion on June 24, 2023
| Photo Credit:

As Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko who on Tuesday unveiled the details of his mediation between Moscow and Wagner, said Kremlin had amassed some 10,000 troops to repel the Prigozhin-led march, which could have led to clashes and bloodshed. A peaceful solution was the priority, he added

‘Stop the columns’

No one in Russia’s power, business or military circles publicly supported Mr. Prigozhin’s rebellion. Hours after Wagner’s move towards Moscow was announced, Deputy Commander of the Russian Joint Forces, General Sergey Surovikin, whom Mr. Prigozhin was considered as being “close to”, and called on Wagner fighters to stop. “Before it’s too late, we need to obey the will and order of the popularly elected President of the Russian Federation, stop the columns, return them to their permanent locations,” he said, urging mercenaries not to “play into the enemy’s hands in these difficult times for our country.”

The deputy head of the GRU (the military intelligence service), Vladimir Alekseev, made a similar appeal, stating that Mr. Prigozhin’s actions as well as demands to replace the military leadership were “a stab in the back of the country and the President”. 

After Mr. Putin’s address on Saturday, Russian officials, including Governors of the regions, members of Parliament and other dignitaries, have published messages in support of the President and calling for unity of society. As Wagner fighters were leaving Rostov on Saturday night, the facade of Rostov city stadium was lit up with the colours of the Russian flag, and a line running: “We are all one nation, and we are fighting against a common external enemy. We believe in the Russian people and our President!”

System crisis

Political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov called June 24 “a moment of the most acute political crisis in the Russian realities of the 21st century”, adding that there was not a single institution that has acted honourably. “Everyone suffered reputational risks. At the end, the general feeling among all the parties is devastation. It is valid for those who saw the developments as a chance for change. And for those who were sincerely convinced that they were acting on behalf of the good and speaking on behalf of the ‘majority’.” 

Sergey Markedonov, a leading researcher at the MGIMO Institute of International Studies, Moscow, noted that “if we don’t continue to improve the quality of public administration in our country”, such tragedies as the events of June 24 will repeat. The ‘Black Saturday’, as he and many other commenters have labelled it, has not created political alternatives for Russia, but made them more visible. “It would be a big mistake to believe that changes in our country will occur in the spectrum of fluctuations between authoritarianism and democracy. The “transit” [of power] can also follow completely different trajectories,” he said. 

Anton Chekhov once defined Russia as a ‘bureaucratic country’, Mr. Markedonov recalled in a Telegram post. “And if that’s the case, then the quality of state governance is a crucial question for us… Therefore, strengthening the state, its de-privatisation (where necessary, especially in the security sector), becomes the most urgent task for the future. Only then does the illusory chance arise that a strong authority, in order to increase its own effectiveness, will demand high-quality independent expertise, a functioning ‘feedback loop,’ and self-purification from numerous ‘clots’”, he added.

Wagner’s future

In his latest address to the nation made on Monday night, Mr. Putin offered three choices to Wagner fighters: sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense, return home or move to neighbouring Belarus.

“The overwhelming majority of the fighters and commanders of the Wagner group are Russian patriots, devoted to their people and country. They proved this with their courage on the battlefield,” Mr. Putin said, thanking Wagner soldiers and commanders who “stopped at the last line” and didn’t allow the “fratricidal bloodshed” to take place.

On Tuesday morning, Russian state-owned news agencies reported, citing the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), that the case of armed mutiny against Mr. Prigozhin was dismissed on June 27. Mr. Prigozhin’s private jet was spotted landing at a military airfield near Minsk, early morning on Tuesday and later in the day, Mr. Lukashenko confirmed that the Wagner chief was in Belarus.

Independent media outlet Verstka, considered a “foreign agent’ by the Russian government, reported that camps were being built for Wagner forces in Belarus’s Osipovichi, Mogilev region (200 km from the border with Ukraine). The camps will accommodate up to 8,000 people (according to various estimates, 5,000-8,000 Wagner forces took part in the mutiny).

However, Mr. Lukashenko dismissed the reports, but added that he would assist with accommodation if necessary. “We don’t build any camps for now. But if they want, we will accommodate them. As far as I can see, they are looking at various territories. Feel free to set up tents. But for now, they are in their own camps in Lugansk,” the Belarus President was quoted as saying by the state Belta news agency.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defence ministry said Wagner PMC’s heavy weaponry will be transferred to the Russian armed forces.

Political analyst Alexey Makarkin, interviewed by Vedomosti newspaper, noted that while the ‘march of justice’ came as a surprise to the “system”, the Russian President’s speech sent an important signal to all its stakeholders. Now, any support for Mr. Prigozhin is categorically unacceptable, and the “former network of Prigozhin sympathizers” should now distance themselves from him. 

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A small step across the Dnipro River, a giant leap for Ukraine’s counteroffensive?

The Ukrainian army not only succeeded in advancing across the Dnipro River in the Kherson region this week, it but also carried out strikes on Tokmak, a southern Ukrainian town occupied by Russia and at a strategic crossroads for a possible counteroffensive in the southeast.

As Kyiv prepares for a counteroffensive after a grinding winter, two recent events in southern Ukraine have piqued the interest of military observers and raised questions over whether the much-awaited Ukrainian counterattack is in fact already underway.    

Tokmak – a small town between Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol, occupied by the Russians – was hit by Ukrainian shells on Tuesday, April 25, the Russian news agency TASS has confirmed. 

A  day earlier, Ukrainian troops near Kherson also succeeded in crossing the Dnipro River, a natural line of defence for the Russian army, according to an update from the Institute for the Study of War.  

Heading for Crimea?    

The two operations may have happened 300 kilometres apart, but they “both suggest Ukrainian military activity in the Crimea direction”, said Sim Tack from Force Analysis, a company specialising in military analysis.   

Russian military bloggers on Telegram originally confirmed that Ukrainian soldiers had crossed the Dnipro River, according to the Institute for the Study of War. The operation is said to have happened near Oleshky, a town south of Kherson and the starting point of “a direct road towards Crimea”, explained Tack.  The road would be “the logical route to reach the peninsula, if they didn’t want to fight in the Tokmak region”, he said.

Tokmak also offers an alternative, if longer, route to the Russianoccupied south. It is “a strategic crossroads that goes down towards Melitopol and enables the cutting off of Russian forces in the Kherson region from their supply centre in Mariupol,” said Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in the Ukraine-Russia conflict at the University of Glasgow.     

A counteroffensive that succeeds in regaining the axis between Tokmak and Melitopol would almost certainly ensure that the Kherson region falls into Ukrainian hands, facilitating an advance towards Crimea, Aliyev explained

A map showing Russian occupied areas in east Ukraine and sites where a Ukrainian couteroffensive may have begun in late April 2023. © France Médias Monde graphics studio


Testing Russian defences  

The two operations observed so far, “do not represent, in themselves, a notable change,” said Aliyev. “It’s the start of the counteroffensive, but the operation is not quite happening yet,” maintained Tack.  

Ukrainian forces managed to cross the Dnipro River before at the same crossing point in November 2022, shortly after regaining the town of Kherson. The most recent crossing “is not a massive advance with all the material necessary to establish a bridgehead in the region. It’s small, highly mobile units that have crossed the river,” noted Tack. 

“It looks like reconnaissance operations to test Russian defences and potentially start bringing over munitions to build up stocks ahead of a possible larger operation,” said Jeff Hawn, a Russian military specialist and consultant for New Line Institute, a US geopolitical research centre.  

In other words, the activity could constitute “the first phase of the counteroffensive”, said Tack. 

The counteroffensive itself could not be achieved with a single strike: instead, Ukrainian forces would need to identify weaknesses in the Russian defence while trying to destroy logistical support lines.  

This could account for the bombing of Tokmak. The city is not only located at a strategic crossroads, it “also houses a Russian command center, equipment such as an ammunition depot and a center for troop redeployments”, said Tack.

A diversion?  

Kyiv has made it clear that it wants to regain the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.  

>> Read more: Ukraine unveils plan for recaptured Crimea – but West ‘reluctant’ to help

However, experts agree that it is too early to tell whether Ukrainian forces plan to launch a counteroffensive to advance into the southeastern territory, or in the north into Donbas.  

Operations that seem to point towards Crimea could be a ruse. “We can’t discount the possibility of a diversion,” said Hawn.    

It’s a tactic that Ukrainian forces have used before. Just ahead of the Autumn 2022 counteroffensive that saw Ukraine retake the town of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces made conspicuous efforts to stage the appearance of an imminent attack further north on Kherson.  

Aliyev doubts that a large operation crossing the Dnipro River is likely. “Crossing a river is much riskier than taking the road through Zaporizhzhia,” he said. In addition, “On the other side of the Dnipro, there are marshes that make it practically impossible to unload the heavy vehicles necessary to break through enemy lines.”    

Targeting Donbas, and specifically the Luhansk region, instead of Crimea would avoid a river crossing.

However, this area also comes with difficulties. “It’s much less flat than the Kherson region with many more towns to recapture, which would make any advance much slower,” said Aliyev. 

International pressure    

Whatever the plan, time is of the essence. Ukrainians “are under international pressure to launch the counteroffensive,” said Tack. “It has become inevitable because Western countries have sent enormous amounts of military equipment and want to see proof that it was necessary,” Hawn added. 

The wider context could impact how operations are planned. “The pressure risks pushing Ukraine into launching an operation that provides a grand spectacle, rather than advancing slowly and steadily,” warned Aliyev

There is also pressure to regain as much ground as possible. “Ukrainians are going to be tempted to prioritise territorial gains over destroying enemy units, because a map showing clear Ukrainian advances goes over better in the international media than reports on this or that Russian brigade being killed,” said Haws.  “However, both are equally important.”  

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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Russia hits Ukraine power grid and gains ground in eastern Ukraine

Issued on: Modified:

Russian missiles hit power facilities on Friday across Ukraine, where President Volodymyr Zelenskiy returned from a tour of Western capitals and Ukrainian officials said a long-awaited Russian offensive was underway inthe east. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here

9:58pm: Ukraine’s Zelensky sacks top official, says corruption clean-up drive continues

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday issued a decree sacking a senior security figure and said separately that his drive to clean up the government would continue.

Authorities have dismissed dozens of officials in recent weeks and opened probes as part of a widespread drive against wrongdoing. The European Union says addressing corruption is a requirement for Ukraine joining the 27-member bloc.

Zelensky dismissed Ruslan Dziuba as deputy commander of the National Guard, according to a brief decree issued by the presidential office. It did not give any reasons for the move. Zelensky – who has stressed the need for the defence ministry in particular to be cleaned up – did not specifically mention Dziuba in his daily video address.

Instead, he said he had met defence sector and law enforcement officials to discuss ways to protect institutions from what he called attempts from outside or inside to reduce their effectiveness and efficiency. Referring to the crackdown, he said: “All this activity is not just about certain episodes or criminal proceedings … the state will continue to modernize the institutions themselves. The purity of the work of state structures must be guaranteed.”

6:30pm: ‘We will be in danger if Russia wins’: Security concerns drive Poland’s support for Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has conferred a new importance to the Baltic States and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe geographically closest to Russia – particularly Poland. Warsaw is determined to learn from Poland’s own history and help Ukraine win the war. Read our exclusive analysis by FRANCE 24’s Sonya Ciesnik.

>>>‘We will be in danger if Russia wins’: Security concerns drive Poland’s support for Ukraine

5:45pm: Moscow declares popular Russian singer ‘foreign agent’

Russia’s Justice Ministry on Friday placed Zemfira, one of post-Soviet Russia’s most popular singers, on a list of foreign agents on grounds that she supported Ukraine and criticised Russia’s “special military operation” in that country.

Tass news agency quoted a ministry statement as saying that Zemfira, whose full name is Zemfira Ramazanova, “openly supported Ukraine, held concerts in unfriendly countries while speaking against the special military operation and received support from foreign sources”.

Zemfira, an ethnic Volga Tatar born in the central Russian region of Bashkortostan, began performing in 1998 and gained popularity in Russia and other ex-Soviet states. She was known to oppose the conflict with Ukraine and for a time, her website featured the slogan “No to war”.

She is reported by numerous websites to have left Russia to settle in France after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Russians labelled foreign agents have often been subjected to police searches and other punitive measures. Many have left the country in the past year.

2:04pm: Russia says it staged major strike on Ukrainian energy facilities

Russia carried out a “massive strike” on critically important energy facilities of Ukraine’s military-industrial complex on Friday, the Russian defence ministry said on Saturday.

In a daily update, the ministry did not identify the energy facilities it claimed to have hit. It said the strike had also blocked the transport of foreign weapons and ammunition by rail to battlegrounds in Ukraine.

11:55am: Moscow says calls to ban Russian athletes from Olympics ‘unacceptable’

Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said on Saturday that calls from ministers of more than 30 countries to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics were unacceptable, TASS news agency reported.

A group of 35 countries, including the United States, Germany and Australia, will demand that Russian and Belarusian athletes are banned from the 2024 Olympics, Lithuania’s sports minister said on Friday, deepening the uncertainty over the Paris Games.

The move cranks up the pressure on an International Olympic Committee (IOC) that is desperate to avoid the sporting event being torn asunder by the conflict unfolding in Ukraine.

“This is a direct interference of ministers in the activities of independent international sports organizations, an attempt to dictate the conditions for the participation of athletes in international competitions, which is absolutely unacceptable,” Matytsin was quoted as saying by TASS.

11:53am: Wagner owner says war in Ukraine will drag on for years

The owner of the Russian Wagner Group private military contractor actively involved in the fighting in Ukraine has predicted that the war could drag on for years.

Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video interview released late Friday that it could take 18 months to two years for Russia to fully secure control of Ukraine‘s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. He added that the war could go on for three years if Moscow decides to capture broader territories east of the Dnieper River.

The statement from Prigozhin, a millionaire who has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts, marked a recognition of the difficulties that the Kremlin has faced in the campaign, which it initially expected to wrap up within weeks when Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

7:55am: Attacks reported across Ukraine

Ukraine’s armed forces said in an evening update that Russian forces fired more than 100 missiles throughout the country and staged 12 air and 20 shelling attacks. The Facebook post said 61 cruise missiles were destroyed. Energy Minister German Galushchenko said Russia had hit power facilities in six regions with missiles and drones, causing blackouts across most of Ukraine.

After humiliating defeats on the ground, Russia has in recent months targeted Ukraine’s energy facilities, leading to power shortages that have left millions in the cold and dark.

Ukraine’s energy operator Ukrenergo said “power plants and high voltage network facilities” had been affected in the east, west and south, with the “most difficult situation” in the region of Kharkiv, near the border with Russia.

The country temporarily lost 44 percent of its nuclear generation and 75 percent of the capacity of thermal power plants, Shmyhal said.

The electrical grid instability caused by the shelling also led to the shutting down of one of the reactor units at Khmelnytskyi Nuclear Power Plant, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

© France Médias Monde graphic studio



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Live: Russia escalates attacks in Ukraine, striking Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia

Russian forces struck critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and launched multiple strikes on energy infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia early Friday as Moscow stepped up its attacks in Ukraine’s south and east and air raid sirens went off across much of the country. Follow our liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+1). 

2:30pm: Russia using surface-to-air missiles to target Ukrainian cities

Russian forces unleashed a barrage of missile and drone strikes against targets in eastern and southern Ukraine early Friday, striking critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and Zaporizhzhia.

The latest barrage saw Moscow’s forces use S-300 surface-to-air missiles to target infrastructure on the ground, says FRANCE 24’s correspondent Gulliver Cragg, reporting from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.


1:20pm: Ukraine says 61 of 71 Russian missiles destroyed

The Ukrainian air force said Friday its defence systems shot down 61 out of 71 Russian missiles launched in a fresh wave of attacks.

“The enemy launched a massive missile attack on the critical infrastructure of Ukraine,” the air force said. “Sixty-one out of 71 enemy missiles (have been) destroyed,” it added.

1:09pm: Italy’s Meloni says supporting Ukraine only way to achieve peace

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni dismissed critics at home who have chided her decision to continue sending arms to Ukraine, saying those who supported Kyiv were working for peace.

“Those who say Ukraine should not be helped are working against the sovereignty and freedom of a nation,” Meloni told a news conference at the end of an EU summit.

She added that she hoped Italy would be able to announce in the coming days that it was ready to supply Ukraine with a SAMP/T missile defence system, which it will deliver jointly with France.

12:29pm: Romania denies Russian missiles crossed country

Romania on Friday denied Russian missiles flew over the country, rejecting Kyiv’s claims that two Russian missiles crossed the airspace of the NATO-member on their way to Ukraine.

Romania detected an “aerial target launched from the Black Sea from a ship of the Russian Federation” but “at no point did it intersect with Romania’s airspace,” its ministry of defence said.

11:57am: Ukrainian electricity producer says four power plants damaged

Leading Ukrainian electricity producer DTEK said four of its thermal power plants were damaged in Russian missile attacks on Friday.

It said in a statement that, according to preliminary information, two employees had been wounded.

Ukraine’s energy minister said earlier on Friday that Russia had hit power facilities in six Ukrainian regions, forcing authorities to launch emergency electricity shutdowns across most of the country.

11:53am: Moldova summons Russian ambassador after missile overflight

Moldova on Friday said it would summon Russia‘s ambassador after Chisinau claimed that a missile crossed the airspace of the ex-Soviet republic.

The ambassador would be summoned “to indicate to the Russian side the unacceptable violation of our airspace by a Russian missile that today flew over the sovereign territory of Republic of Moldova,” the foreign ministry said in a press release.

11:40am: Putin to deliver state of the nation address on February 21

Russian President Vladimir Putin will deliver his state of the nation address on February 21, the Kremlin said Friday, just days before Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine passes its first anniversary.

“On February 21, the President of the Russian Federation will address the Federal Assembly”, which includes lawmakers from both chambers of parliament, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

11:24am: Russian attacks hit Ukrainian power facilities in six regions

Russia hit power facilities in six Ukrainian regions during missile and drone strikes on Friday, forcing authorities to launch emergency electricity shutdowns across most of the country, Energy Minister German Galushchenko said.

“Unfortunately, there are hits at thermal and hydro generation facilities and also at high-voltage infrastructure in six regions,” Galushchenko said. “The most difficult situation is in Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv and Khmelnytskiy regions.

11:20am: Ten Russian missiles shot down over Kyiv, mayor says

Ukraine shot down 10 Russian missiles over the capital Kyiv on Friday, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

“There is damage to power grids. There are no casualties. Energy workers are working to restore the network,” Klitschko wrote on the Telegram messaging app, quoting the Ukrainian military.

11:18am: Russia likely lost dozens of tanks in failed attack on Vuhledar, UK says

Russian forces likely lost dozens of armoured vehicles during a failed attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Vuhledar, British intelligence said on Friday.

Vuhledar, a Ukrainian-held bastion at the strategic intersection between the eastern and southern front lines, has seen some of the bloodiest fighting of the war as Russia continues a relentless assault on the eastern front.

“Russian troops likely fled and abandoned at least 30 mostly intact armoured vehicles in a single incident after a failed assault,” Britain’s defence ministry said in a daily briefing.

11:09: Russia says it will cut oil production over Western caps

Russia will cut oil production by 500,000 barrels per day next month in response to the West capping the price of its crude over the war in Ukraine, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Friday, according to multiple Russian news media reports.

“As of today, we fully sell all our crude output, but as we stated before, we will not sell oil to those who directly or indirectly adhere to the ‘price ceiling,’” Novak said, in remarks carried on the Russian TASS news agency.

“In connection with that, Russia will voluntarily cut production by 500,000 barrels a day. It will help restore market-style relations,” he said.

10:42am: Ukraine says two Russian missiles crossed into Romania, Moldova airspace

Two Russian missiles crossed into Romanian and Moldovan airspace before entering Ukraine on Friday, the top Ukrainian general said.

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said two Kaliber missiles launched from the Black Sea had entered Moldovan airspace, then flew into Romanian airspace, before entering Ukraine. FRANCE 24 could not immediately verify the statement. Russia did not immediately comment on it.

The Ukrainska Pravda media outlet quoted the air force spokesperson as saying separately that Ukraine had the ability to shoot down the missiles but did not do so because it did not want to endanger civilians in foreign countries.

10:35am: Kyiv renews calls for fighter jets as Russian strikes pummel Ukraine

A close aide to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky has renewed calls for Western allies to provide Kyiv with long-range missiles and fighter jets after the latest wave of Russian missile and drone attacks.

“Russia has been striking at Ukrainian cities all night & morning,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter. “Enough talk & political hesitation. Only fast key decisions: long-range missiles, fighter jets, operational supplies logistics for Ukraine.”

Earlier in the day, French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine at some point, but that Kyiv was in need of more immediate military firepower.

9:32am: Russia complains it can’t export grain through Black Sea deal

Russia‘s ambassador to the UN said on Friday that Moscow has not been able to export any grain as part of the Black Sea grain deal struck between Russia and Ukraine last year due to Western obstacles, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The deal, struck last summer, facilitates the export of Ukrainian agricultural products through its southern Black Sea ports with the supervision of Turkey and the United Nations. It was not intended to facilitate Russian grain exports and Russia continues to export large volumes of grain and other agricultural products outside of the deal.

8:15am: Ukrainian air defence ‘sometimes has 100 percent success rate’

The mobile air defence teams intercepting Russian missiles have become crucial to Ukraine’s war efforts as it defends its people and infrastructure from attacks.

“It’s become almost part of daily life for inhabitants of Kyiv and its region; once every 10 days or so, sirens will go off and explosions will be heard just afterwards, and people turn to the media to find out what percentage of the rockets or drones were shot down by air defence systems, FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported, on the ground with one such team in area around the Ukrainian capital. “It’s almost always the majority; sometimes it’s even 100 percent success rate.


A rescuer stands ouside a residential building partially destroyed after a missile strike in Kharkiv on January 30, 2023.
A rescuer stands ouside a residential building partially destroyed after a missile strike in Kharkiv on January 30, 2023. © Sergey Bobok, AFP


7:32am: Air raid alert declared across Ukraine

An air raid alert was declared in all of Ukraine on Friday as officials warned of potential Russian missile strikes, urging residents to take shelter.

“There is a big threat of the missile attack. I want to stress again – do not ignore the air alert sirens,” said Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv city military administration.

5:44am: Russia escalates attacks in Ukraine, striking Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv

Russian forces struck critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and launched multiple strikes on energy infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia early Friday as Moscow stepped up its attacks in Ukraine’s south and east and air raid sirens went off across much of the country.

Zaporizhzhia City Council Secretary Anatolii Kurtiev said the city had been hit 17 times in one hour, which he said made it the most intense period of attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

In Kharkiv, authorities were still trying to establish information on victims and scale of the destruction, with Mayor Ihor Terekhov saying there may be disruptions to heating and the electricity and water supply.

Military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping that Europe’s support for Ukraine will wane, as Russia is believed to be preparing a new offensive.

5:35am: France says Ukraine needs firepower now, doesn’t exclude planes later

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he did not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine at some point, but that Kyiv was in need of more immediate military firepower, as Ukrainian officials said a fresh Russian offensive was underway.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has long urged Ukraine’s allies to send jet fighters and on Thursday said that several European leaders were ready to supply aircraft.

“I exclude absolutely nothing,” Macron said when asked about the possibility of sending jets at the end of a summit of EU leaders, attended by Zelensky.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 8, 2023.
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 8, 2023. © Sarah Meyssonnier, AP


5:30am: Macron weighs kicking Putin out of French Legion of Honour

French President Emmanuel Macron pinned the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour medal on Volodymyr Zelensky’s chest after the two met in the French presidential palace Thursday, a move Macron said was meant to show France’s “immense” recognition for Ukraine’s valour since Russia invaded it a year ago.

Some French legislators and activists have called on Macron to rescind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s award because of the war.

Macron didn’t rule out stripping Putin of the honour bestowed by then-President Jacques Chirac in 2006.

Macron told reporters Friday that such a decision “has serious meaning, and it should be taken at the right moment.’’ He noted that he has rescinded the honor in the past.

9.20pm: War crimes seen everywhere Russian forces have deployed, US ambassador tells FRANCE 24

The US ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, Beth Van Schaack, told FRANCE 24 in an interview Thursday that war crimes and other atrocities have been seen everywhere Russia’s forces have been deployed. There is no question that this exercise has been a strategic failure for Putin and for the Kremlin, she said, and they are responding to that with increasingly desperate measures targeting civilians directly.

Van Schaack said the international community’s response to the Ukraine crisis has thus far focused on three main pillars: strengthening Ukraine’s capabilities on the battlefield, mitigating the humanitarian crisis, and ensuring justice and accountability for any crimes committed.

As the one-year mark for the war approaches, there will be a lot of activity at the United Nations focused on trying to implement a just and durable peace, she said.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Live: Ukraine is fighting ‘the most anti-European force’ in the world, Zelensky tells EU lawmakers

President Volodymyr Zelensky told the European Parliament on Thursday that Ukrainian soldiers fighting Russian troops are battling “the most anti-European force” in the world as he reiterated requests for more EU military support. Follow our liveblog for all the latest developments in the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1). 

4:58pm: Tourism collapses in Russia following Western sanctions

The number of foreign tourists visiting Russia collapsed last year due to the impact of Western sanctions and strict Covid restrictions in China, industry professionals said Thursday.

Only 200,100 foreigners visited Russia in 2022, the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) said, citing figures from border services, a drop of 96.1 percent from pre-pandemic years. 

“The reasons are clear: the closed skies between Russia and the vast majority of European countries, as well as the impossibility to use foreign-issued Visa and Mastercard cards in Russia,” ATOR said.

Most of Europe closed its airspace to Russian planes a few days after the Kremlin launched the Ukraine offensive in February 2022. 

Beginning in March 2022, Russian national carrier Aeroflot suspended its international flights, though it gradually resumed travel to “friendly countries”.

But draconian Covid-related restrictions in China that Beijing only recently abandoned kept Chinese tourists from taking advantage of the situation. Before the pandemic Chinese tourists were the top visitors to Russia.

4:43pm: One in four Ukrainians at risk of severe mental health conditions, says WHO

A quarter of Ukraine’s population is at risk of developing a severe mental health condition as the country grapples with the year-long Russian invasion, according to a special advisor to the World Health Organisation.

Michel Kazatchkine, special advisor to the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said the conflict in Ukraine had not only resulted in a shortage of medical supplies and personnel but had also caused a major threat to mental health.

“WHO estimates that at this time, one out of four people in Ukraine is at risk of severe mental health conditions,” Kazatchkine told reporters.

Describing a recent visit to the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, Kazatchkine said he had seen dozens of military personnel hospitalised with “acute and tragic anxiety, depression and psychiatric conditions.”

“Mental health is becoming a predominant public health issue in Ukraine,” he said. “The war and its consequences have led to an increased use of licit and illicit psychoactive substances.”

4:40pm: Slovakia to get German air defence systems to cover Ukraine border

Germany will donate two close-range MANTIS air defence systems to Slovakia to protect its eastern border with Ukraine, the Slovak defence ministry has announced.

NATO member Slovakia has boosted its air defences with the help of several Patriot systems operated by NATO allies after donating its ageing S-300 system to Ukraine last year, and has sought to get additional equipment.

The automated, stationary MANTIS systems made for the German army serve to protect limited areas such as bases. “(MANTIS) will strengthen protection of the eastern border with Ukraine, secured by forces and means of the Slovak armed forces,” the ministry said in a statement.

Each has up to eight turrets, two sensor units and a control centre. It can protect from incoming rockets, drones, artillery and mortar shells.

4:34pm: Ukraine’s armoured vehicles to be repaired in Czech Republic

The Ukrainian army’s armoured vehicles will be repaired in the Czech Republic as part of Prague’s military help against Russia’s aggression, the Czech Defence Ministry said.

State-owned company VOP CZ signed a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine’s government arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom on the repairs this week, the ministry said, without giving further details.

“The memorandum …contains a specific plan and timetable for the repairs or securing of spare parts,” said Ales Vytecka, director of Czech government’s AMOS agency for military cooperation, who co-signed the memorandum.

The Czech Republic has been one of the top weapons providers to Kyiv among NATO alliance allies since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, supplying Ukraine with armoured personnel carriers, tanks or howitzers.

4:10pm: ‘Symbolism, but few deliverables’ from Zelensky’s meeting with European Council

Reporting from Brussels, FRANCE 24’s Dave Keating said Ukrainian President Zelensky was “hitting the same themes” on European unity and values during the press conference following his European Council meeting.

But the Ukrainian president did get some tough questions from journalists at the end, when he was asked if there were any specific deliverables promised during his meetings in Brussels and in Paris last night, noted Keating.

“President Zelensky didn’t want to sound overly negative,” said Keating. “We always knew there wasn’t going to be a big deliverable. This was very much about symbolism.”

European Council President Charles Michel (R), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) at a press conference in Brussels on February 9, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP


3:07pm: ‘Certain agreements’ with Macron, Scholz cannot be made public: Zelensky

The Ukrainian president and top EU leaders faced tough questions from reporters, who asked if there were any concrete deliverables from Zelensky’s meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris on Wednesday night or his meetings in Brussels on Thursday.

Zelensky replied that he had discussed enhancing Ukraine’s military capabilities during his meeting with Macron and Scholz, adding that he could not make all elements of the talks public.

“There are certain agreements which are not public, but which are positive. I don’t want to prepare the Russian Federation, which is constantly threatening us with new aggressions,” Zelensky said during a joint press conference with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday.

2:38pm: New EU sanctions will target ‘Putin’s propagandists’: von der Leyen

Speaking after Zelensky, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced new European sanctions against Russia that will include new export bans worth more than €10 billion ($10.7 billion) and will take on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propagandists.

“We will target Putin’s propagandists because their lies are poisoning the public space in Russia and abroad,” von der Leyen said during the joint press conference with Ukrainian President Zelensky and European Council President Charles Michel.

The new sanctions “will further starve Russia’s military machine and shake the foundations of its economy”, she added.

2:25pm: ‘Europe will be with us until our victory’: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has thanked EU leaders for their support in countering Russia’s invasion following his participation in a European Council meeting – for the first time ever – in Brussels.

At a joint press conference with European Council chief Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Zelensky said it is “only fair” that Ukraine “takes part in meetings of European leaders and that Ukrainian language is part of the European Parliament”.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with EU leaders, Zelensky said the EU was ready to provide Kyiv with aircraft to help it fight for Ukraine’s “independence” and “freedom”.

“Europe will be with us until our victory. I’ve heard it from a number of European leaders … about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including the aircraft,” he said.

“I have a number of bilaterals now, we are going to raise the issue of the fighter jets and other aircraft,” he added.

2:15pm: EU’s Michel: We need to provide maximum support for Ukraine

The EU must continue to provide maximum support to Ukraine, said European Council President Charles Michel at a press conference in Brussels.

“We understand that the coming weeks and months will be of decisive importance. We must remain open-eyed, we must continue to provide maximum level support,” Michel said during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen.

“Artillery, munitions, defence systems (…) you have told us exactly what you need and what you need now”, Michel added, looking at the Ukrainian president standing next to him on the podium.

1:36pm: Ukraine intercepted Russian plans for ‘destruction’ of Moldova, Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that his country has intercepted plans by Russian secret services to destroy Moldova.

Speaking to European Union leaders in Brussels, Zelensky said he recently told Moldovan President Maia Sandu about the alleged scheme. “I have informed her that we have intercepted the plan of the destruction of Moldova by the Russian intelligence,” Zelensky said through a translator.

The Ukrainian president said the documents showed “who, when and how” the plan would “break the democracy of Moldova and establish control over Moldova”. Zelensky said the plan was very similar to the one devised by Russia to take over Ukraine.

1:28pm: Zelensky shows ‘dynamism’ while Putin is ‘distant and stiff’

Zelensky’s speech to the EU Parliament in Brussels on Thursday morning was “very much about mood and thanks and appealing to people”, noted FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Angela Diffley. “Who would have thought a year ago that this guy […] who had previously been a comic actor, that he would be such an inspirational leader, that people would be flocking into this auditorium, keen to be seen shaking his hand?”

“I remember a year ago newsrooms around the world thinking ‘within four or five days Kyiv will have fallen, let’s prepare for that in terms of our news coverage’. It is extraordinary just to note that.”

Zelensky’s speech to the EU Parliament also demonstrated once more that his style shows such a “contrast –  even the Russians must be aware – with Vladimir Putin”, Diffley continued. “Zelensky knows how to connect; he projects a kind of dynamism; Putin [is] distant and stiff.”


1:09pm: Zelensky urges EU leaders to speed up weapons deliveries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on EU leaders at a summit in Brussels to supply Ukraine weapons quicker, before Russia can gather its forces for fresh assaults.

“We have to enhance the dynamics of our cooperation, we have to do it faster than the aggressor,” Zelensky told his European counterparts.

12:51pm: No free Europe without free Ukraine, Zelensky says 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told European Union leaders in Brussels there was no free Europe without free Ukraine as he tours Europe to ask allies for more arms to fight Russia and push Kyiv’s bid to join the Western bloc. 

“Europe should not have gray zones, our whole continent should be open to European destiny,” Zelensky told the 27 national EU leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion against Ukraine.  

“Free Europe cannot be imagined without free Ukraine,” he said. “Europe is free, Europe will be free, and Europe is united.” 

A Ukraine that is winning its war with Russia should be a member of the European Union, Zelensky said, arguing the bloc wouldn’t be complete without it.

“A Ukraine that is winning is going to be member of the European Union,” he said.

“Europe will always be – and remain – Europe as long as we … take care of the European way of life,” he said.

Zelensky also reiterated his request that membership talks should start later this year.    

12:49pm: Zelensky thanks EU leaders for ‘unwavering support’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked EU leaders at a summit in Brussels for their backing for Kyiv in its nearly year-long fight against Russia’s invasion.

“I have to thank you personally for your unwavering support of our country and our aspirations, our aspirations to live in a united, free Europe,” he told the 27 leaders.

12:42pm: Zelensky ‘hitting theme of European unity very hard’

In his address to the EU Parliament on Thursday, Volodymyr Zelensky was “really hitting the theme of European unity very hard”, FRANCE 24’s Dave Keating reported from Brussels. “He said maybe some of you in the room didn’t feel this power of the European way of life before the invasion, implying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has rekindled passion in all of Europe. He said the EU is winning, Ukraine is winning, Ukraine will be in the EU.”

“So he was very much hitting this plea for EU membership,” Keating continued. “He was less hitting the note of asking for more military assistance than I was expecting. He certainly devoted less attention to that in this speech than he did in his speech to the British Parliament [on Wednesday].”

It was notable that Zelensky spoke in Ukrainian after addressing the US Congress and the British Parliament in English, Keating went on: “English is the main working language of the EU; he could have spoken English here but he chose to speak Ukrainian. I think that’s important because if Ukraine were to join the EU, Ukrainian would become an official language, and the MEPs from Ukraine sitting in that chamber would be speaking Ukrainian and having that interpreted. So he was very much normalising this idea that Ukraine is part of the EU and Ukrainian is a language you will be your language in your interpretation.”

European Council President Charles Michel (R), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) at a press conference in Brussels on February 9, 2023.
European Council President Charles Michel (R), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) at a press conference in Brussels on February 9, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP


12:35pm: Moscow says Russia destroyed four artillery depots in Donetsk region

Russia‘s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that its forces were continuing offensive operations in Ukraine‘s Donetsk region and had destroyed four artillery depots.

In its daily briefing, the ministry said it had also destroyed a US-made radiolocation system and an M109 Paladin artillery system.

12:08pm: German arms company Rheinmetall in talks with Ukraine about Panther battle tanks

German arms maker Rheinmetall wants to deliver its latest tank models to Ukraine, including Panther battle tanks, Chief Executive Armin Papperger told Handelsblatt business daily on Thursday.

“Ukraine is interested in the Lynx and the Panther – the most modern infantry fighting vehicles and battle tanks,” he was quoted as saying, adding there were already talks with Kyiv.

The German government would have to approve any export of Panther tanks, which were developed in Germany, Handelsblatt reported.

11:37am: Victorious Ukraine will join EU, Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that he believed his country would join the European Union after emerging victorious from its war with Russia.

He made his remark during an address to the European Parliament in Brussels. Ukraine became a candidate to join the EU last June but the process of joining the 27-nation bloc takes several years.

11:34am: Ukrainian troops are fighting ‘the most anti-European force’ in the world, Zelensky tells EU

Addressing the European Parliament on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that in fighting against Russian forces, Ukrainian troops are fighting “the most anti-European force” in the world as he urged more EU military support.

“We are defending against the most anti-European force of the modern world. We are defending ourselves – we Ukrainians on the battlefield – along with you,” Zelensky told MEPs.


11:33am: Zelensky, Macron meeting important for ‘optics’ for both sides

The meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace on Wednesday evening was valuable for both leaders because they “needed it for the optics”, said FRANCE 24 International Affairs Editor Angela Diffley. “It was important to make clear that Zelensky fully agrees, accepts that France fully supports Ukraine in this war – and that’s because of this confusion […] where Macron was, right in the early stages, keen to keep a channel open to Putin […]. Earlier on Macron also said let’s be careful not to see Russia ‘humiliated’. And some of that contributed to an idea that France wasn’t fully on board.”

“Macron, according to Zelensky, has changed since then, and wants to be clearly seen to be on the side of Ukraine,” Diffley continued. “France has always been on Ukraine’s side in that it has sent weapons – but it has been a little less vocal about cobdemning Putin, certainly earlier on.”

Zelensky needed to “make it clear that he understands Macron is fully on board” while Macron needed to “make it clear to everybody that France is fully behind Ukraine”, she summarised it.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 8, 2023.
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 8, 2023. © Sarah Meyssonnier, AP


11:22am: UN nuclear chief due in Russia for Ukraine talks

UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi is due to arrive in Moscow on Thursday for talks on nuclear safety in Ukraine amid ongoing fighting, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said.

Atomic sites have been a key concern throughout the nearly one year-long conflict, with attacks around several facilities raising fears of a nuclear incident.

Grossi visited Ukraine last month to dispatch International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) teams at several nuclear facilities, building on its mission at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant near the frontline.

11:19am: Ukraine fighting ‘biggest anti-European force of the modern world’, Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told MEPs at the EU Parliament in Brussels that his country together with Europe was “defending ourselves against (the) biggest anti-European force of the modern world.”

11:14am: EU must quickly consider giving Ukraine jets, EU parliament chief says

European Union countries must quickly consider providing fighter jets to Ukraine, the head of the bloc’s parliament said on Thursday as she hosted President Volodymyr Zelensky, touring Europe to win more arms to fight against the Russian invasion.

Referencing the biblical fight between David and Goliath, European Parliament head, Roberta Metsola said in addressing Zelensky in the chamber:

“You need to win and now (EU) member states must consider quickly as the next step providing long-range systems and the jets that you need to protect your liberty.”

11:11am: EU Parliament greets Zelensky with cheers, standing ovation

The European Parliament on Thursday greeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a standing ovation as he arrived to address MEPs on his first visit to Brussels since Russia‘s invasion.

“Ukraine is Europe and your nation’s future is in the European Union,” parliament president Roberta Metsola said in a speech. “States must consider, quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems and the jets you need to protect the liberty too many have taken for granted.”

10:35am: Italy’s Meloni calls Zelensky’s Paris invitation ‘inappropriate’

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Thursday said the invitation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Paris, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, was “inappropriate”.

“I believe our strength is community and unity […] but there are times when favouring internal public opinion risks being to the detriment of the cause, and this seems to me to be one of those cases,” she said in Brussels.

Meloni will meet Zelensky in Brussels on the sidelines of the European Union leaders meeting, Italy’s Foreign Minister said late on Wednesday.

10:28am: ‘Welcome home, welcome to the EU’: EU Council chief tells Zelensky

EU leaders on Thursday hailed Volodymyr Zelensky‘s arrival in Brussels for his first visit to the heart of the union since Russia‘s invasion.

“Welcome home, welcome to the EU,” European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted above a picture of him shaking Zelensky’s hand, alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

10:25am: Kremlin calls for international inquiry into Nord Stream blasts

The world “must know the truth” about who was behind explosions affecting Nord Stream gas pipelines, the Kremlin spokesman said on Thursday, after a US investigative journalist alleged US involvement in last September’s blasts.

Speaking to reporters, Dmitry Peskov also said the blog post by journalist Seymour Hersh should prompt an international investigation into the incidents.

The White House on Wednesday dismissed the Hersh report, which said an attack on the pipelines was carried out last September at the direction of US President Joe Biden.

9:40am: Russia steps up eastern Ukraine attacks, local governor says

Russian forces have significantly stepped up attacks in eastern Ukraine and are trying to break through Ukrainian defences near the town of Kreminna, a regional governor said on Thursday.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Ukraine’s military were holding their ground near Kreminna,

which Russian forces have held for months, but said they needed more weapons and ammunition to hold out.

“I can confirm that there has been a significant increase in attacks and shelling. And it is in the direction of Kreminna that they are trying to build on their success by pushing through out defenders’ defences,” he told Ukrainian television. “So far they have had no significant success, our defence forces are holding firmly there.”

9:17am: Estonia says EU countries should jointly buy arms and ammunition for Ukraine

EU member states should jointly buy arms and ammunition for Ukraine, Estonia‘s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters on Thursday ahead of an EU summit in Brussels.

“It is very important that we speed up the military aid to Ukraine,” she also said.

7:20am: Russia’s Wagner halts prisoner recruitment campaign, founder says

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, Wagner’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday.

“The recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner private military company has completely stopped,” Prigozhin said in a response to a request for comment from a Russian media outlet published on social media. “We are fulfilling all our obligations to those who work for us now,” he said.

Wagner began recruiting prisoners in Russia’s sprawling penal system in summer 2022, with Prigozhin, a catering entrepreneur who served nine years in prison during the Soviet Union, offering convicts a pardon if they survived six months in Ukraine.

6:58am: Russian rouble slumps to weakest vs dollar since late April

The Russian rouble slid to its weakest level against the dollar since late April on Thursday, driven down by market demand for foreign currency and Russia’s lower export earnings.

At 05:50 GMT, the rouble was 1.1% weaker against the dollar at 73.10, after hitting its lowest point since April 27, 2022 at 73.3850 earlier in the session. It had lost 1.2% to trade at 78.35 versus the euro and shed 0.9% against the yuan to 10.77.

Russia is now selling 8.9 billion roubles ($121.83 million) worth of foreign currency per day, compensating for lower oil and gas revenues, down 46.4% year-on-year in January. Slumping energy revenues and soaring expenditure pushed Russia’s federal budget to a deficit of about $25 billion in January, as sanctions and the cost of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine weigh on the economy.

6:41am: Zelensky, Macron to travel together to EU summit in Brussels

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron will fly together on Thursday morning from Paris to a summit of EU heads of state and government in Brussels, the Élysée Palace announced.

The two leaders will leave Villacoublay, near Paris, at around 08:30am (07:30 GMT). They are expected to arrive in Brussels at 10:00am (09:00).

The Ukrainian president, who is on a surprise tour of Europe, is leaving his country for the second time since the beginning of the Russian offensive on February 24, 2022. He travelled to Washington in December.

On Wednesday, he went to London, his closest ally after the United States in terms of military aid, and then to Paris, where he dined at the Élysée Palace with Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz before spending the night.

4pm: SpaceX curbs Ukraine’s use of Starlink internet for drones

SpaceX has taken steps to prevent Ukraine’s military from using the company’s Starlink satellite internet service for controlling drones in the region during the country’s war with Russia, SpaceX’s president said Wednesday.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service, which has provided Ukraine’s military with broadband communications in its defence against Russia’s military, was “never never meant to be weaponised”, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said during a conference in Washington, DC

“However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” she said.

Russia has attempted to jam Starlink signals in the region, though SpaceX countered by hardening the service’s software, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, has said.

3am: Australia vows to hold Russia accountable for MH17 disaster

Australia on Thursday pledged to hold Russia accountable for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, after a team of international investigators halted its probe into the disaster.

The team said there were “strong indications” Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved supplying the missile system that eventually downed the flight – but halted the investigation because there was no “conclusive evidence”.

The Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 passengers on board, including 196 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 38 Australian residents.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on Thursday said Russia had repeatedly tried to thwart the investigation, making it “impossible” to collect proof.

They added that Australia would “hold Russia to account for its role in the downing of the civilian aircraft”.


© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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