Live: France’s TotalEnergies writes down stake in Russian gas firm Novatek

French energy group TotalEnergies said Friday it was withdrawing its representatives from the board of Russian gas giant Novatek and taking a $3.7 billion hit in the wake of sanctions against Moscow. The move comes a day after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would continue to strike Ukraine’s energy grid in a campaign that has left swaths of the country without clean water and electricity. Follow our live blog for the latest on the war. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

3:09pm: Germany to send Skynex air defence systems to Ukraine, reports Handelsblatt

Germany is to send two additional air defence systems to Ukraine of the type Skynex by Rheinmetall, the Handelsblatt daily reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources in Berlin.

The systems are to be delivered in early 2024, the report said.

2:49pm: Putin threatens production cuts over oil price cap

President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia could reduce oil production in response to a $60 price cap on its oil exports agreed by Western nations over Moscow’s Ukraine offensive.

“We will consider a possible reduction in production if necessary,” Putin told reporters at a press conference in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek following a regional summit, calling the price cap a “stupid decision” that is “harmful to global energy markets”.

2:45pm: Putin says Russia has no need for new round of mobilisation

Russian President Vladimir Putin said there was no need to call up additional troops to fight in Ukraine, as there were 150,000 recently conscripted fighters who had not yet been sent to the frontlines.

Moscow called up more than 300,000 reservists in a mobilisation drive in September and October, and Putin said on Wednesday that around half had been deployed to Ukraine.

Although Putin has repeatedly said mobilisation is over, the Kremlin has refused to rescind an official decree ordering the call-ups, stoking fears that a second wave could be announced.

1:35pm: Brittney Griner arrives home after Russia prisoner swap

American basketball star Brittney Griner has arrived in the United States after she was released from a Russian prison in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”.

Griner, 32, who was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges, was seen by an AFP reporter walking across a runway after her plane landed in San Antonio, Texas.

She was expected to be transferred to a nearby military facility for medical checks, US media reported.

WNBA star Brittney Griner pictured on board the plane that flew her out of Russia on December 8, 2022. © Russian Federal Security Service via AP

12:47pm: Russia and United States will keep discussing prisoner swaps, says deputy foreign minister

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday that Russia and the United States will continue to talk about possible prisoner swaps directly, without intermediaries, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

On Thursday, the United States freed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for American basketball player Brittney Griner, who had been jailed in Russia.

US President Joe Biden said Washington remains committed to also securing the return of imprisoned former marine Paul Whelan from Russia.

12:10am: Putin critic found guilty of ‘fake information’ about Russian army

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin has been found guilty of spreading “fake information” about the army, Russian news agencies report, with sentencing due later in the day.

Prosecutors are seeking a nine-year sentence for Yashin, a Moscow district councillor.

Yashin was tried over a YouTube video released in April in which he discussed evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian war crimes in Bucha, near Kyiv, and cast doubt on the official Moscow version that such reports had been fabricated.

Russia passed new legislation after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 that provides for jail terms of up to 15 years for disseminating “false information” about the military.

In his final statement to the court this week, Yashin appealed directly to President Vladimir Putin, describing him as “the person responsible for this slaughter” and asking him to “stop this madness”.

11:45am: Ukrainians seek aid, shelter in shadow of Russia-occupied nuclear plant

The Ukrainian city of Enerhodar has been at the centre of international attention since Russian troops occupied its nuclear power station in March – soon after the start of the war. Ukraine has since accused Russia of using the territory of the station to fire at the nearby Ukranian towns of Zaporizhzhia and Nikopol.

The harsh terms of the Russian occupation and fear of nuclear disaster have forced thousands of people to flee the city. Many of them have sought refuge in Zaporizhzhia, where FRANCE 24 reporters Robert Parsons, Pauline Godart and Raid Abu Zaideh have been to a centre for internal displaced persons to discover how they are coping.

10:15am: TotalEnergies quits Russian gas firm’s board, taking $3.7 billion hit

French oil and gas giant TotalEnergies says it is withdrawing its two members from Novatek’s board and will take a $3.7 billion hit in its fourth-quarter accounts for the write-down of its stake in the Russian company.

Unlike London-based rivals BP and Shell, TotalEnergies has held on to several investments in Russia after the country invaded Ukraine, and faced criticism for doing so.

Among its Russian investments are a 19.4% stake in gas producer Novatek and minority holdings in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG.

“In view of the European sanctions in force since the beginning of the war, the two directors representing TotalEnergies on the board of directors of Novatek are led to abstain from voting in meetings of the board of directors of this company, in particular on financial matters,” a statement from the company said.

“Under these circumstances, the board of directors of TotalEnergies has decided to withdraw the representatives of the company from the board of PAO Novatek with immediate effect.”

9:40am: Griner-Bout swap not a sign of improving relations, Kremlin says

The deal to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for US basketball star Brittney Griner should not be seen as a step towards improving bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington, the Kremlin has warned.

“The talks were exclusively on the topic of the exchange. It’s probably wrong to draw any hypothetical conclusions that this may be a step towards overcoming the crisis in bilateral relations,” the TASS news agency has quoted the Kremlin’s press office as saying.

“Bilateral relations remain in a sorry state,” the Russian presidency added.

9:30am: Putin says West’s desire for global dominance stokes conflicts

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the West’s desire to maintain its dominance on the world stage for increasing the risks of conflict.

“The potential for conflict in the world is growing and this is a direct consequence of the attempts by Western elites to preserve their political, financial, military and ideological dominance by any means,” Putin said in a video message to a summit of defence ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

“They deliberately multiply chaos and aggravate the international situation,” Putin said.

The Russian leader has repeatedly cast the war in Ukraine as a conflict between Russia and the West, criticising those who have provided military and financial backing to Ukraine.

8:45am: US sports world overjoyed at Brittney Griner’s release

Brittney Griner’s former coaches and teammates as well as a host of elite athletes have celebrated the US basketball star’s release from a Russian prison after 10 months of captivity. FRANCE 24’s Washington correspondent Kethevane Gorjestani has the details.

6:50am: US to send Ukraine anti-drone, air defence aid worth $275 million

The United States is preparing to send Ukraine a 275-million-dollar (€260 million) military aid package offering new capabilities to defeat drones and strengthen air defences, according to a document seen by Reuters and people familiar with the package.

The Pentagon is also expected to include rockets for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N, 155mm ammunition, Humvee military vehicles and generators, according to the people and the document.

A National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment on the aid package. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.

The $275 million will be covered by Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) which allows the United States to transfer defence articles and services from stocks quickly without congressional approval in response to an emergency.

4:35am: Brittney Griner heads home after prisoner swap

American basketball star Brittney Griner was headed back to the United States on Thursday after being released from a Russian prison in exchange for an arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death”.

Griner, 32, who was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges, and Viktor Bout, 55, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, were exchanged at an airport in Abu Dhabi.

In footage released by Russian state media, Griner, shorn of her distinctive dreadlocks, and a relaxed and animated Bout could be seen crossing paths on the airport tarmac and heading towards the planes that would take them home.

President Joe Biden announced Griner’s release in an address to the nation at the White House. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” he said.

The president said he had spoken to her and she was in “good spirits” after suffering “needless trauma”.

10:35pm: Russia ‘deploying rocket launchers near Ukraine nuclear reactor’

Russian forces have installed multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine’s shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine’s nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces occupying the plant have placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one of its six nuclear reactors, which are all shut down. It said the offensive systems are located at new “protective structures” the Russians secretly built, “violating all conditions for nuclear and radiation safety”.

The claim could not be independently verified.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Ukraine hunts collaborators in its divided church

KYIV — “He consecrated their tanks — blessed military equipment!”

Kyiv’s regional police chief Andrii Nebytov doesn’t hide his disgust as he describes how Father Mykola Yevtushenko, a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, collaborated with the Russians, offering benedictions and urging his parishioners to welcome the invading forces.

The 75-year-old cleric, whose trial is underway in Kyiv, is accused not only of trying to stamp an ecclesiastical imprimatur on the invasion, but also of identifying locals most likely to resist Russia’s savage 33-day occupation of Bucha, the suburban town just northwest of Kyiv that has become a byword for war crimes.

Yevtushenko is far from being the only clergyman in the sights of the Ukrainian authorities over accusations of collaboration. More than 30 priests are under investigation, and the intelligence services mounted a series of raids in monasteries and churches across the country to root out pro-Russian clerics.

The investigations cut to the heart of a profound and highly political schism that divides the churches of this predominantly Orthodox nation. The growing tensions raise significant questions over how far President Volodymyr Zelenskyy can go in ratcheting up pressure on what is ostensibly a religious institution over fears that it is a hotbed of dangerous fifth columnists.

Ukraine’s church splintered in 2018 into two bodies with unhelpfully similar names. In the teeth of opposition from the Kremlin, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was granted ecclesiastical independence by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019. In a sign of the political fault lines underpinning the feud, OCU churches had offered support to the Maidan protesters of 2014, who toppled Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow’s satrap in Ukraine.

This left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which was still loyal to Moscow and is the church to which Yevtushenko and the other investigated clergy belong. The UOC has more land and buildings but the OCU claims at least double the number of worshippers. Although the UOC claimed in May to have ended its subordination to Moscow’s Metropolitan Kirill, a vociferous supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, few believe the split is sincere. Kirill casts the invasion as a religious war, an apocalyptic battle against evil forces determined to shatter the God-given unity of Holy Mother Russia, and Ukrainian lawmakers and other critics accuse the UOC of faking its rupture with his authority.

Butchery in Bucha

The army that Yevtushenko blessed in Bucha committed atrocities.

As they withdrew, they left behind 458 bodies, mostly civilians, including those of children. All were victims of a reign of rape and murder, that saw an old man shot dead in his garden and a family machine-gunned to death in their car as they tried to flee to safety. After the Russians withdrew, the town was littered with bodies, some buried and others not. Eighteen mutilated corpses of men, women and children were found in a basement — and on a roadside under a blanket, three naked women, whom Russian soldiers had attempted to incinerate before retreating.

The bestiality didn’t deter Yevtushenko.

As the rampage unfolded, he persisted in supporting the Russians, singling out local officials, Ukrainian army veterans and the “houses where wealthy people live, which were later robbed by the occupiers,” according to investigators.

The priest’s defense is that he was forced into his actions, but the police chief has little sympathy.

“He doesn’t accept his guilt and says the Russians threatened to kill him, or something like that,” Nebytov said, with a shake of his head.

Among the other 30 priests under investigation is Oleksandr Boyko from the village of Deptivka in Sumy Oblast, detained on suspicion of having “propagated hostile ideology, justified the actions of the aggressor country in Ukraine and supported the occupation,” according to prosecutors. Locals have told Ukrainian media that Boyko accompanied the Russians in his car around the village, delivering a pro-Moscow sermon: “We must love Russia. Without Russia, we are nothing.”

Ukrainian prosecutors announced Wednesday that a priest from the Luhansk region had been convicted of collaborating with the Russians and sentenced to 12 years. He was found guilty of supplying the Russians with intelligence on Ukrainian forces.

“A priest from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate in Luhansk region has been sentenced to twelve years in prison for informing the enemy about Ukrainian defense positions. The prosecutors proved in court that the priest from Lysychansk-based church assisted the Russian armed groups during hostilities against the Ukrainian army,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said on its Telegram channel.

As more evidence emerges about treacherous priests, public clamor is swelling for a ban on the UOC. A public petition last week calling for the UOC to be shuttered rapidly attracted the required 25,000 signatures for it to be referred formally to President Zelenskyy.

To ban or not ban

Even before the petition reached Zelenskyy’s desk, more than 30 Ukrainian lawmakers led by Kniazhytskyi and drawn from a variety of political parties, sponsored legislation that would ban the church and transfer its property to the OCU.

In the past, Zelenskyy’s government has been wary of acting against Moscow’s church in Ukraine, not wanting to cross any lines on the freedom of religious belief, or fall foul of the European Union or international norms in protecting worship. It has wanted to avoid offending the church’s adherents, acutely aware that within the ranks of its priests and worshippers are plenty of patriotic Ukrainians, some fighting on the frontlines against the Russians.

But evidence that church leaders have acted to varying degrees as cheerleaders for the enemy has prompted a change of heart.

In one of his nightly addresses, Zelenskyy announced his government was working on legislation to protect the country’s “spiritual independence” and to make it impossible for “religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia to function in Ukraine. He has called for the naming and shaming of leading church figures and priests who have aided Russia.

The Ukrainian leader has also ordered a probe into the management of the UOC and its canonical relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate, to be completed within two months.

Talk of banning the UOC has prompted fury from the Kremlin. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused Kyiv of mounting a “war on the Russian Orthodox Church” — an odd turn of phrase considering the UOC’s claims to be no longer affiliated with its mother church in Moscow.

Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Vladimir Legoyda has dubbed the proposed moves as an “act of intimidation” and the latest round in the persecution of Orthodox faithful that he claims began in 2014 after Yanukovych’s ouster. He offered no examples of persecution. The Moscow Patriarchate and Putin and his aides cited Kyiv’s oppression of the UOC as justification for military moves into Ukraine’s Donbass region after 2014.

Russian world

Among the institutions targeted by Ukraine’s security service was the 11th-century Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves, a preeminent center of Orthodox Christianity. In western Ukraine, agents raided the Koretsky Convent and the Volyn monastery of the icon of the Mother of God.

In a statement, Ukraine’s security agency (SBU) said it needed to conduct inspections to check for weapons and to ensure saboteurs or collaborators wanted by the police weren’t being sheltered in church buildings. “These activities are being carried out to prevent the use of religious communities as cells of the ‘Russian world’ and to protect the population from provocations and terrorist acts, among other things,” the SBU said. Ukrainian officials say material was found during the raids that indicated the UOC had maintained links to the Russian Orthodox Church throughout the war. (The phrase “Russian world,” or Russkiy mir, is a concept Putin evoked to justify his annexation of Crimea and has cited as his reason for invading Ukraine.)

Speaking to POLITICO, Metropolitan Klyment, the UOC’s spokesman, initially made light of the raids, saying “the security service was more looking into health measures in terms of COVID.” But then added: “It is political manipulation — they want to accuse the Lavra of wrongdoing, but in the end, they didn’t find anything incriminating, weapons or saboteurs or anything like that.”

Weapons maybe not, but the SBU has charged several clergymen from the Lavra with “glorifying Russia” during church services, leading hymns and songs about a Russian awakening and offering justification for the invasion of Ukraine. “Those who wait for the ‘awakening of Mother Rus’ during the full-scale war that Russia is waging against Ukraine need to understand that this harms the interests and the security of Ukraine and its citizens,” SBU head Vasily Malyuk said. “We will not allow such expressions.”

Pro-Kremlin pamphlets, books and newspapers such as the “Russian Messenger” were found during the raids, say SBU officials.

Since the 2014 Maidan uprising, there have been episodic calls for the Russian-linked church to be banned, with detractors accusing it of being a Trojan Horse. Around 600 parishes defected to the OCU from 2014 to early 2022. After the invasion, that turned into a torrent with another thousand parishes switching affiliation.

With criticism mounting — and in a bid apparently to try to stem defections — the church announced in May that it had rewritten its charter, ending its subordination to the Russian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Kirill. But the UOC has failed to publish its new constitution and continues to hold services where priests pray for Russia and promulgate a vision of the Russian world.

Still loyal to Moscow

The rewriting of the charter “is just a game,” Archbishop Yevstratiy of the breakaway OCU told POLITICO. “It is cosmetic and just rhetoric; it is not a real decision to break with Moscow. They said they changed the laws of the church to omit their ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. But that was more than six months ago and they have still not published the new version,” Yevstratiy said.

He says a ban is justified. “Ukraine resists Russian aggression not only on the battlefield but across different spheres. Ukraine prohibits the activity of Russian banks, of Russian media, and Ukraine has banned pro-Russian political parties, and I think there should be a law that prohibits a church tied to Russia, which Moscow uses as a tool of ideological aggression. That doesn’t mean people can’t believe what they want and pray how they want, but we can’t have Ukrainian religious entities controlled by Moscow,” he said.

The archbishop highlighted the origins of the Moscow Patriarchy and its establishment in 1943 by communist dictator Joseph Stalin as the governing body to run Orthodox religious affairs in the Soviet Union. “The Moscow Patriarchy is a Russian state agency,” Yevstratiy said.

That is also the view of the late KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected in the early 1990s to Britain. In a subsequent book, Mitrokhin revealed that the Patriarchy was set up as a front organization of the Russian intelligence services, with its priests used as “agents of influence” and even for “active measures” and spying missions.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, not much has changed, say some Western analysts and Ukrainian lawmakers, including Kniazhytskyi, who has long campaigned for a ban on the UOC.

Kniazhytskyi told POLITICO the Russian Orthodox Church and UOC are one and the same — “part of the Russian state” used by the Kremlin in Ukraine and elsewhere in subversive hybrid warfare and as a tool of foreign policy as well as an agency for Russia’s intelligence services.

Kniazhytskyi and others say the use of the church for state purposes predates Stalin — orthodoxy was used by Russian leaders, including Catherine the Great and Czar Nicholas I, as an ideological justification for the expansion of the Russian empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The church is not religious in nature; it implements the state policy of the Russian Federation,” he said.

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Live: Ukraine’s Zelensky visits troops near Donbas front line

President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the frontline city of Sloviansk on Tuesday in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, which Russia claims as its own, his office said, as Ukraine scrambled to restore its battered power grid a day after key facilities were targeted in the latest wave of Russian missile strikes. Follow our live blog for the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

2:16pm: Hungary blocks 18 billion euro Ukraine aid package

Hungary on Tuesday blocked a mammoth EU aid package for Ukraine, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban seeks to pressure Brussels into handing him billions of euros in frozen funds.

Budapest made good on its threat to oppose 18 billion euros ($19 billion) of financial support for war-torn Ukraine at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

The much-needed aid for Kyiv is one of several initiatives Budapest is stalling as it faces having 13 billion euros in EU funds for it frozen by the bloc over its failures on stopping graft and ensuring judicial independence.

1:51pm: Russian-appointed mayor says six killed by Ukraine shelling in Donetsk city

The Russian-appointed mayor of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine said Tuesday that incoming fire from Kyiv’s forces had killed at least six civilians in the city controlled by the Russian military.

“Preliminary data shows that, today six civilians were killed as a result of shelling in Donetsk, the number of wounded is being specified,” Alexei Kulemzin, the Moscow-installed head of the city, said on social media.

11:53am: ‘Absurd’ to stoke fear of winter power cuts, says France’s Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “absurd” to stoke fear in France over the country’s energy situation and reaffirmed France would get through this winter in spite of energy market tensions caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“The role of public authorities is not to spread fear nor to govern by fear,” said Macron, as he arrived at a summit of European Union and Western Balkans leaders in Albania.

“We must not make people feel scared. We must stop all that,” Macron also said. “We will get through this winter, despite the war,” he added.

11:39am: Russian lawmaker says 60 soldiers to be freed in prisoner swap

Russia is set to receive 60 soldiers in a prisoner swap with Ukraine today, a lawmaker from Russia’s ruling party said.

“The Russian Ministry of Defence is conducting another exchange of prisoners of war today. Sixty Russian servicemen are returning home,” State Duma deputy Shamsail Saraliev wrote on Telegram.

11:30am: Ukraine’s Zelensky visits troops near Donbas front line

President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited the frontline city of Sloviansk in the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk, where Russian forces have been pressing an offensive for months, the presidency has said.

Zelensky appeared in a video on social media wearing a winter coat and standing next to large sign in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours bearing the city name Sloviansk and calling for a moment of silence to commemorate slain Ukrainian soldiers.

“From the bottom of my heart, I congratulate you on this great holiday, the Day of the Armed Forces,” Zelensky said in the video.

Sloviansk, which was briefly held by Russian-backed separatists in 2014, lies some 45 kilometres (28 miles) north of Bakhmut, which has become the centre of fighting since the fall of Kherson.

10:44am: Kremlin does not see prospect for peace talks

The Kremlin has said it agrees with the United States about the need for lasting peace in Ukraine but does not see the prospect of negotiations at the moment.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on Monday that the conflict in Ukraine would end “almost certainly with diplomacy” and negotiations, and that “just and durable peace” was needed.

“That the outcome should be a just and durable peace – one can agree with this. But as for the prospects for some sort of negotiations, we do not see any at the moment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

10:22am: Ukraine aims to significantly reduce power outages by Tuesday evening

Ukraine aims to significantly reduce the power deficit caused by the latest Russian air strikes by Tuesday evening, Energy Minister German Galushchenko said.

Missile strikes across Ukraine on Monday destroyed homes and knocked out power in some areas, but Ukrainian air defences limited the impact and the damage appeared less severe than the previous wave of air strikes on Nov. 23.

Galushchenko said power generation facilities and substations had been hit and signalled that the regions of Kyiv, Vinnytsia in west-central Ukraine and Odesa in the south had suffered the worst damage.

“We are now bringing the nuclear blocks (power stations) back into operation and the (power) deficit will be significantly reduced by evening,” he told Ukrainian television.

10:12am: Russia sees ‘positive dynamics’ in talks on Zaporizhzhia safety zone, says TASS

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has spoken of “positive dynamics” in discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the creation of a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the TASS news agency reports.

Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused each other of threatening to trigger a nuclear catastrophe at the site, which has been under Russian control since the early days of the war but is located near the front line.

Earlier this morning, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russian forces are taking “all measures” to ensure the safety of the nuclear power plant in the face of what he called “nuclear terrorism” from Kyiv.

10:01am: Latvia licence withdrawal ‘unfair and absurd’, says exiled Russian TV channel

Russian exiled independent TV channel Dozhd said Tuesday that accusations against it were “unfair and absurd” after Latvia, where the outlet is now based, revoked its broadcasting license.

“The TV channel will stop broadcasting on cable but will remain on YouTube. We continue to work and believe all accusations against us to be unfair and absurd,” Dozhd (Rain) said on Twitter after it was accused of showing the Crimea peninsula annexed from Ukraine as part of Russia, among other alleged violations.

06:54am: Ukraine races to restore power grid after Russian strikes

Ukraine is racing to restore power after Russia’s latest wave of missile strikes caused disruptions across the country, right as winter frost builds and temperatures plunge.

Out of the 70 missiles launched by Moscow, “most” were shot down, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, but the barrage still hit Ukraine’s already battered infrastructure.

Fresh power cuts were announced in all regions “due to the consequences of shelling,” national electricity provider Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

The head of Ukrenergo said he had “no doubt that Russian military consulted with Russian power engineers during this attack”, judging by where the missiles landed.

“The time that Russians chose for this attack was connected with their desire to inflict as much damage as possible,” Volodymyr Kudrytskyi told a Ukrainian news programme, explaining that the attacks were launched as the country enters a “peak frost” period.

06:30am: ‘Drone attack’ strikes Russian airfield bordering Ukraine, says governor

A drone has attacked an airfield in Russia‘s Kursk region bordering Ukraine, the local governor has said, a day after Moscow blamed Ukraine for drone strikes at two Russian airfields.

“As a result of a drone attack in the area of the Kursk airfield, an oil storage tank caught fire. There were no casualties,” governor Roman Starovoyt said on social media.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Ukraine war: Putin slams the West as ‘dangerous, bloody and dirty’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the West is trying to dictate the actions of other nations, in a “dangerous, bloody and dirty” game.

Putin made the comments during a lengthy speech at a conference near Moscow on Thursday, where he also denied having any intention of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

He said it was pointless for Russia to strike Ukraine with nuclear weapons, saying “there is no point in that, neither political nor military.”

The Russian president claimed an earlier warning of his readiness to use “all means available to protect Russia” didn’t amount to nuclear saber-rattling but was merely a response to Western statements about their possible use of nuclear weapons.

He particularly mentioned former British Prime Minister Liz Truss saying in August that she would be ready to use nuclear weapons if she became Britain’s prime minister, a remark which Putin said worried the Kremlin.

“What were we supposed to think?” Putin said. “We saw that as a coordinated position, an attempt to blackmail us.”

Putin, who sent his troops into Ukraine on 24 February, has cast Western support for Ukraine as part of broad efforts to enforce their will upon others through a rules-based world order.

He argued that the world has reached a turning point, when “the West is no longer able to dictate its will to humankind but still tries to do it, and the majority of nations no longer want to tolerate it.”

The Russian leader claimed that the Western policies will foment more chaos, adding that “he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.”

Putin claimed that “humankind now faces a choice: accumulate a load of problems that will inevitably crush us all or try to find solutions that may not be ideal but could work and could make the world more stable and secure.”

Without offering evidence, the Russian leader repeated Moscow’s unproven allegation that Ukraine was plotting a false flag attack involving a radioactive dirty bomb it would try to pin on Russia.

Ukraine has strongly rejected the claim, and its Western allies have dismissed it as “transparently false.” Ukraine argued Russia might be making the unfounded allegation to serve as a cover for its own possible plot to detonate a dirty bomb.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. has still not seen anything to indicate that Putin has decided to use a dirty bomb.

Putin said he personally ordered Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to call his foreign counterparts to tell them about the purported plot. He maintained that Russia knows the Ukrainian facilities working on the project.

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