Belarus to create new southern military command on border with Ukraine

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Belarus - Ramil Sitdikov /Pool Sputnik Kremlin 
Belarus - Ramil Sitdikov /Pool Sputnik Kremlin

Belarus' leader Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday ordered the creation of a new military command for the south of the country bordering Ukraine.

"A new front has opened and we can't fail to pay attention to it," Mr Lukashenko, wearing his military uniform, told a televised meeting of defence officials.

He said the new command had been proposed last year, but now needed to be set up immediately.

"Even before creating it, we are obliged today - quickly, on the run, to work out the defence of our southern borders," Mr Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader, who was nearly toppled by popular protests in summer 2020 before Vladimir Putin publicly backed him, has been instrumental in helping Russia with its invasion of Ukraine. Russian troops in February were able to quickly advance to the capital Kyiv by entering from Belarusian territory on Ukraine's northern border.

Mr Lukashenko, however, has stopped short of offering up Belarusian troops to bolster Moscow's army.

Military analysts say the Belarusian army, at just 62,000 active military personnel, is too negligible for Russia to use in fighting in Ukraine.

Yet any build-up of Belarusian forces near the border risks further stretching Ukraine's military as it tries to defend against increasingly ferocious Russian attacks focused on the Donbas region hundreds of miles to the east.

06:09 PM

And that's all for today...

Thanks very much for following today's liveblog.

Here are five key updates from today:

  • Fighting in the eastern Donbas region has reached its fiercest level yet, Ukraine said, as Russian forces push deeper into the industrial region. A senior Ukrainian military official also conceded that Russia has the upper hand on the battlefield in the eastern Luhansk region.

  • Four people were killed in fresh Russian shelling of Ukraine's second city Kharkiv, where many people have returned after Russia's attempts to capture the city were repelled.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky crushed calls for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia, comparing it to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the Second World War.

  • The Kremlin said the West only has itself to blame for an escalating food crisis caused by problems exporting grain due to a Black Sea blockade.

  • Vladimir Putin said that he was glad many foreign companies had left Russia because home-grown businesses could take their place, and he warned the West that Moscow would still find ways to acquire advanced technology and luxury goods.

05:56 PM

Italy bids to unblock Black Sea grain exports

Italy aims to free grain exports blocked in Black Sea ports, Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters on Thursday following a phone call with Vladimir Putin.

"The first initiative one could begin to explore is to see whether a cooperation between Russia and Ukraine to unblock Black Sea ports could be built," Mr Draghi said.

He added that he would soon talk to Volodymyr Zelensky on this issue.

05:37 PM

Moldova places former president under house arrest

A Moldovan court on Thursday placed Igor Dodon, a former president and pro-Russian opposition leader, under house arrest for 30 days to allow prosecutors to investigate allegations of corruption and treason.

The Ciocana district court in Chisinau, the capital, made the order two days after Mr Dodon's house was searched and he was placed under detention for 72 hours.

Speaking to the media after the court hearing, Mr Dodon said the case was politically motivated, a charge the government has rejected.

Mr Dodon said that the judge was carrying out a "political order" from the pro-Western President Maia Sandu, who succeeded Mr Dodon in 2020. Mr Dodon said he had no property other than that which he had officially declared.

04:57 PM

Russian propaganda blasted on LED screens around the ruins of Mariupol

Russian forces have driven lorries with huge LED screens through the war-ravaged streets of Mariupol pumping out pro-Kremlin propaganda to the local population.

After a two-month media blackout, citizens queuing for water and food parcels were faced with a desperate attempt by Moscow to justify the destruction of their city.

The move was part of a wider propaganda blitz being undertaken by Russia across its captured regions of Ukraine.

Read the full story from Joe Barnes and Nataliya Vasilyeva here

04:42 PM

Ukraine says Russia canceling school holiday in Mariupol

A Ukrainian official said that Russian troops occupying Mariupol had cancelled school summer holidays in the south-eastern port city to prepare pupils for switching to a Russian curriculum.

The strategic city fell to Moscow's forces following a devastating siege that culminated when Ukrainian forces laid down arms last week at the Azovstal steel works where they were holding out.

"The occupiers have announced the extension of the school year until September 1," city official Petro Andryushchenko wrote on social media.

There was no confirmation of the announcement from the Russian side.

"Throughout the summer, children will have to study Russian language, literature and history as well as maths classes in Russian," Andryushchenko said.

The aim, he said, was "to remove Ukraine from the curriculum and prepare them for going back to school with a Russian curriculum".

04:21 PM

Putin ‘thunderbolt’ spells end of globalisation, Olaf Scholz warns

Olaf Scholz has warned that the era of globalisation that powered the German economic miracle is “coming to an inevitable end” after Vladimir Putin’s “thunderbolt”.

The German Chancellor admitted that Europe’s largest economy faces a “very special challenge” as the industrial powerhouse is hit by soaring energy prices.

Mr Scholz launched a defence of globalisation at the World Economic Forum in Davos but admitted that its era is drawing to a close as inflation rises.

Read the full piece from Tom Rees here

04:21 PM

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03:37 PM

Russia confirms sacking 100 guards for refusing to fight in Ukraine

A Russian court confirmed the dismissal of 115 national guardsmen who challenged their sacking after refusing to take part in Moscow's military operation in Ukraine.

The case appears to be the first official confirmation of soldiers refusing to join Russia's military campaign in Ukraine that was launched on February 24.

A military court in Russia's southern Kabardino-Balkaria republic said Wednesday it examined the "necessary documents" and questioned officials of the National Guard, a domestic security force separate from the Russian army.

It concluded that the defendants "arbitrarily refused to perform an official assignment" and turned down their appeal.

The hearing was held behind closed doors to avoid revealing "military secrets", the court added.

Citing the court's press service, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday that the servicemen refused to carry out an assignment related to Moscow's "special operation" in Ukraine.

03:25 PM

Pictured: A local resident walks next to a house destroyed by Russian shelling

A local resident walks next to a house destroyed in a Russian shelling in Kramatorsk, Ukraine - Andriy Andriyenko/AP
A local resident walks next to a house destroyed in a Russian shelling in Kramatorsk, Ukraine - Andriy Andriyenko/AP

03:24 PM

Putin 'glad foreign companies left Russia'

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he was glad some foreign companies had left Russia because home-grown businesses could take their place, and he warned the West that Moscow would still find ways to acquire advanced technology and luxury goods.

Putin has cast the invasion of Ukraine as a turning point in Russian history: a revolt by Moscow against the United States, which he says has humiliated Russia since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Ukraine says it is fighting for its survival.

Besides the death and horror of war, the conflict and the West's attempt to isolate Russia as punishment have crimped global economic growth and triggered a wave of inflation as the prices of grain, cooking oil, fertiliser and energy soar.

Since the war, a host of major foreign investors - ranging from BP to McDonald's Corp - have exited just as the Russian economy faces its worst contraction since the years following the turmoil of the Soviet collapse.

02:23 PM

Russian shelling kills four in Ukraine's Kharkiv

Four people were killed in fresh Russian shelling of Ukraine's second city Kharkiv, a regional official said today, where many people have returned after Russia's attempts to capture the city were repelled.

"The occupiers are again shelling the regional centre," the governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleg Sinegubov, said on Telegram.

"According to preliminary information, seven people were injured. Unfortunately, four were killed."

"We ask residents of Kharkiv and surroundings to be in shelters," he said.

He said information about the shelling was being clarified and did not give details of where the strikes hit.

An AFP reporter in Kharkiv said the shelling hit the northern residential district of Pavlove Pole and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area.

02:22 PM

Calls for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia to prevent a lengthy war should be "carefully studied", says Tory peer

Calls for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia to prevent a lengthy war should be "carefully studied", according to a Conservative former chancellor.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick highlighted comments from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the World Economic Forum this week, in which he advised Ukraine to allow Russia to keep control of Crimea, which was annexed in 2014.

The veteran US statesman argued that this could prevent a long protracted war in the region.

Lord Lamont told the House of Lords: "Has my noble friend read the speech of Henry Kissinger in Davos, where he advised attendees at the conference not to get swept up in the mood of the moment and suggested that negotiations to end the war had to begin in the next two months and I quote, 'before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not easily be contained'?

"And he suggested that the starting point for the negotiations should be the pre-invasion de facto borders.

01:06 PM

Russia 'has the advantage' in Luhansk region, Ukraine says

A senior Ukrainian military official conceded at a briefing on Thursday that Russia had the upper hand in fighting in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region at present.

"Russia has the advantage, but we are doing everything we can," General Oleksiy Gromov said.

Gromov also said Ukraine had observed Russia moving Iskander missile systems to Belarus' western Brest region, which Gromov said raised the possibility of new missile strikes on west Ukraine.

01:03 PM

Pictured:  Soldiers from Royal Welsh Battlegroup take part in maneuvers during Nato exercise

Soldiers from Royal Welsh Battlegroup take part in maneuvers during Nato exercise operation Hedgehog on the Estonian Latvian border - Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images Europe
Soldiers from Royal Welsh Battlegroup take part in maneuvers during Nato exercise operation Hedgehog on the Estonian Latvian border - Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images Europe

12:26 PM

War in Donbas at 'maximum intensity', says Ukraine

Fighting in the eastern Donbas region of the country has reached its fiercest level yet, Ukraine has said, as Russian forces pushed deeper into the industrial region.

"The fighting has reached its maximum intensity," Ganna Malyar, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister told a press briefing, warning that an "extremely difficult" and "long" period of combat lay ahead.

12:11 PM

Battle for Donbas shows Russia has finally got its act together

That Russia looks poised to close the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the battle for the northern half of the Donbas should not come as a surprise.

The surprise is that it has taken this long for a once-upon-a-superpower to get its act together.

Following the unceremonious ejection of his forces from the north of the country, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, tried to convince the world his main objective all along had been the “liberation” of Russian-speaking people in the Donbas. Few were convinced.

Read the full story from Dom Nicholls here

11:28 AM

Kremlin blames West for Ukraine grain crisis

The Kremlin has said the West only has itself to blame for an escalating food crisis caused by problems getting grain out of Ukraine.

Russia's warmongering has driven up the price of grain, cooking oil, fertiliser and energy, while leaders around the globe have accused Putin of holding the world to ransom by blockading Ukraine's ports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the West was to blame for the situation as he called on the US to scrap what he described as "illegal" sanctions.

He said:

We categorically reject these accusations and, on the contrary, accuse western countries that they have taken a number of illegal actions that led to this.

They [the West] must cancel those illegal decisions that prevent the chartering of ships, that prevent the export of grain, and so on.

11:05 AM

Zelensky says Kissinger is living in 1938 as he savages calls to give up Ukrainian territory

Volodymyr Zelensky has crushed calls for Ukraine to cede some of its territory to Russia, comparing it to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the Second World War.

In his daily address to the nation late on Wednesday, Mr Zelensky pushed back against increasing calls for Ukraine to seek peace with the Kremlin while resigning itself to letting Russia rule the territory it has captured.

It comes after Henry Kissinger, the veteran US statesman, told world leaders gathered in Davos that the West should push Ukraine into making concessions to Vladimir Putin, warning that humiliating Russia could have disastrous consequences for the long-term stability of Europe.

Read the full story from Nataliya Vasilyeva here

10:30 AM

Russia: Western reporters will be expelled if YouTube blocks foreign ministry briefings

Western reporters will be expelled from Russia if YouTube blocks the country's  foreign ministry briefings, the Russian Foreign  Ministry has said.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesman, said the foreign ministry had warned YouTube against blocking her content.

"We just came and told them: 'You block another briefing, one journalist or American media outlet goes home,'" TASS news agency quoted her as saying.

"Another briefing is blocked and we will name a specific journalist or specific media outlet that will go home."

Her comments come days after Russian lawmakers passed a bill giving prosecutors powers to shut foreign media bureaus in Moscow if a Western country has been "unfriendly" to Russian media. The measure is meant to retaliate for the closure of some Russian state news outlets in the West.

10:22 AM

Latest MoD intelligence

10:20 AM

Comment: Putin could be about to pull off a shock triumph

In Ukraine’s desperate battle for survival, there has been no shortage of pledges of support from Western leaders who want Vladimir Putin to suffer a catastrophic defeat, writes Con Coughlin.

Everything from tanks, heavy artillery, and warplanes to powerful anti-ship missiles have been promised to Kyiv to make sure the Russian president does not achieve his goal of seizing control of his southern neighbour.

Yet, with the conflict now entering its fourth month, Ukrainian commanders have good reason to ask themselves why, for all the fine words from Western leaders, they now find themselves desperately short of firepower.

Read the full story from Con Coughlin here

10:18 AM

Pictured: A boy plays in front of houses ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine,

A boy plays in front of houses ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine - Natacha Pisarenko/ AP
A boy plays in front of houses ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine - Natacha Pisarenko/ AP

10:15 AM

I got a crash course in surviving the Donbas

“If you can hear that noise, it’s already gone over your head. And if it makes this falling noise, it means it’s three seconds to impact. Relax. Put your arms out. Breathe.”

This unsolicited lecture on the sounds of battle came from a soldier about half my height, who had judged from the looks on our faces that we needed reassurance.

We were, to be fair, visibly nervous.

The sound of heavy shelling is a constant backdrop to life in Donbas at the moment. But over the past week, it has become louder and closer.

You can literally hear Ukraine’s defences creaking under the pressure of the Russian offensive.

Read the full piece from Roland Oliphant and Joe Barnes here 

10:13 AM

Putin can't dictate peace in war he 'won't win', says Scholz

Vladimir Putin will not be allowed to dictate peace in a war that he "will not win" in Ukraine, Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor said today.

Putin has "already failed in all his strategic aims", the German leader told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Russia's plan to capture all of Ukraine is "further away today than it was at the beginning" of its invasion on February 24 as Ukraine put up an impressive defence.

Putin "underestimated" the "resolve and strength" of allies in countering his aggression in Ukraine, said Scholz, noting that Moscow has also now pushed Finland and Sweden to join the NATO defence alliance.

"Our goal is crystal clear - Putin must not win this war. And I am convinced that he will not win it," said the German chancellor.

10:12 AM

Truss accuses Putin of trying to 'hold the world to ransom'

Liz Truss,  the Foreign Secretary, has accused Vladimir Putin of seeking to "hold the world to ransom" through Russia's blockade of Ukrainian grain exports.

Speaking during a visit to Bosnia Herzegovina, Ms Truss rejected a demand by the Russian president for the lifting of international sanctions on his country in return for allowing exports to resume through the Black Sea port of Odesa.

"It is completely appalling that Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom. He is essentially weaponising hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world. We simply cannot allow this to happen," she said.

"Putin needs to remove the blockade on Ukrainian grain. We will do all with our allies and partners to get the grain out of Ukraine and supply the rest of world.

"What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term."

05:31 AM

Russia's VDV failures reflect 'strategic mismanagement'

The misemployment of Russia’s airborne forces – the VDV - in Ukraine shows how Vladimir Putin's significant investment in the armed forces over the past 15 years has "resulted in an unbalanced overall force", the UK's Ministry of Defence said.

The VDV has been heavily involved in several notable tactical failures since the start of Russia’s invasion, including the attempted advance on Kyiv via Hostomel Airfield in March, the stalled progress on the Izium axis since April, and the recent failed and costly crossings of the Siverskyi Donets River.

The 45,000-strong VDV is mostly comprised of professional contract soldiers, with its members enjoying elite status and attracting additional pay.

"The VDV has been employed on missions better suited to heavier armoured infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign," the ministry said.

"Its mixed performance likely reflects a strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia’s failure to secure air superiority."

05:17 AM

G7 scrambles to keep climate agenda on track amid Ukraine war

Ministers from around the world are set to wrangle over how to keep climate change goals on track as they meet in Berlin on Thursday for talks amid spiralling energy costs and fuel supply concerns sparked by the war.

Energy, climate and environment ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries want to reaffirm a commitment to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius and protect biodiversity at the May 25-27 meeting.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered a scramble among some countries to buy more non-Russian fossil fuels and burn coal to cut their reliance on Russian supplies, raising fears the energy crisis triggered by the war could undermine efforts to fight climate change.

Campaigners urged the ministers of the G7 to make clear commitments that the fallout of the Ukraine war would not derail their targets.

"We have a new reality now. The G7 need to respond to that, and they should respond through renewables, and not through fossil fuel infrastructure," David Ryfisch, climate policy expert at non-profit Germanwatch, said.

02:55 AM

Five civilians killed, 12 injured in Donbas shelling

Russian forces have shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, killing five civilians and injuring 12, Ukraine's military said.

The bombardment threatens to shut off the last main escape route for civilians trapped in the path of the invasion, which continues into its fourth month.

Russia has poured thousands of troops into the Donbas region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk.

"The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school," the Joint Task Force of Ukraine's armed forces said on Facebook.

The statement said 10 enemy attacks were repelled, four tanks and four drones destroyed, and 62 "enemy soldiers" were killed.

A woman walks past a destroyed administration building in the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbas - AFP
A woman walks past a destroyed administration building in the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbas - AFP

01:51 AM

Battle for Donbas shows Russia has finally got its act together

Russia looking poised to close the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the battle for the northern half of the Donbas should not come as a surprise.

The surprise is that it has taken this long for a once-upon-a-superpower to get its act together.

Following the unceremonious ejection of his forces from the north of the country, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, tried to convince the world his main objective all along had been the “liberation” of Russian-speaking people in the Donbas. Few were convinced.

Read the full story here

A young boy sits in front of a damaged building after a strike in Kramatorsk in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbas - AFP
A young boy sits in front of a damaged building after a strike in Kramatorsk in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbas - AFP

01:17 AM

Hundreds of families get answers on fate of loved ones

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been able to give answers to 300 families in Russia and Ukraine about the fate of their loved ones.

ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini said the organisation's work trying to determine the fate of missing persons was "very much on track".

He did not disclose the fate of the Russians and Ukrainians, but said their families had provided "very concrete questions about their loved ones".

Progress has also been made on the right of the ICRC to visit prisoners of war, which is part of the Geneva conventions.

"There is agreement on both sides ... which is good news," Mr Mardini said.

12:33 AM

Liz Truss: Vladimir Putin must be defeated, not appeased

Liz Truss will on Thursday warn against appeasing Vladimir Putin and tell Western allies there can be no backsliding in ensuring Russia is defeated in its war against Ukraine.

The Foreign Secretary will demand more weapons for Kyiv and more sanctions against Moscow in a speech to Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces in Sarajevo’s Army Hall.

“Russia’s aggression cannot be appeased. It must be met with strength,” Ms Truss will say.

“We must not allow a prolonged and increasingly painful conflict to develop in Ukraine.”

Read the full story here

The Foreign Secretary will demand more weapons for Kyiv and more sanctions against Moscow - Shutterstock
The Foreign Secretary will demand more weapons for Kyiv and more sanctions against Moscow - Shutterstock

12:29 AM

Fighting outside Severodonetsk 'very difficult'

Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday described the fighting outside of the industrial city of Severodonetsk, a key military goal for Russia, as "very difficult," as Russian troops shelled the city from the outskirts with mortars.

"The coming week will be decisive," Mr Gaiday said in a video posted on Telegram.

He said he believes Russia's goal is to "capture the Lugansk region no matter what cost".

"There is a colossal amount of shelling," he added.

Dmytro Mosur, 32, who lost his wife during shelling in nearby Severodonetsk on May 17, holds his two-year-old twin daughters as they wait to be evacuated from the city of Lysychansk, eastern Ukraine - AFP
Dmytro Mosur, 32, who lost his wife during shelling in nearby Severodonetsk on May 17, holds his two-year-old twin daughters as they wait to be evacuated from the city of Lysychansk, eastern Ukraine - AFP

12:20 AM

Today's top stories

  • Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces reached the limits of the key eastern city of Severodonetsk, as the governor of the region described the combat as "very difficult"

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky is strongly rebuffing those in the West who suggest Ukraine cede control of areas occupied by Russia

  • Liz Truss will on Thursday warn against appeasing Vladimir Putin

  • Russian troops are outnumbering Ukraine’s forces by seven to one across the eastern Donbas region, it was warned, as pockets of resistance fought to keep their grip on the last Ukrainian-held cities

  • Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of Ukraine's occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to acquire Russian citizenship and passports

  • Russia's parliament also approved a law removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military amid heavy casualties

  • Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Nato of "doing literally nothing" in the face of the Russian invasion, while praising the EU for its "revolutionary" decisions to back Kyiv

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