Russia-Ukraine war: Moscow intensifying attacks amid rumour of major Ukrainian counter-offensive, says UK – live | Ukraine

Russia intensifying attacks amid rumour of major Ukrainian counter-offensive, says UK

Russia has probably increased the intensity of its attacks in the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region over the past five days, according to British intelligence.

Pro-Russia separatists have most likely made progress towards the centre of Pisky village, near Donetsk airport, but Russian forces overall had secured few territorial gains, the latest report from the UK Ministry of Defence says.

It adds:

There is a realistic possibility that Russia has increased its efforts in the Donbas in an attempt to draw in or fix additional Ukrainian units, amid speculation that Ukraine is planning a major counter-offensive.

Key events

Risk of radioactive leak at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, says operator

Ukraine’s state energy operator has warned that there is a risk of a radioactive leak at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Moscow’s troops have “repeatedly shelled” the site of the nuclear plant over the past day, Energoatom said.

As of midday on Saturday local time (9am GMT) the plant “operates with the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards”, the operator said in a statement.

Energoatom said:

As a result of periodic shelling, the infrastructure of the station has been damaged, there are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is high.

Russia’s defence ministry has claimed Ukraine’s troops “shelled the territory of the station three times” in the past day.

Hungary has issued regulatory approval for the construction of two new nuclear reactors by the Russian state-owned company Rosatom, Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, announced yesterday.

The £10.6bn construction of two nuclear reactors will begin in the coming weeks, as part of a 2014 deal between Moscow and Budapest aimed at expanding Hungary’s existing Paks nuclear plant.

Szijjártó said on Facebook:

This is a big step, an important milestone. We can now move from planning stage to construction. You’ll see that at the Paks site in the coming weeks.

He added it is “realistic” that the new reactors could enter service by 2030.

Russia’s nuclear industry has not been included in EU sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, and the fact that the construction is moving forward has been seen as another sign of the close ties between Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orbán, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, has claimed Russian forces shelled the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant complex in southern Ukraine.

In a statement, Energoatom said:

Over the last [24 hours], Russian troops again shelled the grounds of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The damage is currently being ascertained.

Russia’s defence ministry earlier accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the nuclear plant complex three times in the last 24 hours.

It is not possible to verify either side’s claims.

On Friday, Energoatom said Ukrainian technicians had managed to partly reconnect the Zaporizhzhia plant to its grid under the gaze of occupying forces. The situation, however, remains fragile as fighting continues around the plant.

My colleague Shaun Walker has been reporting on the propaganda drive in Russian-occupied Kherson that Russia hopes will help cement its hold over the southern Ukrainian city.

Russian authorities have resurrected the Soviet-era newspaper Naddnepryanskaya Pravda, which now claims to have a print run of 250,000.

The newspaper’s content gives a good insight into the propaganda priorities for the Russian administration, Shaun writes. There are repeated articles promising residents increased benefits, pensions and more work opportunities.

There are repeated claims of the “overwhelming desire” of Kherson residents to hold a referendum to join Russia, but there are also plenty of threats.

One front page article warns of “tough measures” against those who threaten public order, indicating that speaking out against Russian rule is now considered to be against the law.

And this just about sums it up: a happy headline about “new horizons”, but plenty of threats too: the “anti-terror” article on the right says people who “discredit Russian state organs or spread false info about them” will be punished… pic.twitter.com/aicsc2TGMG

— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) August 27, 2022

Here’s some more detail on the British defence ministry’s announcement that it is donating undersea minehunter drones to help Ukraine clear its coastline.

Six autonomous minehunting vehicles will be sent to the country to help detect Russian mines in the waters off its coast, the ministry said.

Three of these drones will be provided from the UK’s own stocks, with a further three to be purchased from industry.

In addition, dozens of Ukrainian navy personnel will be taught to use the drones over the coming months, the ministry said. The first tranche have already begun their training, it added.

Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said in a statement:

Russia’s cynical attempts to hold the world’s food supply to ransom must not be allowed to succeed.

This vital equipment and training will help Ukraine make their waters safe, helping to smooth the flow of grain to the rest of the world and supporting the armed forces of Ukraine as they look to defend their coastline and ports.

Britain’s defence ministry has said it is giving six underwater drones to Ukraine to help clear its coastline of mines and make grain shipments safer.

Britain will also train dozens of Ukrainian navy personnel to use the drones, the ministry said in a statement.

Civilians at Pokrovsk station during a mandatory evacuation from parts of Donetsk
Civilians at Pokrovsk station during a mandatory evacuation from parts of Donetsk. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
People boarding a westbound train in Pokrovsk
People boarding a westbound train in Pokrovsk. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
An elderly woman waits to board a train in Pokrovsk
An elderly woman waits to board a train in Pokrovsk. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A US citizen has recently died in Ukraine, according to a state department spokesperson.

Officials are in touch with the family and are providing consular assistance, they added.

The spokesperson added:

We also once again reiterate US citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of US citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that US citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options.

Two civilians have been killed and 12 others injured by Russian forces in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, according to officials.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor, wrote on Facebook:

On August 26, Russians killed two civilians in Donetsk region – in Bakhmut. Twelve people were injured.

Note: It has not been possible to independently verify this information.

Russia blocks UN nuclear treaty agreement over Zaporizhzhia clause

Julian Borger

Julian Borger

Russia has blocked an agreement at the United Nations that was aimed at bolstering the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) because Moscow objected to a clause about control over the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine.

The failure to agree to a joint statement after four weeks of debate and negotiation among 151 countries at the UN in New York is the latest blow to hopes of maintaining an arms control regime and keeping a lid on a rekindled arms race.

The closing session was put off for more than four hours over Russia’s refusal to agree to a lengthy statement of support for the NPT which included a reference to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian forces close to the frontline in Ukraine’s south-east.

Alarm was raised on Thursday when the plant was temporarily cut off from the Ukrainian electricity grid but the connection was restored. Russian forces are reportedly planning to sever the plant more permanently from the grid, raising concerns of a possible disaster.

A paragraph in the final draft text on Friday stressed “the paramount importance of ensuring control by Ukraine’s competent authorities of nuclear facilities … such as the Zaporizhzia nuclear power plant”.

The Russian delegation was the only one to speak against the agreed text, but blamed the breakdown of the conference on Ukraine and its “protectors”, calling the negotiations a “one-sided game”. After delivering its statement, the Russian delegation walked out of the UN chamber.

Read the full article here.

French energy firm TotalEnergies says it is divesting its stake in a Russian gas field that was reported this week to be providing fuel that ends up in Russian fighter jets.

The company said it had signed a deal on Friday with its local Russian partner, Novatek, to sell its 49% in the Termokarstovoye gas field “on economic terms enabling TotalEnergies to recover the outstanding amounts invested in the field”.

Agence France-Presse reported it saying Russian authorities approved the divestment on 25 August. That was the day after an article appeared in French daily Le Monde reporting on the alleged refining of natural gas condensates from Termokarstovoye into jet fuel for fighter-bombers involved in Russia’s assault on Ukraine since February.

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has stressed the need to boost security along the alliance’s northern flank to counter Russia, as he concluded a visit to Canada that included a tour of its Arctic defences.

“The high north is strategically important for Euro-Atlantic security,” Agence France Presse reported Stoltenberg as telling a news conference at an air base in Alberta. With Finland and Sweden joining Nato, he noted, seven of eight Arctic states would be members.

Referring to the North American aerospace defence command (Norad), a US-Canadian organisation, Stoltenberg said:

The shortest path to North America for Russian missiles and bombers would be over the North Pole. This makes Norad’s role vital for North America and therefore also for Nato.

Stoltenberg said Russia’s capabilities in the far north “are a strategic challenge for the whole alliance”, citing a significant Russian military buildup in the region. That included the reopening of “hundreds of new and former Soviet-era Arctic military sites” and its use of the high north “as a testbed for the most advanced weapons including hypersonic missiles”.

The Nato chief also expressed concerns about China’s reach into the Arctic for shipping and resources exploration, with plans to build the world’s largest icebreaker fleet.

Beijing and Moscow have pledged to intensify practical cooperation in the Arctic. This forms part of the deepening strategic partnership that challenges our values and our interests.

Jens Stoltenberg and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau speaking at the Canadian air base in Cold Lake, Alberta
Jens Stoltenberg (left) and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, at the air base in Canada’s Cold Lake, Alberta. Photograph: Adam Scotti/PMO/Reuters

The governor of the Donetsk region says three-quarters of its population has been evacuated amid Russian assaults in Ukraine’s east.

Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV:

There is practically not a single major town or city that is not subject to [Russian] shelling.

Reuters also reported the Ukrainian military general staff as saying Russian aircraft had attacked several sites and was focusing on more than a dozen towns in the south, including Mykolaiv near the Black Sea.

There were also air strikes against several towns in the Sumy region near the Russian border, the general staff said, and Russian forces had shelled and carried out air attacks against the Kharkiv region in the north-east.

Also on Friday, Washington confirmed reports that a US citizen had recently died in Ukraine, but declined to provide further details.

A Ukrainian police officer inspects a large dark crater near a school after an airstrike in the Donetsk region on Friday
A Ukrainian police officer inspects a crater near a school after an airstrike on Mykolaivka in the Donetsk region on Friday. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Russia intensifying attacks amid rumour of major Ukrainian counter-offensive, says UK

Russia has probably increased the intensity of its attacks in the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region over the past five days, according to British intelligence.

Pro-Russia separatists have most likely made progress towards the centre of Pisky village, near Donetsk airport, but Russian forces overall had secured few territorial gains, the latest report from the UK Ministry of Defence says.

It adds:

There is a realistic possibility that Russia has increased its efforts in the Donbas in an attempt to draw in or fix additional Ukrainian units, amid speculation that Ukraine is planning a major counter-offensive.

Ukraine suspects Moscow intends to divert power from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russian troops in 2014.

Washington warned on Thursday against such a move, with State Department spokesman Vedant Patel saying attempts to redirect power to occupied areas were “unacceptable”.

The electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine.

Agence France-Presse also reported that Britain’s defence ministry said satellite imagery showed an increased presence of Russian troops at the occupied power plant in south-eastern Ukraine, with armoured personnel carriers deployed within 60m (200 feet) of one reactor.

The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhi
The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Summary

Hello and welcome back to the Guardian’s continuing live coverage of the war in Ukraine. I’m Adam Fulton and here are the latest developments as it has just passed 9am in Kyiv on this Saturday 27 August 2022.

  • The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remained “very risky” after two of its six reactors were reconnected to the grid following shelling that caused Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to be disconnected for the first time in its history. “Let me stress that the situation remains very risky and dangerous,” he said in his regular evening address on Friday, praising Ukrainian experts working to “avert the worst-case scenario”.

  • Residents near the Zaporizhzhia plant have reportedly been given iodine tablets amid mounting fears that the fighting around the Russian-occupied complex in south-eastern Ukraine could trigger a catastrophe.

  • Zelenskiy said the world narrowly avoided a “radiation disaster” on Thursday when electricity to the Zaporizhzhia plant was cut for hours after fires broke out around it.

  • A team of inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog are poised to make an emergency visit to the Zaporizhzhia plant, according to reports. Sources have told the Wall Street Journal it is “almost certain” that a mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit the plant early next week, although details are still being completed.

  • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, has announced plans to expand mandatory evacuations for civilians living on the war’s frontlines. Speaking on national television, she said evacuating women with children and elderly people would be a priority from some districts of the eastern Kharkiv region, and the southern Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv regions.

  • Ukrainian forces have struck an important bridge used by Russian occupying forces in the southern Kherson region, according to Ukraine’s southern military command. The Daryivskiy Bridge is the only Russian-controlled crossing across the Inhulets river, which splits the Russian-occupied land west of the Dnipro into two parts.

  • Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said in a French television interview on Friday that Russia was prepared to hold talks with Volodymyr Zelenskiy subject to certain conditions, but warned Moscow would not stop its assault until its goals had been achieved. “Renouncing [Ukraine’s] participation in the North Atlantic alliance is now vital, but it is already insufficient in order to establish peace,” Medvedev told LCI television in quotes reported by Russian news agencies.

  • EU energy ministers will gather for an urgent meeting as soon as possible to discuss the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Czech prime minister said. The Czech Republic currently holds the presidency of the European Council.

  • Russia’s claim that it is deliberately slowing the pace of its military campaign in Ukraine is “almost certainly deliberate misinformation”, according to British intelligence. The latest UK Ministry of Defence report said Russia’s offensive had stalled “because of poor Russian military performance and fierce Ukrainian resistance”.

  • The Belarusian president has said his country’s SU-24 warplanes have been re-fitted to carry nuclear armaments. Alexander Lukashenko said he had previously agreed to the move with his Russian counterpart, Putin, and warned that his country was ready to respond to “serious provocation” from the west instantly.

  • Russia is burning off large amounts of natural gas that it would previously have exported to Germany while energy costs soar in Europe, the BBC has reported. According to the broadcaster, which cites an analysis by Rystad Energy, a plant near Russia’s border with Finland is burning an estimated £8.4m worth of gas every day.

  • The head of the UK’s energy regulator, Ofgem, has blamed Russia for driving up energy prices, resulting in the UK price cap rising by 80%. Ofgem on Friday approved a £1,578 increase on the current price cap of £1,971 for the average dual-fuel tariff.

  • The German ambassador to the UK has acknowledged there is a risk public support for Ukraine could wane this winter as the energy crisis intensifies. Putin was “using gas as a weapon” in the UK and all of Europe, Miguel Berger said. “He wants to test our resolve.”

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