Wed, 29 Nov 2023

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

5:47pm: Russia enjoys rare backing for Ukraine war at UN from Syria

Russia found rare support for its war in Ukraine at the UN General Assembly on Monday from Syria, whose leadership has relied on Moscow's support in its civil war.

"Syria reiterates its position on Russia's special military operation in Ukraine and Russia's right to defend and secure its own territory," Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad told the world body.

"We are convinced that the Russian Federation is defending not only itself but justice and humanity's right to reject unipolar hegemony."

Syria has for months rallied behind Russia, recognising Russian-backed breakaway areas in eastern Ukraine and offering to send Syrian troops to fight alongside Russia.

5:17pm: Russia's FSB detains Japanese consul in far east for alleged espionage

Russia's FSB federal security agency said on Monday it had detained a Japanese consul in Russia's Pacific port city of Vladivostok for alleged espionage and declared him persona non grata, Russian news agencies reported.

The FSB said the consul was caught receiving secret information on the effect of Western sanctions on the economic situation in Russia's far east.

5:11pm: Hungary opposes EU sanctions on Russian nuclear sector

Hungary, which is highly dependent on Russian energy, said Monday it staunchly opposed European Union sanctions on the Russian nuclear industry, following EU talks on the issue at the weekend.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that "some entities in the European Union are ... continuously making attempts to put hurdles and obstacles in (the) way of nuclear investments".

"I want to make it very clear here that we do consider all actions carried out [...] to put obstacles in the way of the construction of our nuclear power plants as attacks against our sovereignty."

4:55pm: UN chief urges end to 'era of nuclear blackmail'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his call Monday for the global abolition of nuclear weapons as concerns grow over Russia's threat to use them in the Ukraine war.

"Decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we can hear once again the rattling of nuclear sabers," Guterres told a special General Assembly session on nuclear disarmament.

"Let me be clear - the era of nuclear blackmail must end," he said. "The idea that any country could fight and win a nuclear war is deranged. Any use of a nuclear weapon would incite a humanitarian Armageddon."

4:33pm: UK sanctions Russians over 'sham' votes in Ukraine

The UK government on Monday sanctioned 92 Russian individuals and entities after President Vladimir Putin's regime held plebiscites in separatist areas of Ukraine and stepped up threats against the West.

"Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognise their results," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

"Today's sanctions will target those behind these sham votes, as well as the individuals that continue to prop up the Russian regime's war of aggression," he said.

Among the individuals sanctioned were Sergei Yeliseyev, Moscow's head of government in the Kherson region of Ukraine and a vice admiral in the Russian navy, who defected from Ukraine's navy in 2014.

4:14pm: Transparency International urges EU sanctions on Russian diamonds, miner Alrosa

The European Union should bar Russian diamond imports and blacklist diamond miner Alrosa and its head Sergei Ivanov, the NGO Transparency International told Reuters on Monday, as the EU prepares new sanctions over Russia's war in Ukraine.

Galvanised by Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing a partial military mobilisation and issuing a thinly veiled nuclear threat to the West, EU countries were quick to say last week that they will respond with new sanctions.

Two diplomatic sources, however, told Reuters on Monday the process would take time as the 27 EU countries need to agree unanimously in order to impose sanctions.

4:07pm: Kremlin admits call-up 'errors' but no decision to close border

The Kremlin admitted Monday that errors had been made during the mobilisation of reservists for the military action in Ukraine and said no decision had been taken to close Russia's borders.

"Indeed, there are cases when the (mobilisation) decree was violated. In some regions, governors are actively working to rectify the situation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"Instances of non-compliance (with the decree) are decreasing. We hope this will speed up and that all errors will be corrected."

President Vladimir Putin last week announced the call-up of thousands of reservists for the conflict in Ukraine, sparking protests across the country and a rush among Russian men for the borders.

2:49pm: Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner Group

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa.

Prigozhin said in a statement from his company, Concord, that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine's Donbas region in 2014.

"From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name BTG Wagner," he said. Prigozhin, dubbed "Putin's chef" because of his Kremlin catering contracts, has previously denied links with Wagner.

"I myself cleaned the old weapons, figured out bulletproof vests and found specialists who could help me with this," Prigozhin added.

2:17pm: Ukrainians in occupied Melitopol fear Russian call-up

Ukrainians in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol fear they will be called up by Moscow following a referendum on joining Russia in which some residents were forced to vote at gunpoint, its exiled mayor said on Monday.

Mayor Ivan Fedorov said the last official route out of Melitopol to territory controlled by Ukraine had been closed, and that residents' concerns had risen since voting began in the four-day referendum on Friday.

"Our residents are frightened, they are panicking, they don't know what will happen tomorrow, and when people will start being called up (to Russia's army)," he told a news briefing via video link.

Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine, was one of the first cities to fall after Russia's invasion in February. It is one of four regions to hold referendums that Kyiv says are a sham.

Fedorov said he believed the main reason for holding the referendums was to enable Moscow to conscript Ukrainians following Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement of a partial mobilisation last week.

"The voting takes place in front of assault rifles, (Russian) men with weapons," Fedorov said.

2:06pm: US announces $457.5 million in civilian aid for Ukraine

The United States will provide $457.5 million in new civilian security aid for Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Monday.

The aid is designed to help Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, the statement said.

1:59pm: Orthodox Church leader says Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine will be 'cleansed' of 'sin'

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has said that Russian soldiers who die in the war against Ukraine will be cleansed of all their sins, days after President Vladimir Putin ordered the country's first mobilisation since World War II.

Patriarch Kirill is a key Putin ally and backer of the invasion. He has previously criticised those who oppose the war and called on Russians to rally round the Kremlin.

Kirill's support for the war has deepened a rift between the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church and other wings of Orthodoxy around the world. Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, has been a vocal opponent of the war, and has appeared to scold Kirill's position in several public addresses, including earlier this month when he said God does not support war.

1:47pm: Hungary PM Orban says EU sanctions on Russia have 'backfired'

Hungary should prepare for a prolonged war in neighbouring Ukraine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told parliament on Monday, sharply criticising European Union sanctions imposed on Russia which he said were driving up energy prices.

Orban said the EU sanctions have "backfired" and it was no surprise that governments were falling in Europe, referring to the Italian election on Sunday where Giorgia Meloni looks set to become Italy's first woman prime minister at the head of its most right-wing government since World War Two.

1:21pm: Kremlin says Russia and US have 'sporadic' contact over nuclear weapons

The Kremlin said on Monday it was in "sporadic" contact with the United States on issues related to nuclear weapons, in exchanges that allow the world's two largest nuclear powers to outline their positions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week he was "not bluffing" when he said Russia would be prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its territorial integrity.

1:18pm: Kremlin says no decisions taken on border closure amid mobilisation

The Kremlin on Monday said that no decisions have been taken on closing Russia's borders amid an exodus of military-age men since President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilisation last Wednesday.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also acknowledged that some call-ups had been issued in error, and that mistakes would be corrected.

11:41am: Russian lawmaker says draft-age men should not be allowed to leave country

Russian men of fighting age should not be allowed to travel abroad, a senior lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday, amid growing public concern that wider border closures will be announced to stop people fleeing the draft.

"Everyone who is of conscription age should be banned from travelling abroad in the current situation," Sergei Tsekov, a member of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, told RIA news agency.

The announcement triggered panic that men of fighting age would be turned away at the borders, although the Kremlin has dismissed reports of people fleeing to airports.

11:31am: Moldova considers sanctions for citizens who fight for Russia in Ukraine

Moldova may revoke the citizenship of its nationals who go to fight for Russia in Ukraine after being called up because they also hold Russian passports, pro-Western President Maia Sandu said on Monday.

Russia launched a "partial" mobilisation last week to reinforce its troops in Ukraine, and there are 200,000 people with dual Moldovan-Russian citizenship who live in the breakaway Moldovan region of Trandniestria.

Sandu said there was a risk that some of those people could be called up by Russia to fight.

"To prevent that happening, we are analysing the possibility of applying the process of revoking Moldovan citizenship for those people (with Russian passports) who fight on the side of the aggressor," Sandu said.

"We are also looking at the possibility of making punishment harsher for Moldovan citizens (without Russian passports)... who are in the ranks of the aggressor's armed forces," she said.

She said Moldova was holding consultations with Moscow to prevent cases of its citizens being called up.

Russia has had peacekeeping troops stationed in Transdniestria since the early 1990s when an armed conflict saw pro-Russian separatists wrest most of the region from Moldovan control.

11:04am: IAEA chief is ready for Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant talks in Russia and Ukraine this week

UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday he is ready to hold talks in Ukraine and Russia this week on setting up a protection zone at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine that he often says is needed urgently.

"There is a plan on the table to do it. Last week I had an opportunity to start consultations with Ukraine and with the Russian Federation ... and I am ready to continue these consultations in both countries this week," Grossi told a meeting of International Atomic Energy Agency member states.

10:05am: Recruiter wounded in shooting at mobilisation centre in Siberia, says local governor

A man opened fire and wounded a recruitment officer at an enlistment centre in Siberia on Monday, the local governor said, as tensions mount over Russia's military mobilisation for the conflict in Ukraine.

The incident occurred in the town of Ust-Ilimsk in Irkutsk, a vast and thinly populated region of southeastern Siberia. "In Ust-Ilimsk, a young man fired at the military registration and enlistment office," Irkutsk governor Igor Kobzev said in a message on Telegram.

Kobzev said a military commissar had been wounded in the shooting and was in critical condition. The shooter was immediately arrested, he said.

Critics have accused authorities of focusing mobilisation efforts in remote parts of the country like Siberia and the North Caucasus to avoid sparking opposition in major urban centres and especially Moscow.

9:55am: Zelensky says he doesn't think Putin is bluffing over nuclear arms

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he doesn't think Vladimir Putin is bluffing when he says Moscow would be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

The Russian president said in a televised address last week that Moscow would use "all available means" to protect Russia and its people if its territorial integrity were threatened.

"Look, maybe yesterday it was bluff. Now, it could be a reality," Zelensky, who had previously played down such warnings as nuclear blackmail, told CBS News on Sunday.

"I don't think he's bluffing," Zelensky added.

The Ukrainian president said Russian strikes on or near two Ukrainian nuclear plants could be considered "contemporary use of nuclear weapons or nuclear blackmail."

9:45am: More Russians travelled to Finland during weekend, border data shows

Almost 17,000 Russians crossed the border into Finland during the weekend, an 80% rise from a week earlier, Finnish authorities said on Monday, as the influx of people continued in the wake of Russia's announcement of military mobilisation.

Wednesday's announcement of Russia's first public mobilisation since World War Two, to shore up its faltering Ukraine war, has triggered a rush for the border, the arrest of protesters and unease in the wider population.

The Finnish government, wary of becoming a major transit nation, on Friday said it will stop all Russians from entering on tourist visas within the coming days, although exceptions may still apply on humanitarian grounds.

9:42am: Russia's Putin to meet Belarus's Lukashenko later today

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on Monday in Moscow, Belarus state media reported.

Russia and Belarus are close allies, with Russia having used bases in Belarus as a staging post for its troops, aircraft and equipment in the invasion of Ukraine.

9:29am: Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa.

Prigozhin said in a statement from his company that he founded the group in order to send fighters to Ukraine's Donbas region in 2014: "From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name BTG Wagner".

Prigozhin has previously denied links with Wagner.

9:14am: Zelensky says two more burial sites found in liberated Izium

Ukraine has discovered two more mass burial sites containing the bodies of hundreds of people in the northeastern town of Izium, which Kyiv recaptured from Russia this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

Zelensky made his comment in an interview with CBS published late on Sunday in which he also called for sustained sanctions pressure on Russia, whose troops were routed in northeastern Ukraine in a lightning counteroffensive this month.

Russian authorities did not immediately comment on Zelensky's assertion about the discovery of two more burial sites. Moscow regularly denies committing atrocities in the war in Ukraine or targeting civilians.

8:50am: EU crisis response meeting to discuss developments in Russia

Ambassadors of European Union member states have been invited to a meeting of the bloc's crisis response working group on Monday to discuss concerns about an escalation of the war in Ukraine, an EU official and an EU diplomat said.

Ambassadors are not usually present at meetings of the integrated political crisis response group, which includes officials from the EU's executive and its diplomatic service.

The closed-door meeting in Brussels is due to start at 10 a.m. (0800 GMT), the sources said.

8:19am: Japan bans chemical weapons-related goods to Russia, amid concerns over nuke threats

Japan has decided to ban exports of chemical weapons-related goods to Russia in an additional sanction against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, and is "deeply concerned" about the possible use of nuclear weapons, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Monday.

Japan also added 21 Russian organisations such as science labs as the target of existing export bans, according to a government statement released after Monday's cabinet meeting, which formally approved the new sanction measures announced by the foreign minister at a Group of Seven meeting last week.

"Japan is deeply concerned about the possibility of nuclear weapons used during Russia's invasion of Ukraine," Matsuno also said in a media briefing, adding Japan will continue to work with the international society in supporting Ukraine and sanctioning Russia.

07:33am: Initial tranches of men for Russia's mobilisation have started arriving at military bases, says Britain

Britain said on Monday that initial tranches of men called up for Russia's partial mobilisation have started arriving at military bases.

"Russia will now face an administrative and logistical challenge to provide training for the troops," the British Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update.

Many of the drafted troops will not have had any military experience for some years, the intelligence update added.

Earlier last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had signed a decree on partial mobilisation beginning Wednesday.

07:12am: Ukraine military says Russian drones hit military objects in Odesa

Two drones launched by Russian forces into the Odesa region in Ukraine hit military objects causing a fire and the detonation of ammunition, the South command of Ukraine's forces said on Monday.

"As a result of a large-scale fire and the detonation of ammunition, the evacuation of the civilian population was organised," the command said in statement on the Telegram.

"Preliminarily, there have been no casualties."

04:33am: US warns Russia against using nuclear weapons in war against Ukraine

The United States has warned Russia privately of "catastrophic" consequences if it uses nuclear weapons as part of the Ukraine invasion, top US officials said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a thinly veiled threat to use nuclear arms in a speech Wednesday in which he announced the mobilisation of reservists following Ukrainian gains on the ground.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview broadcast Sunday, confirmed reports that the United States has sent private warnings to Russia to steer clear of nuclear war.

"We have been very clear with the Russians publicly, and, as well as privately, to stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons," Blinken told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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