Mon, 25 Sep 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said Ukraine had started its long-expected counteroffensive, but that Kyiv had so far failed to attain its goals. Speaking at a Eurasian Economic Union conference in the Russian resort town of Sochi, Putin maintained that Ukraine still has the potential to attack. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

4:58pm: Putin says Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun

President Vladimir Putin has told a conference in the Russian resort city of Sochi that Ukraine had begun its expected counteroffensive against Russian forces, but without success.

"The offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has begun. This is evidenced by the use of strategic reserves," he said in footage from the forum posted on Telegram.

"Ukrainian troops did not achieve their goals in any sector, thanks to the courage of Russian soldiers, proper organisation of troops," he said.

Ukraine has not officially confirmed the start of the counteroffensive.

4:23pm: Russia working to produce Iranian drones next year, says US

Russia is receiving materials from Iran to build a drone factory on its territory that "could be fully operational early next year," said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

The White House released a satellite image of the location of the prospective plant in the Alabuga special economic zone, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of Moscow.

"The Russia-Iran military partnership appears to be deepening," Kirby said in a statement, citing US intelligence information.

Washington estimates that Russia has received hundreds of attack drones as well as related equipment from Iran to aid Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

4:10pm: Hungary receives Ukrainian POWs from Russia, Kyiv says not informed

Hungary has said it received a group of Ukrainian prisoners of war from Russia, a release that Ukraine welcomed while expressing concern that it had not been informed of the transfer.

The POWs were from the western part of Ukraine that borders Hungary, according to both the Russian Orthodox Church, which said it had assisted in the release, and Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen.

"This is my human and patriotic duty ... we have brought back from Moscow 11 prisoners of war from Transcarpathia," a post on Semjen's official Facebook page said, referring to Ukraine's western Transcarpathia region.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has long supported the Russian Orthodox Church in Hungary, and blocked proposals from other EU members for sanctions against the church's overall leader Patriarch Kirill.

A statement posted on the website of the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate late Thursday said that "at the request of the Hungarian side, a group of Ukrainian prisoners of war of Transcarpathian origin who participated in the hostilities was transferred to Hungary".

3:17pm: Blast detected at time of Kakhovka dam breach: Norway seismological institute

Norway's seismological institute says it had detected "an explosion" at the site and time the Kakhovka dam was breached in Ukraine.

NORSAR's announcement, which did not provide any information about the cause of the blast, supports suggestions that the hydroelectric dam, located in a Russian-controlled zone, did not burst as a result of damage incurred during months of heavy bombing.

2:34pm: Russia says it repelled Ukrainian attacks in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk

Russia has claimed to have repelled fierce Ukrainian offensives in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, killing more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops and destroying dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles.

Russia's top military brass briefed President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that their troops had successfully pushed back a series of attacks which Moscow says are part of a so-far unsuccessful counteroffensive by Ukraine since Sunday.

"The armed forces of Ukraine continued attempts to conduct offensive operations in the southern Donetsk and Zaporozhzhia directions," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

It said Ukrainian forces had attacked Russian lines four times with two battalions supported with tanks just south of Velyka Novosilka in Donetsk, but were pushed back. Russian forces had also repelled two attacks just south of city of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region, the ministry said.

2:17pm: Russia to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in July, says Putin

Russia will start deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus after the facilities are ready on July 7-8, according to the Kremlin readout of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

"So everything is according to plan, everything is stable," Putin said, according to the readout.

The two men had previously agreed the plan to deploy Russian land-based short-range nuclear missiles on the territory of Moscow's close ally, where they will remain under Russian command.

2:05pm: Flooding from Kakhovka dam breach kills eight people in Russian-held area

Russian-installed authorities in southern Ukraine have reported more casualties from the flood triggered by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, and said the water could keep rising for more than a week.

"Unfortunately, there are casualties ... Their number has grown to eight people," the Moscow-installed head of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said on Telegram.

More than 5,800 people were evacuated since the flood was unleashed on Tuesday, Saldo said, including 243 children. The water, which flooded 22,273 homes in 17 settlements, could "keep rising for up to ten days", he added.

Saldo accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the region, which "complicates the work of rescuers".

Across the Dnipro River, AFP journalists in the Ukrainian-held city of Kherson and its surrounding areas have reported shelling, which appeared to be coming from Russian positions.

1:45pm: As observers look to south, Ukraine says east is 'epicentre' of fighting

Ukraine says the main centre of fighting is still in the country's east - even as clashes in the south have prompted speculation that Ukrainian forces could have launched a long-awaited offensive.

"The situation is tense in all areas of the front line. The east is the epicentre," Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister, Ganna Malyar, wrote on Telegram.

"The enemy continues to concentrate its main efforts on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Maryinka directions," she added, referring to eastern cities where fighting has been raging for months. The deputy minister gave few details on the situation in southern Ukraine.

Moscow says fighting has intensified since Thursday in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, particularly around the small town of Orikhiv. The resumption of fighting there has been seen by many observers as a sign that Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive is already under way.

A Ukrainian military success in Zaporizhzhia region would enable its forces to break through the land bridge that connects Russia with the Crimean peninsula it annexed from Ukraine. This would be a major reverse for Moscow.

But the Russian army in recent months has strengthened its front lines in the region, digging kilometres of trenches and fortifying its defences.

1:10pm: 'Everything indicates' Russia is to blame for dam breach, says EU's Borrell

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says "everything indicates" Russia is behind the Kakhovka dam breach, which Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of causing.

"The dam was not bombed. It was destroyed by explosives installed in the areas where the turbines are located. This area is under Russian control," Borrell told Spanish public television.

"I wasn't there to find out who did it. But everything seems to indicate that if it took place in an area under Russian control, it is difficult to believe it could have been someone else," he added.

"In any case, the consequences for Ukraine are terrible, from the humanitarian point of view for the displaced people, and from the environmental point of view because the (dam's) destruction will cause an ecological disaster."

12:15pm: Zelensky says 'hundreds of thousands' struggle to get drinking water

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky says "hundreds of thousands" have limited access to drinking water in areas hit by flooding after the Kakhovka dam breach.

"For hundreds of thousands of people in many towns and villages, access to drinking water has been greatly hampered," Zelensky said on Telegram. "In more than 40 settlements, life is broken."

11:40am: Kakhovka dam sabotage 'didn't go according to plan'

FRANCE 24's Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg has more on the intercepted phonecall that Ukraine's domestic security service says proves Russia destroyed the Kakhovka dam earlier this week, triggering massive floods in the country's south.

The one-and-a-half minute audio clip posted on Telegram features two men who appear to be discussing the fallout from the disaster in Russian, describing it as a botched sabotage operation that "didn't go according to plan".

If verified, the audio clip would support the hypothesis that the Russian plan may have been to blow up only a part of the dam, possibly as a warning to Ukraine.

11:05am: Russian intelligence investigating drone strike on Voronezh

The Kremlin says Russia's intelligence services are investigating a drone attack on the Russian city of Voronezh, which it blames on Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the security services were working to clarify details of the incident.

The regional governor said earlier that three people had been lightly wounded when the drone hit a residential building in the city.

10:25am: Russian official says pipeline blast will affect grain talks

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin said a blast that damaged an ammonia pipeline between Russia and Ukraine would be taken into account during consultations on the Black Sea grain deal, the RIA news agency reports.

Russia has repeatedly threatened to quit the deal - which enables Ukraine to export grain via its Black Sea ports - unless a series of its own conditions are met, including restoration of the pipeline between the Russian city of Togliatti and Ukraine's Odesa.

The deal next comes up for renewal on July 17. Russia's ambassador to Turkey was separately quoted on Friday as saying there were no grounds to extend it, but that Moscow was continuing consultations with the United Nations.

9:55am: Ukraine says it intercepted call proving Russia blew up Kakhovka dam

Ukraine's domestic security service says it has intercepted a telephone call proving Russian forces blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric station and dam in southern Ukraine's Kherson region.

The destruction of the facility on Tuesday unleashed mass flooding, forcing thousands of residents to flee and wreaking environmental havoc.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) posted a one-and-a-half minute audio clip on its Telegram channel of the alleged conversation, which featured two men who appeared to be discussing the fallout from the disaster in Russian.

"They (the Ukrainians) didn't strike it. That was our sabotage group," said one of the men, who the SBU described as a Russian soldier. "They wanted to, like, scare (people) with that dam."

"It didn't go according to plan, and (they did) more than what they planned for."

The SBU did not offer further details of the conversation or its participants. It said it had opened a criminal investigation into war crimes and "ecocide".

"The invaders wanted to blackmail Ukraine by blowing up the dam and staged a man-made disaster in the south of our country," the SBU said in a statement.

9:35am: Russia says three injured in drone strike on Voronezh

Three people have been wounded in an apparent drone strike in the southern Russian city of Voronezh, regional governor Alexander Gusev has said.

"A drone fell on Belinsky Street in Voronezh," Gusev said on Telegram, adding that a residential building was hit.

Gusev said the three people had received medical attention on the spot and declined hospital treatment, suggesting their injuries were light.

Voronezh is about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the Ukrainian border, northeast of Belgorod province.

Ukraine does not comment on alleged cross-border attacks into Russia.

8:40am: Russia reports heavy fighting in Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia regions

Russian military sources reported heavy fighting in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, saying over 21 Ukrainian tanks had been destroyed in battles across key sections of the front line.

A spokesman for Russia's Vostok group of forces said 13 Ukrainian tanks were destroyed in battles in the Zaporizhzhia region and eight in the Donetsk region. It reported artillery, drone and infantry battles.

The battlefield claims could not be independently verified.

Russian military bloggers said there were intense battles on the Zaporizhzhia front near the city of Orikhiv as Ukraine seeks to pierce Russian defences and drive a wedge through Russian forces.

8:10am: Aid workers scramble to evacuate civilians in areas flooded by dam collapse

The collapse of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River has set off a scramble to evacuate residents in dozens of flooded areas in Ukraine's southern Kherson region and get aid to those still there.

Russian shelling on Thursday forced a suspension of some rescue efforts hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky went to the area to assess the damage.

FRANCE 24's Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg reports from the southern city of Mykolaiv.

7:15am: Ukraine says it downed four cruise missiles, 10 attack drones

Ukraine's military shot down four cruise missiles and 10 attack drones during a Russian air strike overnight, the air force has claimed in a statement.

It said Russian forces had launched 16 drones and six cruise missiles during the attack, and that two other cruise missiles had struck a civilian object in central Ukraine during an earlier attack on Thursday evening.

5:11am: Biden, Sunak vow to stick together on Ukraine

President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have reiterated their commitment to help Ukraine repel Russia's ongoing invasion.

The 15-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine was high on the agenda during talks between the two leaders at the White House.

The US and UK are the two biggest donors to the Ukraine war effort and play a central role in a long-term effort announced last month to train, and eventually equip, Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.

Biden reiterated confidence that Congress would continue to provide Ukraine funding as needed despite some hesitation among Republican leaders at the growing cost of the war for American taxpayers.

"The US and the UK have stood together to support Ukraine," Biden said at the start of their meeting.

1:15am: Zelensky hails 'results' in eastern Ukraine fighting

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed what he described as "results" in heavy fighting in Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

"There is very heavy fighting in Donetsk region," Zelensky said in his daily video message, delivered in a train after visiting areas affected by the breach of the Kakhovka power dam.

"But there are results and I am grateful to those who achieved these results. Well done in Bakhmut. Step by step," he said.

Zelensky referred to other areas where fighting is going on, but said he would provide no details. Pictures posted on his Telegram account showed him meeting some of the country's top generals in the field.

Key developments from Thursday, June 8:

Nine people were injured Thursday in Russian shelling in the Kherson region as it deals with massive flooding from the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, according to Ukrainian officials. The attacks came shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Kherson.

Moscow accused Ukraine of killing two people at an evacuation point in the Russian-controlled side of the Dnipro River.

Read yesterday's live blog to see how the day's events unfolded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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