Sat, 23 Sep 2023

Ukraine and Russia traded accusations on Sunday of attacks on civilians in southern Ukraine as Russian-occupied territories hold referendums on joining Russia that Western leaders have dismissed as staged attempts to annex more territory.

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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 mobilization 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.

10:21pm: Fierce battles along frontline, with some 'positive results', Zelensky says

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that heavy fighting is taking place with Russian forces in many places along the frontline, some with "positive results" for Kyiv.

"This is the Donetsk region, this is our Kharkiv region. This is the Kherson region, and also the Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia regions," Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

"We have positive results in several directions."

8:21pm: Several EU nations propose Russian diamond ban

The European Union must stop importing diamonds from Russia, five of the bloc's 27 countries said in a joint proposal seen by Reuters, as the EU prepares new sanctions against Moscow for waging war against Ukraine.

The EU, which has so far implemented six rounds of sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, needs unanimity to agree any such ban that Belgium - home to the world's biggest diamond trading hub Antwerp - has rejected in the past.

The bloc was spurred into fresh action after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military mobilisation last week and moved to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.

The EU's executive European Commission is expected to present a formal proposal for more sanctions to member states this week.

8:03pm: Ukraine receives US air defence system

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that Ukraine had received sophisticated air defence systems from the United States.

It was the first acknowledgment that Ukraine had received the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), long sought by Kyiv and whose shipment was approved by Washington late last month.

"We absolutely need the United States to show leadership and give Ukraine the air defence systems. I want to thank President (Joe) Biden for a positive decision that has been already made," Zelensky said, according to an English-language transcript of the interview.

"But believe me, it's not even nearly enough to cover the civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities, homes of Ukrainians."

5:50pm: Russian police clash with protesters over military mobilisation

Police clashed on Sunday with people opposed to the mobilisation in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, underscoring the level of discontent with President Vladimir Putin's decision to send hundreds of thousands more men to fight in Ukraine.

Russia's first military mobilisation since World War II, announced by Putin on Wednesday, has triggered protests in dozens of cities across the country. Public anger has appeared to be particularly strong in poor ethnic minority regions like Dagestan, a Muslim-majority region located on the shores of the Caspian Sea in the mountainous north Caucasus.

Dozens of videos posted on social media showed confrontations with police in the regional capital of Makhachkala on Sunday as protesters shouted "no to war".

One video showed a group of women chasing away a police officer, while several clips showed violent clashes, including police sitting on protesters, as police attempted to make detentions.

Reuters was unable to verify the footage, which was shared widely across Russian social media and by independent media outlets. Reuters was unable to reach police in Dagestan.

3:44pm: Thousands of Russians flee to Mongolia to avoid military service

Long lines of vehicles were seen at a border crossing between Mongolia and Russia on Sunday as people fled the Kremlin's call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists for the war in Ukraine.

The head of a checkpoint in the town of Altanbulag told AFP that more than 3,000 Russians had entered Mongolia via the crossing since Wednesday, most of them men.

Queues of people holding Russian passports were also seen outside the immigration counter for the border crossing, according to an AFP reporter there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced Russia's first military call-up of fighting-age men since World War II.

3:09pm: British PM Truss tells Ukraine allies not to listen to Putin's sabre-rattling

Prime Minister Liz Truss said Britain and its allies should not be listening to Russian President Vladimir Putin's "sabre-rattling" on Ukraine after he ordered a partial mobilisation of troops and raised the possibility of nuclear conflict.

"We should not be listening to his sabre-rattling and his bogus threats. Instead, what we need to do is continue to put sanctions on Russia and continue to support the Ukrainians," Truss told CNN in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

2:41pm: Russian authorities vow changes in troop mobilisation after old, sick people called up for duty

Russian authorities on Sunday promised to fix the mistakes in their troop call-up for Ukraine, after some public outrage over students, older or sick people being mistakenly ordered to report for duty.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation on Wednesday, he said only people with "relevant" skills or military experience would be concerned.

But many expressed outrage after seeing - sometimes absurd - cases of authorities summoning people unfit for service.

Authorities in the southwestern Russian region of Volgograd sent a 63-year-old diabetic ex-military staffer to training camp, despite poor health and cerebral issues.

The 63-year-old came back home Friday night, according to Russian state agency RIA Novosti.

2:34pm: Ships depart Ukrainian ports after UN-brokered agriculture deal

Seven more ships laden with agricultural produce left Ukrainian ports on Sunday, the country's infrastructure ministry said, bringing the total to 218 since a UN-brokered corridor through the Black Sea came into force at the start of August.

Ukraine, a major agricultural producer, was left unable to export through the Black Sea after Russia's invasion on Feb. 24 until the agreement of the grain deal, which promises safe passage for ships carrying crops.

In a post on Facebook, the ministry said this brought the total amount of agricultural produce shipped through the corridor to 4.85 million tonnes.

Ukraine shipped up to 6 million tonnes of grain per month before the war.

11:42am: Russia's top two parliamentarians and close Putin allies voice concern over mobilisation 'excesses'

Russia's two most senior lawmakers on Sunday addressed a string of complaints about Russia's mobilisation drive, ordering regional officials to get a handle on the situation and swiftly solve the "excesses" that have stoked public anger.

Multiple reports have also documented how people with no military service have been issued draft papers - contrary to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu's guarantee that only those with special military skills or combat experience would be called up - prompting even ultra-loyal pro-Kremlin figures to publicly express concern. That includes Russia's top two parliamentarians, both close Putin allies.

Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, said she was aware of reports of men who should be ineligible for the draft being called up. "Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And, I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society," she said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

In a direct message to Russia's regional governors - who she said had "full responsibility" for implementing the call-up - she wrote: "Ensure the implementation of partial mobilisation is carried out in full and absolute compliance with the outlined criteria. Without a single mistake."

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower chamber, also expressed concern in a separate post. "Complaints are being received," he said. "If a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it ... Authorities at every level should understand their responsibilities."

11:31am: Two dead following missile strike, pro-Russian authorities say

Pro-Russian authorities in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson accused Kyiv's forces of killing two people including a former lawmaker on Sunday in a missile strike on a hotel.

"Today, at around 05:30 (0230 GMT), the Ukrainian armed forces fired a missile on the Play Hotel by Ribas" in Kherson, the regional Russian-controlled administration said in a statement.

"According to preliminary data, two people died in this terrorist act. Rescue workers are still combing the rubble to search for victims."

Regional official Kirill Stremousov said Oleksiy Jouravko, a pro-Russian former Ukrainian lawmaker, was among the dead.

The authorities said journalists from Russian media were in the hotel when the missile struck.

State television channel RT published images purporting to show one of its cameramen being extricated from a pile of rubble.

The claims could not be independently verified.

10:35am: Nearly three-quarters of UN General Assembly vote to reprimand Russia over Ukraine crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the United Nations General Assembly and the world's media on Saturday, casting opposition to Russia's assault on its neighbour as limited to the United States and countries under its sway.

Nearly three-quarters of countries in the assembly voted to reprimand Russia and demand it withdraw its troops shortly after the February 24 invasion that Russia calls a special military operation.

10:20am: Kyiv, Moscow trade accusations of attacks on civilians in southern Ukraine

Ukraine and Russia traded accusations on Sunday of attacks on civilians in southern Ukraine as Russia sought to justify its seven-month war, even as it escalates with reinforcements and the expected annexation of regions its troops have seized.

Ukraine and Western countries say referendums on joining Russia in territories Russia has captured are a sham designed to justify their annexation and the ramping up of hostilities with newly drafted troops after recent battlefield losses.

Ukraine's military said early on Sunday that Russian forces had launched dozens of missile attacks and air strikes on military and civilian targets, including 35 "settlements", in the past 24 hours.

Russia also used drones to attack the centre of the southern city of Odesa, Ukraine's military said. No casualties were reported. Russia denies targeting civilians.

FRANCE 24 could not immediately verify the claims.

9:32am: Kremlin's mention of possible use of nuclear weapons 'absolutely unacceptable', Ukraine's FM says

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia's statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons were "unacceptable". "Putin's and Lavrov's irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons are absolutely unacceptable," Kuleba wrote on Twitter. "Ukraine won't give in. We call on all nuclear powers to speak out now and make it clear to Russia that such rhetoric puts the world at risk and will not be tolerated."

Reacting to Moscow's statements over the referendum in occupied territories, the G7 (the group of seven industrialised economies) said it will not recognise the results of the votes.

8:39am: Any territory annexed by Russia will be 'under full protection of the state'

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing the UN General Assembly and the world's media in New York, attempted to justify Russia's February invasion of Ukraine. "Following those referendums, Russia of course will respect the expression of the will of those people who for many long years have been suffering from the abuses of the neo-Nazi regime," Lavrov said at a news conference after he addressed the assembly.

Asked if Russia would have grounds for using nuclear weapons to defend annexed regions of Ukraine, Lavrov said Russian territory, including territory "further enshrined" in Russia's constitution in the future, "is under the full protection of the state." "All of the laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply to all of its territory," he said.

Russia on Friday launched referendums in four eastern Ukrainian regions aimed at annexing territory it has taken by force. Kyiv said residents were being coerced into voting and were not allowed to leave the regions during the four-day vote, which Western nations dismissed as a sham designed to justify an escalation of the seven-month old war.

Russia announced toughened penalties for soldiers surrendering or refusing to fight to up to 10 years imprisonment on Saturday, days after Russia announced a partial mobilisation affecting up to 300,000 reservists. Seemingly in response to the new penalties, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an appeal to Russians in his nightly address, saying Vladimir Putin was "sending citizens to their deaths". Speaking in Russian, Zelensky called on Moscow's forces to lay down arms, saying: "You will be treated in a civilised manner ... no one will know the circumstances of your surrender."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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