Russia-Ukraine war latest: Generals killed in restaurant strike, Russia claims; Wagner mercenaries 'will no longer fight in Ukraine' after Prigozhin snubs Kremlin contracts (2023)

Key points
  • Two Ukrainian generals killed in pizza restaurant strike, Russia says
  • Wagnermercenaries will 'no longer fight in Ukraine'
  • Putin trying to 'separate' Wagner troops from Prigozhin
  • Kremlin dodges questions over 'missing' general
  • Deputy to 'missing' Russian general reportedly fired
  • Ukraine training for 'terrorist attack' at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
  • What do we know about 'missing' Russian general?
  • Your questions answered:Is there a chance Wagner fighters could stage a coup in Belarus?
  • Live reporting by Chris Lockyer


US presidential hopeful Mike Pence makes surprise trip to Ukraine

Mike Pence, Donald Trump's former vice-president, has made a surprise trip to Ukraine today, NBC has reported.

It makes him the first Republican candidate to head to Ukraine.

NBC, Sky's US network partner, says Mr Pence met with Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his visit.

Speaking with NBC, he said: "I believe America's the leader of the free world.

"But coming here just as a private citizen — being able to really see first-hand the heroism of the Ukrainian soldiers holding the line in those woods, see the heroism of the people here in Irpin that held back the Russian army, to see families whose homes were literally shelled in the midst of an unconscionable and unprovoked Russian invasion — just steels my resolve to do my part, to continue to call for strong American support for our Ukrainian friends and allies."

One of Mr Zelenskyy’s top advisers, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Pence "understands absolutely clearly what Russia is.

"He deeply understands Russia and deeply understands the nature of this conflict, that it is not about territories, not about any businesses, not about anything except the main thing… those values for which the United States were created."


Russia rules out peace meeting in Switzerland

Russia has rejected the idea of holding peace talks in Switzerland, claiming it "has unfortunately lostits status as a neutral state".

For decades, Switzerland has positioned itself as a neutral state in all conflicts, but has joined other Western nations in applying sanctions in Russia since the outbreak of war.

Earlier this month, Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested the country could be used as a mediator.

Speaking to Le Temps newspaper, Sergei Garmonin, Russia's ambassador to Switzerland, said Russia would not accept thatSwitzerland host such a summit.

"Swiss representation and mediation are out of thequestion," Mr Garmonin said.

"Switzerland has unfortunately lostits status as a neutral state and can no longer act as amediator or as a representative of interests."


Putin draws smiley face as Wagner fallout continues

On a day of big developments elsewhere, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been spotted drawing a smiley face during a public appearance.

Russian news agency TASS shared the video online, showing Mr Putin approaching a stand and drawing on a screen.

"The president approached this stand at the exhibition of companies that won the competition for new domestic brands. NexTouch manufactures touch and classic displays, interactive equipment and other devices," its caption said.


A 'rebranded' Wagner Group could continue fighting in Ukraine, despite Prigozhin contract snub

Analysis bymilitary expert Sean Bell

The fallout from Yevgeny Prigozhin's failed "march for justice" toward Moscow this past weekend continues to pose more questions than answers.

There is growing evidence that this was not a spontaneous initiative and that he had planned it for several days. As a result, it appears that Prigozhin has betrayed the trust of his long-term friend Vladimir Putin, which will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.

The Wagner Group was founded and is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, so it would be natural to expect the Russian MoD contacts with the Wagner Group to be terminated and the fighters to be assimilated into the Russian regular army.

However, President Putin has relied heavily on mercenary groups to deliver battlefield success - and not only in Ukraine. Notwithstanding the disruption caused this past weekend, Mr Putin simply cannot afford to rely solely on his regular army alone.

What the president appears to be doing at this stage is to isolate Prigozhin and his co-conspirators. By offering sanctuary in Belarus, Vladimir Putin can outsource the problem to President Lukashenko, strengthen domestic Russian security, and then focus on his Ukraine-Belarus campaign.

President Putin needs mercenaries, but he will be very wary of the risks associated with large, potentially mutinous groups of fighters.

It is very likely that the Wagner brand is now obsolete, but a re-branded and smaller mercenary group, based on the existing personnel but without key leadership figures, would satisfy Mr Putin's needs and would almost certainly be welcomed by the vast majority of the existing Wagner fighters - who are primarily focused on money.

Besides, assimilating mercenaries into the regular army would be extremely risky for the Russian leader - in Sudan, friction between the regular army and the resistance fighters, who were meant to be assimilated, led to a civil war.

This current "damage limitation" exercise by President Putin has near-term objectives; however, he has to tread carefully to preserve Russia's ability to exploit the invaluable military support provided by mercenary groups, but without making Prigozhin (or his acolytes) a martyr, and thus a catalyst for wide unrest.

But whatever happens in the near-term, mercenary support is too important to President Putin's plans to ignore.


Army chief calls on residents of northeastern region to evacuate

A senior Ukrainian military official has called on residents of the northeastern region of Sumy to evacuate, saying it is the "most dangerous [place] in the northern operational zone".

"I call on all citizens who live in the border areas of Sumy Oblast to leave," Serhiy Naev, commander of the joint forces in Ukraine,said on Telegram.

"Almost every day, border settlements suffer from shelling by enemy forces. The enemy fires artillery, mortars and multiple rocket launchers".


'Some people say a strong Putin is less dangerous than a weak Putin. I don't agree'

We're starting to get comments coming through from world leaders at today's European Union summit.

The presence of both NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy signals there will be a big focus on the situation in Ukraine - as well as the attempted mutiny in Russia.

"The mutiny we saw at the weekend demonstrates that there are cracks and divisions within the Russian system. At the same time, it is important to underline that these are internal Russian matters," Mr Stoltenberg said on arrival at the summit.

President Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania - whose country borders Russia - strongly urged a more robust approach to Moscow.

"Some colleagues sometimes say that a strong Putin is less dangerous than a weak Putin. I don't agree with that. We have to move forward and be decisive, because now is a crucial moment of history," he said.

A similar stance was offered by Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins of Latvia - another nation bordering Russia - who said: "We cannot control what is happening inside Russia, but we can control what we do on the outside."


Two killed in Kherson shelling, governor says

A shelling attack in Kherson has killed two people, the city's governor has claimed.

Oleksandr Prokudin said a refuge had been targeted by the shelling - a venue known as an invincibility point, where citizens are able to use electricity and Wi-Fi if theirs is out.

Two others have been injured, he said.


Ukraine will work towards NATO membership, Kuleba reaffirms

Ukraine's foreign minister has spoken to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg today, to thank him for his efforts around the latest NATO summit.

Mr Kuleba has reaffirmed he is working towards Ukrainian membership of NATO

If Ukraine joins NATO, this could pose another threat to Vladimir Putin, as it could invoke Article 5 - which states if a NATO ally is attacked, all other members could be drafted in to help.

At the moment, there is no case for any other countries to get involved in the conflict in Ukraine.


The question on everyone's lips - where is General Armageddon?

Analysis by Diana Magnay, Moscow correspondent

Topics seem to grip the social media app Telegram in Russia with an astonishing speed and recently some of the key looming questions concern General Sergei Surovikin and his whereabouts.

Why hasn't the man dubbed "General Armageddon" been seen since he made that strange video appearance late on Friday urging Prigozhin to desist?

Has he been detained and, if so, is he being questioned as complicit in Prigozhin's attempted coup or just for information? Is he in Rostov, or already in Moscow's Lefortovo jail, or is all this discussion just an info op to spread rumours of a purge, terrify the elites and destabilise Russia's military leadership?

The Kremlin has deferred the question to the Ministry of Defence; the Ministry of Defence has not commented. Their contribution for the day has been to claim that two generals, up to 50 Ukrainian officers and scores of foreign mercenaries and other military advisers were killed in Wednesday's strike on Kramatorsk, ergo this was a legitimate military target, pizzeria notwithstanding.

Surovikin was always thought to have been tight with Yevgeny Prigozhin, and he never featured in the Wagner chief's tirades against Russia's top command.

Prigozhin has previously said Surovikin would make a good chief of the general staff and that Mikhail Misintzev, then a deputy defence minister, should replace his boss Sergei Shoigu.

In January, Surovikin was demoted as head of Ukraine operations, the first in a series of steps to try and lessen Wagner's influence, and in April Misintzev was sacked. He promptly joined Wagner forces - an example of cross-germination between the military and the mercenary force at a very senior level.

It therefore does not seem surprising that Surovikin would be a person of interest regarding who might have known what Prigozhin was planning and when.

Nor however is it all that surprising that neither he nor Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, have been seen for a few days. They are rarely seen in public, it is not part of their job remit.

Nor does Friday's video of Surovikin give much away. He doesn't look thrilled to be there, but he's not a natural on camera.

Per the online media outfit Baza, Surovikin's daughter says reports of his detention are not true and that 'everyone is doing their jobs'. It is hard to know whether other senior officials quoted anonymously as saying Surovikin is in detention know that for a fact or if they've just seen it on Telegram.

Welcome to the Telegram information maelstrom - watch this space.


Ukraine's spy chief warns Russia has finished preparations for attack on Europe's biggest nuclear plant

For some days now, Ukraine has warned Russia is considering launching an attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Kyiv's Ministry of Defence, has now said Moscow has finished its preparations and just needs to give the go-ahead.

In an interview with New Statesman, the spy chief said the plan is fully "drafted and approved" and that once the go-ahead is given the attack "can happen in a matter of minutes".

He said Ukraine had intelligence that:

  • Russian troops have moved vehicles carrying explosives to four of the six power plant units
  • The cooling pond of the plant has been mined by Russian forces
  • The plant's nuclear reactors could melt down in anywhere between 10 hours and 14 days if there is no cooling
  • Raising the voltage in the power supply lines to the plant could bring about a nuclear accident at the lower end of this timeframe

Mr Budanov described two scenarios for a nuclear incident, with one being that Russian forces could blow up the plant if they are ousted from the left bank of the Dnipro River.

The explosion would create a grey zone as a way to prevent Ukraine from advancing.

The second scenario would see Moscow using a nuclear disaster as a "preventative measure", stopping Ukraine's offensive before it starts and to freeze the line of contact.

Ukraine has repeatedly warned of an incident at the Zaporizhzhia plant, but Mr Budanov said the situation "has never been as severe as now".

As stated in the 11.16am post, teams in Zaporizhzhia are now preparing for a worst-case scenario, with three rounds of training already held in case the plant is targeted.

"We knew the Russians could blow up the Kakhovka dam and we know they could target ZNPP," Taras Tyshchenko, a local health administrator, toldThe Independent.

"This incident will not be a local or even a national one. It is a global incident."


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