Ukraine latest news: Russian mercenary chief 'may come to pose threat to Putin's rule' after president 'privately confronted' about mistakes; Kremlin official 'wants to replace president'; US warns of 'severe consequences' over nuclear attack (2023)

Key points
  • Russia to raise 'dirty bomb' claim at UN Security Council meeting
  • US warns Moscow of 'severe consequences' if it launches false flag operation
  • Intelligence chief says Kremlin official wants to replace Putin
  • Biden urged to make major change to Russia strategy
  • 'Save your lives': Russians evacuate Kherson ahead of expected battle
  • Russian-installed authorities announce local militia in Kherson|Russians facing 'inevitable defeat' in key city
  • Podcast: 'They just drop naked bodies into the ground and they show it literally on their TV'
  • Updates from John Sparks in eastern Ukraine and Dominic Waghorn in Moscow. Live reporting by Bhvishya Patel


That's all for today's live coverage of the war in Ukraine

Thanks for following today's updates.

We'll return tomorrow morning, but keep an eye on the Sky News website in the meantime for the latest breaking news on the conflict.


Don't come home this winter, minister tells Ukrainian refugees

Refugees who fled Ukraine in the wake of Russia's invasion should stay abroad this winter due to blackouts created by Moscow's bombardment of critical energy infrastructure, a Ukrainian minister has said.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainians currently sheltering abroad that they should wait until spring before returning.

"I wanted to ask (them) not to return. We need to survive the winter," she said in a televised interview.

Russia has launched waves of missile and drone strikes targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure over the last fortnight, which Kyiv says has damaged up to 40% of the power system.

A local official in the capital warned last week that residents needed to be prepared for possible disconnections lasting days or even weeks.

The strikes on Ukraine's infrastructure come against a backdrop of soaring energy, food and other prices in Europe, where most of the millions of refugees sought shelter.

This poses a problem for these Ukrainians, many of whom have struggled to find well-paid, permanent jobs in their new countries of residence.

Ms Vereshchuk said the grid "won't survive" the return of refugees from abroad, and that the situation would "only get worse".

"To return now is to risk yourself and your children, your vulnerable relatives," she said.


Kremlin officials 'secretly contacting West to push for negotiations'

Reports of behind-the-scenes machinations in the Kremlin - including suggestions of plotting by certain figures who see Vladimir Putin's position as increasingly vulnerable - have become more and more common since the annexation of four regions of Ukraine.

Returning for a moment to the new assessment released by the Institute for the Study of War (see 16.43 post), that decision is believed by Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov to have "ignited a schism within the Kremlin, which will likely intensify as Ukraine liberates more territories".

Mr Budanov stated that Kremlin elites largely did not support the annexation of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk Oblasts prior to securing those territories, prompting many officials to contact their Western counterparts to express their disinterest in continuing the war in Ukraine.

According the Ukrainian, some Kremlin officials began advocating for negotiations with Ukraine to their Western counterparts while the Russian military-political command plotted missile strikes to scare Ukrainians into negotiations.

The ISW said this claim was "consistent with the influx of western reports about direct criticism of Putin within the Kremlin less than a week after the annexations" and that Wagner Group­–affiliated Telegram channels also noted the emergence of the pro-war and pro-negotiations factions within the Kremlin within the same timeframe.

"These observations raise the possibility that hints from insiders of a Kremlin readiness to engage in serious negotiations may not reflect Putin's own views or any decisions he has taken but may instead be part of efforts by those who have lost the internal argument with him to persuade the West and Ukraine to offer concessions in hopes of bringing him around to their point of view," it concludes.


Video: Ukraine's message to new British PM


Russian mercenary chief 'may come to pose a threat to Putin’s rule'

We mentioned earlier today the increasingly significant role the Wagner mercenary group found, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, was playing in the reported power struggle around Vladimir Putin (see 11am post).

The Institute for the Study of War think tank has today released its latest assessment of the key issues in the war, and it makes intriguing reading.

Citing the same comments reported in our earlier post, from Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov, one section of the analysis focuses on Mr Prigozhin.

"Prigozhin continues to accrue power and is setting up a military structure parallel to the Russian Armed Forces, which may come to pose a threat to Putin’s rule — at least within the information space," the group said.

"Russian milbloggers [military bloggers] reported that Prigozhin is sponsoring the formation of a Wagner-based volunteer battalion recruited by a Russian war criminal and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin.... an avid critic of the Russian higher military command and a prominent figure among the Russian ultra-nationalists who participated in the annexation of Crimea or the illegal Russian seizures of Ukrainian territory in Donbas in 2014."

It continues: "Prigozhin holds a uniquely advantageous position within the Russian state structure and information space that allows him to expand his constituency in Russia more readily than the disgraced Russian higher military command.

"Prigozhin can freely promote himself and his forces while criticizing Kremlin officials or the Russian Armed Force without fear of pushback.

"Putin depends on Wagner forces in Bakhmut and is likely attempting to appease Prigozhin despite the fact that Prigozhin is undermining the conventional Russian military."

Mr Prigozhin it adds, "also benefits from holding no formal position of responsibility".

"He is not in command of any axis in Ukraine nor in charge of any major bureaucratic effort," the assessment says.

"He can critique those who are in positions of authority freely without fear that anyone can point to something he was specifically responsible for that he failed to achieve."

Another part of the analysis says Russia is unlikely to be preparing an imminent false-flag dirty bomb attack.

We'll bring you more on this assessment in a subsequent post.


UN nuclear watchdog experts will arrive soon to investigate dirty bomb claims, Ukraine says

Ukraine has today said persistent Russian claims that Kyiv plans to detonate a dirty bomb made it look as though Moscow itself planned to conduct a false flag operation.

Saying Ukraine has never had any plans to develop a dirty bomb, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a news conference that experts from the UN nuclear watchdog would soon be arriving in Ukraine and receive full access.

He also called on Moscow to demonstrate the same transparency as Ukraine


Germany's president forced to flee to air raid shelter after alarm raised during Kyiv trip

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been on a visit to Ukraine today, including trip to the city of Chernihiv.

During his stop in the town, an air raid alert went off, forcing him to join journalists and other officials in a shelter - which resulted in this extraordinary image.


Putin says Russia must 'speed up' decision making over Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has been speaking at the first meeting of a new coordination council to manage the government's work on the home front.

He has said the country needs to "speed up decision-making" in relation to the military campaign in Ukraine.

"I have discussed many times with many of you the issues related to the need to update all the work to improve administrative procedures," Mr Putin said, in televised remarks.

"Administrative reform is impossible without broader coordination between all departments: the economic bloc, the security bloc, the regions."


Residents in Mykolaiv queue to receive daily ration of bread

These images show residents in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, queuing to receive a daily ration of bread from a food distribution point.

The area lies roughly 22 miles northwest of thefrontline to occupied Kherson - the southern region where Russiahas ordered 60,000 people to flee a Ukrainian counteroffensive.


Russian court rejects Brittney Griner's appeal

We reported earlier that a Russian court was hearing an appeal by US basketball star Brittney Griner on her nine-year jail sentence for possession and smuggling of drugs.

It has now emerged that the court has rejected Griner's appeal.

Griner, an eight-time all-star centre with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medallist, was convicted on 4 August after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

The Moscow region court ruled today to uphold the sentence.

In the ruling the court stated, however, that the time Griner will have to serve in prison will be recalculated - with her time in pre-trial detention taken into account.

In a statement, Jake Sullivan, US national security advisor, said: "We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today.

"President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately."

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