Kremlin: Russia ‘still needs to liberate’ east and south Ukraine

Speaking during his briefing with reporters today, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia is still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that President Vladimir Putin claimed as his own.

The Russian leader announced he had annexed four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk – after holding fake referendums in order to claim a mandate for his territorial claims.

However Moscow does not have full control of any of the four provinces of Ukraine it says it annexed, and Peskov appeared to set a limit on the Ukrainian territory that Russia now sought to claim.

Asked whether Russia planned to incorporate any more territories beyond the four regions, he replied:

There is no question of that. At least, there have been no statements in this regard. But there is nevertheless a lot of work ahead to liberate the territories; in a number of new regions of the Russian Federation there are occupied territories that have to be liberated.

I mean part of the Donetsk Republic, as well as what became part of the Russian Federation, and then was re-occupied by Ukrainian troops.

Key events

Joe Biden has tweeted that he has spoken to Brittney Griner, following the announcement that she has been released from Russian detention.

Brittney Griner released from Russian detention in prisoner swap for convicted arms dealer

The US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian detention in a prisoner swap for the convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, US officials have confirmed.

Griner was sentenced to nine years behind bars in Russia after being convicted on drug charges. A two-time Olympic gold medallist and champion, she was arrested on 17 February, a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, at a Moscow airport while in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia.

Bout, known as “the merchant of death”, was one of the world’s most wanted men before his 2008 arrest on multiple charges related to arms trafficking.

For almost two decades, he was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling weaponry to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America.

Here are some of the latest images we have received from Ukraine.

Citizens give blood at Okhmatdyt Hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine as officials warn of a new wave of Russian bombing.
Citizens give blood at Okhmatdyt Hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine as officials warn of a new wave of Russian bombing. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A tea set on the floor of a burned apartment which was damaged during the battles of spring in Mariupol.
A tea set on the floor of a burned apartment which was damaged during the battles of spring in Mariupol. Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA
Zlata, 6, pets a dog as she stands at a gate with holes created by shrapnel near her house, in the village of Posad-Pokrovske, Kherson region.
Zlata, 6, pets a dog as she stands at a gate with holes created by shrapnel near her house, in the village of Posad-Pokrovske, Kherson region. Photograph: Reuters

Kremlin: ‘Risk’ of Ukrainian attacks on Crimea

The Kremlin has said the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine, which Russia annexed in 2014, was vulnerable to attacks by Ukrainian forces after officials there said they had shot down a drone near a key naval base.

The Moscow-installed governor of Sevastopol, the largest city in annexed Crimea, said this morning that Russia’s fleet shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea.

Speaking to reporters during his regular briefing, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said:

There are certainly risks because the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organising terrorist attacks. But, on the other hand, information we get indicates that effective countermeasures are being taken.

His comments came after President Vladimir Putin recently made a visit to the Kerch bridge, the key link between annexed Crimea and mainland Russia which was partially destroyed by an explosion in October.

The Russian-installed head of occupied Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said last month that he had ordered “fortification works to ensure the safety of Crimeans” to be built on the peninsula after recent attacks.

Kremlin: Russia ‘still needs to liberate’ east and south Ukraine

Speaking during his briefing with reporters today, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia is still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that President Vladimir Putin claimed as his own.

The Russian leader announced he had annexed four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk – after holding fake referendums in order to claim a mandate for his territorial claims.

However Moscow does not have full control of any of the four provinces of Ukraine it says it annexed, and Peskov appeared to set a limit on the Ukrainian territory that Russia now sought to claim.

Asked whether Russia planned to incorporate any more territories beyond the four regions, he replied:

There is no question of that. At least, there have been no statements in this regard. But there is nevertheless a lot of work ahead to liberate the territories; in a number of new regions of the Russian Federation there are occupied territories that have to be liberated.

I mean part of the Donetsk Republic, as well as what became part of the Russian Federation, and then was re-occupied by Ukrainian troops.

My colleague Peter Beaumont is in Donbas, eastern Ukraine, amid worsening wintry conditions.

Vile weather in Donbas. It rained on snow and froze. Sheet ice everywhere with freezing rain on top.

— petersbeaumont (@petersbeaumont1) December 8, 2022

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has called on Russia to answer for “atrocities” committed by its forces in Ukraine.

Thomas-Greenfield was responding to a report by the UN’s human rights office, published yesterday, that found that at least 441 civilians were killed by Russian forces during the first weeks after President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights documented summary executions and attacks in dozens of towns across three regions, and warned the actual number of victims in the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions was likely to be much higher.

The report covered the beginning of Moscow’s invasion on 24 February until early April, and gathered evidence from 102 towns and villages in Ukraine.

It said:

The acts in question were committed by Russian armed forces in control of these areas and led to the deaths of 441 civilians (341 men, 72 women, 20 boys and 8 girls).

Many of the bodies documented in the report bore signs that the victims may have been intentionally killed, the report said. Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation”.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said the US’s withdrawal from a treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles was a “destructive” act that created a vacuum and stoked additional security risks.

The 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty had kept nuclear missiles off European soil for more than three decades, but the treaty expired in 2019 after the US and Russia failed to agree on how to keep it alive.

Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan sign the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement in the East Room of the White House on 8 December 1987.
Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan sign the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement in the East Room of the White House on 8 December 1987. Photograph: Historical/Corbis/Getty Images

Speaking on the 35th anniversary of the signing of the treaty by the US president, Ronald Reagan, and Soviet general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, Zakharova said:

The INF treaty had an indefinite life and was able to provide predictable restraint in the missile sphere for many years to come.

Russia has claimed that its proposed safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was to “stop Ukrainian shelling”.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, made the comments this morning, according to Reuters.

Both sides have accused each other of shelling the plant, which is Europe’s biggest nuclear power station. There are fears the attacks could cause a nuclear accident.

Russia seized it shortly after its invasion in February. The International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog has called for a demilitarised safety zone around the plant.

The Red Cross has visited Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war in the past week, and it hopes that inspections can become more frequent.

Since the Russian invasion the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has seen hundreds of prisoners on both sides of the conflict. However its president, Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, said access had been “sporadic”.

“My expectation is that these visits lead to more regular access to all prisoners of war,” the statement cited Spoljaric Egger as saying, according to Reuters.

“While the recent visits are important progress, the ICRC must be granted unimpeded access to see all prisoners of war repeatedly and in private, wherever they are held.”

The ICRC carried out a two-day visit to Ukrainian PoWs this week, according to Reuters. It also visited Russian PoWs last week. The UN human rights office said in November that its monitors had not been allowed access to Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia.

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