Ukraine war latest: Russian businessman 'positioning himself as credible alternative' to Putin - as US intelligence 'casts new light on Kremlin attack' (2023)

Key points
  • US intelligence thinks Ukraine was likely behind drone attack on Kremlin
  • Prigozhin 'positioning himself as credible alternative' to Putin
  • Pro-Russian actors 'likely' spoofed vessel data to create 'Z' symbol in Black Sea
  • Anti-Putin paramilitary group says there will be more incursions|Who are the fighters behind Belgorod incursion?
  • Russia claims warshiptargeted by Ukrainian drone boats
  • Wagner Group fighters begin withdrawal from Bakhmut
  • Your questions answered: Can the UK defend itself after sending weapons to Ukraine?
  • Got a question about the war? Ask our experts
  • Live reporting by Olive Enokido-Lineham


'We are on the right side of history': Cyprus's president says country will continue sanctions - but urges support for industry

Cyprus has committed to upholding EU sanctions on Russia - but urged support for those industries impacted by a loss of trade.

PresidentNikos Christodoulides says Cyprus has implemented the sanctions "right from the start" and will continue to do so because "we are on the right side of history".

But he also urges support for industries, such as shipping, which had faced impacts from the sanctions.

Speaking after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, he says: "Right from the start, Cyprus has been implementing all the sanctions related to the Russian invasion to Ukraine.

"We're on the right side of history and we will continue in the same direction.

"Where there is a cost for the European industries due to the decisions that we take - the right decisions that we take - the European Union should intervene to support those sectors."


Ukrainian defence chief confirms Russian troops are replacing Wagner forces in Bakhmut

More on our report earlier about Russian private military group Wagner seemingly pulling out of Bakhmut.

Ukraine's deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, says intelligence suggests that troops from Russia's armed forces are now replacing Wagner troops.

Her comments appear to - at least partially - confirm an announcement by Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin that his group had started withdrawing from the eastern Ukrainian city.

Wagner have been heavily involved in the fighting for Bakhmut which has been at the centre of one of the longest and most bloody battles in the war so far.

"In Bakhmut's outskirts, the enemy has replaced Wagner units with regular army forces.

"Inside the city itself Wagner fighters remain," Ms Maliar wrote in comments on the Telegram app.

Mr Prigozhin said in a video that the withdrawal of his unitshad begun early on Thursday and that a handover of Wagnerpositions would continue until 1 June.


Finland to send more military equipment to Ukraine

Finland will send more military gear to Ukraine, it has been announced.

The country, which shares an eastern border with Russia, has committed to sending 109 million Euros (£94.6million) worth of equipment.

The equipment includes anti-aircraft weaponry and ammunition, the government said.

However, it refused to give any further details for "operational reasons and in order to ensure the safedelivery of assistance".

Finland joined NATO in April in response to Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.


Prigozhin 'positioning himself as credible alternative' to Putin

A common theme of the conflict in Ukraine has been Yevgeny Prigozhin's willingness to issue very public criticism of both Russian elites and Moscow's military leaders.

Military analyst Sean Bell says the Wagner Group chief appears to be "positioning himself as a credible alternative" to the Russian president.

Bell told Sky News that the businessman and paramilitary chief was "savouring victory" in Bakhmut - the eastern city where his fighters claim to have taken control.

He has previously called the Wagner Group the "best army in the world" and Bell says Mr Prigozhin has "undermined Russian Army leadership".

"Prigozhin blamed his usual targets, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the general staff army general Valery Gerasimov, for being the main problem within the Russian Ministry of Defence and for blocking support and supplies to Wagner," he says.

The Wagner chief previously threatened the Kremlin, saying his troops would pull out of Bakhmut if he was not given more ammunition, and took aim at the "elites".

And Bell says Mr Prigozhin "appears to be positioning himself as a credible alternative to Putin" - describing him as a "hard-liner".

He says: "They delivered their objective (that the Russian Army could not) and they'll move on to the next challenge".

"More likely, Prigozhin knows Putin needs his mercenaries (despite the threat) to deliver battlefield success".

This could indicate that the Wagner Group will be back, and Bell says they could be used for general defensive duties - although the Russian Army is "well-placed to do that role".

So where could they go? Bell says Russia's so-called special military operation appears to be focused on the Donbas and Crimea.

He says that if Wagner leaves the Russian army to focus on land bridge defences if they fail, it may demonstrate that Mr Prigozhin's approach has "merit" and could "increase his influence".


Ukraine secures release of 106 soldiers who fought for Bakhmut in prisoner swap

A Ukrainian official says Kyiv has secured the release of106 captured soldiers in a prisoner exchange with Russia onThursday.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief of staff Andriy Yermak said the soldiers, including eight officers, were capturedfighting in the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut.

He tweeted: "We are bringing home 106 people.

"They've fought for Bakhmut and performed a feat that prevented the enemy from advancing further into our East. Each of them is a hero.

There was no immediate information about the forces Russiareceived from Ukraine in exchange.

Mr Yermak did not provide any further details.

Ukrainian military intelligence says that 2,430 Ukrainianshave been freed in prisoner swaps, including 139 civilians.


Russia summons ambassadors of Germany, Sweden and Denmark

Russia's Foreign Ministry says it has summoned the ambassadors ofGermany, Sweden and Denmark.

The ministry says the move was in protest at what it said was the"complete lack of results" of an investigation into blasts thatdamaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year.

The Kremlin has previously called for the investigation to be sped up.

Last September, several unexplained underwater explosions ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and newly-built Nord Stream 2 pipelines that link Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea.

The blasts occurred in the economic zones of Sweden and Denmark and both countries say the explosions were deliberate, but have yet to determine who was responsible. The two countries and Germany are investigating the incident.

Russia's Foreign Ministry accused allthree of deliberately dragging their feet and of trying toconceal who was behind the blasts.

It said in a statement:"It has been noted that these countries are notinterested in establishing the true circumstances of thissabotage. On the contrary, they are delaying their efforts andtrying to conceal the tracks and the true perpetrators of thecrime behind which we believe are well-known countries."

It said it was unhappy about what it called the opaquenature of the investigation and its refusal to engage withRussia.

Moscow, without providing evidence, has blamed the explosions on Western sabotage.

Both the US Ukraine have denied having anything to do with the attacks as has Russia.


In pictures: Trenches, destruction and a view from Bakhmut

Now to the frontline near the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian soldiers were pictured moving along trench positions near the city and riding tanks.

Earlier, we reported that Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin announced that his fighters had begun withdrawing from the city and handing over to the Russian military (see post at 08.02).

The ruined city has at the centre of a long and bloody battle.

Heavy fighting is continuing inside Bakhmut, days after Russia said that it completely captured the city.


Mystery surrounds 'attack on Russian warship by unmanned boats'

Yesterday the Russian Defence Ministry claimed a warship, the Ivan Hurs, had been attacked by three Ukrainian unmanned boats in the Black Sea.

Military analyst Sean Bell explains why it’s difficult to verify the footage released by the ministry and what it could mean.

Sky News has not been able to independently verify the footage, which shows a small boat powering through the water while under fire. One of the shells hits the craft, creating a huge explosion.

Russia blamed Ukraine and there was no immediate comment from Kyiv.

Sean Bell says the Ivan Hurs is a communication, fleet command and electronic warfare intelligence-gathering warship and Russia claims it was operating in the Bosphorus Strait - around 500km away from Odessa.

He says the video is hard to verify as it appears to have been taken at sea but adds that the drone looks similar, but different, to that displayed by Ukrainian forces.

He adds that it looks like the alleged attack took place during daylight, which would not be ideal timing for a surprise attack.

While it remains unclear, he says it could be a Russian training video - but we just don’t know.


Japan scrambles jets to Russian aircraft over Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan

Japan scrambled jet fightersafter spotting Russian military planes over the Pacific Oceanand Sea of Japan on Thursday.

The country's defence ministry says it detected one Russian information-gathering aircraft IL-20flying round-trip from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Pacific.

It added that it also detected another IL-20 flying toward the waters near Sado Island beforeturning toward the continent.

The Sea of Okhotsk is located north of Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, while the Sado Islands are off the west coast of Niigata.


Russia moving nuclear weapons to Belarus - as Moscow rails at NATO over 'extremely sharp escalation'

Russia and Belarus have signed a deal to formalise the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear missiles on Belarusian territory, a step Moscow said was driven by rising tensions with the West.

"In the context of an extremely sharp escalation of threats on the western borders of Russia and Belarus, a decision was made to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear sphere," TASS news agency quoted Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.

The deployment of the missiles was first announced by Vladimir Putin in March - with the president repeatedly warning that Russia would be ready to use nuclear weapons if needed to defend its "territorial integrity".

NATO has said it does not see any need to adjust its own nuclear posture, though it says Mr Putin's nuclear rhetoric is "dangerous and irresponsible".

Mr Shoigu said Moscow would retain control over the weapons and any decisions on their use.

TASS quoted him as saying Iskander-M missiles, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, had been handed to the Belarusian armed forces, and that some Su-25 aircraft had been converted for the possible use of nuclear weapons.

"Belarusian servicemen have received the necessary training in Russian training centres," he reportedly said.

Tactical nuclear weapons refer to lower-yield weapons designed for battlefield use, as opposed to strategic ones capable of wiping out entire cities. Russia has not disclosed how many tactical nuclear weapons it has.

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