Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Kremlin Brands Accusations it killed Prigozhin an ‘Absolute Lie

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Kremlin: Ukraine’s emergency service chief dismissed after inspection

Serhiy Kruk, the head of Ukraine’s state emergency service, has been dismissed after an internal inspection of the agency.

Interior minister Ihor Klymenko reported the decision but didn’t explain the reason behind the dismissal.

Mr Kruk’s deputy Volodymyr Demchuk will step up as acting head, he said, adding that more decisions on personnel would be made following the inspection.

Ukraine’s state emergency service has played a vital role throughout the conflict, helping to save lives, rescue survivors from rubble and extinguish fires after relentless Russian attacks.

Are these pictures from inside Prigozhin’s jet?

Kremlin

A Russian military blogger claims he previously flew aboard the private plane that crashed near Moscow on Wednesday, killing all passengers and crew.

Alexander Kots, who posts on Telegram as “Kotsnews”, said he travelled on the Yevgeny Prigozhin-linked Embraer Legacy 600 jet in 2021.

Mr Kots said he and other Russian journalists were holed up in Kabul after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan.

Prigozhin then offered to send his business jet to fly the reporters out, Mr Kots claimed, saying the plane had the tail number RA-02795 – the serial number of the jet which crashed in the Tver region.

Mr Kots posted these photos on his Telegram channel, purporting to show the inside of the jet and the aircraft on the tarmac:

Russian investigators ‘confirm death of pilot on crashed plane’

The pilot of the plane that crashed, killing all on board, reportedly including Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been confirmed dead by Russian investigators.

A source close to the matter said Alexei Levshin’s family had been told investigators have “documentary proof” he had been on the aircraft.

His family is due to undergo a DNA test later today to confirm a genetic connection.

Investigators did not discuss any of the other passengers and crew registered as being on board the flight.

More than 70 Ukrainian drones downed in past day, Russia claims

Russia’s defence ministry has claimed its forces destroyed 73 Ukrainian drones in the past 24 hours.

The claims follow reports that Ukraine launched dozens of drones at the southern Crimea peninsula in the early hours of this morning, with no casualties reported.

Kyiv has not commented on the claims.

The ministry also said its forces had hit Ukrainian port infrastructure used for military purposes, according to a report by Russian news agency Interfax.

Could Russia keep the Donbas in exchange for Ukraine joining NATO?

We’ve been putting your questions to our correspondents and military analysts.

Today’s comes from Simon, who asked: Could a proposal that Russia keeps the Donbas regions it has taken in exchange for the rest of Ukraine joining NATO work?

He suggests the annexed regions could be used as a demilitarised buffer zone, with all residents given the choice to stay in those areas or move further into Ukraine.

On 24 February last year, Russia launched an unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine. Brave and tenacious Ukrainian defence limited Russian gains, and with Western military and financial support Ukraine has liberated more than 50% of the territory once occupied by the invaders.

However, Russian forces have now established robust defensive positions along the main frontline – to the east of Zaporizhzhia – which are proving very difficult for Ukraine to overcome.

In preparation for the Ukrainian “spring offensive” the West provided military, financial and training support, and arguably the Ukrainian military could not have been better prepared to tackle the Russian forces.

Yet despite significant military success in targeting Russian logistics support, Black Sea Fleet vessels and indeed Moscow itself, Ukraine has not been successful – to date – at liberating territory.

This summer’s offensive has consumed vast quantities of ammunition and military equipment – on both sides – and the casualties have been mounting. If Ukraine is not able to demonstrate significant progress, international pressure will start to increase for some form of negotiated peace settlement.

Ultimately, this is Ukraine’s war, and it will be for Volodymyr Zelenskyy to decide next steps. But they are not the only stakeholders in this devastating conflict, and there is not an unlimited supply of weapons available to perpetuate the war.

Although Ukraine will be determined to liberate every corner of its territory, there is also a growing risk that an emboldened Russia will consolidate its position and advance again in the months and years ahead.

Currently, Ukraine enjoys widespread international support, and if it does succeed in breaking through the Russian defensive lines and capitalising, that support will endure.

If the frontline remains static by the year’s end, however, the international community will inevitably be looking at options. Whatever is agreed, the security requirements of both Ukraine and Russia will need to be respected, which might involve military alliances to provide the requisite security guarantees.

But (a big but) it will be very hard for Mr Zelenskyy to accept compromise – ceding territory – after the huge price his nation has paid for Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

And, if Mr Putin is seen to prevail, that might have wider implications for international security.

However, what price peace?

Ukrainian counteroffensive reaching ‘make or break moment’

Back to what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine for a moment, and Kyiv’s counteroffensive may be approaching its “make or break moment”, according to an analyst.

Security and defence analyst Professor Michael Clarke says the operation is “getting into high gear” and that moment may come “in the next two or three weeks”.

Earlier Russia said Ukraine had attacked Crimea with dozens of drones in what would be one of the biggest known coordinated Ukrainian air attacks to date on Russian-held territory (see our 7.25 post).

The move is a push to “cut [Crimea] off as a source of reinforcement and support” as Ukrainian troops push towards the strategic town of Tokmak, Clarke says.

“That will be the key – if they can get that they’re a long way to getting Melitopol and the coast.”

Clarke also says there are reports today that a Ukrainian incursion across the Dnipro river in the southern Kherson region has led to Russian occupiers being “surrounded”.

There is evidence some Russian forces have started to “fracture and collapse” amid the counteroffensive, Clarke adds, but says: “We’ll need to see a lot more evidence to known Ukraine is really on the front foot”.

Russia considering US request for access to detained journalist – report

Moscow is considering a request from the US to make a consular visit to detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Russian media reports.

State news agency RIA cited Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying a decision was yet to be made.

A Moscow court yesterday ruled that the journalist must remain in jail until the end of November, as it extended his pre-trial detention from 30 August.

Reminder: Mr Gershkovich, a 32-year-old American citizen, was detained on espionage charges in Russia in late March.

The US reporter denies the spying allegations, which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 20 years if he is convicted.

Evan Gershkovich

‘Awfully convenient’ if Kremlin not behind Prigozhin ‘death’

In our 11.21am post we reported comments from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who called accusations it killed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin an “absolute lie”.

Defence and security analyst Professor Michael Clarke, former director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, gives his thoughts…

Clarke says it’s likely Vladimir Putin wants to be associated with the plane crash among the Russian people.

“But of course they will say we had nothing to do with it and tap their nose rhetorically while they do it.”

A still from the apparent last-known video of Prigozhin

He said the claim that Mr Putin had not met Prigozhin recently is “factually untrue” as they were both at an Africa-Russia summit in St Petersburg late last month.

“The fact is if, in some insane world, President Putin is not behind this, it’s awfully convenient and I think the world is entitled to believe that this is what the Kremlin wanted,” Clarke says.

On the cause of the crash itself, Clarke says he believes Prigozhin’s aircraft was targeted by a missile – despite reports that American officials think it was brought down by a bomb.

“This aircraft was at 28,000ft. If an explosion had taken place in the fuselage, at that height, with a pressurised cabin, the whole thing tends to explode. But it didn’t.”

It appears that whatever happened, the aircraft was “brought down not by accident” but “by design”, Clarke says, adding: “We all assume that that design was was created in the Kremlin.”

Russia brands Biden’s Prigozhin remarks ‘unacceptable’

More on the plane crash from Russia now, with the country hitting out at Joe Biden after he said he was “not surprised” by reports about Yevgeny Prigozhin’s apparent death.

Mr Biden said on Wednesday that not much happens in Russia “that [Vladimir] Putin is not behind”.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said his comments show a lack of regard for diplomacy.

“It is not for the US president, in my opinion, to talk about such tragic events of this kind,” he was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying.

Mr Putin sent his condolences to Prigozhin’s family yesterday, calling him a “talented businessman” who he had known for decades.

You can hear Mr Biden’s comments in full in this video…

Accusations Kremlin killed Prigozhin ‘an absolute lie’ – Russia

Any accusation the Kremlin was behind the death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is an “absolute lie”, its spokesman has said.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a call that Vladimir Putin and Prigozhin had not met recently, and any suggestion the mercenary boss was killed on the Kremlin’s orders are “speculation”.

He said: “There is now a great deal of speculation surrounding this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the plane’s passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“Of course, in the West, all this speculation is presented from a well-known angle. All of this is an absolute lie, and here, when covering this issue, it is necessary to base yourself on facts.”

An investigation into Wednesday’s plane crash continues, he said, adding that few facts are available at present.

Mr Peskov also said it was unclear whether Mr Putin would attend Prigozhin’s funeral, adding that the Russian president has “a very full schedule”.

‘Wing and landing gear’ of Prigozhin plane found, Russian channel claims

Footage purporting to show the landing gear and a wing of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s crashed plane has been released online.

Russian Telegram channel 112 posted photos and videos of the debris which it claimed fell 3km from the crash site outside Moscow.

The channel reported that the wing and landing gear were recovered from the Ladyzhenka river in the Tver region, “a few hundred meters from where the plane’s tail was found”.

The footage has not been verified, but one photo appears to show a wing with a serial number matching that of the Embraer plane linked with Wagner boss Prigozhin.

Drone shot down over Russian territory – report

Russian air defences downed a drone over the western region of Kaluga, its governor Vladislav Shapsha has claimed.

Earlier, Russia’s defence ministry said a modified S-200 missile had also been shot down over Kaluga region, which borders the region of Moscow.

Putin’s days are numbered after Prigozhin’s ‘death’ – UK defence minister

Vladimir Putin’s days are “very much numbered”, the chair of the UK defence select committee has said.

Speaking to Sky News, Tobias Ellwood said he disagreed with the assessment by some analysts that with the apparent death of Yevgeny Prighozin, Mr Putin’s “primary threat is now out of the picture” and the Russian president could emerge stronger.

He offered a different view – that “resorting to eliminating dissenting voices on the scale that Putin is now doing” shows the “trust in the Kremlin inner circle has disappeared”.

Mr Putin is now “leading through fear rather than loyalty” and, crucially, the Russian oligarchs and elite no longer see him as a “capable guarantor” of their status.

“Prigozhin may be dead, but the damage is done because he lifted the lid on how badly Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was actually going,” Mr Ellwood said.

Mr Putin is “deeply humiliated on a number of fronts”, he said, adding that the Wagner Group was a “very formidable unit” in Ukraine and one of the few competent Russian battlefield forces and “that now’s gone”.

And Western sanctions are “hurting the Russian people”.

Mr Ellwood said a look at Russian history tells us about what could happen next: “When a Russian leader loses popularity among elites, then Russian history demonstrates that weakness is quickly and ruthlessly exploited.

“And I suspect that he’ll be replaced, perhaps not in the short term, but certainly the ball is now in motion.

“I suspect Putin’s days are very much numbered.”

Watch Mr Ellwood’s interview here…

Number 10 monitoring Prigozhin plane crash ‘closely’

 Rishi Sunak said Downing Street is monitoring the situation around the plane crash reported to have killed Yevgeny Prigohzin “very closely”.

He confirmed British intelligence suggests the Wagner chief was “most likely” on the plane.

The UK is “working with allies to establish what happened”, the prime minister said.

Wagner Group ‘no longer a significant factor’ in Ukraine war

The Wagner Group is “no longer a factor” in the Ukraine war, the Pentagon has assessed.

Spokesman Pat Ryder told reporters at a news briefing that Wagner mercenary fighters led by Yevgeny Prigozhin were “essentially removed from combat” near the eastern city of Bakhmut after their short-lived rebellion in June.

He said prior to this, Wagner troops had been “essentially Russia’s most effective combat forces on the battlefield”.

“For all intents and purposes, their combat effectiveness has been diminished, and they are no longer a significant factor when it comes to the conflict inside Ukraine,” Mr Ryder said.

But he warned Wagner has “many tentacles” and is also operating inside Africa, adding that the “potential for danger” outside of the conflict can’t be discounted.

Russian citizen ‘detained in Finland at Kyiv’s request’

Russia’s embassy in Finland says it has been informed of the detention of a Russian citizen in the country.

The detention came at Ukraine’s request, according to a report from Russian news agency RIA.

The embassy said it was taking steps to offer consular assistance.

Pro-Kyiv Russian militants call on Wagner mercenaries to switch sides

A group of Russian militants who fight on the Ukrainian side called on the Wagner Group mercenaries to switch sides and join their ranks after Wednesday’s plane crash.

“You are facing a serious choice now – you can stand in a stall of Russia’s defence ministry and serve as watchdogs for executors of your commanders or take revenge,” Denis Kapustin, commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, said in a video published late yesterday.

“To take revenge you need to switch to Ukraine’s side,” the commander said.

Kapustin, a far-right Russian national, founded the armed group a year ago. It fights on the Ukrainian side and has said it was behind several military attacks on Russian border regions.

Heineken sells Russian operations for €1

Heineken has sold its operations in Russia for €1 after it previously said it wanted to leave Russia after the Ukraine invasion.

The world’s second-largest brewer will be left with losses of £257m after the sale to Russia’s Arnest Group.

The Dutch brewer had said in March last year it intended to leave Russia and acknowledged today the process had taken longer than planned.

“Recent developments demonstrate the significant challenges faced by large manufacturing companies in exiting Russia,” chief executive Dolf van den Brink said.

Many multinational companies flocked to leave Russia after the West imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, but the Kremlin has retaliated by seizing some assets.

Vladimir Putin signed a decree last month to take control of French yoghurt maker Danone’s Russian subsidiary, along with beer company Carlsberg’s stake in a local brewer.

Truth about plane crash depends on what information Moscow provides

Our Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay has shared her immediate analysis of the MoD’s statement this morning that Prigozhin is probably dead.

She says any proof would have to come from a Russian investigation…

Wagner Group ‘will likely no longer exist’

The Wagner Group will “likely no longer exist as a quasi-independent parallel military structure” after Prigozhin’s apparent death, according to a US thinktank.

In its daily update, the Institute for the Study of War said the loss of the group’s central leadership in the crash means the group is unlikely to survive the Russian defence ministry’s campaign to destroy the organisation after Prigozhin led its fighters in a rebellion against Moscow at the end of June.

The ISW also reported that the ministry has established private military companies that have been recruiting current and former Wagner personnel to take control of the group’s operations abroad.

The fate of the Wagner Group is one of the big questions left after Prigozhin’s apparent demise – here, our international affairs editor Dominic Waghorn goes through what could happen next…

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Also read: Wagner Chief has Strong Support in Russia – Poll

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