Ukraine-Russia war latest: Zelenskyy says key village has been recaptured; Wagner boss 'pictured at same summit as Putin' (2023)

Key points
  • Ukraine claims to have retaken village
  • The evidence behind reports of Ukrainian advances
  • Putin promises free grain to six African countries - most of which back Russia
  • Analysis: Long way to go despite breakthrough for Ukraine
  • New images of Wagner boss appear - at summit where Putin is in attendance. Is it legit?
  • Satellite images reveal increase in activity at Wagner base in Belarus
  • Niger: No sign of Wagner involvement| Why coup could open door for mercenaries
  • Your questions answered: Are US and Russia negotiating deal out of war in secret?
  • Live reporting by Jack Parker and (earlier) Emily Mee and Katie Williams


Why Prigozhin is back in St Petersburg

In our 1.07pm post, we brought you pictures, verified by our OSINT unit, of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin at a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg.

The world was told he'd been exiled to Belarus after leading a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin - so why is he back in Russia?

Dr Melinda Haring, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Centre, believes Prigozhin's appearance is signalling a few different things.

"It's saying that Prigozhin is part of the Kremlin establishment. It's saying that all of your security interests in Africa with the Wagner group are ok.

"Putin and Prigozhin are good buddies again, and the West has exaggerated" their falling out.

Dr Haring suggests Wagner's presence across Africa may have helped save Prigozhin's skin after the mutiny.

"You also have to remember he has a long-standing relationship with Vladimir Putin - and it's not easy to become 'besties' with him.

"At its core, Prigozhin is useful. He helps Putin pursue Russia's strategic interests in Africa," she says.

"This weekend there's a referendum in the Central African Republic, and Wagner is providing security for that referendum.

"That referendum will extend the presidential term limits for the leader there, and Moscow's very supportive.

"The big signal is: 'African leaders, don't worry, we've got you. Wagner is still doing business, and you can rely on us.'"


Putin promises free Russian grain to six African countries

President Putin has been welcoming leaders from across Africa in St Petersburg today - and he has made a big promise to some of those attending.

Speaking at the opening session of a two-day summit, Mr Putin promised "no-cost" shipments of Russian grain to six African countries.

“Our country will continue supporting needy states and regions, in particular, with its humanitarian deliveries," he said.

"We seek to actively participate in building a fairer system of distribution of resources. We are taking maximum efforts to avert a global food crisis.

"I have already said that our country can replace Ukrainian grain, both on a commercial basis and as grant aid to the neediest African countries, more so since we expect another record harvest this year."

(Video) Wagner boss says mercenaries won’t fight in Ukraine, eyes Africa

President Putin's announcement comes 10 days after Russia unilaterally pulled out of a crucial grain deal with Ukraine.

The decision prompted criticism that it would have the knock-on effect of worsening famine and hunger across African countries dependent on the exports.

The Russian president said he intends to send up to 50,000 tonnes of grain over the next three to four months to six countries: Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and the Central African Republic.

Of those six countries, all but one - Somalia - voted against a UN resolution calling on Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine.

Eritrea has voted against more UN resolutions criticising Russia's invasion than any other African nation.

And in Mali and the Central African Republic, the Russian-backed Wagner mercenary group has propped up authoritarian governments.


Why an unfolding coup in Niger could open the door for the Wagner group

Today, Vladimir Putin has been speaking to African leaders in Russia - which we've covered in these pages.

Surprisingly, despite the tensions between them after a failed rebellion this summer, Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to be there, too (see our 1.07pm post).

Tonight, there is news of a coup in the African nation of Niger.

As we reported in our previous post, the White House does not believe Russia or the Wagner group has been involved in the coup.

But there have been a series of links between Wagner and the African continent in the past decade - and this is another reminder.

What's happening in Niger?

The country's military leadership has declared its support for a coup against President Mohamed Bazoum.

All political activity has been suspended.

'A model of democracy'

The revolt is a blow for the US and its Western allies.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the country in March to strengthen ties and announce $150m in direct assistance, calling the country "a model of democracy".

More than 1,000 US personnel are said to be in the country. There's even a US drone base used for counter-terror operations - and its fate is now unclear.

The West had wanted to strengthen Niger's government so it could stand up to extremist Islamic groups operating in the region.

Now a critical question is whether Niger might pivot and engage Wagner as a counterterrorism partner like its neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, which have kicked out French forces.

France shifted more than 1,000 personnel to Niger after pulling out of Mali last year.

Prigozhin on Niger

Wagner chief Prigozhin said in a statement on Thursday that "what happened in Niger is the fight of its people against the colonizers... It effectively means winning independence. The rest will depend on the people of Niger".

The mercenary leader appears to be leaving the door open for another contract.

(Video) Wagner chief tells Zelensky to abandon 'encircled' Bakhmut

Read more on the latest in Niger...


US: No signs of Wagner involvement in Niger coup

The US says it has not seen any credible signs that Russia, or the Wagner mercenary group, have been involved in the army coup in Niger.

At the latest White House media briefing, spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Washington had urged its citizens in Niger to be careful.

Ms Jean-Pierre said the US "strongly condemns" attempts to "seize power by force in Niger".

She added: "Niger is an important partner, so we’re closely monitoring the situation."


Ukraine claims to have retaken village in Donetsk region

We reported at 9.19am that President Zelenskyy was teasing "very good results" on the frontline, promising to give more details later.

Now we know what he was referring to.

He's just posted a video on Telegram with Ukrainian soldiers, who say they've recaptured the Ukrainian village of Staromaiorske from Russian forces.

Staromaiorske sits in the far western part of the Donetsk region, just south of a cluster of small settlements that Ukraine has already recaptured since its counteroffensive began in early June.

The soldiers are heard saying: "35th Brigade and the volunteer Battalion 'Arey' liberated the village Staromaiorske. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes!"

Sky News has not yet been able to verify the footage.

As recently as two hours ago, the latest update from the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported that Russia had launched an airstrike nearby today.

And in this morning's update, a spokesperson for the General Staff claimed Ukraine had gained "certain success" in the area, "reinforcing positions they had previously captured".

The spokesperson also claimed Russian forces were suffering losses and pulling up their reserves, with heavy fighting ongoing.


(Video) Putin vows to punish organizers of Wagner Group rebellion

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia threaten to shut borders with Belarus over Wagner

The Polish government says it could decide to shut its 250-mile border with Belarus if there are serious incidents involving the Wagner mercenary group nearby.

Poland's interior minister Mariusz Kaminski hinted fellow NATO members Lithuania and Latvia would also shut their borders to Belarus in that event.

"If we decide that this is the rightanswer at the moment, we will lead to the complete isolation ofBelarus," Mr Kaminski said.

This is the latest in a series of moves by Poland, which has been nervy after Yevgeny Prigozhin - leader of Wagner - was exiled to Belarus for leading a short-lived rebellion against Vladimir Putin's rule with his troops.

Prigozhin began training Belarusian special forces last week, vowing to make Belarus's army "the second-best army in the world".

In response, Poland has already decided to send more than 1,000 military unitsto its east, a move Russian President Vladimir Putin used to accuse Poland of having territorial ambitions for the former Soviet Union.


US: China likely giving technology to Russian military

US intelligence suggests China is "likely" providing Russia with military technology to be used in Ukraine.

An official, declassified report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said China was providing dual-use equipment, despite widespread international sanctions and limits on exports.

The report claims customs records show China's "state-owned defence companies [are] shipping navigation equipment, jamming technology, and fighterjet parts to sanctioned Russian government-owned defencecompanies".

It echoes concerns raised last week by Emmanuel Bonne, the top diplomatic adviser to France's President Macron.

Mr Bonne told CNN China was delivering items to Russia that could be used as military equipment, albeit not on a large scale.

China has repeatedly denied sending military equipment to Russia since Moscow's all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The ODNI report also accused China of helping Russia to evade Western sanctions by boosting bilateral trade, saying it had become an "even more critical partner" of Russia in the past year.

It said China has increased its imports of Russian energy, including oil and gas rerouted from Europe, and expanded its use of Russia's domestic payment systems.


Ukraine's main energy company expecting further Russian attacks this winter

(Video) CIA's Big Admission On Putin's Military Might; U.S. Spy Chief Says 'Tough' For Kyiv To Defeat Russia

Ukraine's state energy provider says it is preparing for a "worst-case scenario" this winter - in case Russia launches missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure.

The head of Ukrenergo, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said he was confident its energy network would be able to function without restrictions this winter but did not rule out the possibility of blackouts.

Mr Kudrytskyi said Ukraine needs to build additional transformers, power units, and power transmission lines in case some of the existing ones are damaged in an attack.

But he did not comment on whether any steps have already been taken to build new energy infrastructure.

Further information about the state of the power system will not be made public, Mr Kudrytskyi added, as the information is too sensitive.

"We don't want to help the enemy understand the power system in detail," he said.

The war's first winter saw repeated widespread blackouts across Ukraine, as Russia targeted the country's energy network.

Ukrenergo has previously said 43% of its main energy network had been damaged after six months of relentless missile and drone attacks.



Ukraine's parliamentary elections delayed for the first time

Ukraine's parliament has overwhelmingly voted to extend martial law in the country for another 90 days - effectively ruling out elections that had been planned for October.

Martial law has been in place since the day Russia started its invasion. Today's extension means it will now continue until at least 15 November.

The law,which bars 18 to 60-year-old men from leaving the country, hassince been extended several times.

Under Ukraine's constitution, elections cannot be held under martial law.

It's the first time a national vote has been delayed in Ukraine since the start of the war.

It's unclear when the rescheduled parliamentary elections would take place.

Presidential elections are still scheduled for next March. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not yet confirmed whether he will stand for re-election.

When he was first elected in 2019, Mr Zelenskyy vowed to only serve one term, but walked back on that in May 2021, saying he had not yet made up his mind.


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