Russia says drone attacks won't go unpunished; Kremlin won't rule out Prigozhin's death was 'deliberate'

Hopes are rising that Turkey will persuade Russia to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative with Ukraine, enabling the resumption of exports of millions of tons of grains, foodstuffs and fertilizer from some of Ukraine’s ports.

Russia pulled out of the U.N.-brokered deal in July, saying its own exports of grain and fertilizer had been impeded by sanctions and restrictions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan will discuss the possibility of launching a new Black Sea grain deal when they meet Thursday and Friday in Moscow.

Under a plan proposed by Moscow, Russia would send a million metric tons of discounted grain to Turkey, where it would then be processed and sent to countries most in need, the Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters.

“We consider this project as the optimal working alternative to the Black Sea deal,” it said, referring to the U.N.-backed deal that Russia exited in July.

— Karen Gilchrist, Holly Ellyatt

French President Emmanuel Macron discussed providing further military support to Kyiv and securing Ukrainian grain exports to Africa when he met with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Paris on Wednesday.

Kubela shared details and images of the talks in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

— Karen Gilchrist

Forced to shield its school-children from the threat of supersonic Russian missiles fired at short range, Ukraine’s eastern metropolis of Kharkiv has built dozens of classrooms in metro stations to allow some pupils to return to in-person teaching.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, had a population of more than 1.4 million before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Parts of the city lie less than 20 miles from the Russian border. Its northern suburbs were scarred by fighting.

Kharkiv’s schools have been forced to teach online throughout the war as some Russian missiles can reach the city in under a minute – not enough time to get from many classrooms to a shelter.

People walk through a metro station in downtown Kharkiv on January 4, 2023.

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Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Tuesday that 60 schoolrooms been created in Kharkiv’s metro stations ahead of the new school year in September, creating space for more than 1,000 children to study in-person.

“The children will be able to socialise with each other, find a common language, communicate. I absolutely support this,” said Iryna Loboda, the mother of a schoolboy outside a metro station in the city center where classrooms have been built.

— Reuters

The Kremlin said Wednesday it did not rule out that the death of mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was premeditated.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s press secretary, said Russia’s Investigative Committee would look into the causes of the plane crash last week that killed Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary private military company the Wagner Group, but ruled out outside involvement in the inquiry.

“It is obvious that different versions are being considered, including the version – you know what we are talking about – let’s say, a deliberate atrocity,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to comments translated by Reuters.

“Let’s wait for the results of our Russian investigation,” he added.

A member of private mercenary group Wagner pays tribute to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin following their apparent deaths in a plane crash on Aug. 23, 2023.

Vladimir Nikolayev | Afp | Getty Images

Peskov’s comment is the first time Moscow has acknowledged that Prigozhin’s death may not have been an accident. Prigozhin was a close ally of President Putin before he led a short-lived mutiny in June against the state that put him on a collision path with the president.

Last week, the private, Brazilian-made Embraer jet in which Prigozhin and his closest associates were traveling in, crashed north of Moscow, killing all 10 people on board.

Brazil’s aircraft investigation authority told Reuters that it will not probe the crash of the jet under international rules “at the moment.” Asked about this, Peskov said Russia’s Investigative Committee had already begun its inquiry and that “in this case there can be no talk of any international aspect.”

The Kremlin has rejected what it sees as Western “speculation” that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in revenge for the uprising, describing it as an “absolute lie.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it will respond to a series of drone attacks on six Russian regions overnight. Russia alleged that Ukraine was behind the attacks targeting northwest and central Russia, including the Moscow region.

Briefing journalists on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the drone attacks on territory that was so far from Ukraine would not have been possible without information from Western satellites.

“The actions of the Ukrainian regime will not go unpunished,” Zakharova said, according to comments published by state news agency Tass.

“The actions of the Ukrainian regime will not go unpunished,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, according to comments published by state news agency Tass.

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“Russian law enforcement agencies are investigating and carefully documenting all facts of shelling of Russian regions by Ukrainian militants, as well as their other criminal activities,” she said.

Russia has not presented evidence that Ukraine was behind the attempted drone attacks and Kyiv has not commented.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian soldiers prepare 120mm mortar to fire in the direction of the Bakhmut front line as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on Aug. 21, 2023.

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Ukrainian forces are seeing gradual advances in the Bakhmut area of east Ukraine but the overall situation on the eastern front remains “difficult,” according to the head of the country’s ground forces.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia is attempting to regroup and replenish its fighting forces in the area, which remains one of the hot spots in the conflict.

“Our units continue to hold back the enemy’s offensive in the Kupyansk-Lymansk direction. The fiercest battles are taking place in the areas of the settlements of Raihorodka and Kovalivka, where the enemy, despite losses, is trying to break through the defense of our troops, using assault units on armored vehicles,” Syrskyi said on Telegram.

“At the same time, the enemy is regrouping, introducing new units from the territory of the Russian Federation with the aim of increasing the number and fighting capacity of its troops.”

In the Bakhmut area, fierce battles take place every day, the commander said.

“The enemy is trying to regain lost positions at any cost, counterattacking our units several times a day. We are taking all measures to disrupt the enemy’s plans and are gradually moving forward.
In particular, intense fighting is taking place in the districts of Bakhmut, Kurdyumivka, Yagidny, Andriivka. Therefore, special attention is paid today to work in these areas.”

— Holly Ellyatt

A woman crosses herself as she visits the grave of Wagner private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in a private jet crash in the Tver region last week, at the Porokhovskoye cemetery in Saint Petersburg on August 30, 2023.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Followers of mutinous Russian mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin laid flowers, messages and poetry at his grave on Wednesday, hailing him as a fearless warrior after he was killed along with his inner circle in a yet-to-be-explained plane crash.

Prigozhin was buried at the Porokhovskoye cemetery in his home town of St Petersburg on Tuesday away from the glare of the media whom he had courted so ardently in life after leading his fighters on a dash towards Moscow before turning back.

A man wearing the shirt of his Wagner mercenaries and a cap bearing the Russian flag was among those paying respects at the grave, where red roses and carnations graced a wooden Orthodox cross lablled “Prigozhin, Yevgeny Viktorovich 1961 – 2023.” One tribute beside flowers read: “To be a warrior is to live forever.”

The private jet on which Prigozhin was travelling to St Petersburg from Moscow crashed north of Moscow with the loss of all 10 people on board on Aug. 23, including Prigozhin, top Wagner commanders, his bodyguards and a crew of three.

It is still unclear what caused the plane to crash but villagers near the scene told Reuters they heard a bang and then saw the jet plummet to the ground.

The Kremlin has rejected as an “absolute lie” the suggestion by some Western politicians and commentators – for which they have not provided evidence – that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in revenge.

— Reuters

A high rate of convictions for Russian soldiers demonstrates the poor state of morale in the Russian army and the reluctance of some elements to fight, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense.

Last week, two Russian soldiers were sentenced to serve at least two years in a penal colony by a military court for refusing to obey orders to return to the front in Ukraine. The news followed an independent Russian media report last month suggesting the country was convicting close to 100 soldiers a week for refusing to fight.

“If this trend continues, there will be approximately 5,200 convictions a year for refusing to fight,” the defense ministry noted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Russian citizens recruited as part of a partial mobilization attend combat training in the training spots of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic on Oct. 5, 2022.

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“Refusal to fight likely reflects the lack of training, motivation and high stress situations Russian forces face along the entire Ukrainian frontline,” the ministry said.

It added that although some soldiers have refused to fight and attrition rates remain high, Russia highly likely mitigates its loss by committing “a mass of poorly trained soldiers to the frontline.”

Russia announced a partial mobilization of military reservists almost a year ago, prompting thousands of men to try to flee Russia to avoid the call-up. The U.K. noted that the draft showed Russia has adapted its approach to warfare by “utilizing sheer mass” for offensive and defensive operations.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian officials said Russia launched a massive, combined strike on the capital Kyiv overnight using attack drones and missiles.

The Kyiv City Military Administration said on Telegram Wednesday that Russia used what it believed were Iranian-made Shahed drones in the attack, stating “several groups of drones were heading to Kyiv from different directions.” It said Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers then launched missiles targeting the capital.

Firefighters at the site of damaged buildings after a Russian nighttime missile attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Aug. 30, 2023.

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More than 20 enemy targets were destroyed by air defense forces, the administration said, but as a result of falling debris in different districts of Kyiv, two people died and three others were wounded.

The night attack came as Russia accused Ukraine of launching several drone attacks against six regions in central and northwestern Russia overnight Wednesday, including the Moscow region. One attack purportedly damaged several aircraft at a northwestern Russian airfield. Ukraine has not publicly commented on the attacks.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the latest overnight attack on Kyiv “is an unquestionably deliberate attack on the civilian population.”

He said the motive was “revenge for the growing accidents in the RF [Russian Federation] itself; failures on the frontline; ethnic hatred and attempt of psychological intimidation.”

Holly Ellyatt

Russian officials accused Ukraine of launching several drone attacks against six regions in central and northwestern Russia overnight Wednesday.

One alleged attack had caused a fire at an airfield in Pskov in the northwest of the country, setting two Ilyushin Il-76 military transport aircraft on fire and damaging several other aircraft, Russian news agency Tass reported.

The governor of the Pskov region, Mikhail Vedernikov, said on his Telegram channel that the scale of the destruction is being assessed and flights from Pskov’s airport were canceled Wednesday.

An Ilyushin Il-76 Strategic airlifter performs during the 76th anniversary of Victory Day in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on May 9, 2021.

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The Russian Defense Ministry also reported attempted drone attacks in the Bryansk, Kaluga and Oryol regions southwest of Moscow as well as the Ryazan area to the southeast. It said a drone had also been intercepted near the capital, prompting the authorities to close airports in the city.

“Today, at about 03:30 Moscow time, an attempt by the Kiev regime to carry out a terrorist attack by an aircraft-type UAV against objects on the territory of the Russian Federation was thwarted,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement reported by Russian news agency Tass.

The unmanned aerial vehicle was intercepted and crashed over the territory of the Ruzsky district of the Moscow region,” the ministry added.

Moscow’s Domodedovo, Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo airports temporarily stopped all flights but have since reopened.

Ukraine has not said it was involved in the drone attacks and has typically remained tight-lipped about attacks against the Russian territory itself. Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched a massive, combined strike on the capital Kyiv overnight using attack drones and missiles.

Holly Ellyatt

A member of private mercenary group Wagner pays tribute to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin following their apparent deaths in a plane crash on Aug. 23, 2023.

Vladimir Nikolayev | Afp | Getty Images

A farewell ceremony for Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in a plane crash last Wednesday, was held behind closed doors Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

“Those who wish to bid their farewell” to the 62-year-old mercenary leader should go to the Porokhovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, his hometown, AP cited his spokespeople as saying in a statement on social media.

It wasn’t clear from the statement if Prigozhin had already been buried or if it was yet to happen.

The Kremlin said earlier Tuesday that is was “not envisaged” that Russian President Vladimir Putin would attend the funeral of his ally-turned-traitor.

— Karen Gilchrist

Three people died after an FSB security services helicopter crashed in central Russia, regional officials said Tuesday.

“The Mi-8 helicopter crashed near Krasnoye Pole in the Chelyabinsk region,” Governor Aleksei Teksler posted on Telegram. He did not disclose the cause of the incident.

There was no damage to people or buildings on the ground, he added.

— Karen Gilchrist

The language, reading and numeracy skills of children across Ukraine have deteriorated following Russia’s full-scale invasion, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Tuesday.

Up to 57% of teachers reported a drop in students’ Ukrainian language abilities, up to 45% said mathematics skills had reduced and up to 52% said foreign language skills were down.

“Attacks on schools have continued unabated, leaving children deeply distressed and without safe spaces to learn,” Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia said in a press release.

A pair of girl’s shoes are seen among the rubble at Kurakhove Gymnasium School N2 damaged in a Russian rocket attack, Kurakhove, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine.

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“Not only has this left Ukraine’s children struggling to progress in their education, but they are also struggling to retain what they learnt when their schools were fully functioning,” she added.

Only one third of children enrolled in primary and secondary schools are learning entirely in person, with a third studying remotely and a third learning from a combination of the two formats.

Compounding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, children in Ukraine are now facing a fourth year of disrupted learning, UNICEF assessed.

— Hannah Ward-Glenton

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that an investigation into Wednesday’s plane crash that President Vladimir Putin said had killed Prigozhin was ongoing, according to a Reuters translation of a call with reporters.

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The Kremlin on Friday rejected what it said was Western “speculation” that Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin had been killed on its orders, calling it an “absolute lie.”

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that an investigation into Wednesday’s plane crash that President Vladimir Putin said had killed Prigozhin was ongoing, according to a Reuters translation of a call with reporters.

Peskov added that it’s impossible to say whether Putin would attend the funeral of Prigozhin, citing the president’s “very full schedule.”

— Karen Gilchrist

Russia is “unlikely” to meet its targets for recruiting volunteers to its armed forces, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry, despite salaries having increased since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Serving in Russia’s armed forces has become increasingly lucrative as the country’s war in Ukraine has continued, according to an update by the U.K. Defense Ministry.

On February 2022, President Vladimir Putin said that a serving lieutenant received 81,200 rubles ($850) each month. By October 2022 he announced that lower ranking, mobilized private soldiers would receive 195,000 rubles every month.

Now many junior soldiers are earning more than 200,000 rubles a month, which is more than 2.7 times the average Russian salary, the ministry of defense wrote.

It is “highly likely” that the salary and benefits are a “strong incentive” for people to join the Russian forces, the ministry said.

— Hannah Ward-Glenton

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