Red Square becomes concert arena as Putin annexes four Ukrainian regions

Thousands gathered in Moscow to celebrate the annexation of four Ukrainian regions - Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
Thousands gathered in Moscow to celebrate the annexation of four Ukrainian regions - Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Thousands of people gathered in Moscow’s Red Square on Friday to celebrate the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, waving flags and singing along to patriotic songs in the shadow of the Kremlin’s walls.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, appeared on-stage to claim Ukraine owed its existence to Russia and insist that Moscow’s forces would be victorious in the so-called “special military operation”.

“The victory will be ours,” said the President, who hours earlier had signed documents formally incorporating swathes of Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation.

World leaders were quick to condemn the annexation, while President Volodymyr Zelensky ruled out peace talks with Putin and announced that Ukraine had begun a fast-track bid for Nato membership.

07:08 PM

Today’s top stories

  • Vladimir Putin formally incorporated four Ukrainian regions into Russia in a lavish ceremony and concert celebration in Moscow's Red Square.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky announced Ukraine would begin the process of joining Nato, as other top Ukrainian officials pledged to liberate territory seized by Russia.

  • World leaders including US President Joe Biden pledged their continued support for Ukraine, while Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg backed Kyiv’s right to defend itself.

  • Kyiv has warned Moscow it will have to negotiate for its forces to be allowed out of Lyman, where a garrison has been partly encircled.

  • Methane continued to leak from the two Nord Stream pipelines, with the UN saying it could be the biggest single leak of the gas ever.

06:45 PM

Blinken calls Putin's claim West sabotaged pipeline 'absurd'

Vladimir Putin's assertion that Western sabotage was responsible for the leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines was "absurd" and "outrageous," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

"I really have nothing to say to the absurd allegation from President Putin that we are or other partners or allies are somehow responsible for this," Mr Blinken said.

The Secretary of State denounced Moscow's "outrageous misinformation and disinformation campaigns".

06:15 PM

Blinken: No evidence suggesting Russia considering using nuclear weapons

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States has not yet seen Russia take any action that suggests it is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, despite what he decried as "loose talk" by Vladimir Putin about their possible use.

"We are looking very carefully to see if Russia is actually doing anything that suggests that they are contemplating the use of nuclear weapons. To date, we've not seen them take these actions," Mr Blinken told a press conference in Washington.

05:56 PM

Macron condemns Russia's annexation moves

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has condemned Russia's annexation of parts of Ukraine, calling the move "a serious violation of both international law and Ukraine's sovereignty".

"France opposes this and stands with Ukraine against Russian aggression," the Elysee said.

05:42 PM

Biden pledges more support to Ukraine after annexations

The US will continue to provide military aid to Ukraine after Russia's annexations, President Joe Biden has said.

"We will continue to provide Ukraine with the equipment it needs to defend itself, undeterred by Russia’s brazen effort to redraw the borders of its neighbour," he said in a statement.

"We will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable."

Rescuers in search for survival after a Russian missile attack on Dnipro, central Ukraine - Myak / Ukrinform / Future Publishing via Getty Images
Rescuers in search for survival after a Russian missile attack on Dnipro, central Ukraine - Myak / Ukrinform / Future Publishing via Getty Images

05:33 PM

Ukraine vows to keep 'liberating our land and our people'

Ukraine said its military would continue with its counter-offensive against Russia in the east of the country after Moscow urged Kyiv to stop fighting.

"By attempting to annex Ukraine's Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, Putin tries to grab territories he doesn't even physically control on the ground. Nothing changes for Ukraine: we continue liberating our land and our people, restoring our territorial integrity," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

05:20 PM

Blinken: US to hold Russia accountable at UN

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States will act at the UN Security Council on Friday to hold Russia accountable for Moscow's referendums and proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the UN, said on Tuesday the United States would jointly introduce a resolution with Albania that will call on member states not to recognise any altered status of Ukraine and obligate Russia to withdraw its troops.

A Security Council meeting is scheduled for 3pm local time on Friday.

05:16 PM

Nato chief: Russia's mobilisation and annexations 'most serious escalation' since war began

Recent actions by Russia constitute the most serious escalation of the conflict since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

"Putin has mobilised hundreds of thousands of more troops, engaged in irresponsible nuclear sabre rattling and now illegally annexed more Ukrainian territory. Together, this represents the most serious escalation since the start of the war," Mr Stoltenberg told a news conference.

He said Nato reaffirmed its "unwavering support" for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and would not be deterred by Russian President Vladimir Putin from supporting the country in defending itself against Russia.

05:13 PM

Putin speaks at annexation celebration

Vladimir Putin has appeared on-stage at the concert in Red Square to claim that Russia created Ukraine.

"It was Russia that created modern Ukraine by gifting it its own territories, along with the population, without asking them what they wanted. When the USSR collapsed it was the same," he said.

Speaking in front of tens of thousand people, Putin said “the victory will be ours” as he pledged support for the residents of the annexed southern and eastern Ukraine.

Putin who insisted Russia will prevail in its war with Ukraine: “Power is in the truth, and the truth is on our side. The victory will be ours.”

05:05 PM

'Ukraine: The Latest' - listen to our daily podcast on the Russian invasion

With over 5 million downloads, our Ukraine: The Latest podcast is your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reaction and correspondents reporting on the ground.

Today, we have reaction to Vladimir Putin’s historic speech in Moscow where the Russian leader announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

We also speak to Latvian journalist Kristaps Andrejsons who’s been reporting from across Ukraine.

04:58 PM

UN: Nord Stream rupture may be biggest single methane release ever recorded

The ruptures on the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline system under the Baltic Sea has led to what is likely the biggest single release of climate-damaging methane ever recorded, the United Nations Environment Programme has said.

A huge plume of highly concentrated methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent but shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, was detected by researchers looking at satellite imagery, the UNEP said.

“This is really bad, most likely the largest emission event ever detected," said the UNEP's Manfredi Caltagirone. “This is not helpful in a moment when we absolutely need to reduce emissions,” he said.

Researchers have not yet been able to measure the exact amount of methane escaping from the pipelines, but believe the rate of emissions is higher than from a major leak that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in December, which spilled around 100 metric tons of methane per hour, Mr Caltagirone said.

04:38 PM

Kremlin says Putin has no plans to visit annexed territories

Russian President Vladimir Putin has no plans for the moment to visit Russia's "new territories", the TASS news agency reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

04:28 PM

Russians celebrate annexation, in pictures

Crowds gathered in Red Square ahead of a concert to celebrate Russia's annexation of swathes of Ukrainian territory - Sefa Karacan/Getty Images
Crowds gathered in Red Square ahead of a concert to celebrate Russia's annexation of swathes of Ukrainian territory - Sefa Karacan/Getty Images
Supporters of the annexation marched with Russian flags in Luhansk - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters
Supporters of the annexation marched with Russian flags in Luhansk - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters
Russia has formally annexed about 15 per cent of Ukraine's territory - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters
Russia has formally annexed about 15 per cent of Ukraine's territory - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

04:15 PM

Baltic states condemn Russia's annexation

Estonia and Lithuania have spoken out on Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Kaja Kallas, Estonia's Prime Minister, said: "Russia is stealing [the] Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions from Ukraine and threatening the world with nuclear weapons.

"We need to respond to this land grab with a principled stance, concrete decisions, and absolute unity – EU leaders need to convene and adopt strong sanctions as soon as possible. Energy is the key here – a price cap for Russian oil and gas are a must to reduce Russia's income and lower its ability to feed the war machine."

Lithuania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "This is another attempt by Russia to redraw the internationally recognised Ukrainian borders by force.

"Lithuania calls on the international community to impose tighter sanctions on Russia ... and to bring active participants in this illegal exercise to justice."

04:03 PM

Ukraine tells Russia to appeal if it wants imperiled troops freed

Ukraine has warned Moscow it will have to appeal to Kyiv if it wanted its forces to be allowed out of Lyman, where a garrison has been partly encircled.

A presidential adviser said Moscow would have to appeal directly to Kyiv if it wanted its forces to be freed, and alluded to a 2014 Ukrainian military defeat when he said Kyiv's troops had been surrounded and fired upon as they retreated.

"Today [Russia] will have to ask for an exit from Lyman. Only if, of course, those in [the] Kremlin are concerned with their soldiers," Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, wrote on Twitter.

Lyman served for months as a logistics and transport hub anchoring Russian military operations in the north of Donetsk province.

03:53 PM

Britain sanctions Russia's central bank governor

The UK has sanctioned Russia's Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina on Friday, imposing an asset freeze and travel ban, the Foreign Office said.

The foreign office said Britain had also imposed new services and goods export bans targeting "vulnerable sectors of the Russian economy", in response to Russia declaring "the illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine".

03:44 PM

Zelensky rules out talks with Putin

Volodymyr Zelensky has said Kyiv is ready for talks with Moscow, but not with President Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian leader made his comments in a video rebuttal to Putin's ceremony in Moscow.

"Ukraine is ready for negotiations, but with a different Russian president," Mr Zelensky said.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy leads a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in Kyiv on Friday -  Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Volodymyr Zelenskyy leads a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in Kyiv on Friday - Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

03:37 PM

US imposes fresh sanctions on Russia over annexation

The United States has imposed sweeping sanctions on hundreds of Russian people and companies, including members of the country's legislature, military and central bank, in response to Moscow's annexation of a swath of Ukraine.

The US Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on 14 people in Russia's military-industrial complex, two leaders of the country's central bank, family members of top officials and 278 members of Russia's legislature "for enabling Russia's sham referenda and attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory".

The Treasury also issued guidance warning of heightened sanctions risk to those outside Russia should they provide political or economic support to Moscow.

"We will not stand by as Putin fraudulently attempts to annex parts of Ukraine," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Among those targeted with sanctions by the United States on Friday was Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak and 278 members of Russia's legislature.

The U.S State Department also imposed visa restrictions on more than 900 people, including members of the Russian and Belarusian military and "Russia's proxies for violating Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence".

03:34 PM

Watch: Russian artillery strike kills 25 civilians as Zelensky dubs Russians 'bloodthirsty scum'

03:26 PM

Zelensky: Ukraine has formally applied to join Nato

Ukraine has applied for Nato membership, Volodymyr Zelensky has announced.

In a message on his Telegram channel, the Ukrainian president said his country had already proven its eligibility "on the battlefield".
"We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine's application for accelerated accession to Nato," he said.

03:11 PM

Italy's Meloni says annexations have 'no value'

Russia's move to annex four Ukrainian regions has "no legal and political value", said Giorgia Meloni, who is widely expected to become Italy's next prime minister next month.

In a statement, Ms Meloni said Russian President Vladimir Putin "once again demonstrates his Soviet-style, neo-imperialist vision that threatens the security of the entire European continent," and urged Western unity in the face of Moscow's actions.

03:06 PM

Poland condemns Russian annexation

Poland has condemned Russia's annexation of four Ukrainian regions and called for an increase in military support for Kyiv and more sanctions.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns in the strongest terms the illegal acts of "recognition of independence" and "incorporation" into the Russian Federation of parts of Ukraine's regions of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia," the foreign ministry said.

03:00 PM

Ben Wallace visits Ukraine to offer support

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, met his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv this week to discuss the ongoing war and reiterate the country's support.

"The Defence Secretary met with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov to discuss the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s ongoing offensive to recapture and liberate territory seized in Putin’s illegal war," the government said on Friday.

"The pair also talked about the next steps in the war as Ukraine battles to free itself from Russia’s occupation, and what further support the UK can provide."

Earlier on Friday, Mr Reznikov shared a video of an M270 rocket artillery system in action in Ukraine, thanking Mr Wallace for Britain's support.

02:44 PM

Putin and the four heads of the annexed regions celebrate signing

Vladimir Putin celebrates the signing of documents formalising the annexation, with Denis Pushilin, Leonid Pasechnik, Vladimir Saldo, and Yevgeny Balitsky, who are the Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

The Russian president led chants of "Russia, Russia," in the hall.

Putin formalised Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory in a ceremony in Moscow on Friday - Reuters
Putin formalised Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory in a ceremony in Moscow on Friday - Reuters

02:40 PM

More on Putin's attempts to justify the annexation

Vladimir Putin sought to justify the annexation of parts of Ukraine by invoking the Second World War, saying the Allied powers had flattened German cities during WWII, writes Nataliya Vasilyeva.

"The US together with the Brits turned Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne and other German cities during WWII into ruins without any military goal in mind,” he said, attempting to shore up his argument that Washington has always strived for global domination.

“It was done demonstratively without any military necessity. Like with the nuclear bombings in Japan, the only goal was to scare our country and the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Putin also held up American war crimes in Korea and Vietnam as examples of atrocities that the country allegedly never admitted to and never apologised for.

02:24 PM

Putin rejects transgender rights in rambling attack on the West

Vladimir Putin, in a speech that tilted heavily to criticism of the West, rejected transgender rights and said part of his mission was to safeguard traditional values, writes Nataliya Vasilyeva.

He said the West has been “denying religion and families” and asked Russians if they were ready to sacrifice their traditional values for the sake of integration with the West.

“Would you like Mum and Dad in Russia, in our country, to be replaced with Parent Number 1 or Parent Number 2?” he said.

“Do we really want our children taught from primary school about perversion and a path to degradation … the idea that there are other genders other than man and woman and ideas about gender reassignment surgery?

02:16 PM

Ukraine is encircling Russian units in Lyman stronghold

A Ukrainian military operation is under way to encircle Russian forces in the area of the eastern stronghold of Lyman, and has all the logistics routes into the area under fire control, a military spokesperson has said.

"All the approaches and logistic routes of the enemy, through which they delivered ammunition and manpower, are in fact under fire control [of the Ukrainian army]," Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for eastern Ukrainian forces  told the Suspilne public broadcaster on Friday.

02:05 PM

How Putin justified the annexation

Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin framed Russia’s confrontation with the West as an existential struggle for Russia’s survival, writes Nataliya Vasilyeva, our Russia Correspondent.

“This is a battlefield for our people, for a historic Russia, for future generations, our children and grandchildren,” he said at the end of a lengthy anti-Western rant.

“We have to protect them from enslavement and experiments that can crippled their bodies and souls.”

02:00 PM

Separatist leaders sign documents formalising annexation

Putin and the four separatist leaders installed in the Ukrainian regions have signed agreements between the Russian Federation and the new Russian territories.

The Ukrainian regions have now been incorporated into Russia.

Before the signing, Putin finished his speech by saying: "The people of Ukraine's territories have chosen to be with their people, the motherland."

01:55 PM

Putin says 'Anglo-Saxon' powers blew up Nord Stream pipelines

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused what he called "Anglo-Saxon" powers of blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines.

"The sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved onto sabotage," Putin said. "It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they organised the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipeline."

01:49 PM

Putin accuses the West of wanting to destroy Russia

Vladimir Putin blamed the West for harbouring plans to destroy Russia, as he announced the formal annexation.

He accused the West of hypocrisy by invoking a rules-based system; “This is all about lies and double standards,” he said at the Kremlin on Friday.

“All of this is designed for idiots. Russia is not going to live under fake, rigged rules.”

President Putin also voiced his long-term resentment of the West towards Nato’s westward expansion that he called a “filthy deception”.

"The West has said for centuries it is bringing freedom and democracy to the world. Everything is exactly the opposite," Putin said.

01:36 PM

Putin: Russia willing to negotiate peace with Kyiv

Russia is willing to enter talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Putin said.

He insisted however that returning the annexed territories are out of the question.

“We suggest returning to the talks but we’re not going to discuss the choice that people there have made, and Russia is not going to betray it,” the Russian president said on Friday of the sham referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

He said Ukrainians of the four regions “are becoming out citizens for good.”

01:35 PM

Putin says Russia not seeking to revive Soviet Union

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied seeking to revive the Soviet Union, moments after announcing Moscow would annex four Ukrainian provinces.

01:32 PM

Putin: ‘We will defend our land with all means’

Vladimir Putin has repeated his threat to defend the newly annexed territories with every weapon at Russia’s disposal.

“Our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are part of one people,” he said, adding that the West was looking for ways to weaken Russia.

01:25 PM

Putin: 'There are four more regions of Russia'

Putin has lauded "the heroes of great Russia" who stood up against what he called a "Neo-Nazi coup" in Ukraine in 2014.

He then announced a minute's silence in honour of the Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, during the Kremlin's so-called "special military operation".

01:20 PM

Putin starts by welcoming separatist leaders

People in the Ukrainian regions Russia is moving to annex have "made their choice," Putin says.

"This is the will of millions of people."

01:18 PM

Putin starts speaking

Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech has begun.

He is expected to announce the formal annexation of four Ukrainian provinces.

01:16 PM

Nord Stream 1 gas leak expected to continue until Sunday

Gas leaks in the Baltic Sea due to damage to the Nord Stream pipeline are expected to continue until Sunday, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing the pipeline operator, Nord Stream AG.

There was no information about when gas from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 and was also affected by the still-unexplained ruptures earlier this week, would stop pouring into the sea.

12:49 PM

Italy strengthens surveillance on gas pipelines

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government has strengthened naval surveillance and controls on the pipelines bringing gas to Italy from the south and east, two senior officials told Reuters.

The move follows the discovery of leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines this week. EU states say they believe the damage was caused by sabotage.

The pipeline leaks have raised concerns of potential attacks on other European energy infrastructure.

12:37 PM

Reznikov promises 'good news' after talks with US counterpart

Oleksiy Reznikov, the Ukrainian Defence Minister, said he had discussed "ways of strengthening our capabilities" with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday.

Mr Reznikov said on Twitter that "good news" would be announced soon, adding that the Ukrainian army would continue to "use weapons to de-occupy" territory seized by Russia.

12:25 PM

Putin informs Russian parliament of annexation plans

The head of Russia's lower chamber of parliament said on Friday that President Vladimir Putin had notified the house about plans to admit four regions of Ukraine into Russia - a technical step towards Russia's annexation of the territories.

State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a key Putin ally, said on the Duma's official Telegram channel that Mr Putin had informed the parliament of official requests by the regions.

12:10 PM

Russia's Patriarch Kirill ill with Covid-19

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, 75-year-old Patriarch Kirill, has Covid-19 and will self isolate, his church has said.

"All planned meetings and trips in the coming days of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill are cancelled," it said, adding that he needed "bed rest and isolation".

A staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin's policies, the patriarch will be absent from the grand Kremlin ceremony later today in which it will announce the annexation of four occupied Ukrainian regions.

11:58 AM

Zelensky meets military chiefs to discuss 'liberation' plans

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met military chiefs on Friday to discuss "the further plan for liberation" of Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.

Mr Zelensky said on Telegram that he and the military chiefs also discussed supplies of weapons for the country's armed forces, as well as Russia's possible further plans following its invasion of Ukraine.

11:38 AM

Kremlin says it 'needs to clarify' borders of two Ukraine regions

The Kremlin has said it needs to clarify the exact borders of two Ukraine regions that Russia intends to annex, but which its forces have yet to claim complete control over.

"The Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics are recognised by Russia within 2014 borders. As for the territories of the Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions, I need to clarify this, I can't answer this question right now," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

11:28 AM

Norway may ban Russian tourists

Norway may impose a ban on Russian tourists similar to that introduced this week by Finland, Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl has said.

"We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice. There have been few arrivals in Norway compared to Finland, and the situation is different here," Ms Mehl said on Friday.

Norway would station a helicopter with sensors as it now sees an increased risk of illegal border crossings amid the mobilisation.

Norway, an EU outsider but a member of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, has kept open its Arctic border with Russia where arrivals have recently risen to number a few hundred people a day.

11:14 AM

Russian forces 'partially encircled' in key Ukraine town

Russian troops are "partially surrounded" in the key Ukrainian town of Lyman and Kyiv's forces are recapturing villages in the area, according to the separatist leader in Donetsk.

"The news from Lyman is disturbing. At the moment, Lyman is partially surrounded," Denis Pushilin said.

Two nearby villages were "not fully under our control," he added.

Moscow's forces took weeks to take control of Lyman in the spring.

10:56 AM

Zelensky calls Russia 'bloodthirsty scum' after Zaporizhzhia strike

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday called Russia a "terrorist state" and "bloodthirsty scum" after strikes on a civilian convoy killed at least 25 and wounded 50.

"Only complete terrorists could do this," Mr Zelensky said, after the shelling in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. He called Russia a "terrorist state", adding: "Bloodthirsty scum! You will definitely answer. For every lost Ukrainian life!"

10:52 AM

Suffering continues in Ukraine

Viktoria Plotnykova, 20, holds her 9-month-old daughter Rita as they evacuate on the destroyed bridge over the Oskil River in Kupiansk, Kharkiv region - YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP
Viktoria Plotnykova, 20, holds her 9-month-old daughter Rita as they evacuate on the destroyed bridge over the Oskil River in Kupiansk, Kharkiv region - YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP
Dusya, 86, is carried on a stretcher by volunteers to cross the broken bridge over the Oskil River in Kupiansk, Kharkiv region - Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP
Dusya, 86, is carried on a stretcher by volunteers to cross the broken bridge over the Oskil River in Kupiansk, Kharkiv region - Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP
A woman, holding her cat, despairs as clashes continue in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast - Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A woman, holding her cat, despairs as clashes continue in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast - Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

10:44 AM

Kremlin: An attack on annexed territory will be an attack on Russia

The Kremlin said on Friday it would consider attacks against any part of the regions of Ukraine that it is about to annex as acts of aggression against Russia itself.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters Russia would "de jure" incorporate parts of Ukraine which are not under the control of Russian forces into Russia itself as part of its move to annex four regions of Ukraine.

Russia is moving to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

10:35 AM

Kremlin calls for international probe into Nord Streams incidents

The Kremlin said on Friday there was a need for thorough international investigation into ruptures of the Russian-led Nord Stream undersea gas pipelines.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on a statement by Russia's top spy that Moscow had materials indicating that the West had a role in the breaches of the Baltic Sea pipelines.

Russian has said that the ruptures appear to be the result of state-sponsored "terrorism".

The European Union is investigating and has said it suspects sabotage.

A satellite image shows gas from the Nord Stream pipeline bubbling up in the water following incidents in the Baltic Sea - ROSCOSMOS via REUTERS
A satellite image shows gas from the Nord Stream pipeline bubbling up in the water following incidents in the Baltic Sea - ROSCOSMOS via REUTERS

10:30 AM

Norway could quickly impose ban on Russian tourists if necessary, justice minister says

Norway may impose a ban on Russian tourists similar to that introduced by Finland this week, Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said on Friday.

"We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice. There have been few arrivals in Norway compared to Finland, and the situation is different here," Mehl said in a statement.

10:28 AM

EU gas price cap possible without hurting supply, Belgium says

European countries can contain energy costs by capping the price they pay for gas imports without jeopardising their supply of gas, Belgium's energy minister said on Friday.

"Our problem is not a problem of security of supply, but of historically high prices that make it impossible for households to pay their bills. Today, as ministers we can take reponsibility," Tinne Van der Straeten said before a meeting of EU energy ministers.

10:25 AM

EU countries approve energy windfall levies and turn to gas price cap

European Union countries agreed on Friday to impose emergency levies on energy firms' windfall profits, and began talks on their next move to tackle Europe's energy crunch - possibly a bloc-wide gas price cap.

Ministers from the 27 EU member countries met in Brussels on Friday, where they approved measures proposed earlier this month to contain an energy price surge that is stoking record-high inflation and threatening a recession.

The package includes a levy on fossil fuel companies' surplus profits made this year or next, another levy on excess revenues low-cost power producers make from soaring electricity costs, and a mandatory 5% cut in electricity use during peak price periods.

With the deal done, countries began talks on Friday morning on the EU's next move to contain the price crunch, which many countries want to be a broad gas price cap, though others - most notably Germany - remain opposed.

"All these temporary measures are very well, but in order to find the solution to help our citizens in this energy crisis, we need to cap the gas price," Croatian economy minister Davor Filipovic said on his arrival at Friday's meeting.

10:16 AM

UN security council schedules vote on resolution to condemn Russia for 'illegal referendums'

The UN Security Council has scheduled a vote on a resolution that would condemn Russia for its "illegal so-called referendums" in the four Ukrainian regions, and declare that they "have no validity".

Earlier, a Russian strike on a humanitarian convoy in the city of Zaporizhzhia killed at least 23 people and injured another 28, Ukrainian officials said.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Ms Truss has vowed to follow the lead of Boris Johnson in providing as much support as is needed to Ukraine.

In a call with Mr Zelensky this week, she stressed that the UK would not accept the annexations.

09:35 AM

Putin has breached international law, says Liz Truss

Liz Truss has accused Vladimir Putin of breaching international law, as the Russian President plans to formally annex four Ukrainian regions.

In a statement, the Prime Minister said: "Vladimir Putin has, once again, acted in violation of international law with clear disregard for the lives of the Ukrainian people he claims to represent.

"The UK will never ignore the sovereign will of those people and we will never accept the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as anything other than Ukrainian territory.

"Putin cannot be allowed to alter international borders using brute force. We will ensure he loses this illegal war."

09:26 AM

Nord Stream leaks likely done by a state, says Sweden

Gas leaks along Gazprom-led Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines are very likely the result of state action, Swedish energy minister Khashayar Farmanbar said on Friday.

"It's very likely that it has been done deliberately and not by accident and it's very unlikely it's been done by anybody else than a state without being detected earlier," Farmanbar told reporters before a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels.

"And this should be seen from the current security situation that Europe is in," he continued.

Gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea - AFP via Getty Images
Gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea - AFP via Getty Images

09:12 AM

EU must end 'insane' energy crisis spending race between countries, Luxembourg says

The European Union must put an end to the "insane race" between countries to outspend one another on crisis measures to tackle Europe's energy crunch, Luxembourg's energy minister said on Friday.

"I have full trust in Commissioner Vestager that she will put an end to this insane race from different governments to outcompete other governments in such a difficult moment in Europe," Claude Turmes said on his arrival to a meeting of EU ministers, referring to the EU's head of policy on state aid.

08:54 AM

Putin declares independence of two Moscow-held regions ahead of major annexation speech

Vladimir Putin has recognised the independence of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, hours before he is expected to host a major ceremony to mark the annexation of four Ukrainian territories.

"I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence" of the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, Putin said in decrees issued on Thursday evening.

It comes after sham referendums were held in four Ukrainian territories last week - Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia - which reportedly voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, according to Moscow. The results were dismissed by the West.

The Russian president is expected to deliver a major speech on Friday announcing the formal annexation of the regions, which represent about 15 per cent of Ukraine's total area.

Russian government officials have said that the four regions will subsequently fall under Moscow's nuclear umbrella, and Putin has repeatedly warned he could use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory if it is attacked.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, promised a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defence and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday where "fundamental decisions" will be taken, an official said.

08:16 AM

EU must find gas price cap all countries can accept, energy chief says

The European Union must find a way to approach gas price caps that all of the bloc's 27 member countries can accept, the EU's energy policy chief said on Friday.

"Because different member states do expect different solutions, the Commission has to present an idea that has overall broad support... We have to find a way that is acceptable for all the member states," Kadri Simson, the EU's energy commissioner, said on her arrival to a meeting of EU energy ministers.

07:32 AM

At least 23 killed in Russian missile strike in Ukraine

At least 23 people were killed and 28 wounded in a Russian missile strike that hit a convoy of civilian vehicles on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, the regional governor said.

"So far, 23 dead and 28 wounded. All civilians," Oleksandr Starukh, the Zaporizhzhia regional governor, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Police and emergency workers rushed to the scene of the missile strike, the impact of which threw chunks of dirt into the air and sprayed the vehicles with shrapnel. The windows of the vehicles - mostly cars and three vans - were blown out.

A woman, who gave her name as Nataliya, said she and her husband had been visiting their children in Zaporizhzhia.

"We were returning to my mother who is 90 years old. We have been spared. It’s a miracle," she said, standing with her husband beside their car.

07:07 AM

Germany's energy situation 'extremely tense'

Germany is in an "extremely tense situation" with its energy supply, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Friday.

His comments come a day after the government set out a "defensive shield" to protect Germans from the impact of soaring energy prices.

"We are still in this emergency. If we don't save, if households don't reduce consumption, we still risk not having enough gas in the winter," he told Deutschlandfunk radio.

Despite the government's 200 billion euro (£176.4 billion) "defensive shield", Mr Habeck added: "We are not going to subsidise the price of gas down to what it was in 2021, not for a very long time."

06:48 AM

EU countries to back energy windfall levies, lock horns over gas price cap

European Union countries meet on Friday to approve emergency levies on energy firms' windfall profits and launch talks on their next move to tackle Europe's energy crunch – possibly, a gas price cap.

Energy ministers from the 27 EU member countries are negotiating measures proposed by Brussels last week to attempt to contain an energy price surge that is stoking record-high inflation and threatening a recession.

They include a levy on fossil fuel companies' surplus profits made in 2022 or 2023, another levy on excess revenues that low-cost power producers make from soaring electricity costs, and a mandatory 5 per cent cut in electricity use during peak price periods.

Diplomats from several countries were confident ministers would approve the package on Friday.

06:02 AM

Too soon to speculate on Nord Stream ruptures, says Lloyd Austin

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it was still too soon to speculate who might have been behind the Nord Stream pipeline ruptures.

"In terms of the attack - or the damage to the pipeline, at this point I think there's a lot of speculation. But quite frankly, until a complete investigation is done, no one will be able to really determine for certain what happened," Mr Austin told a news conference in Hawaii on Thursday.

Mr Austin added that he discussed the incident with his Danish counterpart on Wednesday, "and he pointed out to me that it will be several days before he's able to get the right team in to look at the sites and really try to determine as best possible what happened."

"Until we get further information, or are able to do further analysis, we won’t speculate on who may have been responsible," Mr Austin said.

05:33 AM

Uzbekistan says won't deport Russians fleeing conscription

Uzbekistan has no plans to deport Russians who are fleeing en masse to Central Asia to evade conscription amid Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine, the Tashkent government said on Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of men, some with families, have left Russia since President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation last week; many headed to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian former Soviet republics.

Some draft dodgers, however, remain concerned about their safety in those countries since their governments have close ties with Moscow.

03:57 AM

Latvia to vote in shadow of Russian invasion

Latvia votes on Saturday under the shadow of neighbouring Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with the Baltic state's pro-EU and pro-NATO prime minister, Krisjanis Karins, likely to secure victory.

Polls show a weakening of populists, conservatives and the social-democratic party Harmony, which usually has strong support from Latvia's large Russian-speaking minority.

"Russians invading Ukraine helps Karins to secure voters in Latvia because in such times people tend to rally around the flag," said Marcis Krastins, a political expert.

Krastins said Karins was "most likely" to win but this would depend on how many smaller parties supporting him get past the five percent threshold for entering parliament.

03:06 AM

Apple App Store pulls Russian social network VKontakte

Apple on Wednesday confirmed that it removed popular Russian social network VKontakte from its App Store globally due to sanctions imposed by Britain.

The British government on Monday sanctioned 92 Russian individuals and entities after President Vladimir Putin's regime held referendums in Moscow-controlled areas of Ukraine - denounced by Kyiv and its allies as a "sham" - and stepped up threats against the West.

"Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognize their results," British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

The sanctions target "those behind these sham votes, as well as the individuals that continue to prop up the Russian regime's war of aggression," he said.

01:22 AM

Today's top stories

  • You could forgive residents of Kupyansk for being confused when they were rounded up and sent to prison by local police brandishing documents from Belgorod, a Russian border region nearly 93 miles away

  • Vladimir Putin is set to formally annex Russian-occupied parts of eastern and southern Ukraine on Friday in a major speech that will herald a grim new phase of the war

  • Montenegro ordered the expulsion of six Russian diplomats Thursday amid a major investigation into alleged spying, prompting Moscow to shutter its consulate in the Balkan nation

  • A former US army major and his anaesthesiologist wife have been charged with plotting to leak the medical records of US military figures and their families to Russia to assist its war in Ukraine

  • US President Joe Biden vowed Thursday to "never, never, never" recognise the results of Russian-led referendums in Ukraine, which he called a "flagrant violation" of international principles