Ukraine war: Half of Russia's Black Sea combat jets out of operation

·23-min read
Ukraine war: Four powerful explosions rock major military airport in Crimea - @STEELMALIKOV /AFP
Ukraine war: Four powerful explosions rock major military airport in Crimea - @STEELMALIKOV /AFP

More than half of the Russian Black Sea fleet's naval aviation combat jets out of use after blasts at the Saky air base in the annexed Crimean peninsula earlier this month, a Western official said on Friday.

The air base near Novofedorivka on the west coast of the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, suffered multiple explosions on Aug 9.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ukraine was now consistently achieving "kinetic effects" deep behind Russia's lines which was having a material impact on Russia's logistics support and "a significant psychological effect on the Russian leadership".

The official added that overall, the war was at a "moment of near operational standstill".

Meanwhile, at least four explosions hit near a major Russian military airport on the Moscow-controlled Crimean peninsula on Thursday.

Three sources said the explosions were near Russia's Belbek military airport, north of the Black Sea fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol.

Follow the latest updates below.

04:08 PM

A summary of today's developments

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation in Ukraine in a phone call on Friday

  • Re-branded as Stars Coffee, the successor of Starbucks welcomed its first visitors in Moscow on Friday after the Seattle-based coffee shop chain withdrew from the Russian market

  • Rishi Sunak has called on the G20 to bar Vladimir Putin from its meetings until Moscow halts the war in Ukraine, his spokesman has said

  • Rescuers are scrambling to find survivors under the wreckage of a dormitory in Kharkiv damaged in the recent attack on Ukraine’s second largest city

03:48 PM

Blasts behind Russian lines had major psychological effect on Putin, Western officials say

Recent explosions deep behind Russia's lines in Crimea have had a major psychological effect on Moscow's leadership, with its invasion of Ukraine at "near operational standstill", Western officials have said.

More than half of the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet combat jets were put out of action in blasts last week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea - an area Moscow previously considered secure, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The Kremlin is busy seeking to allocate blame for the debacle and President Vladimir Putin is struggling to hide Ukraine's success from the Russian population, as thousands of Russians fleeing Crimea have streamed into the country, officials said on Friday.

03:34 PM

Putin agrees to send IAEA mission to Ukraine plant

French President Emmanuel Macron told his Russian counterpart on Friday that he is concerned about safety risks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, the Elysee said, adding that Putin had agreed to send a mission of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the site.

The two presidents agreed to continue their talks in the coming days, according to a readout sent to journalists by Macron's office.

03:28 PM

UN chief says electricity at Russian-held nuclear plant belongs to Ukraine

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that the electricity generated at the Russian-held nuclear power plant in Ukraine's southern region of Zaporizhzhia belonged to Ukraine and demanded that principle be fully respected.

Ukraine accused Russia earlier on Friday of planning a "large-scale provocation" at the vast nuclear plant and said Russian forces planned to disconnect the facility from the Ukrainian power grid and link it up to the Russian one.

03:23 PM

Putin tells Macron of 'obstacles' to Russian agriculture exports

Russia's President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that Moscow was facing "obstacles" in the export of its agricultural products under a deal signed last month in Istanbul, the Kremlin said on Friday.

"There are still obstacles to the mentioned Russian exports," the Kremlin said in a statement following a call between the two leaders, referring to the export of "Russian food products and fertiliser".

03:15 PM

Next 10 grain ships get set to leave Ukraine's sea ports

A further ten cargo ships are being loaded with grain in Ukrainian Black Sea ports and being prepared for shipment under a food export agreement brokered last month, Ukraine's Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Friday.

Ukraine's grain exports have slumped since the start of the war because its Black Sea ports - a vital route for shipments - were closed, driving up global food prices and prompting fears of shortages in Africa and the Middle East.

At the end of July, three Black Sea ports were unblocked under a deal between Moscow and Kyiv, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.

"Ten vessels are currently being loaded and are preparing to leave the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi. We also have more than 40 applications for shipping to Ukrainian ports," Kubrakov said on Facebook.

03:04 PM

Russia says Putin and Macron held phone call

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation in Ukraine in a phone call on Friday, the Kremlin said.

According to the Kremlin readout of the call, Putin said shelling of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, which he blamed on Kyiv, created the risk of "large-scale catastrophe". Both presidents agree on the need to send a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the plant.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Macron about continuing obstacles to supplying Russian food and fertilizer products to world markets.

02:54 PM

Russia's watchdog imposes measures against TikTok, Telegram, Zoom, Discord, Pinterest

Russia's state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said on Friday that it was taking punitive measures against a string of foreign IT companies, including TikTok, Telegram, Zoom, Discord and Pinterest.

In a statement, Roskomnadzor said that the measures were in response to the companies' failure to remove content that it had flagged as illegal, and would remain in place until they complied. It did not specify what measures would be taken.

Russia has repeatedly threatened to fine sites - including Google, that violate harsh new laws criminalising the spreading of "false information" about the Russian army.

On Tuesday, Russian courts fined US-based live streaming service Twitch 2 million roubles ($33,000) and messenger service Telegram 11 million roubles ($179,000) for violating military censorship laws.

02:27 PM

UN chief urges more effort to ensure access to Ukrainian grain

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday there was still much more to do to ensure full global access to Ukrainian food products and Russian food and fertilisers after a UN-brokered food export deal.

At a briefing in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa, Guterres said developing countries needed help to purchase such grain and called for unimpeded access to global markets for Russian food and fertilisers which are not subject to sanctions.

"This is an agreement between two parties locked in bitter conflict. It is unprecedented in scope and scale. But there is still a long way to go on many fronts," he said.

"It is time for massive and generous support so developing countries can purchase the food from this and other ports – and people can buy it," he said.

01:57 PM

UN chief asks Russia not to cut nuclear plant from Ukraine grid

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday asked that the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station not be cut off from Ukraine's grid, following Ukrainian reports that Moscow is planning to do so.

"Obviously the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity... This principle must be fully respected," the UN Secretary General said during a visit to the port of Odesa in southern Ukraine.

UN Secretary-General Guterres visits Odesa port, Ukraine
UN Secretary-General Guterres visits Odesa port, Ukraine

01:28 PM

What you need to know

For those of you who are just joining us, here is a roundup of today's main events:

  • A former mayor of a Russian city has been appointed to head a new Russian-installed government in northeastern Ukraine.

  • Re-branded as Stars Coffee, the successor of Starbucks welcomed its first visitors in Moscow on Friday after the Seattle-based coffee shop chain withdrew from the Russian market.

  • Rescuers are scrambling to find survivors under the wreckage of a dormitory in Kharkiv damaged in the recent attack on Ukraine’s second largest city.

  • UN chief Antonio Guterres is expected in war-scarred southern Ukraine's main port of Odessa today.

  • Rishi Sunak has called on the G20 to bar Vladimir Putin from its meetings until Moscow halts the war in Ukraine, his spokesman has said.

  • Russia has failed to gain ground in cyberspace against Ukraine almost six months after its invasion of the country, the head of Britain's GCHQ intelligence service has said.

  • Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine during his first face-to-face talks with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, since Russia's invasion began, echoing pleas from the UN's chief.

01:06 PM

Listen: Ukraine the latest

To catch the latest on Ukraine from our Defence and Security Editor Dominic Nicholls and Social Media Editor David Knowles, listen to our daily Twitter space here.

12:37 PM

Pro-Putin rapper opens Starbucks successor in Moscow

Re-branded as Stars Coffee, the successor of Starbucks welcomed its first visitors in Moscow on Friday after the Seattle-based coffee shop chain withdrew from the Russian market over the conflict in Ukraine.

Pro-Kremlin rapper Timati and Russian restaurateur Anton Pinskiy acquired Starbucks' Russian operations in July and gave it a new name under the slogan "bucks is gone, stars stay".

"Why STARS? The new brand unites the stars of the gastronomic industry," the new owners of the coffee chain said on their website which also features its new logo.

Looking very similar to it predecessor, the logo replaces Starbuck's iconic twin-tailed mermaid with a woman wearing a traditional Russian headdress, the kokoshnik.

Patrons will find familiar caffeinated beverages on the menu but no Starbucks-patented Frappuccinos.

The new chain will also continue the Starbucks tradition of writing customers' names on cups when taking their order.

Starbucks temporarily closed its 130 coffee shops in Russia at the start of Moscow's February military intervention in Ukraine, later announcing that it will permanently leave the Russian market after nearly 15 years.

12:16 PM

Former Russian mayor appointed head of Russian-occupied Kharkiv

A former mayor of a Russian city has been appointed to head a new Russian-installed government in northeastern Ukraine, the latest in a string of such appointments which Kyiv says are part of attempts to annexe its territory.

Andrei Alekseyenko resigned as mayor of Krasnodar, Russia's sixteenth-largest city, on Thursday. He will now head a new Russian-appointed council of ministers in the Kharkiv province, Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported on Friday, citing a decree by the local Russian-installed administration.

The province, which has been partially occupied by Russian troops, surrounds Ukraine's second biggest city Kharkiv. It lies north of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions which Moscow is seeking to capture on behalf of separatist proxy forces who have declared independence from Kyiv.

Russian officials have previously said that occupied areas of Ukraine will never return to Kyiv's control, and that referendums on their accession to Russia may be held in the autumn. Ukraine has called them "pseudo-referendums" and vowed to prevent them.

11:50 AM

Italian newspapers slam Russian election 'interference'

Italy's main newspapers issued front-page warnings Friday of alleged Russian interference in the upcoming election, in response to comments from Russia's former president urging Europeans to "punish" their "stupid" governments.

Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday called for Europeans to be "not only outraged at the actions of their governments... but to hold them to account and punish them for their obvious stupidity".

"Act, European neighbours! Don't remain silent! Demand accountability!" he said on Telegram.

Following Medvedev's comments, The Repubblica and Il Messaggero front pages wrote of Russian "interference" Friday, while the Corriere della Sera said Russia was "agitating" political waters ahead of the vote.

The government of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, providing Kyiv with military and humanitarian support.

11:26 AM

Rescuers search for survivors in Kharkiv

Rescuers are scrambling to find survivors under the wreckage of a dormitory in Kharkiv damaged in the recent attack on Ukraine’s second largest city.

Volodymyr Tymoshko, the head of Kharkiv Oblast police, said 19 people were confirmed dead, including a child, and 20 injured in shelling today.

It is thought that the death toll could rise.

A building of the Kharkiv National Technical University heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, as Russia's attack continues in Kharkiv - REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi
A building of the Kharkiv National Technical University heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, as Russia's attack continues in Kharkiv - REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi

11:05 AM

Russian military control of Zaporizhzhia plant guarantees no 'Chernobyl scenario'

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said that Russia's military presence at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is a guarantee against what he called a "Chernobyl scenario", referring to the 1986 nuclear catastrophe.

Yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechaev said that a UN proposal to demilitarise the area around the nuclear plant was "unacceptable".

The statement comes as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will discuss the the nuclear plant issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"We will discuss this issue with Putin and ask him specifically for Russia to do what it must as an important step for world peace," Mr Erdogan said.

10:49 AM

UN chief to visit Odesa

UN chief Antonio Guterres is expected in war-scarred southern Ukraine's main port of Odessa today, a day after he said Turkey and Ukraine hoped to scale up their landmark grain export deal with Russia.

The visit is due as Russian forces pursued a relentless bombardment campaign in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, with Kyiv reporting five people killed across the industrial province of Donetsk in the last 24 hours.

As part of the his visit to Ukraine, he met with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who helped broker the grain deal inked in Istanbul, and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

At a joint press conference with the three leaders, Mr Guterres said the United Nations aimed to "scale-up" operations under the deal ahead of winter.

The only significant agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far seen 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tonnes of agricultural products depart from three designated ports, Kyiv has said.

10:34 AM

Vladimir Putin should be barred from G20 - Rishi Sunak

Further to our post at 5.51am, Rishi Sunak has called on the G20 to bar Vladimir Putin from its meetings until Moscow halts the war in Ukraine, his spokesman has said.

Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will attend the G20 summit on the resort island of Bali this November, a longtime adviser to the Indonesian president said earlier.

"Our G20 partners and allies have a collective responsibility to call Putin’s abhorrent behaviour out. Sitting round a table with him isn’t good enough when he is responsible for children being killed in their beds as they sleep," a spokesman for Mr Sunak said.

"We need to send a strong message to Putin that he doesn't have a seat at the table unless and until he stops his illegal war in Ukraine."

As head of the G20 this year, Indonesia has faced pressure from Western countries to withdraw its invitation to Putin over his country's invasion on Ukraine, which his government calls a "special military operation".

Indonesia has also invited Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky to attend the summit.

10:09 AM

Russia plans to disconnect nuclear plant's blocks from grid - Kyiv

Ukraine's Energoatom state nuclear company said on Friday Russian forces planned to switch off the functioning power blocks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and to disconnect them from the Ukrainian power grid.

In a statement, Energoatom said it believed that Russia, which controls the power plant in southern Ukraine, was preparing to conduct a "large-scale provocation" there. Moscow itself accused Kyiv of preparing a "provocation" at the site on Thursday.

09:46 AM

Kharkiv today, in pictures

Ukraine war: Four powerful explosions rock major military airport in Crimea - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukraine war: Four powerful explosions rock major military airport in Crimea - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukraine war: Four powerful explosions rock major military airport in Crimea - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukraine war: Four powerful explosions rock major military airport in Crimea - STRINGER/REUTERS

09:28 AM

Ukrainian forces fire US-supplied howitzers on the front line

09:04 AM

Vladimir Putin 'losing information war', says UK spy chief

Russia has failed to gain ground in cyberspace against Ukraine almost six months after its invasion of the country, the head of Britain's GCHQ intelligence service has said.

Jeremy Fleming, the intelligence head, in an op-ed in The Economist, wrote that both countries have been using their cyber capabilities in the war in Ukraine.

"So far, president Putin has comprehensively lost the information war in Ukraine and in the West. Although that's cause for celebration, we should not underestimate how Russian disinformation is playing out elsewhere in the world," Mr Fleming wrote.

"Just as with its land invasion, Russia's initial online plans appear to have fallen short. The country's use of offensive cyber tools has been irresponsible and indiscriminate."

Mr Fleming said Russia had deployed WhisperGate malware to destroy and deface Ukrainian government systems.

He also said Russia has used the same playbook before on Syria and the Balkans and said online disinformation is a major part of Russia's strategy. However, the GCHQ has been able to intercept and to provide warnings in time, he said.

Without going into much detail, Fleming said the UK's National Cyber Force could respond to Russia by deploying a UK military unit that employs offensive cyber tools.

08:44 AM

Russian military vehicles seen inside Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

08:32 AM

Russia's 'most expensive plane' shot down over Kharkiv

08:16 AM

‘We were turned into feral savages’, says ex Russian soldier of his time in Ukraine

Pavel Filatyev has published a personal account of his experiences on the frontline, one of the most detailed by any serving Russian soldier, reports our Brussels correspondent Joe Barnes.

The state of Russia’s military was so poor before the invasion of Ukraine its forces had to buy their own kit, were handed rusted rifles and slept among stray dogs, a former paratrooper wrote in the first tell-all account of the war.

Pavel Filatyev, 34, stormed the southern port city of Kherson from occupied Crimea with his elite parachute regiment in February when Russian troops entered Ukraine.

In his 141-page memoir of the early conflict, the soldier revealed they were sent across the border ravaged by hunger, with little in the way of tactics and almost no knowledge of the wider war.

You can read Joe's report in full here.

08:01 AM

Pledges to Ukraine by European nation

07:40 AM

A-levels 2022: Ukrainian student who became British army translator aces exams

A Ukrainian student who became a translator for the British Army after Russia invaded his home country has aced his A-levels.

Zorian Tytych, 18, got four As and has been given a place at Durham University while his father fights on the front line.

The teenager came to the UK to study prior to the outbreak of war and watched in horror as his family fled from his home city of Kyiv.

You can read the remarkable tale in full here.

07:16 AM

Latest MoD update

05:55 AM

Turkish leader warns of 'another Chernobyl'

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine during his first face-to-face talks with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, since Russia's invasion began, echoing pleas from the UN's chief.

A flare-up in fighting around Europe's largest nuclear facility in Russian-controlled southern Ukraine has sparked urgent warnings from world leaders, and UN chief Antonio Guterres cautioned during talks with Mr Erdogan that any damage to the plant would be akin to "suicide".

"We are worried. We don't want another Chernobyl," Mr Erdogan said during a press conference in the eastern city of Lviv, during which he also assured the Ukrainian leader that Ankara was a firm ally.

"While continuing our efforts to find a solution, we remain on the side of our Ukraine friends."

Mr Guterres said he was "gravely concerned" about the situation at the plant and that it had to be demilitarised, adding: "We must tell it like it is – any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide."

05:51 AM

Putin and Xi 'to attend' G20 summit in Bali

Chinese and Russian leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin will attend the G20 summit on the resort island of Bali this November, a longtime adviser to the Indonesian president said on Friday.

Andi Widjajanto, former cabinet secretary and unofficial adviser to President Joko Widodo, who is popularly known as Jokowi, told Reuters the two leaders would join the summit.

"Jokowi told me that Xi and Putin are both planning to attend in Bali," Widjajanto, who heads the National Resilience Institute, told Reuters.

On Thursday, Jokowi told Bloomberg News that both leaders had given him their assurances.

03:50 AM

Leaders seek to avoid nuclear disaster

The UN chief and the presidents of Turkey and Ukraine have discussed ways to end the war started by Russia and secure Europe's largest nuclear power station, as Russia and Ukraine traded accusations of new shelling near the plant.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after talks in Lviv on Thursday that he was gravely concerned about circumstances at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and called for military equipment and personnel to be withdrawn.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he, Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed building on a recent positive atmosphere to revive peace negotiations with Russia that took place in Istanbul in March.

Read more: Ukraine accuses Russia of plotting ‘false flag’ attack on nuclear power plant

03:19 AM

‘London says hi’: Britons put personalised messages on Ukrainian missiles

Britons are forking out up to £2,500 to place personalised messages on Ukrainian missiles and even tanks, in the latest scheme to crowdfund support against the Russian invasion.

Since Feb 24, when Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine, various crowdfunding websites have been set up to encourage Westerners to donate to the Ukrainian military.

But one new website has a personal twist – Sign My Rocket, which Britons are using to place messages such as “London says hi” onto missiles before they are launched at Russian targets.

Anton Sokolenko, a volunteer at Sign My Rocket, said “95 per cent” of donations were being sent by English-speaking customers, with the majority based in the United States.

Read more: Britons pay to personalise messages on Ukrainian missiles

A Ukrainian rocket destined for Russian targets with a special message from Britons 
A Ukrainian rocket destined for Russian targets with a special message from Britons

02:44 AM

TV host crowdfunds satellite to help take down Russians

A well-known Ukrainian TV host has crowdfunded a gift to help Ukraine's armed forces beat back Russia's invasion: usage rights to a radar satellite that can see through clouds.

TV star Serhiy Prytula and Finnish satellite company ICEYE OY confirmed the deal in separate statements on Thursday.

"The contract signed with the Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation will initially provide the Government of Ukraine with the full capabilities for one of ICEYE's satellites already in orbit," the company said.

"In addition, ICEYE will provide access to its constellation of SAR satellites, allowing the Ukrainian Armed Forces to receive radar satellite imagery on critical locations with a high revisit frequency," it said on its website.

The satellites differ from conventional ones due to their synthetic radar imaging technology, which can produce high-resolution images at night, and see through cloud cover, ICEYE says.

"I dont know of any other cases in history when people, young and old, came together and bought a satellite for their state," Mr Prytula said in a video posted on YouTube.

02:10 AM

In Moscow and missing Starbucks? Try 'Stars'

People in Moscow who were disappointed when Starbucks closed its coffee shops after Russia sent troops into Ukraine may now feel a caffeine jolt of hope: a nearly identical coffee shop is opening in the capital.

The name is almost the same: Stars Coffee. The logo could be the twin of the Starbucks mermaid, with flowing hair, a small enigmatic smile and a star atop her head – though instead of a Starbucks crown she wears a Russian headdress called a kokoshnik.

The menu, judging by the company app introduced a day before the store's formal opening on Friday, would look familiar to any Starbucks customer.

Seattle-based Starbucks was one of the most visible of the wave of foreign companies that pulled out of Russia or suspended their operations in response to Russia's military operation in Ukraine. Others include McDonald's, IKEA and fast-fashion giant H&M.

Starbucks said on Thursday it had no comment on the new stores.

The Stars Coffee logo is seen after former Starbucks coffee shops are reopened as Stars Coffee in Moscow - GETTY IMAGES
The Stars Coffee logo is seen after former Starbucks coffee shops are reopened as Stars Coffee in Moscow - GETTY IMAGES
Workers of the Stars Coffee show coffee cups with logo of Stars Coffee - GETTY IMAGES
Workers of the Stars Coffee show coffee cups with logo of Stars Coffee - GETTY IMAGES
Staff members get ready for the launching of the new coffee shop "Stars Coffee"  - REUTERS
Staff members get ready for the launching of the new coffee shop "Stars Coffee" - REUTERS

01:18 AM

Zelensky annoyed by translator

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, irked by a translator's failure to interpret his comments properly into English at a major news conference, on Thursday took over the job himself.

Zelensky – who prefers to speak Ukrainian in public – acted after the interpreter cut short his remarks during an event with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Turning towards the interpreter, he said pointedly: "And I said about the window of possibilities. I said that it couldn't be solved because... we see each day guns and firing from the Russian side".

He continued: "And I said 'Slava Ukraini' (Glory to Ukraine)".

"Glory to Ukraine," the translator quickly replied.

"Thank you so much. It's important," Mr Zelensky said with evident irritation.

Volodymyr Zelensky - EPA
Volodymyr Zelensky - EPA

01:16 AM

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