UK doubles down on Ukraine support after Putin accuses West of playing ‘dangerous, bloody game’

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has hit out at Vladimir Putin after the Russian president launched his latest tirade against the West, accusing it of playing a “dangerous, bloody and dirty game”.

Mr Cleverly said the UK was sending a “crystal clear” message that “aggressors must not be able to invade their neighbours with impunity” after Putin attempted to justify his Ukraine invasion during a lengthy TV appearance on Thursday afternoon.

Speaking during a televised question-and-answer session at a pro-Kremlin think tank, the Russian leader said: “Power over the world is what the so-called West has put on the line in its game - but the game is dangerous, bloody and I would say dirty.”

He also tried to defend Moscow’s attempted annexation of four Ukrainian regions, claiming the eastern Donbas region would “not have survived” on its own had Russia not invaded.

Putin spoke out at televised Q+A at a pro-Kremlin think tank (AP)
Putin spoke out at televised Q+A at a pro-Kremlin think tank (AP)

Putin last month announced that Russia was formally incorporating four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine in breach of international law after staging so-called “referendums” in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary doubled down on his support for Ukraine following Putin’s remarks.

Mr Cleverly tweeted: “Putin's message today to the Russian people is unclear, untrue and unedifying.

“What is crystal clear, is our message to the world:

“Aggressors must not be able to invade their neighbours with impunity.

“We will resolutely support Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy."

Putin showed no regrets over the invasion he launched on February 24 but claimed he “always thinks” about Russian soldiers who have died, as he continued to peddle the line that Moscow had no choice but to launch its “special military operation”.

Numbers of Russian casualties are not known exactly, but two months ago a senior Pentagon official estimated as many as 80,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the war began.

The invasion has also taken a severe toll on the country’s civilian population. Last month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 16,150 civilian casualties in the country with 6,374 killed and 9,776 injured.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says one third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes with around 6.4 million displaced internally within Ukraine while around 7.7 million have fled the country.

Putin also repeated Russia’s latest allegation - that Ukraine was planning to use a so-called “dirty bomb” to spread nuclear material, which the United States, Britain and France have called “transparently false”.

Ukrainian soldiers target their mortar in the front line position near Bakhmut (AP)
Ukrainian soldiers target their mortar in the front line position near Bakhmut (AP)

However his rhetoric on nuclear weapons was perhaps less alarming and inflammatory than previous remarks, which include thinly-veiled threats to use them to defend his newly-seized territory in Ukraine.

He claimed Russia had not threatened to use nuclear weapons and had only responded to nuclear “blackmail” from Western leaders, singling out former British Prime Minister Liz Truss.

It comes as battles for control of the southern city of Kherson intensified on Thursday.

Moscow-appointed authorities were revealed to have fled Kherson along with tens of thousands of residents as Kyiv’s forces attacked Russia’s hold on the city.

Amid the fighting, a senior Russian official warned that Western commercial satellites used for military purposes in support of Ukraine were a “legitimate target for a retaliatory strike”.

Ukraine has pushed ahead with an offensive to reclaim the Kherson region and its capital of the same name, which Russian forces captured during the first days of a war now in its ninth month.

More than 70,000 residents from the Kherson city area have evacuated in recent days, the region’s Kremlin-installed governor, Vladimir Saldo, said on Thursday.

Members of the Russia-backed regional administration were included in the evacuation, the deputy governor, Kirill Stremousov said.

Monuments to Russian heroes were moved, along with the remains of Grigory Potemkin, the Russian general who founded Kherson in the 18th century. They were kept at the city’s St Catherine’s Church.

Ukrainian forces were surrounding Kherson from the west and attacking Russia’s foothold on the west bank of the Dnieper River, which divides the region and the country.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces continued to bombard the Donestsk region city of Bakhmut, making slow gains toward the centre.

Amid the heavy combat on two fronts, a Russian official warned that the West could become part of the conflict.

The deputy head of Russia’s delegation at a United Nations arms control panel, Konstantin Vorontsov, described the use of US and other Western commercial satellites for military purposes during the fighting in Ukraine as “extremely dangerous”.

“The quasi-civilian infrastructure could be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike” Mr Vorontsov warned without elaborating.

As they have all month, Russian forces carried out attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure that have caused increasing worry ahead of winter.

A Russian drone attack early on Thursday hit an energy facility near the capital, causing a fire, said Kyiv region governor, Oleksiy Kuleba. He said in a video statement that the latest attacks inflicted “very serious damage”.

“The Russians are using drones and missiles to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of the winter and terrorise civilians,” Mr Kuleba said in televised remarks.

Mr Kuleba announced new rolling blackouts and urged consumers to save power. He said authorities were still pondering over specifics of the blackouts needed to restore the damaged power facilities.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said rolling blackouts would also be introduced in the neighbouring Chernihiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regions.

Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has said that Russian attacks have already destroyed 30% of the country’s energy infrastructure.