Ukraine war – latest: Russian exodus to Finland ‘intensifies’ despite Moscow’s denials

Full speech: Zelensky tells UN Ukraine is ready for ‘true, honest and fair peace’

The number of Russians arriving at the border with Finland has “intensified during the night”, a Finnish official has said, following Vladimir Putin’s order to partially mobilise the country for its war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin insisted reports of an exodus of draft-age men were “exaggerated”, and a Finnish border guard chief said the numbers arriving at the vast frontier were still small compared to pre-pandemic levels. However most flights from Moscow appeared to be either selling out or soaring to costs of more than £4,000.

It came as police arrested more than 1,300 people at protests held in at least 39 cities across Russia in response to Mr Putin’s order for as many as 300,000 military reservists to prepare for service in his country’s struggling war.

Building on Mr Putin’s dramatic nuclear threat on Wednesday as he announced four referenda on joining Russia in seized Ukrainian regions, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow could use tactical nuclear weapons to defend any newly-annexed territories.

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Voices | Britain needs a strategy for standing with Ukraine – for as long as it takes

Writing in The Independent, Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey warns that Vladimir Putin’s announcements yesterday “show he believes he can still bully the West into accepting the long-term Russian retention of illegally-occupied Ukrainian territory”.

He writes: “Our Western leadership challenge is to demonstrate we will stand with Ukraine for the long-term and we will face down such intimidation.”

“ … A long-term strategy will reassure Ukrainians and send an unequivocal message to Putin that Britain will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to see off Russian aggression. This is the best response to Russia’s latest escalation in rhetoric, and the best way we can help ensure Ukraine wins and Putin’s invasion really does end in failure.”

You can read his thinking in full here:

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Watch: Liz Truss tells UN Putin is ‘trying to justify his catastrophic failures’

Liz Truss has pledged that the UK will continue to support Ukraine during a speech at the UN general assembly, warning that “we cannot let up on dealing with the crisis”.

“No one is threatening Russia, yet as we meet here this evening, in Ukraine barbarous weapons are being used to kill and maim people,” the prime minister said. “Rape is being used as an instrument of war and families are being torn apart.

“And this morning we have seen Putin trying to justify his catastrophic failures.”

Liz Truss pledges UK support to Ukraine during UN speech

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Putin’s ‘sabre-rattling’ designed to ‘deter West from supporting Ukraine’

Pressed in the Commons about Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats, UK defence minister James Heappey described it as the “act of a desperate man who knows this is not going his way”.

Asked if the UK believes Mr Putin is bluffing, the minister said: “The government’s exact intelligence assessment is not something to be shared in the House.”

But he added: “We believe that it is sabre-rattling and we believe it is designed to try and put a wedge amongst the cohesion of the Western alliance and to deter us from supporting Ukraine at the exact moment Ukrainian troops seem to have the upper hand.”

Questioned about Nato’s response if Russia does use one of its weapons, Mr Heappey said: “I’m not going to discuss nuclear doctrine at the despatch box.”

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Estimated 25,000 Russians killed in Putin’s war, UK defence minister says

The UK believes that 25,000 Russians have been killed in Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Speaking in the Commons earlier, defence minister James Heappey told MPs that Russia “lacks sufficient manpower in the field to achieve its objectives”, adding: “Not only do Russian casualties continue to climb, with an estimated 25,000 Russian dead, but tens of thousands have been injured and tens of thousands more have already deserted.

“Russia’s war machine is now severely depleted with more than 3,000 armoured and protected vehicles destroyed, more than 400 artillery pieces decimated and scores of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and UAVs downed.

“Seven months into this conflict, Russia lacks sufficient manpower in the field to achieve any of its objectives and the mood of Moscow is changing quickly.”

Pressed about Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats, Mr Heappey described it as “nuclear sabre-rattling” before noting it is the “act of a desperate man who knows this is not going his way”.

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Analysis | How Western allies helped secure release of Britons captured in Ukraine

Months of secret international negotiations lay behind the release of captured British and Ukrainian fighters this week, the largest prisoner swap of the war so far.

A Western official told The Independent that it “became very clear that the Russians were very keen to get Medvedchuk as part of any agreement, they were pretty adamant”, adding: “It seemed Putin felt he had a duty to get him out.

“There was a lot of discussion in Kyiv about this. They obviously saw him as a major bargaining tool.”

Our world affairs editor Kim Sengupta has the full report here:

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Putin’s dramatic moves ‘spur’ Germany to continue supporting Ukraine

Russia’s partial mobilisation and the planned referenda in occupied parts of Ukraine will not dampen Germany’s military backing for Kyiv, the country’s defence minister has said.

“Rather, this reaction from Putin to Ukraine’s successes spurs us on to continue to support Ukraine and send this clear signal,” Christine Lambrecht said in Berlin following a meeting with her French counterpart.

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Teenager among six killed in strike on Donetsk market

A teenager was among at least six civilians killed in a missile strike on the centre of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Russian-backed authorities have alleged.

Both sides have blamed each other for the strike on a covered market in the centre of the regional capital of Donetsk, which is about to hold a so-called referendum on joining Russia.

“Ukraine’s military are firing on the centre of Donetsk,” the military headquarters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said on social media.

A Reuters journalist at the scene saw the body of a teenager and four others, along with several wounded citizens.

“According to the information received, six people were killed and six people were injured,” Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-installed mayor of Donetsk, claimed in a post on his Telegram channel.

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Zelensky hails ‘superheroes’ freed in Russian prisoner swap

Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the “superhero” Ukrainian commanders, including those who led the defence of Mariupol, who were freed by Russia as part of a huge and unexpected prisoner swap.

Under the terms of the deal, which Turkey helped broker, 215 Ukrainians – most captured after the fall of the port city – were released on Wednesday. In exchange, Ukraine sent back 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians.

“Five superheroes have been exchanged for 55 of those who deserve neither compassion nor pity,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly address, welcoming the broader release as “a victory for the country”.

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EU ‘will need joint position on Russians fleeing war’

The European Union will need to establish a joint position on requests for entry by Russians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, the bloc’s executive has said.

However, member states will have to assess requests on a case-by-case basis, taking into account fundamental rights and asylum procedure legislation, the European Commission said.

“There have been protests in a number of cities across Russia,” Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told a news briefing. “This is showing that the Russians are voting with their feet.”

“We as the European Union, in principle we stand in solidarity with the Russian citizens who have the courage and bravery to show their opposition to what the regime is doing, especially when it comes to this illegal war in Ukraine,” he added.

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Baltic nations refuse asylum for Russians fleeing Putin’s war

The three Baltic states have said they are not prepared to automatically offer asylum to Russians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s partial military mobilisation order, instead hoping that discontent with the Kremlin will grow in Russia.

In Latvia, foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said his country would not issue humanitarian or other visas to Russians seeking to avoid mobilisation, citing security reasons.

“We must not give in to (Mr Putin’s) blackmail and must support Ukraine as much as we can. Russia today is as dangerous to Europe and world peace as Nazi Germany was in the last century,” said Mr Rinkevics, according to the Baltic News Service (BNS).

Meanwhile, Lithuanian defence minister Arvydas Anusauskas said “being drafted into the army is not enough” of a reason for Russians to get asylum in his country, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, telling the Associated Press: “Political asylum is granted to those who are persecuted for their beliefs” or other similar reasons.

Yesterday, Estonian interior minister Lauri Laanemets called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “the collective responsibility of Russian citizens” and said allowing in those fleeing possible army service would violate European Union sanctions aimed at Moscow.

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