Russia-Ukraine war live news: drone strike on Kyiv; UK to announce new artillery package | Ukraine

Flying drone with camera

Key events

Ukraine’s air force says it shot down 30 out of 35 Russian-launched Shahed drones overnight.

The Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 kamikaze drones were reportedly launched from the from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov, the force added.

ЗНИЩЕНО ТРИДЦЯТЬ “ШАХЕДІВ”

У ніч з 18 на 19 грудня 2022 російські окупанти атакували Україну дронами-камікадзе іранського виробництва «Shahed-136/131».

Загалом виявлено близько тридцяти п’яти баражуючих боєприпасів. pic.twitter.com/ykAUgc4yya

— Генеральний штаб ЗСУ (@GeneralStaffUA) December 19, 2022

Russian troops that were moved to Belarus in October to become part of a regional formation will conduct battalion tactical exercises, the Russian Interfax news agency reported on Monday, citing the Russian defence ministry.

Interfax cited the ministry’s statement as saying:

The final assessment of the combat capability and combat readiness of the units will be given by the command at the final stage of coordination – after the battalion tactical exercises have been conducted.”

It was not immediately clear when and where in Belarus the exercises will be conducted.

Belarus defence ministry said in October that 9,000 Russian troops were moving to the country as part of a “regional grouping” of forces to protect its borders.

Putin set to fly to Belarus

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is set to fly to Belarus on Monday amid fears he intends to pressure the former Soviet ally to join a new ground offensive against Ukraine and open a new front.

His visit for talks with the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, will be his first to Minsk since 2019. Ukrainian joint forces commander Serhiy Nayev said:

During (these talks) questions will be worked out for further aggression against Ukraine and the broader involvement of the Belarusian armed forces in the operation against Ukraine, in particular, in our opinion, also on the ground.”

Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhniy, told the Economist last week that Russia was preparing 200,000 fresh troops for a major offensive that could come from the east, south or even from Belarus as early as January, but more likely in spring.

There has been constant Russian and Belarusian military activity for months in Belarus. Russia also used its ally as a launch pad for an abortive attack on Kyiv in February.

Moscow and Minsk have since set up a joint regional unit of forces in Belarus and held numerous military exercises. Three Russian warplanes and an airborne early warning and control aircraft were deployed to Belarus last week.

Foreign diplomats say Lukashenko, a pariah in the west who relies heavily on Russian support, understands it would be a deeply unpopular step at home for him to commit troops to Ukraine. But he has already supported Russia’s war extensively.

Some military analysts see the manoeuvring as a ploy to make Ukraine commit forces to its north so it is more exposed to Russian assaults elsewhere.

UK to announce major new artillery package for Ukraine

The UK is set to announce a major new artillery package for Ukraine as British prime minister Rishi Sunak prepares to meet with his Nordic, Baltic and Dutch counterparts in Riga, Latvia, on Monday.

According to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office and as cited by Agence France-Presse, he will announce Britain’s intention to supply “hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition next year under a £250m ($304m) contract that will ensure a constant flow of critical artillery ammunition to Ukraine throughout 2023”.

The prime minister will travel to Latvia for the leaders’ gathering of Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) countries, including Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands, which will be addressed by Ukraine’s president, Volodomyr Zelenksiy.

From the Arctic Circle to the Isle of Wight, the UK and our European allies have been in lockstep in our response to the invasion of Ukraine, and we remain steadfast in our ambition for peace in Europe once again,” Sunak said ahead of the visit.

But to achieve peace, we must deter aggression and our deployments across the region together are vital in ensuring we are able to respond to the gravest of threats. I know this Joint Expeditionary Force summit will only underline our close friendships and unwavering support for Ukraine.”

No 10 said the meeting would also discuss intelligence sharing between JEF countries, threats to infrastructure and hybrid threats posed by Russian aggression and bolstering support to Finland and Sweden ahead of their accession to Nato. Further announcements on joint military exercises are also expected.

Sunak is then expected to fly on to Estonia, where he will meet UK and Nato troops serving on the military alliance’s eastern flank on the Russian border.

Two injured in Kyiv drone attack – reports

New information published by Ukrainian authorities suggests that Russia’s earlier drone attack on Kyiv damaged critical infrastructure and injured two people.

Kyiv’s regional governor, Oleksiy Kuleba, wrote on Telegram this morning:

Infrastructure objects and private houses were damaged as a result of a night drone attack in the Kyiv region … two victims. People are given help – they are under the supervision of doctors.”

Russia’s Wagner recruits likely threatened with execution if they deviate from assault plan, UK says

Russian military proxy group Wagner continues to take a major role in attritional combat around Bakhmut in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, the UK Ministry of Defence has said.

In recent months, the group has developed offensive tactics to make use of the large number of poorly trained convicts it has recruited, the ministry notes in its latest intelligence report.

Individual fighters are likely issued a smart phone or tablet which shows the individual’s designated axis of advance and assault objective superimposed on commercial satellite imagery.

At platoon level and above, commanders likely remain in cover and give orders over radios, informed by video feeds from small un-crewed aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Individuals and sections are ordered to proceed on the preplanned route, often with fire-support, but less often alongside armoured vehicles. Wagner operatives who deviate from their assault routes without authorisation are likely being threatened with summary execution.

These brutal tactics aim to conserve Wagner’s rare assets of experienced commanders and armoured vehicles, at the expense of the more readily available convict-recruits, which the organisation assesses as expendable.”

Kyiv hit by drone strike, officials say

At least two powerful explosions rocked Ukraine’s capital in the early hours of Monday morning, as officials claim the city was hit by a series of Russian drones.

Multiple local news sources reported the blasts in central Kyiv. Several loud blasts were also heard in the city’s surrounding regions, Reuters witnesses reported. A fire was also reported in Kyiv’s central Shevchenkivskyi district.

Ukraine’s armed forces first sounded the alarm in a Telegram alert about 2am local time, saying the military had sent air defences to protect the capital from drone attacks.

The Kyiv city state administration also sent an alert urging residents to seek shelter.

It later added that more than 20 Iranian-made drones were detected over Kyiv’s air space and at least 15 of them were shot down.

Oleksiy Kuleba, head of the Kyiv regional military administration, said air defence works were operating in the region and claimed the city was under a drone attack.

The drone attack continues,” he said.

Kyiv’s military administration later said that nine Iranian-made Shahed drones were shot down in Kyiv’s airspace. In a Telegram update, the administration said:

Air alert continues in Kyiv. The enemy is attacking the capital with ‘Shahed’ barrage ammunition. Air defence is being at work.”

It was not immediately clear whether the blasts were air defence systems destroying the drones or hitting targets.

⚡️Governor: Air defense at work in Kyiv Oblast amid drone attack.

Kyiv Oblast Governor Oleksiy Kuleba wrote on Telegram that the air defenses in Kyiv Oblast were operating “due to a Russian attack.”

Kuleba asked residents to stay in shelters as the “drone attack continues.”

— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) December 19, 2022

Summary and welcome

Hello and welcome back to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine. I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments as they unfold over the next few hours.

A series of explosions have rocked Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in the early hours of this morning, according to regional officials.

Meanwhile, the UK is set to announce a major new artillery package for Ukraine as British prime minister Rishi Sunak prepares to meet with his Nordic, Baltic and Dutch counterparts in Riga, Latvia, on Monday.

For any updates or feedback you wish to share, please feel free to get in touch via email or Twitter.

If you have just joined us, here are all the latest developments:

  • The UK is set to announce a major new artillery package for Ukraine as British prime minister Rishi Sunak prepares to meet with his Nordic, Baltic and Dutch counterparts in Riga, Latvia, on Monday. According to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office and as cited by Agence France-Presse, he will announce Britain’s intention to supply “hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition next year under a £250m ($304m) contract that will ensure a constant flow of critical artillery ammunition to Ukraine throughout 2023”.

  • Ukraine said Russian shelling targeted the southern city of Kherson on Sunday, which has faced repeated attacks since Kyiv’s forces recaptured it last month. “Another blow was delivered to the city centre. Three people were injured. They received shrapnel wounds, one wounded is in a serious condition,” deputy head of the president’s office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said. Regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevich said on Sunday that Moscow’s troops had carried out 54 attacks on Kherson region with artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, tanks and mortars over the previous day, leaving three dead and wounding six others.

  • Four people in the southern Russian border region of Belgorod were reportedly wounded by shelling on Sunday, the governor said. Witnesses reported loud blasts in the regional capital.

  • Ukraine’s forces are holding on to the heavily contested eastern city of Bakhmut, according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “The Bakhmut direction is key,” he said in his latest national address. “We keep the city, although the occupiers are doing everything so that not a single undamaged wall remains there.”

  • Power has been restored to three million more Ukrainians after the latest Russian attacks on infrastructure, bringing the total to nine million after two days, Ukraine’s president has said. “Electricity supplies have been restored to a further three million Ukrainians,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his Sunday evening video address. “That means after the terrorist strikes on Friday, we have results already for nine million of our people.” Heating has also been fully restored to Kyiv, the city’s mayor said.

  • Protecting Ukraine’s borders is a “constant priority” as the country readies for all possible scenarios with Russia and its ally Belarus, Zelenskiy added. “Protecting our border, both with Russia and Belarus – is our constant priority,” he said in his nightly video address. “We are preparing for all possible defence scenarios.” Zelenskiy also issued a new appeal to western nations to provide Ukraine with effective air defences.

  • Russia will reportedly deploy musicians to Ukraine’s frontlines in a bid to boost morale, according to its defence ministry. The “frontline creative brigade” will be tasked with maintaining “a high moral, political and psychological state [among] the participants of the special military operation,” Russian outlet RBC news cited the ministry as saying. UK defence officials said the new unit is in keeping with the historic use of “military music and organised entertainment” to boost morale as low morale continues to be a “significant vulnerability across much of the Russian force”.

  • Iran’s foreign ministry has said it will not “seek permission from anyone” to expand relations with Russia, dismissing US concerns over a growing military partnership between Tehran and Moscow. Iran has been accused of supplying drones to Russia, allegedly used to attack Ukraine. CIA chief William Burns said the military cooperation between Iran and Russia “poses real threats” to US allies in the Middle East. Nasser Kanani, spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, called the comments “baseless” adding that Tehran “acts independently in regulating its foreign relations and does not seek permission from anyone”.

  • Veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger believes the time is approaching for a negotiated peace in Ukraine. “The time is approaching to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation,” Kissinger wrote in The Spectator magazine. “A peace process should link Ukraine to Nato, h owever expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful,” he added. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed the comments as amounting to “appeasing the aggressor” and said there could be no deal involving ceding territory. “Any agreement with the devil – a bad peace at the expense of Ukrainian territories – will be a victory for Putin and a recipe for success for autocrats around the world,” he said in a statement on Telegram.

A woman walks on an empty street in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on 18 December.
A woman walks on an empty street in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on 18 December. Photograph: Reuters




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