Russia-Ukraine war live: Putin says situation in illegally annexed parts of Ukraine ‘extremely difficult’ | Russia

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Putin says situation in illegally annexed parts of Ukraine ‘extremely difficult’

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said the situation in four areas of eastern Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – that Moscow illegally annexed in September was “extremely difficult”. Russia’s illegal annexation of the four territories, which together make up 15% of Ukraine, marked the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war and was condemned by Kyiv and its western allies as illegal.

Russia has suffered acute setbacks in the areas, halting its ambitions.

“The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult,” Putin said late on Monday in comments translated by Reuters.

Putin’s comments were made on Security Services Day, which is widely celebrated in Russia. Putin also ordered the Federal Security Services (FSB) to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to combat what he deemed the “emergence of new threats” from abroad.

Key events

Chinese-Russian naval drills to ‘further deepen’ ties

China says Chinese-Russian naval drills beginning Wednesday aim to “further deepen” cooperation between the sides whose unofficial anti-western alliance has gained strength since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, AP reports.

The drills will be held off the coast of Zhejiang province south of Shanghai through next Tuesday, according to a brief notice posted Monday by China’s Eastern Theater Command under the ruling Communist party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

“This joint exercise is directed at demonstrating the determination and capability of the two sides to jointly respond to maritime security threats … and further deepen the China-Russia comprehensive new-era strategic partnership of coordination,” the notice said.

Setting aside decades of mutual distrust, China and Russia have stepped up such drills as part of their aligning of foreign policies. China has refused to criticise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, or even to refer to it as such, has condemned western sanctions against Moscow and has accused Washington and Nato of provoking Vladimir Putin into taking action.

China declared a “no limits” friendship with Russia just weeks before the invasion and remains a major customer for Russian oil and gas bought at a heavy discount, although it is not known to have sold military hardware to Moscow.

Asked about Putin’s comment dismissing the prospect of Russia ‘absorbing’ Belarus, US state department spokesperson Ned Price said it should be treated as the “height of irony”, given it was “coming from a leader who is seeking at the present moment, right now, to violently absorb his other peaceful nextdoor neighbour.”

He added that Washington would continue to watch very closely whether or not Belarus would provide additional support to Putin and would respond “appropriately” if it does.

Putin was in Belarus on Monday, where he and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, hardly mentioning the war raging in nearby Ukraine at a late night joint news conference, Reuters reports.

Russian forces used Belarus as a launch pad for their abortive attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in February, and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity there for months.

Ukrainian joint forces commander Serhiy Nayev had said he believed the Minsk talks would address “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”.

But none of the journalists invited to speak asked Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – who has repeatedly said his country will not be drawn into Ukraine – about the war.

Belarus’s political opposition, largely driven into jail, exile or silence, fears a creeping Russian annexation or “absorption” of its much smaller Slavic neighbor which, like Russia, has been hurt by sweeping Western economic sanctions.

Both Putin and Lukashenko dismissed the idea. “Russia has no interest in absorbing anyone,” Putin said. “There is simply no expediency in this … It’s not a takeover, it’s a matter of policy alignment.”

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Putin says situation in illegally annexed parts of Ukraine ‘extremely difficult’

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said the situation in four areas of eastern Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – that Moscow illegally annexed in September was “extremely difficult”. Russia’s illegal annexation of the four territories, which together make up 15% of Ukraine, marked the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war and was condemned by Kyiv and its western allies as illegal.

Russia has suffered acute setbacks in the areas, halting its ambitions.

“The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult,” Putin said late on Monday in comments translated by Reuters.

Putin’s comments were made on Security Services Day, which is widely celebrated in Russia. Putin also ordered the Federal Security Services (FSB) to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to combat what he deemed the “emergence of new threats” from abroad.

Welcome and summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said the situation in four areas of eastern Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – that Moscow illegally annexed in September was “extremely difficult”. Russia’s illegal annexation of the four territories, which together make up 15% of Ukraine, marked the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war and was condemned by Kyiv and its western allies as illegal. Russia’s ambitions in eastern Ukraine have since ground to a halt, with high-profile retreats from key areas.

Putin’s comments came as Kyiv renewed calls for more weapons after Russian drones hit energy targets on Monday and as fears grow that Moscow’s ally Belarus – to Ukraine’s north – could open a new invasion front against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are marking the 300th day of the war. Below are the key recent developments:

  • Vladimir Putin has travelled to Belarus to meet the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, as fears grow in Kyiv that Moscow is pushing its closest ally to join a new ground offensive against Ukraine. Putin described the talks as “very productive” and insisted that Russia has no interest in “absorbing” anyone, adding that unspecified “enemies” wanted to stop Russia’s integration with Belarus. Lukashenko said high level Belarusian-Russian negotiations covered “the entire range of matters concerning Belarusian-Russian relations”.

  • Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, held talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Sergei Aleinik, in Minsk ahead of Putin’s visit. The foreign ministers discussed “specific topical issues, the efforts to counter the illegal sanctions of the West, as well as interaction on international platforms”, Belarusian state media cited Belarus’s foreign ministry as saying, as well as having “touched upon trade and economic cooperation matters and the implementation of joint projects”.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Georgia on Monday to allow its jailed former president to go abroad for treatment to safeguard his health.
    Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, was initially credited with implementing reforms. He was later sentenced to six years in prison on abuse of power charges his supporters say are politically motivated.

  • Belarus’s defence ministry said it had completed a series of inspections of its armed forces’ military preparedness, hours ahead of Putin’s visit to Minsk. Weeks of military manoeuvres and inspections have raised fears in Kyiv that Belarus, which acted as a staging post for Russia to launch its invasion of Ukraine in February, could be preparing to take a more active role in the conflict once again.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was ready for “all possible defence scenarios” against Moscow and its ally. “Protecting our border, both with Russia and Belarus, is our constant priority,” Zelenskiy said on Sunday after a meeting with Ukraine’s top military command. “We are preparing for all possible defence scenarios.”

  • The exiled Belarus opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has warned that the chances of Minsk sending soldiers into Ukraine “may increase in coming weeks”. Kyiv was “right to prepare” for Minsk to join Moscow’s new offensive because the probability “might increase in coming weeks”, Tsikhanouskaya said in an interview with Kyiv Post.

  • The head of Moldova’s security service, Alexandru Musteata, has warned of a “very high” risk of a new Russian offensive towards his country’s east. Russia still aims to secure a land corridor through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, Musteata said, adding that his agency believed Moscow was looking at several scenarios to reach Moldova and that it was possible an offensive would be launched in January-February or later in March-April.

  • A Russian drone attack caused “fairly serious” damage in the Kyiv region on Monday and three areas have been left without power supply, governor Oleksiy Kuleba said. Russia unleashed 35 “kamikaze” drones on Ukraine in the early hours of Monday as many people slept, hitting critical infrastructure in and around Kyiv in Moscow’s third air attack on the Ukrainian capital in six days.

  • Ukraine’s air force said it shot down 30 out of 35 of the Russian-launched Shahed drones overnight. The Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 kamikaze drones were reportedly launched from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov, the force added.

  • Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had shot down four US-made HARM anti-radiation missiles over the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, in the space of 24 hours, the state-run TASS news agency reported. One person died and several were injured by Ukrainian shelling in the region on Sunday morning, the region’s governor said.

  • The UN’s secretary general, António Guterres, said he believes Russia’s war in Ukraine “will go on” and does not see a prospect for “serious” peace talks in the immediate future. Speaking to reporters during his annual end-of-year conference in New York, Guterres said he “strongly hoped that peace could be reached in 2023, citing the “consequences” for Ukraine’s people, Russian society and the global economy if a deal is not found

  • Rishi Sunak said that the west should reject unilateral calls by the Kremlin for a ceasefire in Ukraine and focus on “degrading Russia’s capability to regroup and to resupply” at a meeting of European leaders in Latvia. The UK prime minister was speaking at a summit of the 10-country Joint Expeditionary Force in the Latvian capital at a time of heightened concern as to whether Britain will continue the robust support for Ukraine that began under Boris Johnson.

  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asked western leaders meeting in Latvia to ramp up the supply of a wide range of weapons systems to his country. He called on leaders “to do everything to accelerate the defeat” of Russia, and said supplying air defence systems to Kyiv would be “one of the most successful steps against Russian aggression and this step is required right now”.

  • EU ministers have agreed a plan to cap the price of gas, ending months of argument over how to handle the cost of soaring energy prices after Russia cut gas supplies to Europe. A gas price cap will kick in if prices on the main European gas exchange, the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF), exceed €180 (£157) a megawatt-hour for three consecutive working days, far lower than the European Commission’s original proposal of €275 a MWh, which had been derided by cap-supporting countries as a joke.

  • The Canadian government has announced plans to seize $26m in sanctioned assets from the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, with the proceeds from the forfeiture to go towards reconstruction in Ukraine and compensation of victims of the Russian invasion. The move marked the first case of the Canadian government using new powers to pursue the seizure of assets belonging to sanctioned individuals, it said in a statement.

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