Ukraine war latest: Russia 'now invading another country by stealth'; Putin 'extraordinarily unlikely' to use nuclear weapons (2023)

Key points
  • As dire threats of major attacks on West issued by Putin ally - and Russian state TV-why Russian president is 'extraordinarily unlikely' to use nuclear weapons
  • Two killed and 23 wounded in Russian attack on Ukrainian clinic
  • Russia moving troops and nuclear weapons to Belarus 'is an invasion by stealth'
  • Tactical nuclear weapons already on their way to Belarus, claims Lukashenko
  • NATO 'forcing Ukraine to fight in a way the West would not'
  • Prigozhin 'positioning himself as credible alternative' to Putint
  • Your questions answered: Can the UK defend itself after sending weapons to Ukraine?
  • Got a question about the war? Ask our experts
  • Live reporting by James Robinson and (earlier) Lucia Binding


Senior Putin ally says Ukraine war could 'last decades' - and warns West are underestimating risk of nuclear war

A senior ally of Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia's conflict with Ukraine could "last for decades", state media has reported.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chair of Russia's Security Council, also says peace talks are impossible while "the clown Zelenskyy" is in power.

"This conflict will last for a very long time. For decades, probably. This is a new reality," he is quoted to have said to TASS, a Russian state media agency.

Referring to "the clown Zelenskyy", he says: "Everything always ends in negotiations, and this is inevitable, but as long as these people are in power, the situation for Russia will not change in terms of negotiations."

Mr Medvedev - once an apparent liberal moderniser but now a staunchly anti-Western Putin ally - also takes aim at the West.

He warns that it is underestimating the risk of a nuclear war over Ukraine and says Russia will launch a "pre-emptive strike" if necessary.

He adds that arming Ukraine with nuclear weapons - a step no Western nation has publicly proposed - would mean a "nuclear war coming to them".

"The Anglo-Saxons do not fully realise this and believe that it will not come to this. It will under certain conditions," he says.


Brazil's president Lula da Silva says he 'can not go to Russia right now' - as he reiterates calls for peace

Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says he has turned down an invitation from Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

"I just spoke by phone with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin," he writes in a Tweet.

"I thanked him for an invitation to attend the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg, and replied that I could not go to Russia at the moment.

"But I reiterated Brazil's willingness, along with India, Indonesia and China, to talk to both sides of the conflict in pursuit of peace."

Earlier this month, he was due to meet Ukraine's president Zelenskyy while on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan.

However, the meeting did not go ahead, with the Brazilian leader later claiming it was because Mr Zelenskyy had been late.

"I think it disappointed him," Mr Zelenskyy said when asked about the missed meeting.

Mr da Silva, who goes by the name Lula, has refused to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and has instead attempted to position himself as a peacemaker in the conflict.

He previously angered Ukraine with his comments, including in May last year, when he said of Mr Zelenskyy: "I see the president of Ukraine,speaking on television, being applauded, getting a standing ovation by all the (European) parliamentarians."

"This guy is as responsible as Putin for the war," he told Time magazine.


Netherlands 'seriously considering' sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, says Dutch PM

The Netherlands has given the strongest indication yet that it may send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The country's prime minister, Mark Rutte, says that while no decision has yet been taken on whether to send the aircraft, his government is "seriously considering it".

It comes after the US agreed to allow the American-made fighter jets to be exported to Ukraine.

The Netherlands, along with the UK, Denmark and Belgium, have agreed to train Ukrainian pilots to use them.

However, as yet, no nation has committed to sending the jets themselves.

Asked at a news conference if the Netherlands would send the jets to Ukraine, Mr Rutte replies: "If you start training, it is obvious that is something you are seriously considering."

The Netherlands, along with Denmark, are thought to be one of the few countries able to send the fighter jets.

The UK, for instance, does not operate F-16s - instead it has Eurofighter Typhoons and the new state-of-the-art F-35s.

According to figures from the Dutch defence ministry, the Netherlands currently has 24 operational F-16s which will be phased out by mid-2024.

Another 18 of the jets are currently available for sale, of which 12 have been provisionally sold.


Russia moving troops and nuclear weapons to Belarus is an 'invasion by stealth,' says military analyst

Russia moving troops and nuclear weapons into Belarus are a form of "invasion by stealth", according to our military analyst Sean Bell.

This week, the two countries announced a deal to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Russia has already begun the transfer of the weapons - designed to be used in battlefield situations - according to Belarus's president Alexander Lukashenko.

Moscow says the move is due to threats to its borders - which it warns it will defend with its full might - following the recent Belgorod incursion.

Responding to the news, Bell says: "Putin has made clear he is looking to increase Russia's sphere of influence.

"There is a puppet regime in Belarus - but it is vulnerable in the long-term."

Russia has increased its military presence in the country in the past year, and launched part of its February 2022 Ukraine offensive from Belarus.

Russian air strikes have also been launched against Ukraine from Belarus.

"All of this increases Russian influence, and crucially increases the number of Russian soldiers in Belarus," he says.

"Lukashenko is kept in power by Putin and is described as Europe's last dictator. But he treads a difficult line.

"He needs to avoid more domestic riots against his regime, but also needs to maintain alignment with his Russian master.

"Regardless, this is almost certainly about Russia tightening noose on Belarus. A form of Russian invasion - by stealth."

The weapons are apparently being moved into Belarus, despite a special storage facility to house the weapons still being under construction.

Bell says the move, on face value, is "all about Russia fanning flames of nuclear rhetoric".

"It is about reminding the West of the dangers of their involvement in the Ukraine conflict," he adds.


Boris Johnson 'tells Donald Trump Ukraine victory is important during meeting'

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken to Donald Trump about the "vital importance" of a Ukrainian victory over Russia.

According to a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr Johnson - who has been one of the most vocal supporters of Ukraine - made the comments during a meeting in the US with the former Republican president, who is running to return to the White House in 2024.

It comes after Mr Trump refused to say he wanted Ukraine to win the war, during a recent town hall event with CNN.

He said then that he did not "think in terms of winning and losing".

"I want everybody to stop dying. They’re dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying," he said.

He also refused to commit to continuing to support Ukraine with military aid if he wins the 2024 presidential race.

He said: "We’re giving away so much equipment, we don’t have ammunition for ourselves right now."

Mr Trump has previously claimed that Russia's February 2022 invasion "would not have happened" if he was in the White House.


Your questions answered: What are the chances of a perpetual war between Russia and Ukraine?

We've been putting your questions on the Ukraine war to our experts.

One reader, John from Northampton, asks what are the chances of a perpetual war between Ukraine and Russia and whether Ukraine has the military capability to stop Russia from attacking.

Ourmilitary analyst Sean Bellanswers this one…

To answer this question, we need to look at why Russia invaded Ukraine.

Crimea has strategic importance for Russia, primarily due to enabling access to the warm-water port of Sevastopol.

Although Crimea was “gifted” by the Former Soviet Union (FSU) to Ukraine in the 1950s, at that time Ukraine was a “county” or region of the FSU, so the transfer of ownership was an administrative matter; Crimea gets its electricity and fresh water from Ukraine.

Following the collapse of the FSU, Russia and Ukraine nearly went to war over Crimea.

Most western analysts believe that Russia was becoming increasingly concerned that Ukraine would turn to NATO to provide national security, and so invaded Crimea in 2014 to avoid losing that strategic asset.

At the same time, Russia initiated an insurgency in the Donbas region.

Why President Putin decided to invade Ukraine in February 2022 only he can know.

However, he has made clear that the collapse of the FSU was humiliating for Russia, and that he aspires to make Russia “great” again.

Although NATO is a defensive alliance, Putin has become increasingly concerned at the steady expansion of this western military capability, and creating a “buffer zone” between Russia and NATO was evidently an ambition.

Russia believes that Russians and Ukrainians are one-people, fellow Slavs, so one justification for this conflict is to “liberate” fellow countrymen and restore the FSU.

Putin would have expected his invasion of Ukraine to be relatively swift and simple – his military dwarfed that of Ukraine.

However, Putin has now got Russia embroiled in a grinding war of attrition that is having grave consequences for his own economy, the Russian people, and Russia’s status in the world.

If nothing changes, Putin will be obliged to play the “long game” and the conflict could continue for many years.

However, Putin will know that his ambition to subjugate Ukraine is not achievable, so the challenge is to find a way to bring the conflict to an end; this will involve difficult compromises.

One of the significant challenges will be to provide robust security guarantees to Ukraine.

In 1994 Russia and the USA provided “cast iron” guarantees that Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders would be respected in return for Ukraine relinquishing its nuclear weapons.

Twenty years later, Russia tore up that agreement.

Ukraine will not meet the NATO membership requirements for many years, so an important challenge will be to find a way to provide post-conflict security as a deterrent for further Russian attacks.

This will likely include some form of international peace-keeping force that will be vital to preserve the peace.

Got a question? Submit it, and read more expert answers, here...


US Secretary of State to visit Nordic countries to discuss 'continued support' for Ukraine

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will visit Sweden, Norway and Finland next week to discuss 'continued support' for Ukraine.

Mr Blinken will give a speech in Helsinki on Friday to "highlight all the ways in which Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been a strategic failure, and our continued efforts to support Ukraine’s defence of its territory, sovereignty, and democracy in pursuit of a just and durable peace."

During the trip, Mr Blinken, whose role is akin to that of a foreign secretary, will lead a meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council.

He will also participate in a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo, Norway on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss preparations for the group's July summit in Lithuania.

Mr Blinken will then head to Finland to meet with leaders of the newest NATO member, including the country's caretaker Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who is stepping down after her party lost in last month's elections.

Finland, which shares a border with Russia, formally joined NATO in April in a historic policyshift brought on by the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.


More pictures from Dnipro after Russian missile strikes

More pictures out of Dnipro here, which show firefighters dampening down a fire at a bombed-out clinic in the central Ukrainian city.

At least two people have been killed and 23 wounded, including two children, in Russian missile strikes, Ukrainian officials said.

PresidentVolodymyr Zelenskiy described the attack as a crime against humanity.


Pope says return of Ukraine's territory from Russia is a 'political issue'

When discussing the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis has consistently emphasised the need for peace over conflict.

His latest comments suggest he will continue to do so - despite his meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month.

In a new interview, the pontiff describes calls for Russia to return Ukraine's territory - a request which Ukraine says could kick-start the path to peace - as a "political issue".

"Peace will be achieved once they can talk to each other, face to face or through intermediaries," he told US-based Spanish language network, Telemundo television.

"If they don't talk … it's a political issue".

Pope Francis has been diplomatic in his approach to the conflict - in the hopes of being a mediator.

But he has, as the war has waged on, taken a more condemnatory tone with Russia's Vladimir Putin, with strong criticism of his annexation of four Ukrainian regions in October last year.

"My appeal goes above all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop this spiral of violence and death, even out of love for his own people," the religious leader said on that occasion.

But he has also previously called on Mr Zelenskyy to enter negotiations, and in March hit out at "imperial interests... elsewhere" for fuelling the war - a line often pushed by the Kremlin and its backers.


Your questions answered: 'Dying like cattle' in a war of attrition?

We have been receiving your questions to put to our experts and military analysts.

Sky News reader Danny asked whether it's accurate to characterise the conflict as a war of attrition reminiscent of Soviet strategy, in which the Russians threw manpower at the opposition "until they submit".

Dominic Waghorn, our international affairs editor, writes...

We visited Chechens fighting the Russians at the end of last year in Bakhmut who told us the Russians were driving their men forward to die like cattle.

Other reports claim Russian officers command from the rear ordering soldiers into battle observing them by drones and threatening to shoot them if they deviate from their orders.

The Russian strategy does not favour quality: of men, of arms of training or calibre of commanders. It favours quantity, just as it did in the Second World War, where Russians prevailed simply because they poured enough men into battles like Stalingrad, grinding down the Germans to eventual defeat.

The challenge for Russia is finding an offensive capability again. The challenge for Ukrainians is launching a decisive offensive against an enemy that is well dug in and for now seems to have a limitless source of manpower.

And ultimately Ukraine depends on democracies to keep supporting it and sending weapons. The appetite for sustained support in those democracies, particularly in America, cannot be taken for granted.

As an authoritarian government, Putin's regime can keep this up indefinitely barring a popular uprising - out of the question for now - or a palace putsch, which is not likely either.

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