Russia-Ukraine war live: Biden pledges to boost Ukraine’s air defence; EU and G7 leaders to meet to agree on more Russia sanctions

Key events

Russia wants to adjust the Black Sea grain initiative to ensure more food supplies go to the world’s poorest countries in Africa and Asia, the Russian TASS news agency quoted deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin as saying on Monday.

Grain has been exported from Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea since the deal was struck in July. It was briefly suspended in October, but it has been renewed since.

It was signed to enable Ukraine to start to export grain again, after ships had stopped because of fears they would be targeted by the Russian navy. Russia is also able to export grain and fertiliser.

Ukraine is one of the world leaders in producing wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil, and is known as the “breadbasket of Europe”.

A dispatch here from reporters working for Agence France-Presse in Bulgaria, as Russians in the seaside resort of Varna help Ukrainian refugees.

When Ukrainian Elena Bondarenko fled to Bulgaria after Russia invaded, she never imagined she would be taken in by a Russian there.

But that is exactly what happened to the bank clerk from Zaporizhzhia, one of many refugees fleeing the war who have been quietly sheltered by members of the country’s 17,500-strong Russian community.

Bondarenko and her mother and two small children were welcomed by a Russian who runs a children’s holiday camp near the Black Sea city of Burgas.

At first “it was a shock”, Bondarenko, 36, admitted. But “I am happy that not all Russians are aggressors.”

“When you are without a roof, and you need to save your children, it does not matter who helps you,” said another refugee, 34-year-old Anaida Petrushenko, who fled from Pavlohrad in eastern Ukraine with her three children.

“I never hid the fact that I am Russian because people saw that I wanted to help,” said the camp’s co-owner, who did not want to be named.

He has taken in about 160 Ukrainian refugees, some of whom were shown the door at nearby hotels when the tourist season started.

While a number of Russians in Bulgaria are helping refugees, a large swathe of the Balkan nation remains resolutely pro-Russian. And the Bulgarian government has often been less than welcoming when it comes to providing accommodation and support, forcing many Ukrainians to leave.

Of the 932,000, who fled to Bulgaria since the invasion, only 51,000 remain with less than 10,000 put up by the state, according to official data.

Indeed, the Russian who runs the holiday camp only gets a daily allowance of €7.50 ($7.90) per refugee from the Bulgarian government, and even these meagre payments are often delayed.

With 60 children and 50 elderly people to look after, the Russian and his Bulgarian partner are having to cover the extra costs themselves.

While they lambast the Bulgarian government for failing to provide language courses or help the refugees find work, with winter closing in they say they cannot close the camp.

Another Russian in Varna, Viktor Bakurevich, told AFP that he had “decided to take some responsibility for these people who have suffered from the war”.

“I do not believe in collective guilt but I do believe in collective responsibility,” said the father of three, who moved to Bulgaria 14 years ago and founded his Russian grocery chain Berezka.

This is Harry Taylor signing in from London, we’ll be bringing you more updates throughout the morning.

Ukraine’s top security officials have ordered punitive measures against seven senior clerics, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, part of a crackdown on a branch of the Orthodox church with longstanding ties to Moscow.

The clerics are among Orthodox leaders known to have been sympathetic to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Zelenskiy announced the measure in his nightly video address:

We are doing everything to ensure that no strings are available to be pulled by the aggressor state that could make Ukrainian society suffer.”

Under an order issued by Ukraine’s security council, all seven have had their assets seized and are subject to a ban on a range of economic and legal activities as well as a de facto travel ban.

A majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians and competition has been fierce between the branch of the church historically linked to Moscow and an independent church proclaimed after independence from Soviet rule in 1991.

The Moscow-linked church severed ties with the Russian Orthodox church after the February invasion, but many Ukrainians remain deeply suspicious of its motives. The Russian church wholeheartedly backs the invasion.

The security council last month ordered an investigation into the activities of the church and legislation is under consideration to limit its activities.

Ukraine’s SBU security service has been staging a series of raids of property owned by the Moscow-linked church and last week accused a senior cleric of engaging in anti-Ukrainian activity by supporting Russian policies in social media posts.

Russian soldiers unhappy with top brass, pro-Krelim blogger claims

Some Russian officers fighting in Ukraine are reportedly unhappy with the military top brass and president, Vladimir Putin, because of the poor execution of the war, an influential nationalist Russian blogger has said after visiting the conflict zone.

Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, said there was some discontent with the top brass.

In a scathing 90-minute video analysing Russia’s execution of the war, Girkin said the “fish’s head is completely rotten” and that the Russian military needed reform and an intake of competent people who could lead a successful military campaign.

Terrorist, murdered and Russian military “expert” Strelkov/Girkin criticizes Wagner lines (defense lines put up at 🇺🇦 occupied territories and some Russian territories).

“They are for money laundering and corruption but they are no use from a military perspective”

— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 9, 2022

Some at the mid-levels of the military, Girkin said, were open about their dissatisfaction with defence minister, Sergei Shoigu and even Putin.

It is not just me … people are not blind and deaf at all: people at the mid-level there do not even hide their views which, how do I put it, are not fully complimentary about the president or the defence minister.”

Girkin has repeatedly criticised Shoigu, a close Putin ally, for the battlefield defeats Russia has suffered in the war.

A senior Ukrainian presidential advisor has provided this quick update on the situation unfolding in Odesa after Russian forces hit two energy plants in the southern port city over the weekend, knocking out power to about 1.5 million people.

Anton Gerashchenko uploaded a short clip purportedly from a supermarket in Odesa.

“Many people still are without electricity after yesterday’s Russian attacks. The situation remains very difficult,” he tweeted.

Zelenskiy said in a Sunday night video address that the city was undergoing frequent power outages but supplies had been partially restored.

Supermarket in Odesa.

Many people still are without electricity after yesterday’s Russian attacks.

The situation remains very difficult.

— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 12, 2022

A fire has broken out at a shopping centre in Balashikha near Moscow, according to local media reports.

“There is a fire building materials in the shopping centre ‘Stroypark’ in the Savvino district,” a spokesperson for emergency services told RIA Novosti.

Building materials reportedly caught fire in an open area, spreading to the first floor of the building, according to the press service of the Moscow Region Directorate of the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Russia unlikely to extend control over Donetsk: UK MoD

Russia is likely still aiming to extend control over all of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions with Russian military planners likely still aiming to prioritise advancing deeper into Donetsk, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

However, Russia’s strategy is currently unlikely to achieve its objectives, the ministry suggests. The latest British intelligence report reads:

It is highly unlikely that the Russian military is currently able to generate an effective striking force capable of retaking these areas.

Russian ground forces are unlikely to make operationally significant advances within the next several months.”

Europe lacks critical defence capabilities, foreign policy chief says

The EU foreign policy chief has called for more work on European security and defence, urging the region to “spend better and cooperate more”.

In a statement published late on Sunday, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, said:

This war has also been a wake-up call for all of us about our military capabilities. We have given weapons to Ukraine, but in so doing, we realised that our military stockpiles have been depleted.

With conventional war returning to the heart of Europe, we also realised that we are lacking critical defence capabilities, to be able to protect ourselves from a higher level of threats on the European continent itself.”

Borrell also cited data from the EU defence agency showing Europeans are spending more on defence.

Europeans are clearly increasing their defence spending and capabilities … This is very much needed.

As we to keep supporting Ukraine, we must invest more together to prepare European armies [to] face a more dangerous world.

In a seperate statement, Borrell added:

Implementation has been advancing but now we need to accelerate mobilisation of our resources as Team Europe.

2023 will be a credibility test for the EU as a global power. Let’s deliver on it, together.”

“Now we must also spend better and cooperate more,” he added. “The threats we face are real, close-by and likely to get worse.”

EU foreign ministers to agree on €2bn arms deliveries to Ukraine

European Union foreign ministers and G7 leaders will meet today to try to agree on further sanctions on Russia and Iran and an additional €2bn ($2.11bn) for arms deliveries to Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will hold the online meeting. Zelenskiy also confirmed the talks would go ahead.

The G7 meeting will be held today – Ukraine will participate and now we have coordinated our positions with America,” he said.

However, it remains unclear whether Hungary will block some decisions, resorting to what diplomats have denounced as “blackmail diplomacy” due to a dispute over locked EU funds for Budapest.

“There is agreement, in principle, but there’s also the big elephant in the room,” a senior EU diplomat told reporters, referring to Budapest’s use of its veto power. “It’s a type of blackmail diplomacy that we would rather not see but it is what it is.”

Foreign ministers will discuss a ninth package of Russia sanctions that is set to place almost 200 more individuals and entities on the EU sanctions list.

They will also aim to top up by €2bn a fund member states have used to finance arms purchases for Kyiv, but which has been largely depleted over almost 10 months of the war in Ukraine.

Biden pledges to boost Ukraine’s air defences

Joe Biden has pledged to prioritise efforts to boost Ukraine’s air defence during a call to to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday.

Biden also welcomed Zelenskiy’s “stated openness to a just peace based on fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter,” according to a readout from the White House.

The US is prioritising efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s air defence through our security assistance, including the 9 December announcement of $275m in additional ammunition and equipment that included systems to counter the Russian use of unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Biden also highlighted the 29 November announcement of $53m to support energy infrastructure to strengthen the stability of Ukraine’s energy grid in the wake of Russia’s targeted attacks.

A fruitful conversation with @POTUS. I expressed gratitude for another security package. We discussed further defense cooperation, protection and maintenance of our energy sector. Coordinated positions on the eve of the #G7 online summit. America’s leadership remains steadfast!

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) December 11, 2022

Zelenskiy in turn thanked Biden for his “unprecedented defence and financial assistance”.

I thanked for the unprecedented defence and financial assistance that the USA provides to Ukraine.

This not only contributes to success on the battlefield, but also supports the stability of the Ukrainian economy.

We also appreciate the help that the USA is providing to restore Ukraine‘s energy system.”

Zelenskiy added that Russian missile strikes have led to the destruction of about 50% of Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

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.

European Union foreign ministers and G7 leaders will meet today to try to agree on further sanctions on Russia and Iran and an additional €2bn ($2.11bn) for arms deliveries to Ukraine.

The news comes after Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, spoke over the phone on Sunday. The US president pledged to prioritise efforts to boost Ukraine’s air defences.

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:

  • Ukraine attacked a barracks in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol over the weekend, with some Ukrainian sources claiming scores of Russian casualties. According to witnesses, 10 explosions were heard, although some of those may have been from Russian anti-aircraft systems. Ukrainian officials claimed scores of Russian dead and injured while Russia conceded a handful of casualties. The strike on the south-eastern city – reportedly with Himars rockets – was one of several on Russian bases. Explosions were also reported early on Sunday in the Russian occupied Crimea including Sevastopol and Simferopol.

  • Emergency crews were working to ease power shortages in many parts of Ukraine after Russian attacks. Russian forces used Iranian-made drones to hit two energy plants in Odesa on Saturday, knocking out power to about 1.5 million customers. Zelenskiy said the port city was undergoing frequent power outages and Kyiv was still experiencing “very difficult” conditions with power supplies. “At this time, it has become possible to partially restore supplies in Odesa and other cities and districts in the region,” Zelenskiy said in a Sunday night video address.

  • Two people were killed and another five wounded after Russian troops shelled the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, according to local authorities. “The enemy again attacked the residential quarters of Kherson,” governor Yaroslav Yanushevich said on Telegram, adding the Russian forces hit a maternity ward, a cafe and apartment buildings on Saturday. “Last night, two people were killed due to Russian shelling,” Yanushevich said, adding that five others had been wounded.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked his US counterpart Joe Biden for his “unprecedented defence and financial assistance” during a phone call on Sunday. “It helps not only to succeed on the battlefield, but also to maintain the stability of our nation’s economy,” he said. Zelenskiy added that Russian missile strikes have led to the destruction of about 50% of Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

  • A Russian-installed official in eastern Ukraine has claimed Ukrainian forces attacked a hotel where members of Russia’s private Wagner military group were based, killing many of them. Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Russian-occupied Luhansk region, gave a television interview on Sunday, alleging forces launched a strike on Saturday on a hotel in the town of Kadiivka, west of the region’s main centre of Luhansk. “They had a little pop there, just where Wagner headquarters was located. A huge number of those who were there died,” he said. Photos posted on Telegram channels showed a building largely reduced to rubble. The claims have not been able to verified.

  • Some Russian officers fighting in Ukraine are unhappy with the military top brass and president Vladimir Putin because of the poor execution of the war, an influential nationalist Russian blogger said after visiting the conflict zone. Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, recorded a scathing 90-minute video analysing Russia’s execution of the war. Girkin said the “fish’s head is completely rotten” and that the Russian military needed reform. “It is not just me … people are not blind and deaf at all: people at the mid-level there do not even hide their views which, how do I put it, are not fully complimentary about the president or the defence minister,” he added.

  • An international team of legal advisers has been working with local prosecutors in Ukraine’s recaptured city of Kherson to gather evidence of alleged sexual crimes by Russian forces. A team from Global Rights Compliance, an international legal practice headquartered in The Hague, are conducting a full-scale investigation part of a broader international effort to support overwhelmed Ukrainian authorities as they seek to hold Russians accountable for crimes they allegedly committed during the conflict.

  • A neo-Nazi paramilitary group linked to the Kremlin has asked its members to submit intelligence on border and military activity in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, raising concerns over whether far-right Russian groups are planning an attack on Nato countries. The official Telegram channel for “Task Force Rusich” – currently fighting in Ukraine on behalf of the Kremlin and linked to the notorious Wagner Group – last week requested members to forward details relating to border posts and military movements in the three Baltic states, which were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

  • Russia’s ex-president Dmitry Medvedev has said the country is ramping up production of new-generation weapons to protect itself from enemies in Europe, the United States and Australia, Reuters reports.

  • The body of a 23-year-old Zambian student who died while fighting for the Russian army in the war in Ukraine has been returned home. Zambia’s government has requested that Russian authorities give details of Lemekani’s demise, foreign affairs minister Stanley Kakubo said.

Ukrainian artillerymen load ammunition inside a self-propelled howitzer along the frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on 10 December. Photograph: Ihor Tkachov/AFP/Getty Images

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