Russia-Ukraine war live: Kursk airbase in Russia hit, Ukraine official claims; EU fails to agree new sanctions

Key events

Summary

The time in Kyiv is 1pm. Here is a round-up of the day’s news so far:

  • A Russian airbase in Kursk was struck on Wednesday night, a senior Ukrainian official has said. Anton Gerashchenko, a senior presidential adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, posted a series of updates on Telegram, saying an “unknown drone” struck the military facility.

  • Russian shelling has killed two people on Thursday in the centre of the recently liberated city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian official has said. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said on the Telegram messaging app that the two were killed about 100 metres from the regional administration building, which was hit in shelling on Wednesday.

  • Ukrainian forces shelled the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk overnight in some of the biggest attacks for years, Russian-installed officials in the annexed areas said on Thursday. “At exactly seven o’clock this morning they subjected the centre of Donetsk to the most massive attack since 2014,” Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-backed mayor of the city, said on Telegram.

  • Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that all weapons supplied to Ukraine by the west were legitimate targets for Russia, and that they would be either destroyed or seized.

  • European Union member states failed to agree on a ninth package of Russia sanctions in talks late on Wednesday, diplomats said as EU leaders gathered in Brussels on Thursday for their last summit of the year. Countries moved closer to a deal in Wednesday’s negotiations but Poland and some other countries still have objections, one EU diplomat told Reuters, adding a new draft was expected to be circulated on Thursday evening.

  • Russia’s recent deployment of additional units of mobilised reservists to Belarus as well as exercising Belarusian troops will be unlikely to constitute a force capable of conducting a successful new assault into northern Ukraine, according to the UK Ministry of Defence. On 13 December, Belarus carried out a “snap combat readiness inspection of its forces” the ministry notes in its latest intelligence report.

  • Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has confirmed another 64 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been returned from Russian captivity. Announcing the news in his latest Wednesday evening national address, he said: “Today, 64 Ukrainians were returned from Russian captivity … Four officers and 60 privates and sergeants. Among them are seriously wounded.”

  • Moscow has said no “Christmas ceasefire” was on the cards after nearly 10 months of war in Ukraine, with fighting looking set to drag on through the winter. “There is no calm on the frontline,” the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in his regular evening video address on Wednesday. “Every day and every metre is given extremely hard. And especially where the entire tactic of the occupiers boils down to the destruction of everything in front of them with artillery – so that only bare ruins and craters in the ground remain.”

  • Military analysts say a winter deadlock could now set in, even as fierce fighting continues especially in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, where Russian forces are pushing to capture the town of Bakhmut. The White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, said the scale of the ongoing violence tempered hopes for an imminent end to hostilities.

  • The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk, has said that further strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure could lead to a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation and spark further displacement. In a speech to the human rights council following a trip to Ukraine, Turk said Russian strikes were exposing millions of people to “extreme hardship”.

  • A UN senior official on Thursday voiced optimism that there would be a breakthrough in negotiations to ease exports of Russian fertilisers. “I am cautiously optimistic that we can have important progress soon,” UN senior official Rebeca Grynspan told reporters in Geneva.

  • Russia said on Thursday it had received an apology from the Vatican over Pope Francis’ comments last month that Russian soldiers from some ethnic minority groups were the “cruellest” fighters in the Ukraine conflict. At a briefing in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia now considered the matter closed and hoped for a constructive dialogue between Russia and the Vatican.

  • Canada said on Wednesday it would revoke a sanctions waiver that allowed turbines for Nord Stream 1, Russia’s biggest gas pipeline to Europe, to be repaired in Montreal and returned to Germany. The pipeline under the Baltic Sea was shut down for repairs on 31 August but not restarted.

  • The Ukrainian military said it shot down 13 Iranian-made drones over Kyiv and the surrounding region on Wednesday in Russia’s first major drone attack on the capital in weeks. The strikes damaged five buildings and authorities described the assault as a continuation of Russia’s “energy terror” against the country. There were no victims, the spokesperson for Kyiv’s rescue services, Svitlana Vodolaga, told Ukraine’s Suspilne news.

  • Russian drone strikes on Kyiv and the region around the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday did not damage any energy facilities, the national power grid operator Ukrenergo said. “Thanks to the brilliant work of the air defence forces, the energy infrastructure facilities were not damaged – all 13 drones were shot down,” Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

  • The regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was also hit by multiple Russian rockets, according to a senior Ukrainian official. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said two floors of the building on the central square of the recently liberated city had been damaged, but that no one was reported hurt. An unconfirmed video circulating on social media showed a huge plume of smoke pouring up from the top of the administration building.

  • The US is expected to decide whether to supply Ukraine with its advanced Patriot air defence system. US officials told CNN that the missiles could be delivered in a matter of days after the repeated Russian barrages against Ukrainian cities. The Patriot would be the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the west has provided to Ukraine. The Washington Post also reported that the US is planning to send electronic equipment that converts unguided aerial munitions into smart bombs, allowing a high degree of accurate targeting, citing US officials familiar with the matter.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for the time being. My colleague Harry Taylor will be along shortly to continue bringing you all the latest news from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

A UN senior official on Thursday voiced optimism that there would be a breakthrough in negotiations to ease exports of Russian fertilisers.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we can have important progress soon,” UN senior official Rebeca Grynspan told reporters in Geneva. She declined to give further details, Reuters reported.

Russian and Ukrainian representatives have previously discussed allowing Russia to resume ammonia exports, used to make fertilisers, in exchange for a prisoner swap that would release a large number of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners.

Russia said on Thursday it had received an apology from the Vatican over Pope Francis’ comments last month that Russian soldiers from some ethnic minority groups were the “cruellest” fighters in the Ukraine conflict.

At a briefing in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia now considered the matter closed and hoped for a constructive dialogue between Russia and the Vatican.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk, has said that further strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure could lead to a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation and spark further displacement.

In a speech to the human rights council following a trip to Ukraine, Turk said Russian strikes were exposing millions of people to “extreme hardship”.

“Additional strikes could lead to a further serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and spark more displacement,” he said.

Russian shelling kills two in Kherson, Kyiv says

Russian shelling has killed two people on Thursday in the centre of the recently liberated city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian official has said.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said on the Telegram messaging app that the two were killed about 100 metres from the regional administration building, which was hit in shelling on Wednesday.

EU members fail to reach agreement on new Russia sanctions – diplomats

European Union member states failed to agree on a ninth package of Russia sanctions in talks late on Wednesday, diplomats said as EU leaders gathered in Brussels on Thursday for their last summit of the year.

Countries moved closer to a deal in Wednesday’s negotiations but Poland and some other countries still have objections, one EU diplomat told Reuters, adding a new draft was expected to be circulated on Thursday evening.

Fresh sanctions on Moscow have been held up by disagreement over whether the EU should make it easier for Russian fertiliser exports to pass through European ports, even in the case when the fertiliser companies are owned by blacklisted oligarchs, Reuters reported.

Some say EU restrictions pose a food security threat to developing countries, while others argue that relaxing them would allow Russian oligarchs who own fertiliser businesses to dodge EU sanctions against them.

One EU diplomat said Poland and the Baltic states are telling other countries that they are deluding themselves if they think a relaxation on Russian fertilisers is not going to be abused as a loophole for oligarchs.

Some member states want the World Food Programme involved on authorisation for exports of fertilisers to countries that need it.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that all weapons supplied to Ukraine by the west were legitimate targets for Russia, and that they would be either destroyed or seized.

More to follow.

Ukrainian forces shelled the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk overnight in some of the biggest attacks for years, Russian-installed officials in the annexed areas said on Thursday.

“At exactly seven o’clock this morning they subjected the centre of Donetsk to the most massive attack since 2014,” Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-backed mayor of the city, said on Telegram.

“Forty rockets from BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers were fired at civilians in our city,” Kulemzin said. He cast the attack as a war crime.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify battlefield accounts from either side.

Additional Russian and Belarusian troops unlikely to succeed in assault: UK MoD

Russia’s recent deployment of additional units of mobilised reservists to Belarus as well as exercising Belarusian troops will be unlikely to constitute a force capable of conducting a successful new assault into northern Ukraine, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

On 13 December 2022, Belarus carried out a “snap combat readiness inspection of its forces” the ministry notes in its latest intelligence report.

The exercises are reportedly taking place in the north-west of the country, away from the Ukrainian border. In addition, Russia has recently deployed extra units of mobilised reservists to Belarus.

Belarus played a key enabling role in Russia’s assault towards Kyiv from 24 February 2022. However, the exercising Belarusian troops and Russian units are currently unlikely to constitute a force capable of conducting a successful new assault into northern Ukraine.”

Another 64 Ukrainian POWs and US national freed

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has confirmed another 64 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been returned from Russian captivity.

Announcing the news in his latest Wednesday evening national address, he said:

Today, 64 Ukrainians were returned from Russian captivity … Four officers and 60 privates and sergeants. Among them are seriously wounded.”

A US national who was arrested by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in the summer has also been released as part of a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, said on Wednesday.

Suedi Murekezi, 35, told the Guardian earlier this month that he felt “trapped” after he was released in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk without his papers.

Analysts predict winter deadlock

Military analysts say a winter deadlock could now set in, even as fierce fighting continues especially in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, where Russian forces are pushing to capture the town of Bakhmut.

The White House national security spokesman, John Kirby, said the scale of the ongoing violence tempered hopes for an imminent end to hostilities.

Just given what we’re seeing in the air and on the ground in Ukraine, it’s difficult to conclude that this war will be over by year’s end,” Kirby said in response to a question about the prospects for a negotiated peace with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

“So there is active fighting going on right now. We would expect that that will continue for some time going forward.”

No Christmas ceasefire in Ukraine, Russia says

Moscow has said no “Christmas ceasefire” was on the cards after nearly 10 months of war in Ukraine, with fighting looking set to drag on through the winter.

“There is no calm on the frontline,” the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in his regular evening video address on Wednesday. “Every day and every metre is given extremely hard. And especially where the entire tactic of the occupiers boils down to the destruction of everything in front of them with artillery – so that only bare ruins and craters in the ground remain.”

Asked on Wednesday whether Moscow had seen proposals for a “Christmas ceasefire”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “No, no such offers have been received from anybody. This topic is not on the agenda.”

Zelenskiy had called on Russia this week to start withdrawing its troops by Christmas as the first step towards a peace deal, but Peskov said on Tuesday there would be no peace with Kyiv until Zelenskiy accepted the “realities” on the ground – referring to Russian control over parts of four Ukrainian regions it annexed in September following coercive and illegal “referendums”.

Canada to revoke sanctions waiver for Nord Stream 1 repair

Canada said on Wednesday it would revoke a sanctions waiver that allowed turbines for Nord Stream 1, Russia’s biggest gas pipeline to Europe, to be repaired in Montreal and returned to Germany.

The pipeline under the Baltic Sea was shut down for repairs on 31 August but not restarted. It was heavily damaged a month later when it was hit by a series of explosions. European governments suspect the ruptures of the pipeline and another called Nord Stream 2 were caused by sabotage. Putin has called western claims that Russia was behind the explosions as “crazy”.

Canada’s foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, and natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, said in a joint statement:

Putin has been forced to show that his intention was never to return Nord Stream 1 to full operation, and that the pipeline itself has been rendered inoperable.”

The decision was made after working closely with Ukraine, Germany and other European allies, they said.

Russian airbase in Kursk hit by drone strike, says Ukraine

A Russian airbase in Kursk was struck on Wednesday night, a senior Ukrainian official has said.

Anton Gerashchenko, a senior presidential adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, posted a series of updates on Telegram, saying an “unknown drone” struck the military facility.

Citing unspecified Russian media reports, he said there had been “two explosions in Kursk near the airfield” in a post at 10.30pm local time. “Unknown drone hit a military facility in Kursk,” he later added.

Footage circulating online appeared to show a series of explosions rock the city in western Russian about 10pm local time.

Russian media organisation RIA quoted regional governor Roman Starovoit as saying “Air defence worked over the Kursk region in the evening, there were no casualties and no damage.”

Last week, a drone attack set an oil storage tank on fire at an airfield in Kursk.

Video footage posted on social media showed a large explosion lighting up the night sky followed by a substantial fire at the airfield 175 miles (280km) from the Ukrainian border. At daybreak a large column of black smoke was still visible above the site.

Russian officials blamed the attacks on modified Strizh drones, which were first produced in the 1970s in the Soviet era and intended for use as target practice.

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 Russian airbase in Kursk was reportedly struck late on Wednesday night, according to officials and local media reports. Footage circulating online appeared to show a series of explosions rock the city in western Russian about 10pm local time.

As the attacks continue, Moscow has said no “Christmas ceasefire” is on the cards with fighting looking set to drag on through the winter.

Canada has also said it will revoke a sanctions waiver that allowed turbines for Nord Stream 1, Russia’s biggest gas pipeline to Europe, to be repaired in Montreal and returned to Germany.

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:

  • Russia has shut down any proposals for a “Christmas ceasefire” in Ukraine, saying the topic is “not on the agenda”, according to the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, earlier this week called on G7 leaders to back a peace solution that would start with Russia withdrawing troops from Ukraine, beginning this Christmas. “There is no calm on the frontline,” he added in an evening video address.

  • The Ukrainian military said it shot down 13 Iranian-made drones over Kyiv and the surrounding region on Wednesday in Russia’s first major drone attack on the capital in weeks. The strikes damaged five buildings and authorities described the assault as a continuation of Russia’s “energy terror” against the country. There were no victims, the spokesperson for Kyiv’s rescue services, Svitlana Vodolaga, told Ukraine’s Suspilne news.

  • Russian drone strikes on Kyiv and the region around the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday did not damage any energy facilities, the national power grid operator Ukrenergo said. “Thanks to the brilliant work of the air defence forces, the energy infrastructure facilities were not damaged – all 13 drones were shot down,” Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

  • The regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was also hit by multiple Russian rockets, according to a senior Ukrainian official. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said two floors of the building on the central square of the recently liberated city had been damaged, but that no one was reported hurt. An unconfirmed video circulating on social media showed a huge plume of smoke pouring up from the top of the administration building.

  • The US is expected to decide whether to supply Ukraine with its advanced Patriot air defence system. US officials told CNN that the missiles could be delivered in a matter of days after the repeated Russian barrages against Ukrainian cities. The Patriot would be the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the west has provided to Ukraine. The Washington Post also reported that the US is planning to send electronic equipment that converts unguided aerial munitions into smart bombs, allowing a high degree of accurate targeting, citing US officials familiar with the matter.

  • Canada has said it will revoke a sanctions waiver that allowed turbines for Nord Stream 1, Russia’s biggest gas pipeline to Europe, to be repaired in Montreal and returned to Germany. The pipeline under the Baltic Sea was shut down for repairs on 31 August, but never restarted and in later September suffered major leaks. European governments suspect the ruptures of the pipeline and another called Nord Stream 2 were caused by sabotage. “Putin has been forced to show that his intention was never to return Nord Stream 1 to full operation, and that the pipeline itself has been rendered inoperable,” the foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, said on Wednesday.

  • The war in Ukraine will continue “for some time going forward”, the White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, predicts. Kirby said the scale of the ongoing violence tempered hopes for an imminent end to hostilities. “Just given what we’re seeing in the air and on the ground in Ukraine, it’s difficult to conclude that this war will be over by year’s end,” Kirby said. “So there is active fighting going on right now. We would expect that that will continue for some time going forward.”

  • Russia faces a “critical shortage” of artillery shells and Moscow’s ability to conduct ground operations in Ukraine is “rapidly diminishing” as a result, Britain’s armed forces chief has said. Adm Sir Tony Radakin, the chief of defence staff, told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank on Wednesday that the Kremlin had only planned for a short period to subjugate Ukraine, and has instead found itself embroiled in a conflict lasting nearly 10 months. “Russia faces a critical shortage of artillery munitions. This means that their ability to conduct successful offensive ground operations is rapidly diminishing,” the military chief said.

  • A US national who was arrested by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in the summer has now been released as part of a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, said. Suedi Murekezi, 35, was released by Russia along with 64 Ukrainian soldiers and the bodies of four fallen soldiers, Yermark said. Murekezi told the Guardian earlier this month that he felt “trapped” after he was released in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk without his papers.

Residents walk past a smouldering building in Bakhmut, Ukraine, that was hit by Russian shelling on 14 December. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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