Ukraine war latest: UK defence secretary in Kyiv on surprise visit; 'we could lose Russia', Wagner boss warns (2023)

Key points
  • UK defence secretaryBen Wallace in Kyiv on surprise visit
  • Wagner boss's warning to elites: 'We could f****** lose Russia'
  • Russia releases images of 'abandoned US-made vehicles' - but critics say they could be 'staged'
  • Ukrainian silence on Bakhmut 'suggests further Wagner advances'
  • Moscow says city will now be known by Russian name
  • 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) Olive Enokido-Lineham


Massive US aircraft carrier sails into Oslo for NATO exercises

The world's largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford, sailed into Oslo in a show of NATO force at a time of heightened tension between the alliance and Russia.

The ship and its crew will be conducting training exercises with the Norwegian armed forces along the country's coast in the coming days, the Norway's military said.

Norwegian media reported the aircraft carrier would sail north of the Arctic Circle.

Jonny Karlsen, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, the operational command centre of the military, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr Karlsen said the visit is an "important signal of the close bilateral relationship between the US and Norway and a signal of the credibility of collective defence and deterrence".

The Russian embassy in Oslo condemned the aircraft carrier's Oslo visit.

It said in a Facebook post: "There are no questions in the (Arctic) north that require a military solution, nor topics where outside intervention is needed."

Norway shares a border with Russia in the Arctic and last year became Europe's largest gas supplier after a drop in Russian gas flows.


NATO head: Ukraine joining alliance in middle of war 'not on the agenda'

Ukraine will not be able tojoin NATO as long as the war is going on, the alliance's chiefJens Stoltenberg said today.

Speaking at an event in Brussels, he said: "I think that everyone realised that, to become a member inthe midst of a war is not on the agenda.

"The issue is what happens when the war ends."

Mr Stoltenberg has repeatedly promised that Ukraine would join NATO throughout the war.

In April, he said all NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member.

He pledged continued support for the country during his first visit to Kyiv since Russia's invasion more than a year ago.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier this year that he was grateful for an invitation into the alliance, but that his country needs a roadmap for becoming a member.

Finland joined the alliance this month, setting aside years of military nonalignment, to seek protection under the organisation's security umbrella.

Its accession dealt a major political blow to Vladimir Putin as it doubled the size of NATO's border with Russia.


Russia-China relations 'at unprecedented level', Russian PM says as he visits Beijing

The Russian prime minister is in Beijing today - he is the highest ranking official to visit China since the invasion of Ukraine.

Mikhail Mishustin praised the relationship between Moscow and Beijing, telling the Chinese premier Li Qiang that it was "at an unprecedented high level".

The relationship is "characterised by mutual respect of each other's interests, the desire to jointly respond to challenges, which is associated with increased turbulence in the international arena and the pressure of illegitimate sanctions from the collective West", he said.

His visit comes after Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, visited Moscow for a three-day trip in March - described by Vladimir Putin as a "landmark event".

Both countries played up their "no limits" friendship, while Mr Putin said the pair were fighting "common threats".


F-16s supplied to Ukraine would be 'legitimate target', Russia says

Russia has said any US-built F-16 fighter jets supplied to Ukraine would be a "legitimate target" for Moscow.

The comments made by Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, were cited by RAI, the state news agency.

Ukraine has long pushed for the sophisticated fighter jets, which can travel at speeds up to 1,500mph and have a range of more than 2,002 miles.

The US has authorised Western allies to give F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine - and endorsed the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly the warplanes, though there is as yet no commitment to supply the jets themselves.

Shadowing the administration's calculation were worries that such a move could escalate tensions with Russia.

US officials also argued that learning to fly and logistically support the advanced F-16 would be difficult and time-consuming.

But over the past three months, officials shifted towards the view that it was time to provide Ukraine's pilots with the training and aircraft needed for the country's long-term security needs, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations.

The Biden administration is still examining whether it will directly provide its own F-16s to Ukraine.


Your questions answered: Can the UK defend itself after sending weapons to Ukraine?

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

Two readers, Karl and Kitt, have asked about UK military aid to Ukraine.

They want to know whether new weapons gifted by the UK are supplied under the current defence budget or if the cost gets apportioned somewhere else.

How does this affect the UK's capability? And does the UK currently have enough military power to defend itself?

Our military analyst Sean Bell answers this one…

Although Ukraine is significantly smaller than Russia, the provision of Western high-tech precision weapons has given Ukraine with an asymmetric advantage on the battlefield.

The UK has been a leading advocate for supporting Ukraine in its efforts to resist the illegal Russian invasion of its country, and that has included both financial and military support; the former has been provided by the British government, with most of the latter covered under the defence budget.

The weapons provided to Ukraine are from UK war-stocks, which are provisioned to enable the UK to respond to a series of contemporary conflict scenarios.

Reducing the war stocks increases the risk that the UK will not have sufficient weapons to cover its own needs, which is a political judgement, informed by the prevailing threat environment.

However, the UK Ministry of Defence will be reluctant to send state-of-the-art modern weapons to Ukraine as not only does that expose military secrets, but it also carries the risk that some of the weapons will find their way on to the black market and into the hands of potential adversaries.

Instead, although the weapons provided to Ukraine are very capable, many are from older stock.

For example, the UK has gifted 14 Challenger 2 tanks, our most modern battle tank. The UK has more than 230 of these, but they are due an upgrade to Challenge 3 spec, and less than 200 are expected to be upgraded.

That leaves a number for disposal or storage, and it is from this "excess to requirements" stock that 14 were gifted to Ukraine. Each tank cost around £4m when new, which adds to the UK gifting total.

The primary responsibility of the British government is defending its people; that will not be compromised by supporting Ukraine.

What might be affected is the UK's ability to respond to wider short-notice conflicts; however, since one of our potential adversaries is Russia, which has seen its military capability degraded significantly this past year, that risk is manageable.

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


'We're home': Ukrainian tank crew near Bakhmut insists Russia does not have full control - and sets out battle plan

Top military leaders in Ukraine insist the fighting for Bakhmut is not over.

A tank brigade working around the defensive lines near the city says Russia has "destroyed Bakhmut" but "haven't taken it".

While Moscow claims that Russian forces have captured the city, Ukrainians on the ground say a road leading into Bakhmut is still "an area of fighting".

Ukrainian commander Yevhen Mezhevikin said: "They destroyed Bakhmut but they haven't taken it. Part of it is a grey zone and part of the area, which is the road to Bakhmut from Kostiantynivka, is an area of fighting."

He said the plan is to "liberate" every city occupied by Russia - adding that in Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces need to "surround it from the flanks and block it".

On Tuesday, Ukraine's deputy defence minister Hanna Mailar said Kyiv's forces made minor progress on the edge of the city.

She said Ukrainian troops still controlled the southwestern outskirts of the city and that fighting was continuing in the suburbs, on Russia's flanks.

Although Ukraine now controls only a small part of the city, Kyiv says its troops played a key role in the strategy of exhausting Russian forces and will carry on fighting.


Moscow warns it will react 'extremely harshly' to further attacks on its territory

Russia's defence minister has said Moscow will react "extremely harshly" to further attacks by fighters entering its territory from Ukraine.

Sergei Shoigu told defence ministry officials: "We will continue to respond to such actions by Ukrainianmilitants promptly and extremely harshly".

His warning comes after Monday's cross-border incursion into the southern Belgorod region.

Yesterday, the Russian military said it had routed militantswho attacked the region with armoured vehicles, adding that it had killed more than 70 "Ukrainian nationalists".

Moscow blamed the raid on Ukrainian military saboteurs whilst Kyiv portrayed it as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans.

The attack, which took place in Russia's southwest region, about 80km north of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, was a fresh reminder of how Russia itself remains vulnerable to attack, along with Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.


UK defence secretary in Kyiv for unannounced visit

Ben Wallace has arrived in Kyiv for a surprise visit to meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov.

The Ukrainian defence secretary said the pair had a "very meaningful discussion" on increasing Kyiv's defence capabilities and long-range weapons - including Storm Shadow missiles.

Mr Wallace signed a visitor's book, writing: "Glory to the brave men and women who fight for freedom and to defend their country. Their fight, our fight."

Earlier this month, Mr Wallace announced that the UK would send Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine, marking a significant step-up in the capabilities of arms the UK has sent to Kyiv. He said the country "has a right to be able to defend itself."

Last week Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the UK to meet Rishi Sunak - as the prime minister revealed the UK would start training Ukrainian pilots to use Western fighter jets "relatively soon", helped by the opening of a new flying school.


Russia releases images apparently showing abandoned US-made vehicles used by Ukraine - critics say it could be 'staged'

Back to the Belgorod incursion.

The Russian defence ministry has released pictures of what they claim are abandoned Western military vehicles used by Ukraine - including what Sky News has identified as US-made Humvees.

However, there are claims that part of the pictures may have been staged - pointing to details in the images which they say suggest the scene could have been choreographed.

They point to details including the lack of dirt in front of one of the vehicles which they say should have been created on impact as it fell into the gap and question how only one of the tires on the vehicle in the foreground got over the trench, but the other didn't.

Sky News has been able to geolocate the images to the Belgorod checkpoint and can confirm from previously released drone video that the two Humvees in the photo were not there earlier this week.

The vehicles also contain Ukrainian markings.

Security and defence analyst Professor Michael Clarke says the "whole image isn't very convincing", adding that while it may turn out to be true, "it looks as if two American Humvees are being taken from a low loader and put into this space".

Monday's cross-border incursion into Russia's Belgorod region has been described as "humiliating" for Moscow.

Russia said more than 70 attackers have been killed in the region and the remnants of their units pushed back into Ukrainian territory after two days of fighting.

While there's still widespread confusion over reports of the raid - Moscow has blamed "Ukrainian militants" - but Kyiv portrayed the alleged incursion as an uprising by Russian partisans and said it had nothing to do with it.

Two groups operating in Ukraine - the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and Freedom of Russia Legion - have claimed responsibility.

The US says it does not "enable or encourage" Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, but that it is up to Kyiv to decide how it conducts military operations.


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