Ukraine war: Kremlin denies Russians fleeing to avoid army service as flights sell out and queues seen at border – live – The Guardian


From 3h ago

Kremlin denies Russian men fleeing to avoid fighting in war

The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation as “exaggerated”.

Flight sales data showed flights from Moscow to the capitals of Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, all destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out within minutes of Putin’s announcement on Wednesday.

In his regular briefing with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying:

This is not against the law.

Updated at 12.57 BST

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One million Russian citizens could be called up to fight in the war in Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation drive, according to a report by a Russian newspaper.

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In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, the Russian president said military service would only apply to “citizens who are currently in the reserve, especially those who have served in the armed forces, have certain military professions and relevant experience”.

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Shortly after Putin’s announcement, the country’s defence ministry Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 Russians would be called up as part of the mobilisation that would apply to “those with previous military experience”.

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“These are not people who’ve never seen or heard anything about the army,” he said, adding that students can “keep going to class”.

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But Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper operating in exile, has quoted an unnamed official in Putin’s government as saying that the real plan is to call up 1 million people.

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The source told the newspaper that a classified seventh paragraph of the decree, signed by Putin on Wednesday, allows the Russian defence ministry to call up 1 million people.

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The source said:

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The figure was corrected several times, and in the end, they settled on a million.

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The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation as “exaggerated”.

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Flight sales data showed flights from Moscow to the capitals of Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, all destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out within minutes of Putin’s announcement on Wednesday.

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In his regular briefing with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying:

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This is not against the law.

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Russia’s defence ministry has said 55 of its servicemen have been released in the largest prisoner exchange deal with Ukraine since the start of the war.

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In a statement, the Kremlin said:

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All servicemen have been delivered to the territory of the Russian Federation by military transport aircraft and are in medical institutions of Russia’s defence ministry.

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The fighters, who came from Russia’s armed forces and its proxies in the Russian-backed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, were currently undergoing health checks, it added.

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The statement did not mention Viktor Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of Vladimir Putin accused of high treason. The Russian-installed separatist head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said Medvedchuk had been freed as part of the deal.

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Nearly 300 people, including 10 foreigners and Ukrainian fighters who took part in the siege of Mariupol, were involved in the prisoner swap.

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The names of five British nationals released by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine overnight have been confirmed.

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Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill were flown to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia before being flown back to Britain.

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They were reunited with their families after landing at Heathrow Airport.

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On Wednesday, the UK prime minister, Liz Truss, confirmed that five Britons held by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine had been released after the intervention of Saudi Arabia.

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Aslin’s MP Robert Jenrick tweeted yesterday that he and “the other British prisoners of war held captive by the Russian authorities” were on their way back to the UK.

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In a video filmed on a plane with Pinner beside him, Aslin said:

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We just want to let everybody know we are out of the danger zone.

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“By the skin of our teeth,” Pinner added, and both men thanked those who had supported them during their detention.

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Hello everyone. It’s Léonie Chao-Fong here, taking over the live blog from Martin Belam to bring you all the latest developments from the Russia-Ukraine war. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

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  • Security forces detained more than 1,300 people in Russia overnight at protests denouncing mobilisation, a rights group said, hours after Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first military draft since the second world war.

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  • The independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said that according to information it had collated from 38 Russian cities, more than 1,311 people had been held by late evening. It said those figures included at least 502 in Moscow and 524 in St Petersburg, Russia’s second most populous city. Unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russia’s anti-protest laws.

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  • Russian interior ministry official Irina Volk, in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies, said officers had cut short attempts to stage what it called small protests. “In a number of regions, there were attempts to stage unauthorised actions which brought together an extremely small number of participants,” Volk was quoted as saying. “These were all stopped.”

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  • The Moscow Times is carrying a report that a Russian military recruitment office and an administration building were attacked overnight in two separate locations during the anti-mobilisation protests.

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  • The UK’s ministry of defence has described the mobilisation as an admission that Russia has “exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine”. It said “Russia is likely to struggle with the logistical and administrative challenges of even mustering the 300,000 personnel. It will probably attempt to stand up new formations with many of these troops, which are unlikely to be combat effective for months.”

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  • Traffic arriving at Finland’s eastern border with Russia has “intensified” during the night, the Finnish border guard said early on Thursday, while adding that the situation was under control. One-way flights out of Russia were rocketing in price and selling out fast on Wednesday after Putin ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 reservists.

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  • Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and prime minister, and currently deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, has threatened attacks on Europe and US, saying “Referendums will be held, and the Donbas republics and other territories will be admitted to Russia. Any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear weapons and weapons based on new principles, could be used [to protect them]. Therefore, various retired idiots with generals’ stripes do not need to scare us with talk about a Nato strike on Crimea. Hypersonic is guaranteed to be able to reach targets in Europe and the United States much faster.”

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  • Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has described Joe Biden’s speech on Wednesday at the UN as “indecent”, and accused the US president of mis-quoting his Russian counterpart over nuclear threats.

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  • The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, shrugged off Russian moves to escalate the war, saying his country’s forces would continue their counteroffensive, not giving Russia breathing space to mobilise and dig in on Ukrainian soil. “We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms, but we need time,” Zelenskiy said in a recorded broadcast to the UN general assembly on Wednesday.

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  • Zelenskiy on Thursday thanked Turkey and Saudi Arabia for their roles in recent prisoner exchanges. This included a Briton who was threatened with execution after being captured by Russian forces during the siege of Mariupol, who has been released alongside four other Britons and five international prisoners after the intervention of Saudi Arabia. Aiden Aslin was released alongside the two fighters he was sentenced to death with at a controversial trial in Russian-held eastern Ukraine in June – Shaun Pinner, and a Moroccan named Brahim Saadoun.

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  • The general staff of the Ukraine army has issued updated figures of the losses it claims to have inflicted on Russia and pro-Russia forces within occupied areas of Ukraine, raising it to ~55,510. On Wednesday, Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, spoke of losses amounting to just under 6,000 personnel during what he termed Russia’s “special military operation”.

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  • North Korea has denied it is providing arms to Russia, state media said, weeks after the US said Moscow was turning to Pyongyang to replenish its stocks depleted by invading Ukraine.

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  • Uzbekistan’s state prosecutors warned citizens against joining foreign armies after Russia offered fast-track citizenship to those who sign up and Ukraine said it had captured Uzbeks fighting alongside Russians.

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  • The head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency said on Wednesday he had met Ukraine’s and Russia’s foreign ministers in a bid to establish a safety and security zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

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That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I will be back later. Léonie Chao-Fong will be with you for the next few hours.

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Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and prime minister, and currently deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, has issued another Telegram message containing his typically hawkish rhetoric. He says:

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Referendums will be held, and the Donbas republics and other territories will be admitted to Russia. The protection of all the territories that have joined will be significantly strengthened by the Russian armed forces.

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Russia announced that not only mobilisation capabilities, but also any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear weapons and weapons based on new principles, could be used for such protection.

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Therefore, various retired idiots with generals’ stripes do not need to scare us with talk about a Nato strike on Crimea. Hypersonic is guaranteed to be able to reach targets in Europe and the United States much faster.

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But the western establishment, in general, all citizens of the Nato countries need to understand that Russia has chosen its own path. There is no way back.

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The UK’s ministry of defence has issued its daily intelligence briefing about how it sees the situation in Ukraine. It has concentrated today on the consequences of Russia’s partial mobilisation announced yesterday by Vladimir Putin, which it judges unlikely to be effective. It writes:

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Russia is likely to struggle with the logistical and administrative challenges of even mustering the 300,000 personnel. It will probably attempt to stand up new formations with many of these troops, which are unlikely to be combat effective for months.

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Even this limited mobilisation is likely to be highly unpopular with parts of the Russian population. Putin is accepting considerable political risk in the hope of generating much needed combat power.

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The move is effectively an admission that Russia has exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine.

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Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 22 September 2022

Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/XL4XfL3qRG

🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/8VtmvHnfPb

&mdash; Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) September 22, 2022

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Russia is set to face direct pressure at the United Nations on Thursday over its invasion of Ukraine, whose leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy has appealed to the world to punish Moscow. Agence France-Presse reports.

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As global leaders convened for the annual general assembly, the security council will hold a special session among foreign ministers called by France on impunity for rights abuses in Ukraine.

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The morning session is expected to bring Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov face to face with top western diplomats including secretary of state Antony Blinken, who has refused a one-on-one meeting since the 24 February invasion.

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After two years of pandemic restrictions, only one leader was still allowed to address the assembly virtually – Zelenskiy, who in a pre-recorded video called 15 times for “punishment” of Russia and received a rare standing ovation.

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The head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency said Wednesday he met with Ukraine’s and Russia’s foreign ministers in a bid to establish a safety and security zone around a nuclear plant in south-eastern Ukraine that is Europe’s largest, AP reports.

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The Zaporizhzhia power plant has faced almost daily shelling and bombardment, raising fears of a nuclear accident.

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Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that as a result of the separate meetings with Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, work has already begun on establishing and shaping the zone.

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He said he hopes to visit Kyiv soon, and “perhaps later on” go to Russia.

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“Given the urgency of the situation and the gravity of what’s going on in the field we have to move fast,” Grossi said. Both nations, he said, share “a conviction that the establishment of the zone is indispensable.”

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“The mere fact that the two foreign ministers are sitting down with me and are listening to our ideas, I think it’s a good indicator that there is a very strong solid base for this thing to happen,” he said.

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The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has shrugged off Russian moves to escalate the war, saying his country’s forces would continue their counteroffensive, not giving Russia breathing space to mobilise and dig in on Ukrainian soil.

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“We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms, but we need time,” Zelenskiy said in a recorded broadcast to the UN general assembly on Wednesday, which Russia had tried to stop but was overwhelmingly voted down by member states.

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“Russia wants to spend the winter on the occupied territory of Ukraine … It wants to prepare fortifications on occupied land and carry out military mobilisation at home. We cannot agree to a delayed war because it will be even hotter than the war now.”

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Zelenskiy laid out what he said were five non-negotiable conditions for peace. These included punishment for Russian aggression, restoration of Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity, and security guarantees.

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A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment,” Zelenskiy told the UN body.

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“A special tribunal should be created to punish Russia for the crime of aggression against our state… Russia should pay for this war with its assets,” the Ukrainian president said, urging the UN to “remove the right of veto” from Russia as a Security Council member.

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Zelenskiy reminded world leaders of the mass graves being exhumed in the recently liberated town of Izium as the general assembly gathered, saying that among the bodies was a man strangled with a rope, and another who had been castrated before the murder. The Ukrainian president said that was not the first of such atrocities.

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He told the global assembly: “Ask, please, the representatives of Russia why the Russian military are so obsessed with castration. What was done to them so that they want to do this to others?”

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UN address","contributors":[],"primaryDateLine":"Thu 22 Sep 2022 14.16 BST","secondaryDateLine":"First published on Thu 22 Sep 2022 05.30 BST"},{"id":"632bd4cb8f08146227061cf0","elements":[{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement","html":"

EU foreign ministers have agreed to prepare new sanctions on Russia and increase weapons’ deliveries to Kyiv, Reuters reports.

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The bloc’s 27 foreign ministers are in New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Vladimir Putin’s announcement of partial mobilisation – which included moves to annex swaths of Ukrainian territory and a threat to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia – showed panic and desperation.

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“It’s clear that Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine,” Borrell told reporters after ministers met to decide how to respond.

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After being briefed by Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, the ministers agreed to task their teams to prepare an eighth sanctions package that would target “more relevant sectors of the Russian economy and continue targeting people responsible for the war of aggression in Ukraine,” Borrell said.

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EU ministers will hold their next formal meeting in mid-October when a sanctions package could be formalised.

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The ministers also agreed to ramp up weapons supplies to Ukraine. Borrell declined to give further details on the type of sanctions or military support, but said he believed there would be “unanimous” support within the bloc for new measures.

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Good morning and welcome back to our live coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the war dominated the first in-person UN general assembly meeting in two years, EU foreign ministers agreed on new sanctions on Russia, a major prisoner swap was announced and more than 1,300 Russians were arrested for demonstrating against Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation.

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Here are the latest developments, as of 7.30am Kyiv time:

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    \n

  • European Union foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday to prepare new sanctions on Russia and increase weapons’ deliveries to Kyiv after President Vladimir Putin ordered the country’s first wartime mobilisation since the second world war. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Putin’s announcement – which included moves to annex swaths of Ukrainian territory and a threat to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia – showed panic and desperation.

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  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has called on the international community to adopt a five-point formula to achieve peace and security in Ukraine, in a wide-ranging and impassioned televised speech to the UN general assembly on Wednesday. The points include punishment for crimes of aggression, protection of life, restoration of security and territorial integrity, security guarantees and the determination of Ukraine to continue defending itself.

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  • Joe Biden and allied leaders have reacted angrily to Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons and pledged to maintain support for Ukraine. In his speech to the UN on Wednesday, Biden sought to unite the international community in the face of what he called “reckless” threats and “an extremely significant violation” of the UN charter.

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  • More than 1,300 protesters have been arrested in anti-mobilisation rallies that are taking place throughout Russia. According to OVD-Info, more than 1,311 people have been detained in 38 cities across Russia, with most of the detainees in Moscow and St Petersburg.

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  • North Korea has said it has never supplied weapons or ammunition to Russia and does not plan to do so in the future, according to a statement released by the state media service, KCNA.

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  • Russia has released 215 Ukrainians it took prisoner after a protracted battle for the port city of Mariupol earlier this year, including top military leaders, a senior official in Kyiv said. The freed Ukrainians included the commander and deputy commander of the Azov battalion that did much of the fighting, said Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office.

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  • Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Russian-occupied Melitipol in Ukraine, has urged local men to evacuate the city amid mobilisation orders from Russia, the Kyiv Independent reports.

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  • Finland said it was working on a federal strategy to “limit or completely prevent” tourism from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. “This national solution may include new legislation, which would be adopted very quickly,” the foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, told a press conference on Wednesday.

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  • Five British nationals held by pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine have been safely returned, the UK prime minister, Liz Truss, has said. Among those released was Aiden Aslin, a British-Ukrainian former care worker from Nottinghamshire.

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  • The Saudi foreign ministry said Russia had released 10 foreign prisoners of war captured in Ukraine after mediation by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. US citizens Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh were among those released.

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  • Joe Biden has denounced Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons as “reckless” and “irresponsible” and called Russia’s planned annexation of more regions of Ukraine as “an extremely significant violation” of the UN charter. The US president was speaking to the UN general assembly, where he sought to galvanise the outrage of UN member states at the threat that Putin’s actions and “imperial ambitions” posed to the UN’s founding values.

  • \n

  • Earlier on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation in Russia in a significant escalation that places the country’s people and economy on a wartime footing and sent shock waves across Russia. The Russian president said in a televised address that the “partial mobilisation” was a direct response to the dangers posed by the west. According to the decree, the contracts of soldiers fighting in Ukraine will also be extended until the end of the partial mobilisation period.

  • \n

  • Liz Truss and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said Putin’s speech on Wednesday was “a statement of weakness”. They said in a joint statement following a meeting between the pair in New York that Putin’s calls for partial mobilisation were “a sign that Russia’s invasion is failing”.

  • \n

  • Russia fired a series of long-range missiles at Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv early on Wednesday, hours after the Kremlin announced plans to annex Ukrainian territory and to carry out the partial mobilisation. Explosions were heard across Kharkiv at around 2am. At least one missile struck a high-rise apartment in the western Zalutino district. Ten residents were injured.

  • \n

  • The security service of Ukraine has released a recording of an intercepted call by a Russian soldier in which he appears to complain about the setbacks faced by Russian troops in recent months. “Locals hate us here. Ours rape local women,” the soldier appeared to say into the phone, adding there was little to no chance of him returning home anytime soon.

  • \n

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Key events

Sweden’s foreign affairs minister, Ann Linde, has condemned the arrests of anti-war protesters in Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered the country’s first military draft since the second world war.

Writing on Twitter, Linde described the demonstrators as “courageous” who had her “deep respect”.

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Condemn widespread arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters in Russia who took to the streets to protest Putin’s decision to scale up Russia’s war in #Ukraine even further by decision of partial mobilization. These courageous demonstrators have our deep respect. #StopWar

&mdash; Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) September 22, 2022

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Condemn widespread arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters in Russia who took to the streets to protest Putin’s decision to scale up Russia’s war in #Ukraine even further by decision of partial mobilization. These courageous demonstrators have our deep respect. #StopWar

— Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) September 22, 2022

Updated at 14.16 BST

Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth

The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth writes that the actual number of reservists called up to support Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine could exceed the 300,000 figure stated by the country’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.

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Just spoke with a woman from a small village of 450 people in Buryatia. She said that local authorities tried to hand out 20 draft notices, including to several in their 50s. Even if many turned away, would still produce far more than 300k conscripts if repeated across Russia. https://t.co/s8wWbQoPk7

&mdash; Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) September 22, 2022

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Just spoke with a woman from a small village of 450 people in Buryatia. She said that local authorities tried to hand out 20 draft notices, including to several in their 50s. Even if many turned away, would still produce far more than 300k conscripts if repeated across Russia. https://t.co/s8wWbQoPk7

— Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) September 22, 2022

Updated at 14.01 BST

A video circulating on social media reportedly shows men outside a military enlistment office in Dagestan challenging Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation.

In the video, which has not been independently verified, a military recruitment officer is seen addressing a group of men in the mountainous Caucasus region.

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Pretty powerful video. In Dagestan locals clearly don't want to go to war with Ukraine. The recruiting officer argues they have to fight for the future. – We don't even have a present, what future are you talking about,&quot; replies a Dagestani man. pic.twitter.com/1O4ob2GhSN

&mdash; Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) September 22, 2022

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Pretty powerful video. In Dagestan locals clearly don’t want to go to war with Ukraine. The recruiting officer argues they have to fight for the future. – We don’t even have a present, what future are you talking about,” replies a Dagestani man. pic.twitter.com/1O4ob2GhSN

— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) September 22, 2022

Updated at 13.48 BST

Dan Sabbagh

Dan Sabbagh

The five Britons released from Russia overnight are meeting up with their families after several months of captivity in which it was feared they would be executed for fighting for Ukraine.

Shaun Pinner, who was released alongside Aiden Aslin, was pictured with his family in a hotel room this morning by his mother, Debbie Price, who thanked “all the amazing people” who made his release possible.

The Presidium Network, a group involved in supporting the rescue of one of the five, said they knew all five had been reunited with close relatives, although they may not have returned home yet.

Dominik Byrne, co-founder of Presidium, said:

We know they’re safely in the UK and (have) been reunited with their families.

A major diplomatic effort was behind the release of the five Britons, who together with two Americans, a Moroccan, Croat and Swede, were released by Russia to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia said its mediation effort was led by its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who had pulled out of attending the Queen’s funeral because of the ongoing controversy over his alleged role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

It is unclear if the activity represented an attempt to boost the crown prince’s standing in the UK, but the Saudis were keen to show the former captives were safe in a video and pictures released as they got off the plane last night.

Aslin, Pinner and the other three released Britons – John Harding, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy – had been held by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, accused of being mercenaries fighting for Ukraine.

Aslin and Pinner, who had joined Ukraine’s army and were captured in Mariupol, were sentenced to death by the court, a ruling that broke the Geneva conventions, which require that prisoners of war are not treated as criminals simply for taking part in fighting.

It had been assumed that Russia or the pro-Russia separatists were trying to use the five men as diplomatic leverage. Their release was something of a surprise and came after internet rumours that Aslin and Pinner had been executed.

It was also part of a wider prisoner swap deal, in which Russia released five commanders from the Azov steelworks battle, in a mediation involving Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk and 200 other prisoners in exchange for 55 Russians.

Russia typically swaps prisoners on a one-to-one basis, and it had been feared the separatists would put the Azov steel plant defenders from Mariupol on trial. That it has backed away from keeping the prisoners suggests a rare concern for global public opinion on the part of Moscow.

Updated at 13.51 BST

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has called on Ukraine’s allies to stand firm against Vladimir Putin’s “blackmail” of nuclear retaliation.

Speaking to BFM television following his return from the UN general assembly in New York, Macron said:

Our task is to hold our line, that is to say, help Ukraine as we are doing, to protect its territory and never to attack Russia.

Russia is “very clearly under pressure” and has decided to “take a step toward escalation” but “we must never get carried away”, Macron added.

Updated at 13.24 BST

Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker

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Dutch TV launches campaign for a referendum to return Russia to its historical Dutch roots… https://t.co/A72nLCeANJ

&mdash; Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) September 22, 2022

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Putin to order 1 million Russians to fight in Ukraine – report

One million Russian citizens could be called up to fight in the war in Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation drive, according to a report by a Russian newspaper.

In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, the Russian president said military service would only apply to “citizens who are currently in the reserve, especially those who have served in the armed forces, have certain military professions and relevant experience”.

Shortly after Putin’s announcement, the country’s defence ministry Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 Russians would be called up as part of the mobilisation that would apply to “those with previous military experience”.

“These are not people who’ve never seen or heard anything about the army,” he said, adding that students can “keep going to class”.

But Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper operating in exile, has quoted an unnamed official in Putin’s government as saying that the real plan is to call up 1 million people.

The source told the newspaper that a classified seventh paragraph of the decree, signed by Putin on Wednesday, allows the Russian defence ministry to call up 1 million people.

The source said:

The figure was corrected several times, and in the end, they settled on a million.

Updated at 13.07 BST

Traffic at Russian border crossings with Finland and Georgia surged after Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilisation announcement sparked fears that men of fighting age would be called to fight on the frontline in Ukraine.

Prices for one-way flights out of Moscow to the nearest foreign locations rose above $5,000 (£4,435), with most air tickets sold out completely for coming days.

Photos showed long tailbacks at border crossings with Finland and Russia.

Cars queue to enter Finland from Russia at Finland's most southern crossing point Vaalimaa.
Cars queue to enter Finland from Russia at Finland’s most southern crossing point Vaalimaa. Photograph: Reuters
A queue of cars is seen at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Russia-Georgia border.
A queue of cars is seen at the Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars checkpoint on the Russia-Georgia border. Photograph: RFE/RL’S Georgian service/Reuters

The Kremlin has described reports of an exodus of draft-age men from Russia as exaggerated.

Updated at 13.07 BST

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has shared photographs of the Ukrainian citizens who have been released by Russia in the largest prisoner exchange since the start of the war.

In a post on Telegram, Zelenskiy wrote:

Ours. Free. We keep working to return all Ukrainians from Russian captivity. Glory to Ukraine!

Azov officer Sviatoslav Palamar who was released in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.
Azov officer Sviatoslav Palamar who was released in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. Photograph: AP
Ukrainian fighters Denys Prokopenko (C-R) speaking with Denys Monastyrskyi (C-L), Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
Ukrainian fighters Denys Prokopenko (C-R) speaking with Denys Monastyrskyi (C-L), minister of internal affairs of Ukraine. Photograph: Ministry Of Internal Affairs Of Ukraine Handout/EPA

Updated at 12.29 BST

France will continue to support Ukraine with arms and training, the country’s defence minister, Sébastien Lecornu, said.

Speaking after a meeting with his German counterpart, Christine Lambrecht, Lecornu added that France needed cooperation within the Nato alliance to continue its support for Kyiv.

Christine Lambrecht and her French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu in Berlin.
Christine Lambrecht and her French counterpart Sébastien Lecornu in Berlin. Photograph: Michele Tantussi/Reuters

Updated at 12.30 BST

Vladimir Putin is “desperate” and “bluffing” with his threats to use nuclear weapons, according to Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko.

In his speech yesterday, the Russian president warned that he had “lots of weapons to reply” to what he called western threats on Russian territory and added that he was not bluffing.

Speaking to Sky News today, Prystaiko said:

When somebody is saying that I’m not bluffing, that’s the first sign that they are actually bluffing. Otherwise, they would do something like prepare the nuclear arsenal.

They’re not doing it, which means that he’s trying to find a magic wand which will allow him to get out of the situation because he’s deeply, deeply in trouble.

Putin was trying to “intimidate all of us”, Prystaiko said, adding that he didn’t believe it would work.

He added:

We just believe in the hope that there are some forces around him (Putin) who will be able to tell him that, you know: ‘We are going nowhere, we’re going down and we’re bringing the whole nation with us.’

Updated at 12.07 BST

Kremlin denies Russian men fleeing to avoid fighting in war

The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation as “exaggerated”.

Flight sales data showed flights from Moscow to the capitals of Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, all destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out within minutes of Putin’s announcement on Wednesday.

In his regular briefing with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying:

This is not against the law.

Updated at 12.57 BST

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