Watch: Champagne-drinking Putin vows to fire more missiles at Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has vowed to continue attacking Ukrainian energy systems in comments at a champagne reception in the Kremlin.

"There's a lot of noise about our strikes on the energy infrastructure of a neighbouring country. Yes, we do that. But who started it?" the Russian president said at an awards ceremony.

Putin added that global criticism of strikes that have left millions without electricity and water at the start of winter would "not interfere with our combat missions”.

He justified the move by accusing Kyiv of blowing up power lines from the Kursk nuclear power plant and not supplying water to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

"Not supplying water to a city of more than a million people is an act of genocide," Putin said.

03:00 PM

Today’s live blog is closing

Today’s live blog is closing. Here is a roundup of the day’s main events:

  • Russia has been forced to patch up its elite tank unit formed to defend Moscow with newly mobilised troops after suffering heavy casualties in Ukraine, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

  • Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it traded US basketball star Brittney Griner for Russian citizen Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap.

  • Talks between Russia and the US on a prisoner swap have only made sporadic progress, a top Russian diplomat said in comments published on Thursday.

  • Russia's fleet shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea, the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, the largest city in the annexed Crimean peninsular.

  • The Kremlin said on Thursday that its forces are still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that Moscow has claimed as its own.

  • The Biden administration has not rejected outright a request from Ukraine to provide them with cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries.

02:45 PM

Russia forced to fill elite Kremlin guard with conscripts

Russia has been forced to patch up its elite tank unit formed to defend Moscow with newly mobilised troops after suffering heavy casualties in Ukraine, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

The 1st Guards Tank Army (1 GTA) has been dispatched along the defensive line in Luhansk oblast, but is still well below its authorised strength of 25,000, they said.

“The effectiveness of 1 GTA and other formations’ defensive operations will largely depend upon the extent of mutually supporting, fallback positions.”

Moscow’s 1st Guards Tank Army – believed to be made up of at least 500 tanks and other combat vehicles – had been severely degraded in battles around Kharkiv.

Russia now has an “almost continuous trench system” stretching 37 miles between the Russian border and annexed Svatove in the area to defend against Ukrainian advances, the MoD added.

02:36 PM

Briton Paul Whelan still in Russian custody

Paul Whelan, a Canadian-born ex-United States Marine with US, British, and Irish citizenship who was convicted in 2020 of spying, remains in Russian custody despite the release of Brittney Griner.

His family expressed their joy at the news of Ms Griner's release but said they were "devastated" he remained in Russia. David Whelan, Paul’s brother, said:

“I can't even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once towards his release. He'd been worrying about where he'd live when he got back to the US.

“And now what? How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison? I can't imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point. It's clear that the US government has no concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes.

“Increasingly, I worry that Paul himself won't survive 12 more years in a Russian labor colony. He has tried to stay healthy but one wonders how long that determination to keep going can endure. The likelihood that our parents will see their son again diminishes each day his wrongful detention continues.”

02:20 PM

Heavily armed Russian train patrols occupied Ukraine

Russia claims to have built a heavily armed train that's patrolling occupied parts of Ukraine. The specially built train is manned by troops equipped with machine guns.

01:58 PM

Putin vows more strikes on Ukraine's energy infrastructure

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday vowed to continue attacking Ukrainian energy systems despite global criticism of strikes that have left millions without electricity and water at the start of winter.

"There's a lot of noise about our strikes on the energy infrastructure of a neighbouring country. Yes, we do that. But who started it?" Putin said at an awards ceremony in the Kremlin, adding that the criticism would "not interfere with our combat missions."

He presented the strikes as a response to a blast on Moscow's bridge to annexed Crimea and other attacks, accusing Kyiv of blowing up power lines from the Kursk nuclear power plant and not supplying water to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

"Not supplying water to a city of more than a million people is an act of genocide," Putin said.

He accused the West of "complete silence" on this and of bias against Russia.

"As soon as we move and do something in response, there is uproar and clamour spreading through the whole universe," he said.

01:37 PM

Biden celebrates Brittney Griner's release

President Joe Biden has spoken to basketball star Brittney Griner following her release from Russian captivity.

He said: "Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home."

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01:22 PM

Russia trades US basketball star Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it traded US basketball star Brittney Griner for Russian citizen Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap.

Victor Bout's exchange with Griner took place at Abu Dhabi airport on Dec. 8, Russian news agencies reported.

01:09 PM

Ukraine: The Latest

Listen to today's episode of Ukraine: The Latest below:

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12:59 PM

Russia says goal of Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety zone is to 'stop Ukraine shelling'

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the main goal of a proposed safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine was to "stop Ukraine shelling" the facility, while Kyiv said Moscow was storing advanced weapons on the site.

Both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant and risking a potentially catastrophic nuclear accident at Europe's biggest nuclear power station.

The plant has come under repeated shelling since Russia seized it shortly after launching its invasion in February,

Ukraine has said Russia is using the site as a de facto weapons depot - charges repeated by Ukraine's state nuclear energy company Energoatom on Thursday.

In a statement, Energoatom said Russia had brought multiple rocket launchers to the site which it had stationed near the plant's power unit No. 6. It said Russia planned to use them to launch attacks against Ukrainian positions and bridges on the western bank of the Dnipro river.

Russia seized the plant in the first days after it invaded Ukraine, but it has been operated by Ukrainian staff. In October, Putin issued a decree transferring the plant and all Ukrainian employees from Energoatom to a subsidiary of Russia's state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom. Kyiv said the transfer of assets amounted to theft.

12:41 PM

At least 10 killed in 'deliberate strike' on civilians

At least 10 people are dead after Russian shelling bombarded the eastern Ukraine town of Kurakhove on Wednesday in a "deliberate strike" at civilians.

President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the strike on the town as "very brutal" in his nightly video address on Wednesday.

"The Russian army carried out a very brutal, absolutely deliberate strike at Kurakhove," he said.

"Precisely at civilians. At ordinary people. At the market, elevator, gas station, bus station, residential building. The list of the dead so far includes ten people, there are many wounded."

Kurakhove is in the Donetsk region, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting since Russia's war on Ukraine began.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Mr Zelensky's office, had earlier denounced the attack on Telegram, showing video footage of buildings in flames.

"Terrorists are inhuman," Mr Tymoshenko wrote. "And they will be held to account for it."

12:00 PM

Midday roundup

Here is a roundup of the day’s key events so far:

  • Talks between Russia and the US on a prisoner swap have only made sporadic progress, a top Russian diplomat said in comments published on Thursday.

  • Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine's power grid, which remains in operation despite sustaining major damage.

  • Russia's fleet shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea, the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, the largest city in the annexed Crimean peninsular.

  • A further 340 Russian soldiers have been killed by Ukraine in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to more than 93,000, according to Ukrainian statistics.

  • Ukraine is currently constructing its largest modular town for refugees in Lviv.

  • The Kremlin said on Thursday that its forces are still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that Moscow has claimed as its own.

  • The Biden administration has not rejected outright a request from Ukraine to provide them with cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries.

11:42 AM

Zelensky's Time award 'Russophobic,' says Kremlin

The Kremlin on Thursday said Time magazine's decision to name Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as "Person of the Year" reflected "Russophobic" trends in Western countries.

The comments came after Zelensky was ranked "Person of the Year" by the magazine on Wednesday and the "Most Influential" person in Europe by Politico on Thursday.

Time noted its choice to nominate Zelensky was "the most clear-cut in memory", hailing the leader's decision to remain in Kyiv and rally his country amid Russia's offensive.

The cover of Time magazine announcing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as the 2022 Person of the Year - NEIL JAMIESON/TIME/AFP via Getty Images
The cover of Time magazine announcing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as the 2022 Person of the Year - NEIL JAMIESON/TIME/AFP via Getty Images

"The publication's editorial line does not go beyond the European mainstream, which is absolutely blinkered, anti-Russian and frantically Russophobic," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

The military operation has proved transformative for the 44-year-old former comedian, catapulting him from embattled leader of a struggling European outlier to a global household name and standard-bearer of opposition to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

He has rallied Western support for his country in almost daily foreign calls and meetings. Putin, who was Time's person of the year in 2007, is increasingly isolated from the West.

11:21 AM

Ukraine's request for cluster munitions still under US consideration

The Biden administration has not rejected outright a request from Ukraine to provide them with cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries.

The Ukrainian request for munitions is one of the most controversial requests the country has made to President Joe Biden since the invasion in February.

Senior administration officials have been considering the request for months, according to CNN, and have publicly stated they aim to provide Ukraine with as much support as is necessary to give them the upper hand.

The munitions could become a last resort if stockpiles begin to run worryingly low, but the proposal has not yet received significant consideration.

Cluster munitions scatter “bomblets” across large areas and, like landmines, pose a longterm risk to those who come across them.

Both Ukraine and Russia have deployed them so far, but Russia has used them more often against civilian targets, according to Human Rights Watch.

10:59 AM

Russia plans to 'liberate' parts of Ukraine that Moscow annexed

The Kremlin said on Thursday that its forces are still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that Moscow has claimed as its own.

Moscow proclaimed that it had annexed four provinces of Ukraine - Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson - after holding so-called referendums in September that were rejected as bogus and illegal by Kyiv, the West and a majority of countries at the United Nations.

None of the provinces were fully under Russian control, and Moscow left unclear how much of them it was annexing.

Asked on Thursday whether Russia planned to incorporate any more territories beyond the four regions, Peskov said:

"There is no question of that. At least, there have been no statements in this regard. But there is nevertheless a lot of work ahead to liberate the territories; in a number of new regions of the Russian Federation, there are occupied territories that have to be liberated.

"I mean part of the Donetsk Republic, as well as what became part of the Russian Federation, and then was re-occupied by Ukrainian troops."

Ukraine has pushed Russian forces out of a small area of Luhansk province, and last month Russia's army quit all the parts of Kherson province that it had controlled on the west bank of the Dnipro River, including the provincial capital, the city of Kherson.

10:40 AM

Largest refugee town under construction

Ukraine is currently constructing its largest modular town for refugees in Lviv.

More than a thousand people who fled the Russian attacks on Ukraine will be able to live in the two-story city.

It will have all the communication facilities necessary for a comfortable winter stay.

A view of the construction of Ukraine's largest modular town for refugees - Pavlo Palamarchuk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A view of the construction of Ukraine's largest modular town for refugees - Pavlo Palamarchuk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

10:20 AM

Ukraine faces 'significant' power shortages after Russian attacks

Ukraine enforced new emergency power cuts on Thursday as it tried to repair energy infrastructure damaged in Russian air strikes which the national grid operator said had caused significant supply shortages.

Russia pummelled power facilities across Ukraine in the latest big wave of attacks on Monday at a time of the year when energy consumption usually rises because winter is setting in.

"As of 11:00 a.m. on December 8, because of damage caused by missile strikes to power plants and the high-voltage network, the system has a significant shortage of electricity," grid operator Ukrenergo said.

Workers repair high-voltage power lines cut by recent missile strikes near Odessa - OLEKSANDR GIMANOV/AFP via Getty Images
Workers repair high-voltage power lines cut by recent missile strikes near Odessa - OLEKSANDR GIMANOV/AFP via Getty Images

It said the situation was complicated by the weather, with western regions facing frost, rain, snow and strong winds that were causing wires to ice over, but that the most difficult situation was in eastern areas where fighting has been fiercest.

"In all regions, there is a lack of energy - up to a third of what is needed," said Oleksandr Starukh, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine.

10:00 AM

Russia may change approach to medium-range missiles

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that Moscow would adhere to its moratorium on deploying intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe, as long as the United States did not deploy such weapons in Europe or Asia.

"The moratorium is still in place, but if such weapons are deployed by the United States on European or Asian territory, our approach cannot remain unchanged," Ryabkov told the Rossiya 24 news channel, echoing comments he made a year ago.

09:37 AM

Russian death toll rises to more than 93,000

A further 340 Russian soldiers have been killed by Ukraine in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to more than 93,000, according to Ukrainian statistics.

Ongoing fighting on Thursday also led to the destruction of two Russian armoured combat vehicles, two artillery systems and two tanks.

Two drones, used to attack residential areas and infrastructure, were also eliminated.

The figures come from Ukrainian statistics, which have not been independently verified.

09:12 AM

The latest in pictures

Here is a roundup of the latest photos coming out of Ukraine:

A local man walks on the debris of destroyed private house in Mariupol - SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A local man walks on the debris of destroyed private house in Mariupol - SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
An expert of the prosecutor's office examining collected remnants of shells and missiles used by the Russian army - ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP via Getty Images
An expert of the prosecutor's office examining collected remnants of shells and missiles used by the Russian army - ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP via Getty Images
A local resident, Liubov Onyschenko, is seen in her house heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in the village of Kupriianivka, Zaporizhzhia - REUTERS
A local resident, Liubov Onyschenko, is seen in her house heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in the village of Kupriianivka, Zaporizhzhia - REUTERS
People walk down a street amid a snowfall as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in central Kyiv - REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
People walk down a street amid a snowfall as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in central Kyiv - REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

08:49 AM

Germany's Scholz wants air defence shield in next five years

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hopes to develop a missile defence shield in the next five years, he said in an interview with the Funke Media Group and French newspaper Ouest-France published on Thursday.

"Right now, the government is talking to the manufacturers of the various systems to get ready for concrete decisions," he said.

Scholz also reiterated his goal of boosting German defence spending to meet the 2 per cent-of-GDP target set for Nato allies, including with the expansion of air defence for a so-called Sky Shield with other Nato states.

Germany and more than a dozen Nato partners are aiming to jointly procure air defence systems that protect allied territory from missiles.

Among the options being considered are Israel's Arrow 3 system, the US Patriot and German IRIS-T units.

In November, a stray missile landed in Poland near the border with Ukraine, casting light on Nato's air defence vulnerabilities and prompting Germany to supply Patriot systems to Poland

08:30 AM

Red Cross makes fresh visits to Ukrainian and Russian POWs

The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war over the past two weeks, delivering supplies and news to families, it said on Thursday.

"The ICRC last week carried out one two-day visit to Ukrainian prisoners of war, with another happening this week. During the same period, visits were also carried out to Russian prisoners of war, with more visits planned by the end of the month," it said in a statement.

The visits allowed the group "to check on their condition and treatment and share much-awaited news with their families. Our teams were also able to provide items such as books, personal hygiene items, blankets, and warm clothes."

The mothers, wives and relatives of Ukrainian prisoners of war gather - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The mothers, wives and relatives of Ukrainian prisoners of war gather - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

"ICRC teams are reaching out to families of prisoners of war to share updates from their loved ones. Most updates are short notes of love and personal news. Some ask family members not to worry. Others ask them for cigarettes, socks, and sweets. All these messages are a lifeline for anguished relatives," the statement said.

"These visits are an important step forward in preserving humanity amidst the brutality of the international armed conflict," ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric was quoted as saying. "We are able to check how prisoners of war are being treated and to make sure families receive updates. My expectation is that these visits lead to more regular access to all prisoners of war."

08:11 AM

Russian ship shoots down drone over Black Sea

Russia's fleet shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea, the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, the largest city in the annexed Crimean peninsular, said on Thursday.

"This morning, a ship of the Black Sea Fleet shot down a UAV over the sea," Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said on Telegram.

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

07:52 AM

Russia fired at Ukraine's power grid over 1,000 times

Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine's power grid, which remains in operation despite sustaining major damage.

Recent Russian air strikes on critical infrastructure have seriously damaged the grid and led to emergency and planned outages across the country.

Ukrainian officials expect a new wave of Russian bombing this week, with previous rounds targeting critical infrastructure and causing massive water and power cuts - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Ukrainian officials expect a new wave of Russian bombing this week, with previous rounds targeting critical infrastructure and causing massive water and power cuts - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Officials are scouring the world for complex equipment required for repairs, Volodymyr Kudrytsky, chief executive of the Ukrenergo grid operator, told a meeting arranged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

"These attacks represent the biggest blow to a power grid that humanity has ever seen. More than 1,000 shells and rockets were fired at electrical facilities and lines, including substations," Interfax Ukraine quoted Mr Kudrytsky as saying.

07:31 AM

Police officers killed during energy grid works

Four policemen were killed by Russian mines while working to stablise the energy grid in southern Kherson, Volodymyr Zelensky said.

Meanwhile, four other police officers were being treated for injuries.

The president listed the names of the dead in his Wednesday night video address. Mykhailo Kuratchenko, chief of police of the Cherkasy region, was among those killed.

"He was helping colleagues in the south," Mr Zelensky said.

Others killed included EOD technician Ihor Melnyk, dog trainer Serhiy Nenada and assistant duty officer of the Uman district police department, Vadym Perizhok.

07:15 AM

Progress remains slow in Russia-US talks on prisoner swap

Talks between Russia and the US on a prisoner swap have only made sporadic progress, a top Russian diplomat said in comments published on Thursday.

Russia and the US have been examining ways of conducting an exchange to enable jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan to go free.

Moscow wants convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout to be included in any deal.

"The questions of exchanges are examined in a separate channel designated by the presidents and sometimes this goes well and sometimes not so well," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian newspaper Izvestia.

"This is an extremely delicate topic - we are talking about the fate of individuals."