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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Russia facing serious security threat in border regions, UK says

Russia’s Belgorod region has been targeted before. Here, damage to a food market and a chemical plant is seen after an attack on the Belgorod town of Shebekino on November 4, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russia is facing “an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat” in its border regions, the British Ministry of Defense said Tuesday after an attack on the Russian border region of Belgorod that Russian anti-Putin groups claimed to have carried out Monday.

“Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action,” the ministry said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

“Russia will almost certainly use these incidents to support the official narrative that it is the victim in the war,” the ministry added.

Anti-Putin militias known as the “Freedom of Russia” Legion and the “Russian Volunteer Corps” claimed responsibility for the raid on the district of Grayvoron in Belgorod that lies on the border with Ukraine.

Belgorod’s governor said Tuesday that a “counter-terrorism operation” was ongoing Tuesday. Russia blamed the attack on Ukraine, calling it the work of “saboteurs,” but Kyiv has denied any involvement in the incident.

— Holly Ellyatt

Fighting subsiding in ‘captured’ Bakhmut, minister says

Smoke rises from buildings in this aerial view of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with Russian troops, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on April 26, 2023.

Libkos | AP

Ukraine said fighting appeared to have subsided in Bakhmut, a town that Russia’s mercenary forces claimed to have captured last weekend, although Kyiv denied it had fallen.

“This day [the past 24 hours], the activity of the enemy’s offensive actions in the Bakhmut direction decreased somewhat,” Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said Tuesday.

“In the city of Bakhmut, the fighting has subsided, the enemy continues to clear the areas under his control,” she added, in a post on Telegram. At the same time, the amount of shelling remains significant, she added.

Ukraine still controlled parts of the southwest of the town, which has been largely reduced to ruins by months of attritional warfare, and fighting continues in the suburbs.

“We have a slight advance on the flanks to the north and south of Bakhmut,” she said. CNBC was unable to verify the information in the post.

Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group claimed last weekend to have fully captured Bakhmut, with footage showing Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin and mercenary troops raising Russian and Wagner flags in the town. Prigozhin said his force would hand over the town to regular Russian units in a matter of days.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said yesterday that Russia’s “hyperfocus on claiming victory in Bakhmut distracts from the precarious Russian military situation in and around Bakhmut.”

The Russian military situation in Bakhmut is particularly vulnerable as the Russian offensive effort in the area has likely culminated, granting Ukrainian forces the opportunity to launch further counterattacks on Bakhmut’s already-weakened flanks.”

“Wagner’s withdrawal in contact will also likely result in the Russian MoD manning defensive lines with poorly trained and provisioned conventional units similar to those that retreated from their positions while defending against Ukrainian counterattacks earlier in May.”

— Holly Ellyatt

‘Counter-terrorism operation’ in Russia’s Belgorod region continues, governor says

The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said on Tuesday the “counter-terrorism operation” in the region was ongoing, with the defense ministry and law enforcement agencies continuing “to clean up” the territory on the border with Ukraine.

“On the situation in the Graivoron district: the cleaning of the territory by the Ministry of Defense together with law enforcement agencies continues,” the governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on the Telegram messaging app.

“I now appeal to the residents of the Graivoron district, who … temporarily left their homes, it is not possible to return yet.”

Gladkov said Monday that at least three people had been injured and three houses and a local administrative building damaged during a cross-border attack from Ukraine.

A senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv had nothing to do with the armed operation in the Belgorod region.

“Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and studying the situation, but it has nothing to do with it,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.

“As you know, tanks are sold at any Russian military store, and underground guerrilla groups are composed of Russian citizens.” In a written statement to Reuters, Podolyak said Ukraine’s military operates only on Ukrainian territory and echoed Ukrainian military intelligence in blaming Russian partisans for the incursion.

— Reuters

Power restored to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

Energoatom said on Telegram that the latest outage at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (seen here in March), the seventh since the start of the war, was due to Russian shelling of an external power line.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Power has been restored to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine following an outage earlier today that Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear energy company blamed on Russian shelling.

Energoatom said earlier Monday that the plant was forced to go into “blackout mode” and that back-up diesel generators were operating at the plant to make sure nuclear fuel was kept cool.

Later this morning, Energoatom and Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo said power had been restored to the plant, which is occupied by Russian forces. The outage today was the seventh the plant has experienced, Energoatom said.

Ukraine and Russia continuously accuse each other of endangering the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly called for the facility to be “demilitarized.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Fighting continues in Bakhmut, Kyiv says, with Russia bulking up forces

Ukrainian soldiers on the Donetsk front line as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on April 24, 2023.

Muhammed Enes Yildirim | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Kyiv says Ukrainian troops are advancing around Bakhmut while Russia is bulking up forces, rebuffing claims by Russia that its fighters have fully seized the town in eastern Ukraine.

“Now the fiercest battles are taking place in the Mariinka, Avdiivka, and Bakhmut directions. The enemy is concentrating most of its forces in the direction of Bakhmut,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on domestic television, NBC reported.

“The situation has not fundamentally changed since yesterday … You remember that yesterday we remained in control of certain infrastructural facilities, as well as private houses in the southwestern part of the city. Today we still control this, albeit small, part of the city,” she said.

“Fighting continues. Last night, the enemy carried out a sweep of the territories he took under control; that is, they checked whether any of our sabotage groups remained there,” Maliar said.

She said Russian forces in the city which are made up largely of mercenary fighters were being forced to go on the defensive in parts of the city.

“Due to the fact that we moved along the flanks from the north and south and occupied certain heights there, we made it very difficult for the enemy to stay in the city. And we continue to advance [on the flanks]. The intensity is somewhat reduced, but we keep moving. In the north, there are much less action now. In the south, we are moving forward,” she said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Wagner mercenary group head says his forces will leave Bakhmut soon

Maxar satellite imagery of homes and buildings in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

2022 Maxar Technologies. | Getty Images

The head of Russia’s prominent private military company, the Wagner Group, said Monday that his fighters will soon leave the town of Bakhmut his fighters claimed to have captured.

Commenting on his business’ Telegram channel, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said “there are lines of defense on the western outskirts [of Bakhmut] now therefore, PMC Wagner is going to leave Artemovsk from May 25 to June 1,” he said, using the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut.

The Wagner Group claimed to have wholly captured Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, after months of bloody combat in and around the town. Ukraine has denied Russia’s claims that the town has fallen, saying it continues to hold positions on the outskirts of the town.

Prigozhin said his group would hand over control of the city to the regular Russian army and made a another dig at the Russian Defense Ministry, with which he has a very fractious relationship, saying it could send its generals whom he has frequently disparaged as lacking the requisite skills for their positions to defend the town.

“If there are not enough personnel in the ministry of defense (to replace Wagner), we have thousands of generals (in Russia), so we just need to make up one general’s regiment, put everyone under arms – and everything will be fine,” he said wryly.

— Holly Ellyatt

Extensive Russian defenses revealed ahead of Ukrainian counteroffensive

A BBC investigation has revealed extensive Russian defenses and fortifications that have been prepared in occupied parts of the country ahead of Ukraine’s much-awaited counteroffensive.

BBC Verify, a new unit within the British broadcaster charged with investigating and verifying information, video, and images, said it had examined hundreds of satellite images of Ukraine and had “identified some key points in the significant build-up of trenches and other fortifications in southern Ukraine since October.”

The images showed a 15-mile section of Crimean coastline “littered with defence structures installed by Russian troops” as well as defensive lines of anti-tank trenches and dragon’s teeth (pyramid-shaped concrete blocks designed to block military vehicles) near the potential area of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, in southern Ukraine.

Anti-tank defenses are commonplace in Ukraine.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Investigative journalists and analysts at the BBC also found that a line of anti-tank ditches and trenches now runs alongside a major highway near the potential counteroffensive site and that the route is likely to be heavily mined; Ukraine has understandably not said where or when it will launch its counteroffensive. Read BBC Verify’s article here.

The report echoes concerns voiced by British defense analysts last Friday when they said Russia’s large-scale defense-building could prove a challenging obstacle for Ukraine to overcome, warning onlookers not to dismiss Russia’s military as incompetent, as it had been labelled early on in the invasion after previous mistakes.

Read more here: Russia’s military has adapted and is now a more formidable enemy for Ukraine, defense analysts say

— Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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