Ukraine-Russia war live: Kyiv retreats from another frontline town as Zelensky claims attack plans were leaked

By Isaac M February 26, 2024

Russian forces clear out abandoned military equipment after Ukrainian troops’ retreat from Avdiivka

Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from a second eastern frontline town this month, a military spokesperson has announced, as Vladimir Putin’s forces push further into eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed it had taken over Lastochkyne, two kilometres west of Avdiivka, just hours after Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy announced their withdrawal on television.

Mr Lykhoviy said a new defensive line would be established a few kilometres west of the town, but earlier this month, Ukrainian soldiers evacuated Avdiivka to take up defensive positions in Lastochkyne.

The Independent has not yet seen visual confirmation of Russian soldiers in the town, though Ukrainian tracker DeepState has updated its map to include the area under Kremlin control.

It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that their counteroffensive plans had been leaked to the Kremlin last year.

The much-awaited summer counter attack, initially thought to be an offensive capable of ending the war, ended up largely as a failure.

He went on to say that Kyiv was preparing “several” versions of its battlefield strategy for 2024 to help avoid a repeat.


Belarusian opposition leader says Navalny ‘murder’ a green light for activist killings

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya warned on Monday that the death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in a Russian penal colony could send a “green light” for authoritarian countries to kill other political prisoners.

Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania in 2020 after running against incumbent leader Alexander Lukashenko, said she had been particularly affected by Navalny’s death due to her family circumstances.

Tsikhanouskaya’s husband Siarhei, a video blogger critical of the authorities, was arrested in May 2020 after announcing his intention to run against Lukashenko.

His family has stopped receiving any news.

“In the last year, he has been kept in incommunicado mode,” Tsikhanouskaya told Reuters on the sidelines of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“It means that I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know if he’s alive, what his health is… Letters are not delivered, I hear my children every day asking when they are going to see their daddy because it’s so painful.”

“The murder of Alexei Navalny should be like a green light for other murders, because if not strong response now, it will be more bad news for those in prisons,” she said in a plea, in English, for more pressure to release political prisoners.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya warned that more Russian dissidents could be targeted


Tom Watling26 February 2024 15:29


Zelensky urges ‘fight’ for Crimea after 10 years of occupation

Ukraine and its international partners must continue fighting to restore Ukrainian control over Crimea, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday as Kyiv marked a decade of Russian occupation of the Black Sea peninsula.

Moscow’s troops seized control of Crimea in 2014 through a covert invasion, and then used it to help launch its full-scale assault on Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

“This cruel war now being waged against Ukraine was spawned by Russian revanchism precisely when it felt that the world could turn a blind eye to such crimes,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address.

Ukraine was on Monday marking the 10th anniversary of a rally in the Crimean capital of Simferopol against a Russian-backed movement that paved the way for the annexation, which the international community condemned as illegal.

Russia marks the annexation on 18 March, the day President Vladimir Putin formalised it with a treaty in Moscow.

Kyiv has said it will fight on until it restores its 1991 borders, which include Crimea, and is leading a diplomatic push to devise a peace plan that envisions a full Russian troop withdrawal.

Moscow says the idea of peace talks without Russia taking part is absurd and that any settlement of the war would have to recognise the “new realities on the ground”.

Ukraine‘s military is struggling to hold back Russian attacks along the sprawling front line as Russia’s invasion enters its third year.

Mr Zelensky, in his address, urged Ukraine‘s partners to “fight for the full renewal of international law”.

“We can end this war on our Ukrainian terms. We can return our land and people from the occupation,” he said. “We can bring Russia to justice for what it has done. But for this to happen, we must fight.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy answers media questions during his press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Tom Watling26 February 2024 15:00


Putin had Alexi Navalny killed to stop prisoner swap, ally claims

A plan to swap Alexei Navalny for a Russian FSB officer was in its “final stages” at the time of the opposition figure’s death – and Vladimir Putin killed him as the Russian leader couldn’t stand the thought of him being free, one of allies has claimed.

Speaking on YouTube, Maria Pevchikh, the chairwoman of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said talks about exchanging Mr Navalny and two unnamed US nationals for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB security service hit man in jail in Germany, was close just a day before his death.

Tom Watling26 February 2024 14:29


Inside a frontline drone ‘laboratory’ creating new ways for Ukraine’s troops to hit Putin’s forces

As we reach the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Askold Krushelnycky meets members of a battalion in eastern Ukraine using 3D-printed explosive casings to build ‘bomber’ drones to take out artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks.

Tom Watling26 February 2024 13:50


Ukraine warns delays in Western aid supplies ‘costing lives and territory’

Speaking from the Ukrainian capital at an event to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Rustem Umerov said in the “mathematics of war” there are deadly consequences when promised military support “does not constitute delivery”.

Tom Watling26 February 2024 13:20


Moscow ally Serbia cracks down on anti-war Russians living in the Balkan country

When Elena Koposova signed an open letter against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, she didn’t expect a backlash in her newly adopted home state of Serbia.

After all, Serbia is formally seeking to join the European Union while adopting all the democratic values that go along with the membership, she thought. Now, she sees she was wrong.

Tom Watling26 February 2024 12:50


Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.

The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine.

In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin‘s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.

Tom Watling26 February 2024 12:20


Navalny was close to being freed in a prisoner swap, says ally

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was close to being freed in a prisoner swap at the time of his death, Maria Pevchikh, a Navalny ally, said on Monday, repeating her allegation that President Vladimir Putin had him killed.

Speaking on YouTube, Ms Pevchikh said talks about exchanging Navalny and two unnamed US nationals for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB security service hit man in jail in Germany, were in their final stages at the time of his death.

Mr Navalny, 47, died at an Arctic penal colony on 16 February. The Kremlin has denied Russia had any involvement in his death. Mr Navalny’s death certificate stated that he died of natural causes, according to his supporters.

Ms Pevchikh did not name the two US nationals in contention to be swapped along with Mr Navalny. But the United States has said it is trying to return Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Paul Whelan, a former US marine.

“Alexei Navalny could be sitting in this seat right now, right today. That’s not a figure of speech, it could and should have happened,” said Ms Pevchikh.

“Navalny should have been out in the next few days because we got a decision about his exchange. In early February, Putin was offered to exchange the killer, FSB officer Vadim Krasikov, who’s serving time for a murder in Berlin, for two American citizens and Alexei Navalny.”

Ms Pevchikh said she had confirmation that negotiations for the swap were in their final stages on the evening of 15 February.

Mr Navalny, she alleged, had been killed a day later because Putin could not tolerate the thought of him being free.

Ms Pevchikh said Mr Navalny’s allies had been working since the start of the Ukraine war on a plan to get him out of Russia as part of a prisoner exchange involving “Russian spies in exchange for political prisoners”.

She said they had made desperate efforts and tried to find intermediaries, even approaching the late Henry Kissinger, but said Western governments had failed to show the necessary political will.

“Officials, American and German, nodded their heads in understanding. They recounted how important it was to help Navalny and political prisoners, they shook hands, made promises and did nothing.”

Alexei Navalny was being discussed as part of a prisoner swap when he was killed, say allies

(Sky News/After The Fall)

Tom Watling26 February 2024 11:56


Denmark ends probe into Nord Stream pipeline blasts

Denmark on Monday said it had dropped its investigation into the explosions in 2022 on the Nord Stream pipelines carrying Russian gas to Germany, becoming the second nation to do so after neighbouring Sweden closed its own inquiry.

The multi-billion dollar Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines transporting gas under the Baltic Sea were ruptured by a series of blasts in the Swedish and Danish economic zones in September 2022, releasing vast amounts of methane into the air.

“The investigation has led the authorities to conclude that there was deliberate sabotage of the gas pipelines. However, the assessment is that there are not sufficient grounds to pursue a criminal case in Denmark,” a Copenhagen police statement said.

Russia and the West, at loggerheads over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, have pointed fingers at one another over the pipeline blasts. Each has denied any involvement and no one has taken responsibility.

Sweden earlier this month dropped its investigation into the explosions, saying it lacked jurisdiction in the case, but had handed uncovered evidence to German investigators, who have yet to publish any findings.

Danish police said they had been cooperating with relevant foreign partners and that the investigation conducted had been “both complex and comprehensive”.

In this picture provided by Swedish Coast Guard, a leak from Nord Stream 2 is seen, on Sept. 28, 2022

Tom Watling26 February 2024 11:25


Ukraine withdraws from town nearby Avdiivka in second retreat in February

The Ukrainian military confirmed on Monday it is retreating from the village of Lastochkyne in eastern Ukraine, saying the move would help it halt the westward advance of Russian forces.

Lastochkyne is around two kilometres west of the town of Avdiivka, which Ukraine abandoned earlier this month.

“Ukrainian Armed Forces units withdrew from the village of Lastochkyne in order to organise defences… and prevent the enemy from advancing further in a western direction,” military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy said on television.

Mr Lykhoviy said a new defensive line would be established a few kilometres west of Lastochkyne.

The Russian Ministry of Defence have claimed they have now captured Lastochkyne, according to Kremlin state news agency Ria Novosti.

Tom Watling26 February 2024 11:04


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