Ukraine war live updates: Russia could use sea mines to target civilian ships in the Black Sea, declassified intelligence warns

Russia has signed a deal for a permanent naval base on the Black Sea coast of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, its leader was quoted on Thursday as saying by the Izvestiya newspaper, a day after he met President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian forces since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Aslan Bzhania, the self-styled president of Russian-backed Abkhazia, said an agreement had been signed for a permanent naval base in the Ochamchira region.

“We have signed an agreement, and in the near future there will be a permanent base of the Russian Navy in the Ochamchira district,” Bzhania told Izvestiya.

The waters of the Black Sea along a pier in Sukhum in the Ochamchira region of Abkhazia.

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“This is all aimed at increasing the level of defence capability of both Russia and Abkhazia, and this kind of interaction will continue,” he said. “There are also things I can’t talk about.”

Russia made no immediate comment.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia, as independent states in 2008 after Russian troops repelled a Georgian attempt to retake South Ossetia in a five-day war which ended on August 12, 2008.

The West accused Russia of effectively annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia and when talk surfaced in 2009 of a Russian base in Ochamchira, the NATO military alliance expressed concern.

The news of the Russian base at Ochamchira, where the Soviet Union had a naval base, could indicate Russia is seeking alternatives to Sevastopol while also expanding its military presence down the Black Sea coast towards Turkey.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Russia had withdrawn the bulk of its Black Sea Fleet from its main base in annexed Crimea due to Ukrainian attacks.

At his meeting with Bzhania on Wednesday, Putin did not say anything about a naval base. But Bzhania did say that he wanted to participate in “the integration processes initiated by the Russian side.”

— Reuters

Russia has been conducting civil defense exercises across much of the country as it looks to prepare the public, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday.

The civil defense exercises were based “on a scenario of large-scale international armed conflict,” the ministry noted in an intelligence update posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The exercises have taken place annually since 2012 and coincide with Russian Civil Defense Day on Oct. 4. This year’s exercises are unlikely to have been dramatically changed or expanded, the ministry stated.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry firefighters extinguish a fire on an oil storage during simulation exercises at an oil plant outside Stavropol.

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“For generations, the USSR and then Russia has paid attention to domestic preparations for a major conflict. However, even with the ongoing war in Ukraine, it is unlikely Russia has significantly changed its posture of national preparedness in recent months,” the ministry noted.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia could use sea mines to target civilian ships in the Black Sea, the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office warned late Wednesday.

The U.K. said newly declassified intelligence shows Russia may continue to target civilian shipping in the Black Sea, including by laying sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports.

The U.K. previously warned that the Russian military had attempted a missile strike against a cargo ship in the Black Sea. “The U.K. assesses that Russia would lay blame on Ukraine for any attacks,” the FCDO said in a press statement.

An aerial view of a dry cargo ship transporting grain from Ukraine under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea deal.

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“The U.K. assesses Russia is seeking to target civilian shipping travelling through Ukraine’s ‘humanitarian corridor’ in order to deter the export of Ukrainian grain. This would continue Russia’s attempts to pressure the Ukrainian economy. Russia almost certainly wants to avoid openly sinking civilian ships, instead falsely laying blame on Ukraine for any attacks against civilian vessels in the Black Sea,” it noted.

The FCDO said by releasing its assessment of this intelligence, the U.K. seeks to expose Russia’s tactics to deter any such incident.

“We are working with Ukraine and other partners to put in place arrangements to improve the safety of shipping. Our advice to British shipping has not changed the U.K.’s maritime security level for Ukrainian ports and waters remains at the highest level due to the threat posed by Russia.”

It added that it had put in place intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to monitor Russian activity in the Black Sea. 

In July, Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal with Ukraine to enable the safe export of agricultural products from three Ukrainian ports, saying its own exports faced continuing restrictions from sanctions.

Since then, the U.K. claimed that Russia has damaged 130 port infrastructure facilities in Odesa, Chornomorsk and Reni, and destroyed almost 300,000 tonnes of grain — more than the total amount Russia promised to donate to African states, and enough to feed over 1.3 million people for a year.

Russia has not responded to the U.K.’s claims.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine has created its equivalent of an invisibility cloak, digital transformation minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Have u ever read about invisibility cloaks in fairy tales? Well, Ukrainians made it,” Fedorov wrote.

The cloak in question blocks heat radiation, making soldiers invisible to thermal cameras, Fedorov said, and helping them to work effectively through the night.

— Hannah Ward-Glenton

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used his headline speech at the close of the conference to reassert his authority and outline a number of new policies.

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U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on international allies to continue to support Ukraine during a major campaign speech.

“I say this to our allies, if we give President Zelenskyy the tools, the Ukrainians will finish the job,” Sunak said at the annual conference of the ruling Conservative Party. “Slava Ukraini [glory to Ukraine].”

The U.K. is the second largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine after the U.S., supplying £4.6 billion ($5.59 billion) in 2022 and committing to the same figure in 2023.

— Jenni Reid

Marina Ovsyannikova stands inside a defendants’ box during a court session over charges of “discrediting” the Russian army, in Moscow, on August 11, 2022. She has since fled the country.

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Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova was on Wednesday sentenced in absentia to eight years and six months in jail for “public dissemination of knowingly false information” regarding the Russian armed forces, according to a Telegram post by the Moscow City Court.

Ovsyannikova garnered international attention in 2022 when she appeared on a live news broadcast on state TV with a sign saying “Stop the war” and “They’re lying to you” in Russian and “Russians against war” in English, along with the Ukrainian and Russian flags.

She was charged under new Russian laws prohibiting the spread of false information or discrediting of the army, but escaped house arrest last year and fled with her daughter for a European country.

In a statement Tuesday, she called the charges “absurd and politically motivated.”

“Of course, I do not admit my guilt. And I don’t go back on a single word,” Ovsyannikova said.

— Jenni Reid

Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of the NATO Military Committee.

Lise Aserud | Afp | Getty Images

NATO’s most senior official on Tuesday said “the bottom of the barrel is now visible” when it comes to Western military ammunition for Ukraine, according to a BBC report from the Warsaw Security Forum.

Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of the NATO Military Committee, said governments and defense manufacturers need to increase the speed of production.

“We need large volumes. The just-in-time, just-enough economy we built together in 30 years in our liberal economies is fine for a lot of things – but not the armed forces when there is a war ongoing,” Bauer said, according to the BBC.

— Jenni Reid

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