Warring Russian President Vladimir Putin has today launched a search for British SAS forces alleged to be fighting in western Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s Investigative Committee (IC), often referred to as Putin’s personal CIA, said Saturday it will look into ‘the facts of the activities of British SAS saboteurs in Ukrainian regions,’ in particular Lviv, according to state-controlled outlet RIA Novosti.
It comes as Kremlin-backed soldiers encircle the last remaining defenders of Mariupol to the east, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky vowing to pull out of peace talks with Russia if any of his soldiers are killed in the last stand in the strategic port city.
He also said he was ‘satisfied’ with the military aid coming from the UK, just hours before prime minister Boris Johnson announced further assistance, including more armoured vehicles, in a series of tweets on Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Kyiv on Sunday and hold talks with Zelensky to discuss the kinds of weapons he needs to fight off Russia – who said it would deploy its new intercontinental nuclear weapon – the Sarmat, aka ‘Satan II’ – by the autumn.
Earlier on Saturday, the IC claimed that ‘at least two groups of specialists in sabotage and guerrilla warfare from the British Special Air Service (SAS) have been sent to the Lviv region’.
An IC source claimed SAS operatives in Ukraine ‘are specialists in sabotage and partisan activities, recruiting and training agents to work in hostile territory’.
Russia appears to base its investigation on information allegedly received from captured Ukrainian troops.
Putin confers with the head of the Kremlin’s Investigation Committee (and his old university classmate) Alexander Bastrykin, who believes SAS forces may be fighting in the western region of Lviv
Bastrykin’s Investigative Committee said it heard reports of British ‘saboteurs’ in Lviv
The SAS is ‘considered one of the most highly qualified in the world in organising coups d’etat, mass protest rallies, contract killings of political figures, recruiting agents, including those in the highest echelons of power, and preparing terrorist attacks’, said the RIA Novosti report.
‘This is no ordinary special force – these are intellectuals, in each group there is always an ideologist, you can say a professor, and the rest are particular specialists,’ said a Russian law enforcement source.
The report claimed that the SAS often work in war zones under cover of medical workers.
‘With a high degree of probability, these specialists arrived in order to improve the skills and efficiency of the Ukrainian special services in coordinating the activities of sabotage groups in the territories of Ukraine controlled by Russian troops,’ said the IC source.
SAS forces conduct a specialised military maneouvre in an undisclosed location (file image)
SAS soldiers fighting in the desert in 1996. The service is widely considered the world’s best
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky leaves after a news conference at a metro station on Saturday, after vowing to call off peace talks with Russia if his soldiers are killed in the last stand off in Mariupol
Zelensky Saturday said he was ‘satisfied’ with the military aid coming from the UK, just hours before prime minister Boris Johnson announced ‘further military aid’, including more armoured vehicles, in a series of tweets on Saturday evening. (Pictured: Zelensky attends a news conference at a metro station on Saturday evening)
Russia will deploy ‘Satan 2’ nuclear missiles ‘capable of destroying the UK’ this autumn in ‘historic’ weapons upgrade following recent test
The Sarmat missile (pictured in test launch) is said to be the world’s longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of striking a target 11,200 miles away – meaning it could easily strike targets in the US and Europe.
Vladimir Putin’s regime has announced it will deploy the fearsome nuclear-capable ‘Satan II’ missile it recently tested in a show of strength by autumn, in a further ratcheting of tensions between Russia and the West as Moscow redoubles its brutal war on Ukraine.
The Sarmat missile is said to be the world’s longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of striking a target 11,200 miles away – meaning it could easily strike targets in the US and Europe.
Western military experts said the Sarmat is capable of carrying 10 or more nuclear warheads and decoys – easily enough to wipe out territories the size of Britain or France in a single strike.
However, analysts believe the target revealed by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Putin’s Roscosmos space agency, is an ambitious one because Moscow reported its first test-launch only on Wednesday and more tests will be needed before the missile can be deployed.
This week’s test, after years of delays due to funding and technical issues, marks a show of strength by Russia at a time when the war in Ukraine has sent tensions with the US and its allies soaring to their highest levels since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Rogozin said in an interview with Russian state TV that the missiles would be deployed with a unit in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, about 1,860 miles east of Moscow. He said they would be placed at the same sites and in the same silos as the Soviet-era Voyevoda missiles they are replacing, something that would save ‘colossal resources and time’.
The launch of the ‘super-weapon’ was an historic event that would guarantee the security of Russia’s children and grandchildren for the next 30-40 years, Rogozin added.
Western concern at the risk of nuclear war has increased since Putin launched his illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
When the Russian tyrant burst into the former Soviet state, he made a reference to his nation’s nuclear deterrents, warning the West that any major intervention would ‘lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history’.
Last month United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned: ‘The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.’
Putin described the launch of the nuclear-capable RS-28 Sarmat as a ‘big, significant event’ for Russia’s military and claimed the weapon can overcome all modern defence systems. However the US described the testing as ‘routine’ and dismissed any global threat.
The committee is headed by Russia’s top criminal investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, who was a university classmate of Vladimir Putin’s.
Earlier this month it was reported that SAS troops have trained local forces in Kyiv for the first time since the war began.
Two officers from separate battalions stationed around the country’s capital said special forces had trained their troops on two occasions in early April.
British military trainers have had a presence in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, but were withdrawn in February as the likelihood of Putin ordering an all-out invasion of Ukraine increased.
A UK defence source said: ‘We don’t comment on stories around Special Forces, especially ones that are being pushed out by the Russian news agencies, because inaccurate speculation can put people’s lives at risk, which is why we neither confirm or deny reports.’
It comes as shocking footage shows the moment a Russian missile struck an apartment block in Odessa today with at least five people killed including a three-month-old baby.
President Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak revealed the deaths on the messaging service Telegram and said 18 others were wounded in the attacks, which come on the eve of Orthodox Easter.
A block of flats was among the buildings hit in the strike and officials reported that Russia fired at least six cruise missiles. More footage shows black smoke billowing into the sky shortly after the apartment buildings were hit by the missiles.
Yermak wrote of the Russian attack: ‘These are only those who were found. And most likely, there will be more. A child who had to celebrate his first Easter with his parents. Nothing is sacred. Evil will be punished.’
Many Ukrainians celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, with Easter Sunday falling this year on April 24.
Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s interior minister, said: ‘Residents of the city heard explosions in different areas.
‘Residential buildings were hit. It is already known about one victim. He burned in his car in a courtyard of one of the buildings.’
It comes as Russia resumed its assault on the last Ukrainian defenders holed up in a giant steel works in Mariupol, a Ukrainian official said, days after Moscow declared victory in the southern port city and said its forces did not need to take the factory.
‘The enemy is trying to strangle the final resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the Azovstal area,’ Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on national television.
The fate of the Ukrainians holed up in the sprawling seaside steel mill wasn’t immediately clear; earlier Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video reportedly taken two days earlier in which women and children holed up underground, some for as long as two months, said they longed to see the sun.
‘We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe in fresh air,’ one woman in the video said. ‘You have simply no idea what it means for us to simply eat, drink some sweetened tea. For us, it is already happiness.’
The complex was the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the port city but Putin has ordered his forces to completely block it off, ‘so even a fly cannot escape’.
Soldiers and civilians trapped inside have no food or water and Ukraine’s foreign ministry is desperately appealing for an evacuation route to get them to safety.
However, a new attempt to evacuate Ukrainian civilians from the war-torn city failed on Saturday, an aide to the city’s mayor said, blaming Russian forces. The official said 200 residents of Mariupol had gathered to be evacuated, but that the Russian military told them to disperse and warned of possible shelling.
As the battle for shattered Mariupol ground on, Russia claimed it had taken control of several villages elsewhere in the eastern Donbas region and destroyed 11 military Ukrainian military targets overnight, including three artillery warehouses.
The head of the Ukrainian President’s office says five people have been killed and 18 wounded in a missile strike on Odessa (Pictured: High-rise apartment block bellows thick black smoke after being struck by Putin’s missiles in Odessa on Saturday)
Thousands of civilians face starving to death in captured Mariupol after Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to seal shut the Azovstal steelworks (Pictured: Graphic shows how Russian troops have surrounded the Azovstal steelworks, where thousands are hiding underground in its complex network of bunkers)
The Russian army has taken control of Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol except for the Azovstal plant (pictured Friday), which is housing thousands of civilians and soldiers in its underground tunnels and bunkers.
Mariupol has taken on outsize importance in the war. Capturing it would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port and complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014. (Pictured: A destroyed apartment building in the besieged city of Mariupol, taken on Friday April 22)
More than 100,000 people – down from a prewar population of about 430,000 – are believed trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, and over 20,000 civilians have been killed in the nearly two-month siege. (Pictured: A pile of clothes are seen hanging on the door of a torched and burnt out car in Mariupol on Friday)
Teams work by a destroyed building in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol where the Russian Army has taken control
New satellite photos have revealed a second mass grave near Mariupol – as Russian forces continue to pummel the last 2,000 Ukrainian defenders trapped in a steelworks in the city.
The latest photos from Maxar Technologies showed the site at a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne. It has several newly dug parallel trenches measuring about 131 feet long, Maxar said in a statement.
On Thursday, Maxar released photos of what appeared to be rows upon rows of more than 200 freshly dug mass graves next to a cemetery in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol. That prompted Ukrainian accusations that the Russians are trying to conceal the slaughter of civilians in the city.
‘This confirms again that the occupiers arrange the collection, burial and cremation of dead residents in every district of the city,’ Andryushchenko said on the Telegram messaging app.
The Ukrainians estimated that the graves seen in the photos released Thursday could hold 9,000 bodies. The Kremlin did not respond to the satellite pictures.
Russia still has not established air or sea control due to Ukrainian resistance, and despite President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of victory in Mariupol, ‘heavy fighting continues to take place, frustrating Russian attempts to capture the city, thus further slowing their desired progress in the Donbas,’ the Ministry of Defense said.
Russia has pulled a dozen crack military units from Mariupol to bolster the offensive elsewhere in the Donbas, while other troops continue to keep the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city pinned in the Azovstal steelworks, the last remaining stronghold, Ukrainian officials said.
‘Every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal,’ said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor. ‘Fighting, shelling, bombing do not stop.’
Mariupol has been reduced largely to smoking rubble by weeks of bombardment, and Russian state TV showed the flag of the pro-Moscow Donetsk separatists raised on what it said was the city’s highest point, its TV tower. It also showed what it said was the main building at Azovstal steel plant in flames.
A view of the destruction in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol where the Russian Army has taken control. A man walks past an abandoned car in the centre of the road, with debris strewn across the way
Mariupol has been reduced largely to smoking rubble by weeks of bombardment, and Russian state TV showed the flag of the pro-Moscow Donetsk separatists raised on what it said was the city’s highest point, its TV tower. (Pictured: A house is almost completely destroyed following shelling in Mariupol on Friday)
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a closer view of new graves being dug at a cemetery near Vynohradne, approximately 12 kilometres east of Mariupol, Ukraine
The site at a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne has several newly dug parallel trenches measuring about 40 meters (131 feet) long, Maxar said in a statement
On Thursday, Maxar released photos of what appeared to be rows upon rows of more than 200 freshly dug mass graves next to a cemetery in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol
Under cover of darkness, Ukrainian forces have managed to deliver weapons to the besieged steelworks via helicopter, said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.
Overall, the Kremlin has thrown more than 100,000 troops and mercenaries from Syria and Libya into the fight in Ukraine and is deploying more forces in the country every day, Danilov said.
‘We have a difficult situation, but our army is defending our state,’ he said.
Mariupol has taken on outsize importance in the war. Capturing it would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port and complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014.
It would also allow Putin to throw more of his forces into the potentially climactic battle for the Donbas and its coal mines, factories and other industries, or what the Kremlin has now declared to be its main objective.
More than 100,000 people – down from a prewar population of about 430,000 – are believed trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, and over 20,000 civilians have been killed in the nearly two-month siege, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Most attempts to evacuate civilians from the city have failed because of what the Ukrainians said was continued Russian shelling.
Russia’s defence ministry earlier said on Saturday that its forces had shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet and destroyed three MI-8 helicopters at an airfield in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.
There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine regarding the Russian claims.
However, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov says two people were killed and 19 more wounded by Russian shelling in the area.
Synehubov said on the messaging app Telegram on Saturday that over the past day Russian forces fired at the region’s civilian infrastructure 56 times. Kharkiv, which is near the front lines, has faced repeated shelling from Russian forces.
A man runs away from a destroyed building following shelling in the northern outskirts of Kharkiv. It comes as all the Ukrainian-controlled cities in the eastern region of Luhansk were constantly being shelled by Russian forces on Saturday
A corridor is seen amid the ruins of a destroyed school in northeast Kharkiv as intense shelling continues in the region
A view of the destroyed school in northeast Kharkiv. It was previously occupied by Russian soldiers before being taken over by Ukrainian troops
Local men look at a hole in a corridor of their residential building damaged in a shelling in Kharkiv. The city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest, has witnessed repeated airstrikes from Russian forces
Firefighters work on destroyed building following shelling in the northern outskirts of Kharkiv as Russia’s campaign continues
Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov says two people were killed and 19 more wounded by Russian shelling in the area
Firefighters work on destroyed building following shelling in the northern outskirts of Kharkiv that is continuing today
A man walks past a missile that stuck in the ground, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Rubizhne, Luhansk
Russian army vehicles are burned outside a damaged church, in Lukashivka, near the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine
A metal cross that used to be on the top of the dome stands outside of the damaged church in Lukashivka, in northern Ukraine
It comes as all the Ukrainian-controlled cities in the eastern region of Luhansk were constantly being shelled by Russian forces on Saturday, with the barrage intensifying, the region’s governor Serhiy Haidai said on television.
He said Ukrainian forces were leaving some settlements there in order to regroup, but that the move did not amount to a critical setback.
Russia denies targeting civilian areas but Haidai said Saturday that two people were killed by Russian shelling in the city of Popasna.
He said an evacuation train for residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas was expected to leave Saturday from the eastern city of Pokrovsk bound for the western city of Chop, near Ukraine’s border with Slovakia and Hungary.
‘In addition to the fact that street fighting continues in the city for several weeks, the Russian army constantly fires at multistory residential buildings and private houses,’ Haidai wrote on the messaging app Instagram. ‘Just yesterday, local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks… not all survived.’
Russian troops are also pressing their offensive in the eastern Donbas region in an attempt to fully seize Ukraine’s industrial heartland but have made little headway as fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have slowed their efforts, Ukrainian and British officials said Saturday.
Russia continues to fight for full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas that make up the Donbas and seeks to secure ‘a land route between these territories and the occupied Crimea,’ including by wiping out the last pocket of resistance in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s General Staff said.
Ukrainian forces over the past 24 hours repelled eight Russian attacks in the two regions, destroying nine tanks, 18 armored units and 13 vehicles, a tanker and three artillery systems, the General Staff said.
‘Units of Russian occupiers are regrouping. Russian enemy continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian infrastructure,’ the General Staff said on its Facebook page.Britain’s Ministry of Defense said despite their increased activity ‘Russian forces have made no major gains in the last 24 hours as Ukrainian counter-attacks continue to hinder the efforts.’
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