Ukraine latest news: Putin hints at talks and could withdraw troops from key region – report; US diplomat says escalation could see Russian leader removed; Musk pulls Ukraine satellite cash – Sky News

Vladimir Putin has imposed martial law on the four annexed regions of Ukraine – giving the military control; Russian General Sergei Surovikin admits the situation in Kherson is “difficult” as evacuations take place in the region ahead of an expected Ukrainian push.
Madagascar’s foreign affairs minister has been fired by the country’s president for voting at the United Nations to condemn Russian-organised referendums to annex four partially-occupied regions in Ukraine, two sources at the president’s office said.
Last Wednesday, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn what it said was Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of the four regions in Ukraine and called on all countries not to recognise the move.
Of the 193-member General Assembly, 143 countries voted in support of a resolution that also reaffirmed the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.
Two senior officials at President Andriy Rajoelina’s office told Reuters that minister Richard Randriamandrato was sacked for being one of those who voted in support.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year has put many African countries in an awkward diplomatic position.
Many have a complicated history of relations with the West and the former Soviet Union as well as important economic ties to Russia.
They have largely avoided taking sides over the war, frustrating some Western nations.
Until last week, Madagascar always abstained during the various votes on resolutions related to the crisis in Ukraine.
The government spoke of neutrality and non-alignment on the subject.
Mr Randriamandrato declined to comment.
Eighteen of the 35 countries to abstain on last week’s vote were African. Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Nicaragua also voted against the resolution.
Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has a longtime friendship with Vladimir Putin, has been caught on audiotape boasting that he had recently reconnected with the Russian president and exchanged gifts of vodka, wine and “sweet” letters.

Italy’s LaPresse news agency published what it said were comments by Mr Berlusconi, 86, to his centre-right Forza Italia politicians during a meeting this week in the lower Chamber of Deputies.
“I have reconnected with President Putin,” Mr Berlusconi was heard saying.
“He sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a really sweet letter. I responded with 20 bottles of Lambrusco (a sparkling red wine) and a similarly sweet letter.”
The occasion was Mr Berlusconi’s 86th birthday on 29 September, LaPresse said, four days after the right won the most votes in Italy’s national election.
The comments made frontpage news as Italy’s conservative coalition headed by Giorgia Meloni, who has strongly-backed Ukraine in Russia’s war, is divvying cabinet posts ahead of formal consultations this week to form a new government.
Forza Italia, the junior member of the coalition, is gunning for the foreign ministry, among other ministries.
In the audiotape, Mr Berlusconi also again seemed to defend Moscow’s position in the war, relaying to his legislators that Russian officials have repeatedly said the West is at war with Russia “because we’re giving Ukraine weapons and financing”.
It is not the first time Mr Berlusconi has seemingly defended Mr Putin. Late in the campaign, he seemed to justify Russia’s invasion by saying Mr Putin was forced into it by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
A Russian politician has urged state institutions to stop using WhatsApp messenger as the country tries to wean itself off Western technology.
WhatsApp owner Meta was found guilty of “extremist activity” in Russia in March and later added to financial monitoring agency Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “terrorists and extremists”.
Meta’s lawyer in court has said the country was not carrying out extremist activity and was against Russophobia.
Russia blocked Meta’s Facebook and Instagram in March, objecting to restrictions on Russian media and some posts permitted by users in Ukraine.
Widely-used among Russians, WhatsApp has always remained available, but Anton Gorelkin, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s committee on information policy, said today he personally would be deleting the app and recommended a wider ban.
“I think it is necessary to introduce a full ban on WhatsApp use for official purposes by the Russian state and municipal employees,” Mr Gorelkin wrote on Telegram, an alternative messenger that is very popular in Russia.
“Whether it is a Russian alternative or from Dubai does not matter – the main thing is that it does not belong to a company that openly participates in the information war against our country and is included on the list of terrorist and extremist organisations.”
Russia effectively already operates martial law in the regions it has stolen from Ukraine, writes Sky’s international affairs editor Dominic Waghorn.
Censorship, detention, deportation, restricted rights of assembly, seizure of property, forced labour; you name it and it is happening in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.
In fact it is doing a lot worse. Take deportation alone. The US government reckons between 900,000 and 1.5million Ukrainians have disappeared through filtration camps and into Russia, their whereabouts unknown. Or detention. Ukraine claims thousands have been held, tortured or disappeared during Russia’s illegal occupation.
So why impose it?
Vladimir Putin is a president who must at all costs appear strong after each blow to his prestige. As with all dictators, weakness could be terminal.
After Russian retreats across the Donbas, he announced the annexation of those very territories he was losing.
When Ukrainians blew up his prized Kerch Bridge he launched vindictive drone strikes terrorising the people of Kyiv and other cities.
Now the Ukrainians are gaining ground in the south. So much so that last night in a television interview, Mr Putin’s new commander in Ukraine, General “Armageddon” Surovikin admitted the situation there was “tense” for Russia and “difficult decisions” would soon need to be made.
Declaring martial law helps Putin appear strong to his domestic audience at least. He is the commander “trying to resolve the difficult largescale challenges of Russia’s future” as he put it. Many of the Russians watching state TV tonight will see him taking tough decisions and acting decisively.
But he has two problems. One is the counter impression. To the less gullible in Russia, here is a leader clutching at straws, but running out of options as his forces continue to lose what Russians must still by law call the “special military operation”.
But more importantly today’s move also exposes yet again the truth behind that operation. What was an invasion conducted by contractors and professional soldiers has sucked in hundreds of thousands of newly mobilised recruits.
And now laws kept only for times of war are being imposed for the first time anyone in Russia can remember.
Putin’s special military operation charade is crumbling for Russians. This is much bigger than what he sold them when it began and with each day what seemed remote is coming closer to home for all of them.

Iran has promised to provide Russia with surface-to-air missiles in addition to more drones, officials from the Middle Eastern country have said.
The supply of drones has infuriated the United States and other Western powers which are backing Ukraine in the war.
The Iranian weapons could provide a significant boost for Russia’s war efforts against Ukraine but Iran’s clerical rulers face mounting international pressure over their military alliance with Moscow.
Earlier today the EU provisionally agreed to sanction eight people and entities over the use of Iranian-made drones in Russian strikes on Ukraine, three diplomats from the bloc have said (see 12.23 post).

An official of the French presidency has said the sanctions will be approved this week.
A Russian missile strike hit a thermal power station in the city of Burshtyn in western Ukraine today, the region’s governor said.
The strike is the latest in a wave of attacks by Moscow on critical infrastructure.
“Our region experienced missile fire today. The Burshtyn thermal power station was hit, which caused a fire,” Svitlana Onyshchuk, governor of the region of Ivano-Frankivsk, said in a video statement online.
No one was hurt in the strike, she said.
It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said yesterday that 30% of Ukraine’s power stations have been wiped out since 10 October, when a new round of strikes began (see 9.01 post).
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen later said the drone strikes were “acts of pure terror” that amount to war crimes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will face “severe consequences” if he uses nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, Downing Street has warned.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been in Washington for talks with his US counterpart amid fears Mr Putin could detonate a nuclear warhead over the Black Sea.
The prime minister’s official spokesman did not comment on Mr Wallace’s meeting but said: “We are very clear with Putin that the use of nuclear weapons will lead to severe consequences.”
Following on from our previous post about Norway, it appears the airport in the country’s second-largest city was briefly closed after locals spotted at least one drone nearby.
Norwegian news agency NTB said the airport in Bergen – the town we’ve just been discussing – is located near Norway’s main naval base and the air space was closed.
The Haakonsvern base is one of northern Europe’s largest maritime military bases.
Today’s sighting comes after at least seven Russian citizens were detained over the past few weeks for flying drones or taking photographs of sensitive sites in Norway.
The Norwegian army and state-owned airports operator Avinor were notified today after the first drone sighting at Bergen Airport was reported at 4.15am (3.15am BST), police spokesman Orjan Djuvik said.
Other sightings were reported later.
Mr Djuvik said: “There can also be observations that could be other phenomenon, for instance weather.
“We are unsure whether it is one or more drones, but we are sure that there is at least one.”
North of Bergen, a drone also was reported near the small, domestic Foerde airport, which also closed temporarily, NTB said.
Police said no suspects had been identified. 
The Russian Orthodox Church has bought a property in Norway with a view of a military base, according to Norwegian media.
Information obtained by the Dagbladet newspaper shows a congregation associated with the church has established itself close to one of the Norwegian Armed Forces’ most important bases.
Haakonsvern, outside the coastal city of Bergen, is the Norwegian navy’s most important port and base. 

When Dagbladet reporters visited the parish house it appeared to be empty.
They said a simple meeting room could be seen through a basement video.
There were books on the shelves and children’s toys, Dagbladet added.
However, all the windows on the main floor were reportedly covered by thick curtains.
The Russian Orthodox Church has, through various congregations, bought several properties in Norway in recent years.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has confirmed that mobile power points will be constructed in cities and towns where electricity is knocked out.
Critical infrastructure has been targeted by Russian forces in major settlements across Ukraine, with up to a thousand towns without power.
Others have seen disruption to their water supply.
Mr Zelenskyy shared details on Telegram following a “strategic meeting” with senior officials on Wednesday afternoon.
He added that he had discussed measures to “eliminate the consequences in the event of a breakdown of the energy system of Ukraine”. 
“We are working to create mobile power points for the critical infrastructure of cities, towns and villages,” he said. 
“We are preparing for various scenarios of possible consequences. Ukraine will defend itself. No matter what the enemy plans and does.” 
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