Ukraine-Russia war: Angela Merkel 'didn't have the political strength' for pre-invasion talks with Putin

(FILES) This file photo taken on January 11, 2020 shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and then Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel shaking hands at the end of their joint press conference after their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. - German former chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conciliatory policies toward the Kremlin while in office have come under fire, on February 25, 2022 condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Merkel's decision to maintain close diplomatic and economic ties with Russia despite years of provocations have been criticised as "naive" in recent days as Putin has laid bare his intentions in Ukraine. (Photo by Pavel Golovkin / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) - PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
(FILES) This file photo taken on January 11, 2020 shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and then Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel shaking hands at the end of their joint press conference after their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. - German former chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conciliatory policies toward the Kremlin while in office have come under fire, on February 25, 2022 condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Merkel's decision to maintain close diplomatic and economic ties with Russia despite years of provocations have been criticised as "naive" in recent days as Putin has laid bare his intentions in Ukraine. (Photo by Pavel Golovkin / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) - PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had aimed to convene European talks with Vladimir Putin the year before his invasion of Ukraine but in the end did not see any possibility of influencing the Russian president at the end of her term.

Ms Merkel told the Spiegel news magazine in an interview published on Thursday that she and French President Emmanuel Macron had planned to hold an independent talk format with Putin within the European Council in 2021, her last summer in office.

"But I no longer had the strength to push through because, after all, everyone knew: she's leaving in autumn," she said.

Ms Merkel, who retired from politics after 16 years in power following Germany's September 2021 election, officially handed over the reins to Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats in December that year.

US President Joe Biden met the Russian leader in June 2021.

Referring to her farewell visit to Moscow in August 2021, Ms Merkel, who speaks fluent Russian, told Spiegel: "The feeling was very clear: 'In terms of power politics, you're through.' For Putin, only power counts."

03:36 PM

Today's top stories

That's it for today. Thanks for following our live blog and we will be back tomorrow for more. Here is a rundown of today's top stories:

  • Depleted units of elite Russian paratroopers have been sent to Donbas after retreating from Kherson city

  • Russia's Wagner Group mercenaries have sent a "bloodied" sledgehammer in a violin case to the European Parliament after MEPs started proceedings to label them as terrorists

  • Russia's latest missile barrage killed 10 people and shut down all of Ukraine's nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years. President Zelensky said the Russian strikes are "an obvious crime against humanity"

  • President Zelensky says Russian strikes on energy facilities are "an obvious crime against humanity" as millions were left without power

  • Doctors were apparently forced to use batteries and power generators during life saving surgery on a child after a power cut to the operating room

  • Polish leaders say that an air-defense system which Germany offered Poland would be best given to Ukraine to help it protect itself against Russian strikes

  • Mournful Ukrainians said their final goodbyes on Thursday to a 26-year-old ballet dancer who was killed fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine

03:12 PM

Putin discusses West's oil price cap with Iraqi leader

Vladimir Putin discussed Western attempts to cap the price of Russian oil during a phone call with Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the new Iraqi prime minister, the Kremlin said, according to the state news agency TASS.

It cited the Kremlin as saying Putin had told Sudani that a price cap would have serious consequences for the global energy market.

02:39 PM

Ukrainians bid farewell to fallen ballet dancer

Mournful Ukrainians said their final goodbyes on Thursday to a 26-year-old ballet dancer who was killed fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

Vadym Khlupianets, of the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theater, was killed by a sniper near Bakhmut, a strategically important town in the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military said.

Fellow performers and staff members carried his coffin into the theatre, where visitors lined up to tearfully bid farewell. As Khlupianets' coffin was carried away, they erupted into one last round of applause.

"Vadym chose the side of light and good against evil," said Bohdan Strutynskii, the theatre's creative director.

He added: "Today's tribute is not what it should have been: applause at the end of a performance, with people asking for an encore."

Khlupianets, a Donetsk native, volunteered to join the military after Moscow's invasion.

Colleagues and friends carry a coffin with the body of Ukrainian serviceman and ballet dancer Vadym Khlupianets, who was recently killed in a fight against Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, during a funeral ceremony at the National Academic Operetta's Theatre in Kyiv, Ukraine November 24, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko - REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
Colleagues and friends carry a coffin with the body of Ukrainian serviceman and ballet dancer Vadym Khlupianets, who was recently killed in a fight against Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, during a funeral ceremony at the National Academic Operetta's Theatre in Kyiv, Ukraine November 24, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko - REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

02:16 PM

'Putin's chef' sends bloodied sledgehammer to EU

After the European Parliament this week declared Russia a terrorist state for invading Ukraine, 'Putin's chef' has sent a bloodied sledgehammer to the EU, writes James Kilner

Russia's Wagner Group mercenaries have sent a "bloodied" sledgehammer in a violin case to the European Parliament after MEPs started proceedings to label them as terrorists.

Sledgehammers have become an unofficial symbol of the Kremlin-linked group because members use them to murder people on deployment abroad.

In a video posted on one of its Telegram channels, a suited lawyer working for Wagner carries a violin case into a bare room and places it on a table.

He lifts the lid of the violin case, showing off a highly polished sledgehammer. The head has been engraved with Wagner's logo and the handle has been dabbed with red paint to depict blood.

Read the full story

01:58 PM

Germany's Merkel says didn't have political strength for pre-invasion Ukraine talks

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had aimed to convene European talks with Vladimir Putin the year before his invasion of Ukraine but in the end did not see any possibility of influencing the Russian president at the end of her term.

Merkel told the Spiegel news magazine in an interview published on Thursday that she and French President Emmanuel Macron had planned to hold an independent talk format with Putin within the European Council in 2021, her last summer in office.

"But I no longer had the strength to push through because, after all, everyone knew: she's leaving in autumn," she said.

Ms Merkel, who retired from politics after 16 years in power following Germany's September 2021 election, officially handed over the reins to Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats in December that year.

Referring to her farewell visit to Moscow in August 2021, Ms Merkel, who speaks fluent Russian, told Spiegel: "The feeling was very clear: 'In terms of power politics, you're through.' For Putin, only power counts."

01:41 PM

Front line cities at greater risk of attack as Russia resorts to less accurate missiles

Russia will resort to using cruder missiles more as its supply of high-precision ones dwindle, making front line cities more vulnerable to attack, said Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence.

Mr Yusov said Russia is launching a barrage of missiles at Ukraine approximately once a week, local news agency Ukrinform reports. With few sophisticated missiles left, it will likely use more of the less accurate Sovet-era S-300 missiles.

"We understand that the stockpile of high-precision weapons in Russia is largely depleted. But there are many missiles that are not highly accurate, and actually they do not particularly strive for accuracy.

"We see that in many cases, a kilometer-long miss is a conventional norm and hitting not just energy infrastructure objects, but simply civilian objects, residential high-rise buildings, maternity homes, hospitals — this is a sign of the dexterity of Russian missile operators and in general, the Russian regime," he said.

01:21 PM

In pictures: The latest scenes from the war

VYSHHOROD, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 24: Residents return to view their homes in Vyshhorod after yesterday’s missile strikes on November 24, 2022 in Vyshorod, Ukraine. Kyiv and several other cities were hit by another wave of Russian missile strikes yesterday, further damaging the country's energy infrastructure and other utilities. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
VYSHHOROD, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 24: Residents return to view their homes in Vyshhorod after yesterday’s missile strikes on November 24, 2022 in Vyshorod, Ukraine. Kyiv and several other cities were hit by another wave of Russian missile strikes yesterday, further damaging the country's energy infrastructure and other utilities. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
VYSHHOROD, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 24: Residents return to view their homes in Vyshhorod after yesterday’s missile strikes on November 24, 2022 in Vyshorod, Ukraine. Kyiv and several other cities were hit by another wave of Russian missile strikes yesterday, further damaging the country's energy infrastructure and other utilities. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
VYSHHOROD, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 24: Residents return to view their homes in Vyshhorod after yesterday’s missile strikes on November 24, 2022 in Vyshorod, Ukraine. Kyiv and several other cities were hit by another wave of Russian missile strikes yesterday, further damaging the country's energy infrastructure and other utilities. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A woman walks by house damaged during Russian shelling in the town of Vyshgorod outside the capital Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. About 70% of the Ukrainian capital was left without power on Thursday morning after Moscow unleashed yet another devastating missile barrage on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Kyiv's mayor said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) - AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
A woman walks by house damaged during Russian shelling in the town of Vyshgorod outside the capital Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. About 70% of the Ukrainian capital was left without power on Thursday morning after Moscow unleashed yet another devastating missile barrage on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Kyiv's mayor said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) - AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
AP Photo/Bernat Armangue - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
AP Photo/Bernat Armangue - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
A Ukrainian serviceman loads an SPG-9 during an attack towards Russian positions in the frontline near Kherson, southern Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
A Ukrainian serviceman loads an SPG-9 during an attack towards Russian positions in the frontline near Kherson, southern Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

01:04 PM

Hungary got exemption from proposed Russian oil price cap, says foreign minister

Hungary got an exemption from a proposed Russian oil price cap, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said at a briefing in Brussels broadcast on his Facebook page on Thursday.

Mr Szijjarto said that the European Union's current proposal says that oil deliveries though pipelines would be exempt from the price cap, which means it would not affect Hungary if the proposed cap is adopted later.

12:20 PM

'Doctors perform heart surgery on a child by torchlight after power cut'

Doctors were apparently forced to use batteries and power generators during life saving surgery on a child after a power cut to the operating room.

Russia has been accused of intentially targeting energy facilities following repeated missile attacks against power infrastructure across Ukraine over the last few weeks.

In video footage shared online doctors can be seen holding torches over the body of a patient on an operating table as the rest of the room is dark.

On Thursday, power was gradually being restored to Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv. Water had been restored in some areas and would start working in other areas later on Thursday.

11:42 AM

Ukraine leadership can 'end suffering' by meeting Russian demands

The Kremlin denied that its attacks on Ukraine's electricity network were aimed at civilians, but said Kyiv could "end the suffering" of its population by meeting Russia's demands to resolve the conflict.

Repeated missile barrages against power infrastructure across Ukraine over the last few weeks have forced millions of people to go without light, water or heating for hours or days at a time, just as outdoor temperatures fall below freezing.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "there have been no strikes on 'social' targets and there are none - special attention is paid to this".

"As for targets that are directly or indirectly related to military potential, they are accordingly subject to strikes," he said.

He added: "The leadership of Ukraine has every opportunity to bring the situation back to normal, has every opportunity to resolve the situation in such a way as to fulfil the requirements of the Russian side and, accordingly, end all possible suffering among the population."

11:14 AM

Ukraine nuclear plants reconnect to grid after strikes

All three nuclear power plants still under Ukrainian control have reconnected to the electricity grid, Ukraine's energy ministry said, after Russian strikes a day earlier forced an automatic disconnect.

"After yesterday's massive shelling, energy workers were able to unify the power system and reconnect three nuclear power plants to the power grid by morning," the ministry said on Thursday.

The plants should start supplying electricity by "this evening", it added.

The Russian strikes piled pressure on the Ukrainian grid, disrupting power supplies in southern and eastern regions, with water and electricity cuts in the capital Kyiv.

10:54 AM

In Pictures: Russia's attacks on energy facilities

Smoke rises after a Russian artillery bombardment in Kherson, Ukraine, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. Russian strikes took aim at Ukraine's energy facilities again on Wednesday as explosions rocked Kyiv, the capital, and other cities. (Finbarr O'Reilly/The New York Times) Credit: New York Times / Redux / eyevine For further information please contact eyevine tel: +44 (0) 20 8709 8709 e-mail: info@eyevine.com www.eyevine.com - ew York Times / Redux / eyevine
Smoke rises after a Russian artillery bombardment in Kherson, Ukraine, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. Russian strikes took aim at Ukraine's energy facilities again on Wednesday as explosions rocked Kyiv, the capital, and other cities. (Finbarr O'Reilly/The New York Times) Credit: New York Times / Redux / eyevine For further information please contact eyevine tel: +44 (0) 20 8709 8709 e-mail: info@eyevine.com www.eyevine.com - ew York Times / Redux / eyevine
Views of the city in dark during power cuts due to the war in Dnipro - Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Views of the city in dark during power cuts due to the war in Dnipro - Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
KYIV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 21: A man works in the dark during a power outage in Kyiv, Ukraine on November 21, 2022. As the Russian forces hit energy infrastructures since October, Ukrainian shops are obliged to use generators in order to stay in business. Power outages take place as the repair of the energy infrastructures continue intensively. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) - Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
KYIV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 21: A man works in the dark during a power outage in Kyiv, Ukraine on November 21, 2022. As the Russian forces hit energy infrastructures since October, Ukrainian shops are obliged to use generators in order to stay in business. Power outages take place as the repair of the energy infrastructures continue intensively. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) - Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

10:42 AM

EU preparing new Russia sanctions package, von der Leyen says

The European Union is pressing ahead with a ninth sanctions package on Russia in response to Moscow's attack on Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

"We are working hard to hit Russia where it hurts to blunt even further its capacity to wage war on Ukraine and I can announce today that we are working full speed on a ninth sanctions package," Ms von der Leyen told a news conference during a visit to Finland on Thursday..

"And I'm confident that we will very soon approve a global price cap on Russian oil with the G7 and other major partners. We will not rest until Ukraine has prevailed over Putin and his unlawful and barbaric war," she said.

Ms von der Leyen did not provide details of what measures a new round of EU sanctions could contain.

10:18 AM

Offered German defenses, Poland says Ukraine should get them

Polish leaders say that an air-defense system which Germany offered Poland would be best given to Ukraine to help it protect itself against Russian strikes.

Germany said earlier this week that it has offered Warsaw Eurofighter planes and Patriot defense systems to help defend Poland's airspace after two men were killed when an apparently stray Ukrainian defense projectile fell in Poland near the border with Ukraine.

Poland's Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak initially said he received Germany's offer with "satisfaction."

But following Russia's heavy barrage of Ukraine on Wednesday, Polish leaders said it would be better if the defense systems were placed in western Ukraine.

10:10 AM

Gas price cap divides EU energy ministers' meeting

EU energy ministers met on Thursday to debate measures to mitigate the energy crunch in Europe but were divided over a gas price cap proposal slammed by many as a "joke".

They were to discuss a proposal by the European Commission, unveiled just two days earlier, that would set a cap on gas prices at 275 euros (£237) per megawatt hour.

But many members complained that the plan comes with such conditions attached that it was designed never to be used.

"The gas price cap, which is in the document, currently it doesn't satisfy any single country," Polish Climate Minister Anna Moskwa said as she arrived at the meeting.

"It's a kind of joke for us after so many amounts of discussions and proposals" to arrive at the price cap put forward, she said.

09:27 AM

Ukraine races to restore power knocked out by Russian air strikes

Power was gradually being restored to Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv on Thursday, a day after Russian missile strikes caused Kyiv's biggest outages in nine months of war.

Regional authorities said 25 per cent of homes in Kyiv was still without electricity but the water supply had been restored in some areas and would start working in other areas later on Thursday.

In a big improvement from Wednesday, when authorities said power was lost across the entire Kyiv region, public transport was operating in the capital, with buses replacing trams to save power.

"Let's persevere, despite everything" the Kyiv regional military administration said in a statement.

09:09 AM

More than 400 children killed and 323 still missing since war broke out

More than 400 children have been killed and 323 are still missing since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to Children of War, a website monitoring child casualties.

The figures come as a newborn baby was killed in a Russian missile attack that hit a maternity hospital in the city of Vilniansk in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday.

The state emergency service said that at the time of the attack a woman with a newborn baby and a doctor had been in a maternity ward in a two-storey building that was destroyed

08:48 AM

Russia says contacts with UN watchdog over Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are 'constructive'

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that contacts with the UN nuclear watchdog over safety at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine were "constructive" and showed some promise.

The Zaporizhzhia plant was again rocked by shelling last weekend prompting renewed calls from the International Atomic Energy Agency to create a protection zone around it to prevent a nuclear disaster.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog met a Russian delegation in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss safety at the plant, which both Ukraine and Moscow have accused each other of shelling.

08:29 AM

The latest figures for Russian combat losses

07:58 AM

Latest from the UK Ministry of Defence: Russian airborne forces likely redeployed to Donetsk and Luhansk fronts

07:40 AM

Russian attacks on energy facilities are a 'crime against humanity', says Zelensky

President Zelensky says Russian strikes on energy facilities are "an obvious crime against humanity" as millions were left without power.

"When the temperature is below zero outside, and tens of millions of people are left without electricity, heat and water as a result of Russian missiles hitting energy facilities, this is an obvious crime against humanity," he said in his overnight address.

Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 10 people.

"We expect a strong reaction from the world to today's Russian terror. We expect the reaction of partners. We expect the reaction of friends - not just observers. We expect the reaction of all those who really recognize the UN Charter," he added.

07:27 AM

Hungary to provide 187 million euros in financial aid to Ukraine

Hungary will provide 187 million euros (£161 million) in financial aid to Ukraine as its contribution to a planned EU support package worth up to 18 billion euros in 2023, according to a government decree published late on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has said that it was willing to pay its share of support for Ukraine but would rather pay it bilaterally than see more of the joint borrowing that the EU agreed on to prop up its economies during the Covid-19 pandemic.