Ukraine morning briefing: Five developments as Kyiv intelligence chief says war will be over by Christmas

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A Ukrainian policeman inside a school sport hall where Russian soldiers were believed to have been based in the village of Vilkhivka, near Kharkiv - GETTY IMAGES
A Ukrainian policeman inside a school sport hall where Russian soldiers were believed to have been based in the village of Vilkhivka, near Kharkiv - GETTY IMAGES

The European Union has announced plans to give Ukraine an additional 500 million euros (£425 million) to buy heavy weapons.

Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov welcomed the pledge but admitted his country was entering "new, long-term phase of the war."

Here's what happened overnight – and you can follow the latest updates in our live blog.

1. Ukraine intelligence chief: war will be over by Christmas

The head of Ukraine's military intelligence has claimed that the war will be over by Christmas and Vladimir Putin could soon be removed from power in a coup.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov has told Sky News that the war is going so well that it will reach a turning point by the middle of August.

Gen Budanov, who correctly predicted earlier this year that Russia would invade, also claimed that Putin is in a "very bad psychological and physical condition and he is very sick".

He said the war would "lead to the change of leadership of the Russian Federation" and claimed the "process has already been launched and they are moving into that way".

When asked if a coup was underway, he responded: "Yes. They are moving in this way and it is impossible to stop it."

2. Georgian region holds vote on joining Russia

The leader of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia has announced that a referendum will be held in July on joining Russia.

Russia has exercised effective control over the region since fighting a brief war with Georgia in 2008. Russia and a handful of other countries recognise South Ossetia as an independent state, but most of the world still considers it to be part of Georgia.

South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov with Putin in 2019 - REUTERS
South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov with Putin in 2019 - REUTERS

"We did it!" South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov wrote on Telegram on Friday in announcing that he had signed a decree setting the referendum for July 17.

"In legalese, we fulfilled yet another important legal requirement," he said. "And in normal language, we took a life-changing step – we are going home, we are going to Russia."

About a month into Russia's war with Ukraine, Mr Bibilov said South Ossetia would take the legal steps necessary to join Russia.

3. Negotiations underway for evacuations from Azovstal

Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday night that talks with Russia on getting wounded defenders out of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were very complex, adding Kyiv was using influential intermediaries.

Russian forces have been constantly bombarding the steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, the last bastion of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders in a city almost completely controlled by Russia after more than two months of a siege.

Kyiv has insisted there is no military solution to the stand-off and proposes evacuating 38 of the most severely wounded defenders. If Moscow allows them out, Ukraine says it will release a number of Russian prisoners of war.

"At the moment very complex negotiations are underway on the next phase of the evacuation mission – the removal of the badly wounded, medics. We are talking about a large number of people," Mr Zelensky said in a late night address.

4. US and Russia hold high level talks for first time since invasion

Sergei Shoigu, Russia's defence minister, spoke with Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defence on Friday after months of refusing direct contact with his American counterpart.

The call, initiated by Mr Austin, marked the highest level American contact with a Russian official since the invasion in late February. Over the past few months, Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that Russian leaders have declined to take calls from Mr Austin and Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A senior US defence official said that while Mr Austin believes the hour-long conversation with Mr Shoigu was important in the effort to keep lines of communication open, it did not resolve any "acute issues" or lead to any change in Russian policy.

5. Europe could cap gas prices

The European Commission wants to waive EU competition rules to allow governments to cap prices for consumers in the event of a complete outage of Russian gas supplies, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Saturday, citing a commission document on "short-term energy market interventions".

According to the document, European Union member states should be allowed to regulate consumer prices for a transitional period to protect them from spiking even before an acute shortage, Welt reported.

"The financing of this intervention requires significant sums," the newspaper quoted the document as saying.

In March, the EU warned that seeking to cap wholesale gas prices would cause problems and undermine efforts to shift to green energy.

The European Commission is due to unveil a detailed plan this month to quit Russian fossil fuels by 2027, in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which supplies 40 per cent of EU gas.

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