Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s military to expand with another 137,000 personnel starting from next year.
Moscow has not revealed any losses in the conflict since the first weeks, but Western officials and the Kyiv government believe the number is in the thousands.
The Russian president signed a decree on Thursday, but it didn’t explain how the military will beef up its ranks and whether this would be through more conscriptions, more volunteer soldiers or a combination of both.
The Kremlin said online volunteer contract soldiers participate in the “special military operation” in Ukraine, denying claims that it was thinking of a broad mobilisation.
According to Professor Michael Clarke, unless a “war” is declared by Russia in Ukraine then conscription is not permitted.
Prof Clarke, former director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, said: “Then there is a fair amount of mutiny at the front lines. But that will not stop the offensive in itself.
“Russia is now offering big amounts (three to four times the average monthly salary) for young men to take the military contract and serve for as little as six months, with virtually no training.
“Desperate stuff, but Russia will keep feeding young men into the war. Many of them will die with bulging bank accounts back home.”
Ukraine war: Russia’s military capability
Mr Putin’s decree aims to increase the number of military personnel to 1,150,628, which will come into effect on 1 January.
In November 2017, Mr Putin fixed the size of the number of combat personnel in Russia’s army to 1.01 million from a total armed forces headcount, including non-combatants, of 1.9 million.
Dozens killed on Independence Day
Wednesday marked 31 years since it gained independence from the Soviet Union, a date that fell on the same day as the six-month point of Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine had been bracing for heavy attacks during the day, and a rocket attack in the town of Chaplyne killed 25 people at a train station.
In the occupied city of Melitopol, in the southeast, the mayor said resistance forces have “blown up” a building which was being used by Russian-back officials in the village of Pryazovsko, which is just outside the city.
Ivan Fedorov posted a video on his Telegram channel said to show damage to the building, which was apparently being used for issuing Russian passports and to prepare for “voting” in a “pseudo-referendum”.
The vote is being planned as a way to incorporate the region into Russia.
Mr Fedorov also claimed on Thursday that Russia had cut off electricity in nearly all the captured areas of the Zaporizhzhia region and said people were now without power, as well as water and gas.
‘It’s Been a Harrowing Time’: All Five Britons Released by Russia in Prisoner Swap Return Home to Families
Five Britons released from Russian detention in Ukraine after a prisoner swap have arrived back “safely” in the UK.
One of the men, Shaun Pinner, is now back at the family home near Sandy in Bedfordshire.
“It’s good to be home,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a steak dinner tonight!”
For his mother, Debbie Price, the relief is overwhelming.
She told Sky’s Emma Birchley: “It’s been a really, really hard time. We are just so happy to have him home. It’s hugely emotional.”
Aiden Aslin, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill have been identified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the other Britons released.
Shaun Pinner (pictured in dark top in the middle) in a hotel with his family
Back in April, Mr Pinner and Aiden Aslin were captured by Russian forces who accused them of being mercenaries.
As a result, they appeared in court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, and were threatened with death by firing squad.
At the time, Mr Pinner’s family stressed he was “not a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serving with the Ukrainian army”.
On their flight home, Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner recorded a message, thanking those who had worked to free them.
“We’re now out of the danger zone and on our way home to our families,” said Mr Aslin.
“By the skin of our teeth,” Mr Pinner, who is from Bedfordshire, added.
Prior to their release, four of the men featured in video clips posted online or on Russian state TV.
Brits sentenced to death
The first hint Mr Pinner had that something was happening was after lunch on Tuesday.
“They said you have to roll your stuff up. They said you’re going on a long journey,” he said.
‘We were moved to another location. We didn’t have any idea what was happening.”
He was flown with other released captives to Saudi Arabia and at 5.30pm UK time on Wednesday, he was able to speak to his mother on the phone, from the Middle Eastern country.
“It’s very emotional, as you can imagine,” he said.
However, the 48-year-old, who has been living in Ukraine since 2018, has many friends still there, as well as his wife.
Today is their second wedding anniversary.
It’s hoped she will be able to get a visa to also come to the UK.
In footage broadcast on Russian state TV in April, Mr Pinner said he had been fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol for five to six weeks.
In the months before he appeared in court, he told Sky News he was on his fourth tour of duty in Ukraine after serving in the British Army for nine years.
After the news broke the Britons would be returning to the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss said she “hugely welcomed” the move, adding it would end “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
Shaun Pinner (centre) and Aiden Aslin (right). John Harding has his thumb up
Who else was released?
Almost 300 people were released in the prisoner swap, many of them from the Ukrainian Azov regiment, which gained fame for its defence of the final stronghold in Mariupol.
Mr Harding was among the small group of soldiers who were holed up inside the Azovstal steelworks in the southeastern city.
Ten other foreigners have been released to Saudi Arabia before they return home, including Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, Americans Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, a Croatian, and a Swedish national.
Almost 300 people were freed after being held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. Pic: SPA – Saudi Press Agency
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian.
“This is the meaning of Ukraine, our essence, this is what distinguishes us from the enemy.”
The exchange took place unexpectedly, coming as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons.
It was brokered with help from Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close ties with Mr Putin.
Behind Russia’s Abandoned Lines, Ammunition, Scattered Clothes and Wrecked Vehicles Found
The Ukrainian soldier stooped over an ammunition box and picked up what looked like a giant, metal cork. “Russian landmine,” he said.
He walked to another discarded crate inside a large warehouse.
“This is a mortar,” the serviceman, 39, said, holding up the deadly weapon, which was the shape of a stretched, grey-coloured balloon.
The haul was part of a stockpile of ammunition found at a sprawling, mud-splattered repair yard, which Russian soldiers had apparently used as a base on the edge of the Ukrainian city of Izyum.
It had been left behind, along with shabby-looking bits of body armour, boots and jars of food – signs of a hasty Russian retreat in the face of a Ukrainian offensive to take the city back.
The soldier – who went by the name Granitsya, the call-sign he said he used for the war – was part of the operation.
“They just ran away,” he said, describing the advance, launched last week. “There was small arms fire but not the big combat that we saw in the first days or months of the invasion.”
Sky News met the volunteer soldier as he stood next to an abandoned Russian tank on a street leading further into Izyum.
Asked how he felt before the operation to attack Russian positions across the Kharkiv region started, he said: “I wasn’t scared because of what they did to our country. They killed our women, our children, there is no fear. It is only hatred and a desire to tear them apart.
“We are a special unit – Kraken – everyone knows us. We are working to defend our country.”
Abandoned Russian equipment
The Kraken Regiment is a relatively well-known group of military volunteers within the Ukrainian armed forces.
Behind him, members of his unit were climbing over the top of the discarded tank, making sure it was safe. The vehicle will be given a wartime makeover, effectively switching sides.
Granitsya took Sky News to the nearby repair yard.
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Inside one enormous hanger, were two Russian military trucks. At least one had the tell-tale letter ‘Z’ daubed in white paint on a door.
Russian troops used the place to repair their military vehicles, the Ukrainian soldier said.
His side appeared to have been aware. A giant hole in the roof marked the point where a projectile looked to have struck the site, presumably as part of Ukraine’s offensive.
Pock marks caused by shrapnel dented the walls and twisted pieces of metal littered the floor.
More hastily discarded Russian military vehicles
On another part of the compound, inside a dingy, unlit cluster of makeshift rooms, was where the Russians slept and ate, according to Granitsya. “Russian, Russian, Russian,” he said, pointing to a heap of shabby green body armour and dirty boots.
There was also a long box containing jars of what could have been pickles.
Abandoned Russian food supplies
‘There is no one to fear them’
Stepping back outside, he exclaimed again: “Russian”, picking up parts of a rusty gun that he said had been fitted to a vehicle.
Granitsya had been a full-time soldier fighting in eastern Ukraine between 2017 and 2020, following Russia’s first invasion in 2014.
He had decided to leave the armed forces but joined the Kraken unit on 24 February after President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale war.
The soldier was scathing about the quality of the Russian military. “Their army is not big and powerful,” he said.
“It is a big fake. They create this fake [impression of strength] to make other countries afraid. But in reality there is no one to fear them.”
Final Suspect in Canada Stabbing Rampage Kills Himself After Police Ram His Car Into Ditch
The final suspect in the recent mass stabbings in and around a Canadian reserve has died from self-inflicted injuries, an official has said.
Myles Sanderson, 32, was found near the town of Rosthern, in the central Saskatchewan province, as officers responded to reports of a stolen vehicle being driven by a man armed with a knife, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said.
Officers rammed Sanderson’s vehicle off the road into a ditch, and he was taken into custody, but went into what a spokeswoman described as “medical distress”.
Myles Sanderson had been fleeing from police at almost 100mph in a stolen vehicle when he was arrested. Pic: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Saskatchewan
He was taken to hospital, but died shortly afterwards.
“All life-saving measures that we are capable of were taken at that time,” commander of the RCMP, assistant commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, said.
She gave no details on the cause of death, but an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr Sanderson died of self-inflicted injuries, without giving any further details.
Video and photos from the scene showed a white SUV off to the side of the road with police cars all around.
Ten people were killed and 18 injured after the attacks in and around the James Smith Cree Nation, an indigenous community in the central Saskatchewan province, on Sunday.
Ten victims remain in hospital, three of them in a critical condition.
At a press conference confirming Myles Sanderson’s death, Ms Blackmore said she had been to visit James Smith Cree Nation, home to nine of the ten victims, and said many of them had “witnessed incredible trauma”.
Police and investigators gather at the scene where Sanderson was arrested
“Many people haven’t slept,” she said. “They told me, ‘every time I close my eyes, I hear noises’.
“I hope this gives them some sense of closure, and that they can rest easier tonight knowing Myles is no longer at large.
“I hope now they are able to start healing.”
Brian Burns’ wife Bonnie and son Gregory were killed in the attacks
Hundreds of police officers undertook an extensive manhunt for suspects, Myles and his brother Damien Sanderson, who had fled the crime scenes.
Damien was found dead in a grassy area of James Smith Cree Nation on Monday, with injuries police said were not self-inflicted.
Myles Sanderson, who officers described as armed and dangerous, remained on the loose until Wednesday afternoon and police are investigating if he killed his brother.
The stabbing rampage on Sunday was one of the deadliest attacks in Canada’s modern history.
Police said some of the victims appeared to have been deliberately targeted, while others were attacked at random.
Officers have not revealed a possible motive, but a statement from an indigenous group from the province suggested the stabbings could be drug-related.
But Ms Blackmore said: “Unfortunately now that Myles is deceased we may never have an understanding as to that motivation.”
Friends of victims at James Smith Cree Nation console each other
Questions are beginning to be asked about why Myles Sanderson – with 59 convictions and a long history of violence – was out on the streets.
The 32-year-old was released by a parole board in February while serving a sentence of more than four years on charges that included assault and robbery. But he had been wanted by police since May, apparently for violating the terms of his release.
Canadian public safety minister Marco Mendicino said there will be an investigation into the parole board’s assessment of Sanderson.
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