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‘Ailing’ and ‘cornered’ Putin is ‘driven to extremes’ of ‘using nuclear weapons’ or admitting defeat

An ailing Vladimir Putin is flailing over his war strategy, torn between using nuclear weapons and accepting defeat and handing back Ukrainian regions invaded by his forces, a Telegram channel claims.

Amid fresh concerns over his health, his security officials have bluntly told the warmonger president that he has run out of ‘good’ options.

This comes as the death toll in the Russian armed forces plus separatist fighters and pro-Putin private armies has reached almost 65,000, said General SVR Telegram channel, an opposition source offering ‘insider’ information which the Kremlin is ‘seeking to shut down’.

There is ‘despondency’ among Putin’s senior entourage that he had privately raised the ‘extreme’ option with ‘top aides” of a ‘goodwill’ to cede newly invaded territories to Ukraine.

Security officials have allegedly told Vladimir Putin that he has run out of ‘good’ options after the death toll in the Russian armed forces is said to have reached almost 65,000

Recent explosions deep behind Russia's lines in Crimea have had a major psychological effect on Moscow's leadership, with its invasion of Ukraine at 'near operational standstill', Western officials have said. Pictured: Explosions are seen on Crimea in the distance on August 9

Recent explosions deep behind Russia’s lines in Crimea have had a major psychological effect on Moscow’s leadership, with its invasion of Ukraine at ‘near operational standstill’, Western officials have said. Pictured: Explosions are seen on Crimea in the distance on August 9

More than half of the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet combat jets were put out of action in blasts last week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea, an area Moscow previously considered secure, according to Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD)

More than half of the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet combat jets were put out of action in blasts last week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea, an area Moscow previously considered secure, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) 

At the same time, there is a warning from his defence chiefs that a Ukrainian military counter strike is likely to be ‘effective’.

Such an outcome would threaten his presidency, being seen as a humbling, crushing defeat.

But Putin’s leading officials are also said to be braced for a ‘sharp deterioration’ in his medical condition.

‘With a high degree of probability, we can say that soon the president will not be able to personally hold meetings and participate in large events,’ said the channel, which has long asserted the he suffers from cancer and other serious medical problems.

Putin’s absence will be explained as due to a return of the Covid pandemic, it was alleged.

Body doubles ‘have also recently been used quite often’, it alleged without specifying where or when.

In recent meetings with his security and defence aides, claimed General SVR, ‘various options were discussed, from the possibility of mobilising and using tactical nuclear weapons, to opening a second front in a third country, and, finally, to “gestures of good will” with the return of the occupied territories of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv regions to Ukraine.’

A second front might involve an invasion of northern Kazakhstan, a region with many ethnic Russians, as a distraction to hide the ignominy of his failings in Ukraine.

He has so far rejected a full mobilisation, another option, amid fears it would trigger mass mutiny.

But an ‘extreme’ course was also discussed involving the return of land in the Luhansk and Donetsk ‘people’s republic’s’ won during the almost six-month war, in addition to land in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv, stated the channel.

Ukraine says Russia has told staff working at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant not to come to work today amid fears of a 'major provocation' there (file image)

Ukraine says Russia has told staff working at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant not to come to work today amid fears of a ‘major provocation’ there (file image)

Ukraine has begun rehearsing for a nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia amid explosions around the nearby Russian-occupied nuclear power plant, that it says are being caused by Moscow's troops

Ukraine has begun rehearsing for a nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia amid explosions around the nearby Russian-occupied nuclear power plant, that it says are being caused by Moscow’s troops

The discussion of the ‘extreme’ options in the presence and at the initiative of the President led many in his war team to ‘despondency’.

‘Without exception, all of Putin’s interlocutors realised that the president simply does not have ‘good’ options for solving urgent and upcoming problems at the front.’

Such a move would amount to the ‘beginning of the end’ for his rule and the regime he heads.

The report also argued that military chiefs blame Putin for tactics which have led them to such heavy loses.

‘Almost the entire military leadership of Russia lays the blame for both the unsuccessful start and, in general, the course of the military operation, and the huge losses of manpower and weapons, precisely on President Vladimir Putin,’ said the channel.

Yet the military leadership ‘has no doubt that they will be made guilty for all the failures and problems at the front’.

Vladimir Putin is pictured today with Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Russian generals allegedly discussed opening a second front might involving an invasion of northern Kazakhstan, a region with many ethnic Russians, as a distraction to hide the failings in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is pictured today with Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Russian generals allegedly discussed opening a second front might involving an invasion of northern Kazakhstan, a region with many ethnic Russians, as a distraction to hide the failings in Ukraine

Close Putin crony, hardliner Nikolai Patrushev, his leading security advisor and a key proponent of the war, urged Putin ‘to find a way out of the current situation’.

Failure to do so would cause deeper problems if there was a successful counteroffensive by Ukraine.

The channel said Putin had been told the Russian death toll from his war now tops 60,400, including 48,745 from the regular forces, 2,366 from the country’s national guard, and 13,494 from Wagner and other private military companies.

Among the dead are at least a dozen generals and more than 100 colonels and lieutenant colonels.

Among the latest to perish was Lt-Col Ruslan Mukhametkhanov, 43, a father of two girls.

General SVR said the Kremlin is pressuring messenger outlet Telegram to axe it after a string of revelations.

The channel has claimed that Putin is suffering from serious illnesses including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and a schizoaffective disorder.

This channel is reportedly authored by an exiled Kremlin lieutenant-general, who is known by the alias Viktor Mikhailovich.

It claims insider knowledge despite being hostile to Putin.

A Ukrainian solder smokes a cigarette somewhere on the frontlines in Zaporzhzhia province, amid  campaign to force Russia out of the south of the country

A Ukrainian solder smokes a cigarette somewhere on the frontlines in Zaporzhzhia province, amid  campaign to force Russia out of the south of the country

Ukrainian service members observe an area at a position near a frontline, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia province

Ukrainian service members observe an area at a position near a frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia province

Moment Putin’s closest aide Alexander Dugin holds head in his hands amid aftermath of Moscow car bomb that killed his daughter: Ukraine war mastermind is spotted at scene after Darya Dugin, 35, was ‘assassinated in attack meant for her father’

Will Stewart for MailOnline 

This is the moment Putin’s aide Alexander Dugin watches the flaming wreckage of a car bomb meant for him that killed his daughter instead when the two switched vehicles last minute. 

Dugin, a notorious fascist and Russian ultranationalist, is in hospital after being filmed at the scene of the explosion that killed his 35 year old daughter, Darya Dugina.

He was travelling on a highway near the village of Bolshiye Vyazyomy just outside the capital on Saturday night — but decided to travel in a different car to his daughter, avoiding death only by chance.

Vladimir Putin’s closest supporters have demanded vengeance on Ukraine over the ‘assassination’ of Dugina, daughter of the Russian leader’s spiritual guru, who died in his stead.

A distressing video from Baza media shows the bereft father – known as Putin’s ‘Rasputin’ – at the scene of the explosion.

The car is seen as a fireball as emergency services sirens wail. Reports said she died on the spot.

But her father – seen as the brains behind Putin’s interference in Ukraine from 2014 – was intended to be in the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado which was hit, but the former professor apparently switched cars at the last minute.

The explosion took place as Ms Dugina was returning from a cultural festival she had attended with her father. 

Dugina was a political analyst and editor of pro-Putin journal United World International and a joint author of a book on Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Her father is the author of an extreme rightwing view of Russia’s role in the world which held an appeal to Putin.

The pair were pictured together at a pro-Putin public event shortly before she was slain.

Andrey Krasnov, the head of the Russian Horizon social movement and a close friend of the dead woman, said: ‘I knew Darya personally.

‘This was the father’s vehicle. Darya… took his car today, while Alexander went in a different way. He returned, and he was at the site of the tragedy.

‘As far as I understand, Alexander or probably both of them were the target.’

Alexander Dugin - father of 30-year-old Darya Dugina who died in the car explosion late on 20 August 2022 in Moscow region - is shown at the explosion site

Alexander Dugin – father of 30-year-old Darya Dugina who died in the car explosion late on 20 August 2022 in Moscow region – is shown at the explosion site

Charred jeep where Darya Dugina, 30, was killed by an explosion on 20 August

30-year-old Darya Dugina died in the car explosion late on 20 August 2022 in Moscow region

The charred jeep where Darya Dugina, 30, was killed by an explosion on 20 August. 30-year-old Darya Dugina died in the car explosion late on 20 August 2022 in Moscow region

Denis Pushilin, head of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine, branded the authors of the 'attack' 'vile villains'. (Pictured: Darya and Alexander Dugin)

Denis Pushilin, head of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, branded the authors of the ‘attack’ ‘vile villains’. (Pictured: Darya and Alexander Dugin) 

Investigators work at the site of a suspected car bomb attack that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, in the Moscow region, Russia August 21

Investigators work at the site of a suspected car bomb attack that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, in the Moscow region, Russia August 21

Investigators are pictured inspecting the aftermath of the car bomb in Moscow. Much of the wreckage where Darya Dugina was killed has been cleared away to be used as evidence.

Investigators are pictured inspecting the aftermath of the car bomb in Moscow. Much of the wreckage where Darya Dugina was killed has been cleared away to be used as evidence. 

The car bombing is believed to have taken place in Bolshiye Vyazyomy, on the outskirts of Moscow

The car bombing is believed to have taken place in Bolshiye Vyazyomy, on the outskirts of Moscow 

WHO IS PUTIN AIDE ALEXANDER DUGIN? 

Russian ultra-right ideologue Alexander Dugin is responsible for shaping the world view of Putin’s inner circle. He has called for Ukrainians to be killed and strongly pushed Russia to invade for decades.

In his youth, Dugin emerged as a leader of the notorious anti-Semitic Russian nationalist organisation, Pamyat.

He founded his own publishing house after the fall of the USSR, going on to win university positions for his writings.

Dugin believes that the Russian Orthodox Church was destined to rule as an empire over all of Europe and Asia — uniting all the Russian-speaking peoples into a single state.

He laid out his plan for achieving this aim in his 1997 book Foundations of Geopolitics, a text which still has significant influence within Russian elites and has even been used as a textbook by the Russian military.

The Russian professor formed the ‘Eurasia Party’ in 2001, named after the hypothetical state, which also appears in George Orwell’s novel 1984.

His novel calls for a Russian empire stretching from Dublin to Vladivostok, even calling for parts of China to be conquered. 

Dugin was dismissed from his position as head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations at Moscow University after arguing for ‘people’s republics’ on the territory of Ukraine.

Seven years later, his position would become a reality after the Kremlin annexed the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic out of Ukraine’s occupied eastern territories. 

Dugin called for the annexation of Crimea as far back as 2008, during Russia’s war with Georgia.

He travelled to the disputed region of South Ossetia, where he was photographed with a rocket launcher.

He was also involved with coordinating separatist movements in Ukraine during the 2014 occupation, for which the US sanctioned him.

The political scientist claims he also played a key role in reconciling the relationship between Russia and Turkey in 2015 after a Russian warplane was shot down on the Syrian border.

Dugin also developed links with far-right and far-left political parties in the European Union, attempting to influence EU policy on Ukraine and Russia.

There is no direct evidence Ukraine or its agents were involved in the Moscow attack, but senior pro-Putin war supporters were quick to demand an all out attack on Kyiv over the alleged assassination.

Margarita Simonyan, head of RT ‘propaganda’ network, posted on Telegram: ‘Decision-making centres! Decision-making centres!! Decision-making centres!!!’

Her call echoes a demand from hardliners loyal to Putin for him to wreak havoc with massive missile strikes on central Kyiv.

Propaganda journalist Maxim Kononenko messaged: ‘The address of the main building of the SBU [Ukrainian secret services]: Volodymyrska 33, Kyiv. I’m going to try to sleep now, and when I wake up, I hope to read on the news that it was f****** bombed along with its basements.’

There were also warnings that other pro-Putin propagandists could be in danger.

Denis Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic [DPR], a pro-Moscow puppet state in eastern Ukraine, posted: ‘The terrorists of the Ukrainian regime, trying to eliminate Alexander Dugin blew up his daughter…in a car. Blessed memory of Daria, she is a real Russian girl.’

He directly blamed ‘terrorists of the Ukrainian regime’.

Dugina was described as ‘a young, smart, beautiful and incredibly talented and sympathetic woman’.

While he has no formal role in government, Dugin, a far-Right occult writer who used to edit the staunchly pro-Putin Tsargrad TV network, is regarded as the Russian warmonger’s ‘guru advisor’ and reportedly exerts heavy influence over him. 

He is credited with giving new life to the term Novorossiya (New Russia), which was adopted by Putin to justify his annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Dugin has long dreamed of an expansionist Russia, advocating for Russian rule ‘from Dublin to Vladisvostok’ in his 1997 book Foundations of Geopolitics. He once said not taking back control of Ukraine would be ‘an enormous danger for all of Eurasia’ – before he was sanctioned by the US in 2015 after allegedly recruiting fighters for Russia-backed forces in the country. 

His daughter Darya was also sanctioned by the US Treasury after she became chief editor of the United World International (UWI) website – which was owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is suspected of interfering in the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

News of Alexander Dugin’s attempted assassination comes after a kamikaze drone strike hit Russia’s Navy headquarters in Crimea and sparked a huge explosion on Saturday, in another suspected Ukrainian raid.

Smoke was seen billowing through the air following the attack, which came despite frantic attempts from Putin’s forces to shoot down the UAV, as seen in a video where repetitive gunfire is heard.

The naval HQ suffered a direct hit, said reports while terrified Russian tourists fled the popular summer peninsula. 

Footage allegedly taken at the scene shows a huge inferno burning by a roadside with at least one fire truck in attendance

Footage allegedly taken at the scene shows a huge inferno burning by a roadside with at least one fire truck in attendance

Unconfirmed reports say she was driving her Land Cruiser Prado near the village of Bolshiye Vyazyomy when the vehicle suddenly exploded (alleged picture from scene)

Unconfirmed reports say she was driving her Land Cruiser Prado near the village of Bolshiye Vyazyomy when the vehicle suddenly exploded (alleged picture from scene)

Darya Dugin (pictured) was 'blown to pieces' in a Hollywood-style 'assassination plot' near the village of Bolshiye Vyazyomy, on the outskirts of Moscow

Darya Dugin was 'blown to pieces' in the 'assassination plot', which had been intended for her father Alexander (pictured), according to Russian media

Darya Dugin (pictured, while right, her father Alexander) was ‘blown to pieces’ in a Hollywood-style ‘assassination plot’ near the village of Bolshiye Vyazyomy, on the outskirts of Moscow

Alexander is often called 'Putin's brain' or 'philosopher' due to his close relationship with the warring president (pictured)

Alexander is often called ‘Putin’s brain’ or ‘philosopher’ due to his close relationship with the warring president (pictured)

Putin’s new false flag operation? Russian propaganda channel claims troops have been poisoned in Ukraine amid fears the Kremlin is planning to use fake news as an excuse to deploy chemical weapons 

The Kremlin’s propaganda arm has claimed Russian troops were ‘poisoned in a chemical attack in Ukraine’, prompting fears Moscow will seek to justify the use of chemical weapons in the country.

Putin mouthpiece Russia Today reported traces of Botulinum toxin Type B, which is an ‘organic poison of artificial origin,’ were found in samples taken from soldiers, according to a statement from Russia’s defence ministry.

But Kyiv hit back, suggesting the soldiers simply could have eaten contaminated meat.

Kyiv was accused of ‘domestic terrorism’ and Russian troops were ‘hospitalised with signs of severe poisoning’ after being stationed near the village of Vasilyevka in the Zaporozhzhia region on July 31.

The statement added: ‘The Zelensky regime has authorized terrorist attacks with the use of toxic substances against Russian personnel and civilians.’

The Russian Ministry’s report did not say how many servicemen had suffered or what their condition was now. It did not say what the ‘supporting evidence’ was.

Botulinum toxin type B is a neurotoxin that can cause botulism when ingested in previously contaminated food products, but it can also have medical uses.

Ukraine’s interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said: ‘The department (Russian defence ministry) does not clarify whether the poisoning could have been caused by expired canned meat, in which botulinum toxin is often found.

‘Overdue rations have been massively complained about by the occupying forces since the first days of the invasion of Ukraine.’

The Russian defence ministry said it was conducting an additional investigation into an incident in which Volodymyr Saldo, the Russian-installed administration in Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region, was taken ill.

Saldo, a former mayor of the city of Kherson who was appointed to head the region of the same name when Russian troops overran it in early March, fell ill in early August.

Russia says its ‘special military operation’ launched on Feb. 24 is aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and protecting Russian speakers on what President Vladimir Putin called historical Russian land.

Ukraine and Western countries view it as an unprovoked war of conquest aimed at wiping out Ukraine’s national identity.

Yesterday, it was reported Ukrainian emergency workers were carrying out drills in the event of a meltdown at the Zaporizhizhia plant. The nuclear plant is not located in the Ukrainian-controlled city that shares its name, but is actually 30 miles down the Dnipro River on Russian-occupied territory.

Kyiv says Moscow has turned the nuclear plant – Europe’s largest – into a military base, stored explosives in and around the reactors, and is preparing a ‘false flag’ attack. Ukraine’s nuclear regulator says the Russian commander in charge of the plant has told his troops they must be ready to blow it up rather than let Ukraine re-take it.

Russia has occupied the power plant since the early weeks of Putin’s war in Ukraine, after its forces swept out of occupied Crimea and took control of large areas of southern Ukraine.

However, warnings about the stability of the plant have stepped up in recent weeks as Russia attempts to disconnect it from Ukraine’s main power grid and divert its energy to Crimea – and as a major Ukrainian counter-offensive to re-take the south ratchets up.

Guterres was due in Lviv Saturday alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the situation around the power plant and the possibility of sending in a team of international inspectors to ensure its safety.

Erdogan, making his first visit to Ukraine since the war began, was also due to discuss a deal to allow Ukrainian ships carrying vital loads of grain out of the country to avoid a global famine.

 

Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhaev confirmed the attack, writing on Telegram: ‘Unfortunately, [the drone] was not shot down, although they worked on the bay with small arms. [It] went low. There were no victims.’

He warned: ‘The tenacity of these Ukro-Reich morons is amazing. Everyone, if possible, needs to be home in the next hour.’

Russia also suffered incoming attacks on resort Yevpatoriya, north of Sevastopol, where one man was heard saying: ‘This is not funny. Let’s pack up and get out of here. These are no fireworks.’

The air defence system was activated in the Western Crimea, the head of Putin’s regime in annexed Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said.

‘The target is hit. There is no damage, nor any wounded. Our military clearly, professionally and effectively carry out their tasks. I ask everyone to remain calm and trust only official information.’

Initially as the wave of attacks came in, Razvozzhaev said: ‘I am at my workplace in the government. As well as many of the townspeople, I heard the clapping in the [city] centre.

‘Similar sounds were heard in the Strelka area a little earlier. The air defence was operating in the bay. Naval artillery [operated] in the centre. The same as yesterday. According to preliminary data [they were shooting down drones. Targets were hit. We remain calm. The military is doing their job perfectly. Let’s support them.’

However, the fear of attacks on Crimea – a new development in the war this month – is palpable among tourists who are fleeing the peninsula.

It is the latest in a string of mystery blasts, widely believed to be inflicted by Ukrainian forces, deep in the occupied peninsula. 

Intelligence officials revealed last night how the strikes have crippled the invaders’ military capabilities, while also displaying Kyiv’s ability to wreak havoc on Russian logistics.

It follows a huge blast at a Russian air base in Crimea last week. Western officials have now revealed the incident knocked out half of Russia’s Black Sea naval aviation force.

A source said: ‘They’ve lost their flagship Moskva, they lost Snake Island, they lost half of their naval aviation package and their military headquarters was struck. I think we can assume attacks by Ukrainians behind enemy lines.’

The explosions were reported at an air base near the village of Belbek, on the south-west coast near Sevastopol, HQ of Vladimir Putin’s Black Sea fleet. 

On the opposite end of the peninsula, the sky has been lit up at Kerch near a huge bridge to Russia, with what Moscow has claimed was fire from its air defences.

Inside Russia, two villages have been evacuated after explosions at an ammunition dump in Belgorod province, more than 60 miles from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces. 

Kyiv also announced a strike on a bridge at the Kakhovska Dam, near Kherson – one of the last routes for Russia to supply its troops on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

Such attacks were having a ‘significant psychological effect on the Russian leadership’, said the official.

Russia has denied any aircraft were damaged in what it called an accident at the base, although satellite pictures showed at least eight warplanes completely burned out.

The recent explosions have had a major psychological effect on Moscow’s leadership, with its invasion of Ukraine at ‘near operational standstill’, Western officials have said.

More than half of the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet combat jets were put out of action in blasts last week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea, an area Moscow previously considered secure, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The Kremlin is busy seeking to allocate blame for the debacle and President Putin is struggling to hide Ukraine’s success from the Russian population.

This comes as thousands of Russians fleeing Crimea have streamed into the country, officials said on Friday, and as a fire at a munitions depot near the Russian village of Timonovo has led to the evacuation of two villages in Russia’s Belgorod region.

Roughly 1,100 people reside in the villages of Timonovo and Soloti, around 15 miles from the Ukrainian border. There were no casualties in the blaze late Thursday, Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

In the attack on the Crimean airbase last week, nine Russian warplanes were reported destroyed.

The strike demonstrated both the Russians’ vulnerability and the Ukrainians’ capacity to strike deep behind enemy lines, previously not thought possible.

Ukrainian authorities have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility, but President Volodymyr Zelensky alluded to Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after the blasts in Crimea, which Russia has blamed on ‘sabotage.’

Three Kremlin ‘spies’ are arrested after ‘spraying chemicals in faces of soldiers when they were caught breaking into weapons factory in NATO member Albania’ 

Three alleged Kremlin spies caught breaking into an arms factory in Albania are accused of spraying chemicals into the faces of the soldiers who stopped them.

Two men with Russian passports and one Ukrainian national, most likely from one of the country’s Moscow-ruled breakaway republics, tried to enter the weapons factory tonight, the NATO country’s ministry of defence explosively claimed.

It added: ‘The officers who were guarding the plant reacted immediately, but during their efforts to stop the three foreign nationals, two of our soldiers were injured.’

Two Albanian soldiers defending the arms factory were hospitalised with chemical burns

Two Albanian soldiers defending the arms factory were hospitalised with chemical burns

Factory director Lorenc Zani confirmed there was a ‘physical clash’, at which point the defending soldiers were sprayed with the unknown material, Albanian Daily News reported. 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the three individuals are ‘suspected of espionage.’

Officers arrested the three men, with the Albanian soldiers now hospitalised with illnesses arising from the apparent chemical poisoning. They are said to be in a stable condition.

The defense ministry said one of the arrested, identified only as a Russian national MZ, 24 years old, entered the plant’s territory and was trying to take photos.

Two others, a Russian woman identified as ST, 33, and Ukrainian man FA, 25, were also arrested nearby.

Gramsh military base in central Albania is an unusual location for foreign ‘tourists’ to visit.

On Ukraine’s capabilities, one Western official said: ‘Ukraine is now consistently achieving kinetic effects deep behind Russia’s lines.

‘The incidents have been having a material effect on Russia’s logistics support, but as importantly, there’s a significant psychological effect on the Russian leadership.’

They added that the attacks had forced the Black Sea Fleet into a defensive posture and stymied Russia’s ability to launch a successful amphibious assault on Odesa on Ukraine’s coast, which would cut off much of Ukraine’s access to the sea.

It comes as the war has entered a phase of ‘near operational standstill’, with neither side’s ground forces having enough concentrated combat power to launch effective offensive actions, the Western official said.

Russia is facing an increasingly acute shortage of stocks, even of basic munition, as well as manpower issues as it struggles to reconstitute its forces.

‘There was a point when there was constant shelling, there was a real high point, particularly around the battle for the Donbas,’ they said.

‘We aren’t at that high point anymore.

‘The whole tempo of the campaign has slowed down, partly because both sides have become more conscious that this is a marathon not a sprint and that expenditure rates and conserving their munitions is important’.

At least a dozen civilians were killed by Russian strikes in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv this week, according to the MoD.

‘This civilian suffering provides an unusually stark example of Russian cynicism,’ the official said, adding that Moscow was not planning to launch an offensive in the area or gain any major operational advantage from the bombardment.

Meanwhile, the head of the GCHQ intelligence service said Moscow had failed to gain ground in cyberspace against Ukraine.

‘So far, President Putin has comprehensively lost the information war in Ukraine and in the West,’ Sir Jeremy Fleming wrote in an op-ed in The Economist.

‘Just as with its land invasion, Russia’s initial online plans appear to have fallen short.’

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in televised remarks Friday that statements from Ukrainian officials about striking facilities in Crimea mark ‘an escalation of the conflict openly encouraged by the US and its NATO allies.’

Ryabkov said Russian officials had warned the US against such actions in phone calls with high-level members of the Biden administration.

He added that ‘deep and open US involvement’ in the war in Ukraine ‘effectively puts the US on the brink of becoming a party to the conflict.’

‘We don’t want an escalation,’ Ryabkov said. ‘We would like to avoid a situation where the US becomes a party to the conflict, but so far we haven’t seen their readiness to deeply and seriously consider those warnings.’

A Ukrainian drone strike has hit Russia's Navy headquarters in Crimea, causing a huge explosion

A Ukrainian drone strike has hit Russia’s Navy headquarters in Crimea, causing a huge explosion

Smoke was seen billowing through the air this morning following the attack, which came despite frantic attempts from Putin's forces to shoot down the UAV

Smoke was seen billowing through the air this morning following the attack, which came despite frantic attempts from Putin's forces to shoot down the UAV

Smoke was seen billowing through the air this morning following the attack, which came despite frantic attempts from Putin’s forces to shoot down the UAV

The naval HQ suffered a direct hit, said reports while terrified Russian tourists fled the popular summer peninsula

The naval HQ suffered a direct hit, said reports while terrified Russian tourists fled the popular summer peninsula

 

Several cars lie smouldering in an obliterated parking lot following the explosions

The detonations killed one and injured at least five more according to Russian authorities

Clips which emerged from the scene appeared to show the charred remains of a Russian fighter jet and the smouldering wreckage of several cars on torn up tarmac (pictured)

Satellite pictures released on last week showed the devastation at the Russian air base, hit in the attack that suggests Kyiv may have obtained new long-range strike capability with potential to change the course of the war. Pictured before (top) and after (bottom) the blasts

Satellite pictures released on last week showed the devastation at the Russian air base, hit in the attack that suggests Kyiv may have obtained new long-range strike capability with potential to change the course of the war. Pictured before (top) and after (bottom) the blasts

In response to the attacks, Putin sacked his Black Sea naval commander earlier this week.

The removal of Igor Osipov marked the most prominent sacking of a military official in the nearly six months since Russia launched its war on Ukraine.

State-owned RIA said the new chief, Viktor Sokolov, was introduced to members of the fleet’s military council in the port of Sevastopol.

One source said it was ‘normal’ that the appointment was not publicly announced at a time when Russia is conducting what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

Speculation has followed that Osipov was sacked following the sinking of the Moskva flagship on April 14, but the naval commander appears to have kept his job until recently.

Osipov was absent from the Red Square ‘victory parade’, with Moscow claiming he was ‘not in the mood’ to appear following the loss of the flagship.

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