Ukraine war: Kherson 'evacuation'; Russia accuses UK over Nord Stream blast; 'Dirty bomb' probed

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By Joshua Askew  with AFP/AP/Reuters
An elderly woman pulls a cart as she walks in the centre of the frontline town of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, on October 27, 2022,
An elderly woman pulls a cart as she walks in the centre of the frontline town of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, on October 27, 2022,   -   Copyright  DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP or licensors

Here are five of the latest news developments from Russia's war in Ukraine. 

1. UN agency investigates Russia’s baseless ‘dirty bomb’ claim

Experts from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog inspected two sites in Ukraine on Tuesday, following unfounded claims by Russia that Ukrainian authorities planned to let off a "dirty bomb". 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said inspections would look for evidence of a so-called dirty bomb, a radioactive explosive device. 

Kyiv invited inspectors into the country in response to Russia's unsubstantiated allegations. 

Following a lightning advance by Ukrainian forces on the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior figures in Russia alleged that Ukraine was manufacturing a dirty bomb, which can scatter radioactive material across a large area. 

Western countries have called Moscow’s claims “transparently false", while Ukrainian officials say it is an attempt by Russia to justify escalating hostilities

Russia has not provided any evidence for such claims. 

Vassily Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the UN, wrote in a letter to the Security Council last week that Ukraine’s nuclear research facility had “received direct orders from [President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy’s regime to develop such a dirty bomb”.

The IAEA previously said the sites being investigated are under "safeguards" and "visited regularly" by its inspectors, who are searching for hidden nuclear activities and materials that could be used in a dirty bomb.

“The IAEA inspected one of the two locations a month ago and no undeclared nuclear activities or materials were found there,” the agency said in a statement on Monday.

2. Russia slaps Wikipedia with a hefty fine over Ukraine articles

A Russian court on Tuesday fined Wikipedia two million rubles for two articles about the war in Ukraine, deeming them untrue. 

Wikimedia Foundation, the parent company of the online encyclopedia, will have to pay the penalty equivalent to €30,000 for failing to remove the articles that the court ruled contained "false information". 

The leader of Wikimedia's RU association, which supports the Wikimedia Foundation in Russia, confirmed that the fine related to “two articles related to the events in Ukraine". 

"Nobody will delete" the two pages in question, and the court's decision "will be challenged in court", its spokesperson told reporters.

The court's verdict comes amid a broader crackdown by Russian authorities against organisations and people they accuse of publishing "false information" about the Ukraine war.  

Wikipedia has been ordered to pay three fines in Russia since the start of the conflict.

In 2019, Putin called for the creation of a Russian alternative to the online encyclopedia. 

Foreign social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have been blocked in Russia, and the US internet giant Google was fined €360 million in July for not having removed content criticising the offensive in Ukraine published on YouTube.

The internet is one of the last spaces for free expression in Russia, but the authorities have stepped up the pressure in recent years, even more so since the country invaded Ukraine. 

3. The Kremlin accuses London of masterminding the Nord Stream sabotage

Moscow pointed the finger at the United Kingdom on Tuesday for being behind the explosions that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in September. 

"Our intelligence services have evidence to suggest that the attack was directed and coordinated by British military specialists," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"There is evidence that Britain is involved in a sabotage, a terrorist attack against [this] vital energy infrastructure, not Russian, but international," Peskov continued. 

He did not detail what this evidence exactly was. Euronews could not independently ascertain the veracity of Peskov's claims.

Travelling under the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 1 and 2 are pipelines that transport Russian gas to Europe and Germany in particular.

AP/AP
In this picture provided by Swedish Coast Guard, a small release from Nord Stream 2 is seen, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.AP/AP

In September, major leaks suddenly erupted in the pipelines, in a suspected act of sabotage. Western officials have stopped short of blaming Moscow, though suspicions run high. 

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Russia's accusations were aimed at "diverting" attention, which he called one of their "usual methods".

Russia's defence ministry made a similar claim last weekend, accusing "British specialists" of blowing up Nord Stream gas pipelines, again without providing evidence. 

The UK defence ministry dismissed the Russian allegations as an attempt "to detract from their disastrous handling" of the Ukraine invasion.

On 26 September, four large leaks were detected on Nord Stream 1 and 2 just off the Danish island of Bornholm, two in Sweden's economic zone, and two in Denmark's.

Underwater inspections reinforced suspicions of sabotage as the leaks followed explosions.

4. Ships sail from Ukraine despite Russia suspending grain deal

Ships loaded with grain departed from Ukraine on Tuesday, despite Russia pulling out of an UN-brokered deal that ensures the safe passage of critical food supplies to countries on the brink of hunger. 

Three ships carrying 84,490 tonnes of corn, wheat and sunflower meal left southern Ukraine through a humanitarian sea corridor set up by a deal in July. 

The landmark agreement, brokered by Turkey and the UN, lifted a Russian blockade on Ukrainian exports of grain and other foodstuffs from the Black Sea to Africa and the Middle East. 

Russia suspended the grain deal over the weekend after an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against its Black Sea fleet -- the event Ukraine claims was caused by Russian negligence. 

On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said ships could not sail from ports in southern Ukraine, saying their movement was “unacceptable".

KARIM SAHIB/AFP
Grain is a vital foodstuffs in African countries and the Middle East.KARIM SAHIB/AFP

But a total of 14 ships sailed Monday, including one for the UN World Food Programme in Ethiopia, which along with neighbouring Somalia and Kenya, is experiencing its worst drought in decades.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was determined to keep the agreement alive. 

“Even if Russia behaves hesitantly because it didn’t receive the same benefits, we will continue decisively our efforts to serve humanity,” he said on Monday. 

Analysts say that Russia is still bound by the conditions of the grain deal, even if it exited. This includes a pledge not to target civilian vessels, which would also constitute a violation of international law.

“Although it is not currently participating in that deal, it is still a signatory to it", said Munro Anderson, head of intelligence at the risk consultancy company Dryad Global. "Russia’s interests are not going to be served in any way, shape or form by attacking vessels."

Russia's suspension of the deal drew condemnation from Ukraine, the US and its allies.

The move is likely to have lasting consequences, according to Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. 

Prices for insuring ships travelling from Ukraine "are going to go up and likely be prohibitive,” he said.

5. Russia expands 'evacuation' zone in Ukraine's Kherson region

Pro-Russian officials in Ukraine's Kherson region said on Monday they would start "evacuating" citizens from a larger area involving the eastern bank of the Dnipro river. 

In a post on Telegram, Vladimir Saldo, head of the Moscow-installed administration, said he was extending an "evacuation area" in the southern Ukrainian region, partially occupied by Russia. 

For the first time, he asked civilians on the eastern bank of the Dnipro river to leave their homes. 

This new area covers an additional seven settlements and 15 kilometres around the waterway, which splits the Kherson region and is currently a flashpoint for Ukrainian and Russian forces. 

Saldo repeated claims -- rejected by Kyiv -- that Ukraine is preparing to attack the Kakhovka dam and flood the region.

STRINGER/AFP or licensors
Civilians evacuated from the city of Kherson, which Moscow claims to have annexed, October, 2022.STRINGER/AFP or licensors

"Due to the possibility of [Ukraine using] prohibited methods of war ... as well as information that Kyiv is preparing a massive missile strike on the Kakhovka hydroelectric station, there is an immediate danger of the Kherson region being flooded," he claimed. 

This could result in "the mass destruction of civilian infrastructure and humanitarian catastrophe", Saldo added. 

Kyiv has denied allegations that it plans to attack the Kakhovka dam, a 3.2-kilometre-long barrier that could unleash on villages and towns a reservoir the size of the US' Great Salt Lake, the eighth largest lake in the world. 

Ukraine itself claims Russia is preparing to attack the dam.

Russia has "evacuated" tens of thousands of civilians from southeastern Ukraine in recent weeks following a rapid Ukrainian offensive. 

Many claim these "evacuations" are forced, with civilians coerced into moving or facing no other route to safety. 

Russian-installed officials are offering civilians one-time payments of 100,000 roubles (€1,649) to leave, while Moscow is providing housing in other regions of Russia, Saldo said.