Ukraine war: Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin jailed over 'fake news' — and other key developments

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By Euronews  with Reuters, AP, AFP
Russian opposition activist and former municipal deputy of the Krasnoselsky district Ilya Yashin inside a glass cubicle prior to a court hearing in Moscow, Dec. 9, 2022.
Russian opposition activist and former municipal deputy of the Krasnoselsky district Ilya Yashin inside a glass cubicle prior to a court hearing in Moscow, Dec. 9, 2022.   -   Copyright  Yury Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP

1. Russian opposition figure jailed for 8 years over 'fake information'

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin guilty was found guilty on Friday of spreading "fake information" about the army, and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.

Prosecutors had sought a nine-year sentence for the Moscow district councillor. The outcome is the latest indication of an intensified crackdown on dissent by Russian authorities.

"With that hysterical sentence, the authorities want to scare us all but it effectively shows their weakness," Yashin said in a statement through his lawyers after the judge passed the sentence. "Only the weak want to shut everyone's mouth and eradicate any dissent."

Yashin was tried over a YouTube video released in April in which he discussed evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian war crimes in Bucha, near Kyiv, and cast doubt on the official Moscow version that such reports had been fabricated as a "provocation" against Russia.

Russia passed new legislation after invading Ukraine on February 24 that provides for jail terms of up to 15 years for disseminating false information about the military.

In his final statement to the court this week, Yashin appealed directly to President Putin, describing him as "the person responsible for this slaughter" and asking him to "stop this madness, recognise that the policy on Ukraine was wrong, pull back troops from its territory and switch to a diplomatic settlement of the conflict".

In June, Yashin was sentenced to 15 days in jail for "disobedience to the police" during an arrest, charges he dismissed as "fabricated".

2. Russian forces 'shelling entire front line' in Donetsk

Russian forces have shelled the entire front line in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, according to the regional governor.

The fiercest fighting was near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, Pavlo Kyrylenko said early on Friday, adding that five civilians were killed and two wounded in Ukrainian-controlled parts of Donetsk the previous day.

He also said that Russian troops were also trying to advance near Lyman, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November, one of a number of battlefield setbacks suffered by Russia in the past few months.

In Bakhmut and other parts of the Donetsk region, Ukrainian forces countered with barrages from rocket launchers, a Reuters witness said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video post that the Russians had intensified their efforts in Donetsk and the neighbouring province of Luhansk.

"They are now in a very active phase of attempting to conduct offensive operations. We are advancing nowhere but, rather, defending, destroying the enemy's infantry and equipment wherever it tries to advance," he said.

In a report early on Friday, the Ukrainian general staff said its forces had attacked Russian positions and troop assembly points in at least half a dozen towns in the south of Ukraine.

Russian losses amounted to about 240 wounded, with three ammunition depots and about various military equipment destroyed, it added. The battlefield reports could not be verified.

AP Photo/LIBKOS
Policeman Chaplain Leonid presents people with tangerines and apples before Christmas in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, December 8, 2022.AP Photo/LIBKOS

3. Russian army 'beat up' Zaporizhzhia employees, Ukraine claims

Ukraine accused Russia on Friday of detaining two employees of the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the south after "violently beating" them on Thursday.

"The Russian army broke into the premises where the social programmes department of the plant is located and, in the presence of other employees, violently beat the head of the department, Oleksiy Troubenkov, and his deputy, Yuriy Androsov," nuclear operator Energoatom said in a statement.

Afterwards, the Russians "took them out and led them in an unknown direction", Energoatom said, It added that the plant's nuclear safety officer, Konstantin Beiner, was also "thrown into the basement" but was not being held by Russian forces.

The Ukrainian nuclear operator accused Moscow's soldiers, who have occupied the site since early March, of "going on the rampage and turning into real policemen and jailers", and of "intensifying the repression" of employees.

Kyiv has previously accused Moscow of mistreating Ukrainian staff at Europe's largest nuclear power plant. At the end of September, its director general was arrested by Russian forces, only to be released a few days later.

4. Russia 'installs multiple rocket launchers' at Zaporizhzhia

Russian forces have installed multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine's shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials claimed on Thursday.

It has raised fears Europe's largest atomic power station could be used as a base to fire on Ukrainian territory and heighten radiation dangers.

Ukraine's nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces occupying the plant have placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one of its six nuclear reactors. It said the offensive systems are located at new secretly-built “protective structures”, "violating all conditions for nuclear and radiation safety.”

The claim could not be independently verified.

The Soviet-built multiple rocket launchers are capable of firing rockets at ranges of up to 40 kilometres, and Energoatom said they could enable Russian forces to hit the opposite bank of the Dnipro River, where each side blames the other for almost daily shelling in the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets. The plant is in a southern Ukrainian region the Kremlin has illegally annexed.

The Zaporizhzhia station has been under Russian control since the war’s early days. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling the plant and risking a radiation release. 

Although the risk of a nuclear meltdown is greatly reduced because all six reactors have been shut down, experts have said a dangerous radiation release is still possible. 

The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has stationed inspectors at the plant and has been trying to persuade both sides in the conflict to agree to a demilitarised zone around it.

5. Risk of global conflict increased by 'Western elites', says Putin

Vladimir Putin on Friday said the West's desire to maintain its dominance on the world stage was increasing the risks of conflict.

"The potential for conflict in the world is growing and this is a direct consequence of the attempts by Western elites to preserve their political, financial, military and ideological dominance by any means," Putin said.

The Russian leader was speaking in a video message to a summit of defence ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and a group of ex-Soviet countries that was published by the Kremlin.

"They deliberately multiply chaos and aggravate the international situation," Putin said.

He also accused the West of "exploiting" Ukraine and using its people as "cannon fodder" in a conflict against Russia.

Putin has repeatedly cast the war in Ukraine -- which Moscow calls a "special military operation" -- as a conflict between Russia and the West, criticising those who have provided military and financial backing to Ukraine.

Kyiv, European countries and Washington say Moscow used the pretext of security concerns to launch a cynical war of aggression against its pro-European neighbour in an attempt to seize swathes of territory and topple President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Vladimir Putin congratulates people awarded with the Gold Star 'Hero of Russia' medal on the eve of Heroes of the Fatherland Day at the Kremlin, Moscow, Dec. 8, 2022.Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

6. Zambian prisoner 'pardoned by Russia to go and fight in Ukraine'

A Zambian prisoner was pardoned by Russia to go and fight in Ukraine where he was killed, Zambia's government has claimed.

Moscow previously said that Lemekhani Nyirenda died on the battlefield in Ukraine in September, prompting Zambia to ask how he had ended up fighting in the war.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stanley Kakubo said his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov told him that Nyirenda was given an amnesty on August 23 in exchange for joining the military operation.

Nyirenda's father says his son had been serving a nine-year jail sentence near Moscow for a drug offence when he was "conscripted" to fight.

Russian businessman and Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin said last month the Zambian student had been fighting for his Wagner Private Military Group.

The Wagner group has launched large recruitment drives in Russian prisons, looking to send more fighters into Ukraine to support the faltering Russian invasion.

Kakubo said Nyirenda's remains had arrived in Moscow on Friday and were expected in Zambia on Sunday.