Ukraine latest: Putin orders Wagner troops to swear oath of allegiance; who could replace Prigozhin? (2023)

Key points
  • Wagner troops ordered to swear oath to Russia in wake of Prigozhin plane crash| Read the oath here
  • The latest on Yevgeny Prigozhin's 'death'
  • Drone attacks continue to rain down on Russian territory
  • Rumours swirl around who could replace Prigozhin ashead of Wagner
  • Lukashenko claims he warned Prigozhin of potential assassination attempt
  • Analysis: What the Prigozhin crash investigation should look like
  • Your questions answered: Could Russia keep the Donbas in exchange for Ukraine joining NATO?
  • Live reporting by Ollie Cooper


Number of injured by 'Ukrainian cluster attack' on Russian soil rises

A little more detail on our 9.34am post, where the governor of the Russian region of Belgorod claimed Ukraine had used cluster munitions on a village this morning.

Vyacheslav Gladkov earlier said four people had been injured, but that number has now risen to six - with one person in critical condition, according to his latest update.

"Six civilians received shrapnel wounds. One victim is in [an] extremely serious condition," Mr Gladkov said on Telegram.

The claims have not been verified.


Read the oath Wagner troops ordered to swear to Russian state

As we brought you a short time ago, Vladimir Putin has ordered all Wagner troops to swear an oath of allegiance to the Russian state (see 9.51am post).

We can now bring you the order in the full, published on the Kremlin's website.

The order lays out who needs to swear the oath, which principly includes mercenaries, but more broadly anyone involved in the war in Ukraine, with the actual oath translating as:

"I (surname, first name, patronymic) solemnly swear allegiance to the Russian Federation, to observe the Constitution of the Russian Federation, strictly follow the orders of commanders and superiors, and conscientiously fulfil the duties assigned to me."

"I swear to be loyal to the Russian Federation, to courageously defend its independence and constitutional order."


Analysis: What the investigation into Prigozhin plane crash should look like

Sky News' military analyst Sean Bell has been discussing what the investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin plane crash should look like, as well as how Russian authorities could handle the case...

"[An investigation team would] normally seal off the area and examine the area forensically, take lots of pictures," he explained.

"Then they would collect all of the pieces of the wreckage at the scene of the accident and [re-assemble the] aircraft in a hangar somewhere.

"[Doing that] actually very clearly shows then whether an explosion is inside the aircraft, blowing out the shape of the inside or outside coming in.

"That's a crucial part of [establishing] whether it's a missile or whether it was a bomb inside."

Investigators wouldn't normally share updates during that process until the final report was published, according to Bell, but Russian authorities are somewhat an exception to all of this, he explained.

"Of course, this is Russia, so who knows what this process is actually going [to look like]," he said.

Investigators could share updates soon, or not at all, but if rumours are to be believed and the Kremlin ordered the reported killing, it could be expected that authorities would release pre-determined outcomes to suitably satisfy the government's wants.

"On this occasion it looks likely the report conclusions have already been written and all the air accident investigators are doing is filling in the gaps."


11 children returned to Ukraine from Russia

Several more children have been returned to Ukraine from Russia and occupied regions, a charity has confirmed.

"Another 11 Ukrainian children were brought back from Russia and the temporarily occupied territories," Mykola Kuleba, head of the Save Ukraine organisation, said.

This brings the total number of children brought back to Ukraine to 161, according to statistics on Save Ukraine's website.

Mr Kuleba shared this video showing the return of the children...


Two killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, governor says

Two Ukrainians were killed as a result of Russian shelling in the Kharkiv region, the governor has claimed.

Oleg Synegubov said Russian forces struck a café in the village of Podola, with two people killed instantly and another person injured.

The village was occupied shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine at the beginning of the war last year, but was retaken by Kyiv last September.

Russian forces have been stepping up offensive efforts in Kharkiv over the past few weeks.


Putin orders Wagner troops to swear oath of allegiance following Prigozhin 'death'

Vladimir Putin signed a new decree requiring mercenary groups, including the apparently newly-leaderless Wagner Group, to swear oaths of allegiance to the Russian state.

The presidential executive order was put in place yesterday and requires mercenaries, volunteers and more broadly anyone involved in President Putin's "special military operation" in Ukraine.

The order looks to shape "spiritual andmoral foundations fordefending theRussian Federation, its independence andconstitution", a statement on the Kremlin's website said,

The wording of theoath includes a line in which those who take it promise tostrictly follow the orders of commanders and senior leaders.

This could be viewed as an attempt to bring the volatile Wagner troops, many of whom have been in uproar since it emerged that their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin had apparently died in a plane crash, closer to the Kremlin.

Some videos circulating on social media showed Wagner troops promising revenge on President Putin, who has been linked with the reported killing, something the Kremlin rubbished as an "absolute lie".


Ukraine 'uses cluster bombs' on Russian territory and another drone downed, governor claims

Ukraine used cluster munitions on the Russian border city of Belgorod, according to the governor of the region.

Vyacheslav Gladkov said four people were injured after "cluster munitions hit private residences and the territory of an agricultural store" earlier this morning.

Several cars and houses were damaged, he claimed.

He blamed Ukraine for the attack, and added that another drone had been shot down in addition to one reported earlier this morning (see 7.47am post).

"An aircraft-type UAV was shot down near the village of Kupino."

Neither these claims, nor those of the drone attacks have been verified.

Mr Gladkov shared these images, reportedly from the scene of the claimed cluster attack...


Prigozhin 'death' - where are we?

There is still no absolute confirmation that mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is dead - after aviation authorities noted his name on the manifest of a plane that crashed earlier this week.

Here's the latest if you're just catching up...

The bodies

10 bodies were recovered from the scene of the crash, according to officials - with the latest from Russia being that the bodies are being "genetically examined".

We're hoping to be able to bring you the results of those tests, although we should be wary of anything authorities may come out with, as any potential claims cannot be independently verified.

The plane

In terms of the jet itself, authorities said they recovered the "black box" flight recorders from the scene of the crash - which should help them paint a picture of the plane's final moments.

We've brought you plenty of analysis about the flight's crash, which you can read here, with lots of speculation around whether the plane was shot down, was blown up from the inside, or failed mechanically.

Once again, anything Russian authorities "learn" from the recorders and choose to share with the world should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Joe Biden said US intelligence services were analysing everything available to them in an attempt to "nail down precisely" how the plane was brought down.

Could he still be alive?

Given the degree of mystery surrounding this event, it is natural that speculation persists and theories spring up suggesting that Yevgeny Prigozhin is actually still alive.

The UK's Ministry of Defence says it is "highly likely" that the mercenary boss is dead, but notes a lack of definitive evidence.

We've brought you a number of expert opinions which all echo that sentiment - most believe Prigozhin to have been on the plane, but until something more concrete is released (perhaps from the "genetic examinations" we told you about earlier, but don't hold your breath), it cannot be outright confirmed.

Who, if anyone, was behind it?

In terms of involvement, the Kremlin rubbished suggestions that Vladimir Putin or anyone close to his regime was remotely involved in the downing of the jet, as speculation continues around the death standing as a potential assassination.

Earlier, we brought you the opinion of a security and defence expert, who said he was "confident" that Vladimir Putin was involved, and that an explosive device was used to down the plane (see 8.12am post).

Russian intelligence chief Major General Andrey Averyanov is also being linked with the death, with reports quoting British and Ukrainian intelligence officials.

Major General Averyanov leads the Unit 29155 of the GRU (Russian military intelligence), which has been linked with a number of assassination attempts, including the successful poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko on British soil.

What next for Wagner?

We've shared lots of footage showing Wagner troops promising revenge, laying flowers at memorials and rallying together following the reported death of their leader.

As of yet, there has been no concerted efforts to unite all Wagner Group troops against whoever they blame for the killing, despite a lot of chatter about it.

Rumours are beginning to circulate that Major General Andrey Averyanov, the man linked with the speculated "assassination" above, could pick up the reigns of the vast mercenary army.

We'll be bringing you the latest updates on this seismic story as soon as we get them.


Ukraine to speed up counteroffensive efforts in south

We heard earlier that Russia would target a key part of the Ukrainian line as Kyiv's counteroffensive efforts continue to underwhelm some commentators [see 7.23am post].

We now hear from a Ukrainian commander, who believes that his forces have bared the brunt of Russian resistance in the south and will now be rapidly advance in the region.

Ukrainian forces raised its national flag in the key settlement of Robotyne earlier this week, although Moscow has not confirmed that enemy fighters had advanced intothe town.

"We don't stop here [Robotyne]," said the commander, who wished to remain anonymous.

"Next we have (the town of) Berdiansk, and then more. I madeit clear to my fighters at once: our goal is not Robotyne, ourgoal is [the Sea of] Azov."

Robotyne is around 100km away from Berdiansk - a port city on the shores of the Sea of Azov.


Expert 'confident' Prigozhin plane downed by bomb and that Kremlin is behind it

A leading defence and security expert has said that he is "confident" that the Kremlin was behind the reported death of mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, and that they used a bomb to do so.

"On the one hand, we don't know a lot of the specific detail of exactly how it [the plane] was brought down," Mark Galeotti, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute told Sky News.

"We can be pretty confident, though, that this was a bomb and that the Russian state is behind it," he said.

"[That is] not least because they're not for a moment pointing the finger anywhere else, which would be their usual technique."

There has been much speculation about how the plane could have been brought down, with Mr Galeotti confident an explosive did so.

"It very suddenly... popped up and then crashed almost vertically down, which is very much the kind of flight trajectory one would expect if there was a bomb on the plane."


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