this is bbc news, the headlines: the us house of representatives has approved a series of measures aimed at regulating the sale of guns, including raising the age for purchasing semi—automatic rifles. but the proposals do not have the 60 votes they would need for approval in the senate, and are unlikely to become law. ukraine's second city of kharkiv, has come under renewed attack from a number of russian missile strikes. the city of severodonetsk is also under heavy fire. prime minister volodomyr zelensky says in many respects the fate of the donbas region is being decided in that region. on his first trip to the democratic republic of the congo, king philippe of belgium has returned a priceless kakungu mask, taken out of the country before
independencde in 1960. this is the first of almost 80,000 artefacts that will be returned for display in museums in the drc. now on bbc news, hardtalk with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. when vladimir putin ordered his invasion force into ukraine in late february, is this the scenario he imagined for earlyjune? a brutal war of attrition in the donbas, a defiant ukrainian government deploying more heavy weapons from western allies, russian losses mounting, a punishing sanctions regime on moscow and more nato expansion in the offing? well, my guest, in an exclusive interview, is russia's ambassador to the united nations, vassily nebenzia. where does russia go from here?
ambassador vassily nebenzia at un headquarters in new york, welcome to hardtalk. good afternoon, london time, mr sackur. it's a pleasure to have you on the show, ambassador. let me ask you this. after more than 100 days, would you say that russia's invasion of ukraine is going to plan? well, i think it is progressing. nobody promised to deliver it in three or seven days, as some pundits are saying now, that the russian special military operation stalled and is not progressing
at the pace that was initially envisaged, but the progress is being made. that's clear. one of the reasons of the so—called slow pace is that we are not targeting... we are not targeting... ..civilian infrastructure and there is deliberately only hitting military targets, and it takes time. we are not doing carpet bombing or anything else like that. but the progress is there, that's for sure. ambassador, i have to say, you're the most senior russian official whom i have heard say that the initial operation stalled, that the operation is going slow. is that your recognition, that the initial plan to seize kyiv and to install
a new pro—moscow government, that entirely failed? i'm not aware of these plans. and the progress that you are...or the lack of progress that you're referring to, it's in the eye of the beholder. and i think that, according to what our military are saying, the plan is developing according to the military plans that were initially envisaged — of course, with minor tactical changes, because you cannot predict whatever happens on the front line. but the plan is moving. i don't think that anybody in the russian leadership was ever announcing the plans to take kyiv and install what you call a puppet government there. why can't you level with the russian people about the scale of russia's military losses? what do you mean, i can't level it with the russian people? well, i don't mean you personally, but i mean the russian government
as a whole. they haven't issued any officialfigure for the number of russian soldiers killed since the middle of march, when the figure was something over 1,300 men. neither has the ukrainian side. and it's customary in the time of a conflict not to disclose military losses. and, of course, the ukrainian side is trying to portray it as heavy losses by the russian side, try to exaggerate them and to diminish their role. and for a long time, they were able to hide from the west and from their own public heavy losses that the ukrainian side is suffering. recently, zelensky admitted that the losses are heavy and the situation in donbas is... that's the point, ambassador. president zelensky very recently said that the ukrainians are losing up to 100 men a day in the very brutal fight in and around severodonetsk and in the donbas. you, according to the ukrainian figures, have lost 30,000 or more personnel in this war.
we can't verify that figure. the us, using all of its different intelligence sources, believe you have lost more than 15,000 men. and i don't need to remind you that in the entire decade of your war in afghanistan, you lostjust under 15,000 men. so i put it to you, the scale of your losses in the last 100 days has been staggering and would shock the russian people if they knew. neither can i verify those figures. as i said, they're not being disclosed. and there is a clear trend during the time of the conflict to exaggerate upon opponents�* losses. so i cannot tell you the numbers, and i cannot verify what the ukrainians or the us is saying about it. you talk of military progress.
it is clear that after more than 100 days, yourforces are essentially locked in a stalemate war of attrition in the donbas. you haven't yet taken severodonetsk. you're unable, it seems, to take the whole of luhansk, let alone the whole of donbas. and if that represents progress, i'mjust wondering what the plan is. give it a time. you will see the liberation of all the donetsk and lu ha nsk 0blast. that will hopefully take place soon. you ask me what the plan is. the plan was... the initial plan, the aims of the operation were announced publicly. that was neutrality of ukraine, demilitarisation and denazification of the country. and the liberation of donbas was the primary goal,
which is being implemented at the moment. is russia going to stop using conscripts in this war? vladimir putin promised back in march that it wasn't happening. a day later, the russian defence ministry admitted it was happening. and the bbcjust last month spoke to a mother of two young sons, both of them conscripts who ended up fighting in ukraine. is that going to stop or not? there were reports in the beginning of the conflict, of the special military operation, that, indeed, there were a few conscripts that were in the army, not the people who served their own contracts. and that was immediately rectified. i do not know about any new cases of conscripts being sent to ukraine. but i know that zelensky declared the complete and total mobilisation of the country. and i know that he's sending young boys, young boys without any military experience to the front line.
it seems a month or two ago, you and other senior russian diplomats were very keen to tell the united states and europe not to send heavy weaponry to ukraine. in the words of sergey lavrov, if they did so, there would be very serious consequences. and he said, indeed, it might raise the possibility of escalation to the point of nuclear confrontation. those heavy weapons are now being sent, including multiple rocket launch systems from the united states and from the uk, even heavy artillery now being sent by the german government. it is happening. so where are these consequences? i read a quotation recently of an assistant defence secretary of the us, who said that the us does not want to escalate the conflict but russia has no say in what the us can or cannot supply to ukraine. i would agree with the latter part of the sentence,
but he should have dropped the former one then, because this is a clear escalation of the conflict. we said that if these weapons — and they are already supplied — are being continued to be supplied, then it will make us to adopt a decision to move ukrainian forces from where they cannot reach the territory either of russia or of donbas. so this is a clear escalation. we know that these weapons, these arms that are being supplied to ukraine are being used now in, shelling donbas residential areas with no military objects there. so, you know, this only testifies this is not a war with ukraine. ukraine isjust a pawn in a bigger geopolitical game. this is a proxy war of the west with russia.
but when you talk of severe consequences and escalation, you're bluffing, mr ambassador, aren't you? because what we see on the ground is a russian military force in ukraine that is struggling to take any new territory at all. so these threats of yours, they're empty. let's compare notes about it in about a week or two, and we'll see how much we are struggling there and what progress would be achieved by then. international law is at the very centre of what you do day on day inside the united nations. how does it feel to be the representative of a country that is judged by the international community to be conducting an illegal war? who is? who are you calling the international community? european union and the us? or perhaps...? well, no, i'm looking at the international court ofjustice, the un body, which has ordered russia to end the invasion of ukraine.
well, the west today is in a clear fit of delirium over what is happening in ukraine. it does not analyse what led to the situation that we are witnessing now. and the decision by the international court ofjustice on temporary measures was definitely decided by political considerations, not by the... right, so you dismiss multilateral institutions like the international court ofjustice as biased against you. i just wonder whether it makes any difference to you when, for example, the un high commissioner for human rights, who is actually chilean, michelle bachelet — she's not from the west, as you would call it — she has issued a statement saying, "russian armed forces have indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians, wrecking hospitals and schools and other civilian infrastructure." actions which she says
may amount to war crimes. we hear a lot of reports on the alleged russian atrocities in ukraine, which are not verified. they cannot be independently verified, but nobody or very rarely you speak about atrocities that the ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalion are making in ukraine. well, with respect, ambassador, you probably know that i interview ukrainian officials and i challenge them rigorously. i'm here today to challenge you rigorously. and you say that these, as you put it, accusations and allegations cannot be verified. in fact, they have been verified. the un, which has people on the ground, says hundreds of children have already been killed inside ukraine. save the children, an independent ngo, says more than 1,800 ukrainian schools have been damaged and destroyed. we know factually that nearly
400 ukrainian health care facilities have been damaged or destroyed by shells and bombs. these are not accusations and allegations, ambassador. these are facts which are the core, the direct result of russia's military operation in ukraine. now i have a question to you, perhaps a rhetorical one. you don't have a single doubt that this is not being done by russian forces only, you do not assume that that could have been done by the ukrainian forces who from day one deployed their units, including heavy armour and artillery, around residential areas and communal buildings like schools, kindergartens, medicalfacilities. they continue to do it now in mykolaiv, kramatorsk, slavya nsk and 0desa. they shell their own residential areas. and to that, there are evidence and testimony from the prisoners of war from the ukrainian army...
yeah, you've been saying for many weeks now, ambassador, that the devastation of cities like mariupol is the result of ukraine shelling its own people and its own buildings and its own cities. i will leave our audience to judge for themselves whether that claim has any credibility. i just wonder whether you believe that the ukrainians are raping their own women and children as well, because the un has now catalogued at least a dozen cases where russian forces and their associates have committed egregious sexual crimes against ukrainian civilians. first on residential areas in mariupol, what ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalions were doing, and that's their habitual tactics. they sent people to the basements, residents of those areas.
they take their apartments and turn them into firing positions, from where they fire from to the russian troops and calling for the return fire. now, on the sexual violence, we just had a meeting on monday, on the 6th ofjune on ukraine and sexual violence in conflict and trafficking in persons. and that was a peculiar meeting because no—one who spoke, not a single delegation, as well as the chair of the european council, charles michel, who came specifically to attend that meeting, could cite a single proof or example of sexual violence committed by the russian army. we were the only ones who cited an audit and then gave an example, an example of those sexual crimes that the ukrainian forces have committed. i could repeat it today if you are eager to hear.
well, i tell you what, you know, i can put the facts on the ground as reported by independent un investigators to you. you can deny them and say they're fake and say that the un is biased. we could spend the rest of the interview doing that. ijust would like to make a slightly different point, which is one about truth—telling, truth—telling and credibility, ambassador. we know that you have said untruths even at the un. you held up, for example, pictures of women after the attack on the maternity hospital in mariupol. you claim that the two pictures you had were of the same woman and that she was a fake, she was an actress. it wasn't true. investigation showed that these were two different women. one of them died after the attack. the other was actually sent in the end by russian forces to donbas. so what you did was entirely untrue.
you also claim that you had evidence of leaks showing a bioweapons facility in ukraine. even one of russia's respected scientists said that the evidence you presented was absurd, nonsensical and absurd. so you don't tell the truth, ambassador. first, we have to finish on sexual violence. you said that we didn't cite a single example. we did, first of all... no, i didn't say that at all. i never said you didn't cite an example of sexual violence. i said we could trade discussion on these particular accusations all day. ijust wanted to put to you cases where you have been exposed for simply, and i put it bluntly, not telling the truth.
before i am exposed, as you say, let me finish with the sexual violence. one of the briefers at the security council was the representative of the secretary—general on sexual violence in conflict, pramila patten, who said that she had reports, obviously, from the ukrainian side on 124 cases of alleged sexual violence committed by the russian troops, which were not verified and cannot be verified at the moment. that's point one. secondly, do you know the story of the ukrainian ombudsman lyudmila denisova, who was fired by the ukrainian parliament because the lies that she was spreading...? ambassador, i think you've made your point that you don't accept the veracity of the allegations about sexual violence. we're going to have to move the interview on or else we're going to run out of time to get through some very important matters. you asked me about the case. i want to finish what i'm saying. she was fired because she was spreading lies, which was recognised by the ukrainian parliament. it was more than enough even for them. and as recently as yesterday, she gave an interview
where she said when she spoke with the italians on that issue, she said she did over... ..she overdid herjob because she wanted to attract attention to ukraine. that's confirming that she was lying, and that's it. we're going to move on. why have hundreds of thousands of ukrainian civilians from occupied areas, now occupied by russian forces, why have they been sent to filtration camps, then either into the previously occupied parts of the donbas or into russia itself? why is that happening, including hundreds of thousands of children? the hundreds of thousands of children, they are not being forcefully. . .forcibly sent to russia. that's the choice of their own. when the people wanted to be evacuated from areas of fighting, we provided humanitarian corridors. and we never told those people which way to go, west or east, and they chose that freely. those people who are in russia today, which amounts to 1.6 million people roughly, they made their free choice. they were not forced
to move to russia. how did you feel when your diplomatic colleague, a counsellor at the un for russia in geneva, boris bondarev, when he said as he quit his post, he said, "never have i been so ashamed of my country. "it's all about," he said, "the job of being a diplomat for russia right now is all about warmongering, lies and hatred. when you see your country doing the worst things, it must be your decision to terminate your connection with that government. we all have to take responsibility." are you prepared to take responsibility? are you calling on me to do the same thing? i'm just wondering whether that struck a chord with you, ambassador. well, we are a free country, and every person has the right to express his position on one or the other issue.
if i am ashamed of something, i am ashamed of the kyiv authorities, who for eight years lied to the world about what's happening in ukraine, about what's happening in donbas. and the free world was happily buying the lies from the ukrainian regime. if i regret about something, i do regret that the kyiv authorities have not opted to faithfully fulfil minsk agreements, which would be a minor, minor evilforthem compared to what they are experiencing now. i wonder whether the bankrupt ukrainian regime is not biting their elbows, that they have not implemented what could have prevented what is happening today. did you also regret the fact, as a senior russian diplomat, that the international community now sees russia using food, to quote the president of the eu council, charles michel, at the un, using food as "a stealth weapon" by refusing to export much of your grain into the world market and by certainly stopping and thwarting ukraine's efforts to export its grain supplies, millions and millions
of tonnes of wheat. we are not refusing to export our grain to the world market, but there are obstacles that should be overcome to do it. indeed, grain and fertilisers are not under sanctions, but their investments, their insurance, their finance operations to pay for that grain are. so, first, before we export anything, those things have to be lifted and the arrangements made. then on the ukrainian grain, we said long time that it is not our fault that the coastal waters near 0desa and other ports in the south of ukraine were mined by the ukrainians. if they do demand it, then we are ready to provide safe passages for their vessels to go and to export theirgrain. as recent as today, minister lavrov, who was in turkey for the talks with the turkish officials in particular on that issue,
said that we are ready to lift whatever obstacles for the export of ukrainian grain and that we will not use it as a means to... yeah, sorry to interrupt, ambassador, but we're almost out of time. sorry to interrupt. we're almost out of time. an important final question for you as the un ambassador for russia, do you worry about russia's diplomatic isolation and economic isolation right now? if we look at what has happened, you only have the active support for your military invasion of ukraine from belarus, north korea, syria and eritrea, four dictatorships. even china, which is supposed to be your friend, says that ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty must be respected. you're out of friends. i do not think the assessment is right. i'm not sure that your attempts to isolate russia succeeded.
i think that the west perhaps made some tactical gains, but it is losing strategically. one thing that is a clear outcome of those sanctions that the west introduced is that you lost practically any leverage on russia at all. you know that president putin, even before this conflict, he was saying, he said once that, "let them in the west introduce all the sanctions they can." we had no illusions before, and we will not have any illusions then whatsoever. sorry, ambassador, we have to end there. i thank you very much forjoining me from new york. it went too fast. i couldn't make many points that i wanted to. well, we appreciate your time. thank you.
good morning. wednesday was certainly a day of contrasting conditions. if you managed to keep the sunshine, you also had some warmth. it was very pleasant out there. in fact, we saw a high of 23.5 celsius in london through wednesday afternoon. but there were some showers, and if you got caught in one or two of them, you would certainly know about it. they were heavy with hail and thunder at times. in fact, if we take a look back at wednesday, we had some fairly persistent rain throughout the day moving through central and northern scotland and a cluster of showers piling in behind. some of those, as i say, heavy and thundery. those showers tending to fade away as we speak, and we keep some clear skies over the next few hours across central and southern england, a little bit of nuisance cloud further north with an odd isolated shower. but it will be a relatively mild start to thursday morning, temperatures holding up, 10—12 celsius. the best of the sunshine certainly across central and southern parts of england first thing in the morning. we'll see cloud and light, patchy rain gathering in from the west. that's going to drift its way steadily eastwards, so eventually the sunshine being nibbled away with cloud as it moves its way steadily eastwards. we'll keep some light rain and some misty, murky conditions along west—facing coasts, the highest temperatures where we see the best of the sunshine —
22 degrees, 72 fahrenheit. and it's certainly worth bearing in mind if you are a hay fever sufferer that where we've got that sunshine, grass pollen is now reaching its peak, so very high levels of pollen expected through the course of the afternoon. so, if we move out of thursday into friday, we've got this area of low pressure. it is the ex—tropical storm alex, the remnants of that storm bringing some windy conditions to the far north and west but also some warmth, as it's a south—westerly wind to go with it. so we keep a cluster of showers and winds perhaps gusting in excess of 40—50 mph in exposed coasts. but across much of england and wales, with some sunshine coming through, a breezy afternoon but warm with it. we could see highs of 23 degrees. that low pressure just drifts to the north of scotland, so we still keep the squeeze in the isobars, the strongest of the winds here, but high pressure is starting to build in from the southwest, calming things down quite nicely. so, yes, some showers to the north and west and still a fresh breeze to contend with, but an improving picture as we go
this is bbc news: i'm samantha simmonds with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. gun control measures are once again approved by the us house of representatives, but they're unlikely to become law. it comes after a harrowing day of testimony. he shot... severodonetsk under fire. this battle might decide the fate of the whole donbas region, says president zelensky. the battle for the capitol laid bare. the january the 6th committee prepares to go public with its findings. and on his first trip to the democratic republic