Vladimir Putin is “increasingly ill” and is “constantly accompanied” by a team of doctors, former British spy Christopher Steele has claimed.
Mr Steele, who wrote a dossier on Donald Trump and Moscow's alleged interference in the 2016 US elections, had earlier stated that the Russian leader was “quite seriously ill”, although the “exact details” of what ailed him are not known.
The latest remarks come amid mounting speculation on the Russian president’s allegedly deteriorating health and rumours that he is suffering from cancer.
“He’s constantly accompanied around the place by a team of doctors,” the former spy told LBC radio.
He also claimed that Mr Putin’s key meetings have to be divided into sections so that the president can take breaks in between to receive treatment from his doctors.
The claims are the latest in a growing number of concerns over Mr Putin’s health after videos circulating on social media showed him “shaking uncontrollably”.
Italy's foreign minister said on Friday that his country has submitted a peace plan for Ukraine to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said during a Council of Europe meeting in Turin that the plan submitted on Thursday calls for local cease-fires to evacuate civilians along humanitarian corridors, and creating the conditions for a general cease-fire leading “to a long-lasting peace.”
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was aware of the plan, adding the European Union is “putting all our efforts into trying to bring this conflict to an end.”
Borrell said it’s up to Ukraine to decide the terms of any negotiations. He said that he hopes that “when the time comes for negotiations to take place, Ukraine will be able to negotiate from a position of strength.”
He called on all EU nations to remain united on all fronts in the war.
It has, meanwhile, been reported that Ukrainian troops in Mariupol have been told to stop their defence of besieged city.
After prolonged bombardment of the southern Ukrainian city, soldiers of the Azov battalion were told to only “save the lives of soldiers”.
Reuters news agency reported the Azov battalion, which has been sheltering in the Azovstal steel plant, was told to stop its defence of the city on Friday after civilians and the heavily wounded had been evacuated.
Denys Prokopenko, commander of the regiment said: “We have constantly emphasised the three most important conditions for us: civilians, wounded and dead.
"The civilians have been evacuated. The heavily wounded received the necessary assistance and they were evacuated, to be later exchanged and delivered to territory controlled by Ukraine."
Mr Prokopenko said the process of removing the dead from the Azovstal plant was still under way.
"I hope that in the near future, relatives and Ukraine will be able to bury their soldiers with honour," he said.
In its latest update, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed as many as 1,700 Ukrainian troops have surrendered from the steel factory.
Earlier in the week, hundreds of soldiers were evacuated from the steelworks and taken to the Russian-backed town of Novoazovsk.
Civilians were also rescued from the plant in the city earlier this month which has seen some of the worst shelling since the war began.
After claiming the southern city, the MoD said it expects Russian forces to refocus efforts in the Donbas after moving troops from Kyiv and central Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country has faced a barrage of cyberattacks from the West amid the invasion of Ukraine but has successfully fended them off.
Speaking on Friday to members of Russia’s Security Council, Putin noted that “the challenges in this area have become even more pressing, serious and extensive.”
He charged that “an outright aggression has been unleashed against Russia, a war has been waged in the information space.”
Putin added that “the cyber-aggression against us, the same as the attack on Russia by sanctions in general, has failed.”
He ordered officials to “perfect and enhance the mechanisms of ensuring information security at critically important industrial facilities which have a direct bearing on our country’s defensive capability, and the stable development of the economic and social spheres.”
Ukrainian authorities said on Friday that their troops repelled a Russian attack in the east, as Moscow struggled to gain ground in the region that is now the focus of the war even while intensifying its campaign there.
Battered by their months-long siege of the vital port city of Mariupol, Russian troops need time to regroup, Britain’s Defence Ministry said in an assessment — but they may not get it. The city and the steelworks where Ukrainian fighters have held off the Russian assault for weeks have become a symbol of Ukraine’s stoic resistance and surprising ability to stymie a much larger force.
With the battle for the steel plant winding down, Russia has already started pulling troops back from the site. But the British assessment indicated Russian commanders are under pressure to quickly send them elsewhere in the Donbas.
“That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition,” the ministry said.
The Donbas is now President Vladimir Putin’s focus after his troops failed to take the capital in the early days of the war. Pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in the region and held a considerable swath of it before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
But the effort to take more territory there has been slow-going. In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, the British Defense Ministry said.
Russia will also cut off natural gas to Finland on Saturday, the Finnish state-owned energy company said. Poland and Bulgaria were cut off late last month, as Moscow tries to use its energy exports to hit back at Western countries that are helping Ukraine. The moves comes after Finland and Sweden applied for membership in the NATO alliance, driven by security concerns in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
Meanwhile, a young Russian soldier, accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian, awaited his fate in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old soldier in a Russian tank unit, has pleaded guilty, but the prosecution still presented its evidence, in line with Ukrainian law. Shishimarin told the court on Thursday that he shot 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov after he was ordered to — and apologised to the man’s widow.
The Group of Seven leading economies and global financial institutions agreed this week to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s public finances, bringing the total aid to $19.8 billion, Germany’s finance minister said Friday. Western financial and arms support have been critical to Ukraine's ability to defend itself.