War in Ukraine: 'The battle for Kherson will begin', warns Russian official as Vladimir Putin announces martial law in annexed regions

Russian president Vladimir Putin has announced martial law in regions of Ukraine recently annexed by Russia as speculation increases that Ukrainian forces could begin the "battle for Kherson".

In a televised meeting of his National Security Council, the Russian leader said martial law, which is likely to see restrictions on travel, curfews, increased censorship and bans on any protests, was “de facto” already in place in the annexed regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

This comes as Downing Street warned Mr Putin would face "severe consequences" if he used nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict amid reports Russia could detonate a nuclear warhead over the Black Sea.

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Defence secretary Ben Wallace has been in Washington for talks with his US counterpart. The Prime Minister's official spokesman did not comment on Mr Wallace's meeting, but said: "We are very clear with Putin that the use of nuclear weapons will lead to severe consequences."

A soldier waves from an armored personnel carrier earlier this month as several villages were liberated in the Kherson district.

He added: "I would guide away from speculating on this as an issue. I think the public need to be reassured that we are taking a strong lead in this area.

"I think it would be a mistake to be drawn into speculation on this rather than focusing on what we are seeing day by day, which is a senseless and barbaric attack on civilians across Ukraine."

Mr Putin said he wanted to “formalise” martial law.

He said: “Now we need to formalise this regime within the framework of Russian legislation. Therefore, I signed a decree on the introduction of martial law in these four subjects of the Russian Federation.”

Mr Putin added: “We are working to solve very difficult large-scale tasks to ensure Russia’s security and safe future, to protect our people. Those who are on the frontlines or undergoing training at firing ranges and training centres should feel our support and know that they have our big, great country and unified people behind their back.

He also announced additional emergency powers to the heads of all regions of Russia, but did not provide any details.

“In the current situation, I consider it necessary to give additional powers to heads of all Russian regions,” he said.

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Earlier, Mr Putin said the meeting would discuss “neutralisation of threats” to national security in migration, regulation of migration processes in the interests of socio-economic development and socio-political stability" as tensions increase around the city, which has been occupied by Russia since early March.

This comes as the new commander of Moscow’s army said in a TV interview late Tuesday that civilians were being “resettled” from the city, describing the military situation as “tense”. Sergei Surovikin said civilians were being “resettled” from the city to the other side of the Dnieper river.

Meanwhile, Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy administrator of the Kherson region, said in a message on Telegram late on Tuesday the “battle for Kherson will begin in the very near future”.

He said: “The civilian population is advised, if possible, to leave the area of the upcoming fierce hostilities.”

Last week, the Russian-installed leader of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, called on civilians to evacuate.

He urged them to "save themselves" by going to Russia for "leisure and study", and asked for Moscow's help.

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