Putin orders Russian army to recruit more troops; Nuclear agency chief to visit Zaporizhzhia plant

Putin orders Russian army to recruit more troops; Nuclear agency chief to visit Zaporizhzhia plant
At least 15 people were killed this week during a Russian missile strike on a train station in Chaplyne, situated in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine. (Photo: Twitter / @DmytroKuleba)

President Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree ordering the Russian army to boost its troop total by 137,000 to 1.15 million from January 1, RIA Novosti reported.

The US and the European Union condemned the Kremlin after a deadly attack on a railway station in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine that directly hit a passenger train. Russia said it struck a military target.

Pressure piled on to European consumers and industry as German and French power prices hit fresh records, stoked by tighter supplies of Russian gas. At the same time, international concern remained high over the Russian-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s biggest atomic energy facility, which has been hit by shelling in recent weeks. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency vowed to visit the plant “in the next few days”.  

Key Developments

On the ground

Russian forces fired at four districts in Dnipropetrovsk overnight, local authorities said on Telegram, while Interfax-Ukraine reported several explosions were heard in the Kyiv region overnight. Russia shelled the central city of Kryvyi Rih with Tornado multiple launch rocket systems, according to Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the city military administration. Russia carried out more than 200 air sorties on Wednesday, accounting for the number of air raid alarms across Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat, who said in an online briefing that Russia has concentrated 400 combat aircraft and 360 helicopters along Ukraine’s borders. 

Atomic agency chief to visit seized nuclear plant  

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, vowed to visit the Russian-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine “in the next few days. Almost every day there is a new incident at or near” the facility, he said and “we can’t afford to lose any more time”. 

At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden had discussed the plant in a call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Saying a nuclear power plant “should never be an active war zone,” Jean-Pierre added: “Russia should agree to the demilitarised zone around the plant and agree to allow an International Atomic Energy Agency visit as soon as possible to check on the safety and security of the systems.” 

Zelensky says he had a ‘great conversation’ with Biden 

Zelensky said on Twitter that he had a “great conversation” with Joe Biden, thanking his US counterpart for “the unwavering US support for Ukrainian people — security and financial.”  

On Wednesday, Biden announced a new, $2.98-billion package of arms to Ukraine, mostly to bolster the country’s defences for the long term.  

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant cut off from Ukraine’s grid 

Two operating units of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power were disconnected from Ukraine’s grid due to nearby fires, the first such incident in the plant’s operational history, according to its state-owned operator Energoatom.

The last transmission line connecting the Russian-occupied atomic plant with Ukraine’s power system was cut off twice due to fires in ash dumps from the Zaporizhzhia thermal power plant. Three other transmission lines have been damaged by Russian shelling earlier.

While the plant is still operated by Ukrainian technicians, startup operations were under way to connect one of its power units to the grid, Energoatom said. There are no concerns about the functioning of automation and safety systems at the plant, it said.




Russians face travel hurdles as EU mulls over restrictions 

Russians travelling to the EU will have to pay more and withstand additional bureaucracy to obtain a short-term visa, according to a compromise solution aimed at allaying member states’ differences on how far restrictions should go. 

The Czech government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, will propose fully suspending visa-facilitation agreements with Russia and Belarus at a meeting of foreign ministers in Prague next week, according to Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky. 

France warns on sanctions 

French Transport Minister Clement Beaune urged companies to ensure they aren’t breaching sanctions against Russia after newspaper Le Monde alleged that TotalEnergies may be indirectly providing jet fuel to the Kremlin’s air force.

Read more: France warns on sanctions after allegation over Russian bombers

The French oil and gas giant denied that it’s backing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in any way. Le Monde published an article on Wednesday that said a Russian company 49% owned by TotalEnergies is producing gas condensates that may ultimately be processed into fuel for Moscow’s bombers.

Putin orders army to add 137,000 troops 

While Russian men are required to serve one year in the armed forces, the Kremlin has avoided a mass mobilisation to bolster its forces in Ukraine and hasn’t officially declared war, instead labelling the conflict a “special military operation”.

However, the high toll from the conflict has led to speculation that the government may seek to draft more soldiers. Colin Kahl, the US undersecretary of defence for policy, said this month that as many as 80,000 Russian troops have probably been killed or wounded in Ukraine in less than six months.

Russia signs South Korea deal for Egypt nuclear project  

Russia’s state-owned Rosatom signed a $2.2-billion deal with South Korea. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power will supply buildings, equipment and materials for Egypt’s El Dabaa project, according to a statement from South Korea’s energy ministry. Rosatom began construction last month of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, 300km northwest of Cairo.

Read more: Korea in $2.2bn deal with Russia for Egypt nuclear plant

South Korean Vice Trade Minister Park Il-joon told reporters on Thursday that Seoul had closely consulted with the US about the deal, according to the Yonhap news agency. Rosatom, a major global supplier in the nuclear industry, is one of the few big Russian state companies still not subject to sanctions imposed by the US and its allies over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.




Russia ‘can afford to shut Europe off gas for a year’ 

Russia could cut off all gas exports to the EU “for just over one year without adverse consequences for the economy”, according to Capital Economics.

As long as oil prices and export levels remain at current high levels, Russia’s current account surplus will be enough to sustain it even with a cutoff to its main gas market, according to Liam Peach, one of the consultancy’s economists. Surging prices for gas in Europe mean Russia could earn as much as $20-billion per quarter from gas exports despite reduced volumes, he added. 

“Whether or not Russia turns off the taps completely will be a political decision and the length of any cut-off would depend on the size of offsetting oil revenues,” Peach wrote. European leaders have accused Russia of using its massive energy resources as a weapon, an allegation the Kremlin denies. But continuing problems with a key pipeline have slashed deliveries and sent prices soaring.

Citigroup to wind down Russia consumer unit  

Citigroup will wind down its consumer and commercial banking operations in Russia after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine complicated the sale of the business. 

The company will incur $170-million in costs tied to the wind-down, mostly tied to restructuring expenses and vendor termination fees, according to a statement on Thursday. Citigroup will continue to try to sell certain consumer-banking portfolios in the region. 

Read more: Citigroup to wind down Russia consumer unit after sale stalls

Russia says train hit by missile was military 

Russia’s Defence Ministry said the train that it hit in Chaplyne — Chaplyno in Russian — was a military target. An Iskander missile strike on a military train at the Chaplyno station destroyed more than 200 Ukrainian reserve troops and 10 pieces of military equipment, Interfax cited the ministry as saying. No reference was made to civilians.

Russia has previously described strikes in which civilians died as attacks on military targets. Among them was a strike on the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia in July in which more than 20 people died, including children.

Frontex details Ukrainian entries to EU since February 

In a tweet, the European Border and Coastguard Agency known as Frontex said that there had been a total of 9.5 million entries to the European Union by people from Ukraine and Moldova since February.  

UK raises concerns over Ukraine nuclear plant 

The UK Ministry of Defence raised concerns over the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia atomic plant in its latest defence intelligence briefing, warning of the risks to operations from “disruption to the reactors’ cooling systems, damage to its back-up power supply or errors by workers operating under pressure”.

The plant, which was seized by Russian forces in early March, was the subject of talks in Istanbul on Wednesday between Rosatom CEO Alexey Likhachev and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Secretary Rafael Mariano Grossi. The IAEA is preparing a visit to the plant. 

Read this exclusive story on how nuclear inspectors will be given wider powers than initially sought to investigate attacks against the plant. 

Estonia ups pressure on Russian visas 

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas refocused attention on the issue of Russian tourists travelling to the European Union, highlighting “the burden and gravity of the situation” in a tweet.  

Fellow Baltic leader Gitanas Nauseda, the president of Lithuania, said on Wednesday that he supports a proposal to ban visas for Russian tourists, saying the war in Ukraine is supported by the Russian people at large. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is among those to reject such a ban. Should the EU fail to achieve a united response on a ban, a regional solution could be devised that would include the Baltic states and other countries geographically closer to Russia, Nauseda said.

Japanese firms stay in Russian LNG project 

Japanese trading houses will stay in a key Russian liquefied natural gas export project, highlighting how the Asian nation is prioritising its energy security despite rising tensions over the war in Ukraine.

Both Mitsubishi and Mitsui said on Thursday they had decided to remain in the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas project after Moscow moved to tighten control over the facility under a new Russian operator. The companies will formally ask the Russian government for permission to acquire stakes in the operator, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said separately in a press briefing. 

Death toll from railway attack rises 

The death toll after the attack in Chaplyne rose to 25, including two children, the deputy head of presidential staff, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Telegram. Thirty-one people were wounded.

Overnight, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Russian missile attack on a Ukrainian train station “fits a pattern of atrocities”. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, expressed horror over the attack and tweeted that “war crimes will not remain unpunished”. 

Russia says it hits only military targets, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Kremlin forces had deliberately slowed their offensive to limit civilian casualties. 

Kremlin ‘likely to delay’ annexation votes  

The Kremlin will most likely delay votes on joining Russia in Ukrainian territories that it has occupied, aiming to wait for more progress on the battlefield, the Vedomosti newspaper reported, citing sources it didn’t name.

Moscow had hoped to conduct the “referendums” as early as September 11, when regular regional elections are scheduled in Russia. They would have covered the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. But since its troops don’t control all that territory, especially Donetsk, which Putin has publicly declared as a goal for his invasion, the Kremlin has decided to wait, Vedomosti said.

Though the votes are seen as illegal and wouldn’t be recognised internationally, the Kremlin regards them as a way to symbolically cement its control and signal that it wouldn’t give up the territory in any peace talks. Ukraine and its allies have said that’s unacceptable. DM


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