Kyiv army chief warns of January Russian assault; US sanctions Putin’s richest tycoon

Kyiv army chief warns of January Russian assault; US sanctions Putin’s richest tycoon
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Nornickel (mining and metallurgical company Norilsk Nickel) president Vladimir Potanin in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow, Russia, 10 December 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Michael Klimentyev / Sputnik / Kremlin Pool)

A top Ukrainian commander has warned that Russia will try to seize Kyiv as soon as January. The US sanctioned Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s richest tycoon, but left his company, mining giant MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC, untouched as it tries to maintain stability in the metals market.

The commander of the Ukrainian army warned there’s “no doubt” Russian forces will attempt to seize Kyiv as soon as January after failing in the spring, potentially from a staging ground in Belarus. 

At the same time, Ukraine’s top defence official said Kremlin troops are fast running out of the types of missiles used to damage energy targets in a two-month campaign. 

European Union leaders are discussing the latest developments in the war at a summit in Brussels, including how to help the Ukrainian people get through the winter following sustained Russian attacks on energy infrastructure.

Key developments

On the ground

Russian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in the east, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its latest update.

Russian troops shelled the Nikopol district in the central Dnipropetrovsk region overnight and parts of the Mykolaiv region in the morning, local authorities said. 

The city of Kherson was hit by artillery fire, with Russian shells hitting residential areas and killing a woman and a child and injuring two people, according to the local military administration.

Russia hit Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv with C-300 missiles on Thursday afternoon, Kharkiv region governor Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram. Several warehouses were damaged.

Poland lifts objection to EU package that includes Ukraine aid

Poland has lifted its objections to an EU package deal that includes €18-billion in financial aid for Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Warsaw had been holding up the package over questions related to a minimum corporate tax provision. 




US sanctions Potanin, Russia’s richest tycoon

The US sanctioned Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s richest tycoon and the president and biggest shareholder of mining giant MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC, but left his company untouched as it tries to maintain stability in the metals market.

The action was part of a broader sanctions package the Treasury Department rolled out, targeting some 40 people linked to Russia’s government.

Ukrainian army chief says Russia may attempt to take Kyiv again

There is “no doubt” Russia will make another attempt to capture Ukraine’s capital after being repelled soon after its 24 February invasion, Ukraine’s army commander-in-chief told The Economist

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi told the magazine that the Kremlin is accumulating resources for another attack, which may start from the Donbas in the east, Belarus to the north, or from the south.

Ukraine needs help from its partners in the form of 300 tanks, 600 to 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 Howitzers to be able to restore the borders as they were before Russia’s invasion, he said.

Russia running out of missiles — Ukraine security chief

Russian forces have enough firepower for three or four more missile barrages of the kind that have devastated Ukraine’s energy infrastructure over the past two months, Kyiv’s top defence official said. 

“We understand how much they’ve expended so far — we understand that they don’t have so many,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, said in an interview on Wednesday. 

As the Kremlin’s missile reserves are depleted, “we are becoming mightier in air defence,” he said.

Read more: Russia is running out of missiles, Ukraine security chief says

Exploding gift from Ukraine injures Polish police chief

An explosion at Polish police headquarters caused minor injuries to the country’s top police commander and a civilian employee, Poland’s interior ministry said.

A gift the commander received from one of the heads of Ukrainian services during a visit to Ukraine on 11-23 December exploded, the ministry said. Poland has asked Ukraine for an explanation.

Sanctioned billionaires sue over EU order on assets

A group of sanctioned Russian billionaires, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have picked a fight with the European Union — challenging an order to declare all their assets from luxury villas to bank accounts within six weeks or face prosecution.

The lawsuits follow a July ultimatum from the bloc to individuals targeted by an asset freeze following the Kremlin-led invasion of Ukraine.

Read more: Sanctioned billionaires sue over order to declare villas, cash

Ghana says Burkina Faso paid Russian mercenaries with a mine 

Ghana’s president alleged the government of neighbouring Burkina Faso gave Russian mercenaries a mine as payment to help fight an insurgency in their country.

Nana Akufo-Addo, in Washington for the US-Africa Leaders Summit, raised the claims at a meeting on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to a statement from the department.

Russia’s Asian oil flows may be wobbling

There are tentative signs that Russian oil exports from a key port in Asia, southeast of Vladivostok, are dipping following G-7 sanctions targeting Moscow’s petroleum revenues.

In the 10 days since the oil price caps began, 4.4 million barrels have been loaded on tankers at Kozmino, tanker tracking compiled by Bloomberg News shows, half the level from a month ago.

Read more: Russia’s Asian oil flows show signs of wobbling after sanctions

Zelensky calls again for ‘effective’ price caps on Russian energy 

Ukraine’s president urged the EU to impose “effective” price caps on Russian crude, petroleum products and gas.

“Those price caps should be such that the terrorist state is definitely deprived of the ability to finance the war at the expense of global markets,” Zelensky said in his address to the European Council.

Read more: Europe’s new sanctions on Russian oil kick in: What changes?

Russia continues to pound civilian infrastructure

Relentless Russian targeting of Ukraine’s energy plants and other key infrastructure, which now stretches over more than two months, shows little sign of fading.

Since 8 December, Moscow’s troops have conducted 41 rocket and 32 single-use drone strikes on civil infrastructure and energy facilities in 17 settlements, including Kyiv, according to Oleksii Hromov, deputy chief of Ukraine’s general staff.

Ukraine’s air defence shot down 22 drones during that time, he said.

Gazprom’s daily gas exports rise

Gazprom PJSC’s daily natural gas exports rose in the first half of December, signalling the first monthly increase since August, amid higher flows to China and eastern Europe.

The Russian gas giant shipped an average of 173 million cubic metres a day to countries outside the former Soviet Union from 1-15 December, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data published Thursday. That’s 30% higher than the daily average in November. The company has drastically curtailed shipments to parts of Europe since the start of the war.

European gas infrastructure holding up – Engie 

Engie Chairman Jean-Pierre Clamadieu said Europe’s gas infrastructure has worked well this week during a cold snap, calling it a “good sign” for the rest of the winter.

Engie has completely replaced its Russian gas deliveries, with Norway, the US and a few other countries providing it with more supply and helping it rebalance its portfolio, Clamadieu said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Poland, Lithuania holding up new Russian sanctions

Poland and Lithuania are blocking the EU’s ninth package of sanctions against Russia, according to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Landsbergis told reporters in Vilnius that details on food security potentially open a loophole and the possibility for sanctioned Russian oligarchs to increase their wealth. 

“We cannot accept the proposal to ease restrictive measures to those oligarchs, who support and benefit from Putin’s regime, by amending a regulation and unfreezing their personal economic and financial assets,” Landsbergis said.




Russia better able to strike from Belarus — Ukraine

Russia has expanded its capacity to strike Ukraine from neighbouring Belarus by bringing in additional military equipment, according to the deputy chief of Ukraine’s General Staff, Oleksii Hromov.

Russia’s forces in Belarus haven’t been built up sufficiently to enable a full-scale invasion into Ukraine from the north, Hromov said in a video briefing. 

The Kremlin has made use of Belarusian territory and military instructors there to train its troops.

Separately, the UK defence ministry said in a Twitter update that recently arrived Russian units in Belarus “are currently unlikely to constitute a force capable of conducting a successful new assault into northern Ukraine.”

War hinges on supplies of rockets, shells

Officials in Kyiv and Moscow face a critical question with the war in its 10th month: Can they secure enough missiles and artillery through winter to prevail?

Which side runs low first could decide whether Ukraine or Russia emerges in the spring with the strategic initiative to potentially end the war on its terms.

Zelensky hails progress on air defence

Zelensky said his government has made “important progress” on getting “more modern and more powerful” air defence systems.

Zelensky commented in his evening address after US officials said a decision to supply Patriot air defence missile batteries awaits a final decision by President Joe Biden. DM


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