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UKRAINE UPDATE: 19 DECEMBER 2022

Zelensky adviser warns that Russia could escalate the war; Kyiv energy restored after Friday missile strikes

Zelensky adviser warns that Russia could escalate the war; Kyiv energy restored after Friday missile strikes
Vasyl, a Ukrainian Territorial Defence soldier with the nickname Maloy (Young), operates a machine gun on 17 December 2022 on the outskirts of Kyiv where his comrade Oleg Vasylyshyn shot down a Russian rocket during a massive rocket attack on Friday. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Dolzhenko)

A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russia could sharply escalate the war in a winter offensive driven by mass infantry, and that Western allies needed to be prepared.

Ukraine continued to repair key infrastructure after Friday’s Russian missile strikes, the ninth major barrage since early October. The heat was mostly back on for residents of Kyiv, where temperatures were to be well below freezing. Russia has launched more than 4,000 missiles at Ukraine since the start of its full-scale invasion, Zelensky said on Saturday. 

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the 10-month mark, President Vladimir Putin met with military commanders to determine next steps, the Kremlin said on Saturday. In a short video, he asked for “proposals” on how the war should proceed. Russia released a video it said showed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting “forward positions” in Ukraine.

Key developments

On the ground

Russian forces are looking for tactical improvements to their positions around Lyman and are focusing on areas near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its latest update. Over the past day, Russia launched five rockets at Ukraine and made at least 42 strikes from multiple-launch rocket systems. The entire country remains at risk of airstrikes. Russian forces shelled the centre of Kherson, injuring three, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of presidential staff, said on Telegram. Air defence systems were triggered in Russia’s Belgorod region, with at least four people injured on the ground, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram. One person was killed and another injured in the surrounding region.

Zelensky aide ‘warns of potential Russian winter escalation’

Ukraine is bracing for a major Russian escalation over the winter to tamp down political backlash at home, Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the New York Times.

The comments, made to the newspaper in emailed responses to questions, were the warning that the Kremlin plans to ramp up the war, potentially with a new mass mobilisation. Ukraine’s army commander-in-chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi told The Economist last week there was “no doubt” Russia would make another run at capturing Kyiv as soon as January with fresh troops now in training.

Russia’s military appears to be laying plans for mass infantry attacks reminiscent of those done by the Soviet Union during World War 2, Podolyak said.

 

 

 

Rheinmetall plans new ammunition production line

Rheinmetall will build a new production line for ammunition to ease supply bottlenecks for Germany’s armed forces in the latest sign that Russia’s war against Ukraine is reshaping Europe’s security landscape.

The German company plans to invest more than €10-million to add the new capacity at its existing site in Unterluess, Lower Saxony. It will provide ammunition also for the 30 “Gepard” anti-aircraft guns which Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government sent to Ukraine earlier this year.

Ukraine takes on Fifa over World Cup video decision

Ukraine criticised Fifa, saying the football governing body had declined to show a video message from Volodymyr Zelensky calling for world peace before Sunday’s World Cup final in Qatar. 

Ukraine’s president recorded a video in English that he hoped would be shown before the game. “Fifa blocked the initiative and will not allow” the video to be shown, CNN reported, citing a statement from the office. Fifa hasn’t commented. 

Presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter that the sports body “shows lack of understanding of the disaster” Russia was dragging the world into, while Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Fifa to not be afraid. 

Ukraine’s railway lights up Christmas tree with pedal power

The Ukrainian railway company Ukrzaliznytsya set up a Christmas tree in the hall of a central railway station in Kyiv with lights powered by electricity generated by a bicycle, its CEO said on Twitter. 

Russian defence chief visits ‘forward positions’ in Ukraine

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu flew over a Russian troop deployment area in Ukraine and inspected forward positions, the ministry said on its website. Shoigu is shown in a 43-second video travelling by helicopter; it’s unclear when the trip took place and exactly what locations he visited. 

The travel was announced two days after President Vladimir Putin met with military commanders, including Shoigu, to strategise for what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, which is approaching the 10-month mark. 

Shoigu met field commanders at a “command and control post,” and “interacted with Russian servicemen,” according to the ministry.

Ukraine picks Eurovision artist in broadcast from bomb shelter

Ukrainians chose the band Tvorchi to represent the nation at the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. The UK will host the event on behalf of Ukraine, which won the broadcasting rights after its Kalush Orchestra won this year’s competition. 

Tvorchi, an electro-pop duo from Ternopil in western Ukraine, was selected from 10 contenders after a nationwide broadcast on TV, radio and the internet from a Kyiv underground station that’s being used as a bomb shelter. 

The sing-off came a day after Kremlin troops bombarded the capital with 40 missiles, of which 37 were shot down by air defences. 

Heat mostly back on in Kyiv after latest strikes, mayor says

Kyiv has restored operations at utilities providing heat throughout the city following the latest missile strikes by Russia on Friday, Mayor Vitali Klitschko wrote in a Telegram post. 

Temperatures in Ukraine’s capital were predicted to be well below freezing on Sunday and Monday before a slight thaw.

Kremlin troops fired about 40 missiles at Ukraine’s capital on Friday as part of the ninth major barrage against key infrastructure since early October. Some 37 missiles were shot down by air defences. 

Kremlin trying to rehabilitate Putin’s image, say US analysts

The Kremlin likely publicised Vladimir Putin’s meeting with military commanders to portray him as a competent wartime leader and rehabilitate the image of Russia’s defence ministry as well, the Institute for the Study of War said in a report.  

The US-based analysts said the Kremlin wanted to present Putin as “being thoroughly engaged with the planning and execution of the war” following recent criticism from the pro-war community. “One prominent milblogger even questioned whether ‘Putin finally showed public interest in the special military operation’ at their suggestion to do so,” ISW said.

Publicising the attendance at Friday’s meeting of top military brass, including army General Sergei Surovikin, who commands Russia’s forces in Ukraine, was done to depict the defence ministry “as an organised, unified, and effective war-fighting institution”, they added. 

UK doubts impact of ‘creative brigades’ to cheer up Russian troops

Two “front-line creative brigades” announced by Russia’s defence ministry to entertain troops and boost morale are unlikely to alleviate soldiers’ concerns about high casualty rates, poor leadership and lack of equipment and ammunition, the UK defence ministry said. 

Russian media reported that the entertainment teams will include “opera singers, actors and circus performers,” the ministry said in a Twitter thread. 

Energy teams restore power to 6 million, Zelensky says

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday in his nightly address that teams had been working nonstop to repair damage to power and water supply networks damaged on Friday in Russia’s latest missile attack. Electricity had been restored to almost 6 million Ukrainians over the past day, Zelensky said.

The most difficult situations were in areas including the capital, Kyiv, and the surrounding region, as well as Lviv, Vinnytsia, Zakarpattia, Odesa, and Chernihiv, among other regions, he said.

Putin asks generals for ideas at strategy meeting

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches the 10-month mark, President Vladimir Putin spent Friday at the nation’s war-coordination command post, according to a Kremlin statement on Saturday. 

Putin listened to reports, held a general meeting and conducted one-on-one talks with military commanders, the Kremlin said, without giving more detail. “I would like to hear your proposals on our immediate and medium-term actions,” Putin said in a short video released on Saturday 

The meetings, which also included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, came days before Putin’s planned trip to Belarus for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko, the Russian leader’s first visit to Minsk since 2019.

 

 

 

Kyiv puts up Christmas tree despite Russian attacks, power cuts

Ukraine’s capital is preparing for the holidays despite the hardships of Russia’s invasion, and has put up a Christmas tree on the central Sophiyska Square, mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Facebook. 

“This year, the country’s main Christmas tree is artificial, 12 metres high, and decorated with energy-saving garlands connected to a generator,” he said. “We will also arrange points for recharging gadgets next to the generator.”

Germany opens LNG terminal as way around Putin ‘blackmail’

Germany opened its first state-chartered LNG vessel as it races to replace Russian gas cut off as part of what Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Vladimir Putin’s “blackmail” of Europe. 

“Germany and the EU will become a great deal more secure and independent,” Scholz said in a speech in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea coast. 

Putin, in pursuing the invasion of Ukraine, calculated that he could pressure Germany and the rest of Europe by making energy a political weapon, but “was wrong,” Scholz said.

Russia launches cruise missiles at Odesa

Russia aimed two “Oniks” cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odesa early on Saturday. Both were downed by Ukrainian air defence, Ukraine’s southern operational command said. 

The supersonic missiles were fired from a coastal defence system in Russian-occupied Crimea, the command said.

Missile attacks continued on the Sumy, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Ukraine’s presidential office said in statement, citing local authorities. At least one person was killed and several injured. DM

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