Zelensky visits ‘eastern fortress’; Musk to provide thousands more Starlink antennas

Zelensky visits ‘eastern fortress’; Musk to provide thousands more Starlink antennas
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (centre) meets Ukrainian servicemen during his visit to Bakhmut, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on 20 December 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / Handout)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to Bakhmut, a city hailed by his deputy defence minister as ‘our eastern fortress’, amid heavy fighting over the past few weeks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s prime minister said the authorities plan to triple the number of emergency aid stations to help people cope with blackouts, warning that Russia was prepared to do “everything to leave Ukrainians in darkness”. Emergency power cuts in 11 regions are being enforced after Russian drone and missile attacks, Denys Shmyhal told a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian government also said it had reached a deal with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies to get thousands more of its Starlink antennas to help keep people online despite Russia’s attacks on infrastructure.

Key developments

On the ground

Russia continued to move increasing numbers of mobilised servicemen and military equipment, munitions and fuel from its far east toward Ukraine, the Ukrainian General Staff said. Russian forces continued to concentrate their offensive efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions in the Donetsk region, it said in an update.

US cites ‘active discussions’ with Russia on prisoner Paul Whelan 

The US was engaged in “active discussions” with Russia over securing the freedom of Paul Whelan, the former US Marine who has been held in Russia for the past four years, National Security Council Communications Director John Kirby said.

“There are active conversations that we continue to have with our Russian interlocutors about trying to secure Paul’s release,” Kirby told reporters. “We’re just not going to detail like, you know, who’s calling who and what day and what the details are.”

The Biden administration came in for criticism after it agreed to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout for basketball star Brittney Griner without also securing Whelan’s release. US officials said Russia insisted on a one-for-one release or none at all.

Ukraine plans to triple emergency aid stations for blackouts

Ukraine is seeking to boost the number of locations where Ukrainians can get uninterrupted access to power and heating from the current 5,000, Prime Minister Shmyhal said.

The premier earlier told a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that two-thirds of the funds that Ukraine had received since the start of the invasion had come from the US and European countries.

“We really appreciate this help and are working together to continue it next year,” the premier said.




Finland sends more defensive aid to Ukraine

Finland’s government agreed to send its 11th package of defence materials, valued at €28.8-million, to Ukraine. The package brings Finland’s total military aid to €189-million, the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Russian gas flows to Europe unaffected after pipeline blast 

An explosion hit a Russian natural-gas pipeline that goes to Ukraine for further supply to Europe. The blast occurred on a section of the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod link, though the local unit of Gazprom said the transportation of fuel was being provided to consumers in full through parallel pipelines.

The Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod is one of the oldest gas conduits linking Russia and Europe via Ukraine. Flows through Ukraine are scrutinised by the market as it remains the last route delivering Russian fuel to western Europe amid the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. Gas nominations for Wednesday transit via Ukraine remained unchanged, grid data show.

Steinmeier calls on Xi to ‘use his influence’ on Russia 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked Xi Jinping to “use his influence” on Russia to end the war in Ukraine in an hour-long phone call with the Chinese president to mark 50 years of bilateral relations between Germany and China on Tuesday, Steinmeier’s office said in a statement.

Bakhmut servicemen hand Zelensky flag

Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut handed over the flag of Ukraine to the president, asking for it to be passed on to “our brothers in America”.

“We have a difficult situation, the enemy is increasing its numbers,” Zelensky said in comments shown on the Freedom TV channel. “We will pass on to the US Congress, to President Biden, our gratitude for their support.”

Ukraine’s capital restoring water supplies  

Damage caused by Russia’s shelling was being fixed and water supply was resuming in Kyiv, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko. The power situation remains “critical” for the whole region, with 80% of residents still facing blackouts, the region’s military authorities said on their Telegram channel.

More than half of Kyiv has power problems, says Ukrenergo

Less than half of the power demand in Kyiv city was being met on Tuesday following Russian drone attacks, national grid operator Ukrenerego said on Telegram.

City authorities were prioritising the supply of electricity to key infrastructure as the country’s energy system continued to experience a significant power deficit, Ukrenergo said.

Putin calls situation in southeastern Ukraine ‘extremely difficult’

President Vladimir Putin said the situation in southeastern Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia was “extremely difficult,” following Ukraine’s success in wresting back control of an increasing part of this territory.

Putin referred to Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson as “new regions of Russia”, in a video address on Tuesday marking a holiday dedicated to the country’s security agencies.

Russia annexed the four provinces in September, but has been steadily losing ground there in the face of a Ukrainian counter-offensive. Last month Russia withdrew from Kherson City, the only regional capital it controlled since invading Ukraine 10 months ago.




Ukraine to get more Starlink antennas 

“SpaceX and Musk quickly react to problems and help us,” Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister and minister for digital transformation, said in an interview in Kyiv, adding that he had spoken directly with Musk.

“Musk assured us he will continue to support Ukraine. When we had a powerful blackout, I messaged him on that day and he momentarily reacted and has already delivered some steps. He understands the situation.” More than 10,000 devices, which provide internet service beamed down from satellites, will be sent to Ukraine, according to Fedorov.

Starlink played an important early role in the war, as Russia’s military focused on destroying communications. But Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive officer, drew the wrath of Ukrainians in October when he tweeted that Kyiv should remain neutral — an apparent suggestion that it not join military alliances like Nato — and should cede territory to Russia in exchange for a peace deal.

Kyiv has significant power cuts, says mayor 

Periods of power cuts will be extended in the capital, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram. There was enough power to supply critical facilities and about 20% of residents.

The oldest line of Kyiv’s subway network was partially closed for passengers due to a voltage drop, the subway operator said on Telegram. Two other lines resumed operation.

Ukraine gets IMF nod for non-cash programme

The International Monetary Fund’s management approved a new four-month programme for Ukraine that doesn’t envisage lending money, but may serve as a bridge to a multibillion-dollar loan package.

The IMF executive board discussed so-called programme monitoring with board involvement, or PMB, for the war-torn nation on Monday, the Washington-based lender said on its website.

The PMB “is tailored to Ukraine’s exceptional circumstances,” and helps the nation’s government implement prudent policies and catalyse donor financing,” IMF First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said. DM


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