Putin rallies support for Russian invasion at WW2 Stalingrad ceremony; EU to announce another aid package

Putin rallies support for Russian invasion at WW2 Stalingrad ceremony; EU to announce another aid package
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) shake hands after a joint press conference after their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 2 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Dolzhenko)

Vladimir Putin said that Russia can’t be defeated ‘on the battlefield’ as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow’s offensive is intensifying with the approach of 24 February, the invasion’s one-year mark.

Top US and Ukrainian officials spoke by phone about the situation on the frontlines and Russia’s possible next steps. Poland’s prime minister outlined to a German newspaper a potential plan by Russia to surround Ukraine on multiple fronts, including from Belarus in the north, where Kremlin troops have been amassing for weeks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and a large delegation of commissioners were in Kyiv for meetings ahead of Friday’s EU-Ukraine summit.

The talks included a potential 10th package of sanctions against Russia.

Key developments

On the ground 

Kremlin forces launched two missiles on Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region on Thursday morning, after overnight shelling, local governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook.

On Wednesday, three people were killed and 18 wounded after a Russian missile destroyed part of an apartment building in Kramatorsk.

Russia conducted six missile strikes and four air attacks over the past day and fired 73 salvos from multiple rocket launchers, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook.

Ukrainian troops repelled assaults near 14 settlements in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Russian forces are actively conducting reconnaissance operations, General Staff said, without naming specific areas.

Putin rallies Russians to push for victory in Ukraine

Putin commemorated Russia’s World War 2 victory at Stalingrad by trying to rally domestic support for his invasion of Ukraine.

“Those who expect to win a victory against Russia on the battlefield don’t understand that modern-day war with Russia will turn out totally differently for them,” he said at a concert on Thursday in Volgograd, which had been temporarily renamed Stalingrad for the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi forces there.

“We aren’t sending tanks to their borders, but we have the means to fight back and they won’t be limited to armour. Everyone should understand this.”

Read more: Putin vows Ukraine victory as he hails WW2 Stalingrad triumph

Von der Leyen praises Ukraine’s efforts to fight graft 

Ukraine continues to make “impressive progress” to meet preconditions that include anti-corruption measures to start talks on EU membership, Von der Leyen said in Kyiv.

“I am comforted to see that your anti-corruption bodies are on alert and effective in detecting corruption cases,” Von der Leyen told Zelensky in Kyiv.

She also praised Zelensky “on reacting so rapidly at the political level to make sure that the fight against corruption is delivering tangible results”.

Read more: Ukraine widens dragnet as pressure mounts to tackle corruption




Ukraine to sign single-market programme with EU

“Today we will sign the agreement for Ukraine’s association to the Single Market programme,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said in Kyiv at a joint meeting with the Ukrainian cabinet. The European Commission will soon propose extending the current suspension of all customs duties and trade defence measures on imports from Ukraine, which expire on 5 June, he said.

EU to create prosecution office for war crimes evidence

The EU will help set up an international centre for the prosecution of the crime of aggression in the Hague, as the bloc seeks to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine, Von der Leyen said.

The centre will help coordinate the collection of evidence, she told reporters in Kyiv, adding that it will be embedded in a joint investigative team with Eurojust, an agency that facilitates EU judicial cooperation.

Politicians and legal experts haven’t yet been able to agree on the idea of a special international court to investigate crimes of “aggression” that Von der Leyen touted last year.

Read more: EU weighs prosecution office to help punish Russian war crimes

Russia, Belarus train to use civilian airfields for fighter jets

Joint Russia-Belarus air force drills which began on 16 February are now over, the Belarusian Defence Ministry said on Telegram.

The war games were used to test deploying Russian and Belarusian fighter jets on civilian airfields in both countries, commander of the Belarusian air force, Andrey Lukyanovich, said in a video statement on the Defence Ministry Telegram channel.

“This allows us to significantly improve the survivability of our air force component,” Lukyanovich said.

EU estimates Russia loses €160m a day from oil price cap

Von der Leyen said the bloc’s price cap on Russian oil exports is costing Russia about €160-million a day, as the bloc looks to extend the mechanism to cover Moscow’s petroleum products.

The EU and G-7 countries aim to have the 10th package of sanctions against Russia by 24 February — exactly one year since the Russian invasion.

“We are making Putin pay for his atrocious war,” she said at a joint press conference with Zelensky in Kyiv.

She used a visit to Kyiv, accompanied by more than a dozen of her fellow commissioners, to pledge continued support for Ukraine, even as fears of a new Russian offensive mount.

“Our presence in Kyiv today gives a very clear signal,” she said.

“We will stand up for Ukraine as we stand up for the fundamental rights and respect of international law.”

Russia halts biometric passport issuances on chip shortage

Russia temporarily suspended the issue of new biometric passports because of a shortage of the microchips used in the documents.

State-run printer Goznak blamed higher-than-usual demand for 10-year passports, adding that the producer of the components is expanding output. Once that process is complete, the printer will need another month to resume issuing the passports. For the moment, only five-year passports produced without the chips will be available.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled the country in 2022 after the Kremlin announced a mobilisation for its war in Ukraine. At the same time, the US and its allies have sought to restrict Russia’s access to microchips that could be used for military purposes.

Ukraine, US commanders discuss Russia’s likely moves 

Ukrainian army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi and presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak spoke by phone with Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan, according to a posting on the presidential website.

The men discussed the situation on Ukraine’s frontlines and possible Russian moves in the near future. It comes at a time many are convinced Moscow is preparing a major new offensive almost a year into the conflict.

Power situation gradually improving, says Ukrenergo

The power deficit in Ukraine somewhat narrowed and the country’s generation is now covering about 80% of its need for electricity, grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

Ukrenergo said it increased the limits of available power in all regions.

Two substations in eastern and central Ukraine, damaged by recent missile attacks, have been repaired and are being readied for reconnection to the grid, which may allow Ukrenergo to put some production units at thermal plants back into operation.

Shmyhal, EU’s Borrell discuss sanctions and aid 

Ukrainian PM Denys Shmyhal met with Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who’s one of over a dozen top European officials in Kyiv.

“Before the start of the Ukraine-EU summit, we talked about the 10th package of sanctions, military and other aid to Ukraine,” Shmyhal said on Twitter.

Austria boots out four Russian diplomats

Austria expelled four Russian diplomats due to what its foreign ministry called activities incompatible with their mandate.

Two officials were accredited at Russia’s embassy to Austria; the other two worked at its mission to the United Nations in Vienna.

A militarily neutral nation and hub for international organisations, Austria has expelled fewer Russian diplomats than most European Union member states since the start of the war.

EU to announce another assistance package

The EU will announce a further €400-million ($440-million) assistance package to Ukraine to support its reform process, Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Brussels on Thursday.

The bloc will soon propose to extend the suspension of all tariffs and trade defence measures on Ukrainian imports, as well as suspend Ukraine’s financial contributions for participating in EU programmes for as long as the country’s financial challenges remain, he added.

Russian stocks extend 2023 advance

Russia’s equity benchmark rose for a fifth consecutive session on Thursday as the rising price of gold helped mining stocks, while investors digested strong manufacturing data from earlier this week.

The MOEX Russia Index climbed 0.4%, taking its gains so far in 2023 to 4%. That still trails the 9.6% year-to-date rally for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

Swiss stash of Leopard tanks spurs debate 

Shipping weapons directly to the battlefield is out of the question for Switzerland. But mainstream politicians are now calling for a stash of almost 100 mothballed Leopard 2 battle tanks to be sold for a nominal fee to Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, replacing the tanks that their governments plan to send to Ukraine.

On Thursday, Swiss MPs will debate a bill gaining some traction in parliament that would allow Germany, Spain and Denmark to ship Swiss-made ammunition to the front as well.

Read more: Swiss stash of Leopard tanks spurs debate on how to help Ukraine

Von der Leyen in Kyiv with 15 EC commissioners 

The European Commission president and 15 commissioners arrived in Kyiv ahead of the Ukraine-EU summit on Friday.

“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever,” Von der Leyen said on Twitter. It’s her fourth visit since Russia’s invasion started.

The delegation, among them Executive Vice-Presidents Margrethe Vestager and Valdis Dombrovskis, and EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, will hold meetings with Ukrainian officials on the outlook for reconstruction and the country’s path to EU membership, according to a statement.

Russia has undermined its position as arms exporter, says UK

Russia’s role as a reliable arms exporter is highly likely being undermined by its invasion of Ukraine and international sanctions, the UK defence ministry said.

“When faced with conflicting demands, Russia will almost certainly prioritise deploying newly produced weapons with its own forces in Ukraine over supplying export partners,” the ministry said in a Twitter thread.

A shortage of components is likely affecting the production of armoured vehicles, attack helicopters and air defence systems, the UK added.

In addition, Russia’s ability to sustain support services for existing export contracts, such as providing spare parts and maintenance, is likely to be seriously disrupted for at least the next three to five years.




Russian offensive intensifies before one-year mark, says Zelensky

The situation “is becoming even more severe” for Ukraine’s forces in the nation’s east, because Russia wants something to show its people as the invasion approaches the one-year mark on 24 February, Zelensky said in his regular nightly address on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s president said he had “several operational meetings” with military officials on Wednesday.

“There is a certain increase in the occupiers’ offensive actions at the front,” he added.

Earlier in the week, Zelensky said Russian efforts are “constantly intensifying. Every day there are either new groups of career military, or an increase in the number of Wagner militants”.

US envoy vows to isolate Russia at UN, condemns Wagner Group

US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the Biden administration is working to isolate President Vladimir Putin’s government at the global body, but acknowledged the challenge inherent in Russia holding a veto-wielding seat on the Security Council.

Thomas-Greenfield singled out the Wagner Group — the private mercenary army that has fought for Putin’s forces in Ukraine — over its actions in Ukraine and on the African continent.

She said the US would look for new ways to counter the group’s impact in Ukraine and Africa, where it’s providing security to several governments.

US official says nations don’t want to depend on Russian arms

The US is being approached by countries who want to diversify from Russian weapons, in part because of their poor performance in Ukraine, Jessica Lewis, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, said.

“We’re actually having countries come to us and saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking to diversify because of the Ukraine war, not just because of Russia’s actions but also because we’re seeing, you know, challenges with how the Russian equipment is operating’,” Lewis told reporters, without naming such nations. DM


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