Kyiv’s military shake-up on hold as it braces for Russian offensive; Russia racks up a $25bn budget deficit

Kyiv’s military shake-up on hold as it braces for Russian offensive; Russia racks up a $25bn budget deficit
The statue of architect Alexei Beketov in front of a damaged Kharkiv National University of Urban Economy building after a missile strike on 5 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Kozlov)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may postpone a government shake-up replacing the defence chief as the government braces for a Russian offensive. No decisions will be made this week, according to a parliamentary official.

Russia’s budget deficit grew in January, driven by higher Russian spending and sinking energy revenues as a result of a price cap imposed by Ukraine’s allies.

Norway’s government proposed to spend 75 billion kroner ($7.3-billion) on helping Ukraine, spread out in equal amounts over five years, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said.

Key developments

On the ground 

Ukrainian ground forces used engineering barriers and the natural landscape to stop a Russian offensive in Bakhmut, the Ukrainian Military media centre said, citing Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of the Ground Forces of Ukraine. Russian forces focused their main efforts on an offensive on the Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka and Novopavlivka axes, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook.

Over the past day, Ukrainian troops repelled attacks near 14 settlements in the Donetsk region. The Russian military launched four missile strikes against civilian infrastructure in Kharkiv and the eastern town of Druzhkivka, and fired 56 salvos from multiple launch rocket systems, the General Staff said.

Russia racks up $25bn budget gap

Russia’s tax revenues from oil and gas plunged by 46% in January as the price cap on oil exports imposed by the US and its allies over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine hit hard.

Combined with a 59% increase in spending amid the war, the drop pushed the deficit to 1.76 trillion roubles ($25-billion), the Finance Ministry said, the worst start to the year since at least 1998. 

Russia’s Lavrov in Africa yet again 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov returned to Africa for the second time in 10 days as he focuses on the region amid a scarcity of international contacts since the invasion of Ukraine. Lavrov was expected to start a two-day visit to Mali after holding talks in Opec member Iraq. He’s also travelling to Sudan and Mauritania this week, according to media reports.

Read more: Russia’s Lavrov in Africa yet again to ease diplomatic isolation




Zelensky withdraws appearance at Italian festival 

The Ukrainian leader won’t appear with a video message at Italy’s main song festival, which opens on Tuesday in Sanremo. He will instead send a letter, which will be read by the show’s presenter.

Zelensky’s planned address had drawn heavy criticism in Italy — a country where media often report Russian propaganda as fact — including from Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, a long-time Putin admirer. Zelensky regularly addresses popular cultural events, including music and film festivals, around the world to remind the public about Russia’s invasion.

Read more: Italy’s divided loyalties are being exposed by war in Ukraine

Ukraine grain flows dwindle as Russia slow-walks checks  

Ukrainian traders and authorities said that Russia is purposefully slowing the pace of a landmark deal to reopen some Ukrainian ports for vital food exports by pushing the bounds of an inspection mandate and limiting personnel.

The agreement included a requirement that joint teams from Ukraine, Russia, the United Nations and Turkey inspect each ship to prevent unauthorised cargo or passengers from moving in and out. One Ukrainian ship inspector said he had seen his Russian counterparts repeatedly slow the flow of his country’s grain with laborious checks that include scrutinising fuel gauges and crews’ personal belongings. Moscow has blamed the backlog on Ukrainian companies.

Read more: Ukraine crop deal misses target as Russia slow-walks ship checks

Ukraine defence chief’s removal on hold amid security risks  

A day after a senior legislator in Zelensky’s party announced that Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov would be replaced by Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, a parliamentary official said no decisions on staff changes would be made this week. 

The delay was due to “risks to the system as a whole” ahead of a key meeting on weapons deliveries this week and military preparations, Mariana Bezuhla, the deputy chair of the Ukrainian Parliament’s defence and intelligence committee, said in a statement on Facebook.

The back-and-forth casts uncertainty over the fate of Reznikov, who has been forced to defend his ministry against charges that officials had been skimming funds off military food supplies. The minister and his staff have denied the accusations. 

Norway proposes $7.3bn in aid to Ukraine 

Norway’s government proposed to spend 75 billion kroner ($7.3-billion) on helping Ukraine, spread out in equal amounts over five years, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said.

The programme involves both civilian and military support, with the funds to be used flexibly in line with Ukraine’s needs, the prime minister said in a statement to Bloomberg. The next step was to “seek broad political agreement” in Parliament, said the premier, who oversees a minority Cabinet.

Nato cannot rule out being Russian military target, says Estonia  

The Estonian Defence Ministry warned in a new paper that “Putin has not lost sight of the bigger objectives”, and that the notion that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a complete failure is a common “myth”.

The size of the territory that Russia currently occupied in Ukraine was larger than 30 European countries, the report argued. “Russia has long-term hostile strategic goals and its imperialistic war has strong support among the Russian society,” the report said. “Nato cannot rule out becoming Russia’s military target.”

The invasion of Ukraine is not simply Putin’s war, but Russia’s, according to the report, as 71% of Russia’s population supports the war.




Belarusians should prepare for possible air strikes, says opposition leader

People in Belarus should work out a plan to cope with a possible major threat from air strikes, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement on Telegram. Tsikhanouskaya advised residents of her home country to find places which can serve as bomb shelters, stockpile food and medicine as well as have cash ready.

She didn’t specify what prompted her to make this warning. Russia used Belarusian territory as a launchpad for the large-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine last year and has increased its air force presence there over the past months.

Zelensky seeks to extend martial law for another three months  

Zelensky asked Parliament to extend martial law for another 90 days starting from 19 February, according to a draft decree on the Parliament’s website. He also sought to extend mobilisation for 90 days, according to another draft decree on the website.

Ukraine sanctions Russian nuclear industry, asks other countries to follow  

Zelensky signed a decree imposing sanctions against Russia’s nuclear industry, including state company Rosatom, and said the penalties should bolster Ukraine’s calls for global curbs on the sector.

“Russia is the only country in the world that allows its military to shell nuclear power plants and use NPPs as a cover for shelling,” Zelensky said in his regular nightly address on Sunday. The sanctions that target 200 entities include asset freezes and restrictions on trade operations.

Separately, Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, a city near the Russia-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, said that abductions of plant workers who refuse to sign contracts with Rosatom had become more frequent recently. DM


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