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Military And Security Developments
- Notably today (16 December), Russian forces launched a new wave of country-wide attacks on Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure. According to the mayor of Mykolaiv, Vitaliy Kim, Russia launched up to 60 missiles across the country. Strikes were reported in the capital Kyiv as well as Kharkiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, Vinnytsia, Dnipropetrovsk (Sicheslav) and Sumy and Poltava oblasts. Parts of Kyiv, the cities of Kharkiv and Kremenchuk and Sumy oblast suffered power outages.
- Europe: The EU has adopted the ninth sanctions package against Russia, further elevating policy risks. On 15 December, European member states adopted the ninth sanctions package against Russia, impacting more than 100 Russian individuals and including measures that restrict Moscow’s chemical and technological industries linked to the military and the export of drone engines. Unconfirmed reports indicate that three banks are also targeted in the sanctions package, as well as four Russian media outlets. However, the new package also allows EU member states to unfreeze the assets of six Russian entities and individuals in the fertiliser and chemicals sector to facilitate the export of fertilisers, especially to Africa, which many perceive as a watering down of existing sanctions. The new package will enter into force once published in the EU’s journal – potentially next week – and will further elevate policy and regulatory risks.
- Over the past 24 hours, Russian and DNR forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut and the Donetsk-Avdiivka area but likely made very little progress. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces rebuffed Russian attacks on Verkhnokamianske, Yakovlivka, Vesele and Soledar, all of which are within 20 miles (33km) northeast of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces attempted to break through defences in Verknokamianske to push southwards towards Bilohorivka in Luhansk oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces fought off a Russian attack near Mariinka, while Russian sources continued to claim expanded control over the settlement of Mariinka itself.
- Further north along the Oskil-Kreminna line, Ukrainian forces continued limited counter-offensive operations. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian attacks on settlements around Svatove and Kreminna were repelled. However, a Ukrainian source reported that Ukrainian forces managed to advance to just under one mile (1.6km) near Dibrova which is located 3 miles (5km) southwest of Kreminna. There were also multiple unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian forces had again struck Kadiivka (Luhansk oblast), 37 miles (60km) southeast of Kreminna with HIMARS rockets.
- In line with patterns assessed over previous days, Russian forces continued to fortify defensive positions on the east bank of the Dnieper River in Kherson oblast in the past 24 hours. Russian forces also reportedly continued to shell the city of Kherson and surrounding settlements on the west bank of the river. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that on 13 December Ukrainian forces hit Russian ammo dumps and military equipment in Tokmak, Polohyi and Berdyansk in Zaporizhzhia oblast.
- Speaking with The Guardian on 15 December, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov repeated warnings already issued by Ukrainian government officials this week that a Russian offensive could occur in February 2023. Other officials have previously stated such an offensive could occur as early as January 2023. Reznikov argued that half of Russia’s mobilised recruits were being trained for a winter offensive operation.
- Similarly, Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov has stated that Russia aims to prosecute a long war against Ukraine in order to conquer the whole country. Gromov also dismissed the possibility of a ceasefire during the Christmas and New Year holiday period. He added that, despite recent developments, he did not expect Russia to launch an attack from Belarus and that troops were only being trained there. However, Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny stated on 15 December that Russian units could launch an attack on Ukraine between January and February 2023 from Belarus. Zaluzhny also shared his belief that Russian forces would once again attempt to conquer Kyiv and hence, Ukrainian forces would need to focus on preparing resources for protracted battles in 2023.
- On 15 December, US officials announced that the Pentagon would train approximately 500 Ukrainian troops each month from January 2023 in developing more complex military combat skills as the operational tempo slows down throughout winter. Training will occur at the Grafenwoehr training area, in Germany, and could last up to a month. Up to a battalion worth of units could be trained during this period, according to officials.
- On 15 December, EU leaders agreed on the ninth package of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The package had been delayed slightly by disagreements among member states over the issue of sanctions allegedly hampering shipments of Russian grain and fertilisers to countries with food insecurity in the Global South. A compromise was reportedly reached whereby five Russian oligarchs would have sanctions lifted on assets and transactions specifically connected to the sale, supply or export of agricultural and food products to third-world countries, in a bid to address global food insecurity.
- Today (16 December), Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Moscow would study the EU’s latest sanctions package and formulate a response. However, Russia’s options are increasingly limited, and the government is yet to formulate a response to the G7 oil price cap imposed on 5 December. According to the Financial Times, Russian crude oil has been loaded onto Western-insured tankers and shipped to India since 5 December, in a sign that Moscow has already backtracked on its threat to block oil sales under the G7 price cap.
- On 15 December, the US government sanctioned Russian oligarch and owner of the metals giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), Vladimir Potanin, his investment holding company Interros and the commercial bank Rosbank. As expected, Norilsk Nickel was not included in the State Department’s sanction package as doing so would risk creating too much instability in the global metals market. Washington DC also imposed sanctions on 17 subsidiaries of the Russian bank VTB.
- Also on 15 December, the UN’s aid chief Martin Griffiths that it was unlikely that the deal would be expanded in the ‘near term’ to include additional Ukrainian ports. Griffiths made such comments before the amended EU sanctions, which could alleviate some of Moscow’s concerns around the Black Sea Grain Initiative, were approved. Nevertheless, it remains unlikely that Moscow will agree to expand the deal without further concessions.
Following Russia’s latest wave of strikes against Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure, supply disruption and further power outages are highly likely in several regions in the coming days as engineers attempt to repair the damages. Moscow has pursued its campaign against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure for the past two months and today’s strikes are a further indication that the campaign looks set to continue through the winter months. Following unconfirmed reports in recent days that the US is finalising plans to send Patriot air defence systems to Ukraine, today’s strikes are likely to intensify calls from Kyiv, Poland and Baltic states for the systems’ deployment. For further analysis of the implications of the deployment of Patriot SAM systems, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 14 December.
- Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have continued counter-offensive operations along the Oskil-Kreminna line, though poor weather conditions have likely inhibited their progress. Russian sources continued to report that Ukrainian attacks in the direction of Svatove and Kreminna were rebuffed. Ukrainian operations to break through the R-66 highway near Svatove continued, though no significant progress was reported. Similarly, the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian counter-attacks took place against Bilohorivka and Chervonopopivka, located 7 miles (12km) and 3 miles (6km) from Kreminna, respectively. An additional Russian counter-attack took place against Novoselivske, located 8 miles (14 km) north-west of Svatove.
- Notably, the Ukrainian General Staff reported on 14 December that its forces killed 15 Russian personnel in an overnight strike on 12-13 December against a Russian rear position near Novoaidar, located 36 miles (58 km) south-east of Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued with offensive operations across the line of contact in Donetsk oblast, though it is unlikely that they made any progress. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that its forces repelled Russian attacks against settlements around Bakhmut. Wagner Group units and Ukrainian forces continued to fight on the eastern outskirts of the city. One Russian source claimed that Russian forces made minor gains on the outskirts of Soledar, which is important for Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut. In addition, the Russian defence ministry claimed that its forces made incremental progress in the Avdiivka-Donetsk area; notably, they captured the main part of Vodyane, located 4 miles (8km) south-west of Avdiivka. This could not be independently verified at this time. Notably, the Russian-backed mayor of Donetsk, Alexei Kulemzin, accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the city in the ‘biggest wave of strikes since 2024’ overnight on 14-15 December. Although the claim cannot be independently verified, it is likely that the report alone will increase criticism of the Russian leadership for failing to protect citizens of the Donbas, especially as this was one of Moscow’s purported reasons for launching the full-scale invasion in February.
- Russian forces continued to fortify defensive positions to the south of the Dnipro river in Kherson oblast over the past 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued to shell civilian infrastructure and settlements along the west bank of the river and damaged the Kherson City Administration Building in the city centre with multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS).
- According to a senior US official cited by the Washington Post, the US is planning to provide Ukraine with ‘electronic equipment’ kits which effectively turn unguided munitions into GPS-guided munitions. This would improve accuracy as well as Ukraine’s overall offensive capabilities.
- Following recent reports that the Pentagon is considering providing Ukraine with Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on 14 December that the Patriot systems would ‘definitely’ be considered legitimate targets. In a sign of escalating rhetoric, the Russian embassy in Washington DC also noted on its Telegram channel that ‘the [US] is getting deeper and deeper into the conflict in the post-Soviet republic’, adding that the US was ‘responsible for the prolongation and escalation of the Ukrainian conflict’.
- On 14 December, the leadership of Rosenergoatom (the Russian nuclear power station operations subsidiary of Atomenergoprom) accused Ukraine of carrying out covert intelligence operations at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the chief executive of Rosenergoatom, alleged that a Ukrainian agent was caught filming security systems at the plant. The allegation forms part of an ongoing Russian information campaign to frame Kyiv as endangering nuclear safety while simultaneously portraying Russia as the side which seeks to protect the ZNPP. These allegations cast further doubt on recent rumours of a potential Russian withdrawal from the ZNPP.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on 14 December that Washington DC plans to impose sanctions on Vladimir Potanin, a Russian oligarch and the owner of Norilsk Nickel (a metals company). According to the report, the investment company Interros, which Potanin controls, and Rosbank, which Interros bought earlier this year, will also be sanctioned. Notably, sanctions will not be imposed on Norilsk Nickel. Norilsk Nickel is the world’s largest palladium and nickel producer; the US has previously avoided sanctioning the company to avoid instability in the global metals market.
- Also on 14 December, the speaker of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) announced that the parliament had passed all legislation requested by the EU when Ukraine was granted candidate status in June. The EU called for legislation to strengthen the judiciary, enhance anti-corruption measures, align media regulation and protect national minorities. The European Commission intends to report on the progress made by Ukraine by the end of 2022. However, the EU accession process typically takes years. While Kyiv has demonstrated progress in implementing reforms, it is almost certain that further progress will be needed before Ukraine can begin formal EU accession talks.
- Ukraine’s security service (SBU) carried out raids on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nine regions on 14 December. This allegedly led to the discovery of Russian passports, propaganda material and warehouses filled with pro-Kremlin literature. The SBU stated that investigations are ongoing into the church’s potential involvement in intelligence and subversive activities on behalf of Russia. Russia is likely to spin the raids as evidence that Kyiv persecutes religious communities with links to Russia.
- On 13 December, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that China had banned the export of military-grade processors to Russia and other countries, a decision which would hinder Russia’s weapons manufacturing. According to an unnamed Russian Ministry of Digital Development source, the reason the export of processors was banned is that these processors are used in China’s military-industrial complex. Furthermore, Beijing’s decision possibly represents an effort to avoid diplomatic escalation with Washington DC, to avoid being sanctioned and to maintain diplomatic neutrality vis-a-vis the conflict. The decision possibly also reflects Beijing’s need to secure its own stockpiles of processors in light of recent US export restrictions on advanced semiconductors. Lastly, Beijing’s decision appears to undermine the China-Russia so-called ‘no limits’ partnership announced in February
On 14 December, the Deputy Head of the Office of the President, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, stated that the situation regarding the country’s energy system had improved this week and that scheduled shutdowns went ahead as planned in most regions. Tymoshenko added that emergency outages would be imposed in a few regions later on 15 December and that Kyiv intends to impose outages in all regions in the coming days. Notably, according to data collated by the International Organization for Migration, only 7 percent of respondents in Ukraine are actively considering leaving their location. The data suggest that Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy facilities have had a less damaging impact on Ukrainian morale than the Kremlin likely expected, and that the possible wave of Ukrainian refugees into Europe this winter may be smaller than numerous European governments anticipated. On 13 December, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, warned that Russia will possibly carry out a large-scale offensive in January or February 2023. Kubela cited ongoing mobilisation efforts and the movement of heavy weapons as evidence, but did not state precisely where the possible offensive would likely be launched. Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson has likely freed up combat power. Reports indicate that some heavy weaponry is being redeployed to Luhansk oblast where Russia is currently attempting to thwart Ukraine’s own plans to continue a counter-offensive along the Oskil-Kreminna line. A new large-scale offensive would likely take place in the Donbas, though Russian forces are also seeking to fortify existing lines of control across the southern axis.
- Over the past 24 hours Russian offensive operations have continued across Donetsk Oblast, where fighting remains very intense. According to Russian sources, Wagner forces broke through Ukrainian defensive lines in the eastern part of Bakhmut and advanced in several locations in the southeast and eastern parts of the city. However, these claims could not be independently verified and previous Russian advances in Bakhmut have been subject to successful Ukrainian counter-attacks. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continue to repel Russian assaults to the northeast and south of Bakhmut, including near Soledar and Mayorsk. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces rebuffed Russian ground assaults in the direction of Avdiivka and Mariinka. Geolocated footage showed that Ukrainian forces had retaken parts of central Mariinka which remains one of the most heavily contested settlements in Donetsk oblast.
- The situation further north along the Oskil-Kreminna line has remained broadly stable over the past 24 hours. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian attacks northwest of Svatove and west of Kreminna were rebuffed. A Russian source warned that Ukrainian forces were amassing along the Svatove-Kreminna line in preparation for a new counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces are likely to wait until the ground has completely frozen over before launching a new counter-offensive operation in Luhansk oblast.
- In Zaporizhzhia oblast, it appears likely that Ukrainian saboteurs were responsible for detonating the M14/E58 bridge in Melitopol overnight on 12-13 December. Images released on 13 December show substantial damage to the bridge (approximately 100km behind the front lines) which crosses the Molochna River. The damage is likely to disrupt Russian logistical operations between Melitopol and Crimea. The attack on the bridge comes just days after Ukrainian forces launched successful HIMARS strikes on a barracks in the city of Melitopol. The pattern of precision strikes on Russian positions and key bridges around Melitopol is likely to increase concerns among the Russian military leadership of a new Ukrainian counter-offensive in Zaporizhzhia oblast.
- Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces continued to fortify defensive positions in Kherson oblast where the situation remained broadly stable. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued to shell the city of Kherson and surrounding areas.
- Earlier on 14 December, Russian forces launched a wave of drone strikes against the capital Kyiv in the first of such attacks in weeks. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced that two administrative buildings were damaged after explosions were heard in the central Shevchenkivskyi district. However, at least 13 drones were intercepted by air defence systems and President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested that all drones had been intercepted. Although the total number of drones launched has not yet been verified, the interceptions earlier today are indicative of improved air defences around the capital. Air attack alerts were also issued in Zhytomyr and Luhansk oblasts, with the governor of the former, Vitaliy Bunechko, urging people to remain in shelters as a second wave of drone attacks cannot be ruled out.
- According to three unnamed US officials, the US is currently finalising plans to send Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Ukraine. This would be highly significant in bolstering the country’s anti-missile defence capabilities against aircraft, cruise missiles, as well as short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The Patriot SAM systems would likely be used to defend Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure, especially its electricity grid. It remains unclear how many systems the US plans to ship. While the timeline for the confirmation and delivery of the systems also remains unknown, it could occur as soon as 15 December, according to the aforementioned officials.
- Meanwhile, according to the Ukrainian Resistance Center and Russia’s Meduza outlet, the Wagner Group continues to recruit Russian prison inmates to sustain Russia’s manpower in Ukraine. Reports continue to indicate that recruits are often sent to the frontline in Ukraine with poor or little training, resulting in high casualty rates. Similarly, Russian conventional forces in Ukraine continue to experience equipment shortages in addition to low ammunition stockpiles, such as lacking effective clothing for cold temperatures.
- On 13 December, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed a peace proposal made by President Volodymyr Zelensky to G7 leaders that peace negotiations could begin once Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine. Peskov reaffirmed Moscow’s position that Kyiv must recognise the new ‘realities’ on the ground in reference to the four regions of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – that the Kremlin annexed following sham referenda in September.
- Also on 13 December, international donors pledged over EUR 1bn in immediate aid to help Ukraine get through the winter. President Zelensky told the international conference, which was hosted in Paris, that Ukraine needed at least EUR 800 m of emergency aid devoted to the country’s energy infrastructure. Of the total pledged, EUR 415m was earmarked for energy and EUR 102 m was allocated to food, water, transport and health. The remaining EUR 493 m is yet to be allocated. France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that all pledges should be delivered by April. France also launched a webpage called the “Paris mechanism” which is designed to centralise Ukrainian requests for assistance and aid pledges.
- In a positive sign for global oil supplies and price stability, 19 oil tankers reportedly passed through the Turkish Straits on 13 December after a sanctioned-related insurance dispute that had caused a bottleneck of vessels over the past week was resolved. Ankara had insisted that all vessels carrying Russian oil prove that they have insurance following the EU and G7 oil price cap and partial ban on seaborne imports. Turkey’s maritime authority announced that the resolution meant that maritime trade could continue through the Turkish straits as normal.
- In a further sign that President Zelensky plans to continue his anti-corruption drive despite the ongoing conflict, he signed legislation on 13 December that dissolved the notorious District Administrative Court of Kyiv and made way for the establishment of a new Kyiv City District Administrative Court. The former court and its head Pavlo Vovk have been entangled in numerous corruption scandals for several years but hitherto avoided prosecution. Vovk appeared in court on the order of the High Anti-Corruption Court for the first time in November 2022.
On 13 December Kyiv and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement for the IARA to send permanent technical missions to all nuclear power plants in Ukraine as part of efforts to help prevent a nuclear accident while the war continues. The IAEA’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that he and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal made progress in discussions around the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Earlier on 13 December, French President Emmanuel Macron had announced that an agreement on the removal of heavy weapons from the ZNPP had been agreed. However, Shmyhal acknowledged that talks with Russia were ‘difficult’ and that details were still being worked out. As we previously assessed Belarus remains unlikely to attack Ukraine. The snap inspection of Belarusian troops’ combat readiness and the associated snap exercises that took place on 13 December was consistent with military activities that have been ongoing in Belarus for months. It remains our assessment that such exercises are likely to be part of Russian information operations to fix Ukrainian forces that could otherwise be deployed to the fight in the southeast of Ukraine on the country’s northern flank. The snap exercises have remained well within Belarusian territory and, according to the Ukrainian General Staff, the situation near Ukraine’s northern border remains stable.
- During this monitoring period, there was a moderate decline in pro-Russia cyber activity targeting Ukraine and its allies compared with levels identified in previous reports. Most notably, the Russia-affiliated hacking group SEABORGIUM launched a cyber campaign impersonating companies like Global Ordnance, a military weapons and hardware supplier in the US. In Ukraine, Russian phishing emails continue to exploit Ukrainian fears regarding Russia’s use of Kamikaze drones to bait victims.
- In the past week, pro-Ukraine hacktivist volunteer groups and collectives, notably the IT Army of Ukraine and Team OneFist, reportedly continued to launch cyber attacks against Russian government-linked private entities, including energy companies and the Wagner Group, a private military company (PMC). This is broadly consistent with trends observed in recent months. Meanwhile, there is a realistic possibility that the newly observed data wiper malware CryWiper is of Ukrainian origin and is being deployed for political, rather than financial, objectives. Further incidents of malware being deployed against Russian government-linked targets in the coming weeks will likely provide additional information regarding the origin and objectives of the malware and its operator.
LATEST SIGNIFICANT UPDATES
Pro-Russia phishing attacks target Ukrainian government agencies and critical infrastructure
- On 9 December, Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) published a warning about phishing attacks targeting Ukrainian government agencies and the state railway. The attacks were carried out via an email purporting to originate from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. The subject of the email reads: ‘How to recognize a kamikaze drone’. Phishers are reportedly using the emails to distribute DolphinCape, malware which collects information from the infected computer.
- On 5 December, Insikt Group published research on the newly discovered efforts of a Russia-affiliated group known as SEABORGIUM to harvest information by impersonating defence, aerospace and logistic companies. This remains on-trend with the group’s targeting of NATO governments, military organisations and think tanks. It is unclear whether the impersonated companies are the main targets. However, research conducted by Microsoft into the group’s activities in August suggests that Ukrainian organisations represent secondary targets.
Pro-Kyiv groups sustain cyber campaigns targeting Russia’s private sector
- On 12 December, the IT Army of Ukraine, a volunteer pro-Kyiv hacking group with alleged ties to the Ukrainian government, reported that it had launched cyber attacks against the Russian freelance work exchange platform FL. The group did not provide further details. The FL.ru platform appears to be operational at the time of writing.
- On 11 December, the IT Army of Ukraine claimed to have hacked the registration page of the Wagner Group’s ‘hackathon’, a programming tournament. The Russian PMC intends to run a drone hackathon from 20 to 23 December; it aims to use the event to create an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) positioning system. Open sources indicate that aspiring participants should apply for the event by emailing and filling out a registration form. The IT Army of Ukraine posted alleged evidence that it had temporarily disabled access to the registration page. Access was possible at the time of writing.
- Also on 11 December, a Syrian-American member of the pro-Ukraine cyber threat group Team OneFist, known as Thraxman, posted alleged evidence of cyber attacks against the Zagorskaya GAES-2 hydroelectric power plant, currently under construction near Sergiev Posad (Russia). Labelled Operation Gradient, the cyber attack reportedly targeted the station’s sensor network and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Thraxman indicated that the attack was aimed at undermining construction work.
- In recent weeks, reports have emerged regarding a new data wiper malware known as CryWiper. The malware has targeted Russian government agencies and entities, including mayoral offices and courts. According to reports by Russian cyber security company Kaspersky on 2 December, CryWiper disguises itself as ransomware and extorts its targets for ‘decrypting’ data. It irreversibly corrupts the files and data, regardless of whether the ransom is paid.
During this monitoring period, there was a moderate decline in pro-Russia cyber attacks against pro-Ukraine and Western targets. Nevertheless, patterns of pro-Russia cyber activity have remained in line with our previous assessment that there is a persistent cyber threat towards Ukraine and Western governments and state-linked entities, particularly in the defence, security and energy sectors. This was highlighted by phishing attacks targeting Ukrainian government agencies and the state railway. The attackers employed references to kamikaze drones in phishing emails to capitalise on public fears about Russian weapons, encouraging users to click on the infected link and download the DolphinCape malware. Our assessment remains that pro-Russia actors’ overreliance on distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks will persist in the short-to-medium term. Pro-Russia cyber attacks will most often occur after governments and entities make public announcements in support of Ukraine. Nonetheless, this largely unsophisticated mode of cyber attack has so far only inflicted small-scale damage against the cyber infrastructure of entities such as the EU, the UK and the US, among others. Meanwhile, wider pro-Russia cyber operations are likely to include the targeting of critical energy infrastructure within the territories of Ukraine’s allies, as well as NATO governments, defence organisations and think tanks. This was highlighted by recent reports regarding the activities of the Russia-affiliated phishing group SEABORGIUM. In the past week, pro-Ukraine cyber threat actors and hacktivist groups such as the IT Army of Ukraine and members of Team OneFist continued to report the launch of cyber campaigns and operations targeting the Russian private sector and government-linked entities. Targets have included Russia’s energy sector and the Wagner Group. This follows reports that Team OneFist plans to intensify its cyber campaign against Russian government-linked targets in the coming weeks, including those in critical national sectors such as energy and defence. Although unconfirmed, there is a realistic possibility that the CryWiper malware is of Ukrainian origin, or operated by a group with pro-Ukraine sentiment. This assessment has been made in light of the malware’s targets, which include Russian government agencies and entities. Further incidents will likely provide a clearer indication of whether the attacks are part of a wider pro-Kyiv cyber campaign, or whether CryWiper is being deployed purely for financial gain.
- In line with our previous assessment, Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov stated on 11 December that Kyiv plans to continue counter-offensive operations throughout the coming winter once the ground freezes and manoeuvre warfare is once again possible.
- Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have continued to repel Russian counter-attacks designed to spoil Ukraine’s counter-offensive preparations along the Oskil-Kremmina front. Ukraine’s General Staff reported that its forces repelled Russian attacks against Andriivka, Novoselivske and Stelmakhivka, all located around nine miles (15km) from Svatove in various directions, between 11 and 12 December. It also reported that Russian attacks were repelled in several locations to the west of Kreminna. Although various Russian sources claim that Russian forces have gained ground around Kreminna and to the west of the R66 road which connects Kreminna with Svatove, these claims cannot be independently verified. Further geolocated footage indicates that Russian forces are using the city of Luhansk (Luhansk oblast) as a transport hub from where military equipment is transferred to the Oskil-Kremmina front.
- Russian forces have continued with offensive operations against Bakhmut and in the area north of Donetsk city over the past 24 hours. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Russian forces attacking Bakhmut have switched from using battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to assault units which focus solely on offensive tasks. This switch likely reflects frustration over the lack of progress yielded by offensives on and near Bakhmut. Nevertheless, Russian forces likely anticipate that attrition warfare will exhaust Ukrainian defences, which continue to hold despite months of pressure. They likely hope to capture the city through this approach. Bakhmut would then act as a gateway to the cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk further north. Ukraine’s General Staff reported that its forces continued to repel Russian attacks against settlements outside Donetsk city, including Krasnohorivka, located 11 miles (19km) west of Donetsk, as well as Novomykhailivka and Mariinka, located approximately 15 miles (25km) to the south-west of the city. The head of the Donetsk people’s Republic (DNR) Denis Pushilin reported that Russian and DNR forces control up to 70 percent of the highly fortified settlement of Mariinka, though this cannot be independently verified. Pushilin added that over 50 percent of Donetsk oblast has now been captured by Russian forces. However, the territory outside Donetsk city is strongly contested and Russian advances in the area are frequently rebuffed.
- Further south, Russian forces in Kherson oblast have continued to fortify defensive lines in the past 24 hours. Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces shelled Kherson city on 12 December, killing at least two people and injuring five others. According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, the Russia-appointed governor of Kherson, Vitaly Bulyuk, suffered ‘moderately serious’ injuries due to a car exploding. This was likely a Ukrainian partisan assassination attempt. Bulyuk remains in a ‘stable’ condition. Ukrainian partisans are particularly active in the south of Ukraine and are likely to continue carrying out similar attacks in the coming days and weeks.
- Reporting points to a continuation of limited Ukrainian attacks against Russian territory. According to a statement released on Telegram by Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of Klintsy (located in Russia’s Bryansk region, approximately 28 miles (45km) from Ukraine), the town was shelled overnight on 12-13 December by Ukrainian forces. Bogomaz claims that Russia’s air defence systems ‘destroyed the missile’, but admitted ‘some parts hit the territory of an industrial zone’.
- According to an unnamed US military official, Russia is using decades-old artillery and rocket ammunition (some of which is ostensibly more than 40 years old) to sustain its war in Ukraine. Such outdated ammunition will lead to high failure rates; it also poses risks to soldiers using the equipment. This highlights the difficulties facing Russia’s defence industry, as well as its desperation. According to Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief General Vadym Skibitsky, Russia is using Ukraine-designed Kh-55 missiles made in the 1970s as decoys to deplete Ukraine’s air defence ammunition. Skibitsky also asserted that, according to Ukraine’s calculations, Russian forces could sustain these tactics for approximately three to five weeks. Furthermore, according to the same US official, Russia will likely run out of ammunition by early 2023 unless it resorts to bringing in foreign supplies. US officials have accused Russia in the past of turning to Iran and North Korea for ammunition supplies.
- Earlier on 13 December, the Belarusian defence ministry announced that it had launched a snap inspection of its troops’ combat readiness following an order by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The inspection follows a counter-terrorism exercise last week. According to the ministry, the inspection involves troops moving to ‘designated areas’ and practising crossing the Neman and Berezina rivers, located in eastern and western Belarus, respectively. Notably, these are not close to the border with Ukraine. The snap exercise involves the movement of personnel and equipment, and will restrict citizens’ ability to transit along certain roads and terrain.
- Earlier on 13 December, the energy company Ukrenergo reported that there is still a significant deficit of electricity in the country’s energy system as a result of recent Russian attacks. The company also noted that deteriorating weather conditions throughout the country will continue to complicate the work of repair teams. Also on 13 December, the UK announced a new package of sanctions against both Russia and Iran in response to Russian strikes against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
- French President Emmanuel Macron stated earlier on 13 December that an agreement had been reached to remove heavy weapons from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and that discussions were underway to ensure the agreement is realised. Speaking ahead of an international conference being held in Paris to provide Ukraine with urgent winter aid, Macron stated that ‘our goal is to protect Zaporizhzhia. The coming weeks will be crucial’. Moscow is yet to comment on the alleged agreement, though it accused Ukraine of shelling the river bank next to the ZNPP on the weekend of 9-11 December.
- On 12 December, G7 leaders pledged to bolster Ukraine’s air defences against ongoing attacks targeting the country’s infrastructure. In a joint statement, the leaders stated their ‘immediate focus’ is to provide Ukraine with ‘air defence systems and capabilities’. Separately, the US shipped its first tranche of energy equipment worth approximately USD 13 m to Ukraine as part of an effort to support the country’s energy infrastructure amid ongoing attacks. The first tranche constitutes part of a USD 53 m aid package announced in November; further shipments are likely later this week.
- European disunity was notable on 12 December when the Baltic states and several other countries formally expressed disapproval over comments made by Macron regarding security guarantees for Russia. Macron told French station TF1 on 3 December that Europe needed to think ‘how to give guarantees to Russia [when] it returns to the negotiating table’. A French presidential official sought to downplay the idea of division, insisting that Macron’s comments should not be taken out of context. Although Europe has maintained a broadly united front against Russia, this recent example of discord highlights the differences of opinion among EU leaders vis-a-vis the best way to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict.
- Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold his annual year-end conference for the first time in ten years. The conference traditionally lasts for hours and is carefully choreographed; participating journalists are specially chosen. Nevertheless, Putin has typically used the event to demonstrate that he is a leader in touch with ordinary Russians. Although Peskov did not explain why the event has been cancelled, the announcement comes amid increasing public concern over the war in Ukraine. The Kremlin is likely concerned that unauthorised and potentially embarrassing questions about the war will be put to Putin.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told reporters on 12 December that EU foreign ministers had failed to reach an agreement regarding a ninth package of sanctions against Russia. Borrell announced that sanctions against nearly 200 individuals and entities (including defence companies and politicians) had been approved. However, disagreement remains over other aspects of the sanctions package. While Borrell did not specify these aspects, he suggested that a consensus on the package would be reached at some point this week. There are growing concerns in Europe that Russian attacks against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure will trigger a fresh wave of refugees crossing from Ukraine into neighbouring European countries. On 12 December, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Jan Egeland, stated that hundreds of thousands of refugees are likely to flee Ukraine this winter due to ‘unliveable’ conditions. Polish and German officials have previously expressed similar concerns. While Western aid is likely to ease pressure on Ukraine’s energy system, it nevertheless remains likely that there will be an uptick in refugee flows into Europe this winter; the scale of any such flows is uncertain. Despite a snap military exercise in Belarus and an inspection of the combat readiness of its troops on 13 December, we continue to assess that Belarus is highly unlikely to enter the war in Ukraine. We have frequently reported that military activity in Belarus is likely designed to ensure that Kyiv does not transfer additional resources to south-eastern areas of Ukraine; such activity likely forms part of a Russian information campaign to raise fears of a potential new northern front and to fix Ukrainian troops in northern areas of Ukraine bordering Belarus. Furthermore, President Lukashenka is highly unlikely to risk a new wave of domestic unrest; his regime is heavily reliant on the country’s security apparatus to quell protests (which would likely follow any direct Belarussian entry into the war).
Europe: Hungary approves Ukraine aid and minimum corporate tax in exchange for recovery funds. On 12 December, EU ambassadors approved the EUR 18bn aid package to Ukraine after Hungary lifted its veto in exchange for the EU greenlighting EUR 5.8bn in recovery funds for Budapest that have been suspended since 2020 due to concerns about corruption. Budapest also agreed to back plans for the introduction of a 15 percent minimum corporate tax. EU member states will continue to withhold EUR 6.3bn in cohesion funds, out of the fully allocated EUR 7.5bn, until Hungary delivers on separate criteria set out by the EU. The wider political agreement in the EU will allow the region to provide financial assistance to Ukraine in the form of loans that will be used to fund public services and repair critical infrastructure. The agreement will improve Ukraine’s macroeconomic stability for 2023 and reduces regional tensions within the EU between Hungary and other member states.
Russia: Annual press event cancellation underscores concerns over growing anti-war sentiment. On 12 December, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold the annual end-of-year press conference before 2023. This marks the first cancellation of the press conference in 10 years. In previous years, President Putin has used the media event to answer questions from Russian and foreign journalists on topics which relate to Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. Peskov has also reported that the timing of President Putin’s annual address to the Federal Assembly is yet to be determined. This comes as Russian forces continue to face military setbacks in Ukraine, underscoring mounting internal criticism, particularly since President Putin announced the partial military mobilisation of Russian reservists in September. UK military intelligence has reported that the move is likely a result of the Kremlin’s growing concerns regarding domestic anti-war sentiment and the possibility that the event would be subject to anti-war protests or ‘hijacked’ by prohibited discussion of the war in Ukraine.
- Developments along the Oskil-Kreminna front over the weekend of 9-11 December were broadly in line with patterns assessed in recent weeks. Both sides repelled limited attacks launched by the other and no significant territorial gains were reported.
- On 10 December, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast, Serhiy Haidai, reported that Ukrainian forces were moving closer to Svatove and Kreminna, but did not specify any notable gains. A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces had some minor tactical success in attacks around the R-66 highway near Svatove. Additionally, Haidai claimed on 11 December that Ukrainian forces attacked Wagner’s headquarters in Kadiivka, Luhansk, but conflicting reports dispute the extent of the attack. Ukrainian forces have also continued to strike Russian rear areas in Luhansk oblast with HIMARS rockets over the weekend including in Pervomaisk around 30 miles (50 km) southeast of Kreminna and Novopskov approximately 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Svatove.
- By contrast, Russian forces along the Oskil-Kreminna front continued efforts to prepare for anticipated new Ukrainian counter-offensive operations in the winter, fortifying positions and conducting spoiler attacks along the front and in the far west of Luhansk oblast. Russian sources continued to report on substantial fortification efforts around the Svatove area, where allegedly a large number of Russian mobilised personnel have been deployed. Meanwhile, on 9 December the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault on Bilohorivka 7 miles (12 km) south of Kreminna. On 10 December, Ukrainian forces also reportedly repelled Russian attacks on Nevske (18km) northwest of Kreminna, Ploschanka (16 km) northwest of Kreminna and Bilohorivka.
- Russian and DNR forces continued offensive operations against several locations along the line of contact in Donetsk oblast. In keeping with patterns assessed in previous weeks, Russian offensive operations concentrated on the area around Bakhmut and areas northwest of Donetsk city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian attacks around Bakhmut, and a Russian source claimed that both sides continue to suffer heavy losses in the area. Russian and DNR forces also attacked and/or launched strikes with limited success on several Ukrainian positions around Donetsk city including Avdiivka, Mariinka, Pervomaiske, Vodiane and Novomykhailivka, which are among the most fortified Ukrainian positions in Donetsk oblast. Both sides likely continued to sustain heavy casualties in fighting north of Donetsk city, particularly around Avdiivka. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued to conduct defensive operations and routine shelling along the line of contact in western Donetsk oblast over the weekend.
- Notably, Russia’s poor military performance in Donetsk oblast drew rare criticism of President Vladimir Putin over the weekend of 9-11 December. On 10 December, the prominent Russian ultranationalist, former DNR commander and FSB officer Igor Strelkov (Girkin) noted that Putin had failed to ensure Ukrainian forces around Donetsk city were pushed back out of artillery range. Such criticism is ordinarily directed at Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu but if Russian forces continue to fail in their efforts to break through Ukrainian fortified positions outside of Donetsk city then there is a realistic possibility that direct criticism of President Putin will become more frequent.
- Russian and Ukraine forces carried out notable strikes in the South of Ukraine over the weekend of 9-11 December. On 10 December, Ukrainian officials reported that all non-critical infrastructure in Odesa was without electricity following Russian drone strikes against transmission lines and related equipment with officials noting that repairs could take months. Meanwhile, according to Ivan Fedorov, the exiled governor of Melitopol, Ukrainian HIMARS strikes against a Russian military barracks in Melitopol (Zaporizhzhia oblast) killed approximately 200 Russian soldiers. If the claim is true, the attack would be one of the deadliest carried out by Ukraine since the start of the war in February. Russian sources including officials, soldiers, and social media confirmed the strike but denied the extent of its impact.
- On 9 December, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby warned of growing Russia-Iran military cooperation, adding that the Biden administration believed Iran was considering the sale of hundreds of ballistic missiles to Russia. Kirby reiterated US intelligence reports that both countries could establish a joint drone production line in Russia, which would render drone acquisition easier for Russia and help avoid Western sanctions. The Biden administration also sanctioned three Russian entities for their involvement in the acquisition and training of Iranian drones, namely the Russian Aerospace Forces, the 924th State Centre for Unmanned Aviation, and Russia’s Command of the Military Transport Aviation. Moreover, the Biden administration also imposed sanctions on Russia’s Central Election Commission and four individuals for ‘sham referendums’ in Russian-controlled territories of Ukraine and Russia’s filtration operations, respectively.
- According to an unnamed US defence source quoted in The Times on 9 December, the Pentagon provided tacit endorsement for Ukrainian long-range attacks within Russia, against legitimate military targets, as the Pentagon is currently less concerned about possible Russian escalation. The unnamed source added that the US cannot control or dictate what and where Ukraine choose to strike, including in Russia or Crimea. But the source stressed that Ukraine ought to ‘conform to the international laws of war and the Geneva conventions’ and to refrain from targeting Russian families or conducting assassinations. However, this came the same week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that ‘we have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia’. Moreover, according to a Wall Street Journal report on 5 December, the latest HIMARS launchers were modified to prevent long-range missiles from hitting targets in Russia.
- On 9 December, in a sign of ongoing Russian ‘sabre-rattling’, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin stated that the Russian government could adopt a ‘pre-emptive military strike’ concept similar to that of the US, citing conventional and hypersonic missiles, and alluding to nuclear weapons too.
- On 10 December, the EU Council reached an agreement on a EUR 18bn aid package for Ukraine which had been threatened by a Hungarian veto just days earlier. To overcome Budapest’s veto – which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban intended to use as leverage in its dispute with Brussels over EU funds – the Czech presidency of the Council proposed that the funds would be drawn from individual member state contributions rather than the common EU budget.
- On 11 December, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan held talks with both Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Putin on the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The Kremlin has repeatedly complained that, due to Western sanctions, the initiative has failed to facilitate Russia’s food and fertilizer exports. Meanwhile, Kyiv is pushing for the deal to be expanded to increase the number of Ukrainian ports open for shipping.
- Also on 11 December, Zelensky announced that the country’s Security Council ordered punitive measures, including asset seizures and travel bans, among others, against seven senior Orthodox clerics known to have been supportive of Russia’s portrayal of its military campaign in Ukraine. Zelensky noted that the measures were part of ongoing efforts to curtail Moscow’s influence, especially against Ukrainian society.
- On 12 December, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator arrived in Ukraine on a four-day visit, including to Mykolaiv and Kherson, to assess the impact of the ongoing humanitarian assistance.
- Also on 12 December, Russia criticised the US for allegedly unconstructive efforts during diplomatic discussions in Istanbul on 9 December. US and Russian diplomats met for discussions on bilateral technical issues, but not the conflict in Ukraine. However, backchannel CIA-SVR discussions have reportedly continued in a sign that communication channels remain open. Russia’s criticism is nevertheless reflective of the poor state of bilateral relations, which will continue to weigh on the prospects of negotiations over Ukraine.
This week EU leaders will meet to discuss the ninth package of EU sanctions against Russia proposed by the European Commission on 7 December. The proposal includes sanctions on three additional Russian banks, including a full transaction bank on the Russian Regional Development Bank, and new export controls on dual-use goods. The package would also include a ban on the direct export of drone engines to Russia and exports to third countries such as Iran which could supply drones and UAVs to Russia. The package would also include a ban on new mining investments in Russia. Today, 12 December, the port of Odesa resumed operations and electricity was slowly being restored following Russian drone strikes on energy infrastructure on 10 December. However, power outages will likely endure for approximately 1.5m people for several weeks. In line with Russia’s campaign against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, further drone strikes to disrupt Ukraine’s repair efforts are highly likely in the coming weeks. The attack on Odesa underscores Ukraine’s ongoing need for improved air defences. On 9 December, US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby announced a new USD 275m package for Ukraine that ‘will soon be on its way’. The package is largely designed to bolster Ukraine’s air defences and counter-drone capabilities, as well as boost the number of HIMARS missiles, artillery ammunition, and Humvee vehicles. The US and EU countries are highly likely to provide additional air defence support in the coming weeks and months. (Source: Sibylline)
16 Dec 22. Russia launches major missile attack on Kyiv and Kharkiv. Russia has launched a major missile attack on Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv and Kharkiv. Air-raid sirens sounded as explosions hit the capital, while Kharkiv’s governor said the city was under a blackout after missiles knocked out power supplies. Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said blasts were heard in the Desnyan district and warned residents to take shelter. The attacks targeting energy infrastructure are part of Russia’s strategy to try to freeze Ukrainians into submission after several key battlefield losses by Moscow’s forces in recent months. Russia is “massively attacking” Ukraine,” said Oleksiy Kuleba, governor of the Kyiv region. There was no immediate word of casualties and it was not clear exactly what critical infrastructure had been hit.
“Do not ignore air raid alerts, remain in shelters,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has been attacking Ukrainian energy infrastructure since October, causing repeated power outages across the country at the start of winter. Moscow says the attacks on basic infrastructure are militarily legitimate. Ukraine says attacks intended to cause civilian misery are a war crime. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
16 Dec 22. Ukraine says Russia plans fresh offensive early 2023. Ukrainian defence chiefs predicted Russia will launch a new offensive in early 2023 that could include a second attempt to take the capital Kyiv, as Western allies stepped up their support with additional funding and military training.
* Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov speculated a new Russian offensive could occur in February when half of the 300,000 troops conscripted by Russia in October to support the war would complete training.
* The new push could be launched from the eastern Donbas area, the south or neighbouring Belarus, and could include another ground assault on Kyiv, which Moscow failed to capture early in the invasion, said Ukrainian officials.
* A Ukrainian general said on Thursday that Moscow was digging in for a long war and still wanted to conquer the whole of Ukraine.
* Russian military carried out 23 air strikes and four missile strikes as well as 78 bombardments using multiple rocket launchers in the Donetsk region in the past 24 hours, said Ukraine’s General Staff.
* At least eight people were killed and 23 injured by Ukrainian shelling in the village of Lantrativka in the Russia-controlled Luhansk region of Ukraine, Russia’s state TASS news agency reported on Friday.
Reuters was not able to independently verify battlefield reports.
* The United States on Thursday targeted Russia’s financial services sector and Russian businessman Vladimir Potanin, increasing pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
* European Union leaders wrapped up their last summit of 2022 with an agreement to provide 18bn euros in financing to Ukraine next year and slap more sanctions on Russia as the bloc prepared to cap gas prices and prop up its industry.
* U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo will urge allies to provide continued “timely” support for Ukraine and discuss how to implement the price cap on Russian oil during visits to Germany’s capital Berlin, and Brussels, this week, the Treasury Department said on Thursday.
* President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would expand trade cooperation with new partners, including by sharply increasing gas exports to China, to combat Western sanctions.
* United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday it was unlikely the Black Sea grain deal would be expanded in the near term to include more Ukrainian ports or reduce inspection times.
* “The Russians are preparing some 200,000 fresh troops. I have no doubt they will have another go at Kyiv,” Ukrainian General Valery Zaluzhniy said. (Source: Reuters)
16 Dec 22. US to provide combined arms training to Ukrainian soldiers from January. The training will be delivered by the US Army Europe and Africa Command’s 7th Army Training Command. The US Department of Defense (Dod ) has confirmed the country’s plans to launch a combined arms training initiative to hone the battle skills of Ukrainian soldiers.
The announcement was made by Pentagon press secretary and US Air Force brigadier general Pat Ryder during a media briefing on 15 December.
Ryder said: “While there’s an understandable focus on equipment being provided to Ukraine, training is and has been essential to ensuring Ukraine has the skilled forces necessary to better defend themselves.”
The combined arms and joint manoeuvre training is expected to start in January 2023. It will be conducted in and around the US ranges in Germany.
Ryder stated that soldiers from the US Army Europe and Africa Command’s 7th Army Training Command will be deployed to train the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Once deployed, the US personnel will train approximately 500 Ukrainian soldiers in a month.
Ryder said the decision to choose which of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ service members will receive this training will be made by Ukraine.
The training will be executed in a sequential manner, starting from classroom exercises and then to practical training in the field. It will start from the lowest-level units, working up to larger units.
Ryder added: “Importantly, it will also include battalion headquarters staff training.”
With this training initiative, the US is now planning to not send its soldiers to Europe to support its new training effort.
In continuous efforts to strengthen Ukrainian troops, Germany has also announced the delivery of additional military support on 15 December.
The updated list of delivered packages includes additional InfraRed Imaging System Tail (IRIS-T) missiles, two Bergepanzer vehicles, four ambulances, 30,000 rounds of 40mm ammunition, and 5,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition. (Source: army-technology.com)
15 Dec 22. Russia is losing and the world can see that Putin is lying: UK statement to the OSCE. Deputy Ambassador Deirdre Brown condemns President Putin’s senseless and brutal actions in his illegal war against Ukraine.
Thank you, Mr Chair, and thank you for your leadership over the last year. For many, including in this room, this time of year is a period of joy, of festivity, of reunions with family and friends, and the celebration of time-old traditions. However, I am acutely aware that, as I look forward to spending time with family and friends in the warmth and safety of my home, many Ukrainians will not be afforded the same simple pleasures this year – because of Russia’s unprovoked and premeditated invasion of Ukraine.
Last Saturday morning, as ordinary Ukrainians slept, Russia launched yet another cowardly attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Striking Odesa, Russia’s missiles left the city and surrounding area without power. In sub-zero temperatures, 1.5m people were plunged into cold and darkness; unable to prepare a hot meal for their families or run a warm bath for their children. And again, only yesterday Kyiv and Kherson were subjected to drone and missile attacks, striking residential and civil administration buildings. Russia’s tactics, designed to break the will of the Ukrainian people, are barbaric and inhumane. They demonstrate the Kremlin’s complete lack of respect for human life and dignity.
We will not forget those who have been separated from their loved ones this Christmas, torn apart by President Putin’s senseless and brutal actions, including those forced to flee their homes and those arbitrarily detained. We again call on Russia for the immediate and unconditional release of our OSCE colleagues, illegally detained for simply performing their official duties – duties mandated by all 57 participating States.
We remain in awe of Ukraine’s defenders – fighting not only for their country and their people, but for democracy and the very principles this organisation was founded on. We once again remind Russia of its obligations under the third Geneva Convention that all prisoners of war should be treated humanely and access given to international organisations to assess their safety and wellbeing.
Despite the hardships being forced upon the Ukrainian people by President Putin and the Russian armed forces – he will not succeed. The world has been inspired by the resilience and courage of Ukraine in the face of such atrocities; their spirit cannot be dimmed.
President Putin falsely maintains that his so called ‘Special Military Operation’ remains on track. Russia is losing and the world can see that Putin is lying. The Russian armed forces and the Russian leadership have demonstrated their inadequacy and failures all too clearly. We see appalling acts of desperation in response, inflicted on innocent men, women and children who want simply to live their lives in peace, in a free and democratic Ukraine.
Ever more isolated on the world stage, Putin is being forced to rely on so-called ‘allies’ such as Iran, North Korea and Belarus to prop up his failing invasion. Putin believed the world would look the other way when he chose to disregard international law, the UN Charter and the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity and ordered his army into Ukraine; Putin believed the world would not care when Russian armed forces committed atrocities on a shocking scale – we are horrified by the widespread reports of rape being used against civilians in Ukraine; Putin thought the global community would accept the weaponisation of food and energy, both in Ukraine and around the world. Putin was wrong, wrong, wrong.
As my Foreign Secretary said earlier this week, Putin is prepared to destroy the laws that protect every nation and, by extension, every person across the globe. We will not look away, we will not accept these egregious and blatant violations of international law, and we will not abandon Ukraine to stand alone in the face of such tyranny.
Russia dares to hope it can outlast the support of the UK and the global community standing together against Russian aggression. But there should be no doubt – as many in the world celebrate this festive season, we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in their fight for freedom, we stand with those on the front lines and with Ukrainians in every city, town and village. We will not let Ukraine’s light go out. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
14 Dec 22. Iran to Sell 6,000 Attack Drones to Russia. As part of military-technical cooperation between Russia and Iran, Tehran is ready to sell Russia 6,000 strike unmanned aerial vehicles. The type of drone has not yet been named, however, taking into account the supply of other types of weapons and technologies, the amount of the deal between Moscow and Tehran will be about one billion dollars. Such information is provided by The Washington Post and Iranian journalists Khayal Muazzin. According to The Washington Post, within the framework of military-technical cooperation between Iran and Russia, Iran is ready to provide the Russian side with its technologies and supply 6,000 strike drones. Moreover, it is reported that licensed Iranian drones can begin to be assembled on the territory of Russia – negotiations on this matter have allegedly already been successfully completed.
“The sale of additional drones was discussed in at least two meetings between military and diplomatic representatives of Russia and Iran last month, security officials from NATO and other US allies said. One senior military official briefed on the details of the negotiation said Iran had agreed to supply up to 6,000 drones. Information on this subject is also confirmed and Iranian journalist Khayal Muazzin, who claims that Russia plans to build a plant for the production of unmanned aerial vehicles, which is expected to be located in Tatarstan. (Source: UAS VISION/Avia.Pro)
14 Dec 22. Pentagon poised to ship Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. The US Department of Defense (DoD) and White House are finalising plans to deploy a Patriot air-defence battery to Ukraine, with final administration approval of the move expected in the coming weeks, according to published news reports. The plan, once approved, would be to deploy a single, truck-mounted Patriot battery armed with four launchers capable of carrying up to eight Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) interceptor missiles, the reports added. CNN first disclosed the details of the plan on 13 December. The air-defence system and associated missiles will be taken from existing DoD weapon stocks and deployed to a transit country, before being delivered to Ukrainian forces, the reports said. A DoD spokesperson had not responded to queries from Janes on 13 December, regarding details of the proposed deployment of the Patriot missile battery and potential associated US-led training operations. (Source: Janes)
13 Dec 22. Italian arms supplies to Ukraine will stop with peace talks. Arms supplies from Italy to Ukraine will stop as soon as peace talks on ending the Russian invasion begin, the Italian defence minister told parliament on Tuesday, as lawmakers endorsed a government decision to extend military aid throughout 2023.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly pledged to keep supporting Ukraine, despite frictions within her rightist ruling coalition and a divided public opinion on the issue of arms supplies.
“I am aware that military aid will have to end sooner or later, and will end when we will have the peace talks that we are all hoping for,” Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said as he addressed the upper house, Senate.
Earlier this month, Italy’s cabinet adopted a decree allowing it to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons for the whole of next year without seeking formal approval from parliament for each new shipment.
“There is no doubt that we all want peace, but this goal cannot be pursued without providing assistance to a country facing unilateral aggression in violation of international law,” Crosetto said.
Under the previous administration led by Mario Draghi, Italy’s government approved five arms shipments to Ukraine, maintaining a state secret on the details of the supplies.
Crosetto said he would follow the same approach.
In November, a governing coalition official told Reuters that Italy was readying a sixth arms package, including air defence systems Kyiv had requested. But the package has not yet been approved.
Following a debate on Crosetto’s remarks, the Senate approved, with a 143-29 vote, a resolution seen by Reuters endorsing arms shipments to Ukraine as agreed with NATO and European Union allies.
The resolution – drafted by the ruling coalition, made up of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – also urged the government to boost diplomatic efforts for peace.
Salvini and Berlusconi have both been more ambivalent than Meloni on backing Ukraine, given their historical ties with Russia and President Vladimir Putin. But so far, they have largely toed the prime minister’s line.
Some opposition groups, including the left-leaning 5-Star Movement, tabled alternative resolutions that were not put to a vote, which called for a stop to arms supplies and more focus on humanitarian aid and peace-making efforts. (Source: Reuters)
13 Dec 22. Slovakia readies transfer of upgraded MiG-29 warplanes to Ukraine. In a potentially major reinforcement of Ukraine’s air combat capability, Slovakia’s Foreign and European Affairs Minister Ratislav Káčer has announced his country is preparing to transfer Soviet-made Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force in coordination with the United States.
“We have not yet handed [Ukraine] the MiG-29s. But we are ready to do it. We are talking with our NATO partners about how to do it,” Káčer told local news agency Interfax Ukraine. “And … we had a very meaningful conversation with [Ukraine’s] president. My defense minister explained to [the Ukrainian] president how we can do this. And I think that, in the coming weeks, a Ukrainian delegation will come to Slovakia, and we will work together with our American friends to make this reality.”
In total, Slovakia secured 24 single-seater and twin-seater MiG-29s following Czechoslovakia’s dissolution, according to data from the country’s Defence Ministry. Of these, the 11 remaining operational fighter jets were withdrawn from service last August.
“The MiG-29s were upgraded in the years 2004-2006, including with NATO-compatible communication and navigation systems,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement. “Slovakia’s 11 remaining MiG-29s will reach the projected end of service life between 2029-2035.”
Káčer’s statement indicates Slovakia is in talks with the U.S. over the best way in which the jets could be transferred to Ukraine. This suggests Bratislava intends to avoid a similar situation to that from earlier this year when Poland unveiled plans to transfer its MiG-29s to the Ukrainian Air Force. However, the initiative was derailed after Polish and U.S. officials engaged in a public discussion over Washington’s potential role in the procurement.
Poland offered to transfer the fighters to the United States which could then handle their delivery to Ukraine, but eventually the two allies failed to reach an agreement. The Slovak Air Force is awaiting the delivery of 14 F-16 Block 70/72 fighters that are to safeguard the country’s airspace. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2024. In the meantime, the Czech and Polish air forces are policing Slovak skies until at least Dec. 31, 2023. (Source: Defense News)
13 Dec 22. EDF Intelligence Chief: Russia Still Has Long-Term Offensive Capabilities. Although Russia has lost a huge amount of equipment and personnel in Ukraine, the country’s military has enough reserves to last for a very long time come, says commander of the Estonian Defense Forces’ (EDF) intelligence center Colonel Margo Grosberg.
“As sad as it is, there is no sign of a quick end to this war,” Colonel Grosberg said at a Ministry of Defense briefing on Friday. “Looking at the longer term and the numbers, despite Russia’s terrible losses, its military capabilities have not gone away,” he added.
Grosberg pointed out, that although Russia has lost around 1,400 tanks since February 24, which is “a staggering amount” in numerical terms, given the amount of reserves it has, in percentage terms, the losses are not so high.
“As of today, Russia has around 9,000 tanks in repair and storage bases. They are not the most modern or newest, but they are tanks nevertheless,” the colonel stressed. “On the basis that about three (of those) tanks can be used to make one (serviceable) tank, simple math says, that Russia has the potential to bring in at least another 3,000 tanks, which is obviously a very, very large number and poses a threat not only to Ukraine but to all its other neighboring countries,” he said.
The situation is similar when it comes to Russian armored vehicles, the colonel added. “It has also been highlighted, that the Russian armed forces has lost around 100,000 personnel – either killed, missing, or wounded to the extent that they are unlikely to return to the front,” Grosberg continued.
However, given that the mobilization effort resulted in the addition of a further 300,000 troops, even though they are not as well trained as those who began the campaign on February 24, this still represents a significant amount of additional manpower.
Colonel: Cold War era drones may have been used for Russian airfield attack
“Again, simple math shows us, that even with 100,000 casualties, they have the capacity to send 200,000 [additional] troops to the Ukrainian front,” Grosberg said.
In addition to personnel, Russia has also lost approximately 500 different artillery systems. While this too is a large number, it is still only 10 percent of the total amount of weapon systems Russia possessed at the beginning of the war.
“I am not talking here about those weapons systems that can still be taken from armament and storage bases. Again, they may not be the most modern, but there is still a very, very large number of them,” Grosberg said.
The same can also be said of ammunition, which Russia has tried to buy from North Korea and Iran, as well as utilizing supplies from Belarus, he said.
“We estimate that Russia had about 17 m rounds of ammunition before the war started, 10 m of which have been used up,” he said. “At the end of the summer, their ammunition usage was very high – there were days when between 20,000 and 60,000 [artillery] rounds were being fired, which is a huge amount.” (Source: https://www.defense-aerospace.com/: Estonian public broadcaster ERR; posted Dec. 12, 2022)
13 Dec 22. Fighting rages in east, G7 considers air defence. Global economic powers pledged to beef up Kyiv’s military capabilities with a focus on air defence, as Russian missiles, artillery and drones hammered targets in Ukraine with no end in sight to Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two.
* Ukraine’s allies will meet in Paris on Tuesday to provide urgent aid to help the country get through winter.
* White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the United States would have engagement with Russia this week.
* Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will hold talks to discuss the events of 2022 in late December, Russian business daily Vedomosti reported.
* The Group of Seven (G7) economic powers said they would keep working together to bolster Ukraine’s military capabilities, with an immediate focus on air defence systems, according to a leaders’ statement released by Britain.
* European Union foreign ministers agreed to put another 2 bn euros ($2.1 bn) into a fund that has been used to pay for military support for Ukraine. They will also try to agree further sanctions on Russia and Iran.
* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the G7, asking allies for natural gas for winter heating and long-range weapons. He also sought support for his idea of convening a special Global Peace Summit.
* Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian artillery had hammered nearly 20 front-line settlements around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Moscow seeks to capture but which is now largely in ruins due to incessant bombardment.
* At least two people were killed and five wounded in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson after what the regional governor said was “massive shelling” by Russian forces.
* Ukraine’s Emergency Measures service said three explosives experts had been killed and two seriously injured on Monday during demining operations in the town of Kostyantynivka – near the major town of Kramatorsk – in Donetsk region.
* Reuters could not independently verify the reports of the attacks or deaths.
* Russia is turning to decades-old ammunition with high failure rates, a senior U.S. military official said.
* A Russian-appointed deputy governor of Ukraine’s Kherson region, Vitaly Bulyuk, was injured when his car exploded, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
* The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council said he expected another wave of refugees from Ukraine in Europe over the winter, because of “unliveable” conditions. (Source: Reuters)
12 Dec 22. Burning through ammo, Russia using 40-year-old rounds, U.S. official says. Russia is turning to decades-old ammunition with high failure rates as it burns through its stockpiles to carry out its nearly 10-month-old invasion of Ukraine, a senior U.S. military official said on Monday.
“They have drawn from (Russia’s) aging ammunition stockpile, which does indicate that they are willing to use that older ammunition, some of which was originally produced more than 40 years ago,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States accuses Russia of turning to Iran and North Korea for more firepower as it exhausts its regular supplies of ammunition.
The senior U.S. military official assessed that Russia would burn through its fully-serviceable stocks of ammunition by early 2023 if it did not resort to foreign suppliers and older stocks.
“We assess that at the rate of fire that Russia has been using its artillery and rocket ammunition in terms of what we would call fully serviceable artillery and rocket ammunition. They could probably do that until early 2023,” the official said.
Using the older stocks carried risks, the official said.
“In other words, you load the ammunition and you cross your fingers and hope it’s going to fire or when it lands that it’s going to explode,” the official said.
Iran has transferred drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, U.S. and Ukrainian officials say. Moscow is also attempting to obtain hundreds of ballistic missiles from Iran and offering Tehran an unprecedented level of military and technical support in return, Britain’s envoy the United Nations said on Friday.
Barbara Woodward also said Britain was “almost certain that Russia is seeking to source weaponry from North Korea (and) other heavily sanctioned states, as their own stocks palpably dwindle.”
Iran last month acknowledged it had supplied Moscow with drones, but said they were sent before the war in Ukraine. Russia has denied its forces used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine and has denied North Korea was supplying it weapons. (Source: Reuters)
12 Dec 22. Official Says Fighting Remains Intense in the Donbas. There continues to be fighting in Ukraine along the forward line of troops, with particularly intense combat in the Donbas region as Russian forces conduct a ground offensive amid attempts to take the city of Bakhmut, a senior military official said today. Fighting remains heavy, and the Russians have made some incremental gains in taking territory, the official noted. However, Ukraine continues to hold Bakhmut.
In the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, Ukrainians continue to consolidate their previous gains while Russian forces bolster their defensive lines, the official said.
“Russia continues to employ missile and drone strikes against Ukraine’s energy grid and civilian infrastructure, inflicting significant damage and killing innocent civilians as part of Russia’s illegal invasion and brutal occupation,” the official said.
The Dec. 9 security assistance package valued at up to $275 underscores the United States’ commitment to provide Ukraine with security assistance, including air defense capabilities and other critical battlefield requirements for as long as it takes, the official said.
This security assistance package will provide Ukraine with new capabilities to boost its air defenses, in addition to providing critical equipment that Ukraine is using to defend itself on the battlefield, the official said.
Capabilities in the security package include:
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems
- 80,000 155 mm artillery rounds
- Counter-unmanned aerial system equipment
- Counter air defense capability
- High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles ambulances and medical equipment
- Approximately 150 generators
- Field equipment
Since 2014, the United States has committed about $22.1 bn in security assistance to Ukraine and more than $19.3 bn since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, according to a Defense Department news release. (Source: US DoD)
12 Dec 22. Zelenskiy asks G7 to supply Ukraine natural gas, long-range weapons. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the Group of Seven nations on Monday to help his government obtain an additional two bn cubic metres of natural gas and to supply it with modern tanks, artillery units and shells as well as long-range weapons.
Speaking remotely at the G7 video conference hosted by Germany, Zelenskiy also called on Russia to make a “substantive” step towards a diplomatic resolution of the war in Ukraine and suggested that Moscow should pull its troops out by Christmas.
“If Russia conducts a withdrawal of its forces from Ukraine, then it will also ensure a reliable end of hostilities,” he said.
“I see no reason why Russia should not do this now – in time for Christmas.”
Russia invaded Ukraine in February and fighting is raging in the south and east, while Moscow in recent weeks launched waves of missiles on Ukrainian energy infrastructure. (Source: Reuters)
12 Dec 22. Ukraine could provide workers for Czech arms industry -Czech official. Highly-trained Ukrainian workers could fill thousands of job vacancies in the Czech arms industry to help meet demand triggered by the war in Ukraine, a Czech defence official said on Monday.
The Czech Republic has been one of the top weapons providers to Kyiv among NATO allies since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Deliveries, though, have badly depleted inventories and officials have warned it could take years to restock.
Some Czech arms producers have already signalled that they need to boost their workforce.
“(There) will be thousands of jobs,” Deputy Defence Minister Tomas Kopecny was quoted as saying by Czech Radio, suggesting that workers could come from Ukraine, whose own arms industry has been targeted by Russian attacks.
“It depends on how the production capacities of Czech companies or the production of joint Czech-Ukrainian arms factories will be increased.”
Kopecny said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala had agreed to take in Ukrainian weapons experts when he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv in October.
The owner of major arms manufacturer Czechoslovak Group told Reuters last week that Ukraine was firing 40,000 shells per week from several hundred, Western-supplied howitzers against Russian invaders.
“Really a lot has been delivered to Ukraine,” Michal Strnad said. “But the fact is that today the Ukrainians are shooting less than they could because they do not have enough ammunition.” (Source: Reuters)
12 Dec 22. UK minister is “open minded” over sending longer-range weapons to Ukraine. British defence minister Ben Wallace said on Monday he would be “open minded” about supplying Ukraine with longer-range weapons systems if Russia carried on targeting civilian areas.
Speaking to parliament, Wallace was asked by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a vocal supporter of Ukraine, about the possible supply of longer-range missile systems to Kyiv to destroy or damage drone launch sites.
“I constantly review the weapons systems we could provide,” Wallace told parliament.
“We too have in our armour potential weapons systems that are longer and should the Russians continue to target civilian areas and try and break those Geneva Conventions, then I will be open minded to see what we do next,” he said, referring to agreed basic humanitarian principles during war.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using “kamikaze” drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to hit energy infrastructure and other targets.
Britain has committed 3.8bn pounds of support for Ukraine since February this year, including the supply of weapons, military training and humanitarian assistance.
Rishi Sunak visited Kyiv in one of his first foreign visits since becoming British prime minister in October, hoping to cement Johnson’s promise that British support for Ukraine would be steadfast regardless of the leader. (Source: Reuters)
12 Dec 22. Escalating air war depletes Ukraine’s weapons stockpile. For two months Russian forces have been pounding Ukraine’s power network with the aim of plunging the country into darkness and breaking its resolve during winter. But in it latest bombardment, on December 5, only 10 out of 70 Russian missiles made it past Ukrainian air defences, according to Kyiv. The claimed 87 per cent interception rate is testament to the increasing effectiveness of Ukraine’s air defence systems, mainly Soviet-era but recently augmented by modern western equipment and improved techniques. However, Kyiv is burning through its ammunition at an alarming rate as it faces down Moscow in a battle of dwindling stockpiles — of Russian precision-guided missiles on one hand and Ukrainian interceptors on the other. Kyiv is therefore urging western backers to provide more modern Nato standard surface-to-air systems. “If hundreds of rockets are fired at us, we knock down 70-80 per cent. Do they run out or not? Of course [they do],” said Colonel Yuriy Ignat, the Ukrainian air force’s chief spokesperson, referring to his side’s munitions. Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said last week that Russia was also depleting its stockpile of precision cruise missiles — an assessment shared by many western analysts. “They have enough for several more massive attacks,” Budanov said, adding that the production of replacements was a slow process. Russia began what have become almost weekly aerial strikes against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure on October 10. On that day, Ukraine said it shot down only 54 per cent of incoming missiles and drones, resulting in widespread damage to electricity installations. On November 23, 76 per cent of Russian missiles were shot down, but the damage to a fragile power network was extensive enough to cause nationwide blackouts. In last week’s attack, Ukraine escaped further national outages, although there are still rolling power cuts as technicians race to repair damaged equipment. Kyiv’s improving air defence capabilities demonstrate the contribution of western military technology to Ukraine’s war effort and its ability to defy Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war plans. Ukraine denied Russia air supremacy in the wake of the February invasion thanks to its Soviet-era arsenal of S300 and Buk surface-to-air missiles together with thousands of western supplied Manpads. It has also adjusted its tactics, using mobile units in jeeps to chase down drones and cruise missiles with shoulder-launched Stinger missiles and UK-provided Starstreaks. Ignat described cat-and-mouse games, where Ukraine moves and hides its air defence units while Russia seeks to find the weak spots. “The positions of our air defence equipment are constantly changing so that the enemy cannot identify which zone is covered. We are trying to outwit them.” But ammunition and spares for the S300 and Buk systems, the mainstay of Ukraine’s air defences, are dwindling. Ukrainian officials have confirmed a claim by British military intelligence that Russia has been firing X-55 nuclear missiles — with the nuclear warhead replaced by an inert one — simply to exhaust Ukrainian air defences. (Source: FT.com)
12 Dec 22. EU member states have agreed to unlock an €18bn funding package for Ukraine after Hungary dropped its veto as part of a wider political bargain giving Budapest the potential to access bns of euros of EU cash. In a late-night deal struck by EU ambassadors on Monday, Hungary agreed to lift its blockade on an EU funding plan aimed at shoring up Kyiv’s finances in 2023. It also dropped its veto on the EU’s implementation of a minimum effective corporate tax in the union, EU diplomats said. In return, EU member states will approve Hungary’s €5.8bn Covid-19 recovery plan, which has been held up since last year because of rule of law concerns, according to a statement by the Czech presidency of the EU. Failure to approve the plan by the end of the year would have deprived Budapest of most of those funds for good. The deal represents a big step forward for capitals just days ahead of an EU summit that officials feared could be overshadowed by the messy stand-off with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Brussels has been particularly anxious about the perception that the EU has been failing to pull its financial weight when it comes to supporting Ukraine, with the US criticising the patchy and unpredictable stream of funding the union has managed this year. The Ukraine funding programme proposed by the European Commission requires the unanimous consent from all the 27 member states because of the way the common borrowing will be raised by the EU. While member states discussed an alternative way of moving the funding to Ukraine, that would have taken longer to get through, deepening the financial hazards faced by Kyiv. Hungary had been accused of blocking the loans as part of an effort to press other capitals to approve its share of the €800bn Next Generation EU recovery programme. Orbán has also been blocking the EU’s plans for setting a 15 per cent minimum effective corporate tax rate in the union, following the deal agreed under the auspices of the OECD last year. This plan also requires unanimous agreement of member states. The Council of the EU said in a statement on Monday night that the member states had agreed to implement the levy, although diplomats said they still needed to iron out some remaining issues being raised by Poland. Under the package agreed in principle by ambassadors, EU member states now plan to vote through Hungary’s recovery funding, which has been stuck since May last year when Budapest first lodged its application for the money. The European Commission had recommended that EU nations approve the recovery plan, but member states last week delayed the decision because of the stand-off over Ukraine. Orbán has been under heavy pressure to come to terms with the EU and unlock the funding, given the travails of the Hungarian economy, which faces one of the highest inflation rates in the EU, alongside weak growth. (Source: FT.com)
12 Dec 22. Russian president Vladimir Putin has cancelled his annual press conference for the first time in a decade, as the Kremlin faces growing disquiet over its invasion of Ukraine following significant battlefield retreats and an unpopular military draft at home. The decision, announced by the Kremlin in a phone call with reporters on Monday, illustrated Putin’s growing distance from internal political matters and his reluctance to take tough questions as Russia’s war effort sputters. “The conference won’t happen before the new year. We hope that the president will still find an opportunity to talk to journalists,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Monday. The press conference is usually a large-scale marathon lasting for up to four hours and attended by hundreds of journalists, both domestic and foreign. In the absence of genuine freedom of the press, the event resembles a political carnival, with pro-state journalists coming in national dress and competing for the most flattering banner to attract Putin’s attention to be picked for a question. It fits into a tradition of the Russian president presenting himself as being in direct dialogue with the people, who may suffer local problems such as poor roads or minor corruption at the hands of local governors or politicians, whom Putin can then reprimand after the conference. In 2021, the Kremlin invited about 500 reporters, including representatives of several outlets labelled “foreign agents” — a tag used for almost all independent media in Russia, which burdens them with onerous financial restrictions and connotations of treason. Although none of the “foreign agents” were allowed to ask questions, their presence allowed the Kremlin to claim Putin wanted to hear a diversity of views amid rampant censorship. Monday’s decision to cancel the press conference showed how far the limits on Russia’s already shackled media have grown since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February. It has been cancelled once, in 2005, and was not held between 2009 and 2011, when Putin was Russia’s prime minister. Hundreds of Russia’s independent journalists fled the country in March after lawmakers criminalised “discrediting the armed forces” by deviating from the Kremlin line or calling the conflict a “war”, which is punishable with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Putin’s annual State of the Union address, which he is required to make by the end of the year under Russia’s constitution, is still under review, Peskov said. The Russian president last addressed parliament in April 2021, 10 months before the invasion of Ukraine. “The press conference has always been an unpleasant duty for Putin. But it was a necessary ritual to maintain what he believed was a democratic regime”, said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik, a France-based political consultancy. The war has made the regime more “defiant” and freed it from the need to maintain the pretence of external decorum, she added. Putin has recently held several highly orchestrated conversations with the public to answer questions about sensitive issues such as the likelihood of a second wave of the draft or the poor conditions being experienced by those mobilised during the first one in September. In late November, Putin held a meeting with soldiers’ mothers that excluded prominent activist groups in favour of women with close ties to the government and the ruling party. The meeting allowed Putin to demonstrate that he was aware of some war-related issues without explaining the bigger picture. “He believes this is enough, and there is no need to waste more energy on yet another formality,” said Stanovaya. Putin talks to the press regularly, Peskov noted, including during his foreign trips. The last time Putin spoke to reporters was on Friday following his visit to Kyrgyzstan, when he threatened to cut oil production in response to the G7’s price cap on Moscow’s crude exports. (Source: FT.com)
12 Dec 22. Zelensky holds talks with top foreign leaders. Volodymyr Zelensky has held a rare round of talks with three top foreign leaders on the same day, including Joe Biden, as he tries to intensify diplomatic pressure on Russia.
“We are constantly working with partners,” Mr Zelensky said in a nightly video address, and predicted “important results” in diplomacy later this week after Sunday’s talks, also referring to the G7 and EU.
Mr Zelensky earlier said that he held “a very meaningful” conversation with France’s President Emmanuel Macron on “defence, energy, economy, diplomacy” and “very specific” talks with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan on assuring Ukraine’s grain exports.
The US President told his Ukrainian counterpart that the United States was prioritising efforts to boost Ukraine’s air defence through the assistance it was offering, according to the White House.
Mr Biden also welcomed Mr Zelensky’s “stated openness to a just peace based on fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter”, it said.
Russia can attend APEC meetings, says host United States
Russia will be invited to attend meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation bloc hosted by the United States next year.
As “good stewards of APEC”, the United States will invite Russia, which is a member of the 21-country bloc, Matt Murray, a senior US official for APEC, told a media briefing in Singapore.
Relations between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated to their worst in 60 years since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, an act it justifies as a “special military operation”, but which has prompted sanctions and condemnation from Western nations as well as countries like Singapore.
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