Day 300 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Putin acknowledged that the Situation in the Annexed Regions is Difficult

World » UKRAINE | December 20, 2022, Tuesday // 11:54
Bulgaria: Day 300 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Putin acknowledged that the Situation in the Annexed Regions is Difficult

Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:

Ukraine strengthens border with Belarus after Putin's unusual visit to Lukashenko

Ukraine is tightening defenses on its border with Belarus amid fears that Russia may be preparing another attack. This was stated for the BBC by Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin, according to whom more soldiers and ammunition will be sent.

Yenin commented on the issue while Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Minsk for a meeting with his counterpart Alexander Lukashenko - an unusual decision as the Belarusian leader is usually the one traveling to Moscow or Sochi. At the same time, Lukashenko visited Russia seven times in 2022 alone, six of which - after the war in Ukraine began.

After the two-hour meeting, Putin ordered the strengthening of Russian borders and social control and warned of an "extremely difficult" situation in the annexed territories of Ukraine.

"Peak of Irony"

Kyiv sees a risk of Belarusian territory being used again for invasion or even official Minsk declaring itself part of the war that Russia is waging on Ukrainian territory and sending its own troops. Last week, Belarus announced a surprise military readiness check, but it ended on the day of Putin's visit.

"We are building our defense lines along the entire border with Russia and Belarus," Yenin said in response to reports from the Russian Defense Ministry that joint exercises with Belarus were forthcoming; on the same day, fears of a Russian invasion were also expressed by the head of Moldova's intelligence.

A few days ago, Lukashenko accused Ukraine of the opposite - that its army was preparing to attack by crossing the northern border.

Experts commented before Putin's move that he was pressuring Minsk to formalize its involvement in the war, something the Kremlin denies. During his talks with Lukashenko, the Russian leader also assured that his country has no plans to "swallow" Belarus or anyone else - something the State Department called "the peak of irony". According to Putin, "enemies" also want to stop the integration of Russia and Belarus within the framework of the "union state".

So far, there are no indications that the "working visit" (as the Kremlin called it) led to a breakthrough for Putin, who had not set foot in Belarus for three and a half years (even before the pandemic). At the same time, the Russian leader hinted at the possibility that Belarusian warplanes have been repaired to potentially be equipped with nuclear missiles, due to the "escalating" situation on the external borders of the "union state". Belarus, for its part, received S-400 air defense systems and Iskander operational-tactical missile systems from Russia.

No breakthrough on Belarus' role in the war

Putin also said that the two countries have agreed to continue the practice of joint exercises. Just two weeks ago, in a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Lukashenko said that the Russian and Belarusian forces were being prepared "as a single group, a single army."

Lukashenko, for his part, spoke of "comprehensive support for Russia from Belarus", especially against the backdrop of Western sanctions. Despite the de facto stagnation in the construction of the "union state", he insisted that the decision for close integration "shows the whole world that only together can any pandemics, crises or sanctions be overcome". According to him, Belarus will be able to count on a fixed price for gas supplies from Russia next year.

However, there were no specific comments at the press conference about the possibility of Belarus becoming a formal part of the war.

Lukashenko "likely deflected efforts" by Putin to pressure Belarus into more concessions on the way to a "union state," the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote.

It is noted that the two did not discuss Ukraine directly. "ISW maintains its assessment that Belarusian involvement in Russia's war against Ukraine remains unlikely. The fact that Putin appears to have accepted Lukashenko's points of support without persuading him to match them indirectly supports this assessment. Lukashenko he would probably adjust his rhetoric to construct a reasonable explanation for his own people as to why he is suddenly turning his back on the fictitious threat of a NATO invasion that he fabricated in order to join Putin's nightmarish invasion of Ukraine."

ISW: Lukashenko has succeeded in deflecting Putin's attempts to involve Belarus in the war

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko may have been able to deflect Vladimir Putin's attempts to force Belarus into further concessions towards Russian-Belarusian integration during their meeting in Minsk on Monday, report analysts at the Institute for the Study of the war (ISW) in Washington.

In their public appearances on Monday, Putin and Lukashenko refrained from publicly discussing Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with both leaders noting that Belarus still faces a threat from the West. Putin announced from Minsk that he may consider training Belarusian fighter aircrews to use "munitions with special warheads" because of the "escalating" situation on the union state's external borders.

ISW recalls its already older comments about Lukashenko using the rhetoric of the need to protect Belarus' borders against the West and NATO in an attempt to avoid involvement in the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.

The news of December 19 is the statement that Russia will deliver S-400 and Iskander air defense systems to Belarus. ISW continues to assess that Belarusian involvement in Putin's war against Ukraine remains unlikely. The fact that Putin appears to have accepted Lukashenko's theses without achieving any change in them indirectly supports this assessment of the think tank.

The Kremlin also tried to disguise Putin's likely initial intentions to pressure Lukashenko for further concessions on integration with the Russian Federation. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said Putin did not go to Belarus to persuade Lukashenko to join the war, calling such speculation baseless and "stupid." However, Peskov similarly convincingly denied Putin's intention to invade Ukraine days before the war began, so it is likely that even now the denial is more of an attempt to cover up Putin's desire to drag Lukashenko into the war and the obvious failure of the endeavor.

In a roundup of assessments of the war in Ukraine, ISW draws attention to the position of Igor Girkin, a former Russian military commander and a vocally critical voice in the Russian military blogger information space. Girkin shared the sharp criticism of a Russian volunteer about the overall performance of the Russian army in the December 19 war. The volunteer frames his criticism around Russia's failure to defend itself against Ukrainian counteroffensives; the circumstances leading to these failures; and the inability of the Russian leadership, media and military bloggers to deal with the situations and their decision to focus on "false positives". The volunteer predicted that Russian forces would have to cede more settlements and even entire regions of Ukraine, as they would not be able to defend themselves against a possible winter counteroffensive.

Girkin's own wildly pessimistic predictions up to this point have proven surprisingly accurate, including his criticisms of the failure to mobilize volunteers in May, the disproportionately high Russian cost of capturing Lysychansk in July, and the continued vulnerability of Russian logistics lines to HIMARS strikes.

ISW commented that the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) was in conflict with other pro-Russian authorities over basic administrative functions, suggesting a lack of cohesion between the occupation administrations in different regions of occupied Ukraine. The Russian-backed chairman of the Association of Cargo Carriers and Forwarders in Crimea, Anatoly Tsurkin, issued a public appeal to DPR head Denis Pushilin on December 18, calling on Pushilin to regulate the "illegal, groundless actions that are being carried out on the territory of the DPR" by officials of various military, administrative, law enforcement and bureaucratic bodies of the DPR.

Putin acknowledged that the situation in the annexed regions is difficult

The situation in the four Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia is "extremely difficult", President Vladimir Putin admitted today, quoted by Reuters and TASS, BTA reports.

In a video address to mark Security Forces Day, a holiday celebrated in the country, Putin called on Russia's special services to strengthen border security and instructed them to tighten control over society.

In September, the Russian president announced at a solemn ceremony in the Kremlin the annexation of four Ukrainian regions - about 15 percent of the territory of the neighboring country. Earlier this month, however, he admitted, after a series of recent military setbacks, that the "special military operation" in Ukraine "could be a long process," Reuters noted.

"Yes, it is difficult for you now. The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, is extremely difficult," Putin addressed the employees of the Russian security forces stationed on Ukrainian territory.

In his video address, he called for more intensive work by the Federal Security Service and the Border Service.

"The border must be reliably protected. All attempts to breach it must be prevented quickly and effectively, using all the forces and means at our disposal, including mobile groups and special forces," Putin said.

He instructed the intelligence services to tighten control over society and maximize "the use of operational, technical and personal potential" to prevent risks from abroad and domestic traitors.

"Maximum composure, concentration of forces is now required on the part of counterintelligence agencies, including military intelligence," the Russian president stressed.

He called for decisive measures against the actions of foreign special services and for the swift detection of traitors, spies and saboteurs.

"It is your duty to do everything possible to guarantee to the maximum extent the security of the residents of the annexed regions, the observance of their rights and freedoms," Putin addressed the employees of the Russian security agencies stationed in Ukraine and promised them "modern equipment and weapons".

Moscow counted over 60 Russian "hostages" in the US

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said more than 60 Russian "hostages" are serving sentences in US prisons, Russian state news agency RIA reported.

In excerpts from an interview with the agency, Vershinin said:

"The total number of Russian citizens actually taken hostage exceeds 60."

Vershinin presented no evidence that the Russians' sentences were politically motivated or otherwise unfair.

Earlier this month, the United States released convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence, in a prisoner swap. Booth was traded for Brittney Griner, an American basketball star jailed in Russia for drug-related crimes.

US media reported that Russia had refused to include in the exchange Paul Whelan, a US Marine Corps veteran convicted of espionage in 2020.

By order of Putin: To all heroes from the front - a free plot for a dacha in Crimea, Moscow or Sevastopol

All heroes who distinguished themselves in the war against Ukraine, which Russia calls a special military operation, should receive a plot of land for a dacha (cottage) for free in the Crimea region, Moscow region or Sevastopol, ordered on Monday before the arrival of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in Belarus.

The decree of the Russian president has already been published on the Internet portal for legal information and recommends the authorities of the Moscow region, Crimea and Sevastopol to take the necessary measures for its implementation.

The document specifies that it is a question of "military personnel awarded with state awards for merits shown in the course of participation in the special military operation and having the status of combat veterans." The privileges under the new decree are also applied posthumously - they are also extended to the relatives of soldiers who "died as a result of mutilation (wound, trauma, contusion) or disease received during the SVO", who will also be able to pick up a dacha or a house.

All plots of land must be given to the heroes completely free of charge, and the conclusion of contracts for them will be ensured by the government. The decree enters into force from December 19.

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Tags: Lukashenko, Putin, Russia, Ukraine
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