Day 344 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Von der Leyen visits Kyiv, Russian Officer witnessed Brutal Torture of Ukrainians (UPDATED)
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Von der Leyen in Kyiv: So far, the EU has provided 50 billion euros to Ukraine
"Europe has been on Ukraine's side from day one and will remain on Ukraine's side going forward, not only during the war, but afterwards for the recovery." This was said by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during a meeting with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv with 15 EU commissioners to discuss cooperation in more than 20 areas.
The first topic in the talks is ensuring the economic security of Ukraine so that the country can continue to function. Von der Leyen recalled that 2 weeks ago the first tranche of the financial aid of 18 billion euros for 2023 was provided. In general, the economic, humanitarian and military support of the European Union to Ukraine amounts to almost 50 billion euros, and together with the military aid from individual countries reaches 66 billion.
The High Representative for Security and Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell announced that the EU will double the size of the training mission for the Ukrainian army. By the end of the year, 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained, including how to work with Leopard tanks.
The European Commissioners and the Ukrainian ministers are also discussing the provision of the country's energy security. Brussels will supply 30 million energy-saving light bulbs, with the first deliveries already made. 2,400 generators and solar panels for public buildings, hospitals and schools will also be supplied. Ukraine will be able to participate in the joint procurement of gas that the member states organize.
Von der Leyen said today that Putin must pay for the brutal war he started. According to her, the European sanctions are seriously undermining the Russian economy. The crude oil price ceiling is already costing Russia around 160 million euros per day.
"We have just decided to introduce, with our G7 partners, an additional upper limit on the prices of Russian oil products. And by February 24, exactly one year since the beginning of the invasion, we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions. The price that Russia is paying is growing every day. Russia will also have to compensate for the destruction it caused and contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine. We are exploring with our partners how to use Russian public assets for the benefit of Ukraine," she said.
Brussels will also work together with Ukraine to create an International Center for the Criminal Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine, which will be in The Hague. He will coordinate the collection of evidence of Russia's war crimes in Ukraine.
Von der Leyen also said that he expects Russia to continue to fulfill the conditions for admission to the EU. She congratulated Zelensky for the quick reaction in cases of corruption at the highest levels of power in Kyiv.
A Russian officer has admitted to witnessing brutal torture of Ukrainians during the war
A Russian officer has admitted to the BBC's Moscow correspondent that he witnessed brutal interrogations and torture of Ukrainians during the war.
Konstantin Efremov, considered the most senior Russian officer to speak openly about the war, told the BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow that he was considered by Russia to be a traitor and a deserter.
He said he had repeatedly witnessed interrogations and torture in southern Ukraine, often lasting a week.
Efremov said he wanted to leave the army but was eventually fired for refusing to return to Ukraine, after which he fled Russia. The interview with him was done on the Internet.
Through photos and military documents, the BBC confirms that Efremov was at the beginning of the war in the Zaporizhzhia region, including the city of Melitopol. In addition to torture, shootings and threats of rape, Efremov also tells about robberies carried out by Russian forces.
He states that he arrived on February 10, 2022 in the Crimean Peninsula as the head of a sapper unit of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division, which is normally based in Chechnya, having been told that he would participate in military exercises.
"At that time, no one believed that there would be a war. Everyone thought that it was just an exercise. I am sure that even the senior officers did not know," said Konstantin Efremov.
Lavrov accused the West and Ukraine of trying to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia
The entire North Atlantic Alliance is at war with Russia. This was stated by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov on the occasion of Western arms deliveries to Ukraine.
In an extensive interview with "Novosti" agency and "Russia 24" television, Sergey Lavrov accused the West and Ukraine of trying to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia. He compared the actions of Western countries to Napoleon's attacks on the Russian Empire and Hitler's attacks on the Soviet Union.
"The well-known figure of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the result of this war should be such a defeat for Russia that for many decades it will not be able to rebuild its economy. Isn't this racism, Nazism and an attempt at a solution on the Russian question? Yes, but not with the help of gas chambers".
Lavrov also accused the United States of direct involvement in the connection of the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines.
Ukrainian intelligence: Putin has ordered Donbas to be captured by March
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his troops to fully capture Donetsk and Luhansk regions by March, a senior representative of the Ukrainian publication told the Kyiv Post.
Andriy Chernyak, a representative of the main intelligence directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, says there are already signs that Russia is preparing for a new offensive to seize the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
"We observe that the Russian occupation forces are redeploying additional assault groups, units, weapons and military equipment in the east," he told the publication. "According to the military intelligence of Ukraine, Putin has issued an order to capture the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions by March".
The two mineral-rich areas have been partially under Ukrainian control since 2014, when local Russian separatists with Moscow's help carved out parts of them and declared a so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. Putin recognized them just before the war began on February 24, 2022, and last September declared them part of Russia, along with four other regions of Ukraine that his troops occupied.
Last month, Russian forces captured the town of Soledar and, according to the Russian command, are currently encircling the key town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which would open the way to the larger Ukrainian-controlled centers of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Last night, a Russian rocket destroyed an apartment block in Kramatorsk, killing at least two people
In an interview with the Kyiv Post earlier this week, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said he believed Russia's offensive in Donbas had already begun and that Russia could move into broader action in the spring.
"Clearly there will be some active measures in the spring," he said. "However, even today we already see such actions in the Luhansk and Donetsk directions. That is, the offensive is underway."
Russians hit a residential building in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk
At least two people were killed and eight injured when a Russian missile hit a residential building in the center of the eastern city of Kramatorsk, Ukrainian officials said.
AFP saw two bodies at the scene as rescuers cleared the rubble.
"Two hours ago, the Russian occupiers hit a residential building in the center of the city with a rocket and completely destroyed it," regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said on the Telegram messaging app.
He said at least two people had died, warning that rescuers, law enforcement officers and others at the scene may find more victims.
The General Prosecutor's Office reported that eight people were injured.
"The exact number of victims is being clarified," it said in a statement.
"Peaceful people died and are under the rubble," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote after the missile strike.
"This is the daily reality of life in our country. A country that borders on absolute evil."
Kramatorsk is in Donetsk, where Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of the eastern industrial region, including its largest city, since 2014.
Moscow is now seeking to conquer the entire region after declaring it part of Russia last year.
Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv for the Ukraine-EU summit
The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and most of the European Commissioners arrived today for a visit to Ukraine. In Kyiv, they will talk with President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian government, and an EU-Ukraine summit will be held tomorrow. For the first time, the entire European Commission is visiting Kyiv. The main topics that will be discussed are European financial, military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as the country's membership in the EU.
Good to be back in Kyiv, my 4th time since Russia‘s invasion.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 2, 2023
This time, with my team of Commissioners.
We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever.
And to deepen further our support and cooperation. pic.twitter.com/zf8fvoNKnG
"This is my fourth visit to Kyiv and this time my team of commissioners also joined me. It is important for us to be together in Kyiv because everything we did in the past year was the result of the teamwork of the European Commission. And it is important to go now to emphasize that we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes," Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Kyiv this morning. She emphasized that the EC will continue to help the country on its way to join the EU.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal said that his country wants to become a member of the union within two years. The European Commission is refraining from specific dates for the time being. The country's next progress report will be presented in the fall, but in the spring the European Commission will inform member states about the results Kyiv has achieved.
"We will work with Ukraine in many directions – from the economy to energy and the accession process. This visit is an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved so far, what needs to be done next and to bring our teams even closer together. If our commissioners and ministers know each other - this can help work progress more quickly," said Von der Leyen.
The EU is also expected to double the number of trained Ukrainian soldiers - from 15,000 to 30,000 within the framework of the European training mission for the Ukrainian army. So far, all EU aid to Ukraine, including military aid from individual countries, is around 66 billion euros.
Putin announced a "priority task": to stop the shelling of Russia's border areas
Russian President Vladimir Putin defined as a priority task the elimination of the very possibility of shelling by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (VSU) on the border regions of the Russian Federation, TASS reported.
"Of course, the priority task is to eliminate the very possibility of shelling, but that is the work of the military department," the president said, opening a meeting on the restoration of residential infrastructure destroyed in the border areas.
He noted that the main topic of the talks will be "support for residents of Crimea, Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk regions, whose houses and apartments in the border areas have been damaged or destroyed due to shelling by neo-Nazi formations."
The agency's announcement does not mention anything about the newly emerging "Russians" in the four occupied territories of Ukraine - Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, DPR and LPR.
Putin recalled that on January 24, he met with the governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, who reported in detail about the situation in the region and told what assistance is provided to the people through the regional government.
"As a result of the meeting, specific instructions were given for additional measures in this direction, as well as in a whole range of other areas. I ask you to ensure the implementation of everything that is foreseen", requested the president.
Russia is preparing a new offensive for February 24, according to Ukraine, Moscow is advancing in Donbas
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov warned of a new offensive being prepared by Russia with hundreds of thousands of mobilized troops and planned around the anniversary of the start of the war.
It comes as Moscow's forces slowly advance into Kyiv-held areas of Donbas in eastern Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials acknowledging fierce fighting. The BBC's Russian service notes that Russia's troops are stepping up attacks in the Donetsk region in two directions: towards Bakhmut, north of Donetsk, and Vuhledar (Ugledar) in the southwest, and this may be preparation for a more intense attack - the fighting in areas of Vuhledar are becoming fierce.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported Moscow's attempts to take control of Liman, which Kyiv forces recaptured in October.
Overnight, the Ukrainian military announced that Russian forces were shelling Bakhmut and 10 settlements around it, as well as another landmark Russian target, Avdiivka. In Kramatorsk, 55 km from Bakhmut, a Russian rocket killed at least three people when it hit a residential building, according to police. Eight were injured.
"This is not a repetition of past events, this is the deadly everyday reality in our country - a country with real evil on its borders," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in Telegram. He tweeted: "The only way to stop Russian terrorism is to defeat it. With tanks. With fighter jets. With long-range missiles."
"Russia, determined to make progress before Ukraine receives new Western battle tanks and armored vehicles, has regained the initiative on the battlefield and announced progress north and east of Bakhmut," writes Reuters. Some of the victories announced by the Russian forces were at the same time questioned by the Russian-language media: the founder of the private army "Wagner" announced, for example, the capture of the village of Sako and Vanzeti in the Donetsk region, where three people live as of 2001.
"We think that since Russia lives in symbolism, they will try to do something around February 24." The Secretary of the National Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, for his part, said last week that Russian forces were preparing (also around the anniversary) to carry out the order to move "beyond the borders" of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Donbas).
“We do not underestimate the enemy. They officially announced 300,000, but when we see the troops on the borders, according to our estimates, they are much more,” said Oleksii Reznikov, Minister of Defense of Ukraine
Ukraine has been insisting for weeks that Russia is expected to begin a new mobilization, and is allowing a new offensive in spring or late winter. Legally, the decree by which President Vladimir Putin announced the move is open-ended, and some observers expect more of a covert recruitment of new forces for the Russian military.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and British military intelligence this week expressed their assessment that Russia is likely preparing a new offensive in Ukraine. According to ISW, a "major offensive" is expected in the east. Ukrainian intelligence, for its part, believes that Putin ordered the seizure of Donbas before the end of spring.
Reznikov was in France to sign an agreement to buy more MG-200 radars, which he said would significantly improve air defense capabilities against drones, ballistic and cruise missiles and others. This radar allows the detection of enemy aircraft at a distance of 250 km, it can also warn of artillery attacks.
Hundreds of thousands mobilized
Meanwhile, in France, where he was meeting with his French counterpart, Minister Reznikov told BFMTV that Kyiv's expectations are for up to 500,000 - instead of the 300,000 mobilized since September (then the Kremlin announced a "partial military mobilization") to support the offensive.
Politico: Ukraine Can't Get Crimea Back Anytime Soon
Ukrainian forces are unlikely to be able to retake Crimea from Russian troops in the near future, four senior Defense Department officials told the US House Armed Services Committee during a classified briefing. The assessment is sure to disappoint leaders in Kyiv, who consider the return of the peninsula one of their main goals, Politico reported.
It is not clear what led them to make this assessment. But according to three people familiar with what was said at the meeting, it is a clear indication the Pentagon does not believe Ukraine has, or will soon have, the ability to push Russian troops out of the peninsula Moscow seized nearly a decade ago.
A fourth person said the meeting was more ambiguous, but the belief remained that Ukraine's victory in the offensive to return the illegally annexed territory was not certain. All four have asked to remain anonymous as a condition of disclosing details of the secret meeting.
Among its participants are Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We will not comment on classified information released behind closed doors, nor will we speculate or speculate on potential future operations," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said. "As for Ukraine's ability to fight back and reclaim sovereign territory, their remarkable performance in repelling Russian aggression and continued adaptability on the battlefield speak for themselves."
The spokesman for the House of Representatives of the Armed Forces declined to comment, Politico adds.
The assessment from the meeting echoes what General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has hinted at in recent weeks.
"I still maintain that this year it will be very, very difficult to militarily expel Russian forces from all ... every inch of Ukraine and occupied ... or Russian-occupied Ukraine," he said during a meeting of The Contact Group for the Defense of Ukraine in Germany on January 20. "That doesn't mean it can't happen. It doesn't mean it won't happen, but it will be very, very difficult."
Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the peninsula is protected by air defenses and tens of thousands of troops. Many of these infantry forces are entrenched in entrenched positions stretching hundreds of kilometers facing Ukrainian troops along the Dnieper River.
The issue of Crimea's return has been contentious for months, as US and European officials insist the peninsula is a legal part of Ukraine, but often stop short of providing full combat equipment to Kyiv to enter the area, the publication commented.
A person familiar with thinking in Kyiv said the (Volodymyr) Zelensky administration was "furious" by Milley’s remarks as Ukraine prepares for a major offensive this spring. The Ukrainians note that US intelligence about their military capabilities has consistently diverged during the nearly year-long war.
Zelensky's adviser Andriy Yermak rejected the idea of a Ukrainian victory without the seizure of Crimea at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.
"This is absolutely unacceptable," Yermak said, adding that the victory meant the restoration of Ukraine's internationally recognized borders, "including Donbas and Crimea."
Ukraine has repeatedly asked for longer-range weapons, including rocket artillery and guided munitions fired from fighter jets and drones, to be aimed at Russian command and control centers and ammunition depots far behind the front line in Crimea.
After the U.S. provided Ukraine with a highly mobile missile artillery system over the summer, Russia moved many of its most vulnerable assets out of its range. The (Joe) Biden administration continues to refuse to send missiles that can hit targets 300 miles away, which would put all of Crimea at risk.
House of Representatives Chairman Mike Rogers said in an interview Wednesday that the war "must end this summer," making it urgent that the U.S. quickly supply Ukraine for the upcoming offensive and that Kyiv develops a clearer plan for how to end the conflict.
"Some think ... that Crimea should be part of it (Ukraine). Russia will never give up and hand over Crimea," said Rogers, who did not touch on the content of the secret meeting. Vladimir "Putin needs to decide what he can walk away with and claim as victory".
"What can be done? And I don't think that's agreed yet. I think there will have to be pressure from our government and NATO leaders on (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky about what victory looks like", Rogers added. "And I think that will help us more than anything to be able to get Putin and Zelensky to the negotiating table to end this already in the summer."
If Ukraine takes back what it occupied, it's game over for Putin, says Boris Johnson
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in the midst of a campaign to encourage Western leaders to provide faster and bolder military aid to Ukraine. Today he spoke before the American Atlantic Council, explaining that if today the West helps Ukraine to get back the territories between Crimea and Donbas occupied by Russia after last February 24, "this will be the end of the game for Vladimir Putin".
Johnson urged the West to stop focusing on Putin and focus on Ukraine and its efforts to expel the aggressor from its soil. According to him, if pressed, Putin would not dare to use nuclear weapons.
"It is in the vital interest of the United States and the entire West to ensure that Putin loses," Johnson said.
He asked rhetorically whether the West realized what an encouraging message a Russian victory would send to China.
"The origin of today's catastrophe is our collective failure to punish Putin in 2014," Johnson said, recalling Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
He also stated that Ukraine deserves a clear prospect of joining NATO. Johnson accused the West of ambiguity in his messages to Kyiv about alliance membership.
"The lack of clear security guarantees emboldens Putin to exploit this ambiguity," Johnson said.
Yesterday, Johnson published polemical articles in the "Washington Post" and "Daily Mail", calling on Western leaders to immediately arm Ukraine with the means it requested to repel a new large-scale Russian offensive and counteroffensive.
Great Britain, along with the United States, has been the main supplier of arms to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. London was the first to announce that it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Zelensky: I thank the Bulgarian parliament for recognizing the Holodomor as genocide
I thank the Bulgarian Parliament for recognizing Holodomor as genocide. This was announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Twitter.
"I am grateful to the Bulgarian parliament for recognizing the 1932-1933 Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people. This step honors the millions of victims of the Holodomor and restores historical justice. Bulgaria's gesture of solidarity will always be remembered by Ukraine."
With 134 votes "in favor", 26 - "against" and no "abstentions", the Bulgarian National Assembly, in a joint project proposed by the Foreign Policy Committee, declared the Great Famine - Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-1933 a genocide and categorically condemned its perpetrators.
The decision also declares every last Saturday of November as a Day of Honor and Remembrance for the victims of the Holodomor in Ukraine.
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