Day 338 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Nuclear Regulator reported Strong Explosions near the Zaporizhzhia NPP (UPDATED)
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
The EU extends economic sanctions against Russia until July 31
The Council of the European Union, representing the member states, announced today that it has decided to extend by six months, until July 31, the restrictive measures aimed at certain sectors of the Russian economy.
The sanctions, first introduced in 2014 in response to Russian actions destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, were significantly expanded from February 2022 following the military aggression against Ukraine.
The measures include restrictions on trade, finance, technology and dual-use goods, manufacturing, transportation and luxury goods.
They include a ban on the import or shipping by sea of crude oil and certain petroleum products from Russia to the EU, the exclusion of several Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system, and the suspension of several Kremlin-backed disinformation media outlets.
In addition to the economic sanctions against the Russian Federation, the EU introduced various types of measures in response to Russia's destabilizing actions against Ukraine, the message recalls.
These include: restrictions on economic relations with illegally annexed Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as with Donetsk and Luhansk regions; individual restrictive measures (asset freezes and travel restrictions) on a wide range of citizens and organizations, as well as diplomatic measures.
Ukraine may boycott the Olympics if Russians are allowed to participate
Ukraine does not rule out boycotting the Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete at the Paris Games in 2024, Ukraine's Sports Minister Vadim Gutzeit said on social media.
A day ago, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) signaled that athletes from Russia and Belarus could participate in competitions in Asia. They are currently sanctioned because of the war in Ukraine.
"Our position remains unchanged: while there is a war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not participate in international competitions," the minister wrote on his Facebook page.
"We are currently working on further possible steps and first steps to continue the sanctions and prevent Russians and Belarusians from international competitions. If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility of boycotting and refusing participation in the Olympic Games."
Gutzeit later wrote that they would begin talks with national sports federations about a possible boycott of the Paris Games "in the event that Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to return to international sports arenas."
Moscow changes the time zone of annexed Ukraine
Russia will change the time in the four Ukrainian regions that were annexed by decree of President Vladimir Putin on September 30.
This is clear from a draft law of the Ministry of Industry and Trade submitted for adoption by the government, as reported by the Russian news agency "Interfax".
The draft law will officially fix the transition from Kyiv to Moscow time in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, as well as in the two regions of Donbas - Donetsk and Lugansk.
They will switch to Moscow time, i.e. one hour ahead of the current time zone and the time in the rest of Ukraine, and two hours in daylight saving time, since Russia refused to use it.
"At the moment, Moscow time de facto works in the new entities, and the new draft law fixes this procedure in a normative manner," the ministry said in a statement, quoted by the agency.
The annexation of the four Ukrainian regions is not internationally recognized, and Russia does not control all of their administrative territory.
Together with Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, they represent about 20% of Ukraine's internationally recognized territory.
Two weeks ago, Putin ordered his government to bring the development of the four annexed Ukrainian regions up to Russia's no later than 2030 in terms of infrastructure, government services and living standards.
Zelensky: Russian aggression can and must be stopped only with adequate weapons
An air alert has been declared in the Kharkiv region, there are still no details on the number of missiles fired and targets hit.
Donald Trump criticized Washington's decision to provide tanks to Kyiv.
"First tanks, then nukes. Stop this crazy war now. It's so easy to do," he wrote on his social network.
Meanwhile, Canada has announced that it will give Ukraine 4 tanks. According to sources of the Bloomberg agency, the IMF is considering aid for Ukraine up to 16 billion dollars. The program will be multi-year, with the first tranche expected in April.
"Only weapons neutralize terrorists," said President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his traditional address:
"This evil - Russian aggression can and must be stopped only with adequate weapons. This terrorist state will know no other way. Weapons on the battlefield. Weapons to protect our skies. New sanctions against Russia - political and economic weapons. And legislative - we must work even harder to have a tribunal for the crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine and compensation for the damage caused by this war, which will be at the expense of Russian assets."
The UN nuclear regulator reported strong explosions near the Zaporizhzhia NPP
The United Nations nuclear watchdog on Thursday reported powerful explosions near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine and renewed calls for a safety zone around the plant.
Russian forces seized the plant in early March, shortly after invading Ukraine. Since then, Moscow and Kyiv have blamed each other for shelling the plant, leading to repeated shutdowns and the deployment of IAEA experts to all five of Ukraine's nuclear plants to monitor nuclear safety on site.
Grossi, who visited Ukraine last week, said IAEA monitors regularly report explosions near the plant.
"Yesterday, eight loud detonations were heard around 10 a.m. local time, causing office windows at the headquarters to vibrate, and more were heard today," IAEA director Rafael Grossi said, quoted by Reuters.
Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of Rosenergoatom, the company that manages Russia's nuclear power plants, called Grossi's comments baseless.
"I can only describe this as a provocation. Before providing such information, you should check it and establish that it is not based on rumours," Russian news agency TASS quoted him as saying.
According to Karchaa, the IAEA, "on the one hand, they want to show that they are doing something useful, and on the other hand, they are sowing doubt in Western public opinion that somehow Russia cannot cope with maintaining nuclear safety."
In his statement, Grossi added that he had discussed the proposed security zone in European Commission meetings this week in Brussels and that he also had new talks with Moscow ahead.
Bloomberg: Putin is preparing a new offensive in Ukraine, the war could drag on for years
Nearly a year after the invasion, which was supposed to take weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin is plotting a new offensive in Ukraine while preparing his country for conflict with the United States and its allies. In addition, Putin is preparing for the conflict to continue for years, according to Bloomberg, quoted by the BBC.
The Kremlin is trying to demonstrate that its troops can regain the initiative after months of retreat by putting pressure on Kyiv and its allies to agree to some sort of truce. This would allow Russia to maintain control over the territory it now occupies. That's how Russian officials and their advisers described the situation in conversations with Bloomberg.
Even Putin cannot deny the weaknesses of the Russian military, which he has spent decades strengthening. Russian troops have lost more than half of their initial gains in Ukraine, the agency said. Its sources say the constant setbacks at the front have forced many in the Kremlin to be more realistic about their ambitions and to recognize that even holding the current front line would be an achievement.
Still, Putin remains confident that Russia's greater forces and its willingness to suffer losses (which US and European estimates now number in the tens of thousands) will allow it to prevail despite the setbacks.
The renewal of the offensive could begin as early as February or March, Bloomberg sources close to the Kremlin suggest. Their comments echo the concerns of Ukraine and its allies that the attack could begin before Kyiv receives battle tanks from the US and Europe.
Putin's determination heralds a deadly new escalation in the war as Kyiv prepares for an offensive and rejects any ceasefire options that would leave Russia with occupied territories. Putin sees no alternative but to win in what he sees as an existential conflict. According to agency sources, a new mobilization is possible as early as this spring, and the economy and society are increasingly adjusting to the needs of the war.
US and European intelligence are questioning whether Russia has the resources for a major new offensive as Ukraine's allies prepare to send battle tanks that could help Ukrainian forces break through Russian positions for the first time, the report said.
Japan tightens its sanctions against Russia
Japan announced today that it is tightening its sanctions against Russia following the latest wave of Russian missile attacks in Ukraine, Reuters reported. Tokyo expands its list of goods that are prohibited from exporting to Russia and freezes the assets of Russian representatives and organizations.
The decision was made after Russian missile strikes in Ukraine killed at least 11 people yesterday.
"In light of the situation surrounding Ukraine and in the name of the international community's efforts to ensure peace, Japan will implement export bans, thereby synchronizing its actions with those of other major countries," Japan's Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement.
The new sanctions include a ban on the export of goods to 49 organizations in Russia, which will take effect on February 3. It has been suggested that these types of goods could be used to enhance Russia's military potential. These are goods such as water cannons, equipment used for gas extraction, X-rays, explosives and robots, the Japanese ministry explained. In addition, Japan will freeze the assets of three Russian organizations and 22 Russian individuals.
The IMF plans to provide billion to Ukraine
The IMF is exploring the possibility of providing Ukraine with a multi-year aid package worth up to billion, Bloomberg reported, citing sources.
According to them, the implementation of the program depends on a number of conditions, including approval by the countries of the Group of Seven (G7), as well as by creditors of Ukraine, guaranteeing the sustainability of the country's debt. If approved, the three- or four-year program would allocate between - billion in the first year.
The plan is expected to be finalized by the end of March.
Zelensky: “That's fair, whoever doesn't work will be fired”
Ukrainian officials who do not fulfill their duties during wartime will be quickly removed, a top aide to the president Volodymyr Zelensky said, quoted by the Reuters agency.
More than twenty people at various levels, from deputy ministers to regional governors and prosecutors, were removed this week after a series of scandals and accusations of corruption.
Political analysts said Zelensky needed to show Western partners pushing for anti-corruption reforms and war-weary Ukrainians that he was serious about cracking down on mismanagement.
"Everyone should understand the level of responsibility to the country and the nation during the war. Anyone who forgets about this gets a quick reaction," said Andriy Yermak, Zelensky's chief of staff, promising that no exceptions would be made.
Among the most high-profile cases was that of a deputy defense minister who resigned after an announcement, which he denied, that his ministry was paying inflated prices to feed troops.
A presidential adviser who was reported to drive luxury sports cars also left, as did a senior prosecutor who Ukrainian media reported had gone on holiday to Marbella in Spain, ignoring martial law.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, millions displaced and cities reduced to rubble since Russian forces invaded Ukraine 11 months ago, Reuters reports.
An exasperated Zelensky - who said earlier in the week that officials and MPs would henceforth only be allowed to leave the country on government business - repeated the announcement on Thursday evening.
"Unfortunately, I have to repeat it for those who are hearing impaired," he said sternly in his video address to Ukrainians.
Apart from the people whose trips have been allowed, "there will be no other trips abroad by officials or deputies during wartime. I think it's fair," Zelensky said.
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