Day 348 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Putin Promised Former Israeli PM to Not Kill Zelensky
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Ukraine is ready to help the "friendly Turkish people" after the earthquake, President Zelensky said
Ukraine is ready to provide the necessary assistance to the "friendly Turkish people" after today's powerful earthquake, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, quoted by Reuters.
"I am shocked by the news that hundreds of people have died and been injured as a result of the earthquake in Turkey," Zelensky wrote on Twitter. "We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and wish the victims a speedy recovery. At this moment, we are close to the friendly Turkish people, ready to provide the necessary assistance," the Ukrainian president added.
Turkey is mediating between Ukraine and Russia in an attempt to settle the conflict. At the same time, Ankara supplies Kyiv with weapons, including Bayraktar drones.
In his statement, Zelensky did not mention Syria. Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to whom it has provided crucial military aid since the conflict broke out in his country in 2011.
Ukraine reported new Russian missile strikes and heavy fighting in Donbas
Ukraine reported new Russian missile strikes and heavy fighting in Donbas. Yesterday, a university building and a housing cooperative in Kharkiv were hit by Russian missiles.
Heavy fighting took place in Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Lyman.
For its part, Moscow said that Kyiv was preparing a provocation in the city of Kramatorsk, where hospitals were to be blown up and that Russia was to be blamed for it.
The fierce fighting in the Donetsk region of Ukraine "is very difficult," President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address.
"Kyiv is preparing for a possible Russian offensive this month, before the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of the country. But no matter how difficult it is and no matter how much pressure there is, we must endure," Zelensky said.
Earlier, the Ukrainian president introduced by decree sanctions against 200 companies and enterprises of the Russian nuclear industry, including Rosatom and its subsidiaries.
The goal is to strengthen the efforts of our diplomats to extend global sanctions on this part of Russia's aggressive machine, Zelensky said, pointing out:
"Russia is the only country in the world that allows its military to attack nuclear power plants and use them as cover for shelling. Russian missiles have repeatedly followed trajectories over Ukraine's nuclear facilities. The terrorist state uses the nuclear industry as one of the elements of external expansion - to exert pressure on other countries and to create corresponding threats to the sovereignty of other countries".
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the weapons provided by the West to Ukraine will not be used for strikes on Russian territory and that there is a consensus with President Zelensky on this issue. And the Minister of Defense, Oleksiy Reznikov, announced that starting today, Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in the management of the German "Leopard" tanks.
The foreign minister of Austria defends the decision to issue visas to the Russian delegation at the OSCE session
In the late news broadcast, the Austrian public broadcaster ORF broadcast last night an interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria, Alexander Schallenberg, in which he again defended the decision to issue visas to the Russian delegation to participate in the upcoming session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This is an obligation arising from the agreement with the host country of the organization - to ensure the entry into the country of all delegates from the participating countries. Schallenberg added that he was clearly guided by the international law that should be applied in this case.
The alternative to dissolve the OSCE is not really an alternative at all, commented the foreign minister. "Very unfortunate" is the date of the session - February 24, when Russia attacked Ukraine a year ago, but platforms like the OSCE will also be needed in the future. Every relationship and every conversation with Russia is difficult, but "we have to stay in conversation," Schallenberg sums up.
Multilateralism is always difficult, but as representatives of the headquarters of the organization, we need to take care to ensure the participation of all delegates, the foreign minister said. Schallenberg deplored the intention of the Lithuanian delegates to boycott if the Russian delegation attended, because there was value in showing Russia how isolated it already was.
However, the fact is also clear that with President Vladimir Putin, it will not be possible to return to the previous status quo. But despite all the emotionality, one should also think about the fact that Russia will not disappear from the map, said Schallenberg.
He defended the expulsion of four Russian diplomats, who must leave Austria by February 8. The minister recalled that for the third time he had to apply this measure, but "we will always react when we see that the diplomatic status is being abused," said Schallenberg. Any country that takes such steps will feel the consequences, he added.
Ukraine's military intelligence chief becomes defense minister
Ukraine's military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov will head the defense ministry, while current defense minister Oleksii Reznikov will be moved to the post of minister for strategic industries. This was announced by a high-ranking Ukrainian deputy, quoted by Ukrinform.
Reznikov is the most senior Ukrainian government official to be removed from office in a series of resignations and dismissals following a corruption scandal last month. Reznikov was appointed to the post in 2021 and contributed to the supply of Western weapons to Ukrainian forces. But his ministry was rocked by corruption scandals. His deputy was forced to resign after allegations that his department signed food supply contracts at three times the market price.
Yesterday, both Ukraine and Russia announced planned attacks. According to Kyiv, the Russian army is planning a large-scale attack on the anniversary of the start of the war on February 24, and the Russian Defense Ministry has accused Ukraine of planning to blow up buildings in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk.
In his traditional nightly address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that the situation on the front in eastern Ukraine is becoming increasingly difficult, and Russia is drawing more and more troops into the fighting.
"The pressure is increasing in various areas of the front line, as well as in the information field. Fierce battles are being fought in Donetsk. But no matter how hard it is, we must endure, use every day and every week to strengthen the defense, the pressure on Russia." commented Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukraine is ready to repel a possible Russian offensive this month, said the defense minister
Ukraine expects a possible major Russian offensive this month, but is ready to repel it, even if further Western military supplies do not arrive in time, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said yesterday, quoted by Reuters.
Russia may launch the new offensive for "symbolic" reasons around the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine, but its resources are not ready militarily, Reznikov told a news conference.
"However, we expect a possible Russian offensive in February. This is only from a symbolic point of view; it is not logical from a military point of view. Because not all their resources are ready. But they are doing it anyway," he said.
According to him, a possible offensive could probably be launched in the east, where Russia is trying to seize the entire Donbas region, or in the south, where it wants to expand its land corridor to the occupied Crimean peninsula.
According to his estimate, Russia has 12,000 troops in military bases in Belarus, which would not be sufficient numbers to launch a major attack from Belarusian territory into northern Ukraine and open a new front.
The US and other Western countries have pledged billions of dollars in new military aid, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, to help Ukraine withstand a new attack and also launch a counter-offensive.
"Not all Western weapons will arrive on time. But we are ready. We have built up our resources and stocks that we can deploy and with which we are able to hold off the attack," Reznikov said.
Zakharova: EU soldiers have been fighting in Ukraine for a long time
Military from the member states of the European Union have been in Ukraine for a long time, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova claimed on her Telegram channel.
She commented on today's statement by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, regarding the possibility of sending EU troops to Ukraine.
Zakharova quoted Borrell's words in an interview with the Spanish newspaper "Pais" that "EU member states have never considered and are not considering sending their military to Ukraine to participate in the conflict."
"I have great doubts about the adequacy of the gardener Borrell. Military personnel from the EU member states have been sent to Ukraine for a long time. Both in the form of instructors and special services and mercenaries. And their deployment began long before 2022," wrote the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Lithuania raised 6 million euros for radars for Ukraine's air defense
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Lithuania has raised 6 million euros through a coalition of four crowdfunding initiatives to buy radars for Ukraine's air defense systems.
"Lithuania has only 3 million people, but this week we raised 6 million euros to buy air defense systems for Ukraine. There are no signs of fatigue here. We will support Ukraine until victory is achieved," Landsbergis wrote on Twitter.
According to the European Justice newspaper, the radar campaign is called RADAROM! It included four fundraising initiatives: Ukraine Blue/Yellow, Laisvs TV, 1K fondas and Stiprs kartu, as well as the public broadcaster LRT. The publication says that the original plan was to raise 5 million euros.
On January 24 this year, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, awarded the Lithuanian capital Vilnius the honorary status of "savior city" for the assistance provided to Ukrainian citizens and support to the country. Since the beginning of the military actions in Ukraine, Lithuania has become one of the European countries that support the Ukrainian side the most and declare for stricter sanctions against Russia. In the fall of 2022, Delfi reported that more than 70,000 Ukrainian refugees had arrived in Lithuania since February. In May, residents of Lithuania raised 5.9 million euros in three days to buy a Bayraktar TB2 drone for the Ukrainian armed forces.
Naftali Bennett: Putin promised me not to kill Zelensky
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told in an interview with the Israeli channel "Channel 12" that shortly after the start of military operations in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin promised him not to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, writes the "Jerusalem Post", quoted today by BTA.
During the nearly five-hour interview, Bennett shared details of his well-known trip to Moscow, which he made in early March 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. The Israeli leader then tried to broker a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine.
Although he failed to help end hostilities, Bennett received a promise from Putin that Zelensky, who was hiding in a secret bunker at the time, would not be killed.
Bennett directly asked the Russian president: "Do you intend to kill Zelensky?", to which Putin replied: "I will not kill Zelensky." "I need to know that you give me your word," the then Israeli prime minister continued. "I assure you," Putin replied. "Are you sure," Bennett asked. "One hundred percent", the Russian head of state was categorical.
In the interview, Bennett also said that the Israeli delegation landed in Moscow, where it was rainy and humid. This was Bennett's first visit to the Russian capital. He was accompanied by Ze'ev Elkin, then Minister of Housing, who was originally from Ukraine and spoke fluent Russian. In the past, he acted as Netanyahu's interpreter in his meetings with Putin.
After the negotiations in Moscow ended, the Israeli delegates traveled to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He joined their group and together they headed to France, and then to Great Britain and the United States. All these countries were aware of Bennett's visit to Moscow.
"All my actions were coordinated with the United States, Germany and France," Bennett said.
Preparations for this moment had begun two months earlier, even before the war, when Bennett visited Putin in Sochi and the two had a lengthy conversation that lasted about five or six hours.
He was "smart and observant" and a supporter of the Jews, the former Israeli prime minister recalled of Putin.
According to Bennett, the Russian president's decision not to kill Zelensky was essentially a concession to his goal of denazifying Ukraine. He was also willing to revise his disarmament request.
Bennett managed to get concessions from Zelensky as well, and more specifically, a rejection of his desire to join Ukraine to NATO.
"I got the impression that they both wanted a ceasefire," Bennett said, but ultimately the talks did not stop the hostilities.
Bennett added that at the time he thought he was doing the right thing by visiting Moscow in an attempt to broker an end to the war. However, 10 months have passed since then and it is ultimately unclear what impact his meeting with Putin had.
The situation is different now, Bennett said, adding that it is "legitimate" for new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change Israel's policy on the Russo-Ukraine war.
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