Day 351 of the Invasion of Ukraine: According to Macron France will “Accompany Ukraine to Victory and Peace”
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Russia wants international investigation into Nord Stream explosions after blog post
A blog by an American investigative journalist suggesting that the United States was behind the explosions that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipeline should be the basis of an international investigation, a senior Russian lawmaker said, according to Reuters.
The White House yesterday rejected the publication of the American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, which claimed that an attack on gas pipelines was carried out last September on the orders of President Joe Biden.
"The published facts should become the basis for an international investigation that will bring Biden and his accomplices to justice," said Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament).
Volodin also said that the US should pay "compensation to the countries affected by the terrorist attack".
Moscow, without providing proof, has repeatedly claimed that the West was behind the explosions that affected last September's Nord Stream 1 and 2, multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects that transport Russian gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea.
Investigators from Sweden and Denmark, in whose economic zones the explosions took place, said it was sabotage, but did not blame anyone in particular.
President Vladimir Putin blamed "Anglo-Saxon" forces for blowing up the gas pipelines.
On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the US "has to answer questions about its role in the explosions."
Roger Waters to the UN: The invasion was illegal, but also provoked
The legendary musician and co-founder of "Pink Floyd" Roger Waters spoke last night before the UN Security Council at the invitation of Russia.
He said its invasion of neighboring Ukraine was illegal. At the same time, Waters added that, in his opinion, it was provoked and he calling for a ceasefire, Reuters reported, quoted by BTA.
Russia called today's Security Council meeting to discuss arms supplies to Ukraine and asked the British musician to speak. Waters opposed Western arms supplies to Kyiv in a letter posted on his website back in September.
US Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Richard Mills acknowledged the musician's "impressive record as a performer" but said his qualifications to speak on arms control and European security issues "are less obvious".
While Waters called Russia's invasion of Ukraine "illegal," he also said it was "not unprovoked" and condemned "the provocateurs in the strongest possible terms." He gave no further details.
"The only sensible course of action today is to call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine," the legend said.
Ukrainian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya made a reference to the Pink Floyd hit "Another Brick in the Wall" when he told the Security Council:
"How sad for his former fans to see him accept the role of another brick in the wall - the wall of Russian disinformation and propaganda."
Zelensky will attend the special EU summit
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend today's special meeting of European leaders in Brussels and will also address the European Parliament, which is meeting in an extraordinary plenary session this morning. The information has not been released nor officially confirmed for security reasons.
The heads of state and government will discuss the latest developments surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fight against increased illegal migration, as well as the economy in the EU.
Yesterday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer threatened to veto the final declaration if no concrete decision was taken to strengthen the Community's external borders.
The increase in the number of illegal migrants, one of the targets of which is his country, was the reason for Austria to vote against Bulgaria's accession to Schengen in December, as well as to insist later on better security of our border with Turkey.
For now, the European Commission maintains its position that it will help increase its surveillance, but does not support the construction of a fence or wall, despite calls from MEPs from the European People's Party.
The reason is believed to be President Ursula von der Leyen's intention to run for a second term in office next year, a move that could deprive her of support from the left.
Bulgaria will be represented at the summit by President Rumen Radev.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky plan to join the Brussels meeting together, AFP reported, citing the Elysee Palace.
The Ukrainian president is on an unannounced tour of Europe. Yesterday he visited first London and later Paris, where he met Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
In London and Paris, Zelensky asked for heavy weapons and fighter jets to serve his country in the fight against Russian aggression.
The Ukrainian president is expected to argue the need for more serious military assistance at his meetings in Brussels.
Macron: France will accompany Ukraine to victory and peace
"France is ready to accompany Ukraine to victory, peace and Europe," French President Emmanuel Macron said before an emergency meeting in Paris with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“Ukraine can count on France and Europe, which will continue to help by all means for the victory and the return of its legal rights.” This was assured by French President Macron in a brief statement to the media before the tripartite working meeting late in the evening.
"We need weapons as quickly as possible" - insisted the Ukrainian president, who raised the issue of military aircraft and heavy armaments, which he believes are needed for an earlier end to the war.
Ukraine's allies will support it militarily as much as necessary, assured German Chancellor Scholz. "Russia should not win this war" - he stressed and assured that Ukraine is part of the European family.
"And now we will work" - concluded the French president. The three countries clarify their positions on military aid to Ukraine before today’s meeting of the European Council in Brussels.
Zelensky again asked France and Germany to send fighter jets to Ukraine
The Ukrainian president again asked France and Germany to send heavy weapons and fighter jets to Ukraine.
Late last night, Volodymyr Zelensky met at the Elysee Palace with the French president and the German chancellor.
The two leaders assured that their countries would continue to support Kyiv. Macron said his country was determined to help Ukraine win and restore its legal rights.
Paris "will continue its efforts to supply weapons to Kyiv," the French president also said.
Zelensky was received by King Charles III in an audience at Buckingham Palace
British King Charles III received Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time in an audience at Buckingham Palace in London, which the Ukrainian leader described as "really special".
Zelensky was dressed in his traditional green military clothing when he arrived at the British monarch's residence this afternoon.
The Ukrainian president is on his first visit to Britain since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and, in his address to British MPs in Westminster Hall, said he would use the opportunity to thank Charles III on behalf of all Ukrainians for the support the monarch has shown for his country even while he was Prince of Wales.
Zelensky said the audience with the king was a "really special moment" and did not fail to mention Charles III's military service in the Royal Air Force in the past, saying:
"The king is an Air Force pilot, and in Ukraine today every Air Force pilot is a king."
The Ukrainian president said in his impassioned speech to MPs in Westminster Hall:
"Today I will have the honor to be received by His Majesty the King. This will be a truly special moment for me, for our country. In particular, because I will express to him the gratitude of all Ukrainians for the support that His Majesty has shown for them while was still Prince of Wales".
In May 2022, Charles III, then Prince of Wales, spoke about the "nightmare situation" in Ukraine during a trip to Romania to meet with Ukrainian refugees who had fled their homeland.
Speaking through an interpreter, Charles told a group of Ukrainian refugees:
"We sympathize with the nightmarish situation in Ukraine. We continue to pray."
In the past, Charles has become known for his sharp attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the annexation of Crimea. He caused a diplomatic scandal when, during a diplomatic visit to Canada in 2014, he compared Putin to Hitler.
London with a surprise for Zelensky - immediately increased military supplies to Ukraine
Britain will immediately increase military supplies to Ukraine to help it repel an intensifying Russian attack and has pledged to train Ukrainian pilots, Reuters reported.
The information was disclosed upon the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the island. He was met on the tarmac at London's Stansted Airport by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, where he was flown in by a Royal Air Force aircraft.
According to a cabinet statement, Sunak will also offer Kyiv longer-range strike capabilities to prevent Russia from destroying Ukraine's critical infrastructure. It has not yet been announced what kind of strike capacity it is, the BBC points out.
News of Zelensky's visit came as a surprise to British MPs, who had a scheduled question-and-answer session with the prime minister. Zelensky was even expected to attend this session in Westminster, but he did not show up.
But this did not cancel the discussion of the Ukrainian issue. The meeting began with a greeting of one of the deputies with "Glory to Ukraine!" in Ukrainian, which was repeated by everyone else.
However, Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to 10 Downing Street.
Today he will also visit Brussels, where the EU will have a summit. London is the first stop on his second trip abroad since Russia began its offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. In December, the Ukrainian head of state visited Washington.
"The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to come to the aid of Ukraine. I am in London to personally thank the British people for their support and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for his leadership," Zelensky wrote on the Telegram channel under his photo from the airport in the company of Sunak.
Britain, which trains Ukrainian servicemen, said it would also train Ukrainian pilots to fly "advanced fighter jets meeting NATO standards in the future". London clarified that this is "part of a long-term investment in the Ukrainian army". This wording seems to suggest that Britain has not yet changed its decision not to provide fighter jets to Kyiv for the time being, Reuters commented.
Last week, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said it would take no less than 35 months to train a Ukrainian pilot to fly a British fighter jet.
Sunak emphasized today that Zelensky's visit is a testimony to the "courage and determination" of Ukraine, as well as to the "unbreakable friendship" between the two countries. He expects the British Prime Minister to inform Zelensky that London will accelerate its arms deliveries to Ukraine. Over the past six months, Britain has trained 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen and will train another 20,000 this year, according to British government information. Last week, Ukrainians arrived on the island to be prepared to work with the Challenger 2 tanks.
Since February The UK has sent £2.3bn of military aid to Ukraine, making it the second largest country behind the US in terms of support for Kyiv. The British government promises the same amount of aid this year as well.
Britain imposed sanctions on Russia and took in over 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. According to The Guardian, London could also announce a new package of sanctions against the Russian Federation, including those who have helped Kremlin dictator Vladimir Putin amass his fortune, as well as companies that profit from the war. As for the training of Ukrainian servicemen, according to the publication, it will ensure that the pilots will be able to fly modern fighter jets that meet NATO standards.
Among the military equipment provided to Ukraine by the United Kingdom are:
- Several air defense systems, including Starstreak - it is designed to destroy low-flying air targets at close range;
- Challenger-2 tanks;
- Artillery systems, including 30 AS-90 self-propelled howitzers;
- Hundreds of thousands of 155 mm shells;
- M270 multi-purpose rocket launchers (equivalent to American HIMARS);
- NLAW portable anti-tank missiles;
- Brimstone sea missiles;
- Armored vehicles, including Mastiff patrol cars;
- Unmanned aerial vehicles intended for logistical support of isolated forces;
- Electronic warfare equipment.
Britain imposes new sanctions on Russian companies and representatives of the Kremlin
Britain imposes new sanctions on "Russian military and defense representatives of the Kremlin", reported Reuters.
The agency refers to a statement by the British government upon the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Great Britain.
Sanctions are being imposed on six companies providing military equipment such as drones for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Also subject to sanctions are eight individuals and another company connected to financial networks that support "the maintenance of wealth and power among selected representatives of the Kremlin."
"Ukraine has shown Putin that it will not bend to his tyrannical invasion. He has responded with indiscriminate strikes against civilian areas and critical national infrastructure across the country," said Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development Secretary James Cleverly.
"We cannot allow him to succeed. We must step up our support," Cleverly added.
"Wagner" stops recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine
The Russian mercenary group "Wagner" has stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday, quoted by "Reuters".
"The recruitment of prisoners by the private military company Wagner has completely stopped," Prigozhin said in response to a request for comment from a Russian media outlet posted on social media.
"We fulfill all our obligations to those who work for us now," he added.
Wagner began recruiting prisoners in Russia in the summer of 2022, with Prigozhin, a catering entrepreneur who served nine years in a Soviet-era prison, offering convicts a pardon if they survived six months in Ukraine.
Wagner has not provided information on how many convicts have joined its ranks, but data from the Russian Penitentiary Service released in November showed that the country's prison population fell by more than 20,000 between August and November: the biggest decline in more than a decade.
According to data released in January, the decline has largely stopped.
In December, Reuters reported that, according to the US intelligence community, Wagner had deployed in Ukraine 40,000 ex-prisoners whom it had recruited to fight as mercenaries and who were the majority of the group's fighters fighting in the country.
The Wagner group has played an increasingly important role in Russia's war in Ukraine in recent months, with the mercenaries at the forefront of a months-long offensive against the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.
The war today: Ukraine recruits volunteers for eight assault brigades
Ukraine is recruiting volunteers for eight assault brigades, whose task will be to liberate Russian-occupied territories, including Crimea and Donbas, announced the country's new interior minister, Igor Klimenko.
“The Offensive Guard, these are professional assault brigades of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Commands of patriot fighters who seek to exterminate the enemy and liberate the occupied lands of Ukraine. No rear tasks” - Klimenko wrote on his Facebook profile. – “Only high-quality training, constant training and participation in front-line operations. The formation of the units is already underway.”
The eight brigades will also include the former "Azov" battalion, famous in the defense of Mariupol. The recruitment of Guardsmen runs parallel to and is independent of the mobilization of civilians for the army. Volunteers will be able to choose which of the brigades to serve in. Their preparation will take several months.
At the same time, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported that Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is creating its own armed security unit, similar to Putin-friendly businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin's “Wagner” Private Military Company.
In addition to security tasks, the formation could potentially be used in combat operations in Ukraine, the institute's regular report says.
According to the latest intelligence briefing published by the British Ministry of Defence, Russia may have already started the new offensive in Donbas due to political pressure and hasty assessments of the situation.
The operation may have started as early as January, but Russian troops are making progress of several hundred meters per week. The reason is that they lack combat power and ammunition.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russian plans to conquer all of Donbas are unrealistic and rest on faulty assumptions about the capabilities of its own military.
According to unnamed Russian "military operatives" (journalists and bloggers who follow the war), Russian troops may fall into a "trap" if they launch another large-scale operation to conquer all of Ukraine, similar to the one that failed a year ago.
Yesterday, Russia continued its shelling of civilian targets in Ukraine. Rockets hit the Kharkiv region, injuring four people, regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said.
Scholz criticized the "public race" to send weapons to Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz today criticized the public race among some countries over who can supply Ukraine with more and more powerful weapons. According to him, this harms the unity among the allies, reported "Reuters", quoted by BTA.
The rapprochement between the countries is maintained and strengthened, with decisions first made in confidence and only then announced publicly, Scholz said in a speech to lawmakers in the lower house of the German parliament.
"What harms our unity is the public competition between us in terms of battle tanks, submarines, aircraft," he added.
Scholz said that Ukraine's future is in the European Union and that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not achieve his goals.
Sanctions against Russia
Scholz also announced that Europe would re-tighten sanctions against Russia approaching the anniversary of the start of its invasion of Ukraine, as a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. His speech came a day before a special EU summit.
"Putin will not achieve his goals - neither on the battlefield nor through a dictated peace," the chancellor stressed. He added that the EU will support Ukraine as long as necessary in the war that began on February 24 last year.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters last month that EU countries were working on a 10th package of sanctions to be ready around the anniversary of Russia's invasion of the neighboring country.
The other topics
In addition to the war in Ukraine, EU leaders will also discuss illegal migration and the bloc's economic situation on Thursday and Friday.
Scholz stressed that Europe does not need to hide from the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) when it comes to the size of subsidies, but added that European leaders need a detailed analysis before they can deal with possible gaps in the programs.
A subsidy race with the United States would be the wrong answer for the EU, added Scholz, who said Germany was trying to deepen its economic relationship with the US.
"The ongoing IRA talks are a good starting point for that - at least if the US abandons rules that put European companies at a disadvantage compared to companies from Canada and Mexico, for example," the chancellor noted.
Putin approved the delivery of the missile that shot down the Boeing over Ukraine, investigators believe
Russian President Vladimir Putin has personally approved the decision on the Russian Buk TELAR missile system used to shoot down Flight MH17 over Ukraine.
This was stated by the Dutch prosecutors investigating the case of the downed plane with 298 people on board between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, one of the deadliest in the history of civil aviation.
Investigators determined that a Buk missile was used, fired from levels in eastern Ukraine while forces of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR, now declared annexed by Russia) were fighting the Ukrainian army. Three were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment, a fourth was acquitted.
No more opportunity to investigate
According to the Joint Investigation Team handling the case, this is not enough to open new cases. Prosecutors believe they have exhausted all the leads they could investigate in the past eight-plus years. In addition, prosecutors point out, the president enjoys immunity as head of state.
"After eight and a half years of work, the JIT (joint mechanism) sees no more scope for investigations", therefore "the investigation will be terminated".
This does not mean the case is finally closed, as new information or a change in circumstances may give reasons to continue or renew criminal proceedings.
How the decision was made
The decision, according to available evidence, was made by Putin himself, although there is no indication that he had any input into the order to shoot down the plane. In addition to the Netherlands, the joint investigation team includes Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine.
In the statement, the team cited a court ruling that said control of the DPR as of July 2014 was in Moscow. Recorded phone calls have also been cited as saying the decision on military support rests in President Putin's hands. "There is concrete information that the request of the separatists was presented to the president and that this request was approved." However, it is not known whether the system used to bring down the Boeing was "explicitly" requested.
The approval has been delayed by a week because, according to the talks, "there is only one person who makes (such a) decision ... the person who is currently at the summit in France". At the time, Putin was in France for a ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1944 Normandy landings.
Putin is not mentioned among those "responsible" for the downing of the Boeing, but he has not continued his commitment to the conflict even after he asked the Federation Council on 24 June 2014 to revoke the resolution authorizing him to conduct a military intervention in Ukraine. Moreover, "there are indications" that Putin wanted to be informed in detail about the course of the conflict and the results achieved by the separatists in Donbas.
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