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Ukraine news – live: Russia decries ‘blatant provocation’ as US and Germany poised to deliver tanks

Russia has condemned the possible deliveries of battle tanks by the US and Germany to Ukraine, calling it “another blatant provocation” against Moscow.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, said early on Wednesday: “It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us.”

The US is poised to announce the start of deliveries of dozens of M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, two US officials told Reuters.

Germany has also reportedly bowed to international pressure and agreed to send tanks to Ukraine to bolster the war effort against Vladimir Putin.

While there has been no official confirmation from Berlin yet, officials in Kyiv swiftly hailed what they said was a potential game-changer on the battlefield.

“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews – the best tank crews in the world,” Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian president Zelensky’s chief-of-staff, wrote on Telegram. “This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog.”

Key Points

  • Russia condemns US tank deliveries as 'blatant provocation’

  • Germany ‘to send company of tanks to Ukraine’ after pressure from allies

  • Putin ‘could face ruin’ if spring offensive fails

  • Several Ukraine officials resign posts after Zelensky orders corruption clamp down

  • Ukraine pledges sweeping personnel changes amid corruption claims

  • Ukraine sanctions 22 associated with Russian Orthodox Church

  • Boris Johnson trip to Ukraine paid for by taxpayers, confirms No 10

Russia condemns US tank deliveries as 'blatant provocation’

04:32 , Shweta Sharma

Washington’s expected decision to supply battle tanks to Ukraine would be “another blatant provocation”, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, said early on Wednesday.

“It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov said in remarks published on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app.

“If the United States decides to supply tanks, then justifying such a step with arguments about ‘defensive weapons’ will definitely not work. This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation.”

The US is poised to announce the start of deliveries of dozens of M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine and could begin the process later on Wednesday, two US officials told Reuters.

Norway may send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine - Norwegian newspapers

10:36 , Matt Mathers

The Norwegian government is considering whether to send some of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Oslo-based newspapers Aftenposten and Dagens Naeringsliv reported late on Tuesday.

No decision to send the heavy battle tanks has yet been made, according to each of the papers, quoting anonymous sources familiar with the deliberation.

NATO member Norway, which itself borders Russia, may contribute either four or eight of the country’s 36 Leopard 2 tanks, according to Dagens Naeringsliv.

The United States and Germany are poised to provide a significant boost to Kyiv’s war effort with the delivery of heavy battle tanks, sources have said, a move Moscow condemned as a "blatant provocation".

Washington was expected to announce as soon as Wednesday that it will send M1 Abrams battle tanks and Berlin has decided to dispatch Leopard 2 tanks, the sources said, a reversal in policy that Kyiv has said would help reshape the conflict.

ICYMI: Germany ‘to send company of tanks to Ukraine’ after pressure from allies

09:45 , Matt Mathers

Germany has bowed to international pressure and agreed to send battle tanks to Ukraine, reports say.

While there has been no official confirmation from Berlin so far, officials in Kyiv swiftly hailed what they said was a potential gamechanger on the battlefield.

“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews - the best tank crews in the world,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration, wrote on Telegram. “This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog.”

My colleague Andy Gregory reports:

Germany 'to send company of tanks to Ukraine' after pressure from allies

Corruption cases among Ukrainian officials do not involve US aid, State Dept says

09:15 , Shweta Sharma

Recent corruption scandals among Ukrainian officials do not appear to have involved US military and humanitarian assistance supplied to Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Mr Price said the Biden administration nonetheless continues its “rigorous oversight” of American aid.

Zelensky removes top officials in shake-up of Ukraine’s government to fight corruption allegations

09:00 , Shweta Sharma

President Volodymyr Zelensky has forced out a number of top officials in Ukraine’s government as he launches a renewed crackdown on corruption.

Mr Zelensky made fighting corruption a central pillar of his presidential election campaign, before Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine became the focus of his attention. As the war reaches its first anniversary, with Kyiv worried about fresh offensives from Moscow’s forces as we move out of the harshest part of winter, the Ukrainian president appears to be taking the opportunity for a reset of officials, either via dismissal or resignation.

Zelensky in shake-up of Ukraine’s government to fight corruption allegations

Germany’s Scholz to announce approval for Leopard tanks in parliament

08:41 , Shweta Sharma

Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to announce his government will approve supplying German-made battle tanks to Ukraine in a speech to parliament early afternoon.

The long-awaited decision came after weeks of hesitation and mounting pressure on Berlin to allow the supply.

Members of Mr Scholz’s three-party coalition government welcomed the news ahead of the official announcement.

“The Leopard’s freed!” said German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a member of the Free Democratic Party who chairs the parliamentary defence committee, said the news was “a relief for a mistreated and brave Ukraine.”“The decision to approve (other countries’ requests) and supply the Leopard 2 was arduous, but unavoidable,” she said.She had been one of the loudest voices calling for a swift decision on arms supplies to Ukraine.

Wagner making military gains in Bakhmut, Donetsk governor says

08:34 , Shweta Sharma

The Russian-installed governor of Ukraine‘s Donetsk region said on Wednesday that units of the private military company Wagner were making progress in the town of Bakhmut.

He said fighting is going on in previously Ukrainian-held neighbourhoods.

Ukrainian army said: “Russian troops tried to attack the stronghold of our border guards near Bakhmut. The enemy several times sent reinforcements in this direction.

Russia could deploy faulty ‘next-gen’ T-14 tanks in Ukraine, UK intelligence says

08:15 , Shweta Sharma

Russia is preparing a small number of T-14 Armata main battle tanks for the type’s first operational deployment in Ukraine, the British Ministry of Defence said in its intelligence update.

Previously, the Russian forces deployed in Ukraine were reluctant to accept the first tranche of T-14 allocated to them because the vehicles were in such poor condition.

In 2021, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu described the planned production run for 2022 as only an “experimental-industrial” batch.

“Therefore, it is unlikely that any deployed T-14 tanks will have met the usual standards for new equipment to be deemed operational,” it said.

It remains unclear exactly what aspects of the vehicles prompted the U-turn.

Russia accuses US of ‘theft’ over plans to transfer confiscated assets

08:05 , Shweta Sharma

Russia has decried Washington’s plans to transfer confiscated Russian assets to the rebuilding of Ukraine as “theft”.

Russia deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov said: “It is theft. A country based on the rule of law is now engaged in denying itself, so people declaring these kinds of ideas have got a little carried away with geopolitics, they are hurting themselves.”

It came as the US Justice Department spokesman, Andrew Adams, said that he expected the US to send the assets seized from Russian elites to help war-torn Ukraine.

Brit arrested in Spain for ‘helping Putin’s oligarch hide 255-foot yacht Tango’ - by renaming it Fanta

07:55 , Shweta Sharma

A British man has been arrested in Spain for extradition to the US for allegedly helping an oligarch with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin evade sanctions.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a statement that Richard Masters, 52, was arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil last Friday, though his Russian-Swiss co-accused Vladislav Osipov remains at large.

The pair are charged separately, in indictments unsealed in the US District Court in the District of Columbia, with facilitating a scheme for oligarch Viktor Vekselberg connected to his $90m (£73m), 255-foot yacht Tango.

Mr Masters is alleged to have devised a scheme that involved calling the yacht “the Fanta” to hide from banks the hundreds of thousands of pounds in payments in US currency that were ultimately to Mr Vekselberg’s benefit.

Nato wants members to raise defence spending targets

07:50 , Shweta Sharma

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg expects the alliance’s member states to raise their current spending target on defence of 2 per cent of national output when they meet for a summit in Vilnius in July, he told German newspaper Die Welt.

“I assume that there will be a new target for defence spending when we meet for the Nato summit in Vilnius in July this year,” Mr Stoltenberg told Welt.

“The two per cent target was initially for a decade, so until 2024, so we have to update it now.”Mr Stoltenberg said he could not yet say what the member states would agree on.

“But I assume that it will be a more ambitious target than before, because everybody sees that we need to invest more,” he added.

Several Nato allies have inflated their spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Family of Briton killed in Soledar praise his ‘selfless determination’ to help people

06:59 , Andy Gregory

The family of one of two Britons said to have been killed while attempting a humanitarian evacuation in Soledar have praised “his selfless determination in helping the old, young and disadvantaged” in Ukraine.

Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28, went missing earlier this month while heading to the town of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region of the country, where heavy fighting was reported.

Mr Parry’s family confirmed the men were killed, in a statement released through the Foreign Office, adding that his actions in Ukraine had “made us and his larger family extremely proud”.

“We never imagined we would be saying goodbye to Chris when he had such a full life ahead of him. He was a caring son, fantastic brother, a best friend to so many and a loving partner to Olga,” the statement from Rob, Christine and Katy Parry said.

“Chris was a confident, outward-looking and adventurous young man who was loyal to everyone he knew,” the family statement continued, adding: “He found himself drawn to Ukraine in March in its darkest hour at the start of the Russian invasion and helped those most in need, saving over 400 lives plus many abandoned animals.

“It is impossible to put into words how much he will be missed but he will forever be in our hearts. We feel so privileged that he chose our family to be part of.”

Chris Parry and Andrew Bagshaw (Chris Parry/Instagram/The Spearhead Foundation/Reuters)
Chris Parry and Andrew Bagshaw (Chris Parry/Instagram/The Spearhead Foundation/Reuters)

Briton arrested in Spain for helping oligarch

06:56 , Shweta Sharma

A British man has been arrested in Spain for extradition to the US for allegedly helping an oligarch with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin evade sanctions.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a statement that Richard Masters, 52, was arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil last Friday, though his Russian-Swiss co-accused Vladislav Osipov remains at large.

The pair are charged separately, in indictments unsealed in the US District Court in the District of Columbia, with facilitating a scheme for oligarch Viktor Vekselberg connected to his $90m (£73m), 255-foot yacht Tango.

The DoJ said the pair are charged with conspiracy to defraud the US and to commit offences against the US, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and money laundering.

The US imposed sanctions against Mr Vekselberg in April 2018 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with Washington strengthening the measures in March 2022 following Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

New Zealand scientist killed in Ukraine helped hundreds, parents say

06:51 , Shweta Sharma

A New Zealand and British citizen was killed along with a British colleague in Ukraine while attempting to rescue an elderly woman from the town of Soledar, his parents have said.

Andrew Bagshaw, 47, helped save hundreds of people while volunteering in the dangerous Donbas region, his parents Dame Sue and Phil Bagshaw said.

They said their son’s car was hit by an artillery shell sometime this month.

They said their son worked independently and wasn’t affiliated with an aid agency, adding that they helped evacuate people from dangerous areas and bring food, water and medicine to others in need.

They said he even fed abandoned pets.

Bagshaw’s parents said Ukrainian authorities were working with officials in New Zealand and Britain, but it could take some time to get their son’s body returned from where it was being held at a children’s hospital mortuary in the capital, Kyiv.

Norway may send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine -report

06:40 , Shweta Sharma

Norway is considering whether to send some of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Oslo-based newspapers Aftenposten and Dagens Naeringsliv reported late on Tuesday.

Nato member Norway, which itself borders Russia, may contribute either four or eight of the country’s 36 Leopard 2 tanks, according to Dagens Naeringsliv.

However, no decision to send the heavy battle tanks has yet been made, according to each of the papers, quoting anonymous sources familiar with the deliberation.

Russia tests hypersonic missile 'capabilities' in Atlantic

06:40 , Shweta Sharma

he Russian defence ministry said on Wednesday that its frigate Admiral Gorshkov had tested its strike capabilities in the Atlantic Ocean.

In a statement, the ministry said the frigate had run a test on hypersonic Zircon missiles, which have a range of 900km (560 miles), using computer simulation.

The statement did not say whether the frigate had actually launched a missile.

Zelensky warns of ‘new wave of Russian aggression'

05:58 , Andy Gregory

Volodymyr Zelensky has repeated his warning that Russia is “preparing for a new wave of aggression with the forces it can mobilise”.

Moscow is already increasing pressure in Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other areas, the president warned in his nightly address.

“And they want to increase pressure on a larger scale. In order not to recognise the mistake of aggression, the masters of Russia want to throw more of their people and equipment into the fighting,” he claimed.

“This means that all of us in the free world must step up our cooperation to not only respond to Russia’s regular crimes. Although this will happen, of course. There will be a response. But to prevent new Russian criminal actions as much as possible. Our forces must retain the initiative in the war.”

Russia's foreign ministry says US 'waging hybrid war'

05:04 , Shweta Sharma

Reflections about the US crossing “red lines” are now a thing of the past since the US has opened declared its plan of defeating Russia strategically, the Russian foreign ministry told TASS.

“A hybrid war is being waged against our country,” the ministry said.

“Reflections about red lines are now in the past. The United States has unequivocally declared its intention to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia,” the ministry continued. “It is impossible not to notice this reality.”

He was referring to the comments of Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, that “not all red lines have yet been crossed” by the West.

He said Nato and Western countries have de-facto become embroiled in the conflict in Ukraine, but that not all red lines have yet been crossed.

Zelensky removes top officials in shake-up of Ukraine’s government to fight corruption allegations

04:51 , Andy Gregory

In case you missed it, here was one of yesterday’s big developments in Ukraine:

President Volodymyr Zelensky forced out a number of top officials in Ukraine’s government as he launched a renewed crackdown on corruption, reports my colleague Chris Stevenson.

Deputy head of the president’s office Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who has faced a scandal over the use of expensive cars, resigned on Tuesday morning. He had helped run President Zelensky’s 2019 election campaign and more recently had a role in overseeing regional policy. As did the deputy defence minister, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who cited what he called baseless “media accusations” of corruption. A statement on the defence ministry’s website said that Mr Shapovalov’s resignation was “a worthy deed” that would help retain trust in the ministry.

A deputy to the prosecutor general, Oleksiy Symonenko, was also removed from his post as part of the shakeup. The statement announcing his removal gave no reason for the decision but said it had been “according to his own wish”. Mr Symonenko had been under fire in Ukrainian media for taking a holiday in Spain.

Mr Zelensky’s cabinet secretary, Oleg Nemchinov, also said that the head of five areas have been dismissed. Two deputy ministers responsible for regional development were also among the others who left.

Zelensky in shake-up of Ukraine’s government to fight corruption allegations

Watch: Doomsday Clock stands at 90 seconds to midnight ‘largely’ due to war in Ukraine

03:45 , Andy Gregory

Zelensky addresses 11-month anniversary of Putin’s invasion

02:39 , Andy Gregory

Today marks the start of the 12th month since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

On the eve of the grim anniversary, president Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to pass the day “in the same way as the 334th, uniting all our forces for one thing – victory”.

“For the sake of the whole of Ukraine. For the sake of the victory of our entire country in the war for freedom and independence for all Ukrainians,” he added.

“It will happen. And all the steps necessary for this will be taken.”

Zelensky urges ‘decisions’ on German battle tanks

01:33 , Andy Gregory

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that that Kyiv needs “decisions” on real deliveries of modern tanks – after reports that Germany was poised to announce a move to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to the war-torn nation.

There has not yet been any official confirmation of the move, and such deliveries could take weeks or months to become reality.

“There is a lot of talk about tanks now,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address. “About the modern tanks we need. And about how to fill this deficit. A lot of effort, words, and promises.

“But it is important to see the reality: it is not about five, or ten, or fifteen tanks. The need is greater. Every day we are doing everything necessary to fill the deficit. And I am grateful to everyone who supports us in this.

“Discussions must be concluded with decisions. Decisions on real strengthening of our defense against terrorists. Allies have the required number of tanks. When the needed weighty decisions are made, we will be happy to thank you for each weighty decision.”

Zelensky aide hails ‘punching fist of democracy’ following reports of German tanks

00:25 , Andy Gregory

A senior aide to Voldymyr Zelensky has welcomed reports that Germany could be poised to announce plans to send a convoy of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv – and allow allies to do the same.

“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews – the best tank crews in the world,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration, wrote on Telegram.

“This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog.”

Biden set to authorise shipment of Abrams tanks to Ukraine

Tuesday 24 January 2023 23:27 , Andy Gregory

President Joe Biden is set to announce that the US will provide dozens of M1A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

The official announcement could come as soon as Wednesday, according to multiple media outlets which cited US officials on the early news.

Our Washington DC correspondent John Bowden reports:

Biden set to authorise shipment of Abrams tanks to Ukraine

Washington’s incoming Moscow ambassador holds meeting with Russian counterpart

Tuesday 24 January 2023 22:39 , Andy Gregory

The incoming US ambassador to Russia has held a meeting with Moscow’s top envoy in Washington, the State Department has said.

Lynne Tracy, who was confirmed by the US Senate in December, will depart for Russia in coming days and should be in place later this month, spokesperson Ned Price said.

He declined to detail what the two envoys have discussed but said they did not talk about “any form of negotiated settlements” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“She’s currently in the process of having consultations with desks and individuals here in Washington and in this case, she had an opportunity to have a discussion with Ambassador [Anatoly] Antonov,” Mr Price said.

Swiss parliamentary group moves to waive re-export ban on ammunition for Ukraine

Tuesday 24 January 2023 21:53 , Andy Gregory

A Swiss parliamentary committee has proposed waiving a re-export ban that prevents ammunition it manufactures from being re-exported from another country to Ukraine.

Switzerland has previously rejected appeals from Germany to allow it to re-export Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine, saying such a move would violate its neutrality. But pressure has been rising for Bern to review its policies, including at the World Economic Forum it hosted in Davos last week.

The committee argued on Tuesday that its proposals did not violate Swiss neutrality rules since the arms would go via another country and not directly to a conflict zone – and its recommendation passed with 14 in favour and 11 against. It will require later approval from parliament.

G7 pledges to maintain support for Ukraine’s energy sector

Tuesday 24 January 2023 20:59 , Reuters

G7 and other partner countries have pledged to maintain their support for Ukraine’s energy sector, including delivering equipment and other humanitarian aid during winter, the US State Department said following a meeting of the group’s foreign ministers.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi co-hosted the meeting, in which countries also vowed to continue coordinating on Ukraine’s efforts to “modernise and decarbonize its energy grid,” the department said after the virtual meeting.

The foreign ministers reiterated calls for Russia to halt attacks on Ukraine’s energy and heating systems, the State Department added in a statement.

“The group committed to continuing its close coordination to deliver equipment and humanitarian support this winter, procure essential infrastructure, and support Ukraine’s long-term vision to modernize and decarbonise its energy grid and integrate with the European system,” it said.

What has Russia said about Leopard 2 tanks?

Tuesday 24 January 2023 20:25 , Andy Gregory

With reports that Germany could be poised to announce the approval of Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, what has Russia previously said about such deliveries?

Various threats emanated from Russia last week as Western officials mulled sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov insisted that Western tanks would not change the course of the conflict – but warned that Nato would regret its “delusion” that Ukraine could win on the battlefield and threatened such deliveries “will add problems for ... the Ukrainian people.”

Warning of “a growing indirect and sometimes direct involvement of Nato countries”, Mr Peskov claimed the belief that Ukraine can win was a “dramatic delusion of the Western community that will more than once be cause for regret”.

In more direct threats from other close allies of president Vladimir Putin, his ex-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine “may trigger a nuclear war”, while Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin claimed that Western weapons deliveries “will lead to a global catastrophe”.

Two Britons killed in Ukraine were attempting ‘humanitarian evacuation’

Tuesday 24 January 2023 19:53 , Sam Rkaina

Two British nationals were killed in Ukraine attempting a humanitarian evacuation from the town of Soledar, one of their families has said.

Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28, went missing earlier this month while heading to the town of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region of the country, where heavy fighting was reported.

On Tuesday Mr Parry’s family confirmed the men were killed, in a statement released through the Foreign Office.

Click here for the full story.

 (Reuters)
(Reuters)

US could announce Abrams tanks for Ukraine, officials claim

Tuesday 24 January 2023 19:34 , Andy Gregory

The United States could be poised to announce a decision to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine, sources have suggested to multiple outlets.

Such a decision by Joe Biden’s administration chime with similar unverified claims coming out of Germany this evening – and anonymous officials have suggested that a simultaneous announcement could be made this week.

It was suggested last week, after a summit failed to break the deadlock on whether Germany would permit allies to re-export Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, that it could do so were Washington to ease its own reluctance to sending Abrams tanks.

Officials in Washington suggested that details there are still being worked out, with one reported as saying that Abrams tanks could be bought under its upcoming $850m Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package – which also includes a Patriot missile defence system.

KEY POST: Germany ‘to send company of tanks to Ukraine’ after pressure from allies

Tuesday 24 January 2023 18:46 , Andy Gregory

Germany has decided to send a convoy of its main battle tanks to Ukraine, reports suggest, after days of pressure from Berlin’s allies.

Ukraine and many of Berlin’s Nato partners have been pleading for a decision on whether Germany would permit them to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to help Kyiv as the battlefield begins to thaw.

Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday evening that chancellor Olaf Scholz had finally decided to allow allies such as Poland to do so – and that Berlin would also send tanks of its own.

Germany 'to send company of tanks to Ukraine' after pressure from allies

Claims Treasury allowed Wagner founder to take UK journalist to court ‘will be looked at carefully’

Tuesday 24 January 2023 17:57 , Andy Gregory

Allegations that the Treasury helped the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group “circumvent sanctions” and take a British journalist to court will be “looked into very carefully”, a minister has suggested.

OpenDemocracy reported yesterday that a Treasury team gave Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s lawyers permission to sue a Bellingcat journalist in the UK in 2021 while the Russian oligarch was subject to sanctions.

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran raised the allegations in the Commons today as MPs debated the government’s economic crime bill, asking business minister Kevin Hollinrake whether the report had been investigated, adding: “This is sanctions that we imposed, and yet somehow we are not imposing them in practice. This isn’t right.”

The minister replied: “I think it would be wrong to make any representations on any particular case, but anybody who seeks to enable somebody to avoid sanctions, clearly that is entirely unacceptable.

“I am sure those allegations will be looked into very carefully and we should definitely make sure there is a proper review before we come to any firm conclusions.”

Zelensky’s party ‘draws up new transparency laws' after corruption allegations

Tuesday 24 January 2023 17:01 , Andy Gregory

Ukraine’s ruling party has drawn up legislation aiming to boost transparency in defence procurement – after an army food contract became the subject of high-profile corruption allegations.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s team is trying to set out a tough stance after the defence ministry was accused by a media outlet of overspending on food – allegations it denied. The supplier has said it made a technical mistake and no money had changed hands.

Anastasia Radina, head of the parliamentary committee for anti-corruption matters, said the bill would make it obligatory for prices paid for products and services for the army to be made public on the state procurement website – with arms purchases exempt.

“We are obliged to ensure a level of transparency in procurement for the army, under which such scandals simply will not arise. Can it be done in a way that does not expose customers and suppliers to additional risks? Yes,” she said.

The legislation has been sent to parliament for discussion and would need to be approved in three votes in that chamber before being signed into law.

ICYMI: Wagner chief gloats about comparisons to Rasputin

Tuesday 24 January 2023 16:30 , Matt Mathers

The chief of Russian paramilitary organisation Wagner has responded to comparisons made between him and Rasputin.

Referencing an article in the Financial Times which likened him to the historic Russian mystic, Yevgeny Prigozhin – the founder of Wagner – appeared to gloat about his intentions.

My colleague Eleanor Noyce reports:

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin gloats about comparisons to Russian mystic Rasputin

US may drop opposition to sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine - officials

Tuesday 24 January 2023 16:00 , Matt Mathers

The United States, in a reversal, appears to be dropping its opposition to sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine and an announcement could come as soon as this week, two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not aware of a final U.S. decision to send the Abrams to Ukraine, a move that could encourage Germany to follow.

The Pentagon could not be immediately reached for comment.

Berlin will handle Poland's request with utmost urgency - senior official

Tuesday 24 January 2023 15:20 , Matt Mathers

The German government will handle with utmost urgency Poland’s request to allow Warsaw the export of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the state secretary at the economy ministry said on Tuesday.

"I can only tell you: We will urgently work on taking a decision," Sven Giegold told a defence conference in Berlin organised by Handelsblatt, adding that the defence ministry was in the lead on the matter.

Russia's Putin says stockpile needed to curb drug shortages

Tuesday 24 January 2023 14:50 , Matt Mathers

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that there were shortages of some medicines in Russia, despite the country producing more of its own drugs, and suggested building up stocks of popular medicines to help meet demand.

While prescription drugs are exempt from Western sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine, their delivery to Russia has been hit by transport, insurance and customs hurdles caused by the war and other restrictive measures, industry figures say.

"There has been a shortage of some drugs, despite the fact that we saw production of pharmaceutical products in the (first) three quarters of last year grow by about 22 per cent," Putin said in a televised meeting with government officials.

"Sixty percent of medicines on the market are domestic drugs. Nevertheless, a deficit has formed in some drugs, and prices have risen."

Vladimir Putin (via REUTERS)
Vladimir Putin (via REUTERS)

Finland says time-out needed in talks with Turkey over NATO bid

Tuesday 24 January 2023 14:35 , Matt Mathers

Finland’s foreign minister said on Tuesday a time-out of a few weeks was needed in Finland and Sweden’s talks with Turkey on their application to join the NATO military alliance.

Turkey’s president said on Monday that Sweden should not expect his country’s support after a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at the weekend, which included the burning of a copy of the Koran.

"A time-out is needed before we return to the three-way talks and see where we are when the dust has settled after the current situation, so no conclusions should be drawn yet," foreign minister Pekka Haavisto told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"I think there will be a break for a couple of weeks."

Pekka Haavisto (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Pekka Haavisto (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Britain will not dictate to allies over their support for Ukraine, says No 10

Tuesday 24 January 2023 14:11 , Andy Gregory

Britain will not dictate to its allies what form their support for Ukraine should take, Downing Street has said, as Germany faces increasing pressure to approve the transfer of Leopard 2 battle tanks.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg became the latest to urge the speedy delivery of “heavier and more advanced” weapons systems to Ukraine, after talks with the new German defence minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin.

But Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said the UK government would not “dictate to other countries exactly what they should or should not provide – first and foremost that must be for those countries”.

He added: “We look to work with our allies in lockstep as much as possible. Our approach has borne fruit. You’ve seen the huge amounts of equipment, material and financial support that has been provided to Ukraine since the start of the war.”

Medvedev seeks to downplay claims Moscow running low on missiles

Tuesday 24 January 2023 13:54 , Andy Gregory

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has sought to discredit Western military reports that Moscow’s stockpiles of missiles and artillery are running low.

“Our opponents are watching, they periodically make statements that we don’t have this or that ... I want to disappoint them. We have enough of everything,” Mr Medvedev said during a visit to a Kalashnikov factory in Izhevsk, some 620 miles east of Moscow.

In a video posted on his Telegram channel, Mr Medvedev – now the chair of Russia’s security council – was seen inspecting Kalashnikov rifles, artillery shells, missiles and drones.

 (Sputnik/Ekaterina Shtukina/Pool via REUTERS)
(Sputnik/Ekaterina Shtukina/Pool via REUTERS)

Ukraine appoints new supervisory board for state gas giant

Tuesday 24 January 2023 13:00 , Matt Mathers

Ukraine has appointed a new supervisory board to oversee state-owned natural gas monopoly Naftogaz, prime minister Denys Shmyhal said on Tuesday, meeting a requirement of a financial assistance programme from the International Monetary Fund.

Shmyhal told a government meeting that the new board consisted of four independent members and two representatives of the state, according to a video of the meeting posted on his Telegram channel.

Ukraine’s economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country on 24 Feb.

Naftogaz is Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company and its subsidiary, Ukrtransgaz, operates a pipeline system that carries Russian gas to Europe.

Naftogaz’s recently appointed CEO, Oleksiy Chernyshov, promised late last year to boost international investors’ confidence in the firm.

One of Chernyshov’s predecessors is currently under investigation by Ukraine’s anti-corruption authorities on suspicion of embezzling the equivalent of around $10 million.

Russian lawmakers to consider booking system to cross land borders

Tuesday 24 January 2023 12:42 , Matt Mathers

Russian lawmakers are preparing legislation that will make it mandatory for people to book a time and place in advance to cross the border, raising fresh fears that the Kremlin could impose more restrictions on travel in and out of the country.

Amendments to a transport law, introduced to parliament on Monday, stipulate that "vehicles belonging to Russian transport companies, foreign transport companies, citizens of the Russian Federation, foreign citizens, stateless persons and other road users" would have to reserve a date and time "in order to cross the state border of the Russian Federation".

Following speculation that the measures could be used to make it harder for ordinary Russians to leave the country, Russian news agencies quoted the transport ministry as saying the curbs would only apply to cargo trucks, and only be enforced at some, not all, of Russia’s land border crossing points.

"The main purpose of the bill is to streamline the movement of trucks flowing through checkpoints and reduce the congestion of cargo transport near border checkpoints," the RIA Novosti news agency cited the transport ministry as saying.

Spring could be decisive in war

Tuesday 24 January 2023 11:45 , Sam Rkaina

Front lines in the war have been largely frozen in place for two months despite heavy losses on both sides.

Western countries pledged billions of dollars in military aid last week, but have yet to respond to Kyiv’s request for hundreds of heavy battle tanks, which it says it needs to break through Russian lines and recover occupied territory.

Most defence experts say the most suitable tanks available in sufficient numbers are German-made Leopards. But Berlin has so far held back from sending them, or from committing to let allies such as Poland send them.

Germany was not blocking the re-export of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the European Union’s top diplomat said on Monday.

Ukraine and Russia are both widely believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine.

"If the major Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the ruin of Russia and Putin," Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in an interview with news site Delfi.

Two more deputy ministers resign in Ukraine government shake-up

Tuesday 24 January 2023 11:24 , Matt Mathers

Two deputy ministers resigned from Ukraine’s Ministry of Communities and Territories Development on Tuesday amid a broader exit of senior officials from the government.

Vyacheslav Negoda and Ivan Lukerya both confirmed the moves on their Facebook pages.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he was planning to streamline his wartime government and crack down on corruption.

Decision on supplying tanks to Kyiv 'purely political' - German chief of defence

Tuesday 24 January 2023 11:03 , Matt Mathers

The decision about the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine will be taken solely at the political level, Germany’s chief of defence Eberhard Zorn said on Tuesday.

"This is purely a political decision," he said at a defence conference in Berlin organised by Handelsblatt.

Berlin has for days been under pressure to provide tanks to Kyiv after several European countries vowed to do so.

Senior Ukrainian officials step down in rare purge in Kyiv

Tuesday 24 January 2023 10:30 , Matt Mathers

Several senior Ukrainian officials resigned on Tuesday in the biggest leadership shakeup of the war with Russia so far, in what an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky called an answer to public calls for "justice".

Some, though not all, of the resignations were linked with corruption allegations. Ukraine has a history of graft and shaky governance, and is under international pressure to show it can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in Western aid.

"There are already personnel decisions - some today, some tomorrow - regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement," Zelensky said in an overnight video address.

 (Ukraine President’s Office)
(Ukraine President’s Office)

Finland and Sweden Nato talks ‘need pause’

Tuesday 24 January 2023 10:00 , Liam James

Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said official talks between Turkey, Finland, Sweden and Turkey on the two Nordic nations’ plans to join the Nato military alliance needed to pause for a few weeks.

Turkey’s president said yesterday that Sweden should not expect his country’s support for Nato membership after a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at the weekend including the burning of a copy of the Koran.

“A timeout is needed before we return to the three-way talks and see where we are when the dust has settled after the current situation, so no conclusions should be drawn yet,” Ms Haavisto told Reuters. “I think there will be a break for a couple of weeks,” he added.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They now need the backing of all current Nato states to progress with their application.

But alliance member Turkey has said Sweden in particular must take a clearer stance against what Ankara sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Covid-19 cut human trafficking, Ukraine war may reverse this

Tuesday 24 January 2023 09:30 , Liam James

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the first drop in the known number of human-trafficking victims in 20 years as trafficking opportunities and policing were reduced, but the Ukraine war has probably now caused a new surge, a UN report said.

The number of detected trafficking victims fell 11 per cent in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available in most countries, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its seventh Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

Conflicts tend to increase trafficking and the war in Ukraine is unlikely to be an exception, it added.