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Ukraine's peace summit may take place on Feb 24: Ambassador

The IAEA established the support and assistance mission at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant (NPP) in southern Ukraine

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that the Russian forces caused the deadly collapse of a residential building in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro

09:43 2023-02-07
Ukraine replaces defense minister amid scandal
By REN QI in Moscow
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov holds a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb 5, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's party said on Sunday that it would move to replace its defense minister, as Russian forces close in on Bakhmut amid heavy fighting.

The fate of the minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has been the subject of increasing speculation amid a growing scandal about financial impropriety within the ministry and an accompanying government investigation into corruption.

David Arakhamia, chief of Zelensky's Servant of the People parliamentary bloc, said on Sunday that the Defense Ministry would be headed by Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's military intelligence.

Reznikov, he said, would become minister of strategic industries, tasked with strengthening military-industrial cooperation, after a day of speculation about the defense minister's future in Kyiv.

Reznikov has not been directly implicated in any wrongdoing, and Arakhamia did not link the move to concerns about the corruption scandal. Still, Reznikov would become the highest ranking official in Zelensky's cabinet to be reassigned in the nearly 12 months since Russia's special military operation began.

There was no immediate comment from Zelensky. Earlier on Sunday, Reznikov addressed reports that he might be replaced by saying that only one person, Zelensky, could decide if he stayed.

In an interview aired by Ukrainian television channel ICTV, he said Ukrainian officials will conduct a complete internal audit of procurement made by the armed forces.

The government has conducted a series of anti-corruption raids across the country since earlier last week, uncovering stashes of cash as well as luxury watches and cars.

Cash, watches and cars

Among those caught up in the investigations is the acting head of the Kyiv tax authority, who was allegedly part of a scheme to overlook 45 billion Ukrainian hryvnia ($1.2 billion) in unpaid taxes.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigations said it had found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as luxury watches and cars at the tax chief's residence.

The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, said the raids were part of an effort to combat what they described as "the internal enemy".

"Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in times of war, must clearly understand that we will handcuff his hands," Vasyl Maliuk, head of the SBU, said in a statement.

On the front line, the founder of the Wagner paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces have helped lead Russia's campaign in Bakhmut, said Ukrainian troops were "fighting to the last", denying reports on social media that Kyiv's forces were withdrawing from the key city in the Donetsk region.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said over 115 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in Donetsk in a day.

09:33 2023-02-06
Western countries arming Ukraine raises concerns
By REN QI in Moscow

Germany, the United States and other countries announced last month that they would supply tanks to Ukraine, reversing their long-standing trepidation about providing Kyiv with armored vehicles and unleashing powerful tools to combat Russian troops.

US President Joe Biden said the US will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, following Germany's agreement to send 14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks.

The announcements were a landmark moment that followed weeks of intense pressure on Berlin from some of its NATO allies.

The decisions to send the tanks were the result of prolonged diplomatic efforts between Germany, the US and other European allies, and come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prepares for a new offensive this spring.

Speaking from the White House, Biden said the tanks would "enhance Ukraine's capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives" in both the short and long terms. While he touted the tanks' capabilities to help Ukraine "counter Russia's evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield," Biden insisted they should not be viewed by Moscow as an "offensive threat".

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers in Germany's parliament the decision to send Leopard 2 tanks had come after consultations with Western allies. "It is right that we advanced bit by bit. That is the only principle that can work in such dangerous conditions," he said.

Portugal will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Saturday, without specifying how many will be shipped.

Ukraine will receive 120 to 140 Western tanks in a "first wave" of deliveries from a coalition of 12 countries, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday.

The Abrams tanks will take months to arrive, senior US administration officials said, and will require extensive training for Ukrainian troops on how to operate and service them. The US must also have to navigate complicated supply chains for the components required for the tanks.

The procurement process will take months, the officials said, though Germany's Leopards will arrive in the short term. In the meantime, the US will begin a "comprehensive training program "for the Ukrainians on operating the Abrams, which will require significant maintenance once they are deployed. The training will occur outside Ukraine.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Tuesday that France will provide 12 additional Caesar self-propelled howitzer artillery pieces to Ukraine. The artillery pieces are on top of 18 already delivered.

Danish Defense Minister Jakob EllemannJensen said in a statement that Denmark has sent all of its 15 French-made Caesar howitzers to Ukraine. Another four Caesar systems that have not yet been delivered will be added to this, local media reported on Tuesday.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN on Jan 25 that the German and US decisions were "important announcements "and he "welcomed US leadership "in making them happen. "It will significantly strengthen their combat capabilities," Stoltenberg said of the impact the tanks will have on Ukraine's military.

Ukrainian leaders have also renewed their appeals for Western countries to provide fighter jets. "I sent a wish list card to Santa Claus last year, and fighter jets also ... (were included) in this wish list," Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told CNN.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged that Zelensky had also asked for fighter jets.

"We are constantly talking to the Ukrainians about their needs, and want to make sure that we're doing the best we can to meet them — and if we can't, that some of our allies and partners can," Kirby said.

Biden said on Jan 30 that he wouldn't send American fighter jets to Ukraine.

The Netherlands raised eyebrows last week when its foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra, told a parliamentarian asking about F-16s that "when it comes to things that the Netherlands can supply, there are no taboos."

If the US sends its jets to Ukraine, it will prove that it is seeking to step up the conflict in Ukraine, which is why it continues to flood Kyiv with equipment, said Victoria Zhuravleva, head of the Center for North American Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

The policy of support for Ukraine will persist and be consistently implemented, with each new step only escalating the conflict, the Russian expert said.

The provision of Western warplanes to Ukraine, even older models, appears unlikely in the medium term, said Alexander Yermakov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

The Ukrainian Air Force will require time and resources to create the necessary infrastructure to use the warplanes, he said. The supply of a small number of Soviet-made aircraft, including MiG-29 planes from Poland and other Eastern European countries, looks more likely at this point, Yermakov said.

10:45 2023-02-03
Ukrainian, EU leaders meet on cooperation, Kyiv's European integration

Kyiv - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday discussed cooperation and Kyiv's European integration, Zelensky's press service reported.

Speaking after the talks, which took place in Kyiv ahead of the Ukraine-European Union summit, Zelensky said the visit of von der Leyen and other EU officials to Ukraine marks an important milestone in Ukraine's European integration.

Zelensky said he received a report from von der Leyen on the second part of the questionnaire that Ukraine had filled out to become a candidate for EU membership.

"This is good news. This report will become the basis for the work of our government," he said.

At their meeting, Zelensky and von der Leyen talked about trade liberalization between Ukraine and the EU, financial cooperation, and energy security.

The two sides also touched upon the issues of Ukraine's post-conflict reconstruction and new sanctions against Russia.

The Ukraine-EU summit, scheduled to take place in Kyiv on Friday, will discuss economic, financial, social, energy and humanitarian issues.

Preparations for the next phase of Ukraine's integration with the EU will also be a topic of the summit, according to the presidential press service.

In June 2022, EU leaders accepted Ukraine as a candidate for membership in the bloc.

07:31 2023-02-02
NATO in hybrid war against Russia: Lavrov
By REN QI in Moscow
A Ukrainian man hugs his granddaughter while saying goodbye before her evacuation from the city of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on Tuesday. [Photo/Agencies]

Moscow accused NATO of being "involved in a hybrid war against Russia" on Tuesday, as Western countries pledged to provide more military aid to Kyiv.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the "hybrid war" involving NATO has lasted for a long time, and "the war is being refracted in its hot displays, in actions of the Kyiv regime".

Moscow is taking necessary measures to prevent Ukraine from turning into an even sharper threat to Russia's security, he said.

During a news conference after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, he said Russia will prevent the Ukrainian authorities "from prevailing in its policy of discrimination and destruction of rights of all those Ukrainian citizens and former Ukrainian citizens who felt involved in Russian history, Russian culture and Russian traditions".

Russia is watching this process, and the armed forces will take all necessary measures to prevent Western plans from coming to fruition, he said.

Lavrov made his remarks as two United States officials revealed the government is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time, as well as other munitions and weapons.

The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week, the officials said. It is also expected to include support equipment for Patriot air defense systems, precision-guided munitions and Javelin anti-tank weapons, they were quoted by Reuters as saying.

One of the officials said a portion of the aid, expected to be $1.725 billion, would come from a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative which allows President Joe Biden's administration to get weapons from the industry rather than from US weapons stocks.

Those funds would go toward the purchase of a new weapon, the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb made by Boeing, which has a range of 150 kilometers.

The longer range of the GLSDB glide bomb could allow Ukraine to hit targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russia further behind its lines.

The White House has declined to comment. The nature and size of aid can shift until they are approved by the president.

Mediation role

In an interview with CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he would be willing to consider serving as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine if asked by both countries and the US.

Separately, Ukraine announced it would hold a summit with the European Union in Kyiv this week, as it expressed hope that the conference would bring the nation closer to membership in the bloc.

In an address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped the summit on Friday would reflect a high "level of cooperation and progress" with the 27-member bloc, which Kyiv has long sought to join.

However, the Russian state news agency TASS quoted a source from the European delegation to the summit saying EU leaders will not make a pledge to speed up the process of Ukraine's accession to the bloc.

09:22 2023-02-01
US rules out sending fighter jets to Ukraine
By EARLE GALE in London
A woman carries a child on Monday as they are evacuated from damaged buildings in Kharkiv. ANDRII MARIENKO/AP

Joe Biden rejects appeal for air support days after okaying the supply of tanks

The United States will not give fighter jets to Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said, after Kyiv urged allies to follow commitments to send battle tanks with pledges to provide planes.

Biden's administration had previously said it would consider the request for Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters.

On Monday, Biden told a reporter he would not send the aircraft for use in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

His decision followed Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying on Sunday that he would not send aircraft to Ukraine, over fears it would escalate the conflict.

The BBC said US-made F-16s and German-made Eurofighter Typhoons would have greatly improved upon the Soviet-era MiG jets Ukraine is currently using, which were made before the country declared independence in 1991.

John Kirby, the US' national security council coordinator for strategic communications, told CNN that Washington will continue to support Ukraine, and carry on spending that has totaled $27.1 billion so far.

"There's a lot of capability that is being sent, and will be sent in the coming weeks and months," he said.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky had urged allies to send jets, as had Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk, who said he hoped to see a "fighter jet coalition" featuring not only donated F-16s and German Eurofighter Typhoons but also Rafales from France and Gripen jets from Sweden.

On Monday, France's President Emmanuel Macon said "by definition, nothing is excluded" in his nation's debate about the military assistance it may provide. But he too said he will commit to nothing that may escalate the conflict and any jets France may send must not be used to "hit Russian soil" but "purely to aid the resistance effort".

Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's defense minister, was in Paris on Tuesday to meet his counterpart, Sebastien Lecornu, and Macron, to continue the conversation.

Poland is also understood to be mulling the request for fighter jets, in its case F-16s and MiG-29s, but Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also said he will do nothing to escalate the conflict and act "in complete coordination "with NATO.

The Netherlands has also said it is considering Kyiv's request.

The United Kingdom's defense secretary, Ben Wallace, said on Monday all allies will likely reconsider the provision of jets many times.

"I think what we know about all these demands is that … the initial response is 'no' and it ends up being 'yes'," The Guardian newspaper quoted him on Tuesday as saying.

Russia has said any weaponry sent to Ukraine will only prolong the conflict and lead to more fatalities.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday NATO was "more and more becoming directly involved in the conflict", but that the involvement will not significantly change the conflict's course.

07:03 2023-02-01
Western allies differ over fighter jets for Ukraine
A Ukrainian woman carries her child on Monday as they evacuate from a residential building which was hit by a rocket in Kharkiv's city center. [Photo/Agencies]

KYIV — The United States will not provide the F-16 fighter jets that Ukraine has sought in its battle against Russia, President Joe Biden said, as Russian forces claimed a series of gains on the battlefield.

Asked if the US would provide the jets, Biden told reporters at the White House on Monday: "No."

Ukraine planned to push for Western fourth-generation fighter jets, such as the F-16, after securing supplies of main battle tanks last week, an adviser to Ukraine's defense minister said on Friday.

"The next big hurdle will now be the fighter jets," Yuriy Sak, who advises Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, told Reuters then.

But France and Poland appear to be willing to entertain any such request from Ukraine, with French President Emmanuel Macron telling reporters in The Hague on Monday that "by definition, nothing is excluded" when it comes to military assistance.

In Poland on Monday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also did not rule out a possible supply of F-16s to neighboring Ukraine, in response to a question from a reporter before Biden spoke.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Monday that NATO should stop drawing "red lines" and should supply Ukraine with whatever weapons it needed, including fighter jets and long-range missiles.

'Aggressive position'

Russia warned on Tuesday that calls by the president of Lithuania to supply Ukraine with fighter jets highlighted the "extremely aggressive position" of the Baltic states and Poland, and that "major European countries" should counterbalance their stance.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "In general, we see an extremely aggressive position from representatives of the Baltic countries and Poland. They are apparently ready to do anything to provoke the growth of further confrontation, with little regard for the consequences."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned for weeks that Moscow aims to step up its assault after about two months of virtual stalemate along the front line that stretches across the south and east.

Ukraine won a huge boost last week when Germany and the US announced plans to provide heavy tanks, ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock on the issue.

While there was no sign of a broader new Russian offensive, the administrator of Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said Russian troops had secured a foothold in Vuhledar, a coal-mining town whose ruins have been a Ukrainian bastion since the outset of the conflict.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday met with new US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, who presented copies of her credentials.

During the conversation with Tracy on the sharply worsened Russia-US relations, Ryabkov pointed out the counterproductiveness of Washington's confrontational policy, which is "fraught with serious negative consequences", the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Taking office on Jan 9, Tracy is the first woman to occupy the post of US ambassador to Russia.

                                                                                                        Xinhua

09:33 2023-01-31
West blasted for pulling strings in Kyiv
By EARLE GALE
Olaf Scholz speaks next to a Leopard 2 battle tank during a military exercise in Ostenholz, Germany in October. RONNY HARTMANN/AFP

Russia says actions of 'puppet masters' leave no room for talks as arms flow in

MOSCOW/KYIV — Russia has lashed out at Ukraine's Western allies, denouncing them as "puppet masters" amid Ukraine's renewed calls for faster weapons supplies, as fighting rages in the country's east.

With the United States having decided to supply tanks to Ukraine, it makes no sense for Moscow to talk to Kyiv or its Western "puppet masters", Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as saying on Monday.

Ryabkov said no one in the West has come up with any serious initiatives on resolving the Ukrainian crisis.

One day earlier, however, a Kremlin spokesperson told RIA that Russian President Vladimir Putin was open to contacts with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Germany said last week it would send 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv and also approve Leopard shipments by allied European countries. The announcement, followed shortly afterward by a US pledge of M1 Abrams tanks to Kyiv, infuriated the Kremlin.

"For now, there are no agreed talks (with Scholz) in the schedule. Putin has been and remains open to contacts," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the news agency on Sunday.

Scholz was quoted by the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel in an interview published on Sunday as saying: "I will also speak to Putin again — because it is necessary to speak."

Scholz reiterated that Germany will not send fighter jets to Ukraine.

"I can only advise against entering into a constant bidding war when it comes to weapons systems," Scholz said.

"If, as soon as a decision (on tanks) has been made, the next debate starts in Germany, that doesn't come across as serious and undermines citizens' confidence in government decisions."

He is currently on a visit to South America.

Putin and Scholz last spoke by phone in early December. The Russian leader said at the time the German and Western line on Ukraine was "destructive" and called on Berlin to rethink its approach.

Germany is the second-largest donor of military hardware to Ukraine after the US, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, ahead of other European powers such as France and Britain.

Kyiv says peace talks are possible only if Russia stops attacking and withdraws all forces from Ukrainian soil.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited the Republic of Korea, a US ally and major arms exporter, on Monday and urged Seoul to increase military support to Ukraine.

And in the north, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Sunday denied providing arms to Moscow.

In a statement by the official Korean Central News Agency, a senior official rejected the accusations from Washington, warning that the US would face a "really undesirable result" if it persisted in spreading the "self-made rumor".

In developments on the battlefield, Russian missile strikes killed three people in the city of Kherson while fighting raged in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said.

'Tough situation'

Zelensky said Ukraine was facing a difficult situation in Donetsk and needed faster weapons supplies and new types of weaponry, just days after allies agreed to provide Kyiv with heavy battle tanks.

"The situation is very tough. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region, there are constant Russian attacks," Zelensky said in a video address on Sunday.

"We have to make time for our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies and open up new weapons options for Ukraine."

Three people were killed and six injured on Sunday by strikes on Kherson that damaged a hospital and a school, the regional administration said. The Kremlin hasn't responded to the shelling.

Russia on Saturday accused the Ukrainian military of deliberately striking a hospital, killing 14 people.

01:41 2023-01-27
Canada to send 4 tanks to Ukraine: media
A Leopard 2A6 main battle tank drives across the training area during preparations for a training exercise. [Photo/Agencies]

OTTAWA - Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand is set to announce Thursday that Canada will be sending four battle tanks to Ukraine, CTV News reported.

In addition to the initial four Leopard 2 tanks, Canada is considering sending more tanks at a later date, the report said, quoting government sources.

The Canadian Armed Forces currently has 82 German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks, but they are in various states of serviceability, according to the report.

On Wednesday, Germany and the United States announced they would be organizing the shipment of dozens of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

03:03 2023-01-26
Biden announces equipping Ukraine with US-made tanks
US President Joe Biden speaks about continued US support for Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, US, Jan 25, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that his administration will provide Ukraine with 31 US-made M1 Abrams tanks, which Russia has said will be its target if they were to be used in the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kyiv.

"Today I'm announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion," Biden said, addressing the nation in televised remarks from the White House.

Biden said the decision was recommended by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who, together with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, flanked Biden as he spoke. "Because it'll enhance Ukraine's capacity to defend its territory and achieve the strategic objectives," Biden said.

Biden said the United States is also sending Ukraine parts and equipment necessary to sustain the sophisticated tanks, adding that Washington will soon begin to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to operate and maintain the tanks, the delivery of which, he noted, will take time.

The US delivery of M1 Abrams tanks, among the most powerful and capable of the kind in the world, is considered yet another major development in the Ukraine crisis, potentially further escalating the situation as other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also intended to aid Ukraine with tanks.

Before the formal announcement by Biden, reports of US provision of the M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine had already infuriated Russia.

Moscow's ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said Tuesday that "if a decision to transfer to Kyiv M1 Abrams is made, American tanks without any doubt will be destroyed as all other samples of NATO military equipment."

"If the United States decides to supply tanks, it will be impossible to justify such step using arguments about 'defensive weapons,'" the envoy said. "This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation."

The US commitment came on the heel of the confirmation from Germany that it will deliver 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks to Ukraine, ending a stalemate where a previously reluctant Germany found itself under increasing pressure from the United States and other allies to authorize tank shipment to Ukraine, which has long demanded such weapons.

Other NATO countries, including Poland, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain, have either committed to or been considering sending Ukraine the Leopard 2 tanks. Britain has already said it will send its Challenger 2 tanks to aid Ukraine's offensive in the conflict with Russia.

Biden said in his remarks that earlier in the day, he spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni "as part of our close coordination on support for Ukraine."

18:57 2023-01-25
Germany approves sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine
Soldiers of the Swiss Army are seen in a Leopard 2 tank, taking part in the military exercise "Pilum", as they drive on the A1 motorway near Othmarsingen, Switzerland Nov 28, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

BERLIN - The German government has decided to provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2A6 battle tanks from its own Bundeswehr stocks. The aim is to "quickly assemble" two tank battalions with additional units coming from European partners, the government said on Wednesday.

"This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability," Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a government meeting in Berlin. "We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally."

Other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have recently put pressure on Germany to supply battle tanks to Ukraine. On Tuesday, Poland was the first country to officially request Berlin's approval to send tanks from its own stock.

As Germany will now supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine, NATO partners were also given the go-ahead to do so. Ukrainian crews are also to be provided with training on the Leopard tanks as well as logistics, ammunition and maintenance for the systems, the government said.

Shipments of Leopard tanks to Ukraine would "not bode well" for Russian-German relations and will "undoubtedly leave an unavoidable mark for the future of these relations," Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency TASS on Tuesday.

Last Friday, Germany's Minister of Defense Boris Pistorius postponed the decision and instead announced further deliveries of Marder infantry fighting vehicles, Gepard anti-aircraft tanks and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system to Ukraine.

Germany's military support for Ukraine totals 3.3 billion euros ($3.6 billion), the country's Defense Ministry said last week.

10:21 2023-01-20
Russian FM accuses West of contributing to Ukraine crisis
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference on the performance of Russian diplomacy in 2022 in Moscow on Jan 18, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the Ukraine crisis is "the result of preparations by the United States and its satellites for the start of a global hybrid war" against his country.

The West is trying to prove that they are not fighting Russia but are only helping Ukraine respond to an "aggression" and restore its territorial integrity, Lavrov said at his annual press conference, adding that the scale of their support makes it clear that the West has staked a great deal on its war against Russia.

As for the prospects for negotiations between Russia and the West on the Ukraine issue, Lavrov said that Russia is ready to consider serious proposals, but there haven't been any so far.

07:10 2023-01-20
Ukraine investigates helicopter crash
By REN QI in Moscow
People leave tributes at the site of a helicopter crash in the town of Brovary, outside Kyiv, on Wednesday. [Photo/Agencies]

Ukrainian authorities on Thursday began investigating the circumstances surrounding a helicopter crash that killed the country's interior minister and 13 others.

Wednesday's crash outside Kyiv came as the head of NATO said at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos that allies were set to provide "heavier weapons" to the region.

Ukraine did not claim direct Russian involvement in the helicopter crash, but President Volodymyr Zelensky said the tragedy was a consequence of the military conflict.

Appearing by video link at Davos, he also renewed calls for modern, Western-designed heavy tanks, which analysts say are crucial to pushing through entrenched defensive lines in eastern Ukraine.

In a barely veiled reference to Germany, where Chancellor Olaf Scholz is weighing whether to greenlight the export of its highly regarded Leopard tanks, Zelensky issued a "call for speed".

CNN quoted a senior US defense official as saying that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will be "pressing the Germans" to allow their Leopard tanks to be transferred to Ukraine to provide "capability in a crucial moment" to counter any potential Russian spring offensive.

Austin is in Germany where he is set to meet with the German defense minister before convening a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Friday to discuss aid for Ukraine with approximately 50 countries and organizations.

Meanwhile, the United States is set to finalize a huge military aid package for Ukraine totaling approximately $2.5 billion worth of weaponry, including Stryker combat vehicles for the first time.

More Western supplies

The new package is one of the largest to be announced since the special military operation started last February, CNN reported. It would include more armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles that, combined with the Strykers, amount to a significant escalation in the armored vehicles the US has committed to Ukraine for its fight against Russia. Mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, are also on the list, the source said.

Ukrainian officials have been fiercely lobbying Washington for longer-range missiles known as Army Tactical Missile Systems, which have a range of around 300 kilometers.

US President Joe Biden's administration has resisted sending them out of fear of escalating the conflict. The administration has also pushed back on sending M1 Abrams tanks because of logistical and maintenance complications.

In his annual news conference on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said NATO members have provided Ukraine with substantial military aid because "the West makes all the decisions for Ukraine" with the goal of using the conflict to exhaust Russia.

Lavrov dismissed Zelensky's demands for a complete Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. He said Russia was ready to "seriously consider" any Western initiatives on ending the conflict, but added that "we haven't seen any serious proposals yet".

On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the goal of the military operation in Ukraine is to "end the war" in the eastern Donbas region, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.

It is the second time since December that Putin used the word "war" to refer to the conflict in Ukraine.

16:12 2023-01-19
IAEA completing stationing of missions at Ukraine's nuclear plants
The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, May 28, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

Kyiv - The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is finalizing the stationing of permanent missions at Ukrainian nuclear power plants (NPPs), the Ukrainian government press service reported Wednesday.

While speaking at a joint briefing with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that the mission at Khmelnytsky NPP in western Ukraine is to start working in the coming days.

"Today, I heard from Director General Rafael Grossi assurances of full support from the IAEA for our efforts to ensure nuclear safety, including at the Zaporizhzhia NPP," Shmyhal said.

"We are working on the issue of organizing a safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia NPP, and we are making progress on this matter," Grossi was quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying.

According to an IAEA statement issued on Tuesday, the experts will monitor key nuclear safety and security systems, provide technical assistance, assess the plants' needs and report to the IAEA headquarters.

"With IAEA teams permanently present at all of Ukraine's NPPs and the Chornobyl site, the Agency will have around 11-12 staff simultaneously on the ground in the country, an unprecedented undertaking by the organization," the international nuclear watchdog said in the statement.

On Jan 16, the IAEA established its mission at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

There are five nuclear power plants in Ukraine, four of which are functioning. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which witnessed a nuclear disaster on April 26, 1988, was completely shut down on Dec 15, 2000.

In August 2022, the IAEA sent its monitoring mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which Russian forces have controlled since March.

07:24 2023-01-18
Moscow, Minsk begin joint drills
By REN QI

Russia and Belarus launched joint air force exercises on Monday, in a move that Ukraine sees as a "guise" for yet more airstrikes on the country.

The drills come as Russia's special military operation, now in its 11th month, grinds on with fighting in eastern Ukraine and a campaign of airstrikes on Ukraine's critical infrastructure.

The Belarusian defense ministry said the allies would carry out joint air patrols along the Belarusian border, airborne landings and support operations for ground troops, as well as train for deliveries of supplies and evacuations of wounded soldiers.

"The main purpose of the exercise is to improve interoperability in the joint execution of training and combat tasks," it said.

Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of Belarus' Security Council, told the Belta state news agency that the exercises are "exclusively defensive", but warned that Minsk is "ready for any provocative actions from Ukraine".

The Belarusian military said on the Telegram messaging app that it has activated all of its air force and air defense sites for the drills with Russia.

Ukraine has repeatedly warned of possible attacks coming from its northern neighbor Belarus, though some analysts assess the possibility of direct involvement by Minsk as low.

Ukraine's General Staff said the joint aviation drills were a "guise "and that there is a high danger of further Russian air and missile strikes throughout Ukraine.

In a report by the state TASS news agency, an unidentified source in the military said Russia has produced the first set of Poseidon nuclear-capable super torpedoes for use by the Belgorod special-purpose nuclear submarine.

The Poseidon is described as an "intercontinental nuclear-powered nuclear-armed autonomous torpedo "with its own nuclear power supply, the development of which was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018. He predicted at the time that it would be a fundamentally new type of nuclear weapon.

'Destructive' policies

In a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, Putin slammed Kyiv's "destructive" policies and the growing Western arms supplies to Ukraine.

Kyiv was pursuing "a destructive line" and that it had "bet on the intensification of hostilities with the support of Western sponsors, who are ramping up supplies of weapons and military equipment", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quoted Putin as saying.

Peskov also responded to a decision by Britain to send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, saying Western supplies of heavily armored vehicles to Ukraine are not likely to change the situation on the battlefield.

On Tuesday, Russia said that its armed forces would undergo "major changes" from 2023 to 2026, including changes in its composition and administrative reforms.

The defense ministry said that the changes would happen as Russia boosts the number of its military personnel to 1.5 million.

Agencies contributed to this story.

REN QI in Moscow