Russia-Ukraine war live: Russia seizes village in eastern Donetsk, officials say; Ukraine claims drone strike in St Petersburg | World news


Russian forces take control of Vesele in Ukraine‘s eastern Donetsk region, says Russian defence ministry

Russian forces have taken control of Vesele, a settlement in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, reports Reuters citing a statement by Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday.

The ministry provided no details about the settlement. It said only that the village had been taken by what it called the active efforts of units which are part of Russia’s southern military group. Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield assertion.

A village with the same name, populated by about 100 people, is located 20km (12 miles) north-east of the Russian-controlled city of Bakhmut in an area which has seen intense fighting.

Updated at  16.02 CET

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Russian state prosecutors asked a Moscow court on Thursday to sentence prominent nationalist Igor Girkin to five years in prison for inciting extremism, reports Reuters citing information published by the RIA news agency.

Girkin, regarded in the west as a war criminal, publicly accused Putin and top army officials of not pursuing the war in Ukraine harshly or effectively enough.

Russian nationalist Igor Girkin is pictured against a grey background.

Russian nationalist Igor Girkin has previously accused Putin of not pursuing the war in Ukraine harshly enough. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/ReutersUkraine has bought six Caesar howitzers, says France’s defence minister

Ukraine has bought six Caesar howitzers, France’s defence minister said on Thursday, reports Reuters.

Speaking to France Inter radio, Sebastien Lecornu said that Paris would send 50 precision-guided missiles a month to Kyiv to aid its fight against Russia’s invasion. He also said that Caesar manufacturer, Nexter, had managed to halve the production time of the howitzer to 15 months meaning that about 78 units would be available this year.

In Ukraine’s first purchase of French-made weapons since the start of the war, Lecornu said Kyiv had bought six for €3m-€4m ($3.3m -$4.4m) each. Ukraine currently has 49 Caesar self-propelled howitzers given by France and Denmark.

Lecornu later told reporters that France would also spend €50m from a fund it had created for Ukraine to buy a further 12 Caeser cannon that it would then send to Kyiv.

He said he hoped allies would buy 60 Caesars for about €285m. “We want to share the bill and enable European countries to share the financial burden,” Lecornu said.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Thursday he had thanked French president, Emmanuel Macron, in a phone call for Paris committing to the production of dozens of Caesar howitzers and ammunition this year.

Macron will head to Ukraine in February to complete a deal under which Paris would deliver more sophisticated weaponry, including long-range cruise missiles, and provide long-term political, aid and reconstruction commitments.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Avdiivka on 26 December 2022.

Ukraine has bought six Caesar howitzers, at a cost of €3m-€4m ($3.3m -$4.4m) each, France’s defence minister said on Thursday. Photograph: Libkos/AP

Updated at  16.05 CET

The Russian city of Belgorod, near the Ukrainian border cancelled its traditional Orthodox Epiphany festivities on Friday due to the threat of attacks as Kyiv’s forces pursue a new strategy, reports the Associated Press.

Citing information from the Russian state-run Tass news agency, AP says that events planned for Friday, in which the faithful plunge into ponds and pools through holes in the ice on the feast of Epiphany, have been scrapped. The annual celebrations on the 19 January are widespread in Russia.

Cross-border attacks have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks in Belgorod, the largest Russian city near the border with about 340,000 people. On 30 December, shelling in the centre of Belgorod killed 21 people and wounded 110, regional officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks on Russian soil since the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian forces take control of Vesele in Ukraine‘s eastern Donetsk region, says Russian defence ministry

Russian forces have taken control of Vesele, a settlement in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, reports Reuters citing a statement by Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday.

The ministry provided no details about the settlement. It said only that the village had been taken by what it called the active efforts of units which are part of Russia’s southern military group. Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield assertion.

A village with the same name, populated by about 100 people, is located 20km (12 miles) north-east of the Russian-controlled city of Bakhmut in an area which has seen intense fighting.

Updated at  16.02 CET

Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, called for EU support to Ukraine to be reviewed annually, as difficult negotiations on the issue continue ahead of an EU summit, reports AFP.

Orbán also criticised “liberal” politicians for wanting “to give money to Ukraine over four years”, claiming it would be “anti-democratic” to do so just ahead of European parliament elections in June.

“If we want to help Ukraine, let’s do it outside the EU budget and on a yearly basis,” Orbán wrote on X. “This is the only democratic position just five months before the elections” he added.

Liberal MEP’s attacked Hungary once again in the @Europarl_EN yesterday. They want to give money to #Ukraine for 4 years, while the European elections are just 5 months away. They essentially want to strip people of their rights to make decisions on their future. What an…

— Orbán Viktor (@PM_ViktorOrban) January 18, 2024

His proposal is in stark contrast with a recent appeal by European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, to provide Ukrainians with “predictable financing throughout 2024 and beyond” to help the country regain “its rightful territory”.

In December, Orbán vetoed €50bn ($55bn) in fresh EU aid for Ukraine and abstained from a decision to open talks with Kyiv on joining the bloc. EU leaders are to hold a summit on 1 February to try to find a compromise.

Negotiations are under way in Brussels to find a compromise on Ukraine aid, but Budapest played down the chances of a breakthrough.

“The positions are far apart, so it is not certain that an agreement will be reached,” Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said at a press conference on Thursday.

“It would not be a tragedy either”, he added, suggesting that “a 26-party solution” that did not involve Hungary was possible.

Updated at  14.32 CET

The US and its allies are looking for a way to unfreeze $300bn in Russian central bank funds sitting mostly in Europe and use them for the benefit of Ukraine. The idea is gaining new traction lately as continued allied funding for Ukraine becomes more uncertain and the US Congress is in a stalemate over providing more support.

There are tradeoffs, since the weaponisation of global finance could harm the US dollar’s standing as the world’s dominant currency. And the Biden administration says Ukraine still has immediate needs for funds that must be met by other means.

At this week’s World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for a “strong” decision that the frozen Russian assets “be directed towards defence against the Russian war and for reconstruction” of Ukraine.

“Putin loves money above all,” he said. “The more billions he and his oligarchs, friends and accomplices lose, the more likely he will regret starting this war.”

Biden administration officials who previously dismissed the idea as legally cumbersome are showing growing openness. Penny Pritzker, the US special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, said at Davos that the US and its G7 allies were looking for the right legal framework.

Bipartisan legislation circulating in Washington would use assets confiscated from the Russian Central Bank and other sovereign assets for Ukraine.

Even if legislation were enacted, Nicholas Mulder, a sanctions expert at Cornell University, cautioned that seizing frozen assets could undermine longer-term funding. “If the assets are transferred, these funds too will run out sooner or later. But by that time western leaders will have ceased to make any political case for supporting Ukraine, and getting support back up will be much harder.”

The World Bank’s latest damage assessment of Ukraine, released in March 2023, estimates that costs for reconstruction and recovery stand at $411bn over the next 10 years.

There have been some efforts to seize Russian funds and those of sanctioned oligarchs. In May 2023, the justice department announced that it had transferred $5.4m seized from Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeyev to a US state department fund for rebuilding Ukraine.

Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, is leading the talks on whether to seize Russia’s assets. Belgium is also the country where most frozen Russian assets under sanctions are being held.

Belgium is collecting taxes on the assets. Alexander De Croo, the prime minister, said in October that €1.7bn ($1.8bn) of those taxes was already available.

But EU countries are worried that going further by confiscating the assets could pave the way for serious legal problems and could also destabilise the financial system.

De Croo said this week he is hearing “a lot of prudence” when the issue of seizing assets is raised. “It’s crucial that we stay within a legal framework.”

– With the Associated Press

Cyprus is making an “extremely important” contribution in increasing sanctions pressure on Moscow, Ukraine’s ambassador to the east Mediterranean island tells the Reuters news agency.

Cyprus, once under scrutiny for close business ties with Russia, all-but severed them when it followed its EU partners in imposing sanctions on Moscow over the invasion. Now, Ruslan Nimchynskyi tells Reuters:

Cyprus’s support and contribution to increasing sanctions pressure on Russia is extremely important.

A key indicator in this matter is that Cyprus supports and implements international sanctions and restrictions against Russia imposed by the EU. It is also positive that Cyprus has never stood in the way of tougher sanctions or processing new sanctions packages.

Cyprus was once considered a primary source of foreign direct investment into Russia because of the sheer number of Russian companies based on the island. But sanctions have largely put an end to that. One of the latest firm to move out of Cyprus was the Russian banking group TCS Holding, which owns the online Russian bank Tinkoff.

Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailed how financial enablers in Cyprus tried to shield oligarchs’ assets from impending sanctions immediately after Russia’s invasion, while a small number of Cypriots have personally been sanctioned by the US and Britain.

The Cypriot government says it has zero tolerance for sanction-busting, and is receiving technical assistance from the United States to close any potential loopholes. Nimchynskyi says:

We are sure the efforts of the Cypriot government and the support of international partners will strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions.

Cyprus has hosted more than 20,000 displaced Ukrainians, and has also offered de-mining training to members of the Ukrainian military.

Updated at  15.19 CET

Schools in western Ukraine are rolling out rifle and pistol shooting practice using interactive software, the French press agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) quotes a regional official as saying.

It says the news signals how Russia’s near two-year invasion has affected school life, with the war upending Ukraine’s education system, forcing classes online as fighting destroys school facilities and officials introduce war-time curricula – including firing drills and drone piloting. The governor of the western Ivano-Frankivsk region Svitlana Onyshchuk says:

Prykarpattia high school students will learn shooting on safe interactive systems at Defence of Ukraine classes.

She says the training will be introduced in three dozen schools in the western region, which has enjoyed relative calm during 23 months of fighting further east.

These systems are mobile and consist of: multimedia equipment, software and samples of weapons.

She adds that the training is part of a broader effort to “improve skills related to military and patriotic education”. Kyiv says the fighting against Russian forces has left nearly 3,500 education facilities damaged and 365 completely destroyed.

Updated at  14.14 CET

Hungary is far from reaching an agreement with the EU on aid for Ukraine, the Hungarian prime minister’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

Gergely Gulyás said Hungary was in talks with the commission but it was not certain an agreement would be reached. Failing that, he said, the EU’s other 26 members could reach a solution without Hungary, reports Reuters.

Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the EU’s executive commission, said on Wednesday she was confident of finding a solution between the 27 member states.

The EU is seeking to agree on extending more financial aid to Ukraine when the bloc’s leaders meet at the start of February, although Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, remains opposed.

Gergely Gulyas, the Hungarian prime minister chief of staff is pictured speaking in his office in Budapest.

Gergely Gulyás, the Hungarian prime minister’s chief of staff said Hungary was far from reaching an agreement with the EU on aid for Ukraine. Photograph: Szakacs Gergely/Reuters

Updated at  14.16 CET

Estonia banishes Russian Orthodox leader as ‘security risk’

Estonia said it would not renew the residence permit of the head of the Estonian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, saying the Russian national was “a security risk”.

AFP reports the Estonian police and border guard announced on Thursday that the residence permit of Metropolitan Eugene would not be extended. The decision means the religious leader, whose legal name is Valery Reshetnikov, must leave before his current permit runs out on 6 February.

“The Estonian state is not extending the residence permit of the head of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” the Estonian police and border guard said. “His actions are a security risk to Estonia.”

Police said that Metropolitan Eugene had repeatedly been asked to stop justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and defending the Kremlin.

“His public actions and speaking support the aggressor and he has not changed his behaviour despite warnings,” said Indrek Aru, head of the northern prefecture’s border guard office.

A number of Estonian politicians had called for Reshetnikov to be expelled in January 2023 after the church announced a joint prayer service “for peace” with a pro-Kremlin political movement called Koos (Together).

One of the leaders of Koos, Aivo Peterson, was detained after visiting Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine and is being investigated for treason.

Ukrainian drone attack hits oil terminal in St Petersburg, says Ukrainian military source

A Ukrainian drone attack hit an oil terminal in St Petersburg on Thursday as part of a “new phase” in the region, reports Reuters, citing comments by a Ukrainian military source. Reuters could not independently verify the statement but the Kyiv Independent has also reported the news.

According to Reuters, a Russian-appointed official in occupied south-eastern Ukraine said earlier that Ukraine had tried and failed to target a Russian Baltic Sea oil terminal with a drone overnight.

Updated at  13.59 CET



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