European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has presented the total number of losses estimated to have been suffered by Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
“More than 100,000 Ukrainian military officers have been killed so far,” von der Leyen claimed on Wednesday, while adding that around 20,000 civilian lives have also been lost amid the fighting, which has continued since late February.
The head of the European Commission didn’t reveal the sources of the information she provided.
In late September, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu stated that Ukrainian losses had to date amounted to more than 61,000 troops, which was ten times higher than those of Russia.
In her address, von der Leyen also proposed to set up a specialized, UN-backed court to investigate and prosecute what she described as “Russia’s crime of aggression.”
She also said that a special structure would be created by the EU to manage and invest 300 billion euro (nearly $311 billion) in Russian Central Bank reserves and 19 billion euro of Russian business figures’ assets, which the EU froze after the outbreak of the conflict. The plan is to use the proceeds from those activities to rebuild and assist Ukraine, according to the commission president.
** Self-censorship from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, after she deleted a tweet which mentioned Ukrainian casualties, is “humiliating”,former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday.
He added that the climbdown showed the bloc is nothing but a US puppet.
“It is obvious that ‘Aunt Ursula’ was slapped upside the head by her bosses in Washington,” Medvedev said in a post on VK. “Seemed to hurt, too. It looks extremely humiliating.”
The president of the EU executive body had claimed in a speech that 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the fighting so far, along with 20,000 civilians. Soon afterward, however, the tweet about it on von der Leyen’s account vanished. The reference was also removed from the transcript of the speech on the European Commission’s website, and edited out of the video the EC shared on social media again.
The self-censorship was subsequently confirmed, with spokeswoman Dana Spinant saying the number had been an “estimation” from “external sources” and referred to all casualties – those killed and wounded combined. Spinant also thanked everyone who “pointed out the inaccuracy” in von der Leyen’s original speech.
Medvedev served as the president of Russia between 2008 and 2012, and then as prime minister until 2020, when he accepted the post of deputy chairman of the National Security Council.
He has been an outspoken critic of the West since the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. On Tuesday, he said NATO was a “criminal entity” that should repent for its crimes against humanity and be dissolved. Earlier this week, he commented on his Telegram account that the “marriage” between the EU and the US is headed for a divorce due to Washington’s “economic cheating.”
** Russia is on track to spend nearly 50% more on defense next year than in 2022, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has revealed. He explained that the hike will help ensure a 97%-combat-readiness rate for weaponry and hardware.
Meanwhile, in late September, Vedomosti media outlet, citing government documents, claimed that Moscow spent 4,679 trillion rubles ($77 billion) on defense in 2022. According to journalists’ estimates at the time, the figure was expected to further rise next year and reach some five trillion rubles. The article also claimed the upward trend would continue into 2024.
Speaking at the Defense Ministry’s collegium on Wednesday, Shoigu called on Russian arms manufacturers to “retain the maximum production capacity” and ensure “ahead-of-time deliveries to the military.”
He also stressed the need for continued modernization of weapons, so that state-of-the-art models can be sent to the battlefield in Ukraine.
According to Shoigu, special emphasis should be placed on artillery and missile systems, as well as the use of drones to enhance the weapons’ effectiveness.
“As a result of the special military operation and the partial mobilization, requirements have increased with respect to the state [defense] order on all levels of control and implementation,” the minister noted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, which had been brokered by Germany and France and envisaged the granting of special status within the Ukrainian state to the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics. The Kremlin also accused Ukraine of discriminating against the Russian-speaking ethnic minority.
The former Ukraine territories of Kherson and Zaporozhye, seized by Russian forces, as well as the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, were incorporated into Russia in early October. This was preceded by referendums held in those territories, where, according to local authorities, most voters favored joining Russia.
In late September, nearly seven months into Moscow’s ‘special military operation,’ Putin declared ‘partial mobilization’ in the country.
Commenting on its results, Shoigu said on Wednesday that more than 300,000 reservists have been trained in Russia and Belarus over the past two months with the help of 3,000 instructors.
The minister also revealed that over 8,000 crews had been prepared for tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, air defense as well as drone and electronic warfare units.
Russian forces tried to advance in eastern Ukraine and trained tank, mortar and artillery fire on Kherson in the south, the Ukrainian military said, as Western allies sought to buttress Ukraine and its neighbours against Moscow.
In Washington, a $1.2 billion contract for six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) for Ukraine was awarded to Raytheon, the Pentagon said.
On Wednesday Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had said his country needed U.S.-made Patriot missile defence systems to protect its civilian infrastructure, which has been under heavy attack by Russia at the start of winter.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin had focused "his ire and his fire" on Ukraine's civilian population and warned Russia that its strategy would fail to divide Ukraine's supporters.
"Heat, water, electricity ... these are President Putin's new targets. He's hitting them hard. This brutalisation of Ukraine's people is barbaric," Blinken told a news conference in Bucharest following a two-day NATO meeting.
At the NATO foreign ministers meeting, allies on Wednesday pledged to help Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as they face pressure from Russia, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and ministers said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the outcome showed NATO was "absolutely not interested in a political and diplomatic solution in Ukraine".
Russia invaded Ukraine nine months ago in what it calls a "special military operation" to rid Ukraine of nationalists it considers dangerous. Ukraine and Western allies accuse Russia of an unprovoked, imperialist land grab.
In Spain, media cited police sources as saying that weapons company Instalanza in Zaragoza, which makes the C90 rocket launcher that Spain donates to Ukraine, received a suspicious package. A security officer at Ukraine's embassy in Madrid was injured earlier on Wednesday when he opened a letter bomb addressed to the ambassador, leading Kyiv to order greater security at all its representative offices abroad.
In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, site of the heaviest fighting, Russian forces tried to make further advances and shelled several towns, including Bakhmut and nearby Soledar and Opytne, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a Wednesday night statement.
It said that on the southern front, Russian forces took up defensive positions and trained tank, mortar and artillery fire on Ukrainian positions and on the regional capital of Kherson, abandoned by Russian troops earlier in November.
Other battleground activity was reported in northeastern and central Ukraine, the military said.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
"We are analysing the intentions of the occupiers and preparing counter-measures - tougher countermeasures than is now the case," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Wednesday evening address.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, said electricity had been restored to 65% of consumers in Kherson.
Nearly six million customers in a majority of Ukraine's regions and in Kyiv had no electricity, Zelenskiy said on Wednesday night.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said defence forces had shot down 340 of the roughly 400 Iranian drones that Russian had launched during the war.
"We haven't seen these Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles for about two weeks ... the first batch has probably already run out," he told Ukraine's main television network.
On the economic front, a deal was close on resuming Russian ammonia exportsthrough a pipeline to a Ukrainian Black Sea port, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said.
"I think we're quite close, we're edging towards it this week," Griffiths told a Reuters NEXT event.
A deal aimed at easing global food shortages by helping Ukraine export its agricultural products from Black Sea ports was extended on Nov. 17 for four months, though Russia said its own demands were yet to be fully addressed. The agreement was initially brokered in July by the United Nations with the help of Turkey.