We couldn’t ignore what was happening in Ukraine – Putin
Russia could not stand idly by when Kiev started eliminating people just for associating themselves with Russian culture, language and traditions, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday as he explained the reasoning behind Moscow’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine.
Speaking at an event dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the breakthrough of the blockade of Leningrad, Putin noted that the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were “historical territories” of Russia and that he ultimately made the decision to launch the military operation in order to end the eight-year-long war in Donbass and to protect its people.
“We endured for a long time, tried to reach an agreement for a long time. But, as it turns out now, we were simply led by the nose, deceived,” the president added, apparently referring to the admissions by former German chancellor Angela Merkel and former Ukraine president Pyotr Poroshenko that the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015, designed to bring peace to Donbass, were a ruse by Kiev to buy time in order to build up its forces.
“It’s not the first time this has happened,” Putin admitted, stating Russia had done its best to resolve the situation by peaceful means. “It is now clear that this was, by definition, impossible. The enemy was preparing to transfer the conflict into an acute, hot phase. We had no choice but to do what we are doing now,” Putin explained.
Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia will consider its objectives in Ukraine fulfilled when no military infrastructure that poses a direct threat to Moscow remains. He also stated that, in order to bring the conflict to an end, Kiev must stop harassing and discriminating against Russian speakers.
++ Germany ‘indirectly’ involved in Ukraine conflict – defense minister
Germany is involved in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, although only “indirectly,” the nation’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, admitted on Wednesday. The hostilities pose a “major challenge” for the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, he said, adding that he was “well aware” of the responsibility he has to take under these circumstances.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz appointed Pistorius as defense minister following the resignation of his predecessor, Christine Lambrecht, on Monday. The former interior minister of the German state of Lower Saxony will officially take over the position on Thursday.
“The Defense Ministry is already a major challenge in… the times of peace,”Pistorius told journalists in Hannover, referring to his new job. This challenge becomes even greater “in times, when… the Federal Republic of Germany is involved in a war, indirectly,” he added.
The politician then added that he was “of course, well aware of the responsibility and the great importance of this task” of leading the defense ministry through such times. “The Bundeswehr must adapt to a new situation” that emerged in connection with Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, he added.
Pistorius has not revealed what exact actions he intends to take. However, his appointment comes as pressure is mounting on Berlin over the potential delivery of modern German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Kiev. Poland and Finland previously considered sending such tanks to Ukraine from their own stocks. However, any delivery of this kind would first require approval by Berlin, and Germany has so far denied that it has received any relevant official requests.
Some officials inside Germany also expect Pistorius to be more decisive than his predecessor. Lambrecht was repeatedly criticized over her reluctance to send heavier weapons to Kiev.
On Tuesday, German Economic Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck told Bloomberg Television he was in favor of authorizing the shipment of German-made tanks to Ukraine, both from home and other European nations. He also implied that this might be Pistorius’ first task in his new position.
** Russian troops liberate community of Sol in Donetsk advance
Russian troops supported by combat aircraft, missile troops and artillery liberated the community of Sol in the Donetsk People’s Republic during the special military operation in Ukraine, Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov reported on Wednesday.
"In the Donetsk direction, volunteers of assault units, supported by operational-tactical and army aircraft, missile troops and artillery of the Southern Military District, liberated the community of Sol in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
Russian artillery struck three Ukrainian army brigades in the Kupyansk area, eliminating over 60 enemy troops in the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the Kupyansk direction, the Western Military District’s artillery delivered strikes on units of the Ukrainian army’s 14th and 92nd mechanized brigades and 103rd territorial defense brigade in areas near the settlements of Dvurechnoye and Krakhmalnoye in the Kharkov Region and Novosyolovskoye in the Lugansk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
As a result of the strikes, Russian troops "eliminated over 60 Ukrainian servicemen, an armored personnel carrier, two pickup trucks, two motor vehicles and a US-made M777 artillery system," the general specified.
Russian artillery, airborne forces and combat aircraft delivered strikes on Ukrainian army units in the Krasny Liman area, eliminating over 90 enemy troops in the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the Krasny Liman direction, artillery of the Central Military District and the Airborne Force, army and assault aircraft delivered strikes on amassed manpower of the Ukrainian army’s 92nd mechanized, 80th and 95th air assault brigades near the localities of Stelmakhovka and Chervonaya Dibrova in the Lugansk People’s Republic, and also the Serebryansky forestry," the spokesman said.
In all, the enemy lost over 90 personnel, an infantry fighting vehicle and three armored combat vehicles in that area over the past 24 hours, the general specified.
Russian forces eliminated roughly 90 Ukrainian troops in the Donetsk area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"Up to 90 Ukrainian troops, three armored combat vehicles, four motor vehicles, a Msta-B howitzer and a Grad multiple rocket launcher were destroyed in that area in the past 24 hours. A Ukrainian army depot of ammunition for HIMARS and Grad multiple launch rocket systems was wiped out in the area of the city of Kramatorsk," the spokesman said.
Russian artillery and Marine Corps units thwarted the Ukrainian army’s attempts to attack in the southern Donetsk area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the southern Donetsk direction, artillery units of the Eastern and Southern Military Districts, and also the Pacific Fleet’s marine infantry thwarted the attempts by three Ukrainian assault groups to advance towards the communities of Stepnoye, Sladkoye and Urozhainoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
The enemy’s total losses in that area in the past 24 hours amounted to 90 Ukrainian troops, four armored fighting vehicles, one pickup truck and seven motor vehicles, the general specified.
Russian forces struck 76 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the past 24 hours, operational-tactical aircraft, missile troops and artillery of the Russian group of forces inflicted damage on 76 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions, manpower and military hardware in 103 areas," the spokesman said.
Fighter aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 ground attack plane in the Donetsk People’s Republic over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"Fighter aircraft of the Aerospace Forces of Russia shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 plane near the locality of Yablonovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
Russian forces wiped out two US-made counter-battery radars and an ST-68 target acquisition radar station over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"Two AN/TPQ-50 and AN/TPQ-48 counter-battery warfare radars of US manufacture and also an ST-68 target detection and tracking radar station were destroyed," the spokesman said.
Russian air defense forces destroyed seven Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the past 24 hours, air defense capabilities destroyed seven Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles in areas near the communities of Krivosheyevka, Kremennaya, Chervonopopovka and Krasnorechenskoye in the Lugansk People’s Republic, and also intercepted an Olkha rocket near Vladimirovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
In all, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 373 Ukrainian warplanes, 200 helicopters, 2,898 unmanned aerial vehicles, 401 surface-to-air missile systems, 7,563 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 985 multiple rocket launchers, 3,855 field artillery guns and mortars and 8,101 special military motor vehicles since the start of the special military operation, Konashenkov reported.
NATO warns of Russia's long war in Ukraine, vows to be ready
Russia is preparing for an extended war so NATO must get ready “for the long haul” and support Ukraine for as long as it takes, the alliance’s deputy secretary general told military chiefs from across Europe on Wednesday.
Speaking at the opening of the military chiefs’ meeting in Brussels, Mircea Geoana said NATO nations must invest more in defense, ramp up military industrial manufacturing and harness new technologies to prepare for future wars.
As Russia’s war on Ukraine nears the one-year mark, NATO chiefs are expected to discuss how allies can expand the delivery of weapons, training and support to Ukraine in the coming months, and how they can further shore up their own defenses.
“We have no indication that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s goals have changed,” said Geoana, noting that Russia has mobilized more than 200,000 additional troops. “So we must be prepared for the long haul. 2023 will be a difficult year and we need to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Separately on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine’s Western backers will gather this week to discuss ways to supply heavier and more advanced weapons to help the war-ravaged country in its fight against Russia.
The so-called Ukraine Contact Group will meet at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Thursday and Friday. It consists of about 50 top defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who work to coordinate military contributions to Ukraine.
“The main message there will be: more support, more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “This is a fight for our values, this is a fight for democracy, and we just have to prove that democracy wins over tyranny and oppression.”
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met quietly on Tuesday with Ukraine’s chief military officer, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, at an undisclosed location in southeastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border. And he is expected to relay Zaluzhnyi’s concerns to the other military leaders at the meeting.
Milley’s meeting with Zaluzhnyi was quickly arranged when it became clear Monday that the Ukrainian chief would not be able to attend the NATO sessions in person. He’s expected to attend by video conference on Thursday.
Army Col. Dave Butler, Milley’s spokesman, said the chairman planned to describe to the NATO chiefs “the tactical and operational conditions on the battlefield and what the military needs are for that.”
Adm. Rob Bauer, the chair of the NATO Military Committee, told the gathering of chiefs on Wednesday that the alliance must continue to transform to meet future fights.
“The war has also shown us that you have to be able to fight tomorrow’s battles, as well as yesterday’s battles, today,” said Bauer, who is with the Royal Netherlands Navy. “Modern warfare is just as much about bits and bots as it is about mud and blood.”
He noted that about a year ago, the NATO Russia Council held its last meeting.
“Back then we were still able to sit around the same table,” he said, adding that now, after Russia’s brutal invasion and war in Ukraine, “the world is a different place.”
NATO, he said, has proven it can quickly increase and shift its military presence when and where needed. And he echoed the commitment that the alliance is prepared to support Ukraine for as long as needed.
Putin, he said, “underestimated the scale and bravery of Ukrainian people, armed forces and leadership, and underestimated our unity and our solidarity with Ukraine.” That alliance support, he said, has made a difference on the battlefield, and it will continue.
Stoltenberg told the Davos conference that it’s important that Putin doesn’t win the war and by supplying more equipment long-term the West will help to force him to the negotiating table. “It is very dangerous to underestimate Russia,” he warned.
“Weapons, they are the way to peace,” Stoltenberg said, but he added that they must come quickly.
“There is an urgent need. Time matters,” he said, shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the forum by video-link.
** Berlin sets condition for U.S. on exports of German tanks to Ukraine
Germany will allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help defend against Russia if the United States agrees to send its own tanks, a Berlin government source told Reuters.
Ukraine has pleaded for new modern Western weapons, especially heavy battle tanks, so it can regain momentum this year following some battlefield successes in the second half of 2022 against Russian forces that invaded last February.
Berlin has veto power over any decision to export its Leopard tanks, fielded by NATO-allied armies across Europe and seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed the condition about U.S. tanks several times in recent days behind closed doors, the German government source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. President Joe Biden's spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about Germany's stipulation, said: "The president believes that each country should make their own sovereign decisions on what steps of security assistance and what kinds of equipment they are able to provide Ukraine."
The Western allies have avoided taking the risk of NATO appearing to confront Russia directly and have not sent Ukraine the most potent weapons available.
U.S. officials said Biden's administration is next expected to approve Stryker armoured vehicles for Ukraine produced in Canada for the U.S. Army but is not poised to send U.S. tanks, including the M1 Abrams.
On Thursday, Germany's new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius will host U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Then on Friday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and defence leaders from roughly 50 countries will confer at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the latest in a series of meetings since the invasion, which Moscow calls a "special military operation" to safeguard Russian security.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory and to erase the independence of a fellow ex-Soviet republic and neighbour. Western countries have provided a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine.
PRESSURE ON GERMANY
Attention will be focused on Germany in particular at Friday's meeting.
This week, Britain raised the pressure on Berlin by becoming the first Western country to send tanks, pledging a squadron of its Challengers. Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday that it was crucial to provide modern tanks and missiles to Ukraine because he feared Russia was preparing a new offensive. Poland and Finland have already said they will send Leopard tanks if Germany approves them.
Ukraine has relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants.
Germany's Leopard 2 tank is regarded as one of the West's best. The tank weighs more than 60 tons (60,000 kilograms), has a 120mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of up to five kilometres (three miles).
Ukraine says the tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to drive Russian troops out in decisive battles.
In a speech by video link to the Davos forum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Western supplies of tanks and air defence systems to ward off Russia's frequent missile strikes should come more quickly and be delivered faster than Moscow is able to carry out attacks.
"The supplying of Ukraine with air defence systems must outpace Russia's next missile attacks," Zelenskiy said. "The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks."
In a tweet, Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it was time for the United States to start supplying Ukraine with ATACMS long-range missiles.
"Long-range missiles will allow Ukraine to effectively destroy Russian logistics in the occupied territories: depots in the rear, equipment, command posts ... the time for ATACMS has come. What are we waiting for?" Podolyak asked.
A helicopter crashed in fog near a nursery outside the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Wednesday, killing 14 people, including Ukraine's interior minister, and a child.
Ukrainian officials have not suggested the crash was an attack by Russian forces.
The crash was "a terrible tragedy" and "the pain is unspeakable", Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Later in his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said he had asked the SBU intelligence service to begin a criminal investigation.
The SBU said it was considering several possible causes, including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction and the intentional destruction of the helicopter.