Thursday, 29 February 2024 04:40

What to know after Day 735 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Western special forces working in Ukraine – FT

The unofficial presence of Western special forces in Ukraine is a matter of common knowledge, the Financial Times wrote on Tuesday, citing a senior European defense official, speaking anonymously.

The comment came in response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s earlier suggestion of potential NATO deployments in Ukraine.

Speaking to the media after a gathering of European leaders in Paris on Monday, Macron said there was “no consensus [at the meeting] to send, in an official manner, troops on the ground, but in terms of dynamics, we cannot exclude anything.” He also promised to stop at nothing to prevent Russia from winning the conflict.

A senior European defense official explained to the Financial Times that Macron’s statement about sending in troops was an attempt to put pressure on Russia.

“Everyone knows there are western special forces in Ukraine – they’ve just not acknowledged it officially.”

Russia has repeatedly reported strikes against what it described as “foreign mercenaries” fighting in Ukraine. Last month, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced it had killed over 60 foreign fighters in a missile strike, of which the majority, according to local sources, were French speakers. The head of the local Ukrainian administration later confirmed that two of the dead and three of the wounded were French “volunteers.” France subsequently denied the presence of any of its soldiers in Ukraine, although the French defense minister admitted that some French nationals were fighting in Kiev’s army as “volunteers.”

British, French and US special force operatives have also been active in the conflict zone, according to a set of classified Pentagon documents leaked last year. Washington did not confirm or deny any information in the leaked files, but launched a probe and stated it would review who would have access to such information.

In late 2022, a British military publication acknowledged that more than 300 Royal Marines were involved in “discreet operations in a hugely sensitive environment and with a high level of political and military risk,” in Ukraine.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu stated that as of December, more than 5,800 foreign mercenaries had been killed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict since its onset in February 2022, with most of them coming from Poland, the US and the UK.

The official act of sending NATO troops to fight the Russian army in Ukraine would make a direct clash between the US-led bloc and Moscow “inevitable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.



Ukraine's Zelenskiy seeks Balkan arms, support at summit in Albania

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tried to drum up Balkan support for his vision of peace in Ukraine and promoted the idea of joint arms production at a two-day summit of southeastern European countries on Wednesday.

The summit in the Albanian capital Tirana comes as Kyiv is trying to improve its defensive capabilities to beat back Russian forces at a time of faltering U.S. support more than two years into Russia's full-scale invasion.

"We are interested in co-production with you and all our partners," Zelenskiy told top delegations from Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, Moldova and Romania in his opening remarks.

"There are about 500 defence companies operating in Ukraine, each of them adds strength but it is not enough to win (against Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We see the problems with the supply of ammunition, which affects the situation on the battlefield."

Zelenskiy proposed organising a Ukrainian-Balkans defence forum in Kyiv or a Balkan capital to nurture arms cooperation, repeating similar initiatives conducted last year with British and U.S. weapons companies.

Albania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Romania are NATO members, have joined Western sanctions against Russia, and sent arms and equipment to Ukraine. There are significant arms industries in parts of the Balkans, especially Serbia and Croatia, a legacy of former federal Yugoslavia.

Longtime Moscow ally Serbia has not imposed sanctions, and neither Belgrade nor Kyiv recognise the independence of Kosovo, Serbia's former predominantly Albanian southern province which backs Ukraine and is seeking European Union and NATO membership.

Zelenskiy met Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and thanked him for his support in the war and pledged to work further on Kyiv's plan to end the conflict.

Vucic said "only constructive dialogue and diplomatic solutions can bring peace" and thanked Ukraine for being one of a handful of countries to refrain from recognising Kosovo.


In a post on Telegram, Zelenskiy said he discussed defence cooperation with Bosnia and with North Macedonia. He also discussed weapons supplies with Bosnia, which is divided into the Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat federation.

A joint declaration signed by 10 countries at the summit said their leaders were ready to take part in a Ukrainian-led peace summit in Switzerland this spring to discuss Zelenskiy's vision of peace.

Zelenskiy's diplomatic peace initiative envisions a Russian military withdrawal from all of Ukrainian territory, has not involved Russia in talks so far and been dismissed by Moscow as a non-starter.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Zelenskiy held talks and signed an Agreement on friendship and cooperation between Ukraine and Albania, the leaders said.

Zelenskiy told a news conference that every time weapons supplies to Ukraine were delayed, it was a "gift" to Russia's Putin, an apparent allusion to the months-long impasse in the U.S. Congress over providing more assistance for Kyiv.

The other leaders reiterated their support for Kyiv in a joint declaration, saying they were ready "to participate in the post-war recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine in order to enable the Ukrainian people to rebuild their country."



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