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Ukraine’s first lady will deliver a letter from Zelenskyy to Chinese leadership

Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, delivers a special address on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ukraine’s first lady told the World Economic Forum she would deliver a letter to China’s delegation setting out President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s proposals for ending Russia’s war against his country.

China, like Russia a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is an important partner for Moscow and has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a speech urging delegates to do more to help end the war, Olena Zelenska said she planned to hand the letter to Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He — who spoke after her — for passing on to President Xi Jinping.

She said she also had letters for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Swiss President Alain Berset.

“Today I will give the colleagues participating in this part (of the forum) ‘formula letters’ from the president of Ukraine,” she said in Ukrainian.

— Reuters

Russia’s defense minister visits troops as war in Ukraine drags on

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrives for a signature ceremony of an initiative on the safe transportation of grain and foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports, in Istanbul, on July 22, 2022. – As a first major agreement between the warring parties since the invasion, Ukraine and Russia are expected to sign a deal in Istanbul today to free up the export of grain from Ukrainian ports. The deal has been brokered by the UN and Turkey.

Ozan Kose | Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has visited Russian troops involved in Ukraine, the ministry said.

“Sergei Shoigu thanked the servicemen who courageously perform tasks in the special military operation zone, and presented state awards to the servicemen for their dedication and heroism,” the ministry said in a statement on its Telegram messaging app.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” while Kyiv and its allies say it is an unprovoked, imperialist land grab.

 Reuters was not able to independently verify the Russian defense report. 

— Reuters

Ukraine’s Kuleba calls on European Parliament to establish a special tribunal to hold Russia accountable for its aggression

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gestures during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on May 25, 2022.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the European Parliament to establish a special tribunal to investigate Russian crimes against Ukraine and hold Moscow accountable.

“I call on members of the European Parliament to support the establishment of a special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine by passing a relevant resolution this week,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

“No impunity for Russia’s political and military leadership. They must be held accountable,” he added.

— Amanda Macias

Backlog of 32 ships with Ukrainian agricultural goods wait to depart for global destinations

Ships, including those carrying grain from Ukraine and awaiting inspections, are seen anchored off the Istanbul coastline on November 02, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

A backlog of 32 vessels loaded with agricultural goods are waiting to depart Ukraine for their global destinations, the organization overseeing the export of crops from the country said.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw the reopening of three key Ukrainian ports.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield demanded Russia cooperate in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Thomas Greenfield blamed a backlog of ships on “Russia’s deliberate slowdown of inspections.”

“This backlog means extra expense and extra delay for millions of tons of grain, a majority of which is destined for developing countries. The backlog means 2.5 million tons of grain are just sitting there, waiting to move,” she said before the U.N. Security Council, adding that some vessels have been waiting for over a month.

Since the deal was signed, more than 650 ships carrying 17.6 million metric tons of grain and other food products have left Ukrainian waters.

— Amanda Macias

UN says more than 7,000 killed in Ukraine since start of war

An elderly man walks among the graves of unidentified people, killed during Russian occupation, who were reburied from a mass grave in the small Ukrainian town of Bucha, near Kyiv, on January 12, 2023.

Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed at least 7,031 deaths and 11,327 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes,” the international organization wrote in a release.

— Amanda Macias

Former Wagner commander seeks asylum in Norway after fleeing Russia

A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who fought in Ukraine said he has fled to Norway and is seeking asylum in fear for his life after witnessing the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners brought to the frontline.

Andrei Medvedev, who joined the group on July 6, 2022, on a four-month contract, said in a video posted by the rights group that he had crossed the border into Norway before being detained by Norwegian police.

Medvedev, an orphan who joined the Russian army and served time in prison before joining Wagner, said he had slipped away from the group after witnessing the killing of captured deserters from Wagner.

General view of the “PMC Wagner Centre”, associated with the founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, ahead of its opening in Saint Petersburg, Russia October 31, 2022. 

Igor Russak | Reuters

“I am afraid of dying in agony,” Medvedev told Vladimir Osechkin, founder of the rights group, which said it had helped Medvedev leave Russia after he approached the group in fear for his life.

He said he crossed the border, climbing through barbed-wire fences and evading a border patrol with dogs, and heard guards firing shots as he ran through a forest and over thin and breaking ice into Norway.

Norwegian police said a foreign citizen had been arrested on the night of Thursday to Friday after illegally crossing the Russian-Norwegian border in the Arctic and was seeking asylum.

His Norwegian lawyer said Medvedev was now in the “Oslo area” but did not give details.

“What is important for him (Medvedev) is that immigration authorities clarify his status as soon as possible,” lawyer Brynjulf Risnes told Reuters.

Medvedev had not yet talked with Norwegian security police and no agreement for an interview had been made, Risnes said. “I am sure that will be a question at some point,” said Risnes, who declined to say where Medvedev was fighting in Ukraine.

“He says he has taken part in battle, which he says were clear battle situations … and that he has not been in contact with civilians,” said Risnes.

— Reuters

A decision on modern, Western tanks for Ukraine looks closer than ever

U.S. army vehicles including tanks are brought ashore in the Netherlands as a military unit is transported to Poland and Lithuania as part of a NATO mission to reinforce the alliance’s eastern flank after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Vlissingen, Netherlands January 11, 2023.

Piroschka Van De Wouw | Reuters

Ukraine has repeatedly asked its Western allies to provide it with battle tanks to help it fight Russia but up until now, its Western allies appeared reluctant to do so.

That could be about to change, experts note, and some announcements could be made when Ukrainian and Western officials meet later this week in Germany to discuss the country’s military needs.

“My understanding is that a deal has essentially been worked out,” John E. Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told CNBC Monday.

“We know that the laggard here has been Germany, and it seems that the Germans have now been persuaded that one, they’ll let other countries which have Leopard tanks send them to Ukraine — that, I’m confident of — and I also think it’s highly likely, but I’m not as confident, that you’ll see Germany send some Leopards as well,” he said.

Read the whole story here

Russian economy likely shrank 2.5% in 2022 but beating expectations, Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with government members via a video link from a residence outside Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 11, 2023.

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the Russian economy was likely to have shrunk by 2.5% in 2022, but that it was performing better than most experts had predicted.

Putin, who was speaking at a meeting with top officials including the finance minister and central bank chief, said real wage growth needed to be stimulated.

— Reuters

Russia needs to be pushed harder with sanctions, Lithuania’s president says

Ukraine’s allies need to apply more pressure on Russia through sanctions, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“Sanctions have some impact on the Russian economy. Sometimes our expectations are higher than [the] real result but it does not mean that sanctions are not effective. They are effective but with a certain time lag,” Nausėda told Joumanna Bercetche.

“Of course the success of Ukraine’s armed forces in the battlefield are just critically important,” Nausėda said, calling for the provision of better air defense systems and tanks to the country.

He also discussed the difficulty of Ukraine getting NATO membership in the near-term due to the ongoing conflict and the need for the alliance to find “guarantees” for the country without membership; and Lithuania’s commitment to strengthening its own armed forces and increasing military spend to 3% of GDP.

— Jenni Reid

Kremlin says planned Russian army increase is due to Ukraine war

The Kremlin has commented further on Russia’s proposals to increase the number of military personnel it has to 1.5 million, as announced in December, saying the West was a threat to Russia.

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov was asked by reporters to comment on discussions held by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu today on increasing the number of troops within Russia’s armed forces over the next few years. Russia’s defense ministry says it currently has 1.1 million military personnel, state news agency Tass reported.

Peskov said the defense ministry’s proposals to increase the size and structure of the armed forces was “due to the war that the countries of the collective West are waging, a proxy war that includes elements of indirect participation in hostilities, and elements of economic, financial war, legal war, going beyond the legal field, and so on,” he said, referring to the war in Ukraine, which Moscow (and equally many analysts in the West) see as a proxy war between the West and Russia.

“The security of our country must be unconditionally ensured, and in this case the Ministry of Defense is fulfilling its role,” Peskov said, in comments translated by NBC.

There are continuing concerns in Russia that another wave of mobilization could take place as Russia looks to increase its manpower in Ukraine.

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there was no need for more mobilization but that there hasn’t been enough to allay fears of another draft. Peskov claimed Tuesday that the “topic is constantly artificially activated both from abroad and from within the country. I still suggest that you remember all the time the relevant statements that President Putin made on this matter.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Dnipro apartment block strike death toll rises to 44

Rescuers search for people trapped under the rubble of a high-rise residential building hit by a missile on Jan. 14, 2023, in Dnipro, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The death toll from a Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro at the weekend has risen to 44, Ukraine’s emergency services said Tuesday.

As of 1p.m. local time, 44 people are known to have died, including five children, and 79 people were injured, including 16 children, the emergency services said on Telegram.

They said in a previous post that, among the 47 reports of missing persons, 18 have been found dead while four people were found alive in hospitals. Twenty people are still missing.

The emergency services said 425 people were involved in the search and rescue operation, which it said has been completed.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia plans ‘major changes’ in armed forces from 2023 to 2026

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MAY 04: A Russian T-14 Armata tank participates in a Victory Day Parade night rehearsal on Tverskaya street on May 4, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. The holiday, a remembrance of Russians who died in World War II and victory over the Nazis, takes on added significance this year as Russia continues to pursue its war against Ukraine. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Oleg Nikishin | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia said on Tuesday 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.

“Only by strengthening the key structural components of the Armed Forces is it possible to guarantee the military security of the state and protect new entities and critical facilities of the Russian Federation,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

— Reuters

Putin has told new army commander to seize Donbas region by March, official claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov attend an annual meeting of the Defense Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 21, 2022.

Mikhail Kuravlev | Sputnik | Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly instructed the new commander of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine to seize the eastern Donbas region by March.

Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, told the domestic Freedom TV channel that Putin had ordered Gen. Valery Gerasimov, a Putin loyalist and head of Russia’s armed forces, to seize the region within months.

“Putin does not pay attention to reality, that is why he has not changed his global goals: the destruction of Ukrainians as a people, a separate nation and the destruction of Ukraine as an independent state,” he said, according to comments translated and reported by news agency Ukrinform.

Adding that the priority for Russia was capturing the Donbas (an aim openly and often stated by Moscow), Yusov said Gerasimov had been set a timeline for doing so, noting “this goal is to seize Donbas and form a security zone there, but already by March.”

Gerasimov was appointed as the commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine last week as Russian forces have made few advances in recent months, instead becoming caught in attritional combat in Donetsk, particularly around Bakhmut where intense fighting has continued for months.

Yusov said Russia had previously set deadlines for capturing parts of Ukraine but that each time, these had been postponed. CNBC was unable to verify the information in Yusov’s comments.

— Holly Ellyatt

Soledar shouldn’t be considered lost yet but Bakhmut is Russia’s next target, official says

Ukraine says its forces are continuing to fight in the Donetsk town of Soledar, which Russia claimed to have fully captured last week, and said Russian forces are trying to move toward nearby Bakhmut, which is seen as their larger target in the region.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, commented on national television on Monday that “eastern Ukraine remains the main target of the aggressor’s attack.”

“The enemy focused the main efforts on the Bakhmut direction, especially near Soledar, where battles are raging. Ukrainian units continue holding the defense in the city itself and its outskirts,” Cherevatyi said, according to comments reported by news agency Ukrinform.

Soledar cannot be considered to have been captured by Russia, he said, as battles for the city are still underway.

“Our armed forces are making every effort to make them [Russian forces] pay an incredible price for every inch they are trying to move over,” Cherevatyi said.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted in an update Monday that Russian forces made additional territorial gains north of Bakhmut and may be intensifying attacks south of the city, near Klishchiivka.

Maxar satellite imagery of bombed out apartment buildings and homes in Soledar, Ukraine.

Maxar | Maxar | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday evening that he had received the latest briefings from commanders and intelligence chiefs regarding the war.

“The situation in the Donetsk direction was considered separately and in detail. Soledar, Bakhmut and other cities against which Russia has concentrated its last most prepared forces,” he said. “We also reviewed the situation on the southern front. We see what Russia is preparing,” he said, providing no further details.

— Holly Ellyatt

Top U.S. general visits training site for Ukrainian soldiers

Monday was just Day Two for Ukrainian soldiers at the U.S. military’s new training program, but the message was coming through loud and clear.

These are urgent times. And the lessons they will get in the next five weeks on weapons, armored vehicles and more sophisticated combat techniques are critical as they prepare to defend their country against the Russian invasion.

“This is not a run of the mill rotation,” U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday afternoon as he met with commanders. “This is one of those moments in time where if you want to make a difference, this is it.”

Milley, who visited the sprawling Grafenwoehr training area to get his first look at the new, so-called combined arms instruction, has said it will better prepare Ukrainian troops to launch an offensive or counter any surge in Russian attacks.

He spent a bit less than two hours at “Camp Kherson” — a section of the base named after a city in Ukraine where Ukrainian troops scored a key victory against Russia last year. More than 600 Ukrainian troops began the expanded training program at the camp just a day before Milley arrived.

— The Associated Press

Death toll in Dnipro missile strike rises to 40

Rescuers remove the rubble and search for people at an apartment block hit by a rocket launched by Russian occupiers during a massive missile attack on Ukraine Saturday, January 14, Dnipro, central Ukraine.

Mykola Miakshykov | Future Publishing | Getty Images

The death toll from a weekend Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro has risen to 40, authorities said Monday, as Western analysts pointed to indications the Kremlin was preparing for a drawn-out war in Ukraine after almost 11 months of fighting.

About 1,700 people lived in the multi-story building, and search and rescue crews have worked nonstop since Saturday’s strike to locate victims and survivors in the wreckage. The regional administration said 39 people have been rescued so far and 30 more remained missing. Authorities said at least 75 were wounded.

Rescuers work on a residential building destroyed after a missile strike, in Dnipro on January 16, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Vitalii Matokha | AFP | Getty Images

The reported death toll made it the deadliest single attack on Ukrainian civilians since before the summer, according to The Associated Press-Frontline War Crimes Watch project. Residents said the apartment tower did not house any military facilities.

This photograph taken on January 14, 2023 shows a destroyed car and a residential building that were destroyed by a missile strike in Dnipro. 

Vitalii Matokha | AFP | Getty Images

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called the strike, and others like it, “inhumane aggression” because it directly targeted civilians. “There will be no impunity for these crimes,” he said in a tweet Sunday.

Asked about the strike Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military doesn’t target residential buildings and suggested the Dnipro building was hit as a result of Ukrainian air defense actions.

— Associated Press

Ukraine prepares for attacks near border with Russian-ally Belarus

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko (C) attends a joint exercise of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at a firing range near Osipovichi outside Minsk, on Feb. 17, 2022.

Maxim Guchek | Afp | Getty Images

Ukraine is growing increasingly prepared for an attack near its border with Belarus, according to NBC News.

Belarus and Russia began joint military exercises on Monday. That’s elevated concerns that Russia will launch a new ground offensive near the Belarus-Ukraine border as it did in February, NBC News reported.

NBC News spoke to one Ukrainian solider who described the need to be on high alert as an attack could come anywhere within in a span of thousands of miles along the border.

Read more here.

Polish PM to Germany: send Ukraine all weapons, including tanks

A new Leopard 2 A7V heavy battle tank, the most advanced version of the German-made tank.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Germany should send Ukraine all the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russia’s invasion, including tanks.

Delivering the keynote speech at a ceremony marking former conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble’s half-century in parliament, he implicitly criticised Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s reluctance to send heavier weaponry.

“I call for decisive actions by the German government,” he said, to applause from gathered, mostly conservative, German legislators. “For all sorts of weapons to be delivered. The battle for freedom and our future is raging as we speak… Tanks must not be left in storehouses, but placed in their hands.”

— Reuters

Latvia’s president says Western world must help Ukraine resist Russia

Latvia president says providing Ukraine with military assistance is the ‘absolute priority’

Latvia’s President Egils Levits said it’s important to maintain support for Ukraine as the war with Russia continues.

“The first reason is that the international community should keep the standard of international law, which is provided for in the Charter of the United Nations from 1945, and we cannot afford to lower this standard,” he told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche in Davos, Switzerland.

“Therefore all states that have committed to peaceful order in the world should commit to helping Ukraine resist this unlawful attack,” he added.

Latvia — which itself declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, shortly before its collapse — has been, and remains, a staunch ally of Ukraine. Levits said Russia’s invasion was the “gravest violation of the sovereignty of a democratic state” and that solidarity between democracies was vital.

“I think all states which are lawful and which want to keep the standard of international law, there is only one decision and that is to support Ukraine.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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