Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine


U.S. Congress to debate Ukraine aid in $1.66 trillion government funding bill

Itza Villavicencio Urbieta | Istock | Getty Images

Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress were moving forward with a $1.66 trillion government funding bill, scrambling to pass a measure, which includes record military spending and $44.9 billion in aid to Ukraine, before temporary funding runs out on Friday.

The total funding proposed by the sweeping bill, released early on Tuesday, is up from the approximately $1.5 trillion the previous year.

It includes other measures agreed on by negotiators from both parties, including a ban on the use of TikTok on government-owned devices and clarification of Congress’s role in certifying elections, an attempt to avoid a repeat of the violence of Jan. 6, 2021.

Senate and House of Representatives leaders aim to pass the bill and send it to Democratic President Joe Biden by the end of the week to ensure no interruptions to the government’s activities.

Failure could bring a partial government shutdown beginning Saturday, just before Christmas, and possibly lead into a months-long standoff after Republicans take control of the House on Jan. 3, breaking the grip of Biden’s Democrats on both chambers of Congress.

The Ukraine funds would be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as for replenishing U.S. equipment sent to Kyiv. It also includes funding to prepare for and respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict with Ukraine.

This money would be on top of the record $858 billion in military spending for the year, which is up from last year’s $740 billion and also exceeds Biden’s request.

— Reuters

Concrete barriers turned into Christmas decor in Kyiv

Сoncrete blocks, that were previously used for building barricades, are turned into Christmas decorations to distract local citizens from thoughts of war in central Kyiv.

Сoncrete blocks, that were previously used for building barricades, are turned into Christmas decorations to distract locals citizens from thoughts of war, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in central Kyiv, Ukraine December 20, 2022. 

Gleb Garanich | Reuters

Сoncrete blocks, that were previously used for building barricades, are turned into Christmas decorations to distract locals citizens from thoughts of war, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in central Kyiv, Ukraine December 20, 2022.

Gleb Garanich | Reuters

Сoncrete blocks, that were previously used for building barricades, are turned into Christmas decorations to distract locals citizens from thoughts of war, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in central Kyiv, Ukraine December 20, 2022. 

Gleb Garanich | Reuters

— Gleb Garanich | Reuters

Three people reportedly dead as blast shuts Russia-Ukraine gas pipeline

Three people died when a blast ripped through a gas pipeline in central Russia that brings gas from Russia’s Arctic through Ukraine to Europe, local officials and TASS news agency said on Tuesday.

Local officials said on the Telegram messaging app that the flow of gas through the section of the Urengoi-Pomary-Uzhhorod pipeline had been cut as of 1:50 p.m. (1050 GMT).

TASS cited local emergency services as saying three people had died and one had been injured.

A view shows blaze from a ruptured gas pipeline near the village of Yambakhtino in the Chuvash Republic, Russia December 20, 2022, in this still image obtained from a social media video.

Telegram/pro Gorod 21 Chuvash | Via Reuters

The Chuvashia regional Emergencies Ministry said the pipeline had blown up during planned maintenance work near the village of Kalinino, about 150 km (90 miles) west of the Volga city of Kazan. It said the resulting gas flare had been extinguished.

The pipeline, built in the 1980s, enters Ukraine via the Sudzha metering point, currently the main route for Russian gas to reach Europe.

The head office of the state-owned gas producer Gazprom and its local branch did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gazprom had said earlier on Tuesday that it expected to pump 43 million cubic metres of gas to Europe via Ukraine through Sudzha in the next 24 hours, a volume in line with recent days.

— Reuters

‘I am proud of you!’: Zelenskyy visits frontline city Bakhmut

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Ukrainian service members at their position in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 20, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Via Reuters

More information on Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy trip to the frontline city of Bakhmut today has been released by one of his press team.

“Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a working trip to the Donetsk region, where he met with Ukrainian military personnel defending the city of Bakhmut,” Serhii Nikiforov said in translated comments on Facebook.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Ukrainian service members at their position in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 20, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Via Reuters

Zelenskyy “visited the advanced positions of one of the mechanized brigades, the personnel of which is confronting the enemy on the approaches to the city,” he added. The president was also briefed on the operational situation at the frontline and on “proposals for further actions.”

“While in the area of hostilities, Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the Ukrainian soldiers for their courage, resilience, and strength, which they demonstrate while repelling enemy attacks.” The president also presented awards to soldiers while on his visit.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Ukrainian service members at their position in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 20, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Via Reuters

On Zelenskyy’s Telegram account a post showed images of the visit and the comment:

“Bakhmut Fortress. Our people. Unconquered by the enemy. Who with their bravery prove that we will endure and will not give up what’s ours. Ukraine is proud of you. I am proud of you! Thank you for the courage, resilience and strength shown in repelling the enemy attacks.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Ukrainian service members at their position in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 20, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Via Reuters

Bakhmut has been the epicenter of fighting in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine for months.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Monday that “Bakhmut remains the hottest point on the entire front line — more than 1,300 km of active hostilities. Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time goes by — and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the lost army of the occupiers.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian president visits frontline city of Bakhmut

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Ukrainian service members at their position in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 20, 2022. 

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service |  Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has visited the frontline city of Bakhmut, his office said on Tuesday.

The office said that during the visit to Bakhmut, scene of some of the heaviest fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, Zelenskiy met military representatives and handed out awards to soldiers.

— Reuters

80% of Kyiv region reportedly without power after Monday’s drone attacks

As much as 80% of the Kyiv region is without power, according to the head of the regional military administration Oleksey Kuleba. He said on Telegram that “the situation with the electricity supply remains critical” in the Kyiv region on Tuesday.

“After recent drone attacks and rocket attacks, power restoration continues. I want to emphasize that with each enemy shelling, the complexity, and duration of repair work increase,” he said, according to a Google translation of the post.

“As a result of large-scale damage to the energy infrastructure, ‘Ukrenergo’ applies emergency shutdowns of electricity. 80% of the region is without electricity. The most difficult situation is in the Buchanskyi, Vyshgorodskyi, Obukhivskyi, and partially Fastivskyi districts. These are more than 30 communities.”

This photograph shows an object of a critical power infrastructure as it burns after a drone attack to Kyiv, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian power company Ukrenergo said Monday that it had applied emergency power shutdowns “for industrial and other categories of consumers in all regions of Ukraine.”

Kuleba said critical infrastructure facilities such as hospitals, heat and water supply facilities were prioritized for power supplies.

Kyiv came under a heavy drone attack in the early hours of Monday morning as many people slept, damaging critical infrastructure in and around the capital.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin likely trying to deflect responsibility for military failures, UK says

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent meeting with senior military officers was likely a choreographed attempt to “demonstrate collective responsibility for the special military operation,” according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense.

Putin visited the Joint Headquarters of the Special Military Operation (as Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine) on Dec. 16 and was filmed meeting with a number of senior military officers including Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

General Sergey Surovikin (left), commander of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (centre) during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the joint headquarters of the military branches of the Russian armed forces involved in the “special military operation” in Ukraine, at an unspecified location in Russia, on Dec. 16, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

There, Putin invited proposals on how the operation in Ukraine should proceed and Commander of the Russian Group of Forces in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin, was one of those who presented a report, the U.K. noted.

“This display likely aimed to deflect Putin’s responsibility for military failure, high fatality rates and increasing public dissatisfaction from mobilisation. The televised footage was probably designed to also dispel social media rumours of General Gerasimov’s dismissal,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update on Twitter.

— Holly Ellyatt

War barely mentioned at Putin-Lukashenko press conference

Mention of the war in Ukraine was conspicuously absent from a press conference held by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin after their talks Monday.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Mention of the war in Ukraine was conspicuously absent from a press conference held by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin after their talks Monday.

Lukashenko appeared to try to calm fears that Belarus could be absorbed by its larger, dominant neighbor Russia, and said Belarus benefits from its close relationship with Russia in terms of energy and industry as the leaders pledged to deepen ties.

“With regard to someone is absorbing anyone … The question arises, for what? Russia has always met us halfway. There is not a single issue that has remained unresolved today. We are meeting the Russian Federation halfway in the most difficult moment,” Lukashenko said, according to Belarusian state news agency BelTA.

“If someone is hatching up plans to tear us apart, to drive a wedge between us, they will not succeed. In 2020, it was not Russia that attacked us around the perimeter. It was not Russia. Russia extended a helping hand to us. We were attacked from there [from the West]. They wanted to deprive us of both independence and sovereignty,” he claimed.

Belarus saw mass protests in 2020 after an election that many observers believe was rigged to keep long-term leader Lukashenko in power. The protests were met with a harsh response from Belarus’ security services. Lukashenko baselessly blamed the West for inciting the demonstrations. Russia said it was ready to support Lukashenko’s leadership should the protests get “out of control.”

Following months of increased joint military exercises and meetings, concerns have grown that Belarus could enter the Ukraine war to assist Russia (it has already allowed Moscow to launch attacks from its territory). On Monday, Lukashenko said nothing would be able to “break our relationship” with Russia but did not mention the possibility of Belarus assisting Russia in the war in Ukraine.

“So what is there to say? Just one more time: they will not be able to break our relationship. It will only strengthen. Today, in fact, together with the president and our colleagues, we have created a base for the future rapid progress,” Lukashenko said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Bakhmut ‘the hottest point on the entire front line,’ Zelenskyy says

The city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine remains a hot spot in the conflict — the hottest, according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Bakhmut remains the hottest point on the entire front line — more than 1,300 km of active hostilities. Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time goes by — and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the lost army of the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram Tuesday night.

“I thank all our fighters who are heroically holding the Bakhmut direction, Soledar, Avdiyivka, Maryinka, Kremensky direction and the entire Donbas region, which before the arrival of Russia was one of the strongest in Ukraine and which Russia is destroying to the ground. Even such cruelty will not give the enemy anything.”

Smoke rises from the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 19, 2022.

Sameer Al-doumy | Afp | Getty Images

The president claimed Russia had lost almost 100,000 soldiers in Ukraine and said the loss was for nothing.

“They wage a war and waste people’s lives – other people’s lives, not their loved ones, not their own lives, but others – and only because some small group in the Kremlin does not know how to admit mistakes and is terribly afraid of reality,” Zelenskyy said.

Estimates of Russian fatalities in Ukraine differ from one source to another other sources although most put Russia’s death toll as lower than Ukraine’s estimates. Russia itself has not released any data on fatalities in several months.

— Holly Ellyatt

EU approves price cap measure for natural gas in effort to combat energy crisis

European Union energy ministers agreed to a “dynamic” cap on natural gas prices Monday after two months of intense negotiations.

Introducing a limit on gas prices has been controversial for European officials. While many EU member states have argued that the measure is essential to bring down sky-high energy costs for consumers, others have worried about the potential market implications of the policy.

“We did our job, we have the deal. Another mission impossible accomplished,” Jozef Sikela, industry minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, said in a press conference.

Energy ministers overcame their differences and agreed to what they’re calling a market correction mechanism. It will be automatically activated under two conditions: If front-month gas contracts exceed 180 euros ($191) per megawatt hour on the Dutch Title Transfer Facility — Europe’s main benchmark for natural gas prices — for three working days in a row; and the price is 35 euros higher than a reference price for liquid natural gas on global markets for the same period.

The measure will apply from Feb. 15. When applied, it will set a “dynamic bidding limit” on natural gas futures transactions for 20 working days.

Read the full story here.

—Jenni Reid

Putin says situation extremely difficult in Russian-annexed Ukrainian regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Council for Strategic Development and National Projects, via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia December 15, 2022. 

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

President Vladimir Putin said the situation in four areas of Ukraine that Moscow has declared are part of Russia was “extremely difficult” and ordered security services to step up surveillance to secure its borders and combat new threats.

Putin’s comments made on Security Services Day, widely celebrated in Russia, came as Kyiv renewed calls for more weapons after Russian drones hit energy targets and as fears grow that Moscow’s ally Belarus could open a new invasion front against Ukraine.

Putin ordered the Federal Security Services (FSB) to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to combat the “emergence of new threats” from abroad and traitors at home.

In a rare admission of the invasion of Ukraine not going smoothly, Putin cautioned about the difficult situation in Ukraine’s regions that Moscow moved to annex in September and ordered the FSB to ensure the “safety” of people living there.

“The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult,” Putin said late on Monday in comments translated by Reuters.

Reuters

U.S. Treasury official says U.S.-Poland relations are hindering Russia’s war effort

Soldiers from the Ukrainian armed forces’ 10th brigade move a T-72 tank forward as they attempt to repair a track, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on December 19, 2022.

Sameer Al-doumy | AFP | Getty Images

U.S.-Poland relations are affecting the Russian government’s ability to carry out its unprovoked war in Ukraine, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said.

During a meeting with Anna Moskwa, Polish minister of climate and environment, in Brussels on Monday, Adeyemo praised the nations’ combined support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia through sanctions, export controls and the $60 price cap on Russian seaborne oil devised by the G-7 countries, according to a readout.

The measures have effectively shut down Russian tank factories and weakened its finances and economic outlook, the officials said. Adeyemo also lauded Poland’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and highlighted each nation’s pledge to provide further aid to Ukraine.

— Chelsey Cox

Moldova fears a Russian offensive in the country’s east next year, spy chief says

Flags of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria and Russia flutter in central Tiraspol, in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria May 5, 2022. 

Vladislav Bachev | Reuters

Moldova’s spy chief warned of a “very high” risk of a new Russian offensive towards his country’s east next year and said Moscow still aimed to secure a land corridor through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria.

The comments by Alexandru Musteata, head of the Information and Security Service, echo recent messages out of Ukraine where top army generals have warned in recent days of the threat of a major new Russian offensive early next year.

“The question is not whether the Russian Federation will undertake a new advance towards Moldova’s territory, but when it will do so,” Musteata told the TVR-Moldova television channel.

He said his agency believed Russia was looking at several scenarios to reach Moldova and that it was possible an offensive would be launched in January-February or later in March-April.

— Reuters

Putin arrives in Belarus for talks with Lukashenko

MINSK, BELARUS – DECEMBER 19: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (R) seen during the welcoming ceremony at the Palace of Independence on December 19, 2022, in Minsk, Belarus.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Minsk for talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian state media reported Monday afternoon.

The meeting, Putin’s first to the Belarusian capital since 2019, comes amid increasing fears that Moscow may be pushing its ally to increase its military involvement in the war.

Speaking to Russian news agencies earlier Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called Belarus Russia’s “number one ally,” but said that suggestions that Moscow wanted to pressure Minsk into joining the conflict were “stupid and unfounded fabrications.”

—Karen Gilchrist

Kremlin dismisses reports that Belarus is to join conflict

The Kremlin on Monday rejected suggestions that President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belarus signals a ramping up of Minsk’s involvement in the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, December 14, 2022. 

Sputnik | Reuters

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the reports were “groundless” and “stupid,” hours before Putin was due to arrive in the Belarusian capital.

Putin’s visit Monday afternoon marks his first to the ex-Soviet ally in more than three years, and comes as Belarus’ defense ministry said it had finalized a series of inspections of its armed forces’ military preparedness.

—Karen Gilchrist

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