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Live blog: US, allies plan ‘big’ Russia sanctions for war anniversary

Thursday, February 16, 2023 

The United States and its allies plan a major array of new sanctions against Russia for the February 24 anniversary of its offensive against Ukraine, a senior US official has said.

“You will see around the 24th a big new package of sanctions from both the US and all of our G7 partners,” Victoria Nuland, the under-secretary of state for political affairs, told reporters.

“These sanctions will deepen and broaden in certain categories where we have been active before, particularly in limiting the flow of technology to the Russian defence industry,” she said.

Here are the other updates:

1821 GMT — Russia turns to decoy missiles, intel balloons: Ukraine

Russia has switched its aerial strike tactics to fool Ukraine’s air defences, using decoy missiles without explosive warheads and deploying balloons, a senior Ukrainian official has said.

“The Russians are definitely changing tactics” as the conflict approaches its one-year anniversary, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in an interview. The goal of the decoy missiles, Podolyak said, is to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defence systems by offering too many targets.

“They want to overload our anti-aircraft system to get an extra chance to hit infrastructure facilities,” Podolyak said, adding that Ukraine’s air defences are adapting to the challenge.

1700 GMT —  UK will back Ukraine if opposition Labour win power: Labour leader

Britain’s support for Ukraine will not change if the main opposition Labour Party wins power in an election next year, Labour leader Keir Starmer said during a visit to Ukraine.

 “Should there be an election next year and a change of government, the position on Ukraine will remain the same,” Starmer said while visiting the town of Irpin outside Kiev.

1640 GMT — Wagner chief slams ‘bureaucracy’ slowing Russian offensive

The head of Russia’s mercenary outfit Wagner has said it could take months to capture the embattled Ukraine city of Bakhmut and slammed Moscow’s “monstrous bureaucracy” for slowing military gains.

“I think it’s (going to be in) March or in April,” Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said in one of several messages posted online.

“To take Bakhmut you have to cut all supply routes. It’s a significant task,” he said, adding: “Progress is not going as fast as we would like”.

1632 GMT — Major Ukraine donor Estonia calls on allies to do more

Estonia, which has contributed the most military aid to Ukraine by share of its economic size, has called on allies to do more to help the war-torn country.

The Baltic state’s Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur made the appeal following talks in Tallinn with visiting US counterpart Lloyd Austin.

“Whilst the United States is the biggest contributor in absolute terms, Estonia is in relative terms,” Pevkur told reporters. “Estonia’s military assistance to Ukraine recently exceeded one percent of our GDP. Still we can and must do more.”

1624 GMT — Russia, Ukraine exchange over 100 POWs in latest swap

Russia and Ukraine exchanged 101 prisoners of war in their latest prisoner swap, their authorities have said.

“Aircraft of the military transport aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces will deliver the released servicemen to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation in medical institutions of the Russian Defence Ministry,” the Russian ministry said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff posted images of scores of Ukrainian servicemen posing for a photograph after being released. He said 100 troops and one civilian had been returned.

1552 GMT — Ukrainian Nobel winner demands justice for Russian ‘war criminals’

Oleksandra Matviichuk, a Ukrainian rights activist whose NGO was co-winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has called for the world to “hold Russian war criminals accountable.”

“We must break the circle of impunity,” she said, urging the United Nations and the European Union to back Kiev’s call for a special tribunal able to judge top Russian officials all the way up to President Vladimir Putin.

While acknowledging that getting a majority of UN member countries behind that goal was a “hard task,” Matviichuk said it was indispensable for any post-war peace that might follow the end of the conflict in her country.

1401 GMT — ‘We knew’: NATO chief looks back at Russia’s Ukraine incursion

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he went to sleep on the eve of February 24, 2022, knowing full well the carnage that would be unleashed within hours.

Months of warnings from the head of the Western military alliance had hardened into certainty that Russian President Vladimir Putin would launch his all-out attack on Ukraine that day.

“I went to bed. But it was a very short night because I knew that at some stage, within hours, someone was going to wake me up – and that was exactly what happened,” he said in an interview a week ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion.

1346 GMT — Israeli FM offers support for Ukraine peace initiative at UN

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has offered support for a Ukrainian peace initiative at the United Nations next week.

During a joint briefing with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Cohen said Israel would support a Ukrainian peace initiative at the United Nations next week and help secure up to $200 million for healthcare and infrastructure projects.

He added that Israel would also help develop a smart air raid early warning system.

1010 GMT — Ukraine’s Zelenskyy to address opening of Berlin film fest

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is to deliver a live video address at the opening of the annual Berlin International Film Festival, whose organisers say they will pay special tribute this year to Ukraine and to protesters in Iran.

Zelenskyy, a former comedian and actor, features prominently in Sean Penn’s film about the war in Ukraine, “Superpower,” which will have its world premiere at the Berlinale.

This year’s event, which runs until February 26, will see 18 films compete for the Golden and the Silver Bear awards. The winners will be chosen by a jury headed by American actor, screenwriter and director Kristen Stewart.

0955 GMT — US’s Harris to discuss Ukraine, China in talks with foreign leaders in Munich

US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Germany for the Munich Security Conference, a White House official has said.

She will also meet the prime ministers of Finland and Sweden to discuss the NATO accession process and will address relations with China in meetings with foreign leaders, the official added.

“The Vice President will discuss next steps in our support for Ukraine on the battlefield and efforts to impose costs on Russia,” said the official. 

0945 GMT — Belarus will join Ukraine offensive ‘only’ if attacked

President Alexander Lukashenko has said that Belarus would join the offensive in Ukraine “only” if attacked first by Kiev’s army.

“I’m ready to fight together with the Russians from the territory of Belarus in one case only: if so much as one soldier from (Ukraine) comes to our territory with a gun to kill my people,” the Belarusian strongman told a rare press conference with foreign journalists in Minsk.

“This applies to our other neighbours,” Lukashenko said. “If they commit an aggression against Belarus, our response will be the most cruel. The most cruel!”

0940 GMT — US to give Czechs $200M to modernise army, compensate Ukraine aid

The United States will provide $200 million to the Czech Republic for military upgrades and replacement of equipment the Czechs are sending to Ukraine, the US Embassy has said.

The donation is on top of $106 million pledged last year, news agency CTK reported.

0822 GMT — Ukraine’s Zelenskyy thanks Norway for $7B in aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked Norwegian lawmakers for agreeing to pass a bilateral aid package of some $7 billion over five years.

Speaking via video link, Zelenskyy said “the support that Norway is providing for our country sets a precedent for sustainable support”.

Norway, a major petroleum exporter, has seen its government income swell to record levels following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the price of gas sold to Europe soared last year.

The package, announced on February 6, is the largest aid programme Norway has ever supplied to a single nation.

0753 GMT — Japan to invite Ukraine to G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Germany

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has said Japan will invite his Ukrainian counterpart to the Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers’ meeting to be held in Germany on February 18, Kyodo reported.

As the organiser of the meeting and the chair of G7 summit this year, Japan is also preparing to host a G7 summit meeting online on February 24, timed with the one-year anniversary of the war, Kyodo news agency reported earlier this month.

Support measures to Ukraine and sanctions against Ru ssia are expected to be a top priority for G7 leaders.

0730 GMT — Russia fires barrage of missiles at Ukraine

Russia has again fired a barrage of missiles at Ukraine, firing a combination of 36 cruise and other missiles and losing at least 16 of them to Ukrainian air defence batteries, Ukrainian officials said.

The head of Ukraine’s presidential office said targets had been hit in the country’s north, west and south.

A 79-year-old woman was killed and at least seven other people were wounded when missiles hit the eastern city of Pavlohrad, Ukrainian local Govenour Serhiy Lysak reported.

A regional governor in western Ukraine, Maksym Kozitskyi, said a fire broke out at a “critical” infrastructure facility in the province of Lviv. He did not immediately offer details.

0729 GMT — Some 1.1M people came to Germany from Ukraine in 2022

Some 1.1 million people arrived in Germany from Ukraine in 2022, exceeding the influx of migrants from the Middle East around 2015, Germany’s federal statistical office said.

Two-thirds of the immigrants from Ukraine arrived in the first three months after Russia began attacks on Ukraine, between March and May of last year, it said.

The data comes days before the one-year anniversary of the start of the war on February 24, which led to millions of Ukrainians being displaced.

0728 GMT — Israel FM in first visit to Ukraine since war began

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has arrived in Kiev on the first visit to Ukraine by an Israeli minister since Russia began attacking Ukraine nearly a year ago, his office said.

Cohen “will make an official visit today to Kiev, during which he will meet President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister (Dmytro) Kuleba,” the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement after his arrival in the Ukrainian capital.

2200 GMT — US should prove it did not destroy Nord Stream: Russia

The United States should try to prove it was not behind the destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines that connected Russia to Western Europe, the TASS news agency has cited the Russian embassy to the United States as saying.

Moscow considers the destruction of Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines last September “an act of international terrorism” and will not allow it to be swept under the rug, the embassy said in a statement.

For our live updates from Wednesday (February 15), click here

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