Monday, December 11, 2023

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 336: Germany greenlights tank deliveries to Ukraine but warns against ‘escalating’ war

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Biden: US to send 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine

President Joe Biden has announced that the US will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine.

Speaking at the White House, he said, “I’m announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion.”

“Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has recommended this step because it all enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend his territory to achieve strategic objectives,” he continued.

Biden also added Washington was giving Ukraine the necessary parts and equipment, and will be providing Ukrainian personnel with training.

Biden speaks to European allies over Ukraine support

US President Joe Biden spoke with European allies about supporting Ukraine, the White House announced.

Biden discussed “our close coordination on support for Ukraine” with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated.

Slovakia is ready to send 30 T-72 tanks to Ukraine: Minister

Slovakia is ready to send 30 T-72 tanks to Ukraine “immediately” if it can receive Western tanks to replace them, defence minister Jaroslav Nad said.

Nad told a briefing that Slovakia had sent 30 Soviet-era BVP-1 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine last year after agreeing that Germany would deliver 15 Leopard 2 tanks to Slovakia to take their place.

“We still have 30 T-72 tanks and would be ready to send them immediately to Ukraine, even tomorrow, if there would be an option to receive Western tanks – Leopards or any other in exchange,” Nad continued.

“There is no space for decrease in Slovakia, but there is space for exchange,” he added.

Germany plans to send more weapons support besides tanks

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Germany plans to send further military support to Ukraine beyond the delivery of 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks.

“Alongside the tanks that are being discussed now, we continue to intend to expand what we have delivered,” Scholz stated at a press conference in Berlin with the Icelandic prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir.

He listed air defence systems, heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers as possible future arms deliveries.

Ukraine asks countries with Leopard 2 tanks to provide as many as possible

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday appealed to all countries that operate the Leopard 2 battle tank to “provide as many of them as possible” to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

“So the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible,” the minister added.

NATO chief says German tanks can help Ukraine ‘win’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday “strongly” welcomed Germany’s decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, saying it can help Kyiv defeat Russia’s invading forces.

“At a critical moment in Russia’s war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win & prevail as an independent nation,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

No possibilities in sight now for diplomatic solution to Ukraine crisis: Kremlin

Diplomatic possibilities to settle the conflict in Ukraine are not visible right now, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

“We can simply state that the possibilities for paving the way to a diplomatic solution are not visible at the present moment,” he stated.

Asked at a press briefing about possible alternatives to a military solution in Ukraine, Peskov replied that “we can delve into lengthy discussions and try to model the situation’s possible developments.”

“That’s not our job, we need to leave that to the political experts,” he added.

First Leopard tanks may be shipped to Ukraine in 3-4 months: German DM

First Leopard tanks may be shipped to Ukraine in about 3 to 4 months, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on TV Wednesday.

“This [shipment of tanks] will not happen sooner than in 3 to 4 months,” Pistorius stated.

Earlier on Wednesday, the German government confirmed that it will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks from Germany’s own stock to Ukraine and will authorize other countries to re-export German-made tanks.

Ukraine ‘needs a lot of Leopards’, says presidential aide

President Volodymyr Zelenksiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, has welcomed the news that Germany will send Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

“The first tank step has been taken,” he posted to Telegram.

“Next is the ‘tank coalition’. We need a lot of Leopards,” he added.

Netherlands also prepared to supply battle tanks to Ukraine: PM

The Netherlands is prepared to deliver battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.

“If a contribution from the Netherlands helps, we are prepared to do so,” Rutte told Dutch broadcaster RTL.

Rutte said the Netherlands could opt to buy tanks it currently leases from Germany, and supply those to Ukraine.

Zelensky tells Scholz ‘sincerely grateful’ for German tanks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday thanked his German counterpart Olaf Scholz for Berlin’s decision to deliver powerful Leopard tanks and grant approval for other countries to send some from their own stocks.

“German main battle tanks, further broadening of defence support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz,” Zelensky said on Twitter, adding that he was “sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends”.

Ukraine advises West on how to negotiate with Russia

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba has claimed that Kiev negotiated in good faith for years, while Moscow used the Minsk process mediated by Paris and Berlin to buy time for war. He also argued the West is not enough for peace, which can only come when the Global South sides with Ukraine.

“For eight years, Ukraine and the West tried to end the war by means of politics and diplomacy,” Kuleba argued in a Politico op-ed, titled “How Not to Negotiate with Russia.”

The Minsk process, initiated in 2014 by France and Germany, saw Ukraine agree to “years of fruitless negotiations” in order to “avoid escalation and preserve peace in Europe,” he wrote.

“While we were holding back, Russia was building up,” Kuleba added, claiming that Moscow was “preparing for a full-scale war on Ukraine” all along, in order to “destroy the democratic international order with a single devastating blow.”

Ukraine fully adhered to the Minsk process, while Russia “never sought fair peace and fair play,” Kuleba claimed.

Special operation aimed at protecting people and Russia itself: Putin

Defending Russia and its people from threats against its historical lands has been the special military operation’s objective, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

“The goal [of the special military operation], as I have said many times before, is primarily to protect the people and Russia itself from threats being posed to it on our historical lands bordering our territory. We cannot allow this to happen,” the Russian leader stated in his speech devoted to Russian Students Day.

European countries will sooner or later regain their sovereignty, but this may take time, Putin continued, adding, “Of course, the time will certainly come, and there is no doubt about it, when Europe will somehow restore its sovereignty. Apparently, this may require some time.”

Ukraine’s military confirms it has withdrawn from Soledar

Ukraine’s military spokesperson, Serhiy Cherevatyi, has said Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the eastern town of Soledar in the Donetsk region, according to the country’s state broadcaster Suspilne.

His comments are the first Ukrainian confirmation of Soledar’s capture by Russian forces.

Germany’s decision signals ‘pre-planned war’ against Russia: Moscow

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that Germany’s decision to supply tanks to Ukraine confirms a “pre-planned war” against Moscow.

For months Kyiv has asked for Western tanks that it desperately needs to give its forces the ability to break through Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory in the east and south.

Finland says it will join coalition sending tanks

Finland’s defence minister Mikko Savola says Finland will participate in the group of countries sending tanks to Ukraine, although the contribution would be limited in scope.

“The international cooperation to send Leopards to Ukraine is advancing now and Finland will participate in that,” Savola told reporters.

He declined to comment further on the size of Finland’s contribution.

Germany abandoning ‘historical responsibility to Russia’: Embassy

The Russian embassy in Germany announced Berlin’s decision to approve the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine means it is abandoning its “historical responsibility to Russia” arising from Nazi crimes during World War II.

The embassy said in a statement that the decision would escalate the conflict to a new level.

“This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it,” Ambassador Sergey Nechayev stated.

Spain poised to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Spanish daily El Pais reported that Spain is expected to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government had earlier agreed to send the German-made battle tanks as long as there was a coordinated plan at the European level, the daily added.

The details of the Spanish contribution are still being evaluated by the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, as well as Sanchez’s office.

El Pais reports that the Spanish army has 108 Leopard 2 main battle tanks, the model Ukraine wants to halt Russia’s advance.

Germany to adhere to principle that Russia-NATO escalation must be avoided: Chancellor

Germany will never supply combat aircraft and send soldiers to Ukraine, Scholz continued.
“We are not talking about [supplies of] combat aircraft, I clarified it quite early, and I am doing it here, now,” Scholz noted, answering a question from one of the lawmakers who expressed such concerns.

German FM admits Europe is ’fighting a war against Russia’

Annalena Baerbock made the remarks at a meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

“The crucial part is that we do it together and that we do not do the blame game in Europe because we are fighting a war against Russia,” she noted.

French presidency welcomes German tank approval

France welcomes Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and allow other states to do the same.

“France welcomes the German decision, which extends and amplifies the support we have provided with the delivery of the AMX10 RC”, the Elysee said in a statement, referring to a France-made lighter combat vehicle Paris is also aiming to send to Ukraine.

Sending tanks to Ukraine is the ‘right decision’: UK PM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says Germany and other NATO allies’ move to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was the “right decision”.

“The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower,” Sunak wrote on Twitter.

Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” he added.

Germany approves Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Germany will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and approve partner countries’ requests.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated in a statement, “This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally.”

The goal is to establish two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine quickly, the statement said, adding Germany would first step in and provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks from military stocks.

Training of Ukrainian troops in Germany will begin soon, and Germany will also provide logistics and ammunition.

NATO not seeking to become party to Ukraine conflict: Bloc chief

NATO is neither a party to the conflict in Ukraine, nor does it seek to become one, the bloc’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper published on Wednesday.

He pointed out that NATO was not and would not be a warring party. The US-led alliance is not sending its troops and aircraft to Ukraine, Stoltenberg added.

He also pointed out that the bloc supported Kiev by providing equipment. Ukraine has the right to self-defense based on the United Nations Charter and NATO has the right to support its efforts to protect this right, the secretary general stated.

According to Stoltenberg, there is always the risk of escalation so it’s crucial to boost the bloc’s military presence on its eastern flank. He believes that it will make Moscow understand that NATO is determined to defend every inch of its territory.

Ukrainian forces pull out of Soledar: Report

The Ukrainian military has told AFP news agency that its troops have pulled out of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region, which Russian forces claimed they captured earlier this month.

“After months of heavy fighting, including over the past weeks, the Armed Forces of Ukraine left (Soledar) and retreated along the outskirts to pre-prepared positions,” military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty stated.

Russia expresses alarm over ‘doomsday clock’

The Kremlin expresses alarm that the “Doomsday Clock” has edged closer to midnight than ever.

The “Doomsday Clock,” created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to illustrate how close humanity has come to the end of the world, on Tuesday moved its “time” in 2023 to 90 seconds to midnight, 10 seconds closer than it has been for the past three years.

“The situation as a whole is really alarming,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

He stated there was no prospect of any detente based on “the line that was chosen by NATO under US leadership”.

“This imposes on us a duty to be particularly careful, to be alert and to take appropriate measures,” he added.

US tanks will ‘burn’: Kremlin

The Kremlin announced the Abrams battle tanks supplied to Ukraine by the United States will “burn”, dismissing the proposed shipments.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while the Abrams shipments were not confirmed, they would be a waste of money.

“I am certain that many experts understand the absurdity of this idea. The plan is disastrous in terms of technology,” he stated, adding, “But above all, it overestimates the potential it will add to the Ukrainian army. These tanks burn just like all the others.”

US officials say Washington is set to send dozens of its M1 Abrams battle tank, reversing its previous position.

‘A blatant provocation’: Russian diplomat slams potential tanks delivery

The possible deliveries of battle tanks by Washington to Ukraine will be a “another blatant provocation” against Russia, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, has stated.

“It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov said in remarks published on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app.

“If the United States decides to supply tanks, then justifying such a step with arguments about ‘defensive weapons’ will definitely not work. This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation,” he added.

Wagner making progress in Bakhmut: Russian-installed governor

The Russian-installed governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk region has claimed that units of the Wagner private military company were making progress in the town of Bakhmut, with fighting ongoing in previously Ukrainian-held neighbourhoods.

Bakhmut has been the focus of intense fighting for months.

It’s fall to Russian forces could mark Moscow’s most significant victory after months of military setbacks.

Russia prepares to deploy small number of T-14 Armata: UK ministry

The British ministry of defence gives its latest bulletin on the situation in Ukraine.

The focus is on the Russian-made tanks, the T-14 Armata, which Moscow has prepared in small number “for the type’s first operational deployment” in the war-torn country, the ministry said.

“However, in recent months, deployed Russian forces were reluctant to accept the first tranche of T-14 allocated to them because the vehicles were in such poor condition,” it added.

It is unclear exactly what aspects of the vehicles prompted this reaction, but within the last three years, Russian officials have publicly described problems with the T-14’s engine and thermal imaging systems.

In 2021, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu described the planned production run for 2022 as only an “experimental-industrial” batch. Therefore, it is unlikely that any deployed T-14 tanks will have met the usual standards for new equipment to be deemed operational,” the ministry added.

US sees some Chinese companies helping Russia’s Ukraine effort: Source

The United States has determined that some Chinese companies are providing non-lethal assistance to Russia for use in the Ukraine war and officials are noting their concern to the Chinese government, a source familiar with the matter said.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated, “What we’re seeing is non-lethal military assistance and economic support that stops short of wholesale sanctions evasion.”

The United States has warned the Chinese government of consequences should China provide weaponry to Russia for use against Ukraine.

US officials view the current activity as concerning and believe it is “a significantly scaled-down version of the PRC’s (Peoples Republic of China) initial plan, which was to sell lethal weapons systems for use on the battlefield,” the source continued.

It is unclear if the Chinese government is aware of the activity, the source noted, adding, US officials are reaching out to Chinese authorities through diplomatic channels.

“We will continue to communicate to China the implications of providing material support to Russia’s war against Ukraine,” stated White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price noted Washington has been very clear with China about the implications of providing material to support Russia’s war in Ukraine, though he declined to confirm Tuesday’s reports.

“But we would be concerned if we were to see not only the PRC itself engaging in this but Chinese companies, PRC companies, doing this,” Price told reporters.

Price added that he suspects it is something that will be discussed in coming days when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has an opportunity to travel to Beijing.

US is finalizing plans to send 30 Abrams tanks to Ukraine: Officials

The Joe Biden administration is finalizing plans to send approximately 30 US-made Abrams tanks to Ukraine and could make an announcement as soon as this week, according to two officials familiar with the deliberations.

The US will also send a small number of recovery vehicles, one of the officials said. Recovery vehicles are tracked vehicles used to assist in the repair of tanks on the battlefield or the removal from the battlefield for service and maintenance in a different location.

The timing around the actual delivery of the tanks is still unclear and it normally takes several months to train troops to use the tanks effectively, officials added.

An announcement about the tanks could be part of an attempt to break a diplomatic logjam with Germany, which indicated to the US last week that it would not send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless the US also agreed to send its M1 Abrams tanks.

Top national security officials in the administration have been actively considering steps they could take to convince Germany to send the Leopards.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman stated Tuesday that she suspects that the matter of tanks “will be resolved relatively soon.”

The administration has never taken the possibility of shipping American tanks entirely off the table, but US officials noted publicly last week that now is not the right time to send the 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks because they are costly and require a significant amount of training to operate.

The tanks have instead repeatedly been floated as a long-term option — even as critics say the right time is now, as Ukraine braces for the possibility Russia will mobilize more troops and launch a new offensive. The UK has already announced it will send 12 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, crossing what had previously appeared to be a red line for the US and its European allies.

Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares braces for an expected major Russian counteroffensive in the spring.

G7, partners promise to support Ukraine’s energy sector: US

The G7 and other partner countries have pledged to maintain their support for Ukraine’s energy sector, including delivering equipment and other humanitarian aid during winter, according to a US State Department statement following a meeting of the group’s foreign ministers.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi cohosted the meeting, in which countries also promised to continue coordinating on Ukraine’s efforts to “modernize and decarbonize its energy grid,” the department announced after the virtual meeting.

The foreign ministers reiterated calls for Russia to halt attacks on Ukraine’s energy and heating systems, the State Department added in a statement.

Berlin plans to send German Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Berlin has reportedly succumbed to huge international and domestic pressure and is set to announce that it will send German-manufactured tanks to Ukraine that Kyiv says it needs to push back Russian forces, according to media reports on Tuesday evening citing government sources.

It is reported to be planning to send a company of Leopard 2A6 battle tanks – usually comprising 14 of the vehicles – in conjunction with other partners, namely Scandinavian countries in possession of the units.

Berlin is also understood to have said it would give its permission for export licences for countries such as Finland, Sweden and Poland who have bought the tanks from Germany, allowing them to be sent to Ukraine.

The decision is expected to be made officially on Wednesday and Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is due to be questioned in the Bundestag in the morning in a debate likely to be dominated by the tank decision.

The decision marks a groundbreaking one for Berlin, ending months of painful debate and soul-searching, with the move marking the first time that German tanks will have been used on the battlefield in Europe since the second world war.

Two British aid workers were killed during Ukraine evacuation

British voluntary aid workers Chris Parry and Andrew Bagshaw were killed during an attempted humanitarian evacuation in eastern Ukraine, Parry’s family said on Tuesday, weeks after they were reported missing in the war-torn country.

“It is with great sadness we have to announce that our beloved Chrissy has been killed along with his colleague Andrew Bagshaw whilst attempting a humanitarian evacuation from Soledar, eastern Ukraine,” his family saidtated.

“His selfless determination in helping the old, young and disadvantaged there has made us and his larger family extremely proud,” they added, in a statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office.

Sky News reported Bagshaw’s family as saying the pair was killed while trying to rescue an elderly woman from the town of Soledar.

Russia’s Wagner Group noted earlier in January that its forces had found the body of one of the workers who had been reported missing in eastern Ukraine, the scene of heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

Ukrainian police have announced the two left the city of Kramatorsk for Soledar on Jan. 6 and were reported missing the next evening after contact with them was lost.

“He found himself drawn to Ukraine in March in its darkest hour at the start of the Russian invasion and helped those most in need, saving over 400 lives plus many abandoned animals,” Parry’s family said of him on Tuesday.

No further details on the circumstances of their deaths were provided, and the Foreign Office said it was supporting the families.

Twenty-five killed in Russia border region since Ukraine assault: Governor

Twenty-five people have been killed and more than 90 injured in Russia’s border region of Belgorod since the start of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, according to the region’s governor.

“Ukraine, the enemy, is targeting peaceful settlements. There are 25 dead, 96 people were wounded,” Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov told Putin in televised remarks.

This is the first time Russian officials have announced an official death toll for a Russian region since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

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