US pressures Russian partners around world to cut ties with Moscow: Security chief
The United States is exerting unprecedented pressure on Russia’s partners around the world, forcing them to sever all ties with Moscow, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev stated.
“The methods [of the West] remain the same: political pressure, military blackmail, financial enslavement, economic sanctions and, of course, false propaganda. We can clearly see how this toolkit is used from the example of our partners around the globe: they are facing an unprecedented pressure from the US, which seeks to force them to sever all ties with Russia, no matter how close and profitable they may be,” Patrushev said during Russian-Venezuelan security consultations, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
He also praised the Venezuelan authorities’ public condemnation of the “destructive policy of the West and NATO and the aggression unleashed against Russia”.
The Russian security chief stated that the consultations were held against the backdrop of a difficult situation in the world, when all countries were faced with a fateful choice.
“In your native language, Spanish, there is such an expression – the moment of truth. It used to refer to bullfighting, when it was decided who would win – a bull or a matador. <…> The whole world, all sovereign states are experiencing the moment of truth, when it is necessary to make a choice – to defend freedom of choice of development path, values and identity or to submit to dictate of so-called collective West headed by the US,” Patrushev pointed out.
US does not see significant near-term Russian gains in Ukraine: Pentagon official
The United States does not expect Russia to make significant territorial gains in Ukraine in the near-term, a senior Pentagon official said, describing the front lines in the year-long war as a “grinding slog.”
“You may see small portions of territory change hands in the coming weeks and months,” Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, told members of the House of Representatives.
“I do not think that there’s anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so,” he added.
US and its allies have trained more than 4,000 Ukrainian military members: Top defense official
A top US defense official told the House Armed Services Committee that the US and its allies have now trained more than 4,000 members of the Ukrainian military.
“Collective training is ongoing throughout Europe and is dramatically increasing Ukrainian combined armed organizations, all told, since January, the US military has trained over 1000 Ukrainians, bringing the total by the United States trained by the United States to just over 4000,” Lt General Douglas Sims II, director of operations for the Joint Chief of Staff, said.
The US military has also been training Ukrainians on the Patriot missile system at Fort Still, Oklahoma, and Sims announced that the training will be finished soon.
“US armed forces will soon complete the training and equipping of Ukraine’s first Patriot battery,” Sims told the Committee.
This is the first time the Pentagon has specified when that training may end.
“We are confident the Ukrainians will employ Patriots with the same expertise they are demonstrating every day with their current air defense capabilities,” Sims added
Situation in Bakhmut is “much worse than officially reported”: Ukrainian soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut describe a worsening situation on the ground as Russian forces continue to apply pressure to capture the eastern Ukrainian city.
“The situation in Bakhmut is very difficult now. It is much worse than officially reported,” a soldier who didn’t want to be named told CNN on Tuesday,adding, “We should add another 100% difficulty to the official reports. In all directions. Especially in the northern direction, where the orcs [Russians] have made the biggest advance.”
The soldier refuted Russian claims that Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut had been cut off and were unable to get supplies into the city.
“The Khromove [settlement] is the key for the defense of the city. When it is captured, only one Bakhmut – Kostiantynivka road will remain to supply the city,” the soldier explained.
“It is already under the enemy’s fire control, and if the enemy captures it, supplies will be impossible,” he continued.
Despite the challenges, the soldier said Ukrainian forces would defend the city as long as possible.
“The city will be defended until the end, no matter what,” he added.
“We all understand that we are holding on and dying to win time for a counteroffensive in the spring,” the soldier also said. “We cannot give up every city without a fight,” he continued.
Another soldier referenced only by his call-sign Kyivan, described a similar situation in a video posted on social media.
“As of the morning of February 28, the situation around the defense of Bakhmut is quite difficult,” Kyivan, who used to be based in Bakhmut said, citing information he is getting from colleagues inside the city.
A third soldier speaking alongside Kyivan described the battles in Bakhmut as “hellish,” but added that Ukrainian soldiers were “holding everything.”
ICC’s top prosecutor in Ukraine to probe Russian attacks on power grid
The International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) top prosecutor has been in Ukraine to investigate Russia’s campaign of missile and drone attacks on power and other infrastructure, which has killed hundreds of civilians and left millions with no electricity or water.
Russia says the attacks are legitimate and aimed at weakening the enemy’s military, but Ukraine casts them as a means of intimidating civilians.
The Geneva Conventions and additional protocols shaped by international courts say parties involved in a military conflict must distinguish between “civilian objects and military objectives” and that attacks on civilian sites are forbidden.
“Generally, we see clearly a pattern, I think, in terms of the number, scale and breadth of attacks against the power grids of Ukraine, and we need to look at why that’s taking place,” ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said, adding, “Are they legitimate targets or not?”
EU plans to extend gas consumption reduction targets
The EU is planning to extend its gas consumption reduction measures into next winter to replenish stocks, the bloc’s energy ministers have said.
Confronted by soaring energy costs after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, the 27-member bloc agreed last July to reduce gas usage between August 2022 and March 2023 by 15 percent.
According to the EU statistics agency Eurostat, gas consumption in the EU fell by 19.3 percent between August and January, compared with the same period between 2017 and 2022.
The EU regulation adopted last year expires at the end of March, the EU’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson stated, adding that the Commission considers “continuing demand reduction a no-regret option”.
EU member states will have to agree to any new target on reduction for next winter, with Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, calling for a target higher than 15 percent.
Ukraine intel chief sees no signs China plans to arm Russia
Ukraine’s head of military intelligence has brushed aside claims that China is considering furnishing arms to Russia, telling US media that he saw no “signs that such things are even being discussed”.
Senior US officials have said they were “confident” China was considering the supply of lethal equipment to Moscow, with a diplomatic pressure campaign underway to discourage it from doing so.
But when asked about the possibility in an interview with Voice of America published on Monday, Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov stated, “I do not share this opinion.”
“As of now, I do not think that China will agree to the transfer of weapons to Russia,” he contineud, adding, “I do not see any signs that such things are even being discussed.”
Asked specifically about the US assessment, Budanov said, “I am the head of intelligence and I rely, with all due respect, not on the opinions of individual people, but only on facts. I do not see such facts.”
Top Pentagon official argues against providing F-16s to Ukraine due to timelines, cost and war priorities
A senior Defense Department official argued against providing F-16s and the necessary training to Ukraine at this time because of how long it would take, its cost and Ukraine’s most urgent priorities as the war passes the one-year mark.
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said it would take 18 months to provide F-16s to Ukraine and train their pilots on flying the fourth-generation fighter. The cost of doing so would quickly drain the authorized money for providing US aid to Ukraine, Kahl stated, when F-16s are not one of the top three priorities for Kyiv right now.
“It’s just hard for me to tell any member of Congress or the American people that the best use of that dollar spent right now is on F-16s,” Kahl told Tuesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on the oversight of US aid to Ukraine.
Kahl added Ukraine’s top three priorities remain air defenses, artillery and armor, which he said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized to President Joe Biden during their meeting in Kyiv last week.
The cost of sending 36 older F-16s to Ukraine, which is approximately half of what the US Air Force estimates Ukraine will ultimately need to replace its Soviet-era fighters, will cost about $2-3 billion, Kahl continued.
He added that providing Ukraine with new F-16s would take between three to six years.
Kahl also said Ukraine may receive different fighter jets, such as the British Tornado or Swedish Gripen, which require completely different training. He said it “doesn’t make sense” to train Ukrainians on the F-16 system if they might not receive it.
Russia does not have the resources for an “unconstrained” nuclear arms race, stated Kahl, when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to suspend the nuclear arms treaty, New START.
“Frankly, Russia is in no position for an unconstrained nuclear arms race. They do not have the money, especially given the strain on their military from the war, sanctions, export controls. So, you know, I think this was a way for him to generate some rhetorical headlines. But I think as a practical matter, it has not changed the situation,” Kahl told lawmakers.
If Moscow uses nuclear weapons of any kind as part of their ongoing invasion of Ukraine, top US officials have made it “very clear” that the consequences would be severe, he added.
While he noted that there needs to be vigilance given Russia remains a dangerous power with a lot of nuclear weapons, he stated it’s unlikely Moscow will use nuclear weapons.
UN nuclear watchdog concerned about Ukraine nuclear power plant
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, expressed concern on Tuesday about Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, citing delays in staff rotations, an increased security presence on-site, and nearby fighting.
“The sound of artillery fire near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the temporary loss of its only remaining backup power line have again underlined persistent nuclear safety and security risks during the military conflict in the country,” Grossi said in a statement.
The IAEA announced its team members stationed at the plant heard around 20 “detonations” on Monday afternoon, writing they were “apparently in the vicinity of the plant.” It also cited an increased security presence on site over recent weeks.
“This is a concerning trend that shows the urgency and importance of establishing a nuclear safety and security protection zone at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant,” Grossi stressed.
He also raised concerns about continued delays for the rotation of the IAEA experts on site, saying the current team should have been replaced more than three weeks ago and that he hopes the rotation can finally occur later this week.
The UN nuclear agency also confirmed that the plant’s backup power line was restored on Sunday afternoon after losing power twice on Saturday morning. It said the disconnection occurred on the other side of the Dnipro river
War in Ukraine must end with strategic failure for Russia: Pentagon official
The war in Ukraine must end with strategic failure for Russia, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.
“[W]hat I will say is our position is that this has to end in a strategic failure for Russia, that no aggressor looking at this across the world thinks, ‘Oh that’s a good idea, I’m going to get what I want and not pay any price,’” Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Wallander added that any negotiations must be “a Ukrainian-led process because they’ve earned it.
Finland and Sweden joining alliance is top priority: NATO chief
Finland and Sweden’s applications to join the NATO military alliance is a “top priority,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
“The time is now to ratify and to fully welcome both Finland and Sweden as members,” he stated at a joint presser with Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Helsinki.
“It is inconceivable that there would be any threat against Finland or Sweden without NATO reacting,” he added.
Stoltenberg went on to say that, so far, Finland and Sweden have had the “quickest accession process in NATO’s modern history.”
Both countries applied for membership in May last year, and in June all NATO allies agreed to invite both countries to join the alliance and set out accession protocols.
So far, 28 out of the 30 allies have ratified both Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. Only Hungary and Turkey have not yet done so.
The Hungarian parliament have made it clear they will start discussion within a few days, according to Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg noted that Turkey had expressed some concerns about the countries’ accession, mainly concerning Sweden.
Putin signs law formally suspending New START participation
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Tuesday that formally suspends Russia’s participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
“The Russian Federation suspends the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, signed in Prague on April 8, 2010,” the text of the law’s explanatory note said.
Putin stated last week that Russia was suspending participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but it was not withdrawing from it.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry also announced Moscow will continue to respect the caps established in the treaty and reiterated that Putin’s suspension of the treaty is “reversible.”
The Russian president is the one who can make the decision to resume the country’s participation in the agreement.
The treaty is the last in a long series of nuclear treaties between the US and Russia, previously the Soviet Union. It puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.
The treaty was already essentially paused since Russia had recently refused to open up its arsenal to inspectors.
A top US State Department official noted Monday that the United States “very much” hopes Russia is still interested in arms control, but Putin’s decision to suspend New START participation calls the interest into question.
“By tying it to Ukraine right now, tying it to an immovable object in the sense that our support for Ukraine will not be limited by their New START decision, they’re really placing in doubt their support for the treaty itself,” Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Mallory Stewart said.
Top US diplomat reiterates concerns China will provide lethal aid to Russia
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated the Joe Biden administration’s concern that China is considering providing lethal aid to Russia for its war in Ukraine and warned that Beijing would face consequences for such a move.
“We did very clearly warn China about the implications and consequences of going through with providing such support,” Blinken said at a press conference in Kazakhstan, adding, “We will not hesitate, for example, to target Chinese companies or individuals that violate our sanctions, or otherwise engaged in supporting the Russian war effort.”
Blinken stated he raised the issue “directly” with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi when he saw him on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, and US President Joe Biden raised it with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indonesia in November.
If China were to support Russia’s war efforts, it would create a “serious problem” for US-China relationship as well as China’s relationships with other countries around the world, Blinken said, adding that he hopes China will take US warnings seriously and refrain from helping Russia.
“China can’t have it both ways when it comes to when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can’t be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand, while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” Blinken continued.
Russia’s new territorial “realities” can’t be infringed upon in possible peace talks: Kremlin
Russia’s new territorial “realities” cannot be infringed upon during possible talks with Kyiv, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.
“There are certain realities, I mean the new Russian territories, there is the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which cannot be ignored, which the Russian side will never be able to infringe upon. These are very important realities,” Peskov told reporters during a regular call.
“The Russian Federation also has certain goals, which it is attaining in the course of the special military operation. Of course, given the favorable state of affairs and the appropriate attitude of the Ukrainian regime, this can also be decided at the negotiating table,” he continued.
“The main thing is to achieve our goals, this is our priority for sure,” he added.
When asked how favorable the present moment is for these negotiations, Peskov replied:
“Currently, probably no one can ascertain the signals from the Ukrainian side. At the moment, we proceed from the impossibility de jure for the Ukrainian side to negotiate on this matter. We proceed from this.”
Putin says Russian security agencies should be established in claimed annexed regions of Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Tuesday it is important for Russia to establish and strengthen resources of Russian security entities in the regions he proclaimed annexed from Ukraine.
“It is worth paying increased attention to the formation of security agencies in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. Strengthen their operational staff resources,” Putin said in opening remarks at a Federal Security Service (FSB) meeting.
In late September 2022, Putin proclaimed Russia would seize of nearly a fifth of Ukraine, following so-called referendums in the regions that were universally dismissed as “shams” by Ukraine and Western nations.
Under the annexation process, which is illegal under international law, Moscow recognized four Ukrainian regions as Russian territory: Luhansk and Donetsk – home to two Russian-backed breakaway republics where fighting has been ongoing since 2014 – as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, despite Ukraine controlling parts of those regions