Swedish defense officials criticized after warning public to prepare for war; Kyiv rejects idea of cease-fire

Estonia PM pledges more Ukraine aid, says similar from others could help Kyiv win war

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas speaks during a joint press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on June 28, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Thursday announced a fresh 80 million euros ($87.5 million) in military assistance to Ukraine, and said Estonia would provide long-term assistance equaling 0.25% of its GDP over the next four years.

“If all the countries supporting Ukraine made a similar commitment, this would lead to a definite victory for Ukraine,” Kallas said. 

She met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

A memorandum of understanding was signed in support of defense partnerships between the countries, including research and production of autonomous systems, and electronic warfare equipment, according to a release.

Zelenskyy is touring the Baltic states, which also includes Latvia and Lithuania. Located near Russia’s northern border, the former Soviet states — all European Union members — are among Ukraine’s staunchest allies.

— Jenni Reid

Cold snap in Ukraine affects maneuverability on both sides, UK says

A cold snap in Ukraine, with snow and freezing ground temperatures, is hampering operating conditions for both Russian and Ukrainian forces, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Thursday.

“The worsening conditions will be compounded by shortened daylight hours making operating conditions difficult for both sides, which will have to rely on cold weather and night-vision equipment to operate,” the ministry said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Increased snow cover is also likely to be a limiting factor for maneuverability, the ministry said.

Ukrainian military members attach a wire rope to a pickup truck bogged down in the mud to tow it away on Feb. 26, 2023, in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

While frozen ground temperatures tend to allow for easier cross-country movement in January and February, the thaw that follows creates extremely muddy conditions, making it challenging for tanks and other military vehicles to move.

— Holly Ellyatt

Defiant Navalny disputes prison rules in hearing with Russian judge

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny appears on a screen via video link from the IK-6 penal colony in the Vladimir region, during a court hearing to consider an appeal against his sentence in the criminal case on numerous charges, including the creation of an extremist organization, in Moscow, Russia September 26, 2023. 

Yulia Morozova | Reuters

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared before a Supreme Court judge by video link on Thursday to argue unsuccessfully for the right to longer meal breaks and access to more books in prison.

Wearing a black prison uniform and standing behind bars in a small, bare room, Navalny, 47, appeared gaunt but spoke animatedly, at length and without notes.

At one point he said some prison directors were “malicious people and fascists, lunatics”, drawing a rebuke from judge Oleg Nefyodov.

It was the second day running that Navalny had taken part in legal hearings from the Arctic “Polar Wolf” penal colony, one of Russia’s harshest, to which he was transferred last month after his cumulative sentences were extended to more than 30 years.

Navalny said prison rules limiting inmates to one book at a time meant that someone who chose to have a Bible or a Koran could not have any other religious or secular literature, including newspapers or magazines.

“One book is not enough for me. It clearly violates my religious rights,” he said. He also argued that meal breaks were too short.

“I get two mugs of boiling water and two pieces of disgusting bread. I want to drink this boiling water normally and eat this bread. I have 10 minutes to eat. And I am forced to choke on this boiling water,” he said.

His arguments prompted a detailed discussion with Nefyodov and a representative of the justice ministry on prison libraries, meal arrangements and cell furnishings. Both his complaints were rejected, independent Russian news site Mediazona said.

Navalny has frequently used such hearings in the past as a means of defying the authorities, demonstrating his resilience and maintaining a link to the outside world despite the harsh conditions of his imprisonment.

— Reuters

Finland border with Russia to remain closed for another four weeks

Finnish border guard officers walk in the snow at the Raja-Jooseppi border crossing station to Russia in Inari, northern Finland, on November 25, 2023. Raja-Jooseppi in the far north of Finnish Lapland is the only crossing point open on the country’s eastern border. Finland has closed seven checkpoints in response to Russian officials allowing increasing numbers of undocumented asylum seekers to pass through to the Finnish side of the border. (Photo by Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva / AFP) / Finland OUT (Photo by EMMI KORHONEN/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images)

Emmi Korhonen | Afp | Getty Images

Finland is to keep all its border crossing points with Russia closed until Feb.11, the interior ministry announced Thursday.

The Finnish government announced on Dec. 14 that it would temporarily close the border crossing points on Finland’s eastern border for one month to stop what it called “instrumentalised migration at Finland’s eastern border.” It accused Russia of deliberately sending migrants to its border crossing to threaten national security and public order. Russia denied the claims.

Tensions between Moscow and Helsinki have risen since Finland joined the Western military alliance NATO last year, prompting anger in Moscow at the expansion of its long-standing foe.

Finland’s Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen said Thursday that the decision to extend the border closure was “based on information gathered by the authorities, [suggesting] it is very likely that Russia’s hybrid influence activities will resume and expand as we saw earlier. We therefore consider it necessary to keep the eastern border closed.”

“The risk that instrumentalised migration will resume at the eastern border poses a serious threat to national security and public order in Finland,” the ministry said.

“According to the authorities, it is clear that the Russian authorities or other actors have been facilitating instrumentalised migration. This phenomenon also involves international crime,” it added, without presenting evidence for its claims.

The interior ministry said there are still migrants in the border area waiting for it to re-open.

— Holly Ellyatt

A cease-fire would benefit Russia, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and Estonia’s President Alar Karis address a press conference as they meet in Tallinn, Estonia on January 11, 2024. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was in Estonia on January 11, 2024 on the second leg of a Baltic tour aimed at boosting flagging support in his country’s fight against Russia. (Photo by RAIGO PAJULA / AFP) (Photo by RAIGO PAJULA/AFP via Getty Images)

Raigo Pajula | Afp | Getty Images

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine would benefit Moscow, giving it time to replenish its weapons stocks.

“Talking about a ceasefire in Ukraine, it would not constitute peace. It would not mean the war would stop. It also provides no opportunity for political dialogue,” Zelenskyy said, news agency ERR reported.

Zelenskyy is in Estonia Thursday as part of a tour of the Baltic region. He visited Lithuania on Wednesday and is due to travel on to Latvia.

He said Russia’s domestic stock of weapons was becoming depleted and said Moscow was increasingly reliant on drone and missile supplies from its allies Iran and North Korea.

“It is no accident they are trying to source Shahed drones from Iran and are in talks for munitions procurements, including from North Korea,” Zelenskyy said. “Why are they doing it? Because they cannot keep up, their warehouses are emptying.”

“But if there is a break in the fighting and Russia is given two or three years, they may recover their strength and secure a battlefield advantage,” Zelenskyy said.

Russia said earlier this week that it would not comment on accusations it has sourced and used North Korean missiles against Ukraine. It has not commented on the use of Iranian drones although Tehran has admitted to supplying Russia with the unmanned aerial vehicles.

— Holly Ellyatt

Swedish defense officials criticized after warning public to be prepared for war

Top Swedish defense officials have been accused of alarmism after they warned the public that it should be prepared for war.

Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin told a “People and Defense” conference last weekend that “there could be war in Sweden.”

He noted that it wasn’t his “primary intention to appeal to your fear, but rather to your situational awareness” and said he was trying to make Swedes aware of the potential for conflict, and to ask them to be prepared.

“I’m looking to open a door: a door that is frequently blocked and cluttered up with the demands and challenges of everyday life. A door that many Swedes may have kept closed their whole lives. A door to a space where we are confronted with an important question: who are you if war comes?” he said, according to a transcript of his speech.

Sweden applied to join NATO last year but is waiting for its membership bid to be approved by members Hungary and Turkey. Its neighbor Finland was admitted to the military alliance last year, prompting warnings from a Russian diplomat that it would be the first country to suffer if tensions between Russia and NATO escalated.

Warships are seen moored in Fortojning pa strommen in Stockholm, Sweden on June 03, 2022. 

Narciso Contreras | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

When asked to respond to Bohlin’s comments, Sweden’s military Commander-in-Chief Micael Bydén said he agreed with the minister.

“We need to prepare as far as possible, at all levels, throughout society,” Bydén told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Monday.

“I think you should ask yourself the simplest basic questions. If what happens in Ukraine today happens here tomorrow, am I prepared?” he added.

The officials have been accused of spreading alarm among the Swedish public, with former Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson commenting that “war is not on our doorstep.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian missiles hit hotel in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, 11 injured, regional governor says

Rescuers cordon off the area surrounding a destroyed hotel following a missile strike in Kharkiv, on January 11, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)

Sergey Bobok | Afp | Getty Images

Two Russian missiles struck a hotel late on Wednesday in the centre of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, injuring 11 people, one person seriously, the regional governor said.

Pictures posted online showed many of the windows blown out and balconies destroyed with large piles of rubble in the street below. Emergency teams made their way through gaping holes in the facade to sift through rubble inside.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov, writing on Telegram, said the strike at about 10.30 p.m. local time involved S-300 missiles in the city’s Kyiv district.

“Nine of those injured have been taken to medical facilities,” Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “One of them, a 35-year-old man, is in serious condition.”

A fireman is carrying a stretcher for the injured following the rocket attack on a hotel in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on January 10, 2024. In the evening of January 10th, Russia launched a missile attack on Kharkiv. Rockets struck a local hotel, resulting in at least 10 injuries, including foreign journalists. (Photo by Pavlo Pakhomenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Visiting Turkish journalists were among the injured, he wrote.

“One missile hit next to the hotel, right by a fence. The other one hit a nearby annex,” Kharkiv Police Chief Volodymyr Tymoshko told public broadcaster Suspilne.

“Servicemen never stayed in this hotel and just about everyone in Kharkiv knows this. It was used by journalists.”

The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— Reuters

Russia exploiting its position in UN Security Council by procuring North Korean weapons, U.S. says

A joint statement from the U.S. and seven other countries on Wednesday accused Russia of exploiting its position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to acquire weapons from North Korea.

The export of weapons from North Korea violates multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, according to a statement released by the United States Mission to the United Nations.

“Each violation makes the world a much more dangerous place.  And a permanent Security Council member that willingly engages in these violations demonstrates a clear exploitation of its position,” it said.

Alongside the U.S., the joint statement was issued on behalf of France, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Ukraine and the U.K.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. and its Western allies had released a statement condemning the alleged import of North Korean missiles to Russia.

A Kremlin spokesperon on Tuesday declined to comment when asked to respond to U.S. claims that Russia used North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine on Dec. 30. and Jan. 2.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Pope Francis says there is risk of Ukraine becoming a ‘forgotten war’

Pope Francis holds his speech during the weekly General Audience at the Paul VI Hall on January 10, 2024 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Vatican Media | Getty Images

Pope Francis says there is a risk of the war in Ukraine becoming “forgotten,” according to a translated statement from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), quoting a letter from the pope to the head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

“It is our duty to do everything so that this war is not shrouded in silence,” the pope said. He called on the international community and those responsible for the conflict to find peaceful solutions.

Pope Francis condemned strikes on civilians and key infrastructure saying they “are unworthy and unacceptable and cannot be justified by any way.”

— Sophie Kiderlin

Ukraine, Lithuania sign defense support agreement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday that he and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda signed a new defense support agreement.

“I am grateful for Lithuania’s new defense support that we have agreed upon—not only aid but also joint production—particularly of anti-drone equipment, which is critical at the frontline, as well as other areas of defense production. We signed relevant documents today,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy also described weapons and other equipment as well as training for military personnel and Lithuania’s role in the process of clearing mines in Ukraine as “sources of strength.”

Earlier in the day, Zelenskyy said that he was making a surprise visit to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

— Sophie Kiderlin

It’s time for ‘diplomatic action’ in Ukraine, Italy’s defense minister says

The time has come for diplomatic action to pave the way for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, Italy’s defense minister said on Wednesday.

Guido Crosetto told the Italian Parliament that following the failure of the 2023 Ukrainian counteroffensive to produce decisive results, “it seems the moment has come for incisive diplomatic action alongside the aid we are providing because there is a series of important signals coming from both sides,” he said, the ANSA news agency reported.

Crosetto called on Italian lawmakers to remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine. The government voted in December to extend military aid to Kyiv by a further year.

“Our support to Ukraine remains strong and totally unchanged,” he told the lower house of Parliament Wednesday.

(l-r), Joe Biden, President of the United States, Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister of Italy, and Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, welcome Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, at the NATO-Ukraine meeting during the NATO summit. Topics will include further steps to strengthen deterrence and defense. In addition, the meeting will discuss defense spending targets and continued support for Ukraine. 

Kay Nietfeld | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

As the Russia-Ukraine war approaches its second anniversary in February, neither side is in a position to capitulate or compromise in the conflict. Ukraine’s counteroffensive last summer failed to shift the front lines significantly and Russian forces are heavily entrenched in fortified positions across the south and east of Ukraine.

Military experts predict little change in 2024 unless Western support for Ukraine dries up, and warn that neither side will be ready for peace talks unless they hold the upper-hand in the war, giving them negotiating power in any talks.

A day before the World Economic Forum begins in Davos, Switzerland, next Monday, Ukraine and Switzerland are due to co-host a summit of national security advisors from Ukraine’s international allies with the focus on promoting Ukraine’s 10-point peace plan. Russia will not be attending the event.

— Holly Ellyatt

Western allies condemn arms transfers between North Korea and Russia

The U.S and its Western allies issued a statement Tuesday condemning alleged arms transfers between North Korea and Russia.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) export and Russia’s procurement of DPRK ballistic missiles, as well as Russia’s use of these missiles against Ukraine,” said the joint statement, issued by the foreign ministers of the U.S., U.K., EU, Australia, Germany, Canada and partner nations.

“The transfer of these weapons increases the suffering of the Ukrainian people, supports Russia’s war of aggression, and undermines the global non-proliferation regime,” they noted, adding that Russia’s use of North Korean ballistic missiles in Ukraine also provides “valuable technical and military insights” to Pyongyang.

“We are deeply concerned about the security implications that this cooperation has in Europe, on the Korean Peninsula, across the Indo-Pacific region, and around the world,” the statement added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region on Sept. 13, 2023.

Vladimir Smirnov | Afp | Getty Images

The U.S. accused Russia of using North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2, with Ukraine’s international partners condemning their use.

When asked on Tuesday to comment on the White House’s claims, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said “we are leaving it with no comment.”

“I just want to remind [you] that Ukraine is targeting our territories, like Belgorod, with missiles that are manufactured by foreign states, like Germany, France,” he added.

— Holly Ellyatt

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