Ukraine war live updates: Russians make 'tactical advances' near key target of Bakhmut; Kyiv says situation is 'extremely difficult'

German foreign minister promises weapons and EU accession help during a surprise trip to Ukraine

Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, speaks to the media before the special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on February 25, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium.

Florian Gaertner | Photothek | Getty Images

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made a surprise visit to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv near the Russian border, promising more weapons and “concrete offers” to help the country’s accession to the European Union.

In a statement ahead of a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Baerbock expressed Germany’s support and solidarity with Ukrainians living through Russia’s invasion and harsh winter conditions.

“This city is a symbol of the absolute insanity of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and of the endless suffering that people, especially here in the east of the country, are confronted with every day,” she said.

After Germany last week promised to send Marder fighting vehicles to Ukraine as part of stepped up military support, Baerbock promised more weapons, without specifying which ones.

She also said it was important not to lose sight of Ukraine’s place in Europe and its desire to join the EU. 

“That is why I would also like to talk about the progress made in the accession process,” she said.

“We as the government want to make very concrete offers to Ukraine in order to make progress in strengthening the rule of law, independent institutions and the fight against corruption, as well as in aligning with EU standards.” 

— Reuters

Ukraine’s food minister visits ports in Senegal to see progress of grain delivery

Farmers are seen harvesting wheat in Druzhkivka, Ukraine on 7 August, 2022.

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Mykola Solskyi, Ukraine’s minister of agrarian policy and food, visited the seaport of Dakar, where 95% of Senegal’s food imports arrive.

During his visit, Solskyi said that the Ukrainian government is considering expanding its trade relations with West African countries.

“This will make it possible to predictably conduct business, stabilize prices and gain confidence in the quality of grain and its supplies,” Solskyi said, according to a readout provided by the Ukrainian government.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy provides EU Council president with a battlefield assessment

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin for a temporary cease-fire during Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke with European Council President Charles Michel over the phone.

Zelenskyy said he gave Michel an update on the situation on the battlefield and Ukraine’s current needs for weapons.

“We agreed on joint efforts to implement the Peace Formula and discussed expectations from the upcoming European Union and Ukraine summit,” Zelenskyy wrote in a tweet, referencing his 10-point peace plan.

— Amanda Macias

UN says at least 6,950 killed in Ukraine since start of war

Memorial crosses are seen on the new graves at a cemetery in the southern city of Kherson on December 28, 2022.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed at least 6,952 deaths and 11,144 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes,” the international organization wrote in a release.

— Amanda Macias

Best fighters from ‘Wagner Group’ in war hotspot Soledar, official says

The best fighters from Russia’s paramilitary group, known as the Wagner Group, have been deployed to fight in Soledar in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have made tactical gains in recent days.

Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces, told local TV channel 24 that Russian forces were deploying their best Wagner fighters at Soledar, which had been struck 86 times by artillery over the past 24 hours.

Russia is believed to see the capture of Soledar as a step toward its bigger target, that of capturing Bakhmut in Donetsk where fighting has been intense for months.

Cherevaty said Russia was using World War I-style tactics, throwing large numbers of men into battle and absorbing heavy losses.

The Wagner Group is a private military company whose forces are fighting alongside Russia’s standard military units. Wagner fighters have been privately recruited and the group is estimated to be around 50,000-men strong. Many of the servicemen have been recruited from Russian prisons having been offered the chance to fight in Ukraine in return for pardons. Some Wagner fighters have reportedly already received pardons having fulfilled their military contracts.

“This is basically not a 21st-century war,” Cherevaty said, according to comments on Youtube translated by NBC News.

“Currently, the hottest spot in the Bakhmut direction is Soledar. There are fierce battles now, and the enemy has concentrated there the best units of the … ‘Wagner’ group [there], which are supported by the regular armed forces of the Russian Federation. Fierce battles are ongoing there. The enemy is trying to seize this Ukrainian city at any cost,” he said.

Ukrainian soldiers near a stele with a Ukrainian flag and a handwritten inscription that reads: “Bakhmut is Ukraine” on Jan. 4, 2023, in Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

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On Tuesday alone, Cherevaty said that 86 instances of shelling had been recorded around Soledar and surrounding settlements. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday night that hardly any walls were left standing in Soledar and that Russian corpses covered the landscape.

“What did Russia want to gain there? Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left. And thousands of their people were lost: the whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes,” Zelenskyy said.

— Holly Ellyatt

EU pledges new sanctions against Belarus over support for Russia

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground, where Russian troops are stationed in the Brest region, Belarus January 6, 2023.

Andrei Stasevich | Belta | Reuters

The European Union will impose new sanctions on Belarus as it keeps up the pressure on Russia to end its war in Ukraine and extends measures to those countries that support Russia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.

 “We will keep pressure on the Kremlin for as long as it takes with a biting sanctions regime, we will extend these sanctions to those who militarily support Russia’s war such as Belarus or Iran,” von der Leyen said at a news conference.

 “And we will be coming forward with new sanctions against Belarus answering their role in this Russian war in Ukraine.” 

— Reuters

Russia risks becoming a failed state by 2033, experts say

Russia, as we know it, may not survive the coming decade and risks becoming a failed state as it pursues its costly war in Ukraine, according to a survey of global strategists and analysts.

The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security polled 167 global strategists and practitioners last fall on the biggest prospective drivers of geopolitical, societal, economic, technological and environmental change.

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

One of the poll’s most surprising takeaways, according to the American think tank, was that respondents pointed to a potential Russian collapse over the next decade.

This was “suggesting that the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine could precipitate hugely consequential upheaval in a great power with the largest nuclear-weapons arsenal on the planet,” the Atlantic Council noted.

Read more on the story here

Four killed and 30 wounded in Monday’s strikes, official says

Four civilians were killed and 30 people were wounded on Monday during multiple strikes on the northeastern, eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, a top official said Tuesday.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, noted on Telegram that two people had died in attacks on the Kharkiv region (a market in the village of Shevchenkove was hit, killing two woman) with seven other people injured in the attack. Two others died in an attack on the Kherson region in southern Ukraine on Monday and another two were wounded.

Ukrainian rescuers at work after a Russian missile strike on a local market in Shevchenkove village, Kharkiv region, on Jan. 9, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Elsewhere, six people were wounded in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, he said, and 15 were wounded during attacks on Mykolaiv in the south of the country.

CNBC was unable to verify the figures. Tymoshenko said the figures had been provided by regional military administrations.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia to keep developing nuclear weapons, defense minister says

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a wreath-laying ceremony, which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia June 22, 2022.

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia will continue developing its nuclear triad of ballistic missiles, submarines and strategic bombers because such weapons are the main guarantee of its sovereignty, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday.

“We will continue to develop the nuclear triad and maintain its combat readiness, since the nuclear shield has been and remains the main guarantor of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state,” Shoigu said.

“We will also increase the combat capabilities of the aerospace forces — both in terms of the work of fighters and bombers in areas where modern air defense systems are in operation, and in terms of improving unmanned aerial vehicles.”

— Reuters

Ukraine’s northeast, east and south pounded by Russian strikes

Ukraine’s northeast, eastern and southern regions were hit by another wave of missile strikes at the start of the week, with Kharkiv and Donetsk in the northeast and east as well as Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south all being targeted in rocket attacks.

Two women died in an attack on a village market in the Kharkiv region, while another civilian died in an attack on Kherson while a handful of civilian casualties were also reported.

A number of settlements and civilian infrastructures were struck in attacks on Zaporizhzhia and on the area surrounding Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in Donetsk.

Ukrainian rescuers work on a site following a Russian missile strike on a local market in Shevchenkove village, Kharkiv region, on Jan. 9, 2023.

Sergey Bobok | Afp | Getty Images

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in an operational update on Facebook Tuesday morning that in the past day, Russian forces launched eight missile and 31 air strikes as well as 63 MLRS [multiple launch rocket system] attacks “including on civilian infrastructure of the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson, Kramatorsk [in the Donetsk region]; and Ochakiv in the Mykolaiv oblast [region]. There are victims among the civilian population.”

“The threat of enemy air and missile strikes on critical infrastructure remains high across Ukraine,” the update noted.

Ukrainian soldiers load an M777 cannon in a field on Jan. 9, 2023, in Kherson, Ukraine.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images

Ukraine noted that Russian forces were conducting offensive operations on the Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Lyman axes, and were trying to improve the tactical position in the Kup’yans’k axes, but said while Russian forces concentrate their efforts on capturing the Donetsk region, they “have no success.”

The British Ministry of Defense noted Tuesday that Russian forces have seen some “tactical advances” into Soledar, a town near Russia’s prime target of Bakhmut, over the last four days.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian and Wagner forces make ‘tactical advances’ in Soledar, UK says

In the last four days, Russian forces and their colleagues in the Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group have made “tactical advances” into the small Donbas town of Soledar, according to the latest intelligence update from Britain’s Ministry of Defense.

Soledar is around 6 miles north of Bakhmut, the capture of which likely continues to be Russia’s “main immediate operational objective,” the ministry noted.

Despite recent advances into Soledar and “increased pressure” on nearby target Bakhmut, the ministry said “Russia is unlikely to envelop the town imminently because Ukrainian forces maintain stable defensive lines in depth and control over supply routes.”

A Ukrainian multiple-launch rocket system is hiding among the trees near Soledar as the fighting in the Donbas region continues.

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The ministry noted that “Russia’s Soledar axis is highly likely an effort to envelop Bakhmut from the north, and to disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication.”

“Part of the fighting has focused on entrances to the 200km-long disused salt mine tunnels which run underneath the district. Both sides are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines.”

On Monday night, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that while Russian forces “have now concentrated their greatest efforts on Soledar, the result of this difficult and long battle will be the liberation of our entire Donbas.”

He conceded, however, that the fighting was “extremely difficult” around Soledar, a place where he said there were barely any walls left standing.

“Due to the resilience of our warriors there, in Soledar, we have gained additional time and additional power for Ukraine,” he said in his nightly address.

“And what did Russia want to gain there? Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left. And thousands of their people were lost: the whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes.”

— Holly Ellyatt

More than 7.9 million Ukrainians have become refugees from Russia’s war

Children seen at an underground shelter. Nearly 100 days of war in Ukraine have rendered 3 million children inside Ukraine and over 2.2 million children in refugee-hosting countries in need of humanitarian aid, with nearly 2 out of every 3 children displaced by fighting.

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More than 7.9 million Ukrainians have become refugees and moved to neighboring countries since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago, the UN Refugee Agency estimates.

More than 4.9 million of those refugees have relocated to Poland, according to data collected by the UN Refugee Agency.

“The escalation of conflict in Ukraine has caused civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety, protection and assistance. In the first five weeks, more than four million refugees from Ukraine crossed borders into neighbouring countries and many more have been forced to move inside the country,” the agency wrote.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine says its looking for 2 British volunteers that went missing in the Donetsk region

Ukrainian soldiers of a special forces unit look at live images of Russian positions sent from a drone amid artillery fights on Dec. 20, 2022 in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukrainian authorities are looking for two British volunteers who went missing in Soledar, a city located in the Donetsk region.

“On the morning of January 7, Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Perry left Kramatorsk. At 17:15, the police received a report about their disappearance,” Ukraine’s national police said in a statement, according to an NBC News translation.

“The police are carrying out investigative actions to establish the location of the missing persons,” the statement added.

— Amanda Macias

UK considering supplying Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, Sky News reports

A Challenger 2 main battle tank is displayed for the families watching The Royal Tank Regiment Regimental Parade, on September 24, 2022 in Bulford, England.

Finnbarr Webster | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Britain is considering supplying its tanks to Ukraine for the first time since the war began, Sky News understands.

The U.K. news network, citing a Western source with knowledge of the conversations, said discussions had been taking place “for a few weeks” about the delivery of the British Army’s Challenger 2 main battle tank.

“It would encourage others to give tanks,” a Ukrainian source told the news outlet.

Despite supplying Ukraine with lighter combat vehicles and weaponry, Kyiv’s Western allies have been reluctant to offer heavier tanks in case Russia sees the move as escalatory.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked Germany for Leopard 2 tanks, for example, but Berlin has been cautious about supplying them. On Sunday, however, Germany Economy Minister Robert Habeck said such a supply could not be ruled out.

Ukraine’s allies are meeting next week to discuss the conflict and possible new assistance for the country. Sky News reported that no final decision on whether to supply Challenger 2 tanks has yet been made by the British government and the British Ministry of Defense would neither confirm nor deny the suggestion.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia and Belarus to conduct joint tactical exercise as military buildup continues

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at the Palace of Independence on Dec. 19, 2022, in Minsk, Belarus.

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A joint tactical exercise involving Belarus’ and Russia’s air forces will begin on Jan. 16 and will continue until Feb. 1, according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry, as reported by state news agency BelTA.

An “aviation component” representing the Russia’s aerospace forces arrived in Belarus on Sunday, BelTA reported. It’s expected that “all the airfields and training areas” of Belarus’ air force will be used during the tactical exercise.

The latest report on joint military exercises by allies Belarus and Russia (which have an economic and defense alliance called the “Union State”) comes days after BelTa reported another statement from the defense ministry that stated that “the buildup of the regional military force of Belarus and Russia continues for the sake of ensuring the military security of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.”

The buildup of the joint regional military force involves Russian “personnel, weapons, military and special hardware” continuing to arrive in Belarus.

“The arriving army units are supposed to go through combat shakedown events in Belarusian military exercise areas later on,” BelTA reported last Friday.

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly stressed that the country will not enter the Ukraine war as an active participant, although Minsk has allowed Russia to launch attacks on Ukraine from its territory and has provided logistical support to its neighbor. Joint military exercises with Russia, plus the formation of a joint military unit between the countries, have only deepened suspicions that Belarus could look to support on the battlefield Russia as the war drags on.

BelTA cited the country’s defense ministry as stating that “the decision to create the Belarusian-Russian regional military force in Belarus’ territory had been made, and is being realized, purely for the sake of enhancing the security and defense of the Union State of Belarus and Russia depending on the evolving situation along the border.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Bakhmut ‘holding out against all odds,’ Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian soldiers near a stele with a Ukrainian flag and a handwritten inscription that reads: “Bakhmut is Ukraine” on Jan. 4, 2023, in Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The situation on the front line in eastern Ukraine hasn’t changed significantly in the first week of the year, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with “heavy fighting” continuing in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, particularly around Bakhmut and Soledar.

“Bakhmut is holding out against all odds. And although most of the city is destroyed by Russian strikes, our warriors repel constant attempts at Russian offensive there. Soledar is holding out. Although there is even more destruction there and it is extremely hard,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Sunday.

“There is no such piece of land near these two cities where the occupier would not have given his life for the crazy ideas of the masters of the Russian regime. This is one of the bloodiest places on the frontline,” he added.

Zelenskyy said additional units were being deployed to the area in a bid to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses and intesify attacks on Russian forces.

— Holly Ellyatt

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