Allies struggle to assemble two battalions of Leopard tanks; Russia makes marginal gains near Bakhmut

Russia is likely to continue to suffer mounting casualties as it recruits more ill-equipped and ill-trained soldiers into the fight and intensifies attacks in eastern Ukraine, according to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“That’s their strength, they have a lot of people,” Austin told reporters after a two-day Nato meeting in Brussels. “Our goal is to make sure we give Ukraine additional capabilities so they can be decisive on the battlefield in their upcoming offensive.”

Key developments

  • EU sanctions seek to make banks divulge frozen Russian assets
  • Germany to lift defence spending by up to €10bn next year
  • Central bankers in bunkers keep Ukraine’s war economy afloat
  • Iranian drones hitting Ukraine struck a tanker earlier, says US

On the ground

The threat of further Russian air and missile strikes remained high across Ukraine, the latter’s military General Staff said in its update early on Wednesday. Russia was making further attempts to gain full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while focusing its efforts on offensive operations on the Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Shakhtar axes.

The Institute for the Study of War said that Russian forces made marginal territorial gains near Bakhmut and continued ground attacks across the Donetsk region. The Russian army also unsuccessfully attacked Ukrainian positions in the western Zaporizhzhia region while continuing to fortify positions in the area.

US senator revives bid to declare Wagner a terror group  

Republican Senator Roger Wicker has reintroduced legislation to designate the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force, as a foreign terrorist organisation.

“Vladimir Putin is a thug who will stop at nothing to win, and the Wagner Group is among his favourite and most vicious tools,” said Wicker, who is also a ranking member of the US Helsinki Commission. “The US should call this shadow army what it is: a foreign terrorist organisation.”

Wicker and a bipartisan group of senators introduced the bill in the last congress, but it failed to become law. The Biden administration has resisted the idea and instead labelled the Wagner Group a transnational criminal organisation last month.

Ukraine to receive fewer battle tanks than promised 

Poland has assembled about 30 units of the older A4 version of the Leopard 2, which is almost enough for the standard Ukrainian battalion of 31, but many of them are in poor condition and need repairs before they can be deployed, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said in Brussels.

Those tanks will only get to Ukraine at the end of April, he added. The comments mark a setback in the bid by Western allies to help the Ukrainian army deal with an expected intensification of fighting in the coming weeks.

Read More: Ukraine to receive fewer battle tanks from allies than promised 


Sweden isn’t ruling out fighter jet deliveries  

During a visit to Kyiv, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his government would not rule out supplying fighter jets to Ukraine as long as it was part of a joint effort with allies.

“This is not the time to exclude anything, but at the same time we should acknowledge that we need an international coalition to take further steps,” Kristersson said at a briefing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian air defence says Russian balloons spotted over Kyiv  

Objects seen floating in the sky over the region surrounding the Ukrainian capital were Russian military balloons, air defence spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said in a televised interview. A total of six balloons were detected, most of which were shot down, the military said earlier.

Ihnat characterised the objects as primitive balloons carrying pieces of metal, which were picked up by radar and triggered an air-raid alert in the Kyiv region. The balloons were designed to fool air defences and possibly mask reconnaissance drones that might be flying nearby, Ihnat said.

Swiss say confiscating Russian assets would undermine law 

Switzerland said confiscating frozen Russian assets and providing them for the reconstruction of Ukraine would go against Switzerland’s Constitution, in a move likely to be welcomed by the country’s banks.

A working group led by the Swiss Federal Office of Justice concluded that the “confiscation of private Russian assets would undermine the Federal Constitution and the prevailing legal order”, the government said in a statement on Wednesday. Support for Ukraine would continue, it said, regardless of this conclusion.

Germany to increase defence spending 

Germany is poised to increase its defence budget by as much as €10-billion next year to help fund additional spending needs triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine, according to people familiar with the plans.

Defence Minister Pistorius is pushing for the extra cash in the 2024 finance plan, which would lift the total allocated to €60-billion, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information.

Germany slams Swiss over ammunition

German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck criticised Switzerland over the country’s decision last year to reject a request to allow the re-export of Swiss-made ammunition for Gepard anti-aircraft guns from Germany to Ukraine.

“Some countries still have ammunition but are reluctant to supply it to Ukraine for historical reasons,” Habeck was quoted as saying by the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. “We are in talks with Switzerland, and I have to say very clearly: I cannot understand why Switzerland does not provide Gepard ammunition,” he told the paper.

EU sanctions aim to make banks divulge frozen Russian assets  

The European Union is poised to force banks to report information on Russian Central Bank assets as part of the bloc’s latest sanctions package targeting Moscow for its war in Ukraine, according to draft proposals seen by Bloomberg.

Getting a handle on the scale of central bank and other sanctioned state-backed assets that have been immobilised in the EU is seen as a first step to exploring options for potentially using those funds to contribute to Ukraine’s reconstruction.

“We need to know where these are located and how much they are worth,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video statement.

Read More: EU sanctions aim to make banks divulge frozen Russian assets

War in eastern Ukraine ‘comparable to World War 1’

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace compared the war in the east of Ukraine to the trench warfare of World War I. He said an attack on the mining village of Soledar in eastern Ukraine had resulted in 1,000 Russian deaths in two days.

“I think what Russia is doing is trying to advance; it’s doing so, in a sort of way, almost First World War-levels of attrition, and with success rates have a matter of metres rather than kilometres,” Wallace told BBC radio. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals are either suffering from “a gap in reality” or “no regard for human life”.

Sanctions are hurting Russia, says EU’s Borrell

The EU’s sanctions are starting to make a real impact on Russia’s economy, limiting its revenues and constraining its trade, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told the European Parliament.

“The sanctions are a slow-action poison, a little bit like arsenic,” he said. “It takes time to take an effect.” He noted that Russia’s oil and gas revenues were 46% lower in January this year compared to the same month last year. He added that the country’s plane and car plants had lost 80% of their capacity, thanks in part to the EU’s trade restrictions.

Finland hopes for Nato membership with Sweden ‘quite soon’

Finnish Defence Minister Mikko Savola said he hoped Finland and Sweden would become Nato members “quite soon,” adding: “we are ready to join”.

Asked whether Finland would wait for Sweden to join, Savola said, “Of course, it’s better for Finland, it’s better for Sweden and also for Nato that we both come to members of Nato as soon as possible,” adding this was better for defence planning. “We have really close bilateral cooperation with Sweden, Sweden is our closest partner,” he said.

Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pekvur said he didn’t believe Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join Nato would be separated. “Finland and Sweden will join together to Nato, this is very important for us to secure the Baltic Sea,” he told reporters.


Nato’s 2% goal for defence spending should be the floor level — Germany

Nato members should spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence, and simply aiming to get close to the target would not be sufficient, Germany’s Pistorius said in Brussels as the alliance’s defence ministers met.

Pistorius said Denmark and Sweden would join the German-led anti-missile shield project for Europe, which already has at least 15 countries signed up. Germany, the UK and Canada agreed on a joint paper outlining how to best protect the three Baltic states as nations leading Nato battle groups in those countries, he added.

Germany itself will miss the 2% goal again this year and is likely only to reach it in 2025.

Read more: Nato struggles to meet spending goals as it mulls higher target

Training has begun on four Leopard 2A4 tanks, says Canada 

Canada’s four Leopard 2A4 tanks have arrived in Poland where training is taking place with Ukrainian soldiers, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand told Bloomberg TV, adding that her country was also ensuring the delivery of trainers, ammunition and spare parts.

“We as a country will join all other Nato allies in searching and making sure we’re procuring the aid that is necessary for Ukraine to fight and win this war,” she said. The minister added that Canada had trained more than 35,000 Ukrainian soldiers since 2015 and that had continued in England.

Russian parliament to hold unscheduled meeting 

Houses of the Russian Parliament, the State Duma and the Federation Council, will hold an unscheduled meeting on 22 February, RIA Novosti reported, citing an unidentified official from the Federation Council. The meeting will focus on the adoption of laws on the legal integration of the annexed regions of Ukraine, RIA reported, citing senator Vyacheslav Timchenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address the Parliament on 21 February. DM

Author: editor

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