Wed, 29 Nov 2023

Germany's new defence minister, Boris Pistorius, made an unscheduled visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, two weeks after Berlin agreed to provide Leopard tanks to help Ukraine counter Russian forces, according to the Ukrainian government. Follow FRANCE 24's live blog for the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

6:24pm: Germany, Denmark, Netherlands pledge 100 Leopard 1 tanks

Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have said they plan to provide Ukraine with at least 100 refurbished Leopard 1 battle tanks.

In a joint statement, the defense ministers of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands said the shipment of older Leopard 1 tanks was part of an effort "to support Ukraine in their endeavour to withstand Russian aggression".

"(It) will significantly enhance Ukraine's military potential for the restoration of their violated territorial integrity," they said, adding that the delivery would occur "within the coming months" and include logistical support and training.

5:55pm: Russia suffers deadliest day so far as fighting in east intensifies, says Ukraine

Ukraine said on Tuesday that the last 24 hours were the deadliest of the war so far for Russian troops as Moscow pressed on with an intensifying winter assault in the east, bringing tens of thousands of freshly mobilised troops to the battlefield.

The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified and Russia has also claimed to have killed large numbers of Ukrainian troops in recent weeks.

Tallies of enemy casualties from either side have typically been seen as unreliable, and Kyiv offered few details of the latest battles.

But the assertion that the fighting was the deadliest so far fits descriptions from both sides of an escalating campaign of close-contact trench warfare, which has left snow-covered battlefields of eastern Ukraine littered with corpses.

5:45pm: German security council OKs delivery of 178 Leopard 1 tanks for Ukraine: media reports

The German government's security council has approved delivery of 178 Leopard 1 tanks for Ukraine from industry stocks, considerably more than previously announced, German media Spiegel Online reported without citing its sources.

Some would be sent in the summer, but the bulk of the Leopard-1s would be delivered next year, it added.

Earlier today, German arms maker Rheinmetall said it expects to supply 20 to 25 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine this year.

5:37pm: German defence minister arrives in Kyiv on surprise visit: Ukraine

Germany's new defence minister, Boris Pistorius, made an unscheduled visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, two weeks after Berlin agreed to provide Leopard tanks to help Ukraine counter Russian forces, Ukraine said.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted a photo of him and Pistorius holding a model replica of the tank.

3:52pm: Russian court upholds shutting top independent newspaper

A Moscow court on Tuesday upheld an earlier verdict to revoke the license of a top independent newspaper that has been critical of the Kremlin for years, part of the authorities' relentless crackdown on dissent.

The ruling by the Moscow City Court against Novaya Gazeta, which was Russia's most renowned independent newspaper until the authorities ordered it shut last year, comes as Russia's grinding military campaign in Ukraine approaches its one-year mark.

Dmitry Muratov, Nobel Peace Prize-winning editor-in-chief of the newspaper, denounced Tuesday's ruling, saying that it "serves a bunch of people who want to leave the nation facing only propaganda".

3:25pm: Stop 'rumours' says Zelensky after confusion over defence minister

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for an end to the spread of "rumours or any other pseudo-information" that could undermine unity in the war against Russia.

His remarks, in an address to parliament, appeared intended to end public speculation over whether Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov will be removed and underline that only the president can take and announce such decisions.

David Arakhamia, a senior lawmaker and ally of the president, said on Sunday that Reznikov would be replaced after a corruption scandal at the ministry.

A day later, Arakhamia said there would be no personnel changes this week, appearing to row back after Zelensky kept silent on Reznikov's future and other politicians publicly defended the minister's record.

"We are taking personnel and institutional steps at various levels in the defence and security sector that can strengthen Ukraine's position," Zelensky wrote on the Telegram messaging app, citing his speech to parliament.

Such decisions were the responsibility of only the president, Zelensky added.

2:48pm: Russia accuses US embassy of 'fake news', threatens expulsions

Russia has demanded the US embassy in Moscow stop spreading what the Kremlin regards as fake news regarding its military operation in Ukraine and has threatened to expel US diplomats, according to the TASS news agency.

Citing a senior Russian foreign ministry source, TASS said an official note had been delivered to the US embassy in Moscow warning it that US diplomats engaged in what it called "subversive activities" would be expelled.

Lynne Tracy, the United States' new ambassador to Moscow, arrived in the Russian capital last month.

12:32pm: Russia advancing 'with success' in eastern Ukraine, Shoigu says

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that Moscow's forces were "progressing with success" near the eastern Ukrainian towns of Bakhmut and Vuhledar, warning the West against ramping up arms supplies to Kyiv.

The two towns in the eastern region of Donetsk are the epicentre of hostilities and the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year.

"Military operations are at the moment progressing with success in the areas around Vuhledar and Artemovsk," Shoigu told a defence meeting using the previous name for Bakhmut. He listed seven settlements that Russia has recently "liberated", including the salt-mining town of Soledar that came under Russian control in January.

12:15pm: Russian shells spark hospital fire before expected assault

Russian shelling hit more civilian targets in Ukraine, starting a fire at a town's hospital and damaging five apartment buildings, local officials said Tuesday, as Ukrainian authorities reported a Moscow troop buildup in eastern areas before what Kyiv suspected was an impending new offensive by Russia around the anniversary of its invasion.

A hospital in the northeastern town of Vovchansk caught fire late Monday as a result of the shelling, regional Ukrainian emergency services reported.

The shelling caused multiple fires in the town, including at its two-story municipal hospital, the State Emergency Service in the northeastern Kharkiv region said in an online statement. Emergency crews evacuated eight civilians from the site before putting out the blaze, which caused no casualties, authorities said.

Vovchansk is in the Kharkiv region, which was occupied by Russia after its full-scale invasion on February 24 and subsequently retaken by Ukraine during a counteroffensive last year. The anticipated Russian push may seek to recapture territory Moscow lost during that counteroffensive.

11:58am: Paris mayor against Russian athletes at 2024 Olympics 'while war goes on'

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is opposed to the presence of Russian competitors at the 2024 Olympics "while the war continues" in Ukraine, her office said on Tuesday.

It represents a change in Hidalgo's position. She said last month that she believed Russians could take part "under a neutral flag" to avoid "depriving athletes of competition".

11:05am: Russia says NATO involvement in Ukraine threatens 'unpredictable' escalation

Russia's defence minister said on Tuesday that Western arms shipments to Ukraine were effectively dragging NATO into the conflict, warning this could lead to an "unpredictable" level of escalation.

"The US and its allies are trying to prolong the conflict as much as possible," Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

"To do this, they have started supplying heavy offensive weapons, openly urging Ukraine to seize our territories. In fact, such steps are dragging NATO countries into the conflict and could lead to an unpredictable level of escalation," he said.

9:14am: BP posts annual loss on Russia exit, despite oil price surge

BP slid into a net loss last year after its exit from Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, the British energy giant announced Tuesday, despite the surge in oil prices.

The company posted annual losses after tax totalling $2.5 billion, compared with net profit of $7.6 billion in 2021.

Excluding the exceptional hit, profit more than doubled to $27.7 billion on soaring oil and gas prices -- mirroring huge 2022 earnings by BP's rivals.

Oil and gas prices soared last year after the attack by major energy producer Russia on neighbouring Ukraine triggered massive supply constraints.

9:11am: Swiss neutrality on the line as arms-for-Ukraine debate heats up

Switzerland is close to breaking with centuries of tradition as a neutral state, as a pro-Ukraine shift in the public and political mood puts pressure on the government to end a ban on exports of Swiss weapons to war zones.

Buyers of Swiss arms are legally prevented from re-exporting them, a restriction that some representing the country's large weapons industry say is now hurting trade.

Calls from Switzerland's European neighbours to allow such transfers to Kyiv have meanwhile grown louder as Russia's assault intensifies, and parliament's two security committees recommended that the rules be eased accordingly.

Lawmakers are divided on the issue. "We want to be neutral, but we are part of the western world," said Thierry Burkart, leader of the centre-right FDP party, who has submitted a motion to the government to allow arms re-exports to countries with similar democratic values to Switzerland.

7:46am: Russia likely restarted Ukraine offensive operations in January, Britain says

Russia's military likely attempted to restart major offensive operations in Ukraine since early January this year, with the goal of capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk, Britain's Defence Intelligence update said on Tuesday.

However, it remains unlikely that Russia will be able to build up the forces required to significantly affect the war's outcome within the next few weeks, the update added.

6:00am: Russia says protective structures at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant near completion

The construction of protective structures for key facilities at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeast Ukraine is nearing completion, Russia's state TASS news agency reported on Tuesday, citing an adviser to the head of Russia's nuclear plants operator.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, was captured by Russian troops in March of last year, in the opening days of Moscow's invasion in Ukraine.

It remains close to the frontlines, and has repeatedly come under fire, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

5:28am: Russia's Lavrov visits Mali in sign of deepening ties

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Mali early Tuesday for talks with its junta leaders seeking Moscow's help in battling an Islamist insurgency that remains entrenched despite years of fighting.

Lavrov, who was in Iraq on Monday, was welcomed upon his arrival by his counterpart Abdoulaye Diop. The two men did not make any statements to journalists. The visit of fewer than 24 hours will be his third trip to Africa since July, part of a bid to expand Russia's presence on the continent amid broad international isolation after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year.

Since taking control of Mali in two coups since August 2020, the military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goita has embraced Russian support to aid its anti-jihadist fight after successfully demanding that French troops leave.

1:21am: Ukraine withdraws 19 million Russian and Soviet-era books from libraries

Ukraine had withdrawn from its libraries about 19 million copies of books by last November that came either from the Soviet era or were in Russian, a senior lawmaker said on Monday.

Yevheniya Kravchuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on humanitarian and information policy, said that of the 19 million books, 11 million were in Russian.

"Some Ukrainian-language books from the Soviet era are also written off," Kravchuk said according to a statement published on the website of the Verkhovna Rada, the country's parliament. "There are also recommendations to write off and remove books whose authors supported armed aggression against Ukraine." It was not immediately clear what happened to the withdrawn books.

12:02am: Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine

Russia was pouring reinforcements into eastern Ukraine ahead of a new offensive that could begin next week along a front where there have been relentless battles for months, a Ukrainian governor said.

Desperate for Western military aid to arrive, Ukraine anticipates a major offensive could be launched by Russia for "symbolic" reasons around the February 24 anniversary of the invasion. Ukraine is itself planning a spring offensive to recapture lost territory, but awaiting delivery of promised longer-range Western missiles and battle tanks, with some analysts saying the country was months away from being ready.

"We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in," said Serhiy Haidai, Ukrainian governor of the mainly Russian-occupied Luhansk province.

"They bring ammunition that is used differently than before - it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive," Haidai told Ukrainian television.

"It will most likely take them 10 days to gather reserves. After February 15 we can expect (this offensive) at any time."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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