Russian forces are attempting to tie down Ukrainian forces with fighting in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine has said. Moscow is reportedly assembling additional troops there for an expected offensive in the coming weeks, perhaps targeting the Luhansk region. “The battles for the region are heating up,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk, on Monday. In Luhansk, fellow governor Serhiy Haidai said shelling there had subsided because “the Russians have been saving ammunition for a large-scale offensive”.
Weeks of intense fighting continued to rage around the city of Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said. The UK’s Ministry of Defence said on Monday that Russia was continuing to make small advances in its efforts to encircle the Donbas city of Bakhmut. “While multiple alternative cross-country supply routes remain available to Ukrainian forces, Bakhmut is increasingly isolated,” the ministry said on Twitter.
The western area of the Luhansk region is likely to be the focus of any new Russian offensive, said Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, who has been tipped to take over the Ministry of Defence. In an interview with the Financial Times, he said that offensive would most likely be launched by “proper mechanised brigades” rather than the ill-trained reservists and Wagner mercenaries who have been suffering heavy casualties in recent battles.
Ukraine is bracing for a possible Russian offensive this month before the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine. “There are already many reports that the occupiers want to do something symbolic in February to try to avenge their last year’s defeats,” the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in his Sunday night address. “We see this increased pressure in various areas of the frontline, as well as pressure in the information field.”
Ukraine has faced temperatures as low as -20C (-4F) this winter, at the same time as dealing with a humanitarian crisis as Russia hits vital civilian infrastructure, analysis has shown. Areas in Dnipro, Donetsk and Kharkiv are particularly vulnerable, according to research. Some areas are housing tens of thousands of displaced people through the winter, at the same time as crucial infrastructure – including energy and housing – is being targeted by Russian missiles and artillery.
Kyiv has the reserves to hold back Moscow’s forces even though the latest western military supplies will not all arrive in time, Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has claimed. “Not all of the western weaponry will arrive in time. But we are ready. We have created our resources and reserves, which we are able to deploy and with which we are able to hold back the attack.” Reznikov added that the attack would be for “symbolic” reasons but its resources were not ready from a military point of view. “Despite everything, we expect a possible Russian offensive in February. This is only from the point of view of symbolism; it’s not logical from a military view. Because not all of their resources are ready. But they’re doing it anyway,” he said.
Reznikov, under pressure from a corruption scandal, is to be reshuffled into another government job, a close ally of Zelenskiy announced on Sunday. Reznikov will be replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence. His position had been under threat after it emerged the defence ministry paid twice or three times the supermarket price of food to supply troops on the frontline. On Monday, David Arakhamia said any replacement of Reznikov would not take place this week.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the world risked walking into a “wider war” over Ukraine. Addressing the UN general assembly just weeks before the first anniversary of Russia’s 24 February invasion, Guterres said: “The prospects for peace keep diminishing. The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing.”
The EU’s legislature is preparing plans to host Zelenskiy should he decide to come to Brussels to attend an EU summit later this week, according to reports. The Ukrainian leader is expected to address a special session of the European parliament, the Financial Times writes, adding that the proposed plan is subject to security concerns that risk derailing Zelenskiy’s trip.
Germany’s plan to quickly assemble two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks from European allies and send them to Ukraine is progressing slower than expected. Several states have yet to decide whether they can spare vehicles from their own stocks. In Europe, other than Berlin, only Poland and Portugal have so far made concrete promises to contribute Leopard 2 tanks. Ukrainian soldiers are supposed to start being trained on Leopard 2 tanks in Germany and Poland from this week. “Germany’s commitment stands,” the government spokesperson Wolfgang Büchner said on Monday.
Norway’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, has proposed his country should provide 75bn Norwegian kroner (£6.1bn) in aid to Ukraine over five years. Half of the aid in 2023 will fund Kyiv’s military requirements while the rest will go to humanitarian needs, although this split could change in the coming years, he said. The announcement comes after Støre’s government came under pressure to increase support for Ukraine, after earning billions in extra oil and gas revenue from Russia’s war.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, will not be meeting Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow this week, the Kremlin has said. Grossi is expected to meet officials from the Russian state nuclear energy firm Rosatom and the foreign ministry, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Moscow expected a “substantive dialogue”.
Russia’s oil and gas revenues plunged 46% in January, compared with the same month in 2022, under the impact of the price cap on oil exports imposed by western allies in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s finance ministry said budget revenue in January was 35% lower compared with the same month in 2022, the last month before Russia sent troops into Ukraine.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of Putin, worked for Soviet intelligence while living in Switzerland in the 1970s, Swiss newspapers have reported, citing declassified archives. Under the codename “Mikhailov” and officially in Geneva as a representative of the Russian Orthodox church at the World Council of Churches (WCC), Kirill’s mission was to influence the council and push it to denounce the US and its allies, the papers reported.
Iran and Russia are looking to build a factory in Russia that could supply more than 6,000 Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine, according to reports. The Wall Street Journal claimed that the two governments are moving ahead with plans, and that an Iranian delegation went to Russia in January to visit the planned site.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Iraq on Sunday for talks on energy and food security in view of the Ukraine conflict, an Iraqi foreign ministry spokesperson said. Lavrov will also visit Mali this week, in a trip that the west African country’s government says will strengthen defence and security ties. It will be the first time a Russian foreign minister has visited Mali, and is part of a push by Moscow to extend its influence over countries in Africa.
The EU-imposed ban on Russian seaborne oil products will come into force on Monday. The 27-nation bloc is banning Russian refined oil products such as diesel fuel and joining the US and other allies in imposing a price cap on sales to non-western countries. A ban on Russian seaborne crude came into force on 5 December and the extension to oil products will mean that 70% of Russian energy exports will now be subject to sanction. Oil products represent a third of Russian oil exports.
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