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Russian clowns 'unlikely' to help troop morale in Ukraine

December 18, 2022

Efforts to send Russian circus performers and opera singers to the frontlines are unlikely to improve "fragile morale," the UK has said. Meanwhile, heating has been restored to frigid Kyiv. DW has the latest.

Russian service members are pictured in the fog
With Russia's troops facing high casualty rates and poor leadership, Moscow's plans to send entertainers is unlikely to improve moods, the UK has saidImage: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP

Britain cast doubt on Sunday over Russian military efforts to boost morale among its frontline troops in Ukraine by sending "creative brigades."

In an intelligence briefing, the UK Defense Ministry said Moscow plans to send two such brigades of entertainers. Russian media reported the groups will include circus performers, opera singers and actors.

An image from the press announcement of the brigade that was published by Russian state media showed a performer dressed in fatigues, juggling several balls.

While organized entertainment for military forces is nothing new, particularly over the holidays, the British Defense Ministry noted that Russian soldiers currently face high casualty rates, poor leadership, lack of ammunition and equipment and pay problems.

"Fragile morale almost certainly continues to be a significant vulnerability across much of the Russian force," the ministry said.

"The creative brigades' efforts are unlikely to substantively alleviate these concerns," the statement concluded.

Here are the other main headlines from the war in Ukraine on Sunday December 18.

Kyiv commemorates beginning of Hannukah with giant menorah

Ukraine marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Hannukah on Sunday by lighting the first candle of the menorah in Maidan Independence Square in the capital which local Jewish leaders said was the biggest in Europe.

Ambassadors from Israel, the US, Poland, France and other countries joined mayor Vitali Klitschko as the crowd sang blessings to mark the first night of the eight-night celebration.

Rabbi Mayer Stambler, one of the leaders of Ukraine's Jewish community, compared the frequent blackouts — caused by Russia's bombing of key infrastructure — with the story of Hanukkah when Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem only had enough oil to burn candles for one day and one night, but the candles kept burning for eight days and nights.

"We are actually now living through the same situation," Stambler said, "This is a war between darkness and light."

People stand next to a giant menorah during a ceremony for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, at the Independence Square in Kyiv
President Zelenskyy, who is himself Jewish, remarked on the holiday's inspiration for his peopleImage: Valentyn Ogirenko/REUTERS

Ukraine claims destruction of two Russian ammunition depots

The general staff of the Ukrainian military said on Sunday evening that its armed forces had destroyed two ammunition depots and an anti-aircraft system belonging to Russian forces in the east of Ukraine.

Details about the location of the targets were not given, but the Ukrainian air force flew several missions on Sunday.

Ukraine also said that Russian forces had suffered heavy losses following fighting in the war-torn city of Bakhmut in Donbas.

Presidential adviser Oleksyy Arestovych said that a Russian unit of 400 to 800 men had been "put out of action" following a Ukrainian ambush.

Henry Kissinger suggests cease-fire, Ukrainian 'link' to NATO

Former US diplomat Henry Kissinger proposed a negotiated peace process which "links" Ukraine to NATO in an article for British magazine The Spectator.

"The time is approaching to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation," Kissinger wrote.

"A peace process should link Ukraine to NATO, however expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful," he said.

Kissinger said that he recommended that Russian forces withdraw back behind the line of control from before Moscow's invasion in February, and that Crimea and parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions could then be the subject of negotiation.

"Mr. Kissinger still has not understood anything ... neither the nature of this war, nor its impact on the world order," Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Telegram.

"The prescription that the ex-Secretary of State calls for, but is afraid to say out loud, is simple: appease the aggressor by sacrificing parts of Ukraine with guarantees of non-aggression against the other states of Eastern Europe."

Zelenskyy calls for global peace summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proposed holding a global peace summit over the winter in a video message.

The CNN broadcaster reported that Zelenskyy had asked FIFA to broadcast the message before the World Cup final.

"We offered Peace Formula to the world. Absolutely fair. We offered it because there are no champions in war, there can be no draw," Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that FIFA "shows a lack of understanding of the disaster that the Russian Federation is dragging the world into by starting a war in Ukraine."

Kyiv: Russia shells Kherson city center

Ukraine says Russia has shelled the southern city of Kherson, which was recaptured from Moscow's forces last month.

"Another blow was delivered to the city center," deputy head of the president's office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on social media. 

He added that three people were wounded in the attacks on the city.

The regional governor said 54 Russian attacks had hit the wide Kherson region with artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, tanks and mortars over the previous day, leaving three dead and wounding six others. 

Despite their withdrawal, Russia's military has subjected Kherson to persistent shelling and power was cut in the city earlier this week.

Russia's Shoigu inspects troops 'on frontline' — Defense Ministry

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected troops involved in operations related to Ukraine, his ministry said.

The minister "made a working trip to the Southern Military District and inspected troops in the areas of the special military operation," the defense ministry said.

The ministry said that Shoigu met with servicemen "on the frontline" and listened to reports from military officials at a "command post."

The statement did not specify whether Shoigu visited Ukraine.

A video released by the ministry showed the minister aboard a military helicopter.

Shelling in southern Russia killed 1 — Belgorod Governor

One person was killed and eight wounded by shelling in the southern Russian region of Belgorod, regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

Belgorod is located near the border with Ukraine.

"Our air defense system was activated over Belgorod and the Belgorod region," Gladkov said.

He said that more than a dozen residential buildings and several cars were damaged across the regional capital.

The region has been shelled multiple times since the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. The governor has announced the construction of fortifications near the border and the formation of self-defense units.

Heating fully restored to frigid Kyiv

With temperatures in Kyiv and other areas of Ukraine below freezing on Sunday morning, some relief was in sight for residents.

Vitali Klitschko, mayor of the Ukrainian capital, said the city's heating has been restored following a major Russian bombardment.

"The city is restoring all services after the latest shelling," Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app.

"In particular, the capital's heat supply system was fully restored. All sources of heat supply work normally."

Russia fired over 70 missiles on Friday targeting water and power infrastructure — causing renewed nationwide blackouts and cutting off heat. The barrage was one of the heaviest to hit Ukraine since Russia's invasion on February 24.

Infrastructure attacks in Ukraine: Is the strategy working?

German foreign minister: Cease-fire deal not in sight

Germany's top diplomat, Annalena Baerbock, said a potential cease-fire in Ukraine isn't on the horizon and warned against a deal that leans too heavily into Russian demands.

"No one else besides Putin started this war, and if Putin wanted it, the war would be over tomorrow," Foreign Minister Baerbock said in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

All Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to do is give the order, she said, but there aren't "genuine" efforts from the Russian side.

Baerbock also said a cease-fire agreed under Russian conditions would "not end the horror for the Ukrainian people," and would instead extend their pain and the conflict.

The minister added that the situation is especially dire for people living in Russian-occupied territories.

"Not only is there a lack of electricity and heat, but not even international aid supplies are getting through. Every day people live in fear of abduction, torture and murder by the Russian occupying forces," Baerbock told the paper.

Nobel Peace Prize winner: War crimes tribunal could save lives

Oleksandra Matviichuk, one of the winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, urged for the creation of a war crimes tribunal — saying it could help save lives now.

Matviichuk, who heads the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), said the creation of such a body would change the way the Russian military is behaving in Ukraine.

"Even if we take the first steps towards creating an international tribunal, that sends a signal to the perpetrators that they will be held accountable," Matviichuk told the Sunday edition of the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

"That could potentially save lives," she added.

Potential legal consequences at the International Criminal Court in The Hague will not be enough, according to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

"The International Criminal Court will only investigate certain cases. Who will give justice to the hundreds of thousands of victims whose cases are not selected?" she asked.

"We need to give all victims a chance at justice, regardless of who they are," Matviichuk said.

Matviichuk's CCL and its partners have so far documented 27,000 cases of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian troops in Ukraine. She described the figure as "just the tip of the iceberg."

ab, rs/aw (Reuters, dpa)

War Crimes in Ukraine