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Ukraine updates: Belarus activists claim Russia A-50 attack

February 27, 2023

Belarusian anti-government activists claimed an attack on a Russian surveillance aircraft near Minsk with a drone. Russia said China's peace plan should be carefully analyzed. DW rounds up the latest.

A plane of the Russian Defense Ministry carrying Belarusian units as part of the Peacekeeping Forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) departs from the Machulishchy airfield to Kazakhstan in January of last year
A Russian Defense Ministry plane at the Machulishchy airfieldImage: Russian Defence Ministry/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Anti-government activists in Belarus have claimed responsibility for an attack on a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance aircraft at an airfield near Minsk.

They said the clandestine operation was carried out by a drone.

Alexander Azarau, the leader of the ByPol opposition organization, told Poland-based exile media channel Belsat the Machulishchi attack was conducted by Belarusians who have fled the country and were "in good hands."

Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, applauded the attack on Twitter as "the most successful diversion" since the start of 2022.

"Glory to Belarusian partisans," he tweeted.

"I am proud of all Belarusians who continue to resist the Russian hybrid occupation of Belarus & fight for the freedom of Ukraine," Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

The Russian aircraft Beriev A-50, also known as Mainstay by NATO, has command and control capabilities and the ability to track up to 60 targets at a time.

Acts of sabotage in Belarus, which shares a border with both Ukraine and Russia, have been common since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.

The country's autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko is dependent on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last year, Minsk allowed Moscow to use its territory for launching attacks on Ukraine.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Monday, February 27:

Russia will not resume START talks until Washington listens to Moscow — Peskov

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia will not resume participation in the START nuclear arms treaty until Washington listens to Moscow's position. He also added that NATO, "acts as a single bloc no longer as our conditional opponents, but as enemies."

Ukraine war will be central topic during upcoming Scholz visit — US

At the upcoming meeting between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday, the war in Ukraine will be a central topic, according to the White House.

"I'm comfortable telling you that the war in Ukraine will be a prime topic of discussion and this will give President Biden yet another chance to thank the chancellor and the people of Germany for all the support that they have provided to Ukraine," National Security Council communications director John Kirby said.

Germany has made a strong commitment and has meaningfully increased its support for Ukraine, as recently demonstrated, for example, by the pledge of Leopard battle tanks, Kirby added.

On Friday, Scholz is scheduled to visit Biden in the White House for the second time in his almost 15-month term.

Zelenskyy calls situation around Bakhmut 'more and more complicated'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that the situation around the frontline city of Bakhmut was getting "more and more complicated." 

"The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions for fortification and defence. Our soldiers defending the area around Bakhmut are true heroes," Zelenskyy said in his evening address.

The fierce fighting for the industrial city of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk has been the longest-running battle of Russia's year-long invasion.

Zelenskyy also said that Ukraine needs modern combat aircraft to protect the entire territory of Ukraine from Russian terror. "Air defense is complete only when it is backed by aviation. Modern aviation," the Ukrainian president said, asking partners to lift "the aviation taboo."

China has 'very clearly' taken Russia's side in Ukraine war — US

China has been "anything but an honest broker" in efforts to bring peace to Ukraine, and "very clearly" has taken Russia's side, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

China has provided Russia with "diplomatic support, political support, with economic support, with rhetorical support," Price told a news briefing.

Beijing last week called for peace talks as it released a 12-point paper to end the war in Ukraine, which included the respect of all countries' territorial sovereignty. 

EU extends sanctions on Belarus over Ukraine for one year

The EU extended sanctions against Belarus for one more year over Minsk's continued repression of the opposition and its support for Russia's war on Ukraine.

The bloc has hit Belarus with multiple waves of sanctions since strongman Alexander Lukashenko launched a brutal campaign of repression against demonstrators protesting a disputed election in 2020. Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly three decades, is a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions have been extended until February 28, 2024, the European Council, made up of the 27 heads of state and government of the EU member states, said in a statement.

Lukashenko and 194 other figures close to his government have been banned from entering the EU and their assets have been frozen. The sanctions also target 34 entities and all European funding to them is banned.

Belarus is also subject to targeted economic sanctions, including restrictions in the financial sector, trade, technology and telecommunications, energy and transport.

Yellen makes surprise visit to Ukraine to push economic aid

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arrived in Kyiv on Monday in a previously unannounced visit to reaffirm US support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russia's invasion and promote US economic aid that is bolstering Ukraine's war effort. 

Yellen met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other key government officials. "America will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes," Yellen, flanked by sandbags at the cabinet ministers' office, told Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Yellen announced the transfer of the first $1.25 billion (€1.18 billion) from the latest, $9.9 billion tranche of economic and budget assistance from Washington.

She has also backed completion of a "fully financed and appropriately conditioned" program for Ukraine with the International Monetary Fund by the end of March.

In a private meeting with Zelenskyy later in the afternoon, the US Treasury Department said Yellen commended him "for his leadership and resolve in the face or Russia's illegal and unprovoked war."

Since the war began, the United States has given Ukraine more than $13 billion in economic and budget support funding, and the latest disbursement will push that to over $14 billion, with an additional $8.65 billion expected through September 30.

The latest funds are part of $45 billion in new military, economic and humanitarian approved by Congress in December as part of broad US budget legislation.

Moscow analyzing details of China peace plan, Kremlin says

A peace plan presented by China last week was the subject of detailed analysis, the Kremlin said on Monday, adding that Moscow saw no signs as of yet that a peaceful resolution could be achieved in Ukraine.

"We are paying a great deal of attention to the plan of our Chinese friends," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. "Of course, the details need to be painstakingly analyzed taking into account the interests of all the different sides. This is a very long and intense process."

President Vladimir Putin R and Chinese State Councillor Wang Yishake hands during a meeting at Moscow s Kremlin.
China has maintained close communication with Moscow throughout the warImage: Anton Novoderezhkin/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

The plan urges both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation. It also warns against the use of nuclear weapons, which Russia has recently been hinting at.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed it has always maintained communication with all sides in the conflict.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had declared a "no limits" alliance with his Russian counterpart days before the invasion of Ukraine, has spoken to Vladimir Putin several times since the start of the war.

Communication with the Ukrainian side however has been scarce.

Germany dipsutes US rendition of tank decision, saying a 'joint approach' was mutually agreed

Berlin has contradicted a White House account that US President Joe Biden only agreed to the delivery of Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine at Germany's insistence — against the recommendation of military officials. 

Deputy government spokesman Wolfgang Büchner on Monday said that, from Germany's point of view, the decision to jointly supply battle tanks was reached amicably. "These were good, constructive talks in which care was always taken by both sides to arrive at a joint approach," he said.

Büchner reiterated an earlier statement by government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had never made the delivery of German Leopard tanks conditional on the US providing Abrams tanks. 

Biden's security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke differently about the decision-making in a television interview with broadcaster ABC on Sunday. 

He said Biden "originally decided against sending them Abrams tanks because his military told them that they would not be useful on the battlefield in this fight."

"The Germans told the president that they would not be prepared to send those Leopards into the fight ... until the president also agreed to send Abrams."

"So, in the interest of alliance unity and to ensure that Ukraine got what it wanted, despite the fact that the Abrams aren't the tool they need, the president said okay." 

Germany's Baerbock says missing children probe must go on 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed the importance of the UN Human Rights Council and urged that its investigation into the disappearance of Ukrainian children must continue.

Speaking before delegates in Geneva, Baerbock raised reports of the systematic deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. 

The foreign minister stressed the urgent need for the council's investigation to continue to help determine the fate of the "countless Ukrainian children that Russia has reportedly abducted." She warned that "impunity prevents justice."

Shortly after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, the council raised a commission of inquiry on March 4, 2022 — initially for a year. The council is now due to decide on an extension of the mandate. 

China prepares for Belarus's Lukashenko state visit

Meanwhile, China is getting prepared to welcome Belarus's autocratic president and Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko, who is visiting Beijing for three days at the invitation of President Xi Jinping.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning hailed in a regular press briefing on Monday the two-countries' 31-year-long diplomatic relations as well as the "political mutual trust" between them.

"China looks forward to working with Belarus to take this visit as an opportunity to promote all-round cooperation between the two countries for further development," she said.

Kremlin 'concerned' about Moldova's unrecognized breakaway state

The Kremlin expressed concern for Moldova's unrecognized breakaway region of Transnistria, amid fears that Moscow could use the tense region as an excuse to attack the country.

"Naturally, the situation in Transnistria is the subject of our closest attention and a reason for our concern," Peskov told reporters. "The situation is unsettled, it is being provoked, provoked from outside."

Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu had accused Moscow earlier this month of plotting a coup. Russia denied such accusations.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu pauses as Prime Minister designate Dorin Recean speaks after she appointed him to form a new government in Chisinau, Moldova, Friday, Feb 10, 2023.
Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu has accused Moscow of plotting a coupImage: Aurel Obreja/AP Photo/picture alliance

However, on Monday, Peskov suggested that European countries as well as Ukraine were causing "provocation" in the region.

Moscow asserts that Kyiv plans to take over the Transnistria region, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Moldova have denied.

Russian media earlier reported that Vadim Krasnoselsky, the self-styled president of Transnistria, had described the situation in the region as tense, urging citizens to remain calm.

Zelenskyy dismissed top Donbas army commander

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy dismissed on Sunday night a top army commander in the eastern Donbas region, without giving reasons for the decision.

Commander Eduard Moskalyov served in his post since March 2022.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been locked for weeks in fighting over control of the strategic Bakhmut town in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.

Russia mounts repeated attacks around Bakhmut

Kyiv is planning an attack in the coming months to reclaim territories occupied by Russia in the eastern and southern regions. One key area Ukraine is eyeing is Mariupol.

The UK Defense Ministry said that pro-Russian officials have reported in the past week at least 14 explosions around Mariupol.

"Russia will likely be concerned that unexplained explosions are occurring in a zone it had probably previously assessed as beyond the range of routine Ukrainian strike capabilities," the ministry said.

Russian drone strike kills two in western Ukriane

Russian forces attacked the western city of Khmelnytskyi with Iranian-made drones early on Monday, killing two people and injuring three others.

Mayor Oleksandr Symchyshyn reported the incident on social media.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian armed forces said they shot down 11 out of 14 Iranian-made drones deployed by Russian forces overnight, including nine over the capital Kyiv.

Russian forces destroy ammunition depot, shoot down missiles — Defense Ministry

Moscow's Defense Ministry says Russian forces destroyed a Ukrainian ammunition depot near the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region.

The ministry said Russian forces also shot down four HIMARS missiles and five drones launched by Ukraine.

US pledged Abrams tanks to satisfy Germany — Washington

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan has said that Washington agreed to provide battle tanks to Ukraine due to pressure from Berlin.

US President Joe Biden agreed to the measure after Germany told him they did not want to send Leopard tanks without a similar commitment from Washington. Germany long hesitated on its decision to supply Kyiv with Leopard tanks and repeatedly said it did not want to "go it alone" on sending battle tanks to the warzone.

"So, in the interest of alliance unity and to insure that Ukraine got what it wanted, despite the fact that the Abrams aren't the tool they need, the president said OK," Sullivan told US broadcaster ABC. "I will send Abrams down the road if you send Leopards now."

The US military had earlier deemed that the tanks were not fit for the battlefield in Ukraine, Sullivan said. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to visit the White House on Friday.

UN chief says 'massive violations' in Ukraine

UN officials condemned human rights violations committed in Ukraine during a Human Rights Council session.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the war had triggered "massive violations" of rights.

UN High Commissioner Volker Turk warned that human rights gains were being reversed.

Turk spoke of "old destructive wars of aggression from a bygone era with worldwide consequences, as we have witnessed again in Europe with the senseless Russian invasion of Ukraine."

More on the war in Ukraine

A poll conducted by Germany's DPA news agency suggests many Germans disapprove of arming Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Thousands in Berlin attend 'naive' Ukraine peace rally. Organizers of the Rebellion for Peace protest have been criticized for playing into Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands.

Ukraine's Zelenskyy says "2023 will be the year of our victory" as Poland says the first Leopard tanks have already been delivered to Kyiv. Ukraine marks a year of war — as it happened.

rmt/ar, jsi (AFP, dpa, Reuters)