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Ukraine updates: Italy's Meloni says no jets for Kyiv

February 21, 2023

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said that Rome could instead provide Ukraine with additional air defense systems. Meanwhile, China touted itself as a peacebroker in the conflict. DW has the latest.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr ZelenskyyImage: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS

Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday morning as the latest Western ally to meet with President Zelenskyy and discuss military aid.

Following talks with Ukraine's president, Meloni said that supplying Ukraine with fighter jets was "not on the table."

However, the Italian premier said Rome was considering providing Kyiv with additional air defense systems. Italy is already sending SAMP/T-MAMBA systems in a joint initiative with France.

"Ukraine can count on Italy," she told a press conference ahead of her trip. 

The visit is not without controversy, however, as Meloni attempts to show solidarity after making ambivalent statements about the war on the campaign trail last year.

Meloni is likely also seeking to do some damage control. Last week, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a key ally in Meloni's governing coalition, boasted once again of his longtime friendship with Russia's President Putin, bragging about being sent cases of vodka as gifts.

Zelenskyy then joked that he would send Berlusconi vodka if that was all it took to secure his friendship.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, February 21:

Republican congressmen vow support to Ukraine in Kyiv

A group of Republican congressmen vowed support to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

The group of five, headed by the newly appointed chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Mike McCaul, arrived in the Ukrainian capital on the heels of US President Joe Biden, who visited Monday for the first time since the war began. 

The congressmen discussed with Zelenskyy Ukraine's military needs. The Ukrainian president gave them a list of weapons the country needs to repel Russia's invasion, including longer-range artillery and air-to-surface missile systems.

The visit came amid a growing far-right Republican lobby opposing military aid to Ukraine.

In a statement after the meeting, McCaul said the "majority of Republicans and democrats" support US military assistance to Ukraine.

"But the Biden administration needs to layout their long-term strategy,'' he said. "There are some members who would be more supportive if they saw a long-term strategy that was based on a Ukrainian victory rather than sending just enough support to prolong the war but not win it.''

Wagner chief slams Russia's military leaders for 'treason'

The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group attacked Moscow's top army brass again Tuesday for refusing to supply the group with ammunition and seeking to destroy it, saying these actions equated to "treason."

"The chief of general staff and the defense minister give out orders left and right not only to not give ammunition to PMC Wagner, but also to not help it with air transport," Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a voice message shared by his press service.

"There is just direct opposition going on, which is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Wagner. This can be equated to high treason," he added.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied the accusations by detailing ammunition supplied to "volunteer assault squadrons," the name it appears to use for Wagner's men.

"All requests for ammunition for assault units are met as soon as possible," it insisted, assuring new deliveries and rejecting "absolutely false" reports of shortages.

The ministry highlighted the "courage" of the Russian "volunteers" in combat and shot down "attempts to divide" for being "counterproductive and which only play in favor of the enemy."

War 'strategic failure' for Russia — Blinken

US Secretary of State responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that Moscow would suspend its
last major nuclear arms control treaty with the United States.

"One year after (Russian President Vladimir) Putin attacked Ukraine, it is clear that his war has been a strategic failure in every way," said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

"No one wanted this war. No one likes this war. Everyone wants it to end as quickly as possible," Blinken said.

Blinken was in Athens alongside his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias as part of a number of high-level US diplomatic trips to mark the upcoming anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraineand on the ninth anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

On social media, Blinken added that "as a NATO ally, I appreciate Greece’s steadfast support of Ukraine," and highlighted the US-European partnership in supporting Kyiv with humanitarian and military aid.

Blinken's comments came one day after President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv and announced $500 million (around €470 million) in fresh aid during talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

UK: Russia targeting educational, medical infrastructure

The British Ministry of Defense said in a briefing that it had noted a "high intensity, and worsening trend of damage being inflicted on both medical and educational facilities."

"These incidents, and continued civilian casualites, are likely largely due to Russia's lack of discimination in the use of artillery and other area weapon systems."

Since incurring major military setbacks beginning in the summer and fall, Russian missiles have increasingly targeted civilian infrastructure instead of concentrating solely on military installations.

Six killed in Kherson amidst Russia shelling: military

The Ukrainian military said that fresh Russian shelling had killed six people and wounded 12 in the embattled southern city of Kherson.

"Just during the bloody dictator Putin's speech... peaceful Kherson residents were injured and killed in the middle of the street, in their homes and at their workplace. At the moment, we know about six dead and 12 wounded," said Vladislav Nazarov, spokesman for the Ukrainian army's southern command, referencing Putin's annual state of the nation speech from earlier that day.

In his speech, Putin had insisted he was not at war with the Ukrainian people, just the "regime" in Kyiv.

Despite a pullback by Russian troops in December, Kherson is still in the range of some of Moscow's weaponry.

President Zelenskyy said that Russia was "again mercilessly killing the civilian population."

"A vehicle park, residential areas, a high-rise building, and a public transport stop were hit," Zelenskyy added. 

NATO fears China could arm Russia

Despite a stringent denial from Beijing amidst US reports that it was planning on sending military equipment to Russia, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday voiced similar concerns to US intelligence officials.

"We are increasingly concerned that China may be planning to provide lethal support for Russia's war," said Stoltenberg following a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

The trio had been discussing increased ammunitions deliveries to Kyiv, he said.

For its part, China has suggested that it sees itself as a potential peacebroker in the conflict and not an arms dealer.

Borrell said he had discussed the topic with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and received assurances that China would not give weapons to a country at war. Borrell added that there was currently no evidence to suggest Beijing was supplying army to Moscow.

According to Russia's official TASS news agency, Wang Yi arrived in Moscow around the time Stoltenberg was speaking, to hold high-level diplomatic talks.

Putin blames West for 'fueling' conflict in annual speech

"The responsibility for fueling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims... lies completely with Western elites," said Russian President Vladimir Putin in his annual 'state of the nation' speech.

As Russia's strategic, equipment, and personnel losses mount, Putin continued to call the war a "special military operation" that was aimed at "liberating" Ukraine.

Despite the setbacks, Putin promised to press on: "step by step, we will carefully and systematically solve the aims that face us," he said.

EU seeks to stop Russia circumventing sanctions

An EU document seen by reporters details a plan prepared by some EU members to stop Russian companies and individuals flouting economic sanctions.

The plan, seen by Reuters news agency, uses trade and access to the EU single market as leverage.

"Circumvention tactics and procurement efforts by the Russians are getting more numerous and more creative," the paper, authored by German, French, and Italian officials amongst others, reportedly says.

These member states are seeking the expanded cooperation of customs, tax authorities and prosecutors, as well as intelligence and statistics agencies at both EU and national levels.

The EU should also create a watch-list for companies and individuals of special concern, the paper said.

China sees itself as peacekeeper

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang told a security conference in Beijing that Ukraine and Russia should return to the negotiating table, lest the conflict "spiral out of control."

He offered to bring "Chinese wisdom" to the peace process.

In the same speech, he appeared to criticize the US when he urged "relevant countries to immediately stop adding fuel to the fire, stop shifting blame to China, and stop hyping up the discourse of 'Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow.'"

Qin was likely referencing security talking points from Washington and its allies implying that Russian expansion in Ukraine could embolden China to launch a military takeover of Taiwan.

Biden arrives in Poland

US President Joe Biden arrived in Warsaw late on Monday after his surprise visit to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, he was due to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss continued support for Kyiv and to thank Polandfor helping allied nations deliver military and humanitarian aid.

The pair are also expected to discuss expanding the NATO presence in Poland, including military equipment. This is something Duda has been seeking as a security reassurance in the wake of increased Russian aggression.

Reports: Russia plans to annex Belarus

An official Russian presidential document obtained by news outlets such as Yahoo and Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung Newspaper reportedly outlines a plan to absorb neighboring Belarus by 2030.

The document, which dates to the summer of 2021, sets out goals of inflitrating Belarus's military, economy, and political system in different stages throughout the coming decade.

The two countries already have strong political and military ties.

Should such a plan ever come into being, Russia would become an immediate neighbor to EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

More on the war in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, which was seen as an important show of solidarity from Washington ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion and on the ninth anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

The annual Munich Security Conference has closed, with Western allies seeking a 'rebalance' of the global security status quo and an end to the war.

Beijing strongly denied US claims that it was planning to send military hardware to Russia.

es,sdi/nm,wd (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)