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Ukraine updates: Kyiv warns of Russian anniversary offensive

January 28, 2023

Ukraine expects Russia to launch a military offensive on or around the anniversary of its invasion on February 24. Olaf Scholz defends his tank delivery decision. Follow DW for the latest.

A Russian T-72 tank firing the vehicle's main cannon in Ukraine
Ukraine and security experts expect the fighting to gather pace if conditions on the ground are favorableImage: Russian Defence Ministry Press Office/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

A Ukrainian official warned on Saturday that Russia was likely to be preparing a new wave of attacks, probably timed to coincide with the February 24 anniversary of Moscow's decision to invade Ukraine. 

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov told Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language arm of US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, that it was "no secret" that Russia's army was preparing its next attempted advances. 

Danilov said that the main target was most likely to bring the breakaway eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk completely under Russian control. 

Ukrainian forces have reported intensified fighting in settlements like Bakhmut and Vugledar in recent days. And Kyiv also acknowledged it had pulled troops out of Soledar after weeks of fighting to keep the town. 

Danilov's prediction of increased fighting was an opinion shared by security expert Jim Townsend, a former US deputy assistance secretary of defense for European and NATO policy at the Pentagon. 

"There is certainly an expectation that come the spring, if not the late winter, if the ground remains hard, that there could be a Russian offensive," Townsend told DW. He also said Moscow might expedite its plans if it believes that new Western tank deliveries announced last week are soon to arrive and strengthen Kyiv's response capabilities.

"And it could be, too, that the Russians are going to speed up the launching of this offensive if they think these tanks are going to come in and they want to try to beat Ukraine to the punch by getting there first with their offensive," Townsend said.

Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Saturday, January 28:

Kyiv in 'fast-track' calls with allies on missiles, planes

A top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv was in expedited talks with its Western allies on the possibility of long-range missiles and military aircraft deliveries. 

Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine's allies "understand how the war is developing" and the need for planes capable of providing cover for the armored fighting vehicles that the US and Germany recently pledged. 

According to Podolyak, some Western partners are, however, maintaining a "conservative" attitude toward arms deliveries, "due to fear of changes in the international architecture."

"We need to work with this. We must show [our partners] the real picture of this war," Podolyak said, without naming specific countries. 

"We must speak reasonably and tell them, for example, 'This and this will reduce fatalities, this will reduce the burden on infrastructure. This will reduce security threats to the European continent, this will keep the war localized.' And we are doing it."

Separately, Zelenskyy said Kyiv needed the US-made ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missile, which has a range of 185 miles (297 kilometers). The US has so far declined to provide the weapon.

"Ukraine needs long-range missiles... to deprive the occupier of the opportunity to place its missile launchers somewhere far from the front line and destroy Ukrainian cities," the Ukrainian president said in his regular evening video address. 

Russia — 14 killed in Ukraine strike on hospital

Russia's Defense Ministry on Saturday accused the Ukrainian army of striking a hospital in the eastern Luhansk region, killing 14 and wounding 24. 

Russia said the attack took place on Saturday morning in the town of Novoaidar. 

It said that "patients and medical staff" were among the casualties and that a Western HIMARS rocket launcher system had been used. 

Images and short video clips released on Russian state media showed emergency services working at the scene of a heavily damaged building. 

Ukraine — 3 killed in Russian strike in Kostiantynivka

Russian forces struck a residential neighborhood in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kostiantynivka, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Kyrylenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app that four apartment buildings and a hotel had been damaged and that rescuers and police officials were at the site to "carefully document yet another crime by the Russian occupiers."

The regional governor said that four people had been killed and at least seven wounded from Russian strikes over the past 24 hours.

DW could verify neither Russia nor Ukraine's casualty claims or information given about what caused them on Saturday.

Ukraine, IOC continue clash over Russians at Olympics

A senior Ukrainian presidential aide criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Saturday, days after the sports agency said the Olympic Council of Asia had offered Russian and Belarusian athletes a chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

 "#IOC proposes to the world promotion of violence, mass murders, destruction. That's why it insists Russian athletes should participate in contests as real 'ambassadors of death'," Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

"Sport doesn't exist outside politics — sport promotes it. Thus, the IOC promotes the Russian anti-human policy," Podolyak added.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously said that Ukraine would launch an international campaign to prevent Russian athletes from being allowed to compete in the 2024 Games.

In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that any attempt to keep Moscow excluded from international sports was "doomed to fail."

IOC President Thomas Bach said on German television this week that athletes from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to compete at the Olympics under neutral flags, pending other conditions as well. 

Bach said the IOC had to uphold "the mission of the Olympic Games to unite, to maintain the last bridge still standing between countries and nations and not to encourage further division." 

Meeting of the President of Ukraine with the President of the International Olympic Committee in Kyiv, July 3, 2022.
The IOC's Thomas Bach visited Ukraine in July of last yearImage: SvenSimon/ThePresidentialOfficeUkraine/picture alliance

Germany's Scholz defends government course as tank saga ends

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz focused on the Ukraine war in his weekly "Chancellor Compact" video message on Saturday. 

This followed Germany's announcement that it would send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after all, a decision Scholz was accused of appearing to dither over. 

Calling on viewers to trust both his government and him, Scholz said his coalition's three guiding principles on dealing with Ukraine were clear and would remain constant. 

"Firstly, we do what's necessary to support Ukraine, in humanitarian and financial terms, and with weapons," Scholz said. "Secondly, we prevent an escalation — there can be no war between Russia and NATO. And thirdly, Germany will not go it alone internationally, but will coordinate closely with its alliance partners, the US above all."

Scholz said that this had been the case with all major weapons delivery decisions, most recently to send Leopard 2 battle tanks.

Germany announced its readiness to do so at almost exactly the same time as the US government announced it would send comparable M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

Other earlier German weapons exports decisions were preceded by a similar period of pressure to agree and what critics argued was belated approval from Berlin. 

Von der Leyen: Ukraine 'fighting for our shared values'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech on Saturday that Ukraine needed to prevail against Russian attacks to defend shared values.

"We stand by Ukraine's side without any ifs and buts," von der Leyen said in a speech on Saturday at an event of her party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Ukraine "is fighting for our shared values, it is fighting for the respect of international law and for the principles of democracy and that is why Ukraine has to win this war," she said.

In the same event, von der Leyen called on Germany to pledge to never return to energy dependence with Russia again.

"There can be no return to dependence on Russian fossil fuels under any circumstances," von der Leyen said. "This is a generational task that we must master."

UK: Russia misrepresenting casualties

British intelligence said Moscow has deliberately misrepresented the number of deaths among its troops in a Ukrainian attack on a Russian military shelter in the Donetsk region on New Year's Eve.

The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia reported the deaths of 89 soldiers, while that figure is highly likely to be more than 300 victims.

London said the move was another example of the "pervasive presence of disinformation in Russian public announcements."

Deliberate lies approved by high-ranking officials and false reports by subordinate officials who want to play down their own failings for fear of being dismissed was the main driver of the misrepresentations in death toll figures.

North Korea condemns US tanks decision

North Korea claimed Washington's decision to supply Ukraine with tanks is "further expanding the proxy war" to destroy Russia.

In a statement released late Friday, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blamed Washington for the crisis in Ukraine and said the US was "further crossing the red line" by sending the tanks.

"Lurking behind this is the US sinister intention to realize its hegemonic aim by further expanding the proxy war for destroying Russia," Kim said in the statement.

Washington is "the archcriminal", she added, and Pyongyang will "always stand in the same trench with the service personnel and people of Russia".

Fighting crime in liberated Ukrainian territories

UN: Russia violating principles of child protection

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) said Russia was violating "fundamental principles of child protection" in wartime. The agency accused Russia's practice of giving Ukrainian children Russian passports and putting them up for adoption, in an interview by UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi with the Reuters news agency. 

"Giving them [Russian] nationality or having them adopted goes against the fundamental principles of child protection in situations of war," Grandi said. "This is something that is happening in Russia and must not happen," he added.

Grandi said his agency was unable to estimate the number of children who had been given passports or put up for adoption, as access in Russia was extremely limited.

"We are seeking access all the time, and access has been rather rare, sporadic and not unfettered," he said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Grandi of double standards by staying silent when children died as a result of what she said was Ukrainian shelling in the Donbas region after pro-Moscow separatists declared independence in 2014.

More on the war in Ukraine on dw.com

Western countries have pledged military equipment worth billions to Ukraine since the war began. Most recently Germany agreed to approve sending Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv. But how do Ukraine's allies fund these donations? DW takes a closer look.

Adding renewed momentum to the Ukraine and IOC's disagreement over whether athletes from Russia and Belarus should be suspended from international competition, Belarus' tennis ace Aryna Sabalenka won her first ever tennis Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday. She was allowed to compete under a neutral flag, the idea the IOC currently proposes for the 2024 Paris Olympics.  

And DW's Conflict Zone this week took a closer look at Germany's tank wrangling and ultimate decision, and any potential impact for NATO. US foreign policy adviser and diplomat Julianne Smith was Tim Sebastian's guest. You can watch the full episode here. 

jcg, msh/dj (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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