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Ukraine updates: Russia in major assault on eastern towns

January 31, 2023

British intelligence believe advances in eastern Ukraine could be part of a larger offensive. Meanwhile the US says it won't supply Kyiv with fighter aircraft. Follow DW for more.

Ukrainian soldiers return from the front line in Bakhmut
The British MOD believes that Russian forces may be looking to "develop a new axis of advance" into Donetsk to divert Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut in the east of the countryImage: Marek M. Berezowski/AA/picture alliance

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MOD) says that Russian attacks around the eastern Ukrainian towns of Pavlivka and Vuhledar could be part of a larger assault.

The MOD's latest intelligence briefing says that a force the size of at least a brigade — which ordinarily is comprised of a few thousand troops — had advanced several hundred meters beyond what has been the front line for several months.

The MOD said that Russian forces may be looking to "develop a new axis of advance" into Donetsk to divert Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut in the east of the country.

The town has been the scene of fierce fighting and the MOD believes Russian forces could make small gains which wouldn't amount to much due to troop numbers.

"There is a realistic possibility that Russia will continue to make local gains in the (Bakhmut) sector," the update stated.

"However, it is unlikely that Russia has sufficient uncommitted troops in the area to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough," the MOD pointed out.

Denis Pushilin, the Russia-backed leader of the illegally annexed Donetsk region, claimed Russian troops had secured a foothold in Vuhledar, but this could not be independently verified.

Russia's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, claimed it had complete control over the village of Blahodatne, north of Bakhmut.

It follows earlier claims from Russian private military company Wagner, which said it had taken control of Blahodatne.

"Units of Wagner PMC have taken Blahodatne. Blahodatne is under our control," Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said, as quoted by his press service.

Kyiv has not commented on whether the settlement has been taken.

Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, January 31:

France to send Ukraine additional artillery pieces

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu says Ukraine will be getting an additional 12 Caesar howitzers.

This would added to the 18 that have already been delivered and would be financed by the €200 million ($217 million) fund set up by Paris to provide arms for Kyiv.

France will also be sending 150 military staff to Poland to train upwards of 600 Ukrainian troops a month.

Lecornu was speaking following talks with Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov in Paris.

Ukraine to receive 120-140 tanks in first deliveries: Kyiv

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Kyiv would receive 120-140 tanks in the "first wave" of deliveries.

"The tank coalition now has 12 members. I can note that in the first wave of contributions, the Ukrainian armed forces will receive between 120 and 140 Western-model tanks," Kuleba said in a briefing.

The minister said that there were continued efforts to secure more tanks.

"We continue to work on both expanding the membership of the tank coalition and increasing the contributions of those already pledged," Kuleba said.

Former UK leader Boris Johnson meets Republicans on the Hill

The former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with US Senate Majority Mitch McConnell and other Republican legislators. 

Johnson also reportedly spoke with House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy. Johnson was also scheduled to speak at the private Republican Club on the Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson told Reuters.

In a statement, Johnson said, "My mission is to demonstrate that Ukraine will win – and that there is no conceivable case for delay in further supporting the Ukrainians to win this year. We should have no fear of escalation when it comes to the provision of weaponry."

At the Atlantic Council, Johnson is set to discuss "Western unity and support for Ukraine and what more can be done against the threat Russia poses." In an op-ed Monday, Johnson argued Ukraine should be granted membership to NATO.

Ukraine to hold summit with EU Friday

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that a summit between the EU and Ukraine will go ahead in Kyiv Friday. 

Shmyhal said, "The Ukraine-EU summit will be held in Kyiv on February 3." He called the summit "extremely important."

"The fact that this summit will be held in Kyiv is a powerful signal to both partners and enemies," he added.

Ukraine obtained EU candidacy status after Russia's invasion last year.

Biden says US will not provide warplanes

The US says it will not be providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, as the country continues to battle invading Russian forces.

Answering a question on whether the US would make provisions for warplanes, US President Joe Biden simply told reporters: "No."

French President Emmanuel Macron however appears willing to consider more weaponry for Kyiv. While on a visit to the Hague, he said: "In principle, nothing is prohibited," but added that a number of factors would need to be taken into account, primarily avoiding escalation of the conflict and the assurance that the planes would not "touch Russian soil."

Macron's comments come ahead of a visit by Ukraine's defense minister, who is expected in Paris on Tuesday for talks.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also indicated that he was not averse to the idea of providing fighter aircraft to Ukraine but did say any transfer would need to be done "in complete coordination" with NATO member states.

Just under a week ago, several countries pledged to send battle tanks to Ukraine to help fend off invading Russian forces, after continued requests from Ukraine's leadership.

Germany approved the export of Leopard 2 battle tanks from its own stocks as well as from third-party allies.

Ambassador: Ukraine has not yet asked Germany for jets

Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Oleksii Makeiev told DW on Monday that there was no official request from Kyiv to Berlin to provide fighter jets from Germany, despite some voices in Kyiv calling for warplanes.

Russia and Belarus announce week-long training

The Belarusian Defense Ministry on Tuesday announced the start of week-long training of their joint military grouping with Russia.

According to a ministry statement, the training is part of preparation for joint military drills the allies will hold in Russia in September.

Moscow used the country as a staging point for the invasion of northern Ukraine.

Katia Glod, who is a Belarus analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told DW that while most military experts believed another attack on Kyiv was likely this year, it was not clear whether it would come from Belarus.

"The most significant signal here is that we are not seeing really sufficient number of Russian troops, in fact the number of Russian troops has decreased," Glod told DW's Sarah Kelly.

"A few months ago there were about 10,000-11,000, now half at least of those troops have already been sent to Donbas and we have around 5,000 Russian troops in Belarus," Glod pointed out, adding that there were presently no signs of a deployment of troops or joint command being built in Belarus.

Kyiv says Croatian president Crimea comments 'unacceptable'

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has called out Croatian President Zoran Milanovic for saying that Crimea would never again be part of Ukraine.

Milanovic made the remarks on Monday as he objected to a proposal for Zagreb to provide military aid to Kyiv.

The Croatian leader said that it was "clear that Crimea will never again be part of Ukraine".

Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko responded in a Facebook post.

"We consider the statements of the President of Croatia unacceptable, who actually questioned the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Nikolenko said and then went on to express his gratitude to the Croatian government and people, "for their unwavering support of Ukrainians in the fight against Russian aggression."

Brazil proposes joint China mediation plan for Ukraine

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said while he is not interested in supplying ammunition to Ukraine, he has a mediation proposal involving China.

"Brazil is a country of peace. And that is why Brazil does not want any participation in this war, not even indirectly," Lula said during a joint press briefing with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is on a four-day visit to the region.

Lula said his country would work with others to help reach peace in Ukraine, and pointed out China's role in peace talks.

"Our Chinese friends play a very important role in this," the left-wing politician said. "It's time for China to step up," Lula emphasized, adding that

Brazil, China and Russia form part of the BRICS emerging economies which also include India and South Africa, however Brazil was among the 141 countries at the UN General Assembly last year who voted to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

NATO wants stronger partnership with Japan

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the defense alliance and Japan had agreed that transatlantic and Indo-Pacific security were closely connected issues.

"If President Putin wins in Ukraine, this would send a message that authoritarian regimes can achieve their goals through brute force. This is dangerous," Stoltenberg stressed.

The NATO chief said that Beijing was "watching closely" and was also learning lessons that could influence future decisions.

Stoltenberg warned that was "happening in Europe today, could happen in East-Asia tomorrow" and emphasized the importance of unity.

Japan's sanctions on Russia and support for Ukraine were welcomed by Stoltenberg.

'Russian terror must lose' — Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stressed the need for victory as the anniversary of Russia's invasion of his country approaches.

"Russian terror must lose everywhere and in every way: both on the battlefield and in that not a single ruin remains in our country," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

Earlier in the day, Zelenskyy had visited the southern city of Mykolaiv with Denmark's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen.

The leaders paid a visit to wounded Ukrainian soldiers and hospital staff were awarded medals by the Ukrainian president.

Denmark has pledged to help lead efforts to rebuild the city and surrounding area, which was extensively shelled  by Russian forces.

Ukraine accused of using banned anti-personnel landmines by rights group

Human Rights Watch said Ukraine is using banned anti-personnel landmines to repel Russia's illegal invasion. 

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it upholds treaty obligations against mines but will refrain from commenting on weaponry used to repel Russian invaders until a post-conflict stage emerges.

Ukraine is accused of deploying the mines in Izyum. Russian forces controlled Izyum between April and September of last year but Kyiv retook the city in September.

Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Goose said, "Russian forces have repeatedly used anti-personnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn't justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons."

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

DW takes a look at at how Germany and EU member states fund the supply of military gear to Ukraine.

And are Russia's plans to reform its army realistic? Read more about Moscow's plans to bolster its armed forces with 350,000 troops.

kb/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa)