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Ukraine updates: Russia shells entire eastern frontline

December 9, 2022

Ukraine said Russian forces were shelling the entire front line in the Donetsk region. Despite a high profile prisoner swap, Russian government officials are keen to tamp down hopes for a rapprochement with Washington.

An apartment building on fire as a civilian and soldier run around in front of the burning building
A local resident leaves his home after Russian shelling destroyed an apartment house in BakhmutImage: LIBKOS/AP/picture alliance

Russia spent Friday shelling the eastern frontline in Donetsk as part of an effort to secure territory Moscow claims to have annexed. The effort is a scaled back version of what Russia initially set out to do with its February 24 invasion.

The areas near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka saw the fiercest fighting, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a televised interview.

Casualties included five dead and two wounded civilians in the Ukrainian-controlled areas of Donetsk on Thursday, he added.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodynyr Zelenskyy said in a video post, "The Russians have intensified their efforts in Donetsk and Luhansk."

He added, "We are advancing nowhere but, rather, defending, destroying the enemy's infantry and equipment wherever it tries to advance."

Russian forces also hoped to move forward near Lyman, which Ukraine retook last month, one of many battlefield setbacks Russian forces confronted last month.

A witness told Reuters news agency that in Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces countered with barrages of artillery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin again charged the West was "exploiting" Ukraine and using its people as "cannon fodder."

Here are the other top stories related to the war in Ukraine on Friday, December 9

Russian assets worth €19 billion frozen in EU

EU countries, led by Belgium and Luxembourg, have frozen €18.9 billion ($19.9 billion) of assets belonging to Russian oligarchs and entities hit by sanctions over the war on Ukraine, Brussels has said.

Belgium leads the way with €3.5 billion ($3.7 billion) blocked, followed by Luxembourg with €2.5 billion ($2.4 billion), Italy with €2.3 billion ($2.4 billion) and Germany with €2.2 billion ($2.3 billion), according to EU statistics.

Ireland, Austria, France and Spain were the other members of the 27-country bloc to have frozen more than €1 billion ($1.05 billion) each, according to data declared by November 25.

The European Union has imposed repeated waves of unprecedented sanctions against the Russian economy since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

While some EU nations have reported large amounts targeted, others are lagging far behind.

Malta, a country that has run a controversial "golden passport" scheme for wealthy investors including Russians, is at the bottom of the list, with €146,558 ($154,345) blocked. Greece is second to last with €212,201 ($223,475).

In total, 1,241 individuals and 118 entities are subject to asset freezes and entry bans in the European Union because of their role in the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukrainian PM: all thermal, hydroelectric power plants damaged

Ukrainians must expect power cuts throughout the winter, according to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Although the situation is currently "under control," there are still shortcomings in the power supply due to the damage, he said. "All thermal and hydroelectric power plants in the country have been damaged."

In addition, about 40% of the high-voltage grid systems were damaged to varying degrees, he said. "So in most of the regions, the constraints in power supply are still significant," he summed up.

"Let's be honest that this winter we will constantly live under the conditions of limited electricity," Shmyhal said.

Belarus set to allow Ukraine to export grain across its territory — UN

Belarus is prepared to let Ukrainian grain be shipped across its territory so the products can be exported further from Lithuanian ports, according to a statement by UN Secretary General António Guterres.

Guterres released the statement after a meeting with the Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Ambrazevich.

As the agreement was announced, Ambrazevich repeated a request that his country be allowed to export fertilizer, which is currently subject to sanctions.

The UN-brokered grain deal, first set in July, renewed earlier this month and allows grain exports from certain Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, as well as fertilizer exports from Russian producers despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy says situation in key areas of Donbas front remains very difficult

The situation in key areas of the Donbas front in eastern Ukraine remains very difficult, but Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian attacks and inflicting significant losses, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening video address.

He also said Russian forces had destroyed the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, one of the epicenters of recent fighting.

Zelenskyy thanked "all our heroes, all soldiers and commanders who hold the front in these directions."

Russia says 30 more embassy staff will leave US

Russia's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said 30 more embassy staff would have to leave the country on January 1 due to visa restrictions, according to RIA news agency.

Both the Russian embassy in Washington and the US Embassy in Moscow have been cut back significantly in recent years in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions that have seen dozens of Russian and US diplomats sent back to their home countries.

US to send additional $275 million in military aid to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden authorized fresh $275 million (€261 million) in military aid for Ukraine, according to a memo released by the White House.

According to White House national security spokesman John Kirby, the aid package is intended to boost Ukraine’s air defense against drones.

Ukrainian Nobel Prize winner says Putin must face tribunal

Oleksandra Matviychuk of Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties, that shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should face an international tribunal for invading Ukraine.

She told a news conference in Oslo, Norway, that such a tribunal should be established to hold Putin, as well as Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko "and other war criminals," accountable.

Matviychuk called the conflict in Ukraine "genocidal" and said that "if Ukraine stops resistance, there will be no more us."

She also dismissed suggestions of negotiations to end the conflict. Russia "sees any attempt at dialogue as a sign of weakness," Matviychuk said.

Russia is trying to get more weapons from Iran — British UN ambassador

Russia is attempting to obtain more weapons from Iran, including hundreds of ballistic missiles, Britain's UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward said.

She added that Moscow offers Tehran an unprecedented level of military and technical support in return.

According to Woodward, Iran’s weapons proliferation poses a real and significant threat to international community.

Iran has supplied Russia with loitering munitions such as Shahed drones, which have been used by Moscow against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Washington was deeply concerned about the "deepening and burgeoning defense partnership" between Iran and Russia, and the United States would be using its tools to disrupt that relationship, including on drones.

He said the US government would also be calling on partner countries to discuss and address the Russia-Iran partnership.

Putin says 'agreement will have to be reached' to end war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that ultimately an agreement would need to be struck to end fighting in Ukraine.

"Trust, of course, is almost at zero... but ultimately, in the end, an agreement will have to be reached," Putin told a summit of regional leaders in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

"I have said many times that we are ready for these agreements, and we are open (to them)," he added.

Putin comments came in response to remarks from former German chancellor Angela Merkel about the Minsk agreements, negotiated with Paris and Berlin to end fighting between Russia and Ukraine.

Merkel told Die Zeit newspaper that the 2014 accords were an "attempt to give Ukraine time" and that Kyiv had used it "to become stronger".

Putin in Bishkek said he was "disappointed" by Merkel's comments, adding he "always assumed that the government of Germany was acting honestly."

According to Putin, Merkel’s statements prove that the decision to launch a military operation was correct, and perhaps "all this should have started earlier."

Speaking to reporters, he also said Russia could amend its military doctrine by introducing the possibility of a preemptive strike to disarm an enemy, in an apparent reference to a nuclear attack.

"First of all, the United States has the concept of a preemptive strike. Second, it is developing a disarming strike system," Putin said.

He said Moscow might need to think about adopting US "ideas for ensuring their own security."

Putin claimed that Russia's cruise missiles and hypersonic systems were "more modern and even more efficient" than those in the United States.

US Defense Secretary says Russia is expanding its nuclear arsenal

Russia is expanding and modernizing its nuclear arsenal, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, at a time Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly suggested he could use nuclear weapons to protect Russia.

"Russia is also modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal," Austin said at a ceremony for the incoming commander of US Strategic Command, which oversees the United States' nuclear arsenal.

"And as the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling," Austin added.

Olympic Summit opens doors for return of Russia, Belarus athletes

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has opened the door for a return of athletes from Russia and Belarus to international sports competition, despite the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

An Olympic Summit agreed on a motion from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to "facilitate the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in competitions in Asia under its authority, while respecting the sanctions in place."

The OCA said that protective measures named as the reason for the ban of the athletes no longer existed for them, while the sanctions concern the states and governments of Russia and Belarus.

The statement said conditions for participation of Russians and Belarusians include respect for the Olympic Charter and the sanctions which include the ban on flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications of Russia and Belarus at sports events.

The statement said the IOC is "to lead the further exploration of the OCA initiative concerning the participation of athletes who are in full respect of the Olympic Charter and the sanctions.

Bulgarian parliament approves military aid to Ukraine

Bulgarian lawmakers approved the country's first military assistance package to Ukraine involving a classified list of weapons prepared by the government.

The National Assembly voted 148-46 with one abstention in favor of sending the weapons to Kyiv following months of political squabbling on the issue in the Balkan NATO member state.

Bulgaria previously agreed to repair Ukrainian military equipment at its factories but refused to send weapons directly due to opposition from President Rumen Radev and the country's Moscow-friendly political parties.

Along with Hungary, Bulgaria was the only European Union member country to initially refuse to give Ukraine weapons following Russia's invasion.

Kremlin addresses relations with the US

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russia's relations with the US were still in "crisis" despite the prisoner exchange involving US basketball star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Peskov said, "It is probably wrong to draw any hypothetical conclusions that this could be a step towards overcoming the crisis that we currently have in bilateral relations."

Nicknamed the "Merchant of Death," Bout was swapped for Griner in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. She had been arrested in the airport in Moscow for having vaporizer cartridges with cannabis oil in her possession. Bout allegedly armed rebel groups in some of the most lethal conflicts in the world.

Bout had been placed under arrest in 2008 in Thailand following an American sting operation before being extradited to the US where he was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Other Russian officials were also keen to tamp down hopes of improved relations between Moscow and Washington.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov noted that the US was seeking to destroy Russia's export earnings. He said the US hoped to push Russia towards default.

Despite the negative signals, Russian state-run Tass news agency reported that representatives from both Russia and the US would meet in Istanbul Friday. The meeting concerns "difficult questions" such as visas, embassy staff levels and the work of other government agencies abroad on unspecified issues of concern.

UK says Russia returns to use of Iranian drones

The UK Ministry of Defense reported in its morning briefing that Russian forces are again using Iranian drones. If verified, the reinjection of Iranian drones onto the battlefield could indicate Russia had received a fresh supply.

The UK assessed that Russia had used up its supply of hundreds of Iranian-supplied Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 "kamikaze" drones, formally known as loitering munitions.

Earlier in the week, Ukrainian intelligence said Ukraine had shot down 17 drones, including 14 Shahed-136 drones used to attack the Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro regions.

France's TotalEnergies announces withdrawal from Russia

The French energy firm TotalEnergies announced that it was walking away from a stake in Novatek, the Russian natural gas producer, and would write off the $3.7 billion (€3.5 billion) loss.

TotalEnergies had faced criticism for pursuing projects in Russia after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. The French firm said sanctions prevented it from selling a nearly 20% stake in the firm to a Russian company.

TotalEnergies withdrew its representatives from the Novatek board with "immediate effect," though they had abstained from voting due to sanctions.

The news comes amid an energy crisis in Europe brought on by Russia's decision to invade Ukraine and the crippling Western sanctions inflicted as retribution in response.

UK announces sanctions against Russian officials

The UK announced a raft of sanctions against 30 individuals worldwide who were being targeted for acts of torture, sexual violence and violent mass repressions of peaceful protest.

Among those being sanctioned included Russian officials and Iranians responsible for supplying Moscow with loitering munitions more popularly known as "kamikaze" drones.

Russian Colonel Ramil Rakhmatulovich Ibatullin, the commander of Russia's 90th Tank Division, was sanctioned over multiple allegations made against serving members of the 90th Tank Division deployed in Ukraine. A senior lieutenant of the 90th Tank Division was convicted in Ukraine on sexual abuse charges during the conflict.

Despite abundant evidence in Ukraine, Russia denies involvement in war atrocities.

Russia pardoned Zambian student as inmate before death in Ukraine

The Russian government told Zambian authorities that a student who had died in Ukraine was pardoned from a prison sentence in order to fight in Ukraine.

Zambian Foreign Minister Stanley Kakubo said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had informed him by telephone that the student, Lemekhani Nyirenda, had been pardoned on August 23 prior to joining Russian forces in Ukraine.

Nyirenda's father said his son had been serving nine years in the suburbs of Moscow for a drug-related offense when he was conscripted.

Nyirenda's remains arrived in Moscow on Friday and were due in Zambia Saturday.

dh, ar/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)