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Ukraine updates: Zelenskyy confident of US, European support

Published December 19, 2023last updated December 19, 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his government was "working very hard" to secure crucial support from allies. He also raised the prospect of a potential large mobilization. Follow DW for the latest.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during his end-of-the-year news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine
Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the Ukrainian military had asked for an additional 450,000-500,000 people to be mobilized into the army, but that a final decision had not been takenImage: Efrem Lukatsky/AP/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during an end-of-year press conference he was certain that crucial US and European financial aid would continue.

"We are working very hard on this, and I am certain the United States will not betray us," Zelenskyy said during a televised press briefing in Kyiv. He also said he expected the European Union to approve a €50 billion ($55 billion) aid package soon.

The Ukrainian president also raised the prospect of a potential large mobilization of up to half a million people, but said that no official decision had yet been taken.

In other news, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says Russia has failed to protect citizens amid its invasion of Ukraine.

Volker Türk added that Russia's military was guilty of "gross violations of international human rights law."

Here's a look at the latest developments in Russia's war in Ukraine on Tuesday, December 19:

Skip next section Boeing plane departs from closed Kyiv airport on technical flight
December 19, 2023

Boeing plane departs from closed Kyiv airport on technical flight

Ukrainian officials have been discussing the possibility of reopening Boryspil International Airport — the capital Kyiv's largest hub that closed after Russia's invasion — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after a Boeing 777-300 operated by local airline Skyline Express took off from the airport with no passengers or cargo on board.

The so-called "technical flight" was a sign the infrastructure remains in working condition and safety can be granted despite constant Russian air attacks.

"A technical transfer of the Boeing 777-300 was performed from Kyiv-Boryspil Airport (KBP) to an airport in Europe, as per the request of the operator, Ukrainian airline Skyline Express," the airport said on its Facebook page.

Video released by the airport on Tuesday showed a plane taking off and part of a runaway, with no sign of damage. The airport said this was the fourth successful departure since airport operations were disrupted by the war.

Skip next section Zelenskyy says he has working relationship with army chief
December 19, 2023

Zelenskyy says he has working relationship with army chief

During his end-of-year press conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed suggestions of a rift with army chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi and said he maintains a working relationship with the top general.

"Why should I help someone by developing this theme? I have a working relationship with Zaluzhnyi," Zelenskyy said.

His remarks come amid weeks of speculation about tensions between the two men after Kyiv's vaunted counteroffensive failed to retake significant parts of Russian-occupied territory. Zelenskyy described the military operation as a "very complicated story" involving the collective input of Ukraine's military leadership.

Zelenskyy also said Ukraine would next year drastically ramp up its domestic production of modern drones, which have become a crucial factor in the fighting for both sides.

"We will produce 1 million drones next year," Zelenskyy said. "Our soldiers will receive Ukraine-made drones in their brigades."

The Ukrainian president rejected the idea of Ukraine joining NATO without the Russian-occupied territories. Ukraine would not agree to such an accession, he told journalists. "We have not received such a proposal from any of our partners. I also find it difficult to imagine what it would look like," he said, arguing that the strongest security guarantee for Ukraine would be its accession as a whole. 

Zelenskyy also dismissed the idea of holding talks with Russia, even as his country faces difficult battles on the ground while struggling to stave off war fatigue among its allies.

"I don't see a request from Russia. I don't see it in their actions. I see only arrogance and murder in their rhetoric," Zelenskyy said, referring to potential negotiations, a topic Vladimir Putin again raised earlier on Tuesday.

Why has Ukraine's counteroffensive stalled?

Skip next section Zelenskyy confident US, European financial support will continue
December 19, 2023

Zelenskyy confident US, European financial support will continue

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during an end-of-year press conference he was certain that crucial US and European financial aid would continue.

"We are working very hard on this, and I am certain the United States will not betray us," Zelenskyy said during a televised press briefing in Kyiv.

He also said he expected the European Union to approve a €50 billion (roughly $55 billion) aid package soon. Funding for Ukraine has been held up recently in both the US and European Union amid political tussles as Ukraine fends off a full-scale Russian invasion.

According to Zelenskyy, no one knows when the war with Russia will end, with fatigue building in Kyiv and among its allies abroad. "I think that no one knows the answer. Even respected people, our commanders and our Western partners, who say that this is a war for many years, they do not know," Zelenskyy told reporters, adding that: "If we don't lose our resilience, we will end the war sooner."

However, if Donald Trump is elected US president in 2024, it could change significantly how the war in Ukraine plays out, Zelenskyy said. 

"If the policy of the next [US] president, whoever it is, is different towards Ukraine, more cold or more economical, I think these signals will have a very strong impact on the course of the war," the Ukrainian president said, referring to Trump, who he said "will surely have a different policy."

Trump has already claimed several times that if elected next year he would end the war in Ukraine "in a day," but has gone into very little detail on how he believes this would be possible. 

Zelenskyy said that the Ukrainian military had asked for an additional 450,000-500,000 people to be mobilized into the army, but that a final decision had not been taken, as conducting a mobilization at such a scale would require additional financing.

He also said that Ukraine's military had scored "a big victory" on the Black Sea, where Kyiv has launched successful strikes on Russian warships and secured martime trading routes.

"Everyone can appreciate that the Russian fleet was deprived of their almost total dominance in the Ukrainian Black Sea," Zelenskyy said, adding that Moscow had tried to impose controls over "what we should do, what we should export, and so on." 

Skip next section Ukraine says exports through new Black Sea corridor have reached 10 mln tons
December 19, 2023

Ukraine says exports through new Black Sea corridor have reached 10 mln tons

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that 10 million metric tons of products have been exported to 24 countries through the new Black Sea corridor.

Kyiv introduced the corridor, which hugs the western shores of the Black Sea, after Russia withdrew in July from a UN-brokered deal to guarantee the safe shipment of Ukrainian grain.

"From the beginning of the operation we increased the turnover of products from 278,000 tons in the first month to almost 5 million tons," Kubrakov said on the social media site X.

"Despite systematic attacks on the port infrastructure, ports accepted 337 vessels for loading," he said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said the volume of goods exported had fallen this year by almost 20% compared to the first year of Russia's invasion because of Moscow's blockade of and attacks on seaports.

However, the alternative corridor and ship insurance mechanism had allowed sea exports to increase by 70% in November compared to October, she added.

Skip next section Russian former soldier wants to testify to ICC over war crimes
December 19, 2023

Russian former soldier wants to testify to ICC over war crimes

A former Russian soldier has sought asylum in the Netherlands and wants to testify at the International Criminal Court (ICC) about war crimes by Russia that he witnessed while fighting in Ukraine.

The man, who identified himself in Dutch media as 60-year-old Igor Salikov, said he had been a member of the Russian-backed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and had worked as an instructor for the Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine.

Salikov told Dutch television program EenVandaag in an interview broadcast on Monday that he was ready to fully cooperate with the ICC and had personally witnessed "cruelties against civilians."

Salikov also claims to have information about the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014. All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, by a Russian missile system. The case is of particular interest in the Netherlands, given that more than two in three passengers were Dutch. 

Ukraine's top war crimes prosecutor Yurii Belousov told Reuters that Salikov had already been in touch with Ukrainian prosecutors for more than six months and given testimony.

The ICC issued an international arrest warrant in March for Russian President Vladimir Putin, alleging that he was responsible for the abduction of children from Ukraine. 

Skip next section European development bank pledges extra Ukraine help
December 19, 2023

European development bank pledges extra Ukraine help

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said it would maintain its level of wartime investment in Ukraine after securing a rare increase in shareholder capital.

The EBRD said the additional €4 billion (roughly $4.4 billion) "will be used to provide significant and sustained investment for Ukraine's real economy, both in wartime and in reconstruction".

"The additional capital will strengthen the EBRD, enabling it to continue providing a sustained level of annual investment in Ukraine of around €1.5 billion during wartime," the London-based institution said.

The EBRD has invested more than €3 billion in Ukraine since the nation was invaded by neighboring Russia in February last year.

Meanwhile, Italy's cabinet passed a law decree that allows it to continue supplying until the end of 2024 "means, materials and equipment" to Ukraine to support its war effort against Russia, a defense ministry statement said.

Skip next section Poland finds 14 foreigners guilty of spying for Russia
December 19, 2023

Poland finds 14 foreigners guilty of spying for Russia

A Polish court convicted 14 citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine for preparing acts of sabotage on behalf of Moscow as part of a spy ring.

The defendants were charged last month with acts of espionage such as preparing to derail trains carrying aid to neighboring Ukraine, and monitoring military facilities and critical infrastructure in the NATO member.

Among the facilities the convicted allegedly spies surveilled were the border checkpoints with Ukraine and the major rail routes used to transfer weapons and humanitarian aid to the neighbouring country. Their tasks also included distributing propaganda handouts inciting hatred towards Ukrainian people.

Investigators said the members of the ring received orders via the Telegram messaging app and were paid in cryptocurrency. Polish media reported the sums they received ranged from $300 (roughly €275) to around $10,000.

Skip next section Putin hails Russia's military performance in Ukraine
December 19, 2023

Putin hails Russia's military performance in Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia's military has seized the initiative on the battlefield in Ukraine after repelling Kyiv's counteroffensive, saying it was is well positioned to achieve Moscow's goals.

According to Putin, Russian troops now had the initiative on the battlefield. "We are not going to abandon the goals of the special military operation," he said.

Putin also said that Russia would be prepared to talk to Ukraine, the United States and Europe about the future of Ukraine if they wanted to, but that Moscow would defend its national interests.

"In Ukraine, those who are aggressive towards Russia, and in Europe and in the United States do they want to negotiate? Let them. But we will do it based on our national interests," Putin told a meeting of the defense leadership in Moscow.

"We will not give up what is ours," Putin said. Russia controls about 17.5% of the territory that was internationally recognized as part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Skip next section Erdogan says EU will 'stall' Ukraine, Moldova accession
December 19, 2023

Erdogan says EU will 'stall' Ukraine, Moldova accession

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was cited as saying the European Union would stall Ukraine and Moldova's accession to the EU. He likes to blame Brussels for Turkey's long-stagnant, or arguably even backsliding bid to join the bloc.

Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Hungary, Erdogan said Turkey, which has been an EU candidate since 2005, had long earned the right to join the bloc but had been stalled over what he called political obstacles.

"Giving them candidate status does not mean they will become EU members. A process will start with them, they will be stalled too. None of these countries are a Turkey," Erdogan was cited as saying by his office.

"It is wrong for Turkey, which is more ready to join the EU than some member states, to be kept waiting at the door for years due to political obstacles," he added.

Turkey's bid to join the EU has been frozen for years for an array of reasons including EU concerns over Turkey's record on human rights and differences over regional policies, particularly on the divided island of Cyprus and also in the Eastern Mediterranean.

EU leaders agreed last week to open talks with Ukraine even as it continues to fight Russia's invasion, while also starting talks with Moldova. But the bloc could not agree on a €50 billion ($55 billion) package of financial aid for Kyiv due to opposition from Hungary.

Ukraine wins EU membership talks, loses 50 billion in aid

Skip next section UK and France pledge to keep backing Ukraine
December 19, 2023

UK and France pledge to keep backing Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron says France and the UK will support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion "for as long as it takes."

Cameron added it was "essential" that Russian President Vladimir Putin was defeated as concern grows in Kyiv that Western solidarity in the fight against Russia could be crumbling.

"Britain and France have been staunch supporters of Ukraine and we will continue to be for as long as it takes," Cameron said alongside French counterpart Catherine Colonna after talks in Paris.

"I have no doubt that we can make sure Putin loses and it is essential he does lose," he said

"We must be absolutely staunch in how we back Ukraine," he said.

Colonna emphasized that Britain and France were united on major international issues such as Ukraine and the Middle East.

"Our two countries, shoulder-to-shoulder since the beginning, have worked together to ensure that Russian aggression cannot be rewarded, that it is a failure, and that Ukraine can recover its freedom, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity," Colonna said.

"We hope that this cooperation can be further strengthened," she added.

Skip next section Kremlin says will sidestep new EU sanctions
December 19, 2023

Kremlin says will sidestep new EU sanctions

The Kremlin says it intends to circumvent a European Union import ban on Russian diamonds, part of a latest sanctions package over Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The European Union adopted the sanctions on Monday, covering natural and synthetic diamonds and including those in jewelry.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the West was running out of scope in its ability to inflict economic damage on Russia.

"On the whole, the 12th package shows that, perhaps, the pool of sectors where sanctions can be imposed is being exhausted," Peskov said.

Diamond sales are worth an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion (€3.7 billion to €4.6 billion) a year to Russia. Peskov said the ban was "predictable" and could be sidestepped.

"I do not think that there are no options to circumvent these sanctions. There are, and they will be implemented," Peskov said.

The sanctions also extended EU efforts to limit the technology that Moscow can obtain for military purposes. The package added 29 more companies to a list of entities banned from exporting products that could help Russia's weapons industry.

Skip next section Kyiv's military says 'complicated' on Kharkiv front
December 19, 2023

Kyiv's military says 'complicated' on Kharkiv front

Ukraine says its military was outgunned in the eastern Kharkiv region, where Moscow's forces have been pressing for months to capture the regional hub of Kupiansk.

Although Russian troops initially captured large swathes of the eastern Kharkiv region in their invasion, Kyiv's forces pushed them back in a swift offensive about a year ago.

"The situation is complicated. We have to fight in conditions of superiority of the enemy both in weapons and in the number of personnel," said Oleksandr Syrsky, the head of Ukraine's ground forces.

However, Syrsky asserted that Ukrainian forces were adapting to the situation and were ultimately holding the line.
Russia's Defense Ministry on Tuesday said that, with artillery support, it had fought off eight Ukrainian attacks around Kupiansk.

Russian forces made up of units recruited from prisons were also pushing further south around the devastated city of Bakhmut, Syrsky said.

Part of the problem, it is believed, is a shortage of artillery shells and ammunition forcing Kyiv to scale back military operations.

Why has Ukraine's counteroffensive stalled?

Skip next section UK alleges Russia used hypersonic missile
December 19, 2023

UK alleges Russia used hypersonic missile

Russia's air force last week used a hypersonic Kinzahl missile against Ukraine for the first time since August, the UK's Ministry of Defence says. 

"At least one" Kinzhal was fired toward central Ukraine on December 13, the ministry said, partly corroborating earlier Ukrainian reports.

In its daily intelligence update about the war on Tuesday, the ministry said a military airfield was the likely target.

"In the Ukraine war, Russia has reserved the weapon for what it perceives as high value, well-defended targets," the update said. It added the missile has had a "mixed combat debut."

"Many of its launches have likely missed their intended targets, while Ukraine has also succeeded in intercepting attacks by this supposedly 'undefeatable' system."

The Ukrainian military has claimed in the past that it has successfully intercepted Kinzhal missiles. 

Last week, Kyiv said a Russian MiG-31 fighter jet had launched a volley of hypersonic missiles at central and western Ukraine. 

There were reports of explosions near the Starokostiantyniv military airfield, which has long been a target of Moscow's military.

On the front line with Ukrainian drone pilots

Skip next section Moscow mayor says drone downed
December 19, 2023

Moscow mayor says drone downed

Moscow's mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, says air defense systems have destroyed a drone over the city.

Sobyanin did not specify whether the unmanned craft was a Ukrainian drone or from where it was launched.

"Air defense forces in the Odintsovo district repelled a drone attack," he said in a statement.

"According to preliminary information, there is no damage or casualties at the site where the debris fell."

"Emergency services specialists are working at the scene."

Skip next section Moscow airports restrict flights
December 19, 2023

Moscow airports restrict flights

Two Moscow airports, Vnukovo and Domodedovo, say they have restricted flights.

The measure is often taken during such drone attacks, which Russia has in the past attributed to Ukraine.

A third Moscow airport, Zhukovsky, was also reported to have taken similar measures.

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