Ukraine news – live: Senior officials face jail as Zelensky purges ranks over corruption scandal

Vladimir Putin is turning away from his reliance on Wagner mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, according to military observers.

The Russian president likely intends to rely on conventional Russian forces after recently appointing a new overall commander in General Valeriy Gerasimov, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its latest update on the Ukraine conflict.

Mr Putin may have felt threatened by Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ambition in Moscow politics and his claims of his mercenaries’ importance to the Russian campaign, the ISW said.

Mr Prigozhin put the Kremlin in an uncomfortable position earlier this month when he claimed Wagner fighters had taken the Ukrainian town of Soledar several days before Russia officially made the same claim.

Earlier, Germany’s foreign minister says Berlin “would not stand in the way” of Poland sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, on the same day as Boris Johnson made another surprise visit to Kyiv.

Key Points

Putin ‘turning away' from Wagner group

Monday 23 January 2023 14:49 , Liam James

Vladimir Putin is turning away from his reliance on the Wagner group of mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, according to military observers.

In its latest update on the Ukraine conflict, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said the Russian president likely intends to rely on conventional Russian forces after recently appointing a new overall commander in General Valeriy Gerasimov.

Mr Putin may have felt threatened by Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ambition in Moscow politics and his claims of his mercenaries’ importance to the Russian campaign, the ISW said.

The Kremlin was put in an uncomfortable position earlier this month when Mr Prigozhin claimed his fighters taken the Ukrainian town of Soledar several days before Russia officially made the same claim.

Ukraine pledges sweeping personnel changes amid corruption allegations

03:50 , Stuti Mishra

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has announced personnel changes are being carried out at senior and lower levels, following the most high-profile graft allegations since Russia’s invasion that threaten to dampen Western enthusiasm for the Kyiv government.

Reports of a fresh scandal in Ukraine, which has a long history of shaky governance, come as European countries bicker over giving Kyiv German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

“There are already personnel decisions - some today, some tomorrow - regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Monday.

Mr Zelensky, who did not identify the officials to be replaced, said his plans included toughening oversight on travelling abroad for official assignments.

Several Ukrainian media outlets have reported that cabinet ministers and senior officials could be sacked imminently.

This comes after anti-corruption police on Sunday said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback over the import of generators last September, an allegation the minister denies.

A newspaper investigation accused the defence ministry of overpaying suppliers for soldiers’ food. The supplier has said it made a technical mistake and no money had changed hands.

Turkey's president says no support for Sweden's NATO bid

03:00 , Eleanor Noyce

Turkey’s president cast serious doubt on NATO’s expansion Monday after warning Sweden not to expect support for its bid for membership into the military alliance following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Rasmus Paludan’s Quran-burning protest on Saturday, saying it was an insult to everyone, especially to Muslims. He was particularly incensed at Swedish authorities for allowing the demonstration to take place outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm under “the protection” of security forces.

“It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership application,” Erdogan said in his first comments regarding the weekend protests, saying Sweden must have calculated the consequences of permitting Paludan’s demonstration.

The burning of Islam’s holy book angered people across the political spectrum in Turkey, just as Sweden and Finland appeared on the cusp of NATO membership after dropping their longstanding policies of military nonalignment following Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin now stands to benefit as the potential enlargement of the world’s most powerful military alliance appears to be stymied.

Read more:

Turkey's president says no support for Sweden's NATO bid

US: Ex-FBI counterintelligence agent aided Russian oligarch

02:00 , Eleanor Noyce

A former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official who investigated Russian oligarchs has been indicted on charges he secretly worked for one, in violation of U.S. sanctions. The official was also charged, in a separate indictment, with taking cash from a former foreign security officer.

Charles McGonigal, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York from 2016 to 2018, is accused in an indictment unsealed Monday of working with a former Soviet diplomat-turned-Russian interpreter on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire they purportedly referred to in code as “the big guy” and “the client.”

McGonigal, who had supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska, worked to have Deripaska’s sanctions lifted in 2019 and took money from him in 2021 to investigate a rival oligarch, the Justice Department said.

Read more:

US: Ex-FBI counterintelligence agent aided Russian oligarch

Germany not blocking export of Leopard 2 tanks, says top EU diplomat

01:10 , Eleanor Noyce

Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell has stated that Germany is not blocking the export of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

Berlin is facing increasing pressure to supply these tanks to Ukraine.

“It seems Germany’s not going to ban the exporting of these weapons, if some EU member states who have them want to send them”, Borrell told a news conference on Monday.

The EU has approved a €500 million support package for Ukraine, bringing the total amount of military support to $3.9 billion according to Borrell.

He also remarked that the bloc’s support to Ukraine now rests at $53 billion, including military, financial, economic and humanitarian aid.

“We have to help Ukraine stop Russia”, urges Latvian Prime Minister

00:40 , Eleanor Noyce

The Latvian Prime Minister has reiterated his support for Ukraine, urging that Russia can only be stopped if the West supplies weapons.

On Monday, the EU approved €500 million of military aid for Ukraine. However, the pressure is still on for Berlin to supply German-made Leopard tanks.

“If Ukraine does not win then everyone has a huge problem because there is no indication that Russia will stop or would be interested in stopping”, Krisjanis Karins told Sky News.

“We have to help Ukraine stop Russia and that can only be done with the supplying of weapons.”

It was “quite important” that Germany was “fully on board” with other EU countries on supplying the German-made Leopard tanks, Karins added.

EU launches civilian mission to monitor Armenia-Azerbaijan border

00:01 , Eleanor Noyce

The EU has launched a civilian mission to monitor the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a region viewed by the Kremlin as Russia’s backyard.

The initiative was requested by Armenia, extending a 40-strong mission that was deployed for two months in 2022.

The new mission has a two-year mandate and is set to conduct “routine patrolling and report on the situation”, an EU statement confirmed.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over control of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, a victory which Armenia won. 30,000 people were killed.

Armenia has accused Russian soldiers of failing to prevent fighting and stopping Azerbaijanis blockading the only route to Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers were deployed to the region in 2021 after a conflict which killed 6500 people.

Poland adds pressure on Germany with threat to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 23:40 , Eleanor Noyce

Poland has stepped up pressure on Berlin over arms to Ukraine, saying it would send German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv if other countries did the same.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government wants the widely-used tanks to help it break through Russian lines and recapture territory.

But Germany, which must approve re-exports of the Leopard, has held back, wary of moves that could cause Moscow to escalate, and says other Nato nations have yet to formally seek permission to supply Kyiv.

It came as EU foreign ministers agreed to allocate another £440m worth of military aid for Ukraine, along with a further £30m for “non-lethal equipment” for military training of Ukraine, Swedish and Czech officials.

Alastair Jamieson reports:

Pressure grows on Berlin as Poland signals sending tanks to Ukraine

Protocol row ‘isn’t rocket science’, says ex-taoiseach in call for solution

Monday 23 January 2023 23:10 , Eleanor Noyce

Dealing with concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol “isn’t rocket science”, and a solution must be found, a former Irish premier has said.

Bertie Ahern said the current stalemate which has plunged the Stormont Assembly into flux is “beyond comprehension”.

He emphasised that with a bit of flexibility it can be resolved.

“I really, really believe that this isn’t rocket science,” he said.

“When you think of the things that we resolved, we got the IRA to decommit their arms, we released prisoners … we reformed the old RUC to now a very competent international PSNI.”

Closing the session, Mr Hoare said the horrors of the war in Ukraine has “contextualised” the size of the problem.

“If the sophisticated, mature statecraft of Brussels, Westminster and Dublin can’t solve this, then I think we all have to begin to wonder what the hell are we all doing,” he said.

Rebecca Black has more:

Protocol row ‘isn’t rocket science’, says ex-taoiseach in call for solution

“Role who work for our economy from abroad…should not be punished”, says billionaire metals executive Vladimir Potanin

Monday 23 January 2023 22:40 , Eleanor Noyce

One of Russia’s richest tycoons, billionaire metals executive Vladimir Potanin, has called on the authorities to tolerate Russian workers who have fled following the Ukraine war.

“People who work for our economy from abroad - remotely or otherwise - should not be punished”, Potanin told the online RBC news portal.

He also called for an end to punitive measures against workers who had fled, many of whom did so to avoid being drafted into the army or because they morally disagreed with the war.

It is estimated that Potanin is Russia’s richest or second-richest person, with his wealth derived from his stake in metals giant Nornickel.

Boris Johnson makes shock visit to Ukraine amid further questions over his finances

Monday 23 January 2023 22:10 , Eleanor Noyce

Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine as he comes under pressure over claims that he involved the BBC chair Richard Sharp in talks that led to his securing an £800,000 line of credit while at No 10.

Former civil service chief Sir Bob Kerslake said there was “no question” that there appeared to be a conflict of interest – describing the reported involvement of Mr Sharp in the talks as an “important departure from what should really happen”.

The former prime minister was seen walking in the suburbs of Kyiv on Sunday, despite warnings from senior military figures that he should stay away and stop “looking for publicity”.

Adam Forrest reports:

Boris Johnson makes shock visit to Ukraine amid new questions over his finances

Russia now controls around 18% of Ukraine, Ministry of Defence states in update

Monday 23 January 2023 21:40 , Eleanor Noyce

The Ministry of Defence has issued an intelligence update on Ukraine.

Notably, it reports that the Russian force “continues to endure operational deadlock and heavy casualties.” Alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, General Valery Gerasimov is seen as “out of touch and focused on presentation over substance.”

Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff and newly appointed commander in Ukraine, has started his tour with a drive to improve deployed troops’ day-to-day discipline, the update furthers.

Since the beginning of his command, officers have been clamping down on non-regulation uniform, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones and non-standard haircuts. These measures have been met with sceptical feedback.

The MoD also remarks that 54% of the maximum amount of territory Russia sized since February 24 2022 has now been liberated.

It also revealed that 18% of the internationally recognised areas of Ukraine are still controlled by Russia.

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Kremlin official claims West prevented negotiations that would have ended war in Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 21:10 , Eleanor Noyce

In a meeting with his South African counterpart, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has claimed that Moscow was willing to negotiate with Ukraine in the early months of the war, but the US and other Western nations advised Kyiv against it.

“It is well known that we supported the proposal of the Ukrainian side to negotiate early in the special military operation, and by the end of March the two delegations agreed on the principle to settle this conflict,” Mr Lavrov stated.

“It is well known and was published openly that our American, British and some European colleagues told Ukraine that it is too early to deal, and the arrangement which was almost agreed was never revisited by the Kyiv regime.”

In 2022, Putin claimed that Russia was ready for talks but that Ukraine’s Western allies prevented those from happening.

Lavrov was in Pretoria for talks with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor.

Russia is looking to strengthen its relationship with its historical ally, which is taking a neutral stance on the war in refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Update on German supply of tanks to Ukraine “imminent”, says US spokesperson

Monday 23 January 2023 20:42 , Eleanor Noyce

Spokesperson for the US Department of State Ned Price has stated that an update on Germany’s supply of tanks to Ukraine is imminent, The Independent has learned.

“You can expect news in the coming days from Germany about the supply of tanks to Ukraine”, Price remarked in today’s briefing.

“So you know, we have the United States has concerns about any country, as we’ve said before, country exercising with Russia, while Russia wages a brutal war against Ukraine”, he added.

“We’ve said this before we’ve been consistent on this of course every participating country will make their own decision.”

Sean Penn's Ukraine documentary to premiere in Berlin

Monday 23 January 2023 20:40 , Eleanor Noyce

Sean Penn‘s film about the war in Ukraine, “Superpower,” will have its world premiere at this year’s Berlin film festival, organizers said Monday.

The documentary will run outside the main competition, which features 18 movies this year including John Trengrove’s “Manodrome” with Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody.

Organizers said the Berlinale will pay special tribute this year to Ukraine and the protests in Iran.

The annual event takes place from Feb. 16-26.

Sean Penn's Ukraine documentary to premiere in Berlin

Wagner chief gloats about comparisons to Rasputin

Monday 23 January 2023 20:10 , Eleanor Noyce

The chief of Russian paramilitary organisation Wagner has responded to comparisons made between him and Rasputin.

Referencing an article in the Financial Times which likened him to the historic Russian mystic, Yevgeny Prigozhin – the founder of Wagner – appeared to gloat about his intentions.

“I am not very familiar with the history of Rasputin, but as far as I know, an important quality of Rasputin is that he staunched the blood flow of the young prince with incantations”, Prigozhin’s press service quoted as his response.

Grigori Rasputin was a Russian mystic and religious figure who befriended the royal family of Tsar Nicholas II, Russia’s final emperor before the dynasty was overthrown during the Russian Revolution.

He gained notable influence over the Royal Family, acting as a faith healer for Nicholas and wife Alexandra’s son, Alexei – the “young prince” referenced by Prigozhin - who suffered from haemophilia, a bleeding disorder in which the blood does not clot properly.

“Unfortunately, I do not staunch blood flow. I bleed the enemies of our motherland. And not by incantations, but by direct contact with them”, Prigozhin furthered.

More here:

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin gloats about comparisons to Russian mystic Rasputin

Lavrov says West prevented negotiations to end Ukraine war

Monday 23 January 2023 19:40 , Eleanor Noyce

Moscow was willing to negotiate with Ukraine in the early months of the war but the U.S. and other Western nations advised Kyiv against it, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday.

Lavrov’s remarks on a visit to South Africa were similar to those made last year by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country was for talks but Ukraine’s Western allies prevented that from happening.

The U.S. and other Western nations have said that Russia is not serious about negotiations to end the war, set to mark its one-year anniversary next month.

“It is well known that we supported the proposal of the Ukrainian side to negotiate early in the special military operation and by the end of March, the two delegations agreed on the principle to settle this conflict,” Lavrov said.

“It is well known and was published openly that our American, British, and some European colleagues told Ukraine that it is too early to deal, and the arrangement which was almost agreed was never revisited by the Kyiv regime.”

Mogomotsi Magome reports:

Lavrov says West prevented negotiations to end Ukraine war

Boris Johnson trip to Ukraine paid for by taxpayers, say No 10

Monday 23 January 2023 19:10 , Eleanor Noyce

Security for Boris Johnson’s surprise visit to Ukraine at the weekend was funded by taxpayers’, Downing Street has said.

The former prime minister, facing fresh questions over his personal finances, said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky had invited him to travel to Kyiv once again.

No 10 said Rishi Sunak was “supportive” of Mr Johnson’s trip, after warnings from military figures that the former PM should not be “looking for publicity” and could undermine the PM’s authority.

Mr Sunak’s official spokesman confirmed the government paid for Mr Johnson’s security as he visited some of the warn-torn suburbs around capital Kyiv on Sunday.

“The costs of providing necessary protection for former prime ministers are paid for by the government. Beyond that I would not get into it,” said the No 10 spokesman.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said on Sunday that could not get into specifics “for security reasons” when asked who was stumping up for his trip.

Adam Forrest has more:

Boris Johnson trip to Ukraine paid for by taxpayers, say No 10

Hungary won't veto EU arms funding to Ukraine, official says

Monday 23 January 2023 18:40 , Eleanor Noyce

Hungary’s foreign minister said Monday that while his government isn’t in favor of the European Union sending funding for weapons to Ukraine, it won’t block a planned tranche of 500 million euros ($543 million) in assistance to Kyiv to use in the war with Russia.

Speaking at a news briefing on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Peter Szijjarto dismissed as “lies” media reports that emerged last week that Hungary planned to veto the funds earmarked for Ukraine under the bloc’s European Peace Facility.

Hungary opposes the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine — something Szijjarto said could “lead to the prolongation or potential escalation” of the war — but the government won’t veto the aid package, he said.

“We don’t consider weapons shipments, nor the hundreds of millions of euros Europe has spent to finance them, a good idea. But we won’t block the decision,” he said.

While Hungary’s government hasn’t blocked previous payouts under the facility, which has to date delivered 3.1 billion euros in arms funding to Ukraine, it did veto an 18-billion euro aid package in December, leaving the EU’s other 26 nations scrambling to keep the money supply going.

Justin Spike reports:

Hungary won't veto EU arms funding to Ukraine, official says

Latvia expels Russian ambassador “in solidarity with Estonia”

Monday 23 January 2023 18:10 , Eleanor Noyce

In light of escalating Baltic tensions with Russia, Latvia has expelled its Russian ambassador.

Latvia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs tweeted “in solidarity with Estonia” as he made the announcement.

The Russian foreign ministry remarked that it had told the Estonian envoy he must leave next month. Both countries will be represented by a charge d’affaires.

Estonia has responded by requesting that the Russian envoy depart by February 7, as confirmed by Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu.

Lithuania expelled its Russian envoy in April.

Read more:

Russia, Estonia expel ambassadors amid 'destroyed' relations

Zelensky aide denies claims Ukraine storing weapons at nuclear plants

Monday 23 January 2023 17:40 , Eleanor Noyce

A Ukrainian presidential aide has dismissed a Russian claim that Ukrainian armed forces are storing weapons at nuclear power stations.

Mykhailo Podolyak branded the allegations “lies”, remarking that Ukraine has never stored any weapons on nuclear power plant territory.

“Ukraine is always open to inspecting bodies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the advisor tweeted.

“Russians’ lies are aimed to justify their provocations.”

Russia’s foreign intelligence service reported that US-supplied rocket launchers, air defence systems and artillery ammunition had been delivered to the Rivne nuclear power station in the northwest.

Russia did not substantiate these claims with evidence.

EU grants €500m in military aid for Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 17:10 , Eleanor Noyce

The EU has approved €500m military aid package for Ukraine, Sky News reports.

Hungary approved the decision, having previously blocked the package. However, it also signalled its opposition towards more sanctions, notably any that would constrict its deal with Moscow on nuclear energy.

Another €45m allocated towards “non-lethal equipment” is set to be part of the EU’s military training mission for Ukraine, as per one of its diplomats.

Hungary won't veto EU arms funding to Ukraine, official says

Monday 23 January 2023 16:40 , Associated Press

Hungary’s foreign minister said that while his government is not in favour of the European Union sending funding for weapons to Ukraine, it will not block a planned tranche of €500m (£438m) in assistance to Kyiv to use in the war with Russia.

Speaking at a news briefing on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Peter Szijjarto dismissed as “lies” media reports that emerged last week that Hungary planned to veto the funds earmarked for Ukraine under the bloc’s European Peace Facility.

Hungary opposes the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine – something Mr Szijjarto said could “lead to the prolongation or potential escalation” of the war – but the government won’t veto the aid package, he said.

“We don’t consider weapons shipments, nor the hundreds of millions of euros Europe has spent to finance them, a good idea. But we won’t block the decision,” he said.

Russia ‘may have’ orchestrated letter bomb to Spanish prime minister

Monday 23 January 2023 16:23 , Eleanor Noyce

Russian military intelligence officers may be behind the letter bomb sent to the Spanish prime minister, the New York Times reports.

The event was part of a wider letter bomb campaign in Spain.

US officials believe that Russian officers directed individuals from a white supremacist militant group to carry out the attacks, of which there were six in total. One person was injured.

The Russian Imperial Movement has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US, and has members across Europe. Investigators are now looking into this movement.

US officials also believe that Russia could be testing out its proxy organisations.

Germany sends Patriots on way to Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 16:03 , Liam James

Germany has dispatched the first two out of three Patriot air defence units that will be sent to the Polish town of Zamosc close to the Ukrainian border where they will be deployed to prevent stray missile strikes.

Two men were killed by a stray Ukrainian missile that struck the Polish village of Przewodow in the region last November, in an incident that raised fears of the war in Ukraine spilling over the border.

As a result, Berlin offered to deploy three of its Patriot units to Poland to help secure its air space. Ground-based air defence systems such as Raytheon’s Patriot are built to intercept incoming missiles.

Convoy of German Patriots on the way to Poland (Reuters)
Convoy of German Patriots on the way to Poland (Reuters)

Norway denies planning to deport Wagner asylum seeker

Monday 23 January 2023 15:26 , Liam James

Norwegian authorities have denied planning to deport an asylum seeker who entered the country to flee the Wagner group of mercenaries.

Russian Andrey Medvedev, formerly a fighter with Wagner, “has been arrested under the Immigration Act and it is being assessed whether he should be produced for detention,” Jon Andreas Johansen of Norwegian immigration police told The Associated Press. Norway’s VG newspaper said detaining him is not a punishment, but a security measure.

Norway‘s National Criminal Investigation Service, which takes part in the investigation of war crimes in Ukraine said it was questioning Mr Medvedev who “has the status of a witness.”

Mr Medvedev, who has been on the run since he defected from the Wagner Group, has reportedly told Gulagu.net that he is ready to tell everything he knows about the shady paramilitary group and its owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire with ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Andrei Medvedev after arriving in Norway (Gulagu)
Andrei Medvedev after arriving in Norway (Gulagu)

Zelensky ally says Ukrainian officials to be jailed in anti-corruption drive

Monday 23 January 2023 14:00 , Liam James

A top ally of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said corrupt officials would be rounded up and jailed as part of a zero tolerance policy, after the most high-profile graft allegations since Russia invaded burst into public view.

On Sunday, anti-corruption police said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 (£324,000) kickback to facilitate the import of generators into wartime Ukraine last September.

Separately, a newspaper investigation published on Saturday accused the Defence Ministry of overpaying suppliers for food for its soldiers. The ministry said the report contained “signs of deliberate manipulation” and was “misleading”.

David Arakhamia, head of Mr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, said: “We’re definitely going to be jailing actively this spring. If the humane approach doesn’t work, we’ll do it in line with martial law.”

Fighting corruption was Mr Zelensky’s trademark policy ahead of the invasion, having won a landslide victory in 2019 on a promise to clean up Ukraine’s crooked institutions.

Russia expels ambassador from Nato member Estonia after it calls for Ukraine to get German tanks

Monday 23 January 2023 13:30 , Liam James

Russia has announced that it is downgrading its relationship with Nato member Estonia by asking the country’s envoy to leave by next month (Sravasti Dasgupta writes).

In a statement on Monday, Russia’s foreign ministry said both countries would be represented in each other’s capitals by an interim charge d’affaires instead of ambassadors.

It added that the move was in response to an Estonian bid to reduce the size of the Russian embassy in capital Tallinn.

“In recent years, the Estonian leadership has purposefully destroyed the entire range of relations with Russia. Total Russophobia, the cultivation of hostility towards our country have been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of state policy,” the Russian foreign ministry statement said.

Russia expels ambassador from Nato member Estonia after calls to get German tanks

South Africa defends military drills with Russia

Monday 23 January 2023 13:00 , Liam James

South Africa’s foreign minister deflected criticism of joint military drills planned with Russia and China, saying that hosting such exercises with “friends” was the “natural course of relations.”

Naledi Pandor made her comments during a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting South Africa 11 months after Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine.

Some opposition parties and South Africa’s small Ukrainian community have said that hosting Mr Lavrov is insensitive. South Africa is one of Russia‘s most important allies on a continent divided over the invasion and Western attempts to isolate Moscow because of its military actions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country is impartial on the Ukraine conflict – though he has accused Nato of causing the Russian invasion – and has abstained from voting on UN resolutions on the war.

Ukrainians in South Africa protest Lavrov’s visit (EPA)
Ukrainians in South Africa protest Lavrov’s visit (EPA)

Ex-Wagner asylum seeker ‘told he will be deported' from Norway

Monday 23 January 2023 12:30 , Liam James

A former commander of Russia‘s Wagner mercenary group who recently fled to Norway has been told he will be deported, a Russian rights group said.

Andrei Medvedev, who fled by crossing the Russian-Norwegian frontier in the Arctic, was apprehended by police in Norway, an official said on Monday.

“He is apprehended ... and we are considering whether to seek a court’s decision for internment,” police lawyer Line Isaksen told Reuters, declining to give further details.

Mr Medvedev has said he was in fear for his life after witnessing the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners brought to the front lines in Ukraine.

Gulagu, a Russian rights group in contact with Mr Medvedev, said: “The transfer of a person who fled from the Russian Federation to Europe and began to give statements to the media and officially to the Norwegian criminal police would be a big mistake and would grossly violate his right to life.”

Medvedev after arriving in Norway last week (Gulagu)
Medvedev after arriving in Norway last week (Gulagu)

Kremlin says Ukrainians will suffer if Europe send tanks

Monday 23 January 2023 12:00 , Liam James

The Kremlin said Ukrainian people would suffer if the West sends tanks to support Kyiv.

The United States and its allies failed during talks last week in Germany to convince Berlin to provide its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, a key demand from Kyiv as it tries to breath new momentum into its fight against Russian forces.

Britain remains the only country to have pledged tanks – 14 Challenger 2s – though Poland and Lithuania are keen to send German-made Leopard IIs and Warsaw has signalled it may find a way around the requirement to seek Berlin’s approval before sending them to Ukraine.

Asked about the issue at a daily news briefing today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the splits in Europe over whether to provide tanks to Kyiv showed there was increasing "nervousness" within the Nato military alliance.

"But of course all countries which take part, directly or indirectly, in pumping weapons into Ukraine and in raising its technological level bear responsibility [for continuing the conflict]," he added.

"The main thing is that it is the Ukrainian people who will pay the price for all this pseudo-support," he said.

Peskov attends a news conference at the Kremlin (Reuters)
Peskov attends a news conference at the Kremlin (Reuters)

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant ‘of increasing concern'

Monday 23 January 2023 11:18 , Liam James

Operations at Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are “of increasing concern”, a nuclear watchdog said today.

Olivier Gupta, head of the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association (WENRA), said regulators were troubled by the management and organisational problems at the Russian-occupied plant.

Earlier this month, Rafael Grossi, the head of a UN body brokering a deal on a safe zone around the nuclear power plant, said negotiations were getting harder because of the involvement of the military.

Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, was captured by Russian forces in March, soon after their invasion of Ukraine. It has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

Zaporizhzhia plant in November (Reuters)
Zaporizhzhia plant in November (Reuters)

Kremlin shrugs off Wagner sanctions

Monday 23 January 2023 10:53 , Liam James

The Kremlin on Monday dismissed the significance of US sanctions on Russian mercenary group Wagner, saying they would have no practical effect.

The White House said on Friday that Wagner, which has been supporting Russian forces in Ukraine and claiming credit for battlefield advances, would be designated a significant Transnational Criminal Organisation and that new sanctions against it would be announced this week.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there would be no practical impact for Russia or Wagner.

Poland could send tanks without German approval, says prime minister

Monday 23 January 2023 10:30 , Liam James

Poland could send Leopard II tanks as part of a coalition of countries even without Germany’s permission, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said this morning.

“We will ask for such permission, but this is an issue of secondary importance. Even if we did not get this approval ... we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine“, Mr Morawiecki told reporters.

“The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries.”

Germany yesterday signalled a shift in its opposition to sending the German-made tanks, as foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not stand in Poland’s way.

New Russian war chief clamps down on discipline, says MoD

Monday 23 January 2023 10:00 , Liam James

General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s newly appointed commander in Ukraine, seems to have been pushing for better discipline among Moscow’s troops, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in an intelligence update.

Since Mr Gerasimov took command on 11 January “officers have been attempting to clamp down on non-regulation uniform, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones, and non-standard haircuts”, the MoD said.

The general’s appointment was seen as an attempt to iron out the difficulties Russia has faced in Ukraine in recent months.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, centre, with General Valery Gerasimov, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (Sputnik)
Russian president Vladimir Putin, centre, with General Valery Gerasimov, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (Sputnik)

British MPs join in plea to Germany over tanks

Monday 23 January 2023 09:30 , Liam James

The leaders of dozens of major Commons committees have asked Germany’s defence minister to allow Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s invasion using German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

The MPs intervened after a pledging conference in Germany on Friday ended without a commitment by Western allies to send more battle tanks to Ukraine, despite a call from President Volodymyr Zelensky to speed up the delivery of military support.

The group, which includes the chairs of 24 major Commons committees and dozens of senior backbenchers, was coordinated by Labour’s Chris Bryant to contact Federal Minister of Defence Boris Pistorius “at this moment of extreme urgency” to ask him “to reconsider your position and allow Leopard 2 battle tanks – both German-owned and German-built – to be provided to Ukraine in the next few days.”

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock yesterday suggested Germany’s position had changed, saying it “would not stand in the way” of Poland and Lithuania sending the tanks – a move which requires German approval.

File: German Leopard ii tanks in a demonstration (Bundeswehr-Fotos)
File: German Leopard ii tanks in a demonstration (Bundeswehr-Fotos)

Russia’s Lavrov in South Africa for talks

Monday 23 January 2023 09:00 , Liam James

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is in South Africa for talks with one of its most important allies on a continent that is divided over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and related Western attempts to isolate it.

He was to meet Soth Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, in a trip some opposition parties and the small Ukrainian community have condemned as insensitive.

A ministry spokesman said Lavrov had arrived in South Africa on Monday morning. He and Ms Pandor are expected to hold a joint news conference around 10am.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government regards South Africa as neutral in the conflict and has expressed a desire to mediate.

Lavrov and Pandor meet in Pretoria (Reuters)
Lavrov and Pandor meet in Pretoria (Reuters)

Russia says no date set for US nuclear treaty talks

Monday 23 January 2023 08:30 , Liam James

Russia said no new date has been set for talks with the United States on the New START nuclear arms treaty, accusing the US of ramping up tensions between the two sides.

Talks between Moscow and Washington on resuming inspections under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty were due to take place in November in Egypt, but Russia postponed them and neither side has set a new date for a meeting.

Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, said the conditions were not right for new talks on the treaty, which caps the number of each side’s strategic nuclear warheads.

“The situation does not, frankly speaking, allow for setting a new date ... taking into account this escalation trend in both rhetoric and actions by the United States,” Ryabkov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Moscow said in November that it had to cancel talks with the United States over inspections of nuclear facilities under the New START treaty, which is set to expire in February 2026, citing “political reasons” and Washington’s supply of weapons to Ukraine.

Russia claims Ukraine using nuclear plants as weapons dumps

Monday 23 January 2023 07:58 , Liam James

Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) has accused Ukraine of storing Western-supplied arms at nuclear power stations across the country.

It provided no evidence and The Independent was unable to verify the claims.

In a statement, the SVR said US-supplied Himars rocket launchers, air defence systems and artillery ammunition had been delivered to the Rivne nuclear power station in the northwest of Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian armed forces are storing weapons and ammunition provided by the West on the territory of nuclear power plants,” it said, further claiming that an arms shipment to the Rivne power station had taken place in the last week of December.

Both Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia power plant and Ukraine says Russia is using the site as a de facto weapons depot.

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which has been under Russian control since last March (Reuters)
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which has been under Russian control since last March (Reuters)

Russia official warns West of destruction for arming Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 06:30 , Shweta Sharma

The speaker of Russia‘s parliament warned on Sunday that countries supplying Ukraine with more powerful weapons risked their own destruction, a message that followed new pledges of armoured vehicles, air defence systems and other equipment.

“Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe,” State Duma chair Vyacheslav Volodin said.

“If Washington and Nato supply weapons that would be used for striking peaceful cities and making attempts to seize our territory as they threaten to do, it would trigger a retaliation with more powerful weapons.”

Russia official warns West of destruction for arming Ukraine

EU chief push to use confiscated Russian assets for reconstruction of Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 06:03 , Shweta Sharma

European Council president Charles Michel has urged the block’s national leaders to push forward with talks on using £260bn worth of confiscated Russian central bank assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Mr Michel said he is ready to explore the idea of managing the Russian central bank’s frozen assets to generate profits, which could then be earmarked for reconstruction efforts, the newspaper reported.

“It is a question of justice and fairness and it must be done in line with legal principles,” the FT quoted Michael as saying in an interview.

In November, the EU had blocked €300bn (£263bn) of the Russian central bank’s reserves to punish Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia prepares warship armed with hypersonic cruise weapons for drills with China

Monday 23 January 2023 05:48 , Shweta Sharma

In the first official mention of a warship armed with new-generation hypersonic cruise weapons, a Russian state-owned news agency said Soviet Union Gorshkov will participate in joint drills with China and South Africa in February.

“Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov, which is armed with Zircon missiles, will go to the logistic support point in Syria’s Tartus, and then take part in joint naval exercises with the Chinese and South African navies,” Tass news agency said, citing an unidentified defence source.

The missiles fly at nine times the speed of sound, with a range of more than 1,000 km (620 miles), Russia says. They form the centrepiece of its hypersonic arsenal, along with the Avangard glide vehicle that entered combat duty in 2019.

On Thursday, the South African National Defense Force said the drills, to run from 17 - 27 February near the port city of Durban and Richards Bay, aim “to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China.”

Donetsk official says he visited Russia's ‘captured' Soledar town

Monday 23 January 2023 05:31 , Shweta Sharma

The top Moscow-installed official in the occupied parts of the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine said late on Sunday that he had visited the town of Soledar that Russia claimed to have captured earlier this month.

Denis Pushilin, the administrator, released a short video on Telegram, showing himself driving and walking amidst uninhabited areas and destroyed buildings.

“I visited Soledar today,” Mr Pushilin said in an accompanying statement.

On 11 January, the Russian mercenary group Wagner said it captured Soledar, a salt mining town which has been the focus of intense fighting for months.

Ukraine has not confirmed if the town was captured by Russian forces.

British MPs urge Germany to allow German-made tanks at this ‘moment of extreme urgency'

Monday 23 January 2023 05:00 , Shweta Sharma

Writing a joint letter to the German defence minister, dozens of British MPs have urged him to allow Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s invasion using German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

The group, which includes the chairs of 24 major Commons committees and dozens of senior backbenchers, was coordinated by Labour’s Chris Bryant to contact Federal Minister of Defence Boris Pistorius “at this moment of extreme urgency”.

“We are conscious of the very significant efforts Germany has made to support Ukraine, especially over the last twelve months We understand the historic reasons for reluctance to provide German and German-made tanks,” they wrote, in a copy of the letter obtained by The Sun.

“However, we would urge you at this moment of extreme urgency, to reconsider your position and allow Leopard 2 battle tanks – both German-owned and German-built – to be provided to Ukraine in the next few days.”

Boris Johnson makes shock visit to Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 04:23 , Shweta Sharma

Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Sunday, despite warnings from senior military figures that he should stay away and stop “looking for publicity”.

Mr Johnson said he had been invited by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to visit the country for a fourth time, as he urged Western leaders to give Ukraine “all the tools they need”.

He said: “It is a privilege to visit Ukraine at the invitation of President Zelensky. The suffering of the people of Ukraine has gone on for too long.”

“The only way to end this war is for Ukraine to win – and to win as fast as possible. This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job. The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and for the whole world.”

His visit comes as he faces pressure over claims that he involved the BBC chair Richard Sharp in talks that led to his securing an £800,000 line of credit while at No 10.

Former civil service chief Sir Bob Kerslake said there was “no question” that there appeared to be a conflict of interest – describing the reported involvement of Mr Sharp in the talks as an “important departure from what should really happen”.

 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Ser)
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Ser)

Germany ‘would not stand in way’ of Poland sending tanks to Ukraine, says minister

Monday 23 January 2023 04:12 , Shweta Sharma

Germany would “not stand in the way” of Poland sending tanks to Ukraine, the country’s foreign minister has said.

Speaking to a French television station on Sunday, Annalena Baerbock gave the clearest signal yet that Berlin’s European allies could deliver German-made equipment to the Ukrainian front lines.

When Ms Baerbock was asked about whether Germany would allow Poland to export the tanks to Ukraine, she replied: “For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way.”

Germany ‘would not stand in way’ of Poland sending tanks to Ukraine

Monday 23 January 2023 03:47 , Shweta Sharma

Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine.