Ukraine war live updates: Zelenskyy says U.S. aid delay allowed Russia to seize initiative on the battlefield; NATO chief chides China


Zelenskyy calls for more air defense systems as U.S.-led meeting begins

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on during a press conference with French President at the presidential Elysee palace in Paris on February 16, 2024, after signing a bilateral security agreement. 

Thibault Camus | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday called for the delivery of more air defense systems to Ukraine, as the 21st meeting of a U.S.-led coalition of the country’s allies began.

“This year, Russian jets [have] already used more than 9,000 guided aerial bombs against Ukraine and we need the ability to shoot down the air combat aircraft so that they do not approach our positions and borders,” Zelenskyy said at the start of the virtual meeting, according to a Reuters report.

Zelenskyy added that Russia had “managed to seize the initiative on the battlefield” while Ukraine was waiting for U.S. lawmakers to approve further aid for the country, but said it could now “stabilize the front” and move forward to achieve its goals.

Aerial security is set to be the main topic at the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, comprising more than 50 countries.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed a mammoth funding bill including $61 billion in assistance for Ukraine into law on Wednesday, after versions of it failed to pass through Congress for months.

“In the next few hours — literally, the few hours — we’re going to begin sending in equipment to Ukraine for air defense munitions, for artillery, for rocket systems and armored vehicles,” Biden said Wednesday.

Ukraine nonetheless faces a huge challenge on the battlefield against Russian forces which continue to press on its front line.

— Jenni Reid

British man charged with crimes to aid Russia in the U.K, crown prosecution service says

A British national was charged earlier this month in the U.K. with targeting Ukrainian businesses to aid Russia, the crown prosecution service said in a statement on Friday.

The man, named as Dylan Earl, allegedly “engaged in conduct targeting businesses which were linked to Ukraine in order to benefit the Russian state,” said Nick Price, head of the crown prosecution service’s special crime and counter terrorism division.

Earl’s alleged actions included planning an arson attack on Ukrainian-linked commercial property earlier this year.

Four other men were also charged with connected offenses in recent days, the crown prosecution service said.

“While we must let the judicial process run its course, I am deeply concerned by allegations of British nationals carrying out criminal activity on UK soil to benefit the Russian state,” British Foreign Minister David Cameron said in a post on social media platform X.

“We will use the full weight of the criminal justice system to hold anyone found guilty of crimes linked to foreign interference to account.”

— Sophie Kiderlin

Ukraine frees farm minister on bail pending probe into graft allegations

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky was released from custody on bail on Friday pending a corruption investigation into allegations he took part in an illegal acquisition of state-owned land worth some $7 million.

Solsky has denied the allegations, which relate to events in 2017-2021 before he started as farm minister in March 2022. He was ordered into custody on Friday, but later told Reuters that bail of 75.7 million hryvnias ($1.9 million) had been paid.

Solsky tendered his resignation on Thursday but technically remains in his post until parliament reviews his request. He is the first known minister under President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to be named a suspect in a graft case.

The investigation is to determine whether Solsky should be formally charged and put on trial. Prosecutors told a court hearing on Thursday the allegations were punishable by up to 12 years in jail. Solsky was unavailable for immediate comment.

— Reuters

Russian and Iranian defense ministers hold meeting, Russian state media says

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Ashtiani to discuss relations between the two countries, Russian state media agency Ria Novosti said Friday.

“We confirm our readiness for further development and expansion of mutually beneficial military and military-technical cooperation. We will pay special attention to this,” Shoigu said, according to a Google translation.

The relationship between the two countries has become increasingly trusting and is developing successfully, Ria Novosti quotes Shoigu as saying.

Good cooperation between the two nations is “required by the current military-political situation and threats to our states,” he added.

— Sophie Kiderlin

China must stop supporting Russia if it wants better relations with West: NATO chief

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, October 11, 2023.

Susana Vera | Reuters

Beijing must stop supporting Russia in its war with Ukraine if it wants improved relations with the West, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said while visiting Berlin.

“Last year, Russia imported 90% of its microelectronics from China, used to produce missiles, tanks and aircraft. China is also working to provide Russia with improved satellite capabilities and imaging,” Stoltenberg said Thursday.

“China says it wants good relations with the West. At the same time, Beijing continues to fuel the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War Two. They cannot have it both ways,” Stoltenberg said.

Beijing denies it is directly aiding Russia with its war in Ukraine, but has lauded its “no-limits” friendship with Moscow, and the two have strengthened trade and military ties since the onset of Western sanctions on Russia for its invasion of its neighbor.

— Natasha Turak

Weapons in new arms package will reach Ukraine ‘within days, if not sooner’: Pentagon

M142 HIMARS launches a rocket on Russian position on December 29, 2023 in Unspecified, Ukraine. M142 HIMARS proved to be a highly effective weapon, striking targets both on the front line and deep in the Russian rear. 

Serhii Mykhalchuk | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

Weapons from the recently approved U.S. military aid package for Kyiv, amounting to some $60 billion, will reach Ukraine in a matter of days, the Pentagon said, according to a report by Ukrainian state media outlet Ukrinform.

“We have already started the process to move some of the weapons, ammunition, and equipment, which will be there [in Ukraine] within days, if not sooner,” Pentagon spokesperson, General Patrick Ryder, was quoted as telling Ukrinform.

The package, which took a substantial amount of time and political wrangling to get through Congress, comes at a crucial time for Ukraine as its forces struggle to gain more territory back from Russia.

The Pentagon has already started the process of delivering weapons and equipment to Ukraine, the report said. The package for Ukraine includes missiles for air defense systems, Stinger missiles, ammunition for HIMARS, NATO-standard artillery rounds, military vehicles, and additional parts for equipment supplied in earlier deliveries.

— Natasha Turak

Russia expels two Latvian diplomats in retaliatory move

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it was expelling two diplomats from Latvia in retaliation, after the Baltic state ordered a Russian embassy official to leave.

Western countries have kicked out hundreds of Russian diplomats since the start of the war in Ukraine, in many cases for alleged spying, and Russia has regularly responded in kind.

— Reuters

Russia says it could downgrade diplomatic relations with the U.S. if its assets are confiscated

Russia could downgrade its diplomatic relationship with the U.S. if Washington moves to confiscate its frozen assets, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday.

The U.S. and Western allies including the European Union have been considering using frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine and have been debating how and if this would be possible.

“We are now studying the optimal form of reaction, where among the countermeasures there are also actions against the assets of our Western opponents and where there are diplomatic measures of response,” Ryabkov said, according to a Google-translation of quotes published by state news agency RIA Novosti.

“Lowering the level of diplomatic relations is one of the options,” he added.

— Sophie Kiderlin

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