Ukraine launches a wave of anti-corruption busts ahead of EU summit

Ukraine on Wednesday announced searches of government buildings and the homes of high-profile ministers and oligarchs as part of a clampdown on corruption. The move comes ahead of a gathering of European leaders in Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s path towards EU membership.

Among those targeted by coordinated searches on Wednesday were residences linked to influential billionaire Igor Kolomoisky and former interior minister Arsen Avakov. Law enforcement also raided tax offices in the capital and senior customs officials were fired, said the head of Zelensky’s party David Arakhamia.

These are the latest in a string of high-profile efforts to tackle corruption in recent weeks.

In the midst of war with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has upped the ante in an internal fight against corruption, pledging to make as many personnel changes “as necessary” even at the highest levels of office.

“People in the government who do not meet the basic requirements of the state and society should not occupy their seats,” he said in a video address on Tuesday.

Zelensky was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform. Yet efforts to ongoing efforts to stamp out misconduct have been overshadowed by the Russian invasion almost a year ago.

Ukraine currently ranks a low 116 out of the 180 countries listed for perceived corruption, according to anti-corruption group Transparency International. 

Ukraine’s ongoing fight against corruption has included implementing major government and judicial bodies to tackle misbehaviour. © FRANCE 24

Multi-million-dollar fraud 

Investigators from the Ukraine’s security service SBU released images of a search from the home of Kolomoisky, who was barred from entering the United States over allegations of corruption and undermining democracy.

Prior to the Russian invasion, Kolomoisky was one of the country’s richest men, with holdings in a slew of industries, including media, aviation and energy.

The security service said the search had been launched over an investigation into the embezzlement of 40 billion hryvnia (about $1.1 billion) from energy holdings.

Last week Ukrainian authorities fired around a dozen senior figures, including defence officials and a top aide to the president’s office.

One such official was former deputy defence minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who worked on logistical support for the army. The ministry has been accused of signing food contracts at prices up to three times the market rates.

The SBU also said it had uncovered a scheme by the head of the Kyiv tax office involving “multimillion-dollar” fraud schemes. They accuse the official of having abused a position of authority.

Additionally, the government has also seized stakes in the energy companies – oil producer Ukrnafta and refiner Ukrtatnafta – as part of moves to consolidate the war effort.

More dismissals are possible. The State Bureau of Investigation and the Prosecutor General’s Office said Wednesday they had informed several senior officials they were under investigation for crimes including misappropriation of state funds and misuse of state property.

“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in the conditions of war, must clearly understand that we will put handcuffs on him,” said Vasyl Maliuk, the head of the SBU, on Wednesday.

Speed vs integrity 

Renewed efforts to tacks corruption are thought to be aimed at appeasing EU leaders who arrived in Kyiv on Thursday for a summit to discuss Ukraine’s bid to join the EU.

Ukraine currently has EU “candidate status”, with Brussels saying strengthening the judiciary, fighting corruption and curbing the clout of powerful oligarchs are key conditions for joining.

“Ukraine wants to show it can present a stable government that can deliver at the negotiating table, that can demonstrate the value systems and the commitment to transparency that are needed to be able to be part of the EU,” says Dr Melanie Garson, associate professor of international security and conflict resolution at University College London, UK.

Yet, among EU member states, there are widely divergent views on how fast the process will go. Ukraine’s strongest cheerleaders – including Poland and the Baltic states – insist Kyiv is making big strides against corruption and progress could come quicker than expected.

But others insist that while making Ukraine a candidate sent the right symbolic message of support in light of the war, working through the nitty-gritty of the major reforms needed would be long and arduous.

“The EU needs to strike a balance between speed and integrity,” says Joel Reland, research associate at UK in a Changing Europe. “It clearly wants Ukraine to be given fast-track membership but, at the same time, it can’t totally compromise on its principles of membership, which define the integrity of the EU.”

Even so, French President Emmanuel Macron warned last May it could take “decades” before Ukraine meets the criteria and achieves full membership.

The upper hand 

In the meantime, demonstrating values such as transparency is not just a question of values.

In 2016, then US vice president Joe Biden withheld loan guarantees from Ukraine until the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin was dismissed as part of a push for anti-corruption reforms developed at the State Department and coordinated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

In 2023, countries providing crucial military and financial aid to Ukraine still have “the upper hand to force their position”, says Garson, associate professor of international security and conflict resolution. “Zelensky is very aware of this and is trying to reiterate increased bipartisan support across the world.”

Although the public dismissal of figures – including a high-level defence official – in the midst of war may seem like a risk, not tacking corruption during wartime can have even more serious long-term consequences.

Funding for reconstruction and recovery efforts can be “drastically undermined by wrongdoers pocketing funds, both during the war and after”, said Transparency International in its 2023 report.

“The visibility that the work has been done to make this a place where donors don’t feel their funds are going into the pockets of oligarchs is really important,” adds Garson. “There needs to be confidence in government funds coming in and from external investors – it’s critical to long-term strategic rebuilding.”

(with AFP) 

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Live: Top diplomat Josep Borrell announces EU plan to train 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrived in Kyiv with a delegation of EU leaders on Thursday. In an interview with FRANCE 24, Borrell said the EU plans to double the number of Ukrainian soldiers it is training to 30,000. Follow our live blog below for all the latest developments. All times are in Paris time (GMT+1).

10:49am: Norway to raise spending from wealth fund to aid Ukriane, says PM

Norway will increase the spending from its sovereign wealth fund in the coming years to fund military and civilian aid to Ukraine, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told parliament on Thursday.

The Nordic country’s $1.3 trillion wealth fund, one of the world’s largest investors, has seen a sharp rise in revenue inflows as the price of Norwegian oil and gas exports soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The prime minister did not specify how much money Norway would spend on Ukraine aid, but said it would be a multi-year commitment. “This will lead to a temporary increase in spending from the sovereign wealth fund,” Stoere said. He added that the extra spending should not impact the Norwegian domestic economy, avoiding any impact on interest rates.

9:51am: Russia says it does not need help from ex-Soviet allies in Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow does not any need help from its ex-Soviet allies for its military campaign in Ukraine.

Lavrov said Russia had everything it needed for the conflict, and had not asked members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – a Moscow-led alliance that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – to provide material support for what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

9:40am: Top diplomat Josep Borrell announces EU plan to train 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers

In an interview with FRANCE 24, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said the EU plans to double the number of Ukrainian soldiers it is training to 30,000.

9:09am: Russian FM Lavrov says ‘we want Ukraine conflict to end, but are responding to West’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.

In an interview on state TV, Lavrov said everybody wanted the conflict in Ukraine – which Moscow calls a “special military operation” – to end, but that the West’s support for Kyiv was playing an important role in how Russia approaches the campaign.

9:00am: Austria expels four Russian diplomats

Austria is expelling four Russian diplomats for behaving in a manner inconsistent with international agreements, a reason often invoked in spying cases, the Austrian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday without giving specifics.

Two of the four diplomats declared personae non gratae and ordered to leave the country by February 8 are stationed at the Russian Embassy to Austria while the other two work at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Vienna, the ministry said in a statement.

8:46am: EU chief arrives in Kyiv, says bloc ‘stands by Ukraine’

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners on Thursday, a day before a Ukraine-European Union summit in the war-torn country.

“Good to be back in Kyiv, my 4th time since Russia’s invasion … We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation,” she wrote in a tweet.

8:37am: Frontline hotspot Bakhmut braces for Russian advance

Russian forces have been trying to seize control of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk for months in what has become the longest and bloodiest battle since Russia invaded Ukraine last February.

Despite the flow of Western weapons, Russia has in recent days claimed gains in the region.

The fight for Bakhmut has turned the town with a pre-war population of roughly 75,000 into a ghost town dotted with hedgehog anti-tank defences and burnt-out cars. There is no gas, no electricity, no running water. Around 7,000 people, many of them elderly, still live in the town despite the constant sound of artillery exchanges, gunfire and drones flying overhead.

7:53am: Ukraine targets oligarch, ex-minister in graft clampdown

Ukraine expanded a clampdown on corruption on Wednesday, launching coordinated searches of residences linked to a divisive oligarch and former interior minister as well as tax offices in the capital.

FRANCE 24’s Andrew Hilliar, reporting from Kyiv, discusses the searches in the video below.

The searches came ahead of a key summit with the EU and appeared to be part of a push by Kyiv to reassure military and financial donors in European capitals and Washington that Ukraine is tackling systemic graft.

The searches have targeted influential billionaire Igor Kolomoisky and former interior minister Arsen Avakov, said the head of Zelensky’s party, David Arakhamia. Law enforcement also raided tax offices in the capital and senior customs officials were fired.

FRANCE 24’s Fraser Jackson takes a closer look at Ukraine’s bid to stamp out corruption in the video below.

5:00am: Top EU officials gather in Ukraine

More than a dozen top European Union officials arrive in Kyiv on Thursday with promises of more military, financial and political aid, a symbolic trip meant to highlight support for Ukraine.

But the EU is set to dash Ukraine’s hopes of being swiftly allowed membership, stressing the need for more anti-corruption measures and unwilling to admit a country at war, the biggest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

“It is a very strong signal that we are in Kyiv during the war. It’s a signal to the Ukrainian people. It’s a signal to Russia. It’s a signal to the world,” said a senior EU official.

Top members of the EU‘s executive European Commission will meet their counterparts in the Ukrainian government on Thursday. The head of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and president of the EU Council Charles Michel will meet President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday.

4:51am: Russians mark anniversary of Stalingrad victory

President Vladimir Putin is set to preside Thursday over commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest in World War II.

The high-profile celebrations in the southern city of Volgograd come as the Kremlin is drumming up support for its offensive in Ukraine, launched nearly a year ago to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, whose soldiers fought alongside Russia against Nazi Germany.

Putin is expected to travel to Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at a war memorial and speak at a concert, the Kremlin said.

The battle of Stalingrad lasted more than six months, ending with the surrender of German troops on February 2, 1943, after more than a million people were killed.

>> Read more: ‘They would have preferred hell’: The Battle of Stalingrad, 80 years on

1:33am: Strike on residential building in Ukraine’s Kramatorsk leaves at least 3 dead

Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday that at least three people were killed when a Russian rocket struck a residential building in the eastern city of Kramatorsk.

“Two hours ago, the Russian occupiers hit a residential building in the centre of the city with a rocket,” said regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

“Two hours ago, the Russian occupiers hit a residential building in the centre of the city with a rocket and completely destroyed it,” regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on the Telegram messaging app.

The regional police said on their official website that it was “preliminarily known that there are three dead civilians and 20 wounded”.

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(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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Live: Ukraine raids tycoon’s home, tax office in corruption clampdown

Ukrainian authorities raided an influential billionaire’s home on Wednesday in what an ally of President Volodymyr Zelensky touted as a sweeping wartime clampdown on corruption that would change the country.  Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are in Paris time (GMT+1).

5:17pm: Ukraine hails French gift of radar as ‘cherry on the cake’

Ukraine‘s defence minister said Wednesday that Ukrainian lives will be saved by a sophisticated air-defence radar that France is supplying and which is powerful enough to spot incoming missiles and exploding drones in the skies over all of Ukraine’s capital and its surrounding region.

The minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was so enthusiastic about what he called Ukraine’s new “electronic eyes” that he quickly coined a nickname for the Ground Master 200 radar – the “Grand Master.”

Speaking through an interpreter at a handover ceremony for the radar with his French counterpart, Reznikov described the French-made GM200 as a “very effective” improvement for Ukraine’s network of about 300 different types of air-defence radars.

5pm: Moscow warns Israel against supplying arms to Ukraine

Russia on Wednesday warned Israel against supplying weapons to Ukraine after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was considering military aid for Kyiv and was willing to mediate in the conflict.

“We say that all countries that supply weapons (to Ukraine) should understand that we will consider these (weapons) to be legitimate targets for Russia’s armed forces,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

Since the beginning of the Russian offensive in Ukraine in February last year, Israel has adopted a cautious position towards Moscow, seeking to maintain neutrality

4:48pm: Ukraine has enough gas for winter, minister says

Ukraine has sufficient gas reserves to see it through the winter with 11 billion cubic metres (bcm) in storage as of February 1, the energy minister said on Wednesday.

The country also has about 1.2 million tonnes of coal for its power plants, German Galushchenko said in a statement.

>> Can US shale gas save Europe from its energy crisis?

“These are sufficient volumes to get through and complete this very difficult heating season for our country,” the minister said

3:32pm: Russia calls Macron’s comments on Ukraine arms ‘absurd’

Russia on Wednesday criticised comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, who refused this week to rule out delivering fighter jets to Ukraine but also warned against the risk of escalation.

“Forgive me but this is absurd. Is the president of France really certain that if arms, heavy weapons and aircraft are supplied to the Kyiv regime to conduct combat operations, this will not lead to an escalation of the situation?” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters

3:09pm: Russia unveils Stalin bust ahead of WWII commemorations

A bust of dictator Joseph Stalin was unveiled in the southern Russian city of Volgograd on Wednesday on the eve of commemorations of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad.

The bronze bust was unveiled ahead of President Vladimir Putin‘s visit to Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, on Thursday, for high-profile celebrations that will include a military parade.

Most monuments to Stalin, who presided over purges known as the Great Terror, have been taken down in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

1:16pm: Ukraine has gas stocks to see it through the winter, says energy minister

Ukraine has sufficient gas reserves to see it through the winter with some 11 billion cubic metres (bcm) in storage as of February 1, the energy minister said on Wednesday.

The country also has around 1.2 million tonnes of coal for its power plants, German Galushchenko said in a statement. “These are sufficient volumes to get through and complete this very difficult heating season for our country,” the minister said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said last month the situation in the energy sector remained difficult but under control after a months-long Russian campaign of drone and missile strikes on critical infrastructure that damaged about 40% of the energy system.

1:14pm: Top Ukrainian official confirms raids on homes of billionaire, ex-minister in graft clampdown

A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.

David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.

“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.

11:14am: Belarus says Russian Iskander missiles now in service

Belarus said on Wednesday that it had taken Russian Iskander ballistic missile systems into service after its operators had received training in Russia.

The missiles are capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 500 km (310 miles), Minsk’s defence ministry said.

“Having completed the theoretical course, the artillerymen carried out practical training at the Belarusian firing ranges,” it added.

10:58am: US has ‘destroyed basis’ for New START arms control treaty, says Kremlin

Russia said on Wednesday that the United States had destroyed the legal basis for the New START arms control treaty between the two countries, but that the agreement remained “very important” for Russia, regardless of the present situation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responding after the United States on Tuesday accused Russia of violating the treaty – the last major pillar of post-Cold War nuclear arms control between the two countries – by refusing to allow inspection activities on its territory.

10:53am: Zelensky aid says talks underway on longe-range missiles

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday talks were under way on securing longer-range missiles and attack aircraft from foreign partners to help repel Russian forces.

“Each war stage requires certain weapons. Amassing RF’s (Russia’s) reserves in the occupied territories require specifics from  (Ukraine) & partners,” political adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

10:52am: Kremlin welcomes ‘bounty payments’ offer for destroying Western tanks in Ukraine

The Kremlin on Wednesday welcomed a Russian company’s offer of “bounty payments” for soldiers who destroy Western-made tanks on the battlefield in Ukraine, saying it would spur Russian forces to victory. The Russian company Fores this week offered 5 million roubles ($72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture US-made Abrams or German Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian troops would “burn” any Western tanks that were delivered to Ukraine, adding the bounties were extra encouragement for Russian soldiers.

10:49am: Kremlin says any new longer-range rockets from US would escalate Ukraine conflict

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that longer-range rockets reportedly included in an upcoming package of military aid from the United States to Ukraine would “escalate” the conflict but not change its course.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters that there were no plans for Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold talks with US President Joe Biden.

The US package of military aid, worth $2.2 billion, is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time, two US officials briefed on the matter said on Tuesday.

9:52am: Japan preparing to host online G7 summit to mark anniversary of Ukraine invasion

Japan is preparing to host a Group of Seven (G7) summit meeting online timed to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Kyodo news agency reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed officials.

9:43am: Moscow-installed official says Russian forces encircling Bakhmut

Russian forces are encircling Bakhmut and are battling to take control of the highway that connects the city to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar, a Russian-installed official in eastern Ukraine said on Wednesday.

“Bakhmut is now operationally surrounded, our forces are closing the ring around the city,” said Yan Gagin, an aide to senior Russian-installed official Denis Pushilin. “Fighting for control of the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway is now underway,” he said on state television.

FRANCE 24 could not independently verify these assertions.

Russia claims to have taken control of several locations around Bakhmut, where its troops and mercenaries from the Wagner group have been locked in a battle of attrition with Ukrainian forces for months.

9:33am: Russian journalist sentenced in absentia to 8 years in jail for ‘fake news’

Prominent Russian journalist Alexander Nevzorov was sentenced in absentia to eight years in jail by a Moscow court on Wednesday after it found him guilty of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, state media reported.

Investigators opened a case against Nevzorov last year for posts on social media in which he accused Russia‘s armed forces of deliberately shelling a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, an assertion Moscow said was false.

Nevzorov’s wife wrote on Instagram in March that she and her husband were in Israel.

8:33am: Spain to send Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine: media

Spain plans to send between four and six Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine, newspaper El Pais reported Wednesday, citing unidentified government sources.

The actual number will depend on the condition of the battle tanks in storage and how many other countries will eventually supply to Ukraine, the sources told El Pais.

A spokesperson for the Spanish defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kyiv secured pledges from the West this month to supply main battle tanks to help fend off Russia’s invasion, with Moscow mounting huge efforts to make incremental advances in eastern Ukraine.

7:43am: Russia claims control of Blahodatne, near Bakhmut

“The latest reports suggest that Russian forces are making a fresh push on two villages, Vuhledar and Pavlivka, some 30km southwest of Donetsk city in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, the Russian defence ministry is claiming that its forces not far from there have captured the village of Blahodatne,” FRANCE 24’s Andrew Hilliar reports from Kyiv.

“We have not been able to independently verify those claims, but looking at the bigger picture, this could all be part of a new Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.”

5:45am: Netanyahu considering military aid, mediation for Ukraine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview aired Tuesday he was considering military aid to Ukraine and was willing to serve as a mediator, following US calls for more active involvement.

Netanyahu was asked in an interview with CNN if Israel could provide assistance to Ukraine such as Iron Dome, the US-backed technology that defends Israel from air attack. “Well, I’m certainly looking into it,” Netanyahu said.

He confirmed that the United States has shifted a little-known stockpile of artillery it stations in Israel to Ukraine and he cast the Jewish state’s own operations against Iran as part of a similar effort. “The US just took a huge chunk of Israel’s munitions and passed it on to Ukraine. Israel also, frankly, acts in ways that I will not itemise here against Iran’s weapons productions which are used against Ukraine,” he said.

He said he was willing to mediate if asked by the parties and the United States. “I’ve been around long enough to know that there has to be a right time and the right circumstances. If they arise, I’ll certainly consider it,” he said.

The remarks come after a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called for calm following a flare-up of violence between Israel and the Palestinians and also nudged Israel to boost support to Ukraine.

5:26am: US defence firm General Atomics offers to sell advanced drones to Ukraine for one dollar and shipping costs

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a US defense company, General Atomics, has offered to sell Kyiv two Reaper MQ-9 drones for a dollar as it prepares for an expected Russian offensive.

Under the deal, Kyiv would have to spend about $10 million to ship the aircraft to Ukraine, and about $8 million each year for maintenance, the Journal said, citing a letter from General Atomics to a Ukrainian diplomat.

There was no immediate comment on the report from Washington.

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Live: Deadly Russian shelling targets Kherson, Kyiv calls for faster arms supplies

Russian missile strikes killed three people in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson while fighting raged in the eastern Donetsk region where Russia again shelled the key town of Vuhledar, according to Ukrainian officials. Follow FRANCE 24’s live coverage of today’s developments. All times are in Paris time (GMT+1).

6:03pm: Ukraine officials, MPs banned from travelling abroad

The Ukrainian government has banned senior public servants and lawmakers including women from travelling abroad during the war with Russia.

Andriy Demchenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s border guard service, told AFP on Monday that the measure — adopted last week – had entered force. “They can now only leave as part of a work mission,” he said.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 last year, Ukrainian men of fighting age were ordered to remain in the country barring a few exceptions

4:45pm: British tanks to arrive on Ukraine front lines ‘this side of summer’, defence minister says

Tanks donated by Britain to Ukraine will be on the front line before summer, defence minister Ben Wallace said on Monday, without giving an exact timetable. Asked in parliament when the 14 Challenger tanks it has agreed to supply would be deployed onto the battlefield, Wallace said: “It’ll be this side of the summer, or May – it’ll be probably towards Easter time.”

He said security reasons prevented him from setting out the timetable of training for Ukrainian forces on using the tanks, but that it would begin with instruction on operation of individual vehicles before progressing to how to fight in formation.

4:23pm: France and Australia agree to cooperate to produce shells for Ukraine

France Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu on Monday announced that France and Australia have forged a deal to manufacture “several thousands” of 155-millimetre shells to help Ukraine.

Lecornu was speaking after meeting with his Australian counterpart Richard Marles, the first joint high-level talks since Canberra ditched a defence accord with Paris in favour of a tie-up with Britain and the United States two years ago.

3:30pm: Iran summons Ukraine envoy over top aide’s drone strike remarks

Tehran on Monday summoned a Ukrainian diplomat to protest “biased” remarks by a presidential aide in Kyiv over a recent drone strike in Iran, the Islamic republic’s foreign ministry said.

Mykhailo Podoliak, an advisor to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, linked in a tweet on Sunday Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of his country with the night-time strike on a military site.

“Explosive night in Iran — drone and missile production, oil refineries,” he said. “War logic […] bills the authors and accomplices strictly”.

“Ukraine did warn you,” Podoliak added

2:07pm: Zelensky meets Danish PM on southern Ukraine trip

President Volodymyr Zelensky met Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen during a trip to the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Monday.

Video footage posted online by Zelensky’s office showed the president greeting Frederiksen with a handshake on a snowy street before entering a hospital where they met soldiers wounded in Russia‘s invasion.

“It is important for our warriors to be able to undergo not only physical, but also psychological rehabilitation,” Zelensky wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “I am grateful to all the medical workers who care about the health of our defenders. I wish them a speedy recovery!”

Zelensky’s office gave no immediate details of his discussions with Frederiksen.

1:33pm: Ukrainians to get millions of LED light bulbs to ease energy shortfall

Ukrainians were urged on Monday to swap old light bulbs for free energy-efficient LED bulbs under a scheme intended to ease an energy shortfall caused by Russian attacks.

Launching a programme backed by the EU and aimed at replacing 50 million light bulbs, Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said all adults would be able to exchange five incandescent light bulbs for five LED bulbs at post offices.

The goal is in the next few months to reduce by a quarter the energy deficit caused by Russian missile and drone strikes on power infrastructure that have frequently left millions of Ukrainians without light, water or heating.

1:21pm: Finland will stick with Sweden in NATO process despite Turkish rejection

Finland is maintaining its plan to join NATO at the same time as Nordic neighbour Sweden, and hopes to do so no later than July, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Sunday that Ankara could agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden, amid growing tensions with Stockholm, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday made similar statements.

“Our strong wish is still to join NATO together with Sweden,” Haavisto told a news conference in Helsinki.

Last week, Turkey suspended NATO talks with Sweden and Finland over protests in Stockholm that included the burning of a Koran.

12:25pm: More Russian forces moved to Kursk region on Ukraine border, governor says

Russia has moved additional forces and equipment to the Kursk region on the border with Ukraine to protect the frontier and ensure security, regional governor Roman Starovoit said on Monday, according to Interfax news agency.

Local authorities say that the region has repeatedly been subjected to Ukrainian shelling since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago.

Some of Russia’s troops entered from the Kursk region, although the areas of northeastern Ukraine that they seized have since been retaken by Kyiv’s forces.

Starovoit told a meeting of the regional government that a solid contingent of personnel from the armed forces, border guards and law enforcement agencies had already been formed in Kursk, but that “it is necessary to provide comprehensive support for the reception, deployment and arrangement of additional forces”.

12:20pm: Russia claims advances near eastern Ukraine’s Vugledar

A Moscow proxy official said Monday that Russian forces were advancing near Vugledar, a town in the eastern Donetsk region, which is the epicentre of fighting in Ukraine, but Kyiv denied the claim.

“Our units continue advancing in the direction of Vugledar,” said Denis Pushilin, the Kremlin-appointed leader of the Donetsk region. “Now we can say that units have established positions in the eastern part of Vugledar, and work is also being carried out in the vicinity,” he said on Russian television.

But a Ukrainian military spokesman in charge of the area said that Russia’s attempted attacks were not successful.

12:12pm: Russian shelling kills five in fierce eastern Ukraine combat

Russian shelling killed at least five people and wounded 13 others during the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian authorities said Monday, as the Kremlin’s and Kyiv’s forces remained locked in combat in eastern Ukraine ahead of renewed military pushes that are expected when the weather improves.

The casualties included a woman who was killed and three others who were wounded by the Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the country’s northeast, according to regional Gov. Oleh Syniyehubov.

Moscow’s troops seized large areas of the northeastern Kharkiv region in the months following its invasion of its neighbor last February. But Ukrainian counteroffensives that began in August snatched back Russian-occupied territory, most notably in Kharkiv

9:55am: Kyiv calls International Olympic Committee ‘promoter of war’ over Russian athletes controversy

Ukrainian Presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak on Monday called the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a “promoter of war” after the sports body said it was considering ways for Russian athletes to compete.

“(The) IOC is a promoter of war, murder and destruction. The IOC watches with pleasure Russia destroying Ukraine and then offers Russia a platform to promote genocide and encourages their further killings. Obviously Russian money that buys Olympic hypocrisy doesn’t have a smell of Ukrainian blood,” Podolyak said on Twitter.

9:12am: Russian company offers over $70,000 for first soldier who destroys Western tanks in Ukraine

Russian company Fores – a Urals-based firm which makes proppants for the energy industry – said it will offer five million roubles ($72,000) in cash to the first soldier who captures or destroys Western-made tanks in Ukraine, after the Kremlin vowed Russian forces would wipe out any Western tanks shipped to Ukraine.

The company said it will pay five million roubles to the first Russian soldier to destroy one of the tanks, and 500,000 roubles ($7,200) for all subsequent attacks. Echoing language used by Russian officials and pro-war state TV hosts, Fores said NATO was pumping Ukraine with an “unlimited” amount of arms and escalating the conflict.

It also said it would pay a 15-million rouble ($215,000) bounty on Western-made fighter jets, should they ever be delivered to Ukraine.

6:42am: NATO chief asks South Korea to ‘step up’ military support for Ukraine

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asked South Korea on Monday to “step up” military support for Ukraine, suggesting it reconsider its policy of not exporting weapons to countries in conflict.

In Seoul on the first leg of his Asia trip, Stoltenberg met top South Korean officials Sunday, and on Monday urged Seoul to do more to help Kyiv, saying there was an “urgent need for more ammunition”. He pointed to countries like Germany and Norway that had “long-standing policies not to export weapons to countries in conflict” which they revised after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February last year.

“If we believe in freedom, democracy, if we don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win then they need weapons,” he said, speaking at the Chey Institute in Seoul.

South Korea is an increasingly important arms exporter globally and has recently signed deals to sell hundreds of tanks to European countries, including NATO-member Poland. But South Korean law bans the export of weapons to countries in active conflict, which Seoul has said makes it difficult to provide arms directly to Kyiv, although it has provided non-lethal and humanitarian assistance.

4:28am: Russian shelling of southern city of Kherson leaves at least three dead

Russian shelling of Ukraine‘s southern city of Kherson left at least three people dead on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“Today, the Russian army has been shelling Kherson atrociously all day,” Zelensky said in his evening address. “Two women, nurses, were wounded in the hospital. As of now, there are reports of six wounded and three dead.”

The front in southern Ukraine has been considerably quieter recently than in the east, with Moscow withdrawing from Kherson city in November last year.  But the key city and regional capital is still subject to frequent shelling.

2:35am: Russian strikes eastern Kharkiv city destroying residential building

In eastern Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, the governor of the regional military administration said a Russian strike hit “a four-storey residential building”.

The victims included an elderly woman and the “building was partially destroyed,” said regional governor, Oleh Synehubov, on Telegram.

In the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, where fighting intensified in recent days after several months of a stagnant front, Moscow-appointed officials said Kyiv struck a railway bridge, killing four people.

Ukraine on Sunday carried out an “attack from a HIMARS multiple rocket launcher on a railway bridge across the Molochnaya river”, the Russian-installed head of the region, Yevgeny Balitsky, wrote on social media. “Four people from the railways brigade were killed, five were injured,” Balitsky added.

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‘No Ukrainian can go home’: Australian Open director urges sports to support war-affected players and athletes

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has urged the tennis world and other sports to do more to support Ukrainian athletes in the midst of the ongoing war with Russia.

Tiley and organisers have been at the centre of controversy for introducing a ban on Russian flags at Melbourne Park, after flags were displayed during a match between Ukrainian and Russian players.

Before the start of the final day of the tournament, Tiley spoke to ABC Radio about the issues faced during the two-week event, including Russian flags, debate about late finishes and curfews.

The red, white and blue stripes of the Russian flag were visible in the crowd during the first-round match between Kateryna Baindl and Kamilla Rakhimova on day one of the tournament, prompting the ban.

“We’ve always been an event where we want our fans to come on site and have a good time, and we don’t want to be an event where you’ve got to wait for hours at the entry because you’ve got to be searched,” he said.

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Holocaust Memorial Day commemorated amid horrors of Russia-Ukraine war

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors and other mourners commemorated the 78th anniversary Friday of the Nazi German death camp’s liberation, some expressing horror that war has again shattered peace in Europe and the lesson of Never Again is being forgotten.

The former concentration and extermination camp is located in the town of Oświęcim in southern Poland, which was under the occupation of German forces during World War II and became a place of systematic murder of Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and others targeted for elimination by Adolf Hitler and his henchmen.

In all, some 1.1 million people were killed at the vast complex before it was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945.

Today the site, with its barracks and barbed wire and the ruins of gas chambers, stands as one of the world’s most recognized symbols of evil and a site of pilgrimage for millions from around the world.

Jewish and Christian prayers for the dead were recited at the memorial site, which lies only 300 kilometers (185 miles) from Ukraine, where Russian aggression is creating unthinkable death and destruction — a conflict on the minds of many this year.

“Standing here today at this place of remembrance, Birkenau, I follow with horror the news from the east that the Russian army, which liberated us here, is waging a war there in Ukraine. Why? Why?” lamented survivor Zdzisława Włodarczyk during observances Friday.

Piotr Cywinski, Auschwitz state museum director, compared Nazi crimes to those the Russians have committed in Ukrainian towns like Bucha and Mariupol. He said they were inspired by a “similar sick megalomania” and that free people must not remain indifferent.

>> The smile at Auschwitz: Uncovering the story of a young girl in the French Resistance

“Being silent means giving voice to the perpetrators,” Cywinski said. “Remaining indifferent is tantamount to condoning murder.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended observances marking the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in 2005. This year, no Russian official at all was invited due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked the event in a social media post, alluding to his own country’s situation.

“We know and remember that indifference kills along with hatred,” he said.

“Indifference and hatred are always capable of creating evil together only. That is why it is so important that everyone who values ​​life should show determination when it comes to saving those whom hatred seeks to destroy.”

>> Hitler’s ‘war of annihilation’: Operation Barbarossa, 80 years on

An Israeli teacher, Yossi Michal, paying tribute to the victims with a teachers union delegation, said it was important to remember the past, and while he said what is happening in Ukraine is terrible, he felt each case is unique and they shouldn’t be compared.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has its roots in the post-Word War II neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, called the Holocaust “the abyss of humanity. An evil that touched also our country with the infamy of the racial laws of 1938.”

Bogdan Bartnikowski, a Pole who was 12 years old when he was transported to Auschwitz, said the first images he saw on television last February of refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine triggered traumatic memories.

He was stunned seeing a little girl in a large crowd of refugees holding her mother with one hand and grasping a teddy bear in the other.

People watch a virtual reality film that allows viewers to tour Auschwitz.
People watch a virtual reality film that allows viewers to tour Auschwitz. © Reuters

“It was literally a blow to the head for me because I suddenly saw, after almost 80 years, what I had seen in a freight car when I was being transported to Auschwitz. A little girl was sitting next to me, hugging a doll  to her chest,” Bartnikowski, now 91, said.

Bartnikowski was among several survivors of Auschwitz who spoke about their experiences to journalists Thursday.

Another, Stefania Wernik, who was born at Auschwitz in November 1944, less than three months before its liberation, spoke of Auschwitz being a “hell on earth.”

She said when she was born she was so tiny that the Nazis tattooed her number — 89136 — on her thigh. She was washed in cold water, wrapped in rags and subjected to medical experiments.

And yet her mother had abundant milk, and they both survived. After the war, her mother returned home and reunited with her husband, and “the whole village came to look at us and said it’s a miracle.”

She appealed for “no more fascism, which brings death, genocide, crimes, slaughter and loss of human dignity.”

Among those who attended Friday’s commemorations was Doug Emhoff, the husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Emhoff, the first Jewish person to be married to one of the top two nationally elected U.S. officials, bowed his head at an execution wall at Auschwitz, where he left a wreath of flowers in the U.S. flag’s colors and the words: “From the people of the United States of America.”

The Germans established Auschwitz in 1940 for Polish prisoners; later they expanded the complex, building death chambers and crematoria where Jews from across Europe were brought by train to be murdered.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “the suffering of 6 million innocently murdered Jews remains unforgotten — as does the suffering of the survivors.”

“We recall our historic responsibility on Holocaust Memorial Day so that our Never Again endures in future,” he wrote on Twitter.

The German parliament was holding a memorial event focused this year on those who were persecuted for their sexual orientation. Thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people were incarcerated and killed by the Nazis. Their fate was only publicly recognized decades after the end of World War II.

Elsewhere in the world on Friday events were planned to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual commemoration established by a United Nations resolution in 2005.

In Britain, candles were lit to remember victims of genocide in homes and public buildings, including Buckingham Palace.

UK man who saved children from horrors of concentration camps


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Live: US designates Russia’s Wagner Group as criminal organisation

The US on Thursday formally designated Russian private military company the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organisation, freezing its US assets due to its role supporting Russia’s military in its war of aggression against Ukraine. This comes after French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived in Odesa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, shortly after missile strikes hit crucial power infrastructure facilities in the surrounding region and caused blackouts in the city. Follow our live blog for the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

4:23pm: US designates Wagner Group as criminal organisation

The US on Thursday formally designated Russian private military company the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organisation, freezing its US assets for helping Russia’s military in the Ukraine war.

Last month the White House said the Wagner Group had taken delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, in a sign of the group’s expanding role in that conflict

3:19pm: Training likely to be a big challenge as West sends Ukraine tanks

As the US said it will send Abrams tanks to Ukraine in a major policy reversal after the UK broke the dam last week by saying it will send Challengers, Rob Thornton, a lecturer in the defence studies department at King’s College London, told FRANCE 24 that “we need to be a bit careful”.

“You can supply several dozen tanks – will it make a big difference on the battlefield. And it’s one thing supplying these tanks; it’s another thing training the crews to operate these tanks. These are very much more sophisticated than the old Soviet tanks that are used by both the Russians and the Ukrainians at the moment. It will take a lot of training to match up, to marry up, the high-tech and modern tanks that are being supplied with the ability of their crews to use them to the greatest effect.” As well as the training question, there will be “other problems”. In particular, the “maintenance of these tanks is something the Ukrainians will have to very much get used to”, Thornton said.

2:51pm: Russia bans Meduza news site in latest media crackdown

Russian authorities designated the independent news outlet Meduza an “undesirable organisation” on Thursday, effectively outlawing the site from operating in Russia and banning any Russian from cooperating with Meduza or its journalists.

The designation is the latest in a years-long campaign by the Kremlin to curb independent media and stop their reporting from reaching ordinary Russians in a crackdown that has escalated since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

In a statement announcing the decision, Russia’s General Prosecutor said the Latvia-based news outlet “poses a threat to the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the Russian Federation”

2:42pm: ‘Two brigades of tanks’ for Ukraine army?

“There’s no doubt that with the decision […] of the United States to send its M1 Abrams tanks, a Rubicon has been passed here, and that momentum will now start to pick up,” said FRANCE 24 Chief Foreign Editor Robert Parsons.

“That’s certainly what the Ukrainians are hoping for, and last night Volodymyr Zelensky the Ukrainian president made that point in particular, when he was saying that ‘the key issue for us now is numbers’ and delivery time. They want those tanks as quickly as possible and they want them in as large numbers as possible,” Parsons continued. “They’re talking about 300; that’s what they believe they need if they’re going to stave off a Russian attack and then launch their own counter-attack against the Russians and break through and perhaps by the end of this year regain much of the territory that has been lost to the Russians over the last year.”

Given the number of countries now lining up to send tanks, “you could possibly envisage in pretty quick time two brigades of tanks being formed; that’s about 100 tanks”, Parsons noted. “That would suit the Ukrainians pretty well at this stage, but […] the Ukrainians are looking beyond this now. They’re talking about fighter jets. And although [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz said yesterday that’s not something that Germany would do, other NATO members are talking about the possibility.”

2:33pm: Ukraine’s wheat, corn crops shrink again as farmers struggle

Ukraine‘s corn and wheat production is set to fall for a second year in 2023, with corn output not expected to exceed 18 million tonnes and wheat production 16 million tonnes as farmers reduce planting due to the war, a grain sector group said on Thursday.

The projections were a best case scenario, and production could fall more sharply depending on weather and financial difficulties of farms, Ukraine Grain Association (UGA) head Nikolay Gorbachov told Reuters on the sidelines of Argus Media’s Paris Grain Conference.

Disruption to export trade following Russia’s invasion last year has left many farmers producing at a loss, he said.

“For farmers it became unprofitable to produce the grain and that’s why they cut the planted area,” he added.

2:28pm: Neither France nor allies at war with Russia, French foreign ministry underlines

Neither France nor its allies are fighting a war against Russia, the French foreign ministry said Thursday, following a Western decision to send heavy tanks to Ukraine to repel the Russian invasion.

“We are not at war with Russia and none of our partners are,” ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said, after comments from German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that “we are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other”.

2:18pm: French Leclerc tanks ‘not on the cards’ for Ukraine

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna’s visit to Odesa is a “highly symbolic” visit that was “hailed” by Ukraine’s foreign minister as “something courageous, something brave”, FRANCE 24’s Emmanuelle Chaze reported from Kyiv.

Colonna is in Odesa to “discuss the specific needs of the Ukrainian army when it comes to heavy weaponry”, Chaze continued. A “diplomatic source did address the question of whether or not Ukraine will get Leclerc tanks” from France – however, “apparently this is not on the cards because from the get-go, Ukraine was more keen to get Leopard tanks and maybe it would be too much of a hassle for Ukraine to have different kinds of tanks”.

A man walks next to the Opera Theatre building in the city centre, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine January 25, 2023.
A man walks next to the Opera Theatre building in the city centre, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine January 25, 2023. © Serhii Smolientsev, Reuters

12:28pm: Ukraine army says it downed 47 out of 55 Russian missiles, including 20 near Kyiv

The Ukrainian army said Thursday it had shot down 47 out of 55 missiles launched by Russia in a massive new wave of attacks.

The head of Ukraine’s army, Valery Zaluzhny, said Russia launched 55 air and sea-based missiles. “Ukraine’s armed forces destroyed 47 cruise missiles, 20 of them in the area of the capital,” he added on Telegram.

11:42am: French FM Colonna visits Odesa as it comes under Russian fire

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Thursday arrived in Ukrainian city Odesa in a visit aimed at underscoring France’s support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

She was there “to show France’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, now as before,” Colonna wrote on Twitter alongside a picture of herself in front of a city landmark.

Although delayed by a new wave of Russian strikes overnight and on Thursday morning, Colonna was still set to meet her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in the historic Black Sea port.

11:02am: Germany says to start talks with defence industry to speed up procurement

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Thursday he would kick off talks with the defence industry as early as next week to speed up arms procurement and ramp up ammunitions supplies.

“My primary task now is to enter into talks with the defence industry with the aim of significantly shortening procurement times,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a military exercise in Altengrabow in eastern Germany.

“If you look at ammunition, there is also the issue of quantity. This is another topic that I will raise in my talks with the defence industry, likely as early as next week if the schedule permits it,” he added.

10:40am: Western tank deliveries ‘direct involvement’ in Ukraine conflict, Moscow says

The Kremlin said Thursday that a decision by Western countries to supply Ukraine with modern tanks meant that they were party to the conflict, after Berlin and Washington approved the weapons for Kyiv.

“European capitals and Washington constantly give statements that sending various types of weapons, including tanks, in no way means their involvement in hostilities. We strongly disagree with this. In Moscow, this is perceived as direct involvement in the conflict and we see that this is growing,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

10:25am: Power cuts in Ukraine after Russian air strikes, operator says

Ukraine on Thursday enforced emergency power cuts in Kyiv and several other regions to relieve pressure on the electricity grid following Russian strikes, an operator said.

“Due to the threat of a missile attack in Kyiv and the regions of Kyiv, Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk emergency blackouts have been introduced,” said DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private power producer.

Ukrainian authorities earlier on Thursday reported Russian hits on energy facilities.

10:03am: Kyiv’s mayor says one dead, two injured in Russian missile attack

The mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv said one person had been killed and two more were wounded on Thursday after Russia launched more than a dozen missiles in its latest large-scale aerial offensive.

“As a result of a rocket hitting a non-residential building in the Golosiivsky district, there is information that one person is dead and two wounded,” Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a statement on social media. The Kyiv city military administration said the death was due to parts of a missile falling.

9:50am: Two energy facilities struck in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region, local official says

Authorities in Ukraine‘s southern region of Odesa said Thursday that two energy facilities were hit by Russian missiles, in the latest attack by Moscow’s forces against critical infrastructure.

“There is already information about damage done to two critical energy infrastructure facilities in Odesa. There are no injured. Air Defence Forces are working over the Odesa region,” the head of the region’s military administration, Yuriy Kruk, said on social media.

9:25am: Kyiv mayor reports ‘explosion’, Ukraine downs 15 missiles

Ukraine said Thursday it had shot down more than a dozen Russian missiles launched towards Kyiv, while the capital’s major reported an explosion in the city.

“The enemy launched more than 15 cruise missiles in the direction of Kyiv. Thanks to the excellent work of air defence, all air targets were shot down,” said Sergiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration, while mayor Vitali Klitschko said: “Explosion in Kyiv! Stay in shelters!”

9:05am: Russia fires ‘more than 30 missiles’ at Ukraine during rush hour, Kyiv says

Ukraine said Thursday that Russian forces had fired more than 30 missiles at targets across the country, in the latest wave of attacks that have put pressure on Ukraine’s air defence systems.

“We expect more than 30 missiles, which have already started to appear in various territories. Air defence systems are working,” Yuriy Ignat, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told local media.

The wave of missiles was launched during rush hour on Thursday morning and Ukrainians took cover in shelters as air defence forces shot down incoming salvos, officials said. An air raid alert wailed across the country as people were heading to work. In the capital Kyiv, crowds of people sheltered in underground metro stations, with some sitting on blankets or small plastic chairs.

A Reuters reporter heard the sound of a missile flying overhead at a low altitude, about 30 km from Kyiv. “As many as six Tu-95 (warplanes) have preliminarily taken off from Murmansk region and launched missiles,” air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said on national television.

7:53am: Air raid sirens heard across Ukraine as authorities report missile attacks

Ukraine declared an air raid alert over the whole country on Thursday, and senior officials said air defences units were shooting down incoming Russian missiles.

Two missiles were spotted over the territory of the Mykolaiv region, its governor, Vitaly Kim, said on the Telegram messaging app. “Missiles are flying inside the territory of Ukraine. At least two northwest through Mykolaiv region,” he said. Officials told the public to take shelter.

“The first Russian missiles have been shot down,” Andriy Yermak, head of the president’s office said.

Russia has targeted critical infrastructure with missile and drone strikes since October, causing sweeping blackouts and other outages during winter.

7:14am: Ukraine declares air raid alert over most of country, authorities warn of possible missile attack

Ukraine declared an air raid alert over most of the country on Thursday, and regional authorities warned of a possible missile attack.

The DTEK electricity company said it was performing emergency shutdowns of electro power in the capital Kyiv, the rest of the Kyiv region, and also the regions of Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk due to a danger of missile attack.

6:47am: Ukrainian military says it destroyed 24 Russian drones overnight, warns of more attacks

Russian forces launched an unsuccessful overnight drone attack on Ukraine on Thursday, mainly targeting central regions and the capital Kyiv, the Ukrainian military said.

Anti-aircraft defences downed all 24 drones, country’s military command said in a morning report.

“There’s a major danger of further aviation and missile attack across the entire territory (of Ukraine),” it said in a statement.

Kyiv’s regional administration said that 15 out of 24 drones have been downed around the Ukrainian capital and that there were no damages. It also warned people about the possibility of more missile attacks during the day.

3:40am: Ukraine’s Zelensky urges UN action on deportations

President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged a senior UN official to help find a way to resolve what Ukrainian authorities decry as a serious consequence of 11 months of war – the deportation to Russia of thousands of adults and children.

Ukraine has for months denounced reports of mass deportations to Russia, often to remote regions thousands of kilometres from Ukraine. Russia denies any suggestion of mistreatment or criminal intent, describing the mass movements as evacuations.

“The discussion focused above all on our people that the occupiers have deported to Russia,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address, referring to talks with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi earlier on Wednesday. “These are adults, these are our children. A mechanism is needed to protect and bring back people and to bring to account all those who are guilty of deportations. I am certain the UN institutions can show leadership in resolving this issue.”

>> Mother Russia: Maria Lvova-Belova, the Putin ally deporting Ukrainian children

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Norway’s fossil fuel bonanza stokes impassioned debate about how best to spend its ‘war profits’

Norway is making more money from oil and gas exports than ever.

Ole Berg-rusten | Afp | Getty Images

Norway’s skyrocketing oil and gas wealth is expected to climb to new heights this year, boosted by higher fossil fuel prices in the wake of Russia’s nearly year-long onslaught in Ukraine.

The ballooning petroleum profits of the Scandinavian country put Oslo in a unique position: As many in Europe are struggling to cope with the region’s worst energy crisis in decades, Norway — already extremely rich — is getting richer still.

It has ignited an impassioned debate about international justice, with many questioning whether it is fair for Norway to rake in record oil and gas revenues at the expense of others’ misfortune.

Opposition lawmakers, prominent economists in the country, and even titans of Norway’s energy industry have called on the government to set an example to the world by pumping its fossil fuel revenues into a new international solidarity fund that helps countries meet their climate goals.

Norway’s Finance Ministry expects the state’s revenues from oil and gas sales to climb to 1.38 trillion Norwegian krone ($131 billion) this year. That’s up from a previous record of 1.17 trillion krone last year, and a nearly fivefold increase from 288 billion krone in 2021.

“They are war profits,” Lars-Henrik Paarup Michelsen, director of the Norwegian Climate Foundation think tank, told CNBC via telephone.

“Most European countries are getting poorer because of the war. Norway is getting richer — much richer.”

Opposition lawmakers, prominent economists and even titans of Norway’s energy industry have called on Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store’s government to set an example to the world by pumping at least some of its fossil fuel revenues into a new international solidarity fund.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Michelsen said he was fearful that by choosing to pocket its bumper oil and gas profits, Norway is damaging its international reputation, warning that the country is at risk of being perceived as “very egocentric.”

“We are in a completely different position than the rest of Europe and I think, with that, it also bears a responsibility,” Michelsen said. He called for the government to redirect its extraordinary windfall to further help Ukraine, accelerate Europe’s energy transition and provide climate finance for low-income countries.

“This situation is certainly not of our making and not to our liking,” Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Eivind Vad Petersson told CNBC via telephone. He argued that it is critically important for Europe’s energy security that Norway keeps gas production high.

Petersson said the government’s financial support to Ukraine is approaching 1.5 billion euros ($1.63 billion), adding that the country’s policymakers are working on a multi-year program to continue to help Kyiv.

Oil companies are getting richer and richer, but we don’t see that money — and who is really paying for this?

Ingrid Fiskaa

Foreign affairs spokesperson for Norway’s Socialist Left

When asked about accusations that the country is war profiteering, Petersson replied, “No, not really … The indirect effect, we fully acknowledge, is that our revenues have increased, but I do not accept that label.”

“We are very well aware of the responsibility that comes with the fact that we have these resources. Of course, the responsibility to protect it, bearing in mind the crucial role of energy security now in Europe for this winter and possibly next,” Petersson said.

He added that Norway’s government is also “fully aware of the responsibility that comes with being a supporter and donor, not only to Ukraine but also other countries across the world suffering the effects of Russia’s war.”

overtook Russia as Europe’s biggest natural gas supplier, has been one of the world’s top crude producers for the past half-century. That’s thanks to its gigantic North Sea petroleum deposits — the spoils of which have been used to provide a robust safety net for current and future generations.

The Norwegian government’s net cash flow from petroleum sales is transferred into Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund. The government can only spend a small part of the fund each year, but this is still estimated to amount to nearly 20% of the government budget.

The so-called Government Pension Fund Global, among the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, was established in the 1990s to invest the surplus revenues of Norway’s oil and gas sector. To date, the fund has invested in more than 9,300 companies in 70 countries around the world.

Norway, which last year overtook Russia as Europe’s biggest gas supplier, has been one of the world’s top crude producers for the past half-century.

Jp Black | Lightrocket | Getty Images

“These excess profits, as we may call it, are a direct result of the war,” said Ingrid Fiskaa, foreign affairs spokesperson for Norway’s Socialist Left, whose support is critical for Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store’s minority government.

Fiskaa highlighted that legislation in Norway limits the use of oil revenues in the domestic economy to avoid high inflation — and that, she argues, strengthens the case for investing in international solidarity.

“There should be a lot more debate on this issue,” Fiskaa told CNBC via telephone. “Oil companies are getting richer and richer, but we don’t see that money — and who is really paying for this? It is the rest of the world. We should contribute more with this money.”

Norway’s aid budget has hovered near 1% of its gross national income for more than a decade, making it one of the world’s most generous donors.

Store’s government was sharply criticized last year for proposing to cut the proportion of GNI it spends on foreign aid to 0.75%. That level is still significantly above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average of 0.3%, but civil society groups described the move as “embarrassing” at a time when Oslo was making money like never before.

Norway’s foreign ministry has since pledged to deliver on its aid budget target of 1% of GNI in 2023.

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