January 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:37 a.m. ET, January 27, 2023
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8:44 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia calls on Novak Djokovic to state his position on war

CNN’s Angus Watson in Sydney

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during his quarter final match against Russia’s Andrey Rublev on Wednesday, January 25, in Melbourne.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during his quarter final match against Russia’s Andrey Rublev on Wednesday, January 25, in Melbourne. (Jaimi Joy/Reuters)

Kyiv’s ambassador to Australia has called on Novak Djokovic to state his position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after the tennis player’s father was pictured at a demonstration with fans holding Russian flags.

Footage shows Srdjan Djokovic posing behind a Russian flag superimposed with Putin’s face at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Speaking to CNN Friday, Ukrainian Ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko said the incident amounted to a provocation and “shines a negative light on Novak himself as he prepares for his semi-final.”

 "I think for him to dispel the speculation it's important to make a very strong statement but where he stands, and in this war, and I would like to see an apology from Novak Djokovic.
"Of course, the son cannot be responsible for the sins of his father, but he maybe he has the same opinion as his father. I think the world should know where he stands.”

Tennis Australia told CNN that four people were ejected from the tournament on Wednesday for displaying pro-war imagery. 

CNN has reached out to both Srdjan Djokovic and Novak Djokovic for comment.

4:21 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

Zelensky calls for more Western weapons after latest Russian missile strikes

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the West for further weapons supplies after another wave of Russian missile strikes targeted Kyiv and other cities across the country.

“This evil, this Russian aggression can and should be stopped only with adequate weapons,” Zelensky told Ukrainians in his nightly address Thursday. “Weapons on the battlefield. Weapons that protect our skies.”

Ukraine said it was able to shoot down most of the 55 missiles fired by Russia, a feat Zelensky attributed to Western-donated air defense systems. 

“Today, thanks to the air defense systems provided to Ukraine and the professionalism of our warriors, we managed to shoot down most of the Russian missiles and Shaheds,” he said, referring to Iranian-made drones.

“These are at least hundreds of lives saved and dozens of infrastructure facilities preserved,” the Ukrainian president said.

Update on the eastern front: Zelensky then shifted focus to the eastern Donbas region, where fighting remains the fiercest. Ukrainian troops are suffering heavy attrition in the east.

“We need a new movement of our forces at the front. We need to ensure the defeat of the terrorists' ground forces. Whatever the Russian occupiers are planning, our preparation must be stronger,” Zelensky said. “I am grateful to all our units who demonstrate the resilience Ukraine needs, exhausting the occupier and destroying it.”

“The more Russia loses in this battle for Donbas, the less its overall potential will be,” he added.

Zelensky said his government is aware of Russian plans for future operations in Ukraine and assured his countrymen they were working to counter Moscow’s moves.

3:56 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

Sweden pledges nearly $2 million to UN watchdog agency for nuclear safety in Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London

The Swedish government on Thursday pledged $1,947,000 (20 million Swedish krona) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to support its nuclear safety mission in Ukraine

“As a result of Russia’s aggression, we have seen several attacks in the immediate vicinity of nuclear power plants over the past year, posing very significant risks,” Johan Forssell, the Swedish minister for international development cooperation and foreign trade, said in a statement.

“Strengthening the IAEA’s important work to maintain and improve the safety of Ukrainian nuclear power plants is a matter of urgency,” Forssell added. 

3:46 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

Ukraine says Russia is intensifying hostilities in southeastern part of Donetsk

From CNN’s Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in London

Ukrainian officials claim Russia is intensifying hostilities in the southeastern part of Donetsk region, around the towns of Avdiivka and Vuhledar. 

Although Bakhmut remains the area where the fighting is the most vicious, Avdiivka has become almost as contentious, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk region military administration.

“Now it is also very hot in Avdiivka,” he said.

“The enemy shelled Vuhledar community many times today, one person was killed and two were wounded, and two people were killed in Ocheretyne community,” he added. “In other words, we observe escalation along the entire front line from the south and from the north.”

Why this territory matters: The southeastern area of Donetsk is seen as strategic territory by Russia to deter a potential offensive by Ukrainian forces towards Crimea.

Ukraine says Russia is employing similar tactics to those it has employed around Bakhmut, which is located further north in the Donetsk region.

Moscow’s armies are relying heavily on artillery and committing large numbers of men on doomed offensives, said Serhii Cherevatyi, a Ukrainian military spokesperson.

Targeting several communities, Russian forces "conducted 28 attacks in one day, fired 264 times, losing 141 people ... and 165 wounded, but failed to achieve any results,” Cherevatyi claimed in a military briefing.

Cherevatyi said fighting around the entire eastern front line continues to be relentless.

“The enemy is trying to succeed in breaking through our defense, in particular in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Lyman directions,” Cherevatyi said. “In total, 199 attacks and 35 combat engagements took place in the Bakhmut sector (on Thursday). The enemy fired from all types of artillery and multiple rocket launchers.”

“However, our defense forces did not allow the enemy to succeed,” he added.

3:43 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

US will send the more modern and lethal version of the Abrams tank to Ukraine, Pentagon says 

From CNN's Haley Britzky

US-owned M1A2 Abrams tanks in Germany.
US-owned M1A2 Abrams tanks in Germany. (Daniel Karmann/picture alliance/Getty Images)

The US will send the M1A2 Abrams tank to Ukraine, which has significantly upgraded capabilities compared to the earlier M1A1 model.

Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed Thursday that the M1A2 would be the version of the Abrams provided to the Ukrainians. She said that the US does not “have these tanks available in excess in our US stocks,” and it will take “months to transfer” the tanks to Ukraine.

The M1A2 is a significant upgrade from the older M1A1, mostly due to the fact that the A2 runs on a digital system, as opposed to the analog system of the A1.

It’s “the difference between a plug-in phone – a rotary phone – and that iPhone you’ve got in your hand,” explained retired Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the former commander of US Forces Korea, whose father was the namesake for the 70-ton tank.

US officials announced this week that 31 Abrams tanks would be sent to Ukraine after days of back and forth between the US and its allies. Officials had not yet disclosed which tank variant they would choose, and Army acquisitions chief Doug Bush told reporters on Tuesday that the decision was still being deliberated.

More on the tanks: US President Joe Biden said from the White House on Wednesday that the tanks would “enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives.”

In addition to the digital change with the A2, the newer version of the tank is “significantly” more lethal than the A1, Abrams said. It includes a commander’s independent thermal viewer. Whereas before, only the gunner had a thermal site, now the tank commander has one as well, allowing them to help scan for and identify targets. The digital system also allows the tank crew to run their own onboard diagnostics, Abrams said, instead of waiting for mechanics to run tests to determine any issues that arise.

When it comes down to it, Abrams said, the M1A2 is “far superior in lethality and survivability and mobility” to anything that Russia has on the battlefield.

It’s unclear which variant of the A2 tank, of which there are three, will be chosen. Singh declined to say during the Pentagon briefing Thursday, and Bush declined to say Wednesday.

Bush added that concerns over logistics and maintenance for each variant – which had frequently been cited as a reason the US was hesitant to send the Abrams at all – would not weigh heavily on the decision.

He also explained that the Army does not produce brand new tanks from scratch and has instead been modifying existing older models. “That doesn’t mean it’s easy or fast necessarily," he added, but they don't currently have to be built from scratch.

CNN's Michael Conte contributed reporting to this post.

3:26 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

CNN team in Ukraine witnesses continued heavy fighting around Bakhmut

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

Ukrainian soldiers fire a tank near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on January 26.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a tank near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on January 26. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces continues around Bakhmut in the east, a CNN team on the ground witnessed. 

CNN saw intense indirect fire from Ukrainian positions on the hillsides west of Bakhmut, with most of the fire apparently directed against Russian units to the south and north of the city.

Units from Russia's mercenary organization Wagner Group are reported to be trying to advance from both flanks, in an effort to encircle the city where 6,000 civilians remain.

Bakhmut remains a major focal point of the conflict, with the Ukrainian president and his staff paying special attention to the situation at the front. 

“President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a regular meeting of the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief on Thursday,” his office said in a statement on Thursday. “The participants heard reports from the commanders of the operational directions on the current situation at the front, and discussed the situation in the Bakhmut sector in detail.”
1:32 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

Council of Europe calls for special tribunal to probe Russia and Belarus’ "crime of aggression" in Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted unanimously to demand the creation of a special international tribunal to prosecute Russian and Belarusian political and military leaders “for the crime of aggression in Ukraine,” according to a statement published Thursday.

PACE, composed of members appointed by the national parliaments of the Council's 46 member states, proposes a tribunal in The Hague “to prosecute Russian and Belarusian political and military leaders who planned, prepared, initiated or executed Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.” 

PACE recommends policies for adoption, which are then submitted to national governments for action.

More background: The demand for an international tribunal echoes a similar call from UK lawmakers who last week expressed support for "the creation of a special tribunal with a limited focus on the crime of aggression" to complement the investigation being carried out by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. 

The UN has defined aggression as "the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.” 

“No other international criminal tribunal is competent to prosecute and punish the crime of aggression against Ukraine, the Assembly pointed out,” the PACE statement added. 

The ICC is unable to probe the crime of aggression unless the UN Security Council refers the matter to it, which is “highly implausible,” as Russia would likely use its status as a Security Council member to veto a referral. Russia was excluded from the Council of Europe — founded after World War II to uphold human rights — in March 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine.

In December, a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Bill Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, to call for creation of a special tribunal on the crime of aggression. Administration officials have neither committed to nor rejected the idea.

CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this post.

2:36 p.m. ET, January 26, 2023

Canada pledges 4 Leopard tanks to Ukraine 

From CNN's Hira Humayun

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand speaks to the press on January 20, in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand speaks to the press on January 20, in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Canada will be sending four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand announced on Thursday.

The donation will provide soldiers with a tactical advantage due to their “excellent mobility, firepower, and survivability” and that they would allow Ukraine to retake even more of its territory, the defense minister added.

The tanks are combat-ready and will be deployed over the coming weeks, Anand said, adding that a number of Canadian Armed Forces members will be deployed to train Ukrainian soldiers with the skills they need to operate the equipment.

The defense minister also noted that the number of tanks pledged may increase "as we coordinate donation and sustainment plans with our allies,” and work together to pool ammunition and spare parts.

“Tanks are not easy to maintain but their sustainment will be essential to Ukraine’s overall success and victory," she said, pointing to the complexity of their operation.

Canada will discuss how to ensure "long term success of our donations,” with Germany, Finland, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands, she added.

Ukraine's defense minister thanked Canada for the commitment in a tweet.

“Thank you to my great friend & colleague Anita Anand who announced this decision today,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote. “Thank you to (Prime Minister) JustinTrudeau and all Canadian people."