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January 31, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Tara Subramaniam, Charlotte Banks, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes and Leinz Vales, CNN
Top Ukrainian officials have in recent days escalated their public lobbying campaign for US-made F-16 fighter jets, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
But that push is being met with skepticism by US and allied officials who say the jets would be impractical, both because they require considerable training and because Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.
More puzzling to US officials is why Ukraine has made such a public show of asking for F-16s, when in private the jets are rarely mentioned atop Ukraine’s wish list of weapons.
Asked on Monday whether the US would be providing F-16s to Ukraine, President Joe Biden responded with a flat “no.” Asked on Tuesday, whether he plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amid his calls for F-16 jets, Biden said, “We’re going to talk.”
Ukraine’s renewed public push for the planes, which Ukraine’s foreign minister publicly described as a “priority” on Tuesday, appears driven in large part by a belief in Kyiv that with enough public pressure, the Ukrainians can eventually secure weapons systems that were once deemed a red line by the west.
So far, Ukrainian persistence has paid off, and Ukrainians appear undeterred by the reluctance from allies to send F-16s.
“What is impossible today is absolutely possible tomorrow,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told NPR on Tuesday.
Russian troops are pummeling the city of Bakhmut into “total ruin," a Donetsk region military administration head said, as intense fighting continues in the eastern part of the country.
Some Western countries are shutting down the idea of providing fighter jets to Ukraine, even as Kyiv officials step up requests for more military assistance.
Here are the top headlines to know:
- Intense fighting around Bakhmut: There is fierce fighting in Bakhmut as Russian forces try to take control of a key highway and disrupt supplies to the eastern city. Russian airborne units have joined Wagner mercenaries in the fight for the city, according to a former Ukrainian military commander. Russian troops are "leveling Bakhmut to the ground, killing everyone they can reach," military administration head Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.
- Russia sends citizens home: Russia had to send home more than 9,000 people who were “illegally mobilized," Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov told President Vladimir Putin, including people with health conditions. Putin announced a "partial mobilization" in late September 2022 after Russia suffered a series of major setbacks on the battlefields in Ukraine.
- Nuclear arms treaty: The US State Department said Russia is violating a key nuclear arms control agreement by continuing to refuse to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities. Under the New START treaty — the only agreement left regulating the world's two largest nuclear arsenals — Washington and Moscow are permitted to conduct inspections of each other's weapons sites, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, inspections have been halted since 2020. You can read more about the agreement here.
- Fighter jets: The United Kingdom said it is "not practical" to send its fighter jets to Kyiv, saying it would "take months to learn how to fly" the aircraft. It echoed the sentiments of US President Joe Biden who said Monday he wouldn't not send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has also ruled out sending fighter jets.
- What Ukraine is saying about jets: Ukrainian officials continue to pressure their Western allies for further resources. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine needs fighter jets and long-range missiles not to escalate but rather to act as a deterrence and defense against Russia. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, also called for more weapons Tuesday.
- Additional Western aid: Ukraine is expecting to receive 120 to 140 modern Western fighting tanks in a "first wave" of deliveries from 12 countries, Kuleba said. France also announced it will send an additional 12 Caesar howitzers to Ukraine, on top of the 18 howitzers already delivered to Kyiv, according to the French defense minister.
- More US funding could be on the way: The US will likely announce further security assistance for Ukraine "soon," according to a White House spokesperson, adding that although Biden will not send fighter jets, the US remains in "regular contact" with Ukrainian officials about their needs. As of Jan. 19, the United States has committed $26.7 billion to Ukraine in security aid since the beginning of the war nearly a year ago.
A Ukraine-European Union summit will take place in Kyiv on Friday, Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said. However, he provided no details on who would attend.
The fact that the summit will be held in Kyiv is a "powerful signal to both partners and enemies," he said at a government meeting.
"To our partners, it is a message that Europe believes in Ukraine’s victory and supports our rapid movement towards EU membership. To our enemies, it is a message of the futility of their efforts to divide the coalition supporting Ukraine and stop our Euro-Atlantic integration," he added.
A "prolonged stalemate" in Moscow's conflict with Ukraine “would only benefit Russia,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, according to a cabinet meeting readout released Tuesday.
Sunak said he reached this conclusion after reviewing the UK’s approach to the conflict since becoming prime minister in October last year, adding that this led him to decide that there was an “opportunity to accelerate" British support for Ukraine.
This would give Kyiv the "best chance of success and make the most of the window of opportunity where Russian forces were on the back foot,” he said, according to the readout.
This new UK strategy to accelerate support would include greater diplomatic efforts and planning for how to rebuild after the conflict, the prime minister added, according to the readout.
Ukraine is expecting to receive 120 to 140 modern Western fighting tanks in a "first wave" of deliveries from 12 countries, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday.
"The tank coalition now has 12 members. I can note that in the first wave of contributions, the Ukrainian armed forces will receive between 120 and 140 Western-model tanks," Kuleba said in a briefing.
Kuleba on Tuesday also renewed calls for fighter jets, saying Ukraine's military "must receive all the types of weapons they need to defend and restore the territorial integrity of our country."
Russia is unlikely to see strategic success in any potential offensive in Ukraine this spring due to limited support on force ratios, equipment and logistics, according to Western officials speaking to media on background.
These limitations might not prevent Russia “from trying to launch an offensive,” but their “ability to change the course of the conflict at the moment is constrained,” the officials said.
Moscow is struggling to replace its losses, the officials added.
“There are severe constraints to their ability to really backfill the losses that they have suffered in Ukraine, which is why you see them reach out to international partners to try to fill the gap," they said.
Russia and Ukraine were fundamentally in "a race" as to "who can maintain the supply of weapons,” they said.
Moscow's current offensive is more about “the existing manpower and equipment being deployed and redeployed locally. You're seeing people kind of taking offensive action, but I don't think you're seeing the beginning of the offensive in big strategic terms. It's unlikely that hundreds of thousands of mobilized reservists have been formed into cohesive formations capable of major offensive, maneuver operations,” the officials explained.
Meanwhile, the officials expressed doubt in Russia using its neighboring ally Belarus to launch an offensive in the coming months.
“Belarus is providing a useful training ground for Russian forces where they can outsource for training and then siphon them back round into the front line in Ukraine,” the officials said. “We do see Russian forces in Belarus. We don't see them deployed to the border, and at the moment, they don't have the kind of capability in the logistics to project and threaten Kyiv.”
But the Russian troops presence does prompt Ukraine from stationing its troops in that direction to "offset that potential risk," the officials said, even though they stressed that it is "hugely unlikely" that Belarus "will be an axis of advance in the next several months.”
Russia is violating a key nuclear arms control agreement with the United States and continuing to refuse to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday.
"Russia is not complying with its obligation under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspection activities on its territory. Russia's refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control," the spokesperson said in statement.
"Russia has also failed to comply with the New START Treaty obligation to convene a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission in accordance with the treaty-mandated timeline," the spokesperson added.
Under the New START treaty — the only agreement left regulating the world's two largest nuclear arsenals — Washington and Moscow are permitted to conduct inspections of each other's weapons sites, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, inspections have been halted since 2020.
A session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission on the treaty was slated to meet in Egypt in late November but was abruptly called off. The US has blamed Russia for this postponement, with a State Department spokesperson saying the decision was made "unilaterally" by Russia.
The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides will soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.
The State Department says Russia can return to full compliance, if they "allow inspection activities on its territory, just as it did for years under the New START Treaty" and also scheduling a session of the commission.
On Monday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the last remaining element of the bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with the United States could expire in three years without a replacement.
Asked if Moscow could envisage there being no nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations when the extension of the 2011 New START Treaty comes to an end after 2026, Ryabkov told the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday: "This is a very possible scenario."
The statement comes as Russia continues its war in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin in December acknowledged that the conflict is “going to take a while,” as he also warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war. And without categorically ruling out the first use of nuclear weapons, Putin said he viewed the Russian nuclear arsenal as a deterrent rather than a provocation.
Ukraine's foreign minister renewed calls for fighter jets on Tuesday.
"The [Ukraine] Armed Forces must receive all the types of weapons they need to defend and restore the territorial integrity of our country," Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a briefing.
Kuleba said Ukraine needs fighter jets and long-range missiles not to escalate but rather to act as a deterrence and defense against Russia's continued war in Ukraine:
"Our partners are aware of the types of weapons we need — first and foremost, fighter jets and long-range missiles that can hit targets up to 300 km (more than 186 miles) away. These are not weapons of escalation, but rather weapons of defense and deterrence against the aggressor. We are actively negotiating to unlock all these solutions. I have instructed all our diplomats in key capitals to make this a priority," Kuleba continued.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, also called for more weapons.
Podolyak tweeted Tuesday addressing a belief he said some EU representatives have that Kyiv shouldn't be given weapons due to a fear the war will spread to Europe. The Ukrainian official said war is "already in the center of Europe" and Russia "kills people in the most anti-human way." He also warned that if Ukraine does not get weapons the war will spread to the EU because Russia "won't stop the expansion."
What Western nations are saying about Kyiv's requests: The UK said Tuesday it believes it's "not practical" to send its fighter jets to Ukraine. The fighter jets are "extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly," a Downing Street spokesperson told journalists.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that although France had not received any request from Ukraine to send fighter jets, “nothing is off limits in principle.”
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden responded "no," when asked by a reporter if he would send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has also ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, according to an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday. "This is out of the question," Pistorius was quoted as saying.