Moscow sneaks towards Bakhmut amid heavy fighting
Russia claimed on Tuesday it had captured the village of Blagodatne, just north of Bakhmout in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia have been fighting a vicious battle for several weeks over control of the city, which Moscow considers key to its conquest of the prized Donbas region.
In its daily briefing, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that “Blagodatne had been liberated” following an offensive by “voluntary assault units”, which were supported by aircraft and artillery.
Russia uses the term volunteer as a synonym for paramilitary forces, such as Wagner Group, operating in Ukraine.
Evguéni Prigojine, boss of the notorious mercenary force, claimed his men took the village on Saturday, although this was denied by Kiev.
The Russian army and Wagner have been trying since the summer to take Bakhmout, a pre-conflict town of 70,000 – so far without success.
For several weeks, Moscow’s soldiers have intensified their offensive to encircle the city and take the city of Soledar in January.
But the fighting has come at a high price, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.
Lithuania accuses Russian embassies as ‘propaganda institutions’
Lithuania’s foreign minister on Tuesday urged EU countries not to host Russian ambassadors amid heightened diplomatic tensions between the Baltic states and Moscow.
“There is no point in having… an ambassador from Russia in a European capital,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Riga.
“In most cases, it is no longer a diplomatic institution, but a propaganda institution that covers up war crimes and generally promotes a genocidal agenda,” he stressed.
Lithuania expelled its Russian ambassador in April 2022 after the discovery of massive civilian graves in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.
Ukraine’s western allies have described these discoveries as evidence of war crimes, although Russia denies this.
Last week, compatriot Estonia expelled its Russian ambassador after the Kremlin declared their Estonian ambassador persona non grata.
“We respect the principle of reciprocity in relations with Russia,” Estonia’s foreign ministry said at the time, adding that the Russian ambassador must leave before February 7.
Latvia, the third Baltic state, announced shortly afterwards that it would also expel its Russian representative in solidarity with Estonia.
The US accuses Russia of violating the nuclear treaty
Washington on Tuesday accused Russia of failing to respect a nuclear disarmament agreement known as New Start.
US diplomats criticized Moscow for suspending nuclear inspections and canceling planned talks under the agreement.
But they did not accuse their Russian counterparts of building nuclear arsenals beyond agreed limits.
With their new majority in the House of Representatives, the US Republicans had asked the country’s top diplomat whether Russia was violating the disarmament treaty.
“Russia is not fulfilling its obligations under the New Start to facilitate inspection activities on its territory,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Last year, Moscow announced it was postponing a meeting between Russia and the US on nuclear inspections scheduled for late November, accusing Washington of “hostility” and “toxicity”.
Relations between the two nuclear powers are at their lowest point in recent history, fueled by the outbreak of fighting in Ukraine.
Immediately after his election in January 2021, US President Joe Biden extended New Start until 2026.
Signed in 2010, it limits the pair’s nuclear stockpiles to a maximum of 1,550 warheads, a reduction of nearly 30% from previous limits set in 2002. It also sets the maximum number of launchers and heavy bombers at 800.
Kiev denounces the Croatian president for comments about Crimea
Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Tuesday criticized Croatian President Zoran Milanovic for saying Crimea would never again be under Ukrainian control.
Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and Kiev has said it will not give up efforts to regain control of the region.
In remarks on Monday outlining his objection to Zagreb’s provision of military aid to Kiev, Milanovic said it was “clear that Crimea will never again be part of Ukraine”.
“We consider the statements made by the President of Croatia, which questions the territorial integrity of Ukraine, to be unacceptable,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, wrote on Facebook.
In the same statement, Nikolenko thanked the Croatian government and people for their support for Ukraine since the Russian invasion last February. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has openly expressed his support for Ukraine.
“We deeply appreciate and thank the Government of Croatia and the Croatian people for their steadfast support to the Ukrainians in the fight against Russian aggression,” Nikolenko wrote.
Ukraine insists on Western fighter jets
Kiev on Tuesday received support from the Baltic states and Poland in their search for Western fighter jets, though there are no signs that larger countries such as the US and UK will change their stance and supply Ukraine with fighter jets.
“Ukraine needs fighter jets… missiles, tanks. We must act,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said at a press conference with his Baltic and Polish counterparts in the Latvian capital of Riga.
These countries, which lie on NATO’s eastern flank, feel particularly threatened by Russia and have strongly advocated military aid.
Several Western leaders have expressed concern that supplying fighter jets could escalate the nearly year-long conflict and draw them deeper into the war.
Such fighter jets could give Ukraine a big boost, but countering the huge Russian air force would still be a big challenge.
Officials in Kiev have repeatedly urged allies to send fighter jets, saying they are essential to challenge Russian air superiority and ensure the success of future counter-offensives led by Western battle tanks.
Asked on Tuesday about Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated the Kremlin’s view that “NATO has long been directly involved in a hybrid war against Russia.”
The Russian military will “take all necessary measures to derail the implementation of Western plans,” he added.
Both Ukraine and Russia are said to be building up their arsenal for an expected offensive in the coming months. The war has largely stalled on the battlefield during the winter.