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Ukraine should start EU entry talks ‘this year’, Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday his war-torn country deserved to start EU accession talks already “this year”. Follow our blog to see how the day’s events unfolded.. All times are in Paris time (GMT+1). 

Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s speech at an event marking the Soviet victory over Nazi forces in Stalingrad, in which he said that Russia is threatened by German tanks like it was during the Second World War, was “extraordinarily delusional”, said FRANCE 24 Chief Foreign Editor Robert Parsons. “Let’s remember Russia invaded Ukraine […]; it is Russian troops, Russian tanks, Russian aircraft that are on the territory of Ukraine.”

Ukraine is defending itself with “weapons supplied by the West, but it’s not the same as to say Ukraine [is] attacking Russia”, Parsons underlined.

9:09pm: Ukraine should start EU entry talks ‘this year’, Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday his war-torn country deserved to start EU accession talks already “this year”.

“I believe that Ukraine deserves to start negotiations on EU membership this year,” Zelensky said on Thursday evening ahead of the high-profile EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on Friday.

8:08pm: Ukraine investigating senior military officials for suspected corruption

Ukrainian authorities are investigating senior military officials in two separate cases of suspected corruption, officials said on Thursday, part of a crackdown on wrongdoing before talks with European Union leaders.

The EU has made addressing corruption a requirement for Ukraine joining the 27-member bloc, a process that takes years.

The two sides are due to meet in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Friday, a symbolic trip by EU leaders meant to highlight support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s February 24, 2022, invasion nears.

5:05pm: UK minister says ‘not ruling out’ sending jets to Ukraine

The UK defence minister on Thursday said he did not rule out supplying Ukraine with fighter jets while cautioning they would not be a “magic wand” in the war.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told journalists: “On the process of jets, I’ve been pretty clear. One thing I’ve learned over the last year is don’t rule anything in, don’t rule anything out.”

Kyiv has requested American-made F-16 warplanes to help repel the Russian invasion.

The United States has ruled out any deliveries of F-16s to Ukraine for now, but other partners including Poland have shown themselves more open to the idea

5pm: New Czech leader urges ‘no limits’ on aid to Ukraine

Czech president-elect Petr Pavel, a former NATO general, said Thursday there should be “no limits” on military aid to war-ravaged Ukraine, urging allies to show more courage.

Pavel, who led the NATO military committee from 2015-2018, won his country’s presidential ballot over the weekend and will be sworn in next month.

In an interview with AFP, the 61-year-old said the West should provide Ukraine with all types of weapons except nuclear arms as it battles Russia’s invasion.

4:01pm: Russia ‘again’ threatened by German tanks, Putin says at WWII Battle of Stalingrad commemoration

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia was being threatened by German tanks, like during World War II, speaking at an event marking the Soviet victory over Nazi forces in Stalingrad.

“It’s unbelievable but true. We are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks,” Putin said, adding that Russia had an “answer” to any country that threatened it.

3:11pm: Zelensky warns of Russia ‘revenge’ as EU’s Von der Leyen visits

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday warned that Russia was building up its troops to take “revenge” on the West nearly a year into Moscow’s invasion.

He levelled the warning in Kyiv alongside EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said the 27-member bloc was looking to finalise another package of sanctions against Russia by February 24, exactly one year since Russia invaded.

“Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine, but against a free Europe and the free world,” Zelensky told a joint press conference with von der Leyen

1:59pm: Russia’s Medvedev says Moscow to ‘significantly’ increase arms supplies in 2023

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Russia’s arms suppliers would “significantly” increase their deliveries of military hardware during 2023.

Medvedev, who is now deputy head of the powerful Security Council and heads a government commission on arms production, said new supplies would help Russia inflict a “crushing defeat” over Ukraine on the battlefield

1:57pm: Russia regrouping troops to take ‘revenge’ on ‘free world’, Zelensky says

Moscow is re-grouping troops to take “revenge” on Europe and Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday, as Kyiv urges allies to provide longer range weapons to help fight Russia’s invasion.

“Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine, but against free Europe and the free world,” Zelensky said at a press conference attended by EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

1:50pm: Moldova hits back at statements from Russia’s Lavrov

Moldova said on Thursday it had chosen its own future as “part of the free world”, dismissing a suggestion by Russia’s foreign minister that the West was trying to turn the tiny country into Moscow’s enemy.

In an interview with Russian state television, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moldova was among former Soviet republics that he accused the West of trying to turn into enemies of Russia.

“We categorically reject the statement by the head of Russian diplomacy, which does not correspond to reality, and is part of the already well-known threatening rhetoric of Russian diplomacy,” Moldova’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The European Union accepted Moldova and neighbouring Ukraine as candidate members last June.

“We would like to remind the Russian side that the path Moldova is following is the path of accession to the EU. Moldova has clearly chosen its future, and this future is part of the free world,” the ministry said in its statement.

1:46pm: Sending British jets to Ukraine impractical due to long training time, says PM spokesman

The quickest a pilot could learn to fly a British fighter jet is 35 months, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s spokesman said on Thursday, elaborating on the practical issues Britain has cited in supplying Ukraine with jets to fight Russia.

“We will continue listening to the Ukrainians and consider what is right for the long term, but – if helpful to understand the situation – the fastest training programme for a new pilot is approximately 35 months,” the spokesman told reporters. “The current UK fast jet training programme takes five years.”

On Wednesday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Britain had not made a “solid decision” not to send its fighter jets to Ukraine but does not think it is the right approach at the moment.

1:10pm: Russia says it has gained ground north of Bakhmut

Russia’s Defence Ministry said in its daily update on Thursday that its forces had defeated Ukrainian troops around the settlement of Vasylivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, to the north of Bakhmut, which has been the focus of intense fighting for months.

FRANCE 24 was unable to verify events on the ground.

12:58pm: Belarus says joint air force drills with Russia finished

Belarus‘s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that it had completed two-week long joint air force drills with Russia’s military.

A flurry of joint military activity in Belarus has prompted fears in Kyiv and the West that Moscow could be preparing to drag its close ally further into the conflict in Ukraine.

Minsk said a wide range of tasks had been completed during the drills, which it added were “exclusively defensive in nature”.

12:51pm: EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary 

The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday. 

“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February – exactly one year since the invasion started – we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation”, estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

“The whole of the European Union is in this with Ukraine for the long haul,” von der Leyen added.

12:48pm: EU chief ‘comforted’ by Ukraine’s anti-graft campaign

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday praised efforts by Ukraine to stamp out graft in the wake of several public probes and high-profile dismissals linked to embezzlement. 

“I’m comforted to see that your anti-corruption bodies are on alert and effective in detecting corruption cases … I also commend you on reacting so rapidly at the political level to make sure that the fight against corruption is delivering tangible results and is further stepped up,” she told a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

12:38pm: Ukraine’s Zelensky calls for more Russia sanctions at EU meeting

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Thursday for more punitive measures against Russia by the European Union and said he had discussed a new EU sanctions package with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Zelensky, speaking at a joint news conference in Kyiv with von der Leyen, said the speed of the EU sanctions campaign against Russia had “slightly slowed down” and should be stepped up.

10:49am: Norway to raise spending from wealth fund to aid Ukraine, 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 vows to overshadow events organised by West to mark anniversary of invasion

In an interview with Russian state TV on Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had plans to overshadow pro-Ukrainian events arranged by Western and allied countries around the world to mark the anniversary of Russia sending its armed forces into Ukraine on February 24.

Lavrov said Russian diplomats were working on something to ensure Western-led events in New York and elsewhere were “not the only ones to gain the world’s attention”, without providing details.

Lavrov added 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.

Two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing a new package of military aid worth $2.2 billion which is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.

Russia’s foreign minister insisted that Moscow had everything it needed for the conflict, and had not asked for any help from its ex-Soviet allies – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – for its military campaign.

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. 

9:00am: 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.

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”. 

SourceFrance 24
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