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Ukraine War Updates: Nuclear watchdog “intensifying” Ukraine safety efforts

  • Western defense leaders are meeting in Germany to discuss their continued support for Ukraine as the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion approaches.
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called this a “crucial moment” for the Ukraine Defense Contact Group as the war approaches a “turning point.”
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated the need for more weapons to defend against Russian “terror” in an address to the contact group. Ukraine’s defense minister emphasized the need for air-defense systems, tanks and ammunition.
  • Germany has not made a decision yet on whether to send tanks to Ukraine, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said.
  • The meetings come after U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced a $2.5 billion defense package to support military education, training and other assistance to Ukraine Thursday.
Destroyed buildings in Toretsk, Ukraine

A woman walks by destroyed buildings in the mining town of Toretsk, which is situated under 20 miles from the front lines of fighting on January 20, 2023 in Toretsk, Ukraine.

Live updates have ended.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency said Friday it is “expanding and intensifying” efforts to prevent a nuclear disaster in Ukraine amid the country’s ongoing war with Russia.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly warned about the risk of a nuclear accident over the course of the war. Concerns are especially prevalent in regards to the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and in all of Europe. The ZNPP has come under shelling several times over the course of the war, been occupied by Russian forces and the plant “continues to face daily dangers,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said.

Grossi spoke with Zelensky this week as the agency installed permanent teams across Ukraine at nuclear facilities. At least 11 IAEA experts will be on the ground in Ukraine moving forward, the agency said. Placing the IAEA teams in Ukraine was “an important step forward,” Grossi said, but “the work is far from over.”

Grossi and Zelensky also discussed Grossi’s repeated calls to establish a nuclear safety zone around the ZNPP, which the IAEA said “is essential for preventing a severe nuclear accident.”

“Everybody” is in agreement on the need to protect the ZNPP, Grossi said in a Friday news release issued by the IAEA, but negotiations on how to go about establishing a safety zone are “very complex.”

“I will not stop until the much-needed zone is a reality,” Grossi said. “I will continue my intensive consultations with both Ukraine and the Russian Federation in the coming days and weeks.”

Russia said the number of casualties in the contested Donbass region of Ukraine has quadrupled since Kyiv obtained long-range weapons.

Vasily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, spoke at a UN Security Council meeting Friday.

“As soon as Ukraine began to receive long-range weapons of NATO countries in the summer of 2022, the Kyiv regime had new opportunities for the targeted destruction of the cities of Donbass. Since then, there has been a fourfold increase in civilian casualties and a threefold increase in the destruction of civilian objects,” Nebenzia said.

He said more than two thousand “massive attacks” have been recorded in the region since the end of November.

Since Feb. 17, 2022, Nebenzia said there have been 4,591 civilian casualties, including 154 children, and more than 13,000 residential buildings, 147 medical and 560 educational institutions damaged in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russia called for the meeting to discuss “the systematic war of Ukraine against the residents of Donbass: 2014 and onwards.”

At the meeting, Nebenzia shared what he called photographic evidence of the attacks on Donetsk on Sept. 22, Nov. 5 and Dec. 30 of last year.

“Ukrainian strikes on the cities of the DPR and LPR do not make any military sense: there are no military facilities there, and the front line is quite far away,” he said.

He accused the United States and NATO of being “consciously and deliberately complicit” in Ukraine’s alleged crimes against the people in the Donbass.

Western media places all the blame for the ongoing war on Russia, Nebenzia said, while ignoring “fundamental” facts and pushing Ukrainian propaganda and misinformation.

The Ukrainian government has ordered the creation of a new commission to investigate the deadly helicopter crash that occurred near Kyiv earlier this week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a Wednesday evening address that the Security Service of Ukraine is launching a criminal investigation into the crash. A government commission is now also being formed to conduct an investigation, according to Taras Melnychuk, a government representative in the Ukrainian parliament.

Melnychuk provided some details about the commission’s tasks in a Friday post on Telegram. He wrote that the new commission has been instructed to provide the Cabinet Ministers of Ukraine with a report on its findings by February 18. The report is to cover both the causes of the crash and the steps taken in its aftermath.

“It is recommended that the National Bureau for the Investigation of Aviation Events and Incidents with Civil Aircraft carry out a technical investigation of the corresponding plane crash in accordance with the established procedure,” an English translation of Melnychuk’s Telegram post said.

Meanwhile, the Security Service of Ukraine has said its investigation is assessing the crash from several angles, including whether flight rules were violated, if there could have been a technical malfunction with the helicopter and whether there were any “intentional actions” leading to the crash.

Three top Ukrainian officials, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, were among the 14 people killed when the helicopter crashed into a kindergarten in Brovary on Wednesday. Twenty-five other people were injured, and Zelensky said hundreds of people contributed to search and rescue efforts for nearly nine hours after the crash occurred.

The United States is taking action against North Korea for its ongoing support of Russia’s military operations against Ukraine.

The White House has evidence that North Korea has been providing arms and ammunition to Wagner, a Russian company, amid western sanctions against the Kremlin, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing Friday.

“Because of our sanctions and export controls, Russia is searching for arms from foreign countries, including through Wagner,” he said.

NSC Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby to Kirby outlines actions the U.S. is taking against North Korea and the Wagner Group, a Russian company, for their support of Russia and its invasion of Ukraine.

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 20, 2023

Kirby said North Korean officials have denied this.

The White House released imagery of a North Korean delivery of infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner toward the end of last year.

Kirby said North Korea loaded Russian railcars that traveled to North Korean with shipping containers before returning back to Russia.

He said the arms transfer from North Korea is in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolution, adding that the U.S. shared its intelligence with the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee panel of experts.

North Korea delivered rockets and missiles to Wagner said John Kirby, sharing imagery of five Russian rail cars traveling from Russia to North Korea. US Treasury will designate Wagner as transnational criminal organization.

— Kasım İleri (@kasimileri_) January 20, 2023

“While we assess the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, we do expect that it will continue to to receive North Korean weapons systems,” he said. “We condemn North Korea’s actions and urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately.”

The Treasury Department will designate the Wagner group as “a significant transnational criminal organization,” Kirby said. Additional sanctions against Wagner and its network are expected next week.

Kirby described Wagner of having a ongoing of “serious criminal activity.”

Last month, the Commerce Department designated Wagner as a “military end use,” expanding the entity listing of Wagner to ensure that it cannot access equipment anywhere in the world based on U.S. technology or production equipment.

A Russian missile reportedly hit the Donetsk city of Kramatorsk Friday.

Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said there were three strikes on civilian infrastructure, damaging a kindergarten, a school, a medical clinic and surrounding residential buildings. One person was reportedly killed.

“The necessary measures were taken in advance. Both children and teachers were moved to other places in advance,” he said during a television interview. “Thus, fortunately, we managed to avoid more dire consequences that could have occurred.”

There are between 75,000 and 77,000 people who live in the city, down from the 205,000 residents living there before Russia’s invasion began last February, Kyrylenko said. He added that people are returning to the city slowly.

Kyrylenko said the situation and the region is under control but the front lines remain tense, as Russian shelling and missile strikes continue.

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Three U.S. Senators traveled to Kyiv this week to hold meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials as Russia’s war with Ukraine nears its 11-month mark.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made the trip to Ukraine’s capital city with Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. They discussed “further joint actions for victory & restoration” with Ukrainian officials, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

U.S. support for Ukraine “is unwavering,” Whitehouse said in his tweet. “This week, I’m with a bipartisan group of Senators in Kyiv learning more about how the US can help Ukraine achieve victory.”

Our support for Ukraine is unwavering. This week, I’m with a bipartisan group of Senators in Kyiv learning more about how the US can help Ukraine achieve victory.

— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) January 20, 2023

During the meeting, Zelensky thanked the Senators for helping to coordinate his visit to the U.S. last month and for Congress’ latest aid package, which passed in December.

Zelensky’s office said he also updated Graham, Whitehouse and Blumenthal on the current situation on the war’s front lines and detailed the ways in which Ukrainian troops are fighting back to secure territories temporarily under Russian control.

Russian troops attacked two settlements in the Kherson region on Friday, injuring at least two people.

A 15-year-old boy was injured during Russian shelling in Antonivka, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office. Additional shelling in Beryslav injured another person, Tymoshenko said. Details of that second person’s age and gender were not immediately available, but Tymoshenko said on Telegram that the person had their leg “torn off” in the attack.

Both the boy and the other victim received medical help for treatment of their injuries, Tymoshenko said.

Yaroslav Yanushevich, the governor of the Kherson oblast, said Russian troops shelled the region 90 times on Thursday. Russians shelled the city of Kherson 19 times, he said, with some of the attacks striking residential buildings. At least three people were injured in Kherson earlier this week prior to Friday’s attacks and at least one person was killed, Yanushevich said in a Thursday evening update on Telegram.

In the last week, officials with the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine have alleged Russia committed 1,249 new war crimes, bringing the total number of alleged Russian war crimes and other crimes of aggression since Russia’s invasion began to 65,297. An additional 17,184 crimes against national security have also allegedly been carried out by Russia over the course of the war.

#RussianWarCrimes statistics for the past week: January 13 – 20, 2023. 1 249 new crimes registered. At least 459 children killed, 909 injured (the data without full consideration of places of active hostilities).

— Офіс Генерального прокурора (@GP_Ukraine) January 20, 2023

Ukrainian officials have linked at least 459 child deaths and at least 909 child injuries to the war. The United Nations’ (U.N.) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported slightly lower confirmed numbers of child deaths and injuries, but U.N. officials have said the actual number of civilian casualties is likely higher than the agency’s preliminary tallies due to delays in reporting.

A top U.S. defense official said there is not a lot of time for Ukraine to prepare for their next counteroffensive campaign.

In order to mount a successful counteroffensive, General Mark Milley said Ukraine needs to assemble necessary equipment and get properly trained.

“They have to get equipment married up with people, get trained and get it shipped to Ukraine inside a coherent plan,” he said.

Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the current weather and terrain in Ukraine shortens the window of time to accomplish this task.

“This will be a challenge,” he said. “But we’ve seen Ukraine forces execute at least two offensive operations.”

“For this year it would be very very difficult to militarily eject Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine”

General Mark Milley says ‘Putin should and could end this war today’

📺 Sky 501 and YouTube

— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 20, 2023

From a military standpoint, Milley said this is “a very difficult fight” that stretches across a significant amount of territory. He said the fighting is mostly static right now, with exceptions in Bakhmut and Soledar.

“For this year it would be very very difficult to militarily eject Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he said, adding that it is still possible.

Ukraine would need to obtain the necessary equipment to stabilize the front to launch a tactical operation to liberate as much land as possible, Milley said.

But at the end of the day, Milley said he believes this war will end at the negotiation table. He said Russian and Ukrainian leaders will determine the timing of these peace talks, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin can choose to “end the war today.”

Milley said both Russia and Ukraine have suffered major losses over the course of the war.

He said Russian casualties are well over 100,000, including from their own military and the recruited mercenaries.

“They have really suffered a lot,” he said, nothing Putin’s recent mobilization of 300,000 troops.

Ukraine has also suffered tremendously, Milley said, including the loss of civilians and damage to their infrastructure and economy.

“This is a very bloody war with significant casualties on both sides,” he said.

Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (L) and the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley give a press conference during the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting at the US Air Base in Ramstein, western Germany, on January 20, 2023. ANDRE PAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Several United Nations (U.N.) agencies are working on delivering medical and hygiene supplies to Ukrainians near Soledar, a city near which there has been intense fighting recently between Ukrainian and Russian troops.

Many Ukrainians in the area are in need of medicine and other critical items, which the U.N. agencies have been striving to provide.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) in Ukraine said officials are collaborating with other U.N. agencies to deliver medical supplies to people near Soledar. Money for these medical items came from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and Germany’s embassy in Ukraine, according to the WHO.

The WHO in Ukraine shared photos on social media showing agency workers on Friday unloading boxes of supplies from trucks marked with the agency’s logo.

Hygiene items and supplies of safe drinking water were also being delivered Friday by officials with the U.N.’s Migration Agency (IOM) in Ukraine and UNICEF’s Ukraine arm. The supplies “will help children and families in many villages” in Soledar, UNICEF said on Twitter.

Safe drinking water and hygiene kits containing essential supplies, such as toiletries, will help children and families in many villages in the community of Soledar stay healthy.

— UNICEF Ukraine (@UNICEF_UA) January 20, 2023

The IOM in Ukraine said the supplies it is providing to people in Soledar arrived on Friday and are expected to support more than 800 people.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin boasted about the “deepening coordination” that took place at the 8th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Berlin, Germany Friday.

During a press briefing following the meeting, Austin said the group is “not slowing down” and if confident that the U.S. and its allies are “ready to meet the moment” of this “decisive” period for the war in Ukraine.

.@SecDef: We’ve just concluded the eighth Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting. And it was great to start the new year by deepening our coordination as we work together for Ukraine’s self-defense.

— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) January 20, 2023

He said allies made significant progress in decision to send several “key donations” of air-defense systems and armored vehicles.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom pledged to donate air defense systems, including a Patriot battery from Germany.

The U.S. and the Netherlands also agreed to send Patriot systems to Ukraine.

Canada also said it secured NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) for Ukraine that will “save countless lives,” Austin said.

The U.K. also announced recently that it will send Challenger 2 tanks, the first western main battle tanks in Ukraine, Austin said.

Sweden said it will donate CB90 fighting vehicles and Howitzers. Denmark, Latvia and Estonia all agreed to send Howitzers and ammunition to Ukraine.

Austin said the latest donations are a direct result of the work of the contact group.

The issue of tanks was an area of discussion for the contact group in Berlin, as Germany faces pressure to send armored vehicles to Ukraine.

During the press briefing, Austin reiterated his German counterpart’s comments that no decision has been made on whether Germany will send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

Austin said he has “no announcements” on whether the U.S will send M1 tanks to Ukraine.

“I think you heard the German minister of defense say earlier today that there’s no linkage between providing M1’s [Abrams] and providing Leopards, and I think he was pretty clear about that,” he said. “So this notion of unlocking, in my mind, it’s not an issue.”

He added that supporting Ukraine is “not about a single platform,” but a “combined arms effort.” He said several countries have agreed to supply them with battalions of armored vehicles.

Defense Secretary Austin with German, Ukraine Counterparts

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov prior (L-R) stand together prior a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base on January 20, 2023 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. The group, which coordinates international military support for Ukraine, is meeting as the first nations are beginning to promise the delivery of western main battle tanks to Ukraine. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

If the equipment is employed properly and additional training is completed, Austin believes these “very capable packages” from allies will enable Ukraine to be successful.

“We are focused on making sure Ukraine has the capabilities to be successful right now,” Austin said, as the window of opportunity for Ukraine to begin a new counteroffensive between now and the spring is small.

“It’s not a lot of time,” he said. “We have to put through these capabilities.”

Austin dismissed any doubts about Germany’s leadership or cooperation as an ally in this conflict.

When asked if Germany is doing enough to show leadership, Austin said “yes” and added that “we can all do more.”

He said Germany has contributed a lot to the campaign and continues to open doors to get work done, including hosting trainings for Ukrainian soldiers.

“They have a big oar in the water like the rest of the contact group does, and they are working hand in hand with the rest of our colleagues,” Austin said.

“They are a reliable ally and they’ve been that way for a very long time. I truly believe they’ll continue to be a reliable ally going forward.”

.@SecDef: The members of this Contact Group are standing up for a world where rules matter, and where rights matter…and where sovereignty is respected…and where people can choose their own path, free from tyranny and aggression.

— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) January 20, 2023

Russia is maintaining control of a swath of land down eastern and southern Ukraine Friday, as British officials share new information about the Wagner Group.

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense provided its latest intelligence update on the war in Ukraine Friday, with a new map showing parts of Ukraine under Russian control, shaded in pink.

Those areas include the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which Russia annexed in late September of 2022. This also includes the Crimean Peninsula which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Contested areas are also depicted in stripes on the map, including near Bakhmut, Lyman and the area south of the city of Zaporizhzhia.

With the war now nearing its 11-month mark, war experts have said Russia appears to be planning for a drawn-out conflict. Ukraine and Russia have been fighting recently for control over Bakhmut, and Russian defense officials said Friday that troops now control a village nearby.

The U.K.’s Friday intelligence update focused on Russia’s latest claims about territorial control near Bakmut but on a paramilitary group that now appears to be operating as a legal entity based in St. Petersburg. The organization, which is known as the Wagner Group, identifies its focus as “management consultancy” but is elevating its operations in Ukraine, the U.K.’s defense ministry said.

The organization “almost certainly now commands up to 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign,” U.K. officials said.

CIA Director William Burns recently traveled to Ukraine to share updates on Russia’s anticipated springtime offensive with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to several media reports.

The meeting between Burns and Zelensky happened last week in Kyiv, according to The Washington Post, which was first to report the meeting. Burns is reported to have told Zelensky that President Joe Biden’s administration remains committed to supporting Ukraine’s war effort, a sentiment Biden has repeatedly expressed.

“Director Burns traveled to Kyiv where he met with Ukrainian intelligence counterparts as well as President Zelensky and reinforced our continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression,” a U.S. official with knowledge of the meeting told media outlets on Thursday.

Burns has provided Ukraine with information on Russia’s anticipated military strategies over the course of the war and also warned about a possible attack before the Russian invasion began nearly 11 months ago, according to the Associated Press.

During the most recent meeting, Burns and Ukraine reportedly discussed the potential for future U.S. support under a Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives, the expected duration of the aid package Congress passed in December and anticipated battle decisions Russia will likely make as the war nears its one-year mark and marches into the spring months. U.S. military leaders expect that Russia will begin executing a new offensive in Ukraine in the next few months, according to CNN.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged more military support for Ukraine as Russia prepares for a “long war.”

Stoltenberg made the comments while at a meeting with the US-led Ukraine Defence Contact Group in Ramstein, Germany earlier today.

“Like most wars, this is likely to end at the negotiated table,” Stoltenberg said.

“But what happens in negotiations is directly linked to what happens on the battlefield, so we need to deliver more weapons to Ukraine now.”

The Secretary General warned, however, that Russia shows “no sign of preparing for peace.”

As the war nears the 11-month mark, several countries have recently announced new aid packages and funding for Ukraine. Stoltenberg praised those NATO Allies, while calling for continued supplies of ammunition, weapons, spare parts, maintenance, and training.

“Overall, he stressed that Contact Group countries are providing ‘a massive package of combat capabilities’ for Ukraine’s self defence, and that consultations will continue,” NATO wrote in a statement Friday.

I welcome the significant new package of combat capabilities announced in Ramstein for #Ukraine‘s self-defence. Russia is preparing for new offensives, so it is urgent to step up support to enable Ukraine to win & retake occupied territory.

— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) January 20, 2023

Top U.S defense officials are set to hold a press briefing following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Berlin, Germany Friday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley will speak to reporters soon at Ramstein Air Base.

During his opening statements at the defense meeting, Austin said the group is strengthening its unity and that the U.S. and its allies will support Ukraine’s self-defense “for as long as it takes.”

It’s always a pleasure meeting with my 🇺🇦 Ukrainian counterpart & friend, Minister @oleksiireznikov. We’re proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, our partners & allies to support Ukraine’s self-defense. A collective of nearly 50 nations of goodwill are united behind you.

— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) January 20, 2023

He said this is a “crucial moment” in the war, as Russia is running out of ammunition and suffering “significant battle losses” but is regrouping.

“This is not a moment to slow down. It’s a time to dig deeper,” Austin said. “So we won’t let up.”

The press briefing is set to begin at 10:30 am ET and will stream live on the Pentagon website.

During the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Berlin, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany has not yet made a decision on whether to send tanks to Ukraine.

He told reporters that “we all cannot say today when a decision will be made and what that decision will be on Leopard tanks.”

Pistorius said that Germany doesn’t “fear anything” but has to “balance all the pros and cons” before they decide.

“I am very sure there will be a decision in the short term,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “know how the decision will look.”

German officials indicated that they won’t send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless the United States also agrees to send its M1 Abrams tanks.

“If America will decide that they will bring battle tanks to Ukraine, that will make it easier for Germany,” German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck told Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this week.

The Pentagon said Thursday that it “just doesn’t make sense” for the U.S. to provide M1 Abrams tanks “at this moment.”

“Ultimately this is Germany’s decision. It’s their sovereign decision on what security assistance they will provide,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Thursday. “So we won’t be able to speak to them but I think that we are certainly doing what we can to support Ukraine in what they need.”

Pistorius said Friday that Germany is “ready to move quickly” once a decision is reached.