Past 24 hours in the war zone
- Russian hybrid forces launch 10 attacks on Ukrainian positions in Donetsk, Luhansk and Mariupol sectors, including heavy artillery and weapons banned by Minsk.
- 2 Ukrainian soldiers wounded; both are in serious condition.
- Russian-led militants deny & delay OSCE SMM passage at Zolote, Molodizhne & Stanytsia Luhanska, Luhansk Obl.
- UN delivers over 28 tons of humanitarian aid to Donbas — construction materials, medical supplies & computer equipment
- “We clearly understand that Russia should not violate the sovereignty of Ukraine, and we defend its territorial integrity. We are working with our allies in this regard and we have very clearly stated the readiness to impose sanctions that have not been seen before,” US Vice President Kamala Harris
- US and Russian officials will hold security talks on 10 January. Russia and NATO will hold separate talks on 12 January, while Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will meet on January 13.
- Kyiv’s mayor Vitaliy Klitschko has announced the creation of the city’s territorial defense headquarters today to coordinate actions of army, police, and territorial defense volunteers in case of a Russian invasion. There are 500 objects of critical infrastructure in the city.
- The Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, says that under no circumstances can Russia’s demands for “security guarantees” be accepted, and in principle, it makes no sense to hold such talks with Russia.
- Out of 370 NATO military planes takeoffs to intercept foreign planes, 290 cases were because of Russian planes, Der Spiegel writes
US Air Force’s best surveillance planes conduct mission in Ukraine
A pair of the US Air Force’s best surveillance planes E-8C and an RC-135V flew over Ukraine fewer than 40 miles from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The planes conducted intelligence missions, screening 250 km around.
The mission was not only about intelligence data but also a US statement to the Putin regime. E-8s and RC-135s are visible to the public on flight-tracking websites only when they fly with their transponders on. The US Air Forces could have ordered the crews to turn off their transponders for the Monday mission but decided to make it publicly available.
Belarus announces a new draft constitution to tighten self-proclaimed Belarusian President Lukashenka’s grip on power
Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka published draft constitutional amendments that would allow him to further strengthen his authoritarian rule and remain in office until 2035. The changes also weaken the powers of the country’s parliament, and remove the mentions of the non-nuclear and neutral statuses of Belarus from the constitution.
Security talks between US and Russia
US and Russian officials will hold security talks on January 10. The bilateral talks will focus on nuclear arms control and Ukraine, AFP reported.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov expressed hope that proposed by Russia “security agreements” will be discussed.
In turn, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that accepting Russia’s demands would be the greatest humiliation for NATO since the Alliance’s inception. He also said he doesn’t believe the United States or NATO will agree to Russia’s demand to halt eastward expansion or withdraw from Central Europe.
“Not only is there a demand that NATO not expand, there is also a demand to cease NATO’s military presence in NATO member states,” Kuleba stressed.
Russian military claimed to be withdrawing part of its troops deployed on Ukrainian border
On 25 December, the command of Russia’s Southern Military District announced the return of more than 10,000 servicemen to their permanent bases from a month-long “field training” at training grounds, many of which are situated in the regions adjacent to Ukraine or lying not far from the Ukrainian border, including Rostov Oblast, Stavropol, Krasnodar Krai, and also Russian-occupied Crimea of Ukraine.
According to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, 122,000 Russian troops were positioned at a distance of 200 kilometers and 143,500 troops at a distance of 400 kilometers from Ukraine’s border.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen declares EU support for Ukraine
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche that EU members have agreed upon sanctions that should be imposed on Russia should it invade Ukraine any further. She also emphasized that only citizens of Ukraine should determine the country’s foreign policy, including NATO and EU membership. She said that current EU Association agreements “need to be studied and deepened to make trade more profitable for Ukraine, as well as for Georgia and Moldova.”
Upgraded military An-178 plane was presented by Ukraine but still with Russian engines
On 28 November, Ukraine’s state defense holding Ukroboronprom presented an upgraded version of its 2015 model of the An-178 military transport plane. The presented plane with number 001 is an experimental one while three more were ordered for Ukraine’s military in 2020 and are currently under construction. The achievement of Ukraine’s military is, however, only partial since the planes still require Russian engines purchased via complex schemes through intermediary firms.
US will allocate $20 million for Ukraine’s border guards
The project will be implemented in 2022. It will help meet the priority needs of border units.
“The result of our cooperation was a new International Technical Assistance Project. Given the old and new challenges, it is aimed at securing the northern and eastern borders of Ukraine… Modern video recording and unmanned systems, individual protection for border guards, as well as ensuring material means for their location in the field, strengthening transport and communications – these are the needs we have agreed with our strategic partners,” the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine reports in the statement.
Crimean Tatar activist Nariman Ametov says FSB tortured him with electric shocks
Nariman Ametov, a Crimean Tatar activist in occupied Crimea, told about how the Russian FSB has used electricity to extract “confessions” from him. These “confessions” were related to the same case in which Crimean Tatar leader Nariman Dzhelyal is accused of fabricating an explosion of a gas pipe — a case which critics say the Kremlin manufactured to retaliate Dzhelyal’s participation in the Crimean Platform, an international initiative Ukraine organized to ramp up international support for the de-occupation of Crimea.
Closure of Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights watchdog
Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the shuttering of Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights watchdog, for repeatedly violating the country’s foreign agent law. The group’s closure rounds out a year in which Russian authorities have cracked down on nearly all forms of dissent, from Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s opposition groups to independent news outlets and rights organizations.
Amid an earlier hearing in November, the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia issued a joint statement condemning efforts to shut down the group. A petition in support of the organization had been signed by over 138,000 people, the Moscow times reports.
Russia’s liquidation of Memorial sends ‘a clear message that repression was needed in Soviet times, and is now’, writes Halya Coynash.
We reported earlier on why Russia seeks to shut down its top human rights NGO Memorial.
Russia extends prison sentence of 65-year-old Russian historian of Stalin’s terror to 15 years
On 27 December, judge Yekaterina Khomyakova Petrozavodsk City Court (Karelia, Russia) extended Yury Dmitriev‘s 13-year prison sentence by two years. The 65-year-old prominent Russian historian of Stalin’s terror and human rights defender now has to serve 15 years in a maximum-security penal colony. He researched political repressions of the USSR and headed a regional department of the Memorial human rights center. The historian is accused of “child pornography.” He is regarded as a political prisoner by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and other leading human rights organizations.
Pope called for dialog and cautioned against fresh outbreaks of war in the east of Ukraine
Meanwhile, in his Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” blessing and message to the faithful delivered on 25 December in the Vatican, Pope Francis cautioned against fresh violence in the long-simmering conflict in Ukraine, saying,
“In Ukraine, prevent fresh outbreaks of a long-festering conflict.”
Zelenskyy surrounded himself with “advisers from his old comedy troupe” instead of the military and academia
“President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former actor, has surrounded himself with advisers from his old comedy troupe. No kidding,” Andrew Kramer wrote in his critical article on The New York Times titled “As Russian Threat Looms, Ukraine’s Government Is No Laughing Matter.”
Culture & History
103 years ago, in December 1918, Ukraine’s largest southern port city of Odesa was a French province for a little over 100 days. The French wanted to sweep away the Bolsheviks but quickly became confused about who fought with whom and for whom in Ukraine. These unique photos bring us back to that time.
First Ukrainian movie on Netflix
First Ukrainian movie released on Netflix now! The creative documentary Home Games by Ukrainian director Alisa Kovalenko tells the story of Alina Shylova from Kyiv, who gets a chance to break out of poverty thanks to football. She has to start playing for Ukrainian national team but life challenges her: her mother dies, leaving two children.
The film was made with the support of the Ukrainian State Film Agency and co-produced with France, and Poland. The film was already added to the streaming service catalog on 23 December and should soon be available online.
Earlier this year, Netflix released the first film with Ukrainian dubbing, “Outside the Wire.” According to Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksand Tkachenko, several Ukrainian companies have partnered with Netflix this year and we should see more Ukrainian and Ukrainian-dubbed films on the platform.
Controversy over Emily in Paris Netflix series
The movie release is especially important in the context of the controversy over Emily in the Paris Netflix Series. A Ukrainian woman Petra is depicted there as a thief who likes free-of-charge goods and fears deportation. The film raised a wave of public outcry in Ukraine for creating bad stereotypes about Ukrainians. Minister of culture Oleksandr Tkachenko even sent a letter to Netflix. He said the response was “quite diplomatic,” and “we agreed that we will be in closer contact in 2022 to prevent such cases.”
NATO’s defining moment is now or never
While NATO is not obliged to defend Ukraine, it is committed to defending itself. That responsibility just happens to start in Ukraine, writes military analyst Hans Petter Midttun about NATO’s warranted response to Russia