President Volodymyr Zelenskiy presents award to a Ukrainian soldier in the frontline city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, December 20, 2022
Source: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1908 GMT:
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is in Washington. He posted on Telegram upon his arrival:
I will hold a series of negotiations to strengthen the resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine. In particular, we will discuss bilateral cooperation between Ukraine and the United States of America with US President Joseph Biden.
Next year, we must return the Ukrainian flag and freedom to our entire land, to all our people.
Zelensky has arrived in DC and shared these images on Telegram. “I am in Washington today to thank the American people, the President and the Congress for their much-needed support. And also to continue cooperation to bring our victory closer,” he wrote. pic.twitter.com/K7hHI28ymx
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) December 21, 2022
UPDATE 1901 GMT:
Two Italian journalists, Claudio Locatelli and Niccolò Celesti, say they were “intentionally targeted” by Russian armed forces in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine near the frontline.
Locatelli said their car, signposted as press, was attacked from the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnieper River:
There was no one else around. Taking into account the location of the troops and the dynamic of shelling, It was an intended attack. There is no excuse for shooting at the press.
The car was struck once, slightly injuring Locatelli: “If I had opened the door I would have lost a leg or worse. Luckily, we’re safe and sound.”
UPDATE 1855 GMT:
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has confirmed an additional $1.85 billion in additional military assistance for Ukraine, including the Patriot air defence system.
The package earmarks $1 billion for “expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities” and $850 million in security assistance.
UPDATE 1510 GMT:
At a photo-opportunity meeting with senior defence officials, Vladimir Putin has implicitly acknowledged the problems with his mass mobilization in September.
The mobilization, seeking 300,000 personnel, did not check Ukraine’s advance in the south of the country and has failed to seize territory in the east. At the same time, it provoked criticism within Russia as men were swept up despite their age, mental or physical condition, or aptitude for service. Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled the country.
I ask the Ministry of Defense to be attentive to all civilian initiatives, including taking into account criticism and responding correctly, in a timely manner.
It is clear that the reaction of people who see problems — and there are always problems in such major, complex work — can be emotional, but we need to hear those who do not hush up the existing problems, but strive to contribute to their solution.
But far from signalling an end to mobilization, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu indicated a change of approach to expand the military from from its current 1 million personnel to 1.5 million.
Shoygu said the armed forces should have 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers. To raise that number, the age for mandatory military service will be expanded to 18-30, from conscription’s present range of 18-27.
Putin promised to provide “everything that the army asks for”. He insisted that the goals of the “special military operation” in Ukraine could be achieved without damage to the Russian economy or social services, and played down casualties as “a common tragedy”.
Putin says Russia observes no limits on military funding. "The country and the government will give everything that the army asks for. Everything." pic.twitter.com/hywU7lKgX8
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) December 21, 2022
UPDATE 1057 GMT:
“Numerous officials” are saying that there is no conclusive evidence to attribute responsibility for explosions damaging Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in late September.
Russia has been suspected of the detonations, amid Vladimir Putin’s threat to cut off gas supplies to Europe. But one European official, echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries, said, “There is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage.”
Investigators have gone through debris and analyzed explosives residue recovered from the four leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.
An official with the German government said explosives appear to have been placed on the outside of the structures.
UPDATE 0908 GMT:
Russia’s Justice Ministry has filed for a court order to shut down the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the country’s most prominent human rights organizations.
The Ministry claimed that the Group had violated unspecified “legal requirements” while carrying out its activities.
The Group was founded in 1976 by Russian dissidents led by Soviet physicist Yuri Orlov. Taking its name from the 1975 Helsinki Accords on Human Rights, it soon led civil society in exposing human rights abuses in the Soviet Union.
The Group’s activism includes requesting the transfer of those held in pre-trial detention to house arrest, calling for an amnesty of prisoners, and urging the state to protect journalists.
To avoid being labeled a foreign agent in 2012, the group announced that it would no longer accept any funding from outside Russia to finance its work.
In March, just after the start of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, a Russian court order the dissolution of another prominent rights group, Memorial, which was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In an interview with the independent Russian outlet Meduza, the Group’s Executive Director Svetlana Astrakhantseva says:
It has become harder for us as people because our country has unleashed a war….
Priorities on the public agenda have gone diametrically away from the human rights side. Now, what is mainly discussed is what is connected with aggression, and ways to stop it — but the question of the value of human life and his rights has been completely forgotten.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will visit Washington on Wednesday, meeting President Joe Biden and his national security advisors and addressing a joint session of the US Congress.
The journey is Zelenskiy’s first outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24, although the President has regularly addressed foreign legislatures by video and met national leaders — but not Biden — in Kyiv.
On my way to the US to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of 🇺🇦. In particular, @POTUS and I will discuss cooperation between 🇺🇦 and 🇺🇸. I will also have a speech at the Congress and a number of bilateral meetings.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) December 21, 2022
Congress will soon vote on a $1.7 trillion budget which includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine, exceeding Biden’s $37 billion request. Biden is announcing another $2 billion in military aid, including advanced Patriot air defense missiles to Ukraine to help deal with waves of Russian missile and drone attacks.
Biden added in a statement, “We will train Ukrainian forces on how to operate the Patriot missile battery in a third country. This will take some time, but Ukrainian troops will take that training back to their country to operate this battery.”
A “senior administration official” told reporters Biden will not press Zelenskiy to enter negotiations with Vladimir Putin, “The President is not coming with a message that is about pushing or prodding or poking Zelenskiy in any way. This is going to be a message of solidarity and support, coordination and alignment and making sure that we are very much putting Ukraine in the best possible position to defend its interests and secure its objectives.”
Inviting Zelenskiy to address Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote:
America and the world are in awe of the heroism of the Ukrainian people. In the face of Putin’s horrific atrocities, Ukrainian freedom fighters have inspired the world with an iron will and an unbreakable spirit — fighting back against Russia’s brutal, unjustified invasion….
The fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself. We look forward to hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination.
In a call on December 11, Biden invited Zelenskiy to Washington to talk through forthcoming battlefield operations and US support. The topic of how much support will be provided — given Zelenskiy’s call for longer-range weapons — is likely to be the lead item on the agenda.
Zelenskiy in Frontline City of Bakhmut
On Tuesday, in a high-profile sign of Ukraine’s resistance, Zelenskiy visited the frontline city of Bakhmut in the Donestk region in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has tried for seven months to overrun Bakhmut, which had a pre-invasion population of about 70,000 but now has only 12,000 civilians.
The city has little strategic importance after Ukraine’s counter-offensive in September liberated all of neighboring Kharkiv Province and part of Donetsk. However, Russia has continued to attack, with heavy losses on both side.
Zelenskiy met military representatives and handed out awards to soldiers. He posted on Telegram:
Bakhmut Fortress. Our people. Unconquered by the enemy. Who, with their bravery, prove that we will endure and will not give up what’s ours.
Ukraine is proud of you. I am proud of you! Thank you for the courage, resilience and strength shown in repelling the enemy attacks.