Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) is greeted by European leaders after he dropped his veto of the EU’s aid package for Ukraine, Brussels, Belgium, February 1, 2024 (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1812 GMT:
Ukrainian forces damaged at least three of Russia’s warplanes at the Belbek military airfield near Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, says Ukraine Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat.
Ukraine attacked the airfield early Wednesday with French-made SCALP and UK-made Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles (see Wednesday’s Original Entry).
Ihnat confirmed casualties among Russian military personnel. He took apart the Russian Defense Ministry’s claims that it shot down all of the missiles headed toward Crimea and that there was “no damage to aviation equipment”: “The best confirmation, of course, is satellite images that are already available on the internet, where you can see something in detail.”
Russian military bloggers said five missiles hit the airfield.
UPDATE 1508 GMT:
Russia’s Elections Commission has indicated that it will disqualify the candidacy of Boris Nadezhdin, who has criticized Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, in March’s Presidential vote.
The commission claimed it found “dead souls” among the more than 100,000 signatures of support submitted by Nadezhdin.
Nikolai Bulayev, the deputy head of the commission, said:
There are errors that elicit surprise. When we see dozens and dozens of people who are no longer alive leaving signatures, the question arises about the purity of ethical norms, including by signature collectors.
To some extent, the candidate is directly involved.
Nadezhdin, a former aide in the Kremlin who has positioned himself as an economic liberal, has been summoned to the commission on Monday for a review of the supposed “errors”.
His effort to make the ballot has gained international attention, with thousands of Russians standing for hours in freezing cold to sign petitions for the candidacy. However, the polling firm Levada estimates he will only received 2% to 4% of the vote if he is allowed to stand.
The commission has already disqualified another critic of Putin’s invasion, Yekaterina Duntsova, declaring alleged errors in her paperwork such as spelling mistakes.
Duntsova and others have revised their grassroots campaign to support Nadezhdin. He also received support from allies of imprisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
UPDATE 1102 GMT:
The Ukraine Air Force says it destroyed 11 of 24 Iran-made attack drones launched by Russia overnight.
Another seven UAVs failed to reach their targets, the air force said.
The intercepted drones were over the Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Kirovohrad, and Kharkiv regions.
The attacks trapped 113 miners underground for hours in Kryvyi Rih, damaging power lines and briefly cutting the supply of electricity to about 100,000 people (see 0919 GMT).
UPDATE 0932 GMT:
Ukraine has sunk another Russian warship, the corvette Ivanovets, near Russia-occupied Crimea.
Multiple sea drones attacked the corvette early Wednesday. Ukranian military intelligence published video, culminating with the Ivanovets listing, exploding, and sinking.
🔥 «Івановєц» на дні ― внаслідок спецоперації ГУР МО знищено ракетний корабель ворога
— Defence intelligence of Ukraine (@DI_Ukraine) February 1, 2024
The Ukraine Defense Ministry said: “As a result of a number of direct hits to the hull, the corvette was damaged, rolled to the stern, and sank. The value of the ship is approximately $60 million to $70 million.”
Russian military bloggers and western officials supported the claims.
The Ivanovets is a small missile warship that usually holds a crew of about 40 people. Casualties have yet to be confirmed.
Russian State TV tried to play down the importance of the warship, but Ukrainian officials noted how it was hailed as a state-of-the-art vessel when it was launched in 2017.
A 2017 report of russian TV on 🇷🇺 vessel „Ivanovets“, destroyed yesterday by Ukraine. Russia claimed immediately it was real small & had no military value. But…
— olexander scherba🇺🇦 (@olex_scherba) February 2, 2024
Since last summer, Ukraine has carrying out a series of strikes on Russia’s naval forces, including warships, port facilities, and the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea’s Sevastapol.
The attacks have broken Russia’s grip on the Black Sea, enabling the resumption of exports of grain and other essentials from Ukrainian ports. Moscow has withdrawn most of its fleet from Crimea to Novorossiysk on the Russian mainland.
UPDATE 0919 GMT:
All 113 miners trapped by a Russian drone strike on south-central Ukraine have been rescued.
The Russians fired Iran-made UAVs on southern and central Ukraine overnight. In Kryvyi Rih, they damaged an electrical substation, causing power outages, and threatening the miners about 3:30 a.m.
Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the Kryvyi Rih defense council, said, “All 113 miners are on the surface. Thank you to the mine rescuers, the State Emergency Service, the management and labor teams of KZHRK (Kryvyi Rih Iron Ore Plant) and Arcelor.”
The Energy Ministry said about 10 a.m. that problems with energy supply, affecting 100,000 users, had been resolved.
Russia also targeted the Kirovohrad region and neighboring areas. No significant damage or casualties have been reported.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Ending weeks of obstruction by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the European Union has unanimously authorized a €50 billion fund through 2027 for Ukraine.
Orbán vetoed the aid in December and threatened to do again in Thursday’s emergency session in Brussels. But in the end, he gave way after minor amendments by the rest of the 27-nation bloc.
The European Council agreed to an annual debate on the Ukraine Facility. If needed, in two years the European Council will invite the Commission to make a proposal for review. It also added a line about reviewing the Orbán Government’s approach to rule of law — a long-standing issue that has led the EU to hold up €30 billion in support money for Budapest — objectively and fairly.
Orbán gave way after a series of meetings on Wednesday night and Thursday morning with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni; French President Emmanuel Macron; German Chancellor Olaf Scholz; and the European Commission and Council heads Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
Officials said the climactic gathering was with leaders just before 9:30 a.m. One summarized:
[Orbán] had been told by sherpas and in phone calls that nobody was supporting him and he wanted to test that face to face. He got his answer. He was completely isolated.”
A “senior source” said, “I think Orbán was not seeing any more options. He cashed in.”
Michel announced just before 11:30 a.m.:
We have a deal. #Unity
All 27 leaders agreed on an additional €50 billion support package for Ukraine within the EU budget.
This locks in steadfast, long-term, predictable funding for #Ukraine.
EU is taking leadership & responsibility in support for Ukraine; we know what is…
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) February 1, 2024
Latvian Prime Minister Evika Siliņa echoed:
Agreement! 27 #EU countries have fulfilled our commitment to provide #Ukraine with predictable, long-term support of 50 billion euros. This will strengthen 🇺🇦 in its fight for freedom. Excellent news for the security of #Latvia and all of Europe. 🇱🇻🇪🇺 pic.twitter.com/YeXhRQ2nxG
— Evika Siliņa 🇱🇻🇺🇦 (@EvikaSilina) February 1, 2024
Zelenskiy: “This Proves Strong EU Unity”
Ukraine’s leaders responded with relief and gratitude. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy emphasized “long-term economic and financial stability, which is no less important than military assistance and sanctions pressure on Russia”:
Grateful to @CharlesMichel and EU leaders for establishing the €50 billion Ukraine Facility for 2024-2027.
It is very important that the decision was made by all 27 leaders, which once again proves strong EU unity.
Continued EU financial support for Ukraine will strengthen…
— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 1, 2024
Addressing the Council in a video call, he reinforced the message of unity while noting the need for more military support to resist a Russia being propped up by Iranian and North Korean munitions:
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal added:
Welcome an approval by #EUCO the decision on establishing of Ukraine Facility of up to €50 billion for 2024-2027.
EU Member States one more time show their solidarity & unity in the actions to Ukrainian people to withstand the war.
Grateful to @CharlesMichel, the Leaders of EU…
— Denys Shmyhal (@Denys_Shmyhal) February 1, 2024
The EU breakthrough is the second in less than two months. In December, after Orbán — through design or tactical error — left the room, the other 26 members unanimously agreed the start of negotiations for Ukraine’s accession.
Kyiv and its allies are still awaiting the revival of US assistance, with $61.6 billion in budget authorization held up for months by Republicans in Congress.
“Our Values Are Not for Sale”
Orbán gave no explanation for his shift, after obtaininly only small concessions towards his position. But Hungary takes over the six-month rotating Presidency of the European Council in July, and the Prime Minister may have wanted to begin with a show of advance rather than deadlock.
Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002 and then from 2010, Orbán may also have decided that agreement rather than a veto would be better presented as “victory”, given the ongoing issues over his Government’s threat to rights and rule of law.
European leaders hailed their stand while noting the ongoing challenge from the Hungarian. Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said: “Nobody can blackmail 26 countries of the EU. Our values were not for sale.” Polish counterpart Donald Tusk said that he had “nothing nice” to say to Orbán, and that there would be no review for anyone who pursued “rotten compromises”.
France’s Macron hailed a “united and unanimous” bloc: “The message is clear, Russia cannot count on any fatigue from Europeans in their support for Ukraine.”