Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin at the Libya summit, Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020 (Kay Nietfeld/Reuters)
UPDATE 1148 GMT:
The US Senate has passed a compromise $95.34 billion package with $60.1 billion in vital aid for Ukraine as well as humanitarian assistance and support for Taiwan and Israel (see 0846 GMT).
The measure passed 70-29, with 22 Republicans joined almost all of the Senate’s Democrats.
House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, part of the four-month blockade of the aid by Trumpists and hard right Republicans, issued a pre-emptive rejection of the package: “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters. America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”
Johnson and the Trumpist/hard-right faction initially rejected assistance for Ukraine last October because it was not tied to a border measure. Last week they rejected a compromise which included $20 billion for border enforcement. Now, once again, Johnson says the aid package must have a border provision.
UPDATE 1136 GMT:
About half of the tankers sanctioned by the US from October 10 have stopped transport of Russian oil, according to Bloomberg ship tracking data.
Looking for markets, Russia has increased the discount on its oil, selling at about $60 per barrel compared to the global Brent price of $81.50.
The discounted Russian price is right at the ceiling set by the G7 and the European Union in December 2022.
The Kremlin is also facing a lack of low-speed marine engines for tankers, gas carriers, and container ships, informed sources told the Russian outlet Kommersant. The Security Council has proposed that Vladimir Putin pursue production with Sinara, which is planning engineering center for research and development this year.
UPDATE 1119 GMT:
Russia’s invasion has inflicted $155 billion of damage on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, assesses the Kyiv School of Economics.
Almost $59 billion of the damage is to private housing. About 222,000 family homes, 27,000 apartments, and 526 dormitories have been destroyed.
The majority of the destroyed residences are in the Donetsk, Kyiv, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Kherson regions.
Ukrainian businesses have suffered an estimated $13.1 billion in damages. There has been $9 billion in damage to energy facilities and $8.7 billion to agriculture.
UPDATE 1107 GMT:
A Russian appeal court has condemned sociologist and activist Boris Kagarlitsky to five years in prison.
Kagarlitsky, 64, was charged with “justifying terrorism” because of his criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In December, he was fined 600,000 roubles ($6,581) by a court and released from custody; however, the prosecutor’s office appealed the sentence.
UPDATE 1040 GMT:
Russian attacks have killed at least five Ukrainian civilians this morning.
Three of the victims were in the Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine. A 61-year-old woman was killed and a 50-year-old woman wounded by shelling on Vovchansk, less than 10 km (6 miles) about 11 a.m. Two men were killed and two injured on a farm in the Kupyansk district in northeast Ukraine.
Russian shelling killed a 64-year-old man and damaged three houses in Nikopol in the Dnipropetrovsk region in south-central Ukraine.
An 83-year-old woman was slain in the yard of her home in the village of Lvove in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine.
UPDATE 1026 GMT:
Ukraine’s military intelligence service GUR says Russian drone operators are being trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Hezbollah at the Assad regime’s Shayrat Air Base in northwest Syria.
The GUR said the Russians are being instructed in the use of Iranian-made Shahed-136/-131, Ababil-3, and Qods Raab 85 drones, with Hezbollah commander Kamal Abu Sadiq in charge of the training.
The Shayrat base has been instrumental in the Assad regime’s mass bombing, including chemical attacks, on Syrian civilians since 2011. It is the second largest airbase for the Iranians after the T-4 base near Palmyra in central Syria.
The Israeli Air Force struck Shayrat and other Iranian sites throughout Homs Province on February 7.
UPDATE 0856 GMT:
The European Union has adopted a law to set aside windfall profits of frozen Russian Central Bank assets.
The profits may now be put towards reconstruction of Ukraine.
The EU and the G7 froze about €300 billion euros ($323 billion) of Russian assets after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has campaigned for the assets to be seized. A US Senate committee has supported the step, but EU officials have balked, citing legal issues and the risk of Russian retaliation.
UPDATE 0846 GMT:
The US Senate has cleared the final hurdle for a vote on $60.1 billion in vital aid to Ukraine.
In a 66-33 vote, the chamber advanced the $95.34 billion package, which also includes humanitarian assistance and support for Taiwan and Israel.
The vote, which needed the support of 60 Senators, shut down a filibuster by Sen.Rand Paul of Kentucky, backed by Trumpists.
UPDATE 0824 GMT:
Ukraine’s air defenses downed 16 of 23 Iran-made drones launched by Moscow’s forces overnight from southern Russia and occupied Crimea.
Russian shelling “severely damaged” a thermal power plant, said Ukraine’s main private energy company DTEK. For security reasons, it did not give the location. The outlet Suspilne reported power outages in the city of Pavlohrad in the Dnipropetrovsk region, 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Dnipro.
At least 10 attack drones were downed in the Dniprovskyi district of the region, said Governor Serhii Lysak, with attacks on an “energy facility” and an infrastructure site.
Last week Russia probably struck Ukraine with a hypersonic Zircon missile for the first time, assesses the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute for Forensic Examinations.
The Institute said debris found after a February 7 attack matched Zircon components.
The Zircon has a range of 1,000 km (625 miles) and travels at nine times the speed of sound. Russia said it completed testing of the missile in June 2022, with Vladimir Putin claiming it as part of a new generation of unrivalled aerial weapons.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: In the latest analysis of Russia’s disinformation warfare, the French agency Viginum has identified a Moscow-based network operating throughout western Europe.
Viginum, set up in 2021 to detect digital interference from foreign entities, examined more than 150,000 items between June and December 2023. The agency assesses that the Kremlin is stepping up its campaign to break Western support for Kyiv’s resistance. It is also preparing its interference in European elections this year: reprising initiatives from 2014, including the 2016 US Presidential vote and ballots for leaders in France and Germany, to support candidates seen as favorable to Moscow’s expansion of power.
The Russian network “Portal Kombat” includes at least 193 sites spreading disinformation which defends Moscow’s 23 1/2-month invasion of Ukraine. Much of the effort is devoted to reinforcement of accounts pushing conspiracy theories.
French defense experts say the Russian network does not produce original material. Instead, it disseminates and amplifies material from Russian and pro-Russian figures on social media, Moscow’s press agencies, and other official accounts supporting the Kremlin’s narrative. The sites are targeted Russian communities in Ukraine and the populaces of “several western countries”, including France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Spain, the UK, and US.
Portal Combat involves three “ecosystems” set up in June 2023 with “identical technical characteristics: a common IP address hosted on a server located in Russia”.
The agency summarizes:
Although this network of at least 193 sites initially covered news from Russian and Ukrainian localities, it changed the day after Russia invaded Ukraine and started to target occupied Ukrainian territories, then several western countries supporting Ukraine and its population.
The main objective seems to be to cover the Russo-Ukrainian conflict by presenting positively “the special military operation” and denigrating Ukraine and its leaders. Very ideologically oriented, this content repeatedly presents inaccurate or misleading narratives.
Last month, the Germany Foreign Ministry documented Russia’s disinformation campaign in Germany, “Doppelganger”, through Elon Musk’s X, formerly Twitter. Analysts identified more than 50,000 fake user accounts with more than one million German-language tweets between December 20 and January 20. Among the countries targeted were Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Ukraine.
A “Massive” and “Complex” Disinformation Operation
The French Foreign Ministry said in a media briefing on Monday that Russia’s disinformation campaign, from messages on social media platforms to websites such as Sputnik, is “massive in scope” and “complex in structure.”
The officials said the Russians are trying to amplify Russia’s success in Ukraine and justify its invasion; to discredit and diminish Ukraine’s military resistance and to undermine civilian resilience amid daily attacks on cities and towns; and to fracture Western support for Kyiv and slow if not stop the supply of weapons.
Beyond Ukraine, the disinformation is trying to confuse and scare voters in Western Europe and the US, discrediting some candidates and supporting others. Moscow hopes to disrupt sporting events such as the Paris Olympics and football’s European Championship in Germany.>
The Ministry said Russia was behind the stenciling of Jewish stars last November on walls in Paris and its suburbs, trying to raise alarm about the safety of France’s Jewish community.