Tue, 31 Jan 2023

Russia said Wednesday it had seized east Ukrainian settlements near the embattled town of Bakhmut that Moscow has been trying to capture since this summer. This comes hours after the EU announced it will set up a specialised court backed by the UN to investigate potential Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

8:36pm: US's Blinken says Putin's attacks on Ukraine energy grid will not divide Kyiv's allies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Vladimir Putin had focused "his ire and his fire" on Ukraine's civilian population and warned that Russia's recent strategy of targeting vital infrastructure would fail to divide Ukraine's supporters.

"Heat, water, electricity ... these are President Putin's new targets. He's hitting them hard. [...] This strategy has not, and will not, work," Blinken told a news conference in Bucharest following a two-day NATO summit.

The United States on Tuesday announced $53 million to support the purchase of power grid equipment to Ukraine and get it delivered to the country urgently, after Ukraine said it needed transformers and generators as well as air defense systems.

8:18pm: NATO allies vow to back Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia

Apart from Ukraine, Moldova has been hit hardest by Russia's invasion of its neighbor, the Moldovan foreign minister said Wednesday, as NATO offered fresh support to three countries shaken by the effects of Moscow's 10-month-old war.

Nicu Popescu told The Associated Press in an interview in Romania's capital that "we want to be expanding our cooperation with partners who support Moldova ... that includes the European Union (and) NATO."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after talks that the allies discussed shared security concerns with the three countries which he said are facing Russian pressure. Stoltenberg said alliance members agreed to help train and improve the three nations' security and defense institutions.

7:03pm: Germany, Norway seek NATO-led hub for key undersea structures

Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on Wednesday, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

"We are in the process of asking the NATO Secretary General to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the alliance would be "an informal initiative to exchange between civilian and also military actors" with NATO providing "a centre, a coordination point".

Underwater cables and pipelines were "arteries of the modern economy" and it was necessary to create "a coordinated joint effort to ensure security for this infrastructure", he said.

6:48pm: Russia cannot win war in Ukraine on the battlefield, says Germany's Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday that Russia could no longer win the war in Ukraine on the battlefield.

Speaking at the Berlin Security Conference, Scholz also said that Germany took Russia's nuclear rhetoric seriously but would not be cowed by it.

4:04pm: Ukraine's Zelensky says he does not believe Putin will use nuclear weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday he did not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will use nuclear weapons.

He made the comment while speaking by video link at the New York Times "DealBook" summit in New York city.

3:45pm: Ukraine says tightening security at embassies after Spain letter bomb

Ukraine said Wednesday it will strengthen security at all the country's embassies after an employee of the embassy in Madrid was injured when a letter bomb blew up.

"Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba instructed to strengthen the security of all Ukrainian embassies," Ukraine's foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on social media in English.

3:28pm: UK sanctions Russian officials involved in forced military mobilisation

Britain on Wednesday announced a new package of 22 sanctions targeted at Russian officials behind the forced mobilisation of the country's citizens to take part in the invasion of Ukraine.

The individuals sanctioned included Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who Britain said was responsible for overseeing the Russian weapons industry and equipping mobilised troops.

"The Russian regime's decision to partially mobilise Russian citizens was a desperate attempt to overwhelm the valiant Ukrainians defending their territory. It has failed," British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. "Today we have sanctioned individuals who have enforced this conscription, sending thousands of Russian citizens to fight in Putin's illegal and abhorrent war."

2:30pm: Russian army says seized east Ukraine villages near Bakhmut

The Russian army said Wednesday it seized east Ukrainian settlements near the embattled town of Bakhmut that Moscow has been trying to capture since this summer.

"In the Donetsk area, after offensive actions, Russian troops fully liberated the settlements of Bilogorivka and Pershe Travnya," the Russian army said in its daily briefing.

Bilogorivka is 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Bakhmut.

12:57pm: Ukraine's Odesa votes to remove Catherine the Great statue

The city council in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa has voted to remove and relocate a monument to Empress Catherine the Great of Russia that had recently been daubed with red paint at least twice.

The statue to the city's founder, which towers over a central square, has been vandalised repeatedly since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine that has prompted many Ukrainians to reject their country's historical ties to Moscow.

The city council announced the decision to remove the statue on its website on Wednesday.

12:53pm: Ukrainian named new head of Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia plant

A Ukrainian engineer on Wednesday was appointed the new head of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, occupied by Russian forces since March 4. Russia and Ukraine have for months mutually accused each other of shelling the plant.

Yuri Chernichuk, the plant's former chief engineer, said he had agreed to take the post because it was "in my opinion the only correct decision".

His appointment was confirmed by Moscow's Rosenergoatom, the Russian nuclear operator which has de facto managed the plant -- Europe's largest -- since its occupation by Russian forces.

In a statement on social media, Chernichuk praised the "bravery" of the plant's staff. "We have done and are doing everything possible and impossible so that the world does not see a new Fukushima or Chernobyl," he added.

12:51pm: Ukraine hails EU call for special court to try Russian 'aggression'

Ukraine on Wednesday hailed the European Union's call for a "specialised court" to put Russia's top officials on trial over the war in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky's top adviser said.

"This is exactly what we have been suggesting for a long time. Russia will pay for crimes and destruction. They will not avoid it," Andriy Yermak, Zelensky's chief of staff, said on social media.

10:29am: Chechen leader says pope 'fell victim to propaganda'

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Wednesday said Pope Francis "fell victim to propaganda" after the pontiff singled out the alleged role of Russian ethnic minorities in the Ukraine offensive.

"The Pope called the Chechens and Buryats the most cruel in the Russian army," Kadyrov wrote on social media, "he just fell victim to propaganda."

Chechen units -- including Kadyrov's own militia with a sinister reputation, the "Kadyrovtsi" -- are fighting alongside regular Russian forces in Ukraine.

Kadyrov, who rules the Muslim-majority Chechnya in Russia with widespread violation of human rights, has been one of Moscow's most vocal supporters in the campaign.

Pope Francis in an interview published Monday said that some of the "cruelest" actors among Russia's ranks in Ukraine "are not of the Russian tradition", but minorities like "the Chechens, the Buryati and so on".

10:15am: China and Russia conduct joint aerial patrol, China says

Chinese and Russian forces conducted a joint aerial patrol on Wednesday, China's defence ministry said.

The patrol, part of the countries' "annual military cooperation plan", took place over the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Western Pacific, the ministry said in a statement.

9:26am: EU seeks tribunal to investigate possible Russian war crimes in Ukraine

The European Union will try to set up a specialised court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

"We are ready to start working with the international community to get the broadest international support possible for this specialised court," von der Leyen said.

Ukraine has been pushing for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian military and political leaders it holds responsible for starting the war.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) launched its own investigation into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes days after Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion, but it does not have jurisdiction to prosecute aggression in Ukraine.

"While continuing to support the International Criminal Court, we are proposing to set up a specialised court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression," von der Leyen said.

9:22am: Putin 'turning winter into a weapon' against Ukraine

Reporting from Mykolaiv, FRANCE 24's Chief Foreign Editor Rob Parsons says residents in the city now have access to a few hours of electricity every day following Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure that have left large parts of the country without light, heat and water.

"In other respsects things are more difficult," he said. "In most parts of the city there is no drinking water available, and the water that comes through the taps is very salty." Lack of heat is also an issue, he added. "The winter and the cold are really concerning people here."

8:36am: Brussels proposes plan to confiscate frozen Russian assets

The European Commission on Wednesday said proposed a plan to confiscate Russian assets that have been frozen to punish Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

"We have blocked 300 billion euros of the Russian Central Bank reserves and we have frozen 19 billion euros of Russian oligarchs' money," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union's executive said in a statement.

She said that in the short term the EU and its partners could manage the funds and invest them. The proceeds would go to Ukraine so that ultimately they would compensate for damages caused to the country.

"We will work on an international agreement with our partners to make this possible. And together, we can find legal ways to get to it," she said.

4:23am: Ukraine urges allies to speed up support for winter of war

Ukraine urged NATO members Tuesday to speed up weapons deliveries and help restore its shattered power grid, as Western allies vowed to bolster support to aid Kyiv through winter in the face of Russia's attacks.

Moscow has unleashed waves of strikes against Ukraine's energy infrastructure as its troops are pushed back on the ground, plunging millions of people into darkness.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for supplies of weapons, especially advanced air defence systems, to come "faster, faster, faster" as he joined a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

4:00am: Ukraine strikes digital trade agreement with Britain

Britain on Wednesday said it had agreed in principle a digital trade deal with Ukraine, the eastern European country's first such agreement as it seeks support for its economy following Russia's invasion.

Britain has sought to support Ukraine during the war, providing weapons but also taking economic steps, such as cutting tariffs on all Ukrainian goods to zero.

Talks on the digital deal began in the summer and were fast-tracked with a view to supporting Ukraine's economy through the war and afterwards.

1:21am: NATO promises more weapons and energy support for Ukraine

NATO allies promised more arms for Ukraine and equipment to help restore power supplies cut by Russian strikes in meetings on Tuesday.

Foreign ministers from the NATO alliance, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, began a two-day meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday, seeking ways both to keep Ukrainians safe and warm and to sustain Kyiv's military through a coming winter campaign.

US and European officials said ministers would focus in their talks on non-lethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance. Washington said it would provide $53 million to buy power grid equipment.

12:25am: PM says Finland must give more weapons to make sure Ukraine wins war against Russia

Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the comments Wednesday in Auckland on the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to New Zealand and Australia.

"We need hard power when it comes to Ukraine," Marin told reporters when asked what soft-power influence smaller countries like Finland and New Zealand could exert.

"They need weapons, they need financial support, they need humanitarian support, and we need to also make sure that all the refugees fleeing from Ukraine are welcomed to Europe," Marin said. "We have to make sure that they will win," Marin said.

Since the war began, both Finland and Sweden have abandoned their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied to join NATO. Both countries are still seeking endorsement from Turkey.

Marin said Western countries also needed to ensure sanctions were "harder and harder against Russia" because the war was affecting everyone, not only the civilians in Ukraine but also people worldwide with higher energy prices.

12:00am: Ukraine's forces strike power plant in Russia's Kursk region, says governor

Ukrainian forces struck a power plant in multiple attacks on Russia's Kursk region on Tuesday, causing some electricity outages, a local governor said.

"In total, there were about 11 launches. A power plant was hit," Roman Starovoyt, the governor of the Kursk region, said on the Telegram messaging app.

"Because of this, there are partial power outages in the Sudzha and Korenevo districts." The districts are part of Russia's Kursk region and sit over Ukraine's northeast border.

There was no immediate information on possible injured or casualties, he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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