Wed, 08 Feb 2023

The European Union ratified on Monday more military aid to Ukraine worth 500 million euros, sources said, as Berlin faced ongoing pressure to supply Kyiv with German-made Leopard tanks. Follow FRANCE 24's liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

6:07pm: Latvia tells Russian ambassador to leave

Latvia said on Monday that it has decided to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Russia and has asked the Russian ambassador to leave, hours after a similar move by fellow Baltic state, Estonia.

"The ambassador of Russia shall leave by 24 February 2023," Latvia's foreign ministry said in a statement, attributing the decision to Russaia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine and as a gesture of solidarity with Estonia and Lithuania.

5:58pm: Tanks needed as Moscow pushes towards towns in Zaporizhzhia region

Russia's defence ministry said for the second straight day on Sunday that they were their position in Ukraine's southern region of Zaporizhzhia was improving, but a Ukrainian military spokesperson said the situation there was "difficult" but stable.

FRANCE 24's correspondent Gulliver Cragg who is on the ground in Kyiv says the fear of an imminent Russian offensive in this region is what is fueling Ukraine's plea for tanks.

"It's too early to say whether or not this activation of the front line in Zaporizhzhia and Russian attempts to move forward are going to amount to anything for the Russians, or whether they're just going to continue to be successfully repelled by Ukrainians," he said.

4:40pm: Ukrainian military unit says new tanks are 'crucial for survival'

Ukraine needs several hundred tanks from its Western allies in order to conduct a counter-offensive against Russian forces to retake occupied territory, its government announced on Monday.

Expressing their frustration at Germany's hesitancy to send in Leopold tanks, these soldiers from military units in the Kharkiv and Bakhmut regions say the vehicles could "significantly reduce casualties".

Watch France 24's full report below:

2:55pm: Former Wagner commander will not be deported to Russia, says lawyer

A former commander of Russia's Wagner mercenary group will not be deported to Russia, his Norwegian lawyer said on Monday, following his detention by police.

"The risk of him being deported? It is zero," Brynjulf Risnes, Andrei Medvedev's lawyer, told Reuters.

>> Former commander of Russia's mercenary group Wagner seeks asylum in Norway

Risnes said police detained Medvedev as there was "disagreement" between Medvedev and the police about the measures taken to ensure his safety. His lawyer emphasised that despite the 'arrest' the former mercenary was still being treated as a witness.

2:15pm: EU ministers approve EUR 500 million in military aid to Ukraine, say sources

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday approved a new tranche of military aid to Ukraine worth 500 million euros, three diplomatic sources told Reuters.

2:05pm: Hungary will not block EU move to provide more military aid to Ukraine, says foreign minister

Hungary will not block the European Union implementing a measure to provide more military aid to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a video on his Facebook page on Monday.

Szijjarto spoke as EU foreign ministers met to discuss more military aid for Ukraine. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he hoped they would approve another 500 million euro tranche of support.

1:55pm: 'Degree of training' crucial for Ukraine tank deliveries

Germany announced on Sunday that it will not block Poland from sending Leopard tanks and the "next step, I think, will be that Poland will transfer the tanks", former British military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge told FRANCE 24.

"There's one caveat here, though, which I think is really worth mentioning. The American chief of staff mentioned last week that Ukraine really shouldn't consider an offensive until they're properly trained on this new equipment. So it's not just a question of the amount of tanks but it's the degree of training that will be given to support that."

1:40pm: Latvia tells Russian envoy to leave, in solidarity with Estonia

Latvia's foreign minister on Monday said he had told Russia's ambassador to Riga to leave the country by February 24, reducing diplomatic ties with Moscow in an act of solidarity with Estonia.

Russia said on Monday it was downgrading diplomatic relations with NATO member Estonia, accusing it of "total Russophobia", and Tallinn responded by telling Moscow's envoy to the Baltic nation to leave.

1:29pm: Zelensky ally threatens jailings after high-profile corruption claims

A top ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday corrupt officials would be rounded up and jailed as part of a zero-tolerance policy, after the most high-profile graft allegations since Russia invaded burst into public view.

Ukraine has a long history of battling corruption and shaky governance, though there had been few examples since Moscow's invasion last year as Kyiv has fought back Russian troops and received Western financial and military support.

On Sunday, anti-corruption police said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback to facilitate the import of generators into wartime Ukraine last September.

1:27pm: Germans were 'under immense pressure' from allies over tanks

Germany announced on Sunday that it will not block Poland from sending Leopard tanks.

"Certainly the Poles and others - particularly the Ukrainians - will be immensely encouraged by it," said FRANCE 24 Chief Foreign Editor Robert Parsons. "After the meeting at Ramstein on Friday, the feeling was that it was going to take a lot of time before the Germans could be persuaded either to send Leopard tanks themselves or unblock the way for others to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. [...] It appears that the Germans have reassessed the situation; they have been under immense pressure from their allies to do so."

1pm: Estonia expels Russian ambassador in tit-for-tat move

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said that the Russian ambassador will leave on February 7, in accordance with "the principle of parity" - hours after Russia announced it was expelling the Estonian envoy in Moscow. Both countries' diplomatic missions will be headed by their charges d'affaires.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry earlier this month ordered Russia to reduce the number of its embassy staff to eight diplomats and 15 administrative, technical and service staff members in order to "reach parity in embassy staff" by February 1.

12:34pm: Ukraine says it needs several hundred tanks to retake territory

Ukraine needs several hundred tanks from its Western allies in order to conduct a counter-offensive against Russian forces to retake occupied territory, President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff said on Monday.

"We need tanks - not 10-20, but several hundred," the official, Andriy Yermak, wrote on the Telegram app. "Our goal is (restoring) the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes."

Kyiv is pleading for its allies to supply tanks, in particular the German-made Leopard 2 which is used by many NATO members and which requires Berlin's approval to be re-exported to Ukraine.

11:38am: 'Poland forcing the idea of sending tanks'

As Warsaw seeks official approval from Berlin to send Ukraine German Leopard 2 tanks, FRANCE 24 correspondent Magdalena Chodownik noted that: "Poland is not only helping [Ukraine] in a military way, there are currently about a million refugees living in Poland from Ukraine.

"In addition, Poland spent about €2.15 billion on military aid to Ukraine. [...] Poland is not going to stop there; they are now forcing the idea of sending tanks to Ukraine."

10:30am: Kremlin says Ukrainians will suffer if Europe sends tanks

The Kremlin said on Monday that it was the Ukrainian people who would suffer if the West sends tanks to support Kyiv, as the question of whether Berlin will authorise Leopard tanks to be transferred to Ukraine remained unresolved.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said splits in Europe over whether to provide tanks to Kyiv showed there was "nervousness" within the NATO military alliance. He added that all countries bear responsibility for the consequences of "pumping" Ukraine with weapons.

10:22am: EU to approve new tranche of military aid to Ukraine on Monday, France says

EU countries will on Monday approve another €500 million ($544.90 million) tranche in military aid for Ukraine during a foreign ministers' meeting, France's Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.

"I have no doubt this will be the decision we'll take today," Colonna said before entering the meeting in Brussels.

10:07am: Germany stresses importance of international support to Ukraine

EU countries and their international partners together should try to do everything possible to make sure Ukraine wins its war against Russia, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

"It's important that we as an international community do everything we can to defend Ukraine, so that Ukraine wins and wins the right to live in peace and freedom again," Baerbock said before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Baerbock declined to comment further when asked about the issue of exporting Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

9:49am: Poland could send Leopard tanks to Ukraine without Berlin's approval, Polish PM says

Germany's approval for the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine is of secondary importance as Poland could send those tanks as part of a coalition of countries even without its permission, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Monday.

Germany would not stand in the way if Poland sent its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday in an interview with French television LCI.

9:28am: Too 'early to say' whether Russia will make progress in the Zaporizhzhia region

Amid concerns that Russia could renew attacks in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, Germany on Sunday gave Poland the green light to send the country German Leopard 2 tanks, which are well-suited to winter combat.

"One of the main reasons that Ukraine has been saying it needs tanks so urgently is because the Ukrainian leadership believes the Russians are planning offensives," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv. "One of the areas where they said that they thought the Russian forces might renew their attacks was in Zaporizhzhia region. Russia claims to have annexed this region of Ukraine but in fact only controls part of it and does not control the regional capital Zaporizhzhia, which is still in Ukrainian hands."

It is "too early to say" whether or not "Russian attempts to move forward" in the Zaporizhzhia region are going to amount to anything, Cragg added.

9:07am: Russia's Lavrov visits ally South Africa amid rivalry with West

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in South Africa on Monday for talks with one of its most important allies on a continent that is divided over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and related Western attempts to isolate it.

He was to meet South Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, on a trip some opposition parties and the small Ukrainian community have condemned as insensitive.

A ministry spokesman said Lavrov had arrived in South Africa on Monday morning. He and Pandor are expected to hold a joint news conference around 10:00 GMT.

8:17am: Russian spy service says US-supplied rocket launchers deployed at Ukraine nuclear power stations

Russia's foreign intelligence service (SVR) accused Ukraine on Monday of storing Western-supplied arms at nuclear power stations across the country. It provided no evidence and Reuters was unable to verify the claims.

In a statement, the SVR said US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers, air defence systems and artillery ammunition had been delivered to the Rivne nuclear power station in the northwest of Ukraine.

"The Ukrainian armed forces are storing weapons and ammunition provided by the West on the territory of nuclear power plants," it said, adding that an arms shipment to the Rivne power station had taken place in the last week of December.

7:56am: German FM's statement on Leopard tanks 'seen as final word' in Ukraine

Germany's foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday that her government will not stand in the way if Poland sends Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

"The way the Ukrainian media are reporting it ... the German foreign minister's statement last night that Germany would authorise Poland to deliver the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if Poland made the formal demand, [is seen as] Germany's final word on the matter; the ball is now in Poland's court is the way that they're seeing it," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv.

"Poland, I think, would find it very hard to go back on the promises it's very publicly made to send these tanks if they've got German authorisation."

6:03am: EU to look at using confiscated Russian assets for reconstruction

European Council President Charles Michel has urged the block's national leaders to push forward with talks on using $300 billion-worth of confiscated Russian central bank assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Michel said he wanted to explore the idea of managing the Russian central bank's frozen assets to generate profits, which could then be earmarked for reconstruction efforts, the newspaper reported.

It is a question of justice and fairness and it must be done in line with legal principles, the FT quoted Michel as saying in an interview.

6am: Foreign minister says Germany 'would not stand in the way' if Poland decides to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine

Ukrainian officials have been calling on Western allies to supply them with the modern German-made tanks for months - but Berlin has so far held back from sending them, or allowing other NATO countries to do so.

Asked what would happen if Poland went ahead and sent its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval, Annalena Baerbock said on France's LCI TV: "For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way."

Germany has been under heavy pressure to let Leopards go to Ukraine. But Scholz's Social Democrat party is traditionally sceptical of military involvements and wary of sudden moves that could cause Moscow to further escalate.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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