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France sends Ukraine more rocket systems, Macron says


France has delivered rocket launchers and weapons to Ukraine and will send more early next year, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview aired on Tuesday. Read FRANCE 24’s liveblog below to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1). 

10:19pm: World Bank approves $610 million Ukraine aid package

The World Bank said Tuesday that it has approved a fresh $610 million package for Ukraine, with financing aimed at sustaining essential services and supporting health care as war rages on.

This comes as Russia’s invasion “continues to have devastating economic and humanitarian consequences”, World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement.

The war has hit Ukraine’s health sector, critical energy infrastructure, as well as transport networks, he added.

Of the added financing, $500 million comes through a loan to help Ukraine’s government with expenses relating to child and family benefits, public employee salaries, as well as utility payments.

8:55pm: Russia targets domestic human rights group, maps

The Russian government intensified its crackdown on critics and what it sees as harmful information about its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Tuesday with moves to ban a human rights group and publication of maps that omit annexed Ukrainian land.

The crackdown fits a theme Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded Tuesday in a video address honouring Russia’s military and security agencies. Putin, a former KGB operative, called on those forces to redouble their efforts to protect the stability of society and the security of the government against “direct threats to internal security”.

His speech coincided with a report by the state Tass news agency that Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit to disband one of the country’s oldest human rights organisations, the Moscow Helsinki Group. No reason was given for the action, but it fits a pattern with other organisations the government accuses of working against the country’s interests. One of the group’s leaders told the Meduza news outlet that authorities alleged the organisation was violating its legal registration in Moscow by working on human rights cases outside the Russian capital.

One of the group’s founders, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a human rights pioneer and dissident who challenged the Soviet and Russian regimes for decades, died in 2018. The group, founded in 1976, demanded freedom for political prisoners and establishment of democratic rights.

7:04pm: France sends Ukraine more rocket systems, Macron says

France has delivered rocket launchers and weapons to Ukraine and will send more early next year, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview aired Tuesday.

“In recent days, France has sent Ukraine more arms, rocket launchers, Crotale (air defence batteries), equipment beyond what we had already done,” Macron told France’s TF1 and LCI television.

He was speaking aboard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle off Egypt’s coast, a day before visiting Jordan for a regional summit on Tuesday. “We are also working with the armed forces minister (Sebastien Lecornu) to be able to deliver useful arms and ammunition again in the first quarter (of 2023), so that the Ukrainians would be able to defend themselves against bombardments,” Macron said.

The planned shipments include new Caesar mobile artillery units, but Macron provided no precise figures.

5:49pm: Russia wants Ukraine to spend festive period in darkness, Kyiv says

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Tuesday Ukraine should prepare for new Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure because Moscow wanted Ukrainians to spend Christmas and New Year in darkness.

He made his remarks after a series of Russian missile and drone strikes which Ukrainian officials say have left electricity supplies in the Kyiv region at a critically low level, with less than half the capital’s power needs being met.

“Repairs continue but the situation remains really difficult,” Shmyhal told a government meeting.

He said eight nuclear power units and 10 thermal power stations were operating but the energy deficit was “significant.”

“Russian terrorists will do everything to leave Ukrainians without electricity for the New Year. It is important for them for Christmas and the New Year to take place in darkness in Ukraine,” Shmyhal said.

4:49pm: Danish journalist denies pro-Russia bias after Ukraine strips accreditation

Ukraine has revoked the press accreditation of Danish state broadcaster DR’s correspondent over allegations of having spread Russian propaganda, DR said on Tuesday, prompting denials from both the journalist and her employer.

Matilde Kimer, an award-winning journalist who has covered Ukraine and Russia for DR since 2014, said Ukraine initially revoked her accreditation in August.

At a December meeting in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) alleged that she was spreading Russian propaganda and that her social media posts appeared to sympathise with Russia, Kimer told Reuters. According to her, the security service did not provide evidence of their allegations.

DR’s foreign policy editor, Niels Kvale, called the allegations “completely undocumented and crazy” and Kimer herself denied biased reporting.

“I have not engaged in propaganda. I work with no other task than to inform Danes about what is going on in Ukraine,” Kimer said.

Kimer, 41, was also expelled from Russia in August amid Moscow’s crackdown on Western media outlets following its invasion of Ukraine.

4:38pm: ‘The light always wins’: Jews celebrate Hanukkah in blackout-hit Kyiv

Ukrainian Jews gathered in Kyiv on Sunday, December 18, to mark the start of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, at a time when much of the country has been plunged into darkness by waves of Russian strikes on energy structure, cutting power to millions. At the city’s iconic Independence Square, people huddled together for warmth to watch the lighting of what officials said was Europe’s largest Hanukkah menorah.

Click on the player below to watch the report in full. 

A rabbi stands next to a giant menorah during a ceremony for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 18, 2022.
A rabbi stands next to a giant menorah during a ceremony for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 18, 2022. © Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters

 

4:25pm: EU cuts gas consumption by 20 percent over past four months

EU countries have cut the amount of natural gas they consume by 20 percent over the past four months as they adapt to an energy crunch, the bloc’s statistics agency said Tuesday.

Taken overall, the number was higher than the voluntary 15 percent target the European Union member states had signed on to in August.

It underlined the bloc’s drive to reduce demand for energy as it copes with greatly diminished supplies from Russia, which has turned off its gas taps in retaliation for EU sanctions over its war in Ukraine.

Finland led the dive, with gas consumption down 53 percent between August and November, compared with the average consumption for that period between 2017 and 2021, Eurostat said.

All but two EU countries showed declines, with major economies Germany, France slicing the amount of gas used by 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, over that period.

4:11pm: Russians conflicted on Ukraine winter offensive, US says

The Russian leadership has conflicting views on whether to launch a winter offensive in Ukraine, which has warned of a new attempt to seize Kyiv, a senior US official said Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly called for his top military brass to present him with “short- and medium-term” plans on how to proceed with the war he launched 10 months ago.

“I think there are conflicting things that we see,” the US official said of the Russian government deliberations. “Certainly, there are some who, I think, would want to pursue offensives in Ukraine. There are others who have real questions about the capacity for Russia to actually do that,” the official said on condition of anonymity. The official said the United States would “adjust and adapt quickly” if the nature of the invasion changes.

“What we’ve been doing – what we continue to do – is to make sure, to the best of our ability, the Ukrainians have, within their hands, the means to effectively defend themselves against Russian aggression.” For their part, the Ukrainians “show no intention of slowing down” due to the weather in their quest to take back territory, the official said.

3:54pm: One in four Ukrainians at risk of mental disorder due to conflict, WHO says

A World Health Organisation official said on Tuesday that 10 million people, or about a quarter of Ukraine’s population, may suffer from a mental health disorder in relation to the conflict there.

“WHO estimates that up to 10 million people are at risk of some form of a mental disorder, varying from anxiety and stress to more severe conditions,” Jarno Habicht, WHO’s representative in Ukraine told a Geneva press briefing via video link.

More severe conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by distressing events. Cases are rising after 10 months of conflict, prompting a separate UN agency to launch online support services.

3:51pm: Putin to set 2023 military aims in defence meeting Wednesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet senior defence officials on Wednesday in order to set military objectives for next year and assess the conflict in Ukraine, the Kremlin announced.

“On December 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold an expanded meeting of the Collegium of the Russian Defence Ministry … the work of Russia’s Armed Forces in 2022 will be summed up and tasks for next year will be set,” the Kremlin said Tuesday.

2:59pm: Russia to give Iran advanced military components in exchange for drones, UK says

Britain accused Russia of planning to give Iran advanced military components in exchange for hundreds of drones, British defence minister Ben Wallace said on Tuesday, calling on the West to do more to expose the trade.

“Iran has become one of Russia’s top military backers,” Wallace told parliament as part of a statement on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“In return for having supplied more than 300 kamikaze drones, Russia now intends to provide Iran with advanced military components, undermining both Middle East and international security – we must expose that deal. In fact, I have, just now.”

1:45pm: Zelensky hails ‘courage, resilience’ of Bakhmut’s defenders

Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky has paid tribute to the “courage, resilience and strength” of troops defending Bakhmut during a visit to the front-line city.

Zelensky’s office released video footage showing the president, dressed in khaki, handing out medals to soldiers fighting Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.


“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,” Zelensky said in comments posted on the Telegram messaging app under photographs of him in Bakhmut.

“Ukraine is proud of you. I am proud of you! Thank you for the courage, resilience and strength shown in repelling the enemy attacks.”

11:55am: Ukraine’s Zelensky visits front-line city of Bakhmut, presidency says

President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the eastern front-line city of Bakhmut this morning, now the epicentre of fighting in Russia’s nearly 10-month invasion of Ukraine, his office has said.

The presidency said Zelensky met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian military campaign for the city.

The unannounced visit comes just weeks after Zelensky met troops in another front-line area in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas.

11:30am: Bakhmut carnage may yield only pyrrhic victory for Russia, analysts warn

The nearly five-month battle for the small city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine has ground on for so long and wrought so much death and destruction that, even if Russia does prevail, it will be a pyrrhic victory, military experts have told Reuters.

Gaining control of the city, with a pre-war population of 80,000 that has shrunk to close to 10,000, could give Russia a stepping stone to advance on two bigger cities – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. But months of fierce fighting have left Bakhmut in ruins while giving Ukrainian forces ample time to build defensive lines nearby to fall back to.

“If Bakhmut had been captured when they started their attack in August then it would have been significant. But it’s all about momentum,” said Konrad Muzyka, a Polish military analyst, noting that the city’s strategic value has been reduced by Ukraine’s fortification of the surrounding area.

>> The battle for Bakhmut: Ukrainian city’s last residents survive under artillery fire

Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the US-based CNA think-tank, said Moscow appeared committed to the battle because of resources it had already spent rather than because of “sound strategy”.

“The fighting for Bakhmut is not senseless, but strategically unsound (for Russia) given weak offensive potential and no prospect of breakthrough even if the city is captured,” he said.

10:15am: ‘A loud blast, then a flash at my window’: FRANCE 24 reports on Kyiv drone attack

Residents of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are relying on petrol-fuelled generators to battle freezing temperatures as Russia continues to pummel the country’s critical infrastructure with missile strikes and drone attacks, causing daily power cuts.

Our reporters spoke to residents of the Ukrainian capital shortly after their neighbourhood was targeted by a Russian drone.

Kyiv residents board up shop windows after a Russian drone attack on the Ukrainian capital.
Kyiv residents board up shop windows after a Russian drone attack on the Ukrainian capital. © FRANCE 24 screengrab

 

9:30am: Situation in regions Russia claims to have annexed is ‘extremely difficult’, Putin says

The situation in four territories of Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed is “extremely difficult”, Vladimir Putin has said. 

Speaking to Russian security services on their professional holiday, Putin singled out those working in the “new regions” of Russia. “The people living there, the citizens of Russia, rely on you, on your protection,” he said.

Putin also said that “maximum composure, concentration of forces” was required of Russia’s counterintelligence operations “to strictly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services, to quickly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs”.

8:25am: Kyiv grapples with freezing temperatures as Russia pummels power grid

Residents of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are struggling with freezing temperatures as Russia continues to pummel the country’s power infrastructure. 

FRANCE 24’s Andrew Hilliar reports from the Ukrainian capital.


 

7:55am: US Congress to advance $1.7 trillion govt funding bill, including Ukraine aid

A $1.7 trillion (€1.6 trillion) government-wide funding bill for the fiscal year ending next September 30 was unveiled late on Monday as Congress races against a midnight Friday deadline when current stopgap money expires.

The bill includes $44.9 billion in new emergency aid for Ukraine and NATO allies.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion, US aid to Ukraine has already reached $68 billion.

6:30am: US and Iran clash over Russian use of drones in Ukraine

The United States and its allies have clashed with Iran and Russia at a contentious UN Security Council meeting over Western claims that Tehran is supplying Moscow with drones to attack Ukraine – with the US accusing the UN secretary-general of “yielding to Russian threats” and failing to launch an investigation. 

US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood told the council that Ukraine’s report of Iranian-origin drones being used by Russia to attack civilian infrastructure has been supported “by ample evidence from multiple public sources” including a statement by Iran’s foreign minister on November 5.

He insisted that Iran is barred from transferring these types of drones without prior Security Council approval under an annex to the 2015 resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani, meanwhile, dismissed what he called the West’s “unfounded allegations”. He also stressed that all restrictions on transferring arms to and from Iran were terminated in October 2020, adding that Western claims that Tehran needed prior approval therefore “have no legal merit”.

3:15am: Russia won’t ‘steal’ Christmas, says Kyiv mayor

Kyiv officials on Monday illuminated a Christmas tree in the city centre, refusing to let Russia “steal” the festive season from Ukrainian children.

The day, which started with swarms of attacks on critical infrastructure in the Ukrainian capital, ended with the unveiling of the 12-metre (40-feet) high artificial tree decorated with white peace doves. 

A few dozen residents braved the sub-zero temperatures to admire the tree located next to the Saint Sophia Cathedral and its emblematic golden domes and take selfies.

“Russians try to steal normal life away from our citizens, but we won’t give them a chance to steal the biggest holidays – the New Year and Christmas – from our children,” the city’s Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said when unveiling the tree.

People take selfie photographs during the unveiling ceremony of Kyiv's main Christmas tree on Saint Sophia Square in the Ukrainian capital.
People take selfie photographs during the unveiling ceremony of Kyiv’s main Christmas tree on Saint Sophia Square in the Ukrainian capital. © Sergei Supinski, AFP

11:25pm: Putin orders FSB to step up surveillance of Russians and borders

President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to prevent domestic and foreign threats.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Security Services Day – widely celebrated in Russia – Putin said the “emergence of new threats” increases the need for greater intelligence activity.

“Work must be intensified through the border services and the Federal Security Service (FSB),” Putin said.

“Any attempts to violate it (the border) must be thwarted quickly and effectively using whatever forces and means we have at our disposal, including mobile action units and special forces,” he added.

9:31pm: Putin says Russia has ‘no interest’ in absorbing Belarus

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday his country has “no interest” in absorbing Belarus, Moscow’s main ally that heavily depends on it for cheap oil and loans.  

“Russia has no interest in absorbing anyone, this would simply make no sense,” Putin said, answering a question from a journalist, saying such rumours came from “ill-wishers”.

The Kremlin has for years sought to deepen integration with Belarus, but its strongman Alexander Lukashenko resisted outright unification with Russia despite being a key ally.

Putin hailed a relationship between “closest allies and strategic partners … united by a common history and spiritual values.”

“Together we are resisting sanctions from unfriendly countries,” Putin said, “and we do so quite confidently and effectively.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

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