Latest Developments in Ukraine: Jan. 4

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EST.

10 p.m.: McDonald’s is set to abandon Kazakhstan as disruptions triggered by the Ukraine crisis have left the nation without a substitute for Russian meat supplies, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The fast-food giant, which exited Russia in May, banned its local franchisee from procuring meat patties from Russian suppliers, the report said, according to Reuters.

McDonald’s declined to comment on the report.

The company’s licensee in Kazakhstan was forced to temporarily close its restaurants in November after cutting ties with Russian companies and running out of supplies, three sources with knowledge of situation had told Reuters.

The exit highlights the supply issues faced by many Kazakh businesses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Western sanctions against Moscow that followed. Neighboring Russia is Kazakhstan’s main trading partner.

9:40 p.m.: The United States is looking at ways to target Iranian drone production through sanctions and export controls, and it is talking to private companies whose parts have been used in production, the White House said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

“We are assessing further steps we can take in terms of export controls to restrict Iran’s access to technologies used in drones,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

The United States has previously imposed sanctions on companies and people it accused of producing or transferring Iranian drones that Russia has used to attack civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

8:03 p.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that sending Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine was being considered to help the Ukrainians in combating Russia’s invasion, according to Reuters.

“Yes,” Biden said when asked if the option was on the table.

The armored vehicle with a powerful gun has been used as a staple by the U.S. Army to carry troops around battlefields since the mid-1980s.

The Army has thousands of Bradleys, which could give the Ukrainians more firepower on the battlefield. Biden’s move, however, is short of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which the Ukrainians have been requesting.

It was not clear how many Bradleys are destined for Ukraine, but the United States is preparing another weapons aid package that could be announced in the coming days.

7 p.m.: The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced on Wednesday that four Russian agents who collected data on HIMARS (High-Mobility Rocket Artillery Systems) and energy facilities in Donetsk Oblast had been convicted by a court, The Kyiv Independent reported.

The SBU reported that the spies had been collecting information on the locations of Ukrainian military bases and troop movements in the Bakhmut and Kramatorsk areas, as well as on the technical condition of power production facilities that had been targeted by Russian troops.

The convicts were arrested during an SBU operation in Donetsk Oblast in recent months and, in exchange for their cooperation with the investigators, were sentenced to between six and eight years in prison.

One of the convicts attempted to identify the positions of HIMARS systems, while another provided information on the restoration of electricity in the area to Russian forces through an acquaintance from Russian-occupied territories, according to the SBU.

6:20 p.m.: Global oil prices plunged Wednesday over China demand concerns and European gas prices sank to their lowest levels since November 2021 as mild winter weather reduced demand, Reuters reported.

Crude prices extended losses from a day earlier, diving around 5%, over concern about demand in the world’s biggest oil importer China, amid a steep rise in COVID-19 infections in the country.

Around midday Wednesday, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate for delivery in February was down 4.9% at $73.15 a barrel, and the main European contract, Brent for delivery in March, was 4.9% lower at $78.11.

Meanwhile, wholesale natural gas prices in Europe sank to their lowest levels since November 2021 as mild winter weather reduced demand, erasing all the gains seen last year amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

5:44 p.m.: Local police reported that Russian artillery had killed two elderly women in the town of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, on Wednesday, The Kyiv Independent reported.

According to Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, at least 1,282 people have been killed and at least 2,799 have been injured in Donetsk Oblast since February 24.

On December 26, Kyrylenko said that over 60% of Bakhmut’s infrastructure had been partially or fully destroyed.

Bakhmut, a salt-mining city with a pre-war population of around 70,000, is one of Russia’s main targets.

Seizing it could allow Russian forces to launch attacks on urban areas such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast.

4:55 p.m.:

4 p.m.: Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, said in an interview with ABC News that Ukraine is planning a major offensive in spring.

He expects the fighting to be the “hottest” in March.

“This is (when we will see more) liberation of territories and dealing the final defeats to the Russian Federation,” he said. “This will happen throughout Ukraine, from Crimea to the Donbas.”

The Ukrainian government has consistently maintained that it will not relinquish any of its territory, including Crimea and Russian-occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast.

“Our goal, and we will achieve it, is returning to the borders of 1991, like Ukraine is recognized by all subjects of international law,” Budanov said.

3:10 p.m.: Russian lawyer Leonid Krikun, who gained prominence by defending opposition and civil right activists in high-profile cases, has fled Russia, fearing for his safety, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Krikun told the SOTA online media group on Wednesday that he is currently outside of Russia in an unspecified country, adding that he had to leave the country “to avoid incarceration.”

Since Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February, many opposition activists, journalists, lawyers, and rights defenders fled the country fearing for their safety and freedom.

2:10 p.m.: French President Emmanuel Macron told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that France would send light AMX-10 RC armored combat vehicles to help Kyiv in its war against Russia, a French official said after a phone call between the two leaders, according to Reuters.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the official did not give any details about the volume or timing of the planned shipments but said the talks between the two countries would continue regarding the potential delivery of other vehicle types.

The French-made AMX-10 is a reconnaissance vehicle with high mobility that can carry up to four people.

Zelenskyy Wednesday tweeted a confirmation of his conversation with Macron, and added his thanks to the French president for his decision to send more military equipment.

1:55 p.m.: Record-high winter temperatures swept across parts of Europe over the new year, bringing calls from activists for faster action against climate change while offering short-term respite to governments struggling with high gas prices, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of sites have seen temperature records smashed in the past days, from Switzerland to Poland to Hungary, which registered its warmest Christmas Eve in Budapest and saw temperatures climb to 18.9 degrees Celsius (66.02°F) on Jan. 1.

The unusually mild temperatures have offered some short-term relief to European governments who have struggled to secure scarce gas supplies and keep a lid on soaring prices after Russia slashed deliveries of the fuel to Europe.

European governments have said this energy crisis should hasten their shift from fossil fuels to clean energy – but in the short term, plummeting Russian fuel supplies have left them racing to secure extra gas from elsewhere.

Gas demand has fallen for heating in many countries due to the mild spell, helping to reduce prices.

1:15 p.m.:

12:50 p.m.: The Czech government on Wednesday approved a bill aimed at bringing defense spending at the required NATO goal of 2% of gross domestic product as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, The Associated Press reported.

Defense Minister Jana Cernochova said the move would“ensure a stable and transparent financing of big defense strategic projects in the future.”

Cernochova said the war in Ukraine “made it clear we have to be ready for the current and future conflicts and that’s why a fast modernization of the army is absolutely necessary.”

Although the Czechs will spend only 1.52% of GDP on defense this year, the 2% target should be reached in 2024 once the bill is approvied in parliament where the governing coalition has a majority in both chambers.

NATO members agreed in 2014 to commit to the 2% spending target by 2024. Currently, only nine of the Western military alliance’s 30 members meet or surpass that goal.

12:10 p.m.:

11:25 a.m.: Emergency blackouts are being introduced in Ukraine as power consumption rises, the Kyiv Independent reported Wednesday, quoting the national energy supplier.

“Ukraine’s state grid operator Ukrenergo reported that power consumption in the country had increased due to colder weather and the intensification of business operations following the winter holidays,” the media organization said.

11:10 a.m.:

10:50 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden will hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House on January 13 covering North Korea, Ukraine, China’s tensions with Taiwan, and a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House said on Tuesday.

The two leaders will discuss “a range of regional and global issues including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, and maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.

Reuters reported that Kishida said he will discuss Tokyo’s new security policy and reconfirm close ties with the United States. In December, Japan unveiled its biggest military build-up since World War Two and the White House said Biden will reiterate his full support for Japan’s plans.

10:20 a.m.: Only a small fraction of the prewar population remains in the village of Orikhiv in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya region. The settlement is located near the front line and suffers daily shelling by Russian forces. Currently, there is no gas, electricity, or centralized water supply in the city. Due to constant shelling, residents are forced to sleep in basements. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

10:05 a.m.: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia was planning to call up more troops for a major new offensive, even as Moscow was facing some of its biggest internal criticism of the war over a strike that killed scores of fresh conscripts, according to Reuters.

Kyiv has been saying for weeks that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to order another mass conscription drive and shut his borders to prevent men from escaping the draft.

“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can round up to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Tuesday. “We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at their new offensive must fail.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month there was no need for further mobilization. But in a sign the Kremlin may now be considering one, a little known group claiming to represent widows of Russian soldiers released a call on Tuesday for Putin to order a large-scale mobilization of millions of men. The Kremlin has not commented on that appeal.

9:40 a.m.:

9:00 a.m.: Ukraine’s efforts to increase exports under the Black Sea grain deal with Russia are currently focused on securing faster inspections of ships rather than including more ports in the initiative, a senior Ukrainian official said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Ukraine is a major global grain producer and exporter, but production and exports have fallen since Russia invaded the country last February and started blockading its seaports.

Three leading Ukrainian Black Sea ports in the Odesa region were unblocked in July under an initiative between Moscow and Kyiv brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. Under the deal, all ships are inspected by joint teams in the Bosphorus.

Kyiv accuses Russia of carrying out the inspections too slowly, causing weeks of delays for ships and reducing the supply of Ukrainian grain to foreign markets. Russia has denied slowing down the process.

8:25 a.m.:

8:05 a.m.: Ukraine wants the United Nations to send peacekeepers to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant even without a deal with Russia to establish a safety zone there, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said, according to Reuters.

Ukraine has called for U.N. peacekeepers at the site since September. But the comment was the first time a Ukraine nuclear official has suggested publicly peacekeepers should be deployed in the absence of an agreement to create a safety zone at the plant, which Russia took control of soon after invading the country on February 24.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, Europe’s largest, has suffered repeated shelling and power cuts, raising concerns of radioactive catastrophe. Ukraine and Russia trade blame for the shelling

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had hoped to mediate an agreement between Russia and Ukraine on a safety zone by January.
Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom, said the absence of a deal means the U.N. Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member, should deploy peacekeepers.

“The problem is there is no solution (at) the level of IAEA,” Kotin told Reuters in an online interview from his office in Kyiv on Tuesday. “The process is not going forward. We would propose to bring this problem to the next level,” he said.

7:50 a.m.:

7:35 a.m.: Explosions were reported in the vicinity of Russia’s Belbek military airfield on Ukraine’s occupied Crimean Peninsula early on Wednesday, while Moscow renewed its air attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The Russia-installed head of the port city of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, claimed on Telegram that two drones had been shot down by Russian forces. RFE/RL cannot confirm that report.

Belbek is home to the 38th fighter regiment of the Russian Air Force. It was targeted by a drone attack in August 2022. Since then, air defenses in Crimea have been activated regularly. The occupation head of the peninsula, Sergei Aksyonov, has said drone attacks are the “main threat” in the area.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 4 that Russia has launched dozens of air and missile strikes, many of which targeted civilian infrastructure in Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson. Air-raid sirens were heard in many locations across the country overnight.

In addition, the Ukrainian side reported fighting in several districts of the partially occupied eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

6:55 a.m.:

6:25 a.m.: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Wednesday that the European Union had tried everything to stop the war in Ukraine, but that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had nothing on his mind but to destroy the neighboring country.

Speaking at a conference in Portugal’s capital Lisbon, Baerbock said Putin’s stance was the reason why it was “important to keep up the delivery of weapons so Ukraine can defend itself and protect people’s lives,” Reuters reported.

6:10 a.m.: Reuters reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sent a frigate off to the Atlantic Ocean armed with hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles.

In a video conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Igor Krokhmal, commander of the frigate named “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov,” Putin said the ship was armed with Zircon hypersonic weapons.

“This time the ship is equipped with the latest hypersonic missile system — “Zircon” — which has no analogs,” Putin said. “This is a hypersonic sea–based system.”

Shoigu said the Gorshkov would sail to the Atlantic and Indian oceans and to the Mediterranean Sea.

5:35 a.m.:

5 a.m.: Russia’s defense ministry on Wednesday blamed the illegal use of mobile phones by its soldiers for a deadly Ukrainian missile strike that it said killed 89 servicemen, but Semyon Pegov, a prominent Russian war correspondent awarded the Order of Courage by Putin in late 2022, questioned the ministry’s reasoning.

Reuters reported that in a Telegram post, Pegov said that Ukraine could have been able to locate the troops via drones and intelligence, not necessarily through mobile phones.

“The story of ‘mobiles’ is not very convincing,” Pegov said. “I rarely say this — but this is the case when it would probably be better to remain silent, at least until the end of the investigation. As such it looks like an outright attempt to smear the blame.”

Pegov also said that the number of casualties would rise.

“Unfortunately, their number will continue to grow. The announced data is most likely for those who were immediately identified. The list of the missing, unfortunately, is noticeably longer. I cannot disclose the sources, but I consider them reliable.”

4:30 a.m.: According to Reuters, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on Wednesday said Russia had launched seven missile strikes, 18 air strikes and more than 85 attacks from multiple-launch rocket systems in the past 24 hours on civilian infrastructure in three cities, Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

“There are casualties among the civilian population,” it said. Russia denies targeting civilians.

The battlefield report could not be independently verified by Reuters.

4 a.m.:

3:35 a.m.: Ruslan Khasbulatov, who led a rebellion against Russia’s first post-Soviet president, has died. He was 80.

Khasbulatov’s death was reported Tuesday by Russian state television, The Associated Press reported.

Khasbulatov, an ethnic Chechen, was elected speaker of parliament of the Russian Federation shortly before the Soviet collapse. His relations with Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin grew strained after the 1991 breakup of the USSR.

In September 1993, Khasbulatov teamed up with Vice President Alexander Rutskoi to challenge Yeltsin’s leadership. Yeltsin responded by disbanding parliament, and Khasbulatov retaliated by calling a session that declared Yeltsin’s authority terminated.

The crisis reached a showdown when Yeltsin sent tanks to fire on parliament and its leaders were arrested.

3 a.m.:

2:32 a.m.: The United Nations estimates that a third of all Ukrainians have been forced out of their homes since Russia invaded last February. They have been welcomed in countries all over Europe, but, as inflation rises and temperatures drop, it is becoming more and more difficult for their hosts and helpers.

In a new report, The Washington Post provided snapshots of the connections between refugees and those devoted to helping them — and speculated on the future ahead as they move forward into the dead of winter.

2 a.m.:

1:30 a.m.: Drone advances in Ukraine have accelerated a technology trend that could soon bring the world’s first fully autonomous robots to the battlefield and inaugurate a new age of warfare, The Associated Press reported.

Experts say it may be only a matter of time before either Russia or Ukraine, or both, deploy drones programmed to find and attack targets without help from humans. That would mark a revolution in military technology as profound as the introduction of the machine gun.

Ukraine already has semi-autonomous drones endowed with artificial intelligence. Russia also claims to possess AI weaponry. But there are no confirmed instances of a nation putting into combat drones that have killed entirely on their own.

1 a.m.:

12:30 a.m.: The Joint Coordination Center reported that 10 vessels left Ukrainian ports from December 31, 2022, to January 3, 2023, carrying a total of 467,090 metric tons of grain and other food products under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

There are 35 vessels waiting for inspection: eight of them waiting to move into Ukrainian ports, and 27 of them are loaded with cargo waiting to sail to their global destinations.

On Wednesday, the JCC is planning to deploy three joint inspection teams to conduct 11 inspections, seven on inbound vessels and four on outbound.

As of 3 January, the total tonnage of grain and other foodstuffs exported from the three Ukrainian ports is 16,432,665 metric tons. A total of 1,232 voyages (612 inbound and 620 outbound) have been enabled so far.

12:01 a.m.: New regulations in Poland require specialized police to go through training with grenade launchers, The Associated Press reported.

Local media interpret the decision as a reaction to the Polish police chief’s accidental detonation of such a weapon that had been a gift from Ukraine. The updated instructions for weapons training took effect January 1. They were approved by the interior minister just two days after a grenade launcher — a gift from Ukraine officials — exploded unexpectedly last month as the police chief was moving it in his office. He and another person were slightly injured.

The police chief said he had been assured the gifted launcher was free of explosives. Some politicians argued that police should be made better acquainted with such weapons.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.


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