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Since the outset of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Poland has been a staunch supporter of Kyiv, providing military aid and making a passionate case for this support as crucial to Poland’s own defense against Russian aggression. However, there has been a notable shift in the Polish government’s stance on Ukraine.

Recently, a change in tone has emerged, raising questions about Poland’s commitment to Kyiv. Some Polish officials have suggested that Ukraine should show more gratitude for Poland’s support. Poland’s prime minister even hinted at the possibility of ending weapons transfers to Ukraine, though others in his party tried to backtrack on that message.

Polish President Andrzej Duda made a particularly controversial statement, likening Ukraine to a drowning man who could potentially pull down his rescuers. Moscow seized upon these remarks with enthusiasm.

The downturn in relations between the two neighboring countries began over a dispute about grain imports that remains unresolved. Ukraine needs to export its harvest, and land routes are vital since Russia has been deliberately targeting ports on the Black Sea and the Danube River. However, Poland, in a bid to protect its own farmers, has restricted cheaper Ukrainian grain from entering its domestic market, only permitting it to transit to the rest of the European Union.

This shift in Poland’s stance is not occurring in isolation, as “Ukraine fatigue” is looming over election campaigns in various countries. Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS), which is leading in the polls but faces tight margins, is positioning itself as the defender of Polish interests. PiS aims to attract conservative voters who may be sympathetic to the idea that Ukraine is not showing enough gratitude for Polish support.

Despite criticism from opposition politicians who label this shift as dangerous nationalism, Poland’s changing tone reflects a broader trend. Ukraine is concerned about maintaining strong Western support as it faces Russian forces, making this shift in Poland’s stance a cause for worry. However, Poland emphasizes that international aid will continue to reach Ukraine’s frontlines through Rzeszow in the east, a critical transit hub for military supplies. Talks between Ukraine and Poland regarding the grain dispute are ongoing.

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One of Ukraine’s steadfast supporters, Poland, has declared that it will cease its weapon supplies to its neighboring country, Ukraine, citing a diplomatic dispute regarding Ukraine’s grain exports as the primary reason. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki emphasized that Poland’s current focus is on bolstering its own defense capabilities with more modern weaponry.

Poland had already provided Ukraine with significant military assistance, including 320 Soviet-era tanks and 14 MiG-29 fighter jets. However, their willingness to continue such support has dwindled, coinciding with escalating tensions between the two nations.

The recent diplomatic rift was triggered when Poland, along with Hungary and Slovakia, extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s comments at the United Nations, characterizing their actions as political theater, added fuel to the fire. Poland viewed these remarks as unjustified, given their longstanding support for Ukraine.

In his interview, Prime Minister Morawiecki underlined that while Poland remains committed to assisting Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, it could not allow its own markets to be destabilized by Ukrainian grain imports. He pointed out that Poland was already replacing its depleted military hardware, which had been significantly reduced through transfers to Ukraine, with modern Western-produced equipment.

While arms exports to Ukraine will not cease entirely, only previously agreed deliveries of ammunition and armaments, including those from existing contracts with Ukraine, will be fulfilled. This decision reflects Poland’s commitment to its own security and stability, while the future of its assistance to Ukraine remains uncertain.

The ongoing grain dispute arises from Ukraine’s need to find alternative overland routes for grain exports due to Russia’s full-scale invasion, which nearly closed the main Black Sea shipping lanes. Consequently, large quantities of grain flowed into Central Europe, leading the European Union to temporarily ban grain imports into several countries. Despite the EU lifting the ban, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have maintained it, leading to Ukraine’s WTO lawsuits against these nations. Poland has signaled its intention to uphold the ban, while also hinting at the possibility of expanding the list of banned products should Ukraine escalate the grain dispute. However, diplomatic channels remain open, with discussions ongoing to seek a mutually beneficial solution.

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Azerbaijan’s defense ministry has initiated “anti-terrorist” operations in regions of Nagorno-Karabakh controlled by Armenia. Tensions have remained elevated for several months concerning the disputed ethnic-Armenian enclave, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

In Karabakh’s main city, air raid sirens and mortar fire were heard. Tragically, eleven Azerbaijani police and civilians lost their lives in a mine explosion and another incident.

Officials from the breakaway region of Karabakh stated that the Azerbaijani military breached the ceasefire by launching missile and artillery attacks along the entire line of contact. Representatives from Karabakh described it as a “large-scale military offensive.”

Azerbaijan and Armenia, neighboring nations, have previously engaged in two conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh: first in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and again in 2020. Three years ago, Azerbaijan successfully regained territories surrounding Karabakh, which had been held by Armenia since 1994.

Since December, Azerbaijan has imposed an effective blockade on the only route into the enclave from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor.

On Tuesday, Baku’s defense ministry accused Armenian forces of “systematically shelling” its military positions and claimed to have responded by launching “local, anti-terrorist activities” aimed at disarming and securing the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Azerbaijani territories. They emphasized that their targets were strictly military and not civilians or civilian infrastructure.

Armenia’s defense ministry denied claims of Armenian military fire, stating that they did not correspond to reality.

The sounds of artillery and gunfire were reported from Khankendi, the regional capital of Karabakh, known as Stepanakert to Armenians. An estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians reside in this mountainous enclave.

Journalist Siranush Sargsyan reported that residential areas of the city had been struck, including a neighboring building.

Armenian officials noted that, as of 14:00 (10:00 GMT), the situation along Armenia’s own borders was “relatively stable.”

Russia’s foreign ministry disclosed that it had been informed of the Azerbaijani offensive only moments before it occurred, urging both nations to respect the ceasefire that was signed after the 2020 war. The EU’s regional special representative, Toivo Klaar, emphasized the “urgent need for an immediate ceasefire.”

The fragile truce that ended the six-week war in 2020 had been under increasing strain in recent months. Approximately 3,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed to monitor the ceasefire, but Russia’s attention has been redirected to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently stated that Russia was “spontaneously leaving the region.”

Azerbaijan had denied increasing troop numbers in the region. On Monday, it permitted aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter Karabakh via two routes, one through the Lachin Corridor from Armenia and the other on Azerbaijan’s Aghdam road.

Hopes for tensions to ease were dashed when Azerbaijani officials reported six casualties, including four police officers, in an incident where their vehicle hit a landmine in the Khojavand area, which had been retaken during the 2020 war. Meanwhile, ethnic Armenian officials in Karabakh asserted that it was Azerbaijan’s military that had violated the ceasefire.

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Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was reportedly among the passengers aboard a Russian jet that crashed, resulting in the deaths of all 10 individuals on board. The crash occurred in the Tver region, northwest of Moscow. Social media linked to the Wagner mercenary group have suggested that Prigozhin’s private plane was shot down by Russian air defenses. The Grey Zone Telegram channel stated that Prigozhin died due to actions by traitors to Russia.

Prigozhin had previously led a failed mutiny against the Russian armed forces in June, though some experts believe the mutiny was staged, and he abandoned his “justice march” on Moscow after direct orders from President Vladimir Putin. The crash coincided with reports of the removal of senior Russian general Sergei Surovikin, who was known to have a connection with Prigozhin. The crashed aircraft, an Embraer-135, was en route from Moscow to St Petersburg with seven passengers and three crew members.

An investigation has been initiated into the crash, and all 10 bodies have been recovered. The Wagner mercenary group, which Prigozhin was associated with, has been involved in various conflicts including those in Ukraine, Syria, and West Africa, and is known for its brutality. Prigozhin’s mutiny had created tensions with Russian military commanders and President Putin.

President Putin’s initial response to Prigozhin’s challenge to Russia’s defense establishment was strongly negative. The circumstances surrounding Prigozhin’s death, if confirmed, have raised speculation, with some eyebrows being raised about the possibility of deliberate targeting. US President Joe Biden expressed that he was “not surprised” by the news of Prigozhin’s potential death.

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Following a drone attack on the Belgorod region of Russia, three people have lost their lives. This incident occurred shortly after another drone struck central Moscow. Russian authorities have attributed the attack on Belgorod to Kyiv and Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov implicated Ukrainian forces, alleging that they deployed an explosive device via a drone while people were present on the streets. However, Kyiv has not taken responsibility for either of the incidents, which is in line with its usual practice of refraining from commenting on attacks within Russia.

In response to the initial drone strike in Belgorod that resulted in three fatalities, the Russian Defence Ministry reported the destruction of a second drone in the region. Drones were also noted in Moscow, with one hitting a building under construction, according to Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. The Russian defence ministry stated that air defenses successfully downed two drones in the Mozhaisk and Khimki districts of the Moscow region, with no reported casualties.

In the wake of the drone attack in the capital, all flights to and from Moscow’s airports were temporarily suspended on Wednesday, although they were later resumed. This suspension marked a recurrent response to a series of recent drone attacks targeting the capital. Notably, this event represented the sixth consecutive night of aerial assaults on the Moscow region.

The drone responsible for striking the under-construction building in the Moscow city complex was reportedly neutralized by electronic warfare systems. Subsequently, it lost control and collided with the building, leading to damage. Emergency services were dispatched to assess the situation and address the damages caused.

The US State Department responded to reports of the downed drones, asserting that the US does not endorse drone attacks in Russia. American officials emphasized that it is Ukraine’s prerogative to determine its defense strategy and urged Russia to conclude the conflict by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine. Incidences of alleged drone strikes inside Russian territory have grown increasingly frequent in recent months.

The Russian defence ministry indicated that it had intercepted two drones over the Moscow region on Tuesday, and two additional drones were reportedly thwarted over the Bryansk region near the Ukrainian border. Furthermore, Russian authorities claimed that a Ukrainian reconnaissance boat in the Black Sea was destroyed by a Russian warplane after approaching Russian gas production facilities. Although Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the drone incursions on Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously characterized attacks on Russian territory as an “inevitable, natural, and entirely justifiable process.”

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A Hong Kong-flagged merchant ship named Joseph Schulte, which had been stuck in the Ukrainian port of Odesa due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has departed the port. Despite concerns that Russia might target vessels in the Black Sea, the ship left after Kyiv announced a “humanitarian corridor” for ships in the Black Sea. This corridor was established following the collapse of a previous deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain. The ship’s departure comes after Russian air strikes reportedly damaged grain storage facilities in Reni, a port on the Danube river.

Ukrainian officials released images showing the destruction of storage facilities and crops in Reni. Despite the attacks, the port is said to be operational. Russia has not commented on these latest developments. Previously, Russia withdrew from an agreement that guaranteed safe passage for ships in the Black Sea, suggesting that ships heading to Ukrainian ports could be considered military targets.

Ukraine, a significant exporter of grain and oilseeds, has faced challenges due to the blockade, leading to global increases in food prices. In response to these threats, Ukraine established a humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea to facilitate the departure of ships from its ports. The Joseph Schulte was carrying over 30,000 tonnes of cargo, including food, and was headed to Istanbul, Turkey. The corridor is intended to help evacuate ships that have been trapped in Black Sea ports since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have been conducting a counter-offensive to retake territory from Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk region. Despite receiving military equipment from Western countries, their advances have been limited. Recent clashes have led to the evacuation of many residents in the country’s east. Russia has also reported downing drones near Moscow in a series of attacks on Russian cities.

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According to official statistics, the war in Ukraine has led to a significant decline in the country’s birth rate, with a decrease of 28%. In the first six months of 2023, only 96,755 children were born, compared to 135,079 in the same period in 2021. This drop is the most substantial decrease in birth rates since Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Even before the conflict, Ukraine’s birth rate had been steadily declining over the past decade. However, the war has exacerbated the situation, resulting in the largest decline in births on record. The ongoing conflict has also had a severe impact on the country’s population, with nearly six million people fleeing, according to the United Nations.

Data collected by the Ukrainian data analytics website Opendatabot aligns with the observations of demographic experts, who have noticed similar declines in birth rates during previous wars. The US-based Population Reference Bureau states that fertility rates typically drop by up to one-third during civil conflicts but tend to rebound quickly after the fighting ends.

Before the invasion by Russia, Ukraine used to witness around 23,000 monthly births, but this number has now fallen to approximately 16,000. However, the decline in birth rates has not caused a significant imbalance between male and female births. In the first half of 2023, the number of boys born was 49,626, while girls accounted for 47,129.

The last time Ukraine experienced such a significant drop in birth rates was in 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. During that period, the number of babies born decreased by 12%.

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Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has reported a second drone attack on a skyscraper in the city’s Moskva City complex within two days. Multiple drones were shot down during the overnight incident, but one managed to hit the same tower that was targeted on Sunday. The attack caused damage to the building’s glass facade, but fortunately, no injuries have been reported.

Russia’s defense ministry has attributed the latest attack to Ukraine, although Kyiv has not made any official comments on the matter. The tensions have escalated further, as Russia also claimed that three Ukrainian unmanned boats were destroyed while attempting to attack Russian naval ships in the Black Sea.

The IQ-Quarter Tower 1 building suffered over 150 sq m of destroyed glazing during the drone attack. Additionally, two more Ukrainian drones were reportedly shot down by anti-aircraft systems in other parts of the Moscow region, with Russia’s defense ministry claiming to have thwarted a “terrorist attack” from Ukraine.

This incident adds to the growing accusations by Moscow, alleging that Ukraine has been conducting drone strikes on Russian territory in recent months. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has not claimed responsibility for specific attacks but has expressed that such actions on Russian territory are seen as an “inevitable, natural, and absolutely fair process.”

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In the wake of these recent incidents, there have been casualties and damages on both sides, further escalating the tensions in the region.

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Head of Wagner Mercenary Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced in an audio message released by a Wagner-linked Telegram account that the group will continue its operations in Africa and Belarus but is currently not actively recruiting new fighters. Prigozhin stated that the majority of Wagner fighters are currently on leave due to a period of intense work. The group is in the process of determining its future objectives, which will be undertaken for the benefit of Russia.

While the group remains operational in Africa and maintains training centers in Belarus, Prigozhin did not provide specific details. Wagner is known for its presence in various African regions and its involvement in training Belarusian territorial defense forces. However, he emphasized that they do not plan to recruit new personnel at present. Nonetheless, if the country requires a new group to safeguard its interests, Wagner will initiate recruitment.

Prigozhin also mentioned that some fighters from the group have opted to transfer to other Russian power structures, a move that the group does not restrict. In June, Wagner fighters participated in a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership, and in the aftermath of the failed mutiny, President Vladimir Putin invited non-participating Wagner fighters to sign contracts with the Russian defense ministry.

In recent developments, on Monday morning, four people were killed in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, following Russian missile strikes. A drone attack was also reported in Russia’s border region of Bryansk, with a police station being hit. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin accused Ukraine of the drone attack on the Russian capital, resulting in damage to two office blocks. In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that war was returning to Russia, and attacks on Russian territory were a natural consequence of the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

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Ukraine has officially changed its state holiday for Christmas Day from 7 January to 25 December, with the aim of distancing itself from Russian influence. President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill into law to abandon the Russian heritage of imposing Christmas celebrations on the country. This move is part of Ukraine’s broader efforts to sever religious, cultural, and other ties with Russia and align itself more closely with Western values. The decision came in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The legislation also shifted two other state holidays – Day of Ukrainian Statehood and Defenders’ Day – to different dates. The Russian government has not issued any public comments on the matter.

Historically, imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union attempted to exert control over Ukraine, including imposing the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church over Ukrainian churches. However, in 2019, the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) gained independence from the Russian Orthodox Church, leading to tensions between the two branches. The OCU has now officially adopted the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world, resulting in the celebration of Christmas on 25 December instead of 7 January.

While many Ukrainian worshippers have joined the OCU in recent years, there are still millions who follow the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the other established branch in the country. The UOC has not commented on Ukraine’s decision to move Christmas Day.

In addition to the change in Christmas Day, Ukraine has taken other measures to distance itself from Russia, such as renaming streets with links to Russian and Soviet historical figures, removing certain monuments, and banning Russian films made after 2014. These actions followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

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