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Dozens of people were injured in a series of missile strikes on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, overnight, with 53 people, including six children, harmed, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko. The attacks occurred after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s plea for increased military aid in the US yielded little progress. Ten Russian ballistic missiles were reportedly shot down, damaging kindergarten and hospital buildings. Zelensky, who left the US prior to the strikes, vowed a response and criticized Russia for targeting residential areas. The EU is set to discuss further aid for Ukraine, and Zelensky arrived in Norway for additional support talks.

The attack on Kyiv followed the use of cruise missiles by Russia, ending a 79-day hiatus in missile attacks. Ukraine’s air force claimed to have intercepted all 10 incoming missiles. The projectiles were identified as Iskander-M ballistic missiles and S-400s, designed for air defense but also used against ground targets. A major cyberattack on Ukraine’s largest mobile network operator, Kyivstar, disrupted operations, impacting millions of people relying on air raid alerts. Additionally, the port city of Odesa faced drone attacks, causing injuries and damage.

Zelensky’s efforts to secure more military aid in the US faced challenges, with President Joe Biden warning Republicans about giving Russia a “Christmas gift” if aid was not increased. Zelensky and Biden agreed to enhance air defense systems for Ukraine. Meanwhile, a summit of European leaders discussed Ukraine’s potential accession to the EU, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban opposed opening accession talks, emphasizing the need for support without full membership.

Hungary has previously clashed with EU partners over its stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed Ukraine’s fight as crucial for Europe and urged support for its inclusion in the European family.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree approving a 15% increase in the country’s troop numbers, gradually adding 170,000 personnel to reach a total of 1,320,000. The move, as announced by the defense ministry, is a response to perceived threats, particularly from the expansion of NATO. The ministry emphasized that the augmentation will be carried out through a staged recruitment drive rather than mobilization or changes to conscription procedures.

The rationale behind the decision includes concerns about the “growth of the joint armed forces of [NATO] near Russia’s borders” and the perceived threats associated with Russia’s ongoing military operations, particularly its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

Amidst this development, NATO’s recent expansion, which now includes Finland, and Sweden’s application to join, have been highlighted as contributing factors to Russia’s decision. The alliance has clarified that Ukraine’s potential membership is contingent on meeting certain conditions, though a specific timeline has not been specified.

Notably, Ukraine cannot pursue NATO membership while it remains in a state of conflict with Russia. Against this backdrop, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for reinforcements and enhanced defenses along the front line with Russia, particularly given the challenging weather conditions with temperatures falling below freezing in the region.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has emphasized the urgent need to strengthen defenses along the front line following meetings with commanders in key areas of tension in the south and east. Russian forces are attempting to encircle the eastern town of Avdiivka, targeting southern regions like Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. President Zelensky, in his nightly address, highlighted the importance of accelerating the construction of structures in sectors requiring reinforcement. Despite Ukraine’s air force claiming success in downing 18 out of 25 Russian drones and one cruise missile, the situation remains challenging, especially with temperatures dropping below freezing.

Zelensky acknowledged that winter introduces a new phase of the war, and he pledged “maximum attention” to eastern towns under fire, the Donetsk region, and the defensive line in the north-east. Concerns are rising about the possibility of a “frozen” conflict despite ongoing fierce fighting. The failure of Ukraine’s counter-offensive since the summer to achieve desired gains has raised questions about frontline morale. The military reported repelling 20 attacks near Avdiivka, which is almost encircled by Russian forces. The town’s industrial hub faces threats, with Russian forces aiming to seize a nearby coke plant.

In the south-east, Russian forces are attempting to regain lost areas around Robotyne, but Ukrainian officials claim to maintain positions on the east bank of the River Dnipro. Zelensky expressed dissatisfaction with casualties and the insufficient supply of weapons. Despite facing challenges, Ukrainian forces managed to regain control of the village of Krynky after crossing the Dnipro, facing relentless Russian attacks. Russia’s defense ministry reported repelling a Ukrainian naval attack on occupied Crimea via the Black Sea, while parts of the peninsula were placed under a state of emergency due to storm-related deaths.

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Kyiv experienced its most significant drone attack since the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to the city’s mayor. The assault, consisting of over 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones, targeted the capital from the north and east. Despite the city’s air defenses successfully intercepting 74 drones, explosions and the sound of air defenses echoed through Kyiv for more than six hours. The Shahed drones, viewed as a cost-effective alternative to Russia’s diminishing missile stocks, are slower but distinctive due to their wingspan.

The attack caused damage to buildings, including a kindergarten, and left at least five people injured, including an 11-year-old child. Fortunately, there were no reported fatalities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strikes as an intentional act of terror, vowing to continue uniting the world against Russian aggression. The assault coincided with Ukraine’s commemoration of the 1932-1933 Holodomor famine, adding symbolic weight to the event.

The possibility of Russia targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, a tactic used in the past, materialized as 16,000 homes in central Kyiv lost power. While Moscow’s previous attempts to deprive Ukrainians of essential resources failed, causing authorities to rapidly repair damaged infrastructure, the impact of such strikes remains significant. Despite ongoing improvements in Ukraine’s air defenses, attacks like these continue to cause destruction, instill fear, and disrupt the lives of its residents.

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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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US President Joe Biden has defended his controversial decision to supply cluster bombs to Ukraine, acknowledging it as a “very difficult decision” but emphasizing the urgent need for ammunition faced by the Ukrainian forces. While Ukraine’s leader praised the move as timely, criticism has arisen from human rights groups and certain Democrats. A Moscow envoy condemned the decision as cynical. Biden, ahead of a Nato summit, stated that he had consulted with allies regarding the decision.

Cluster bombs are internationally banned by over 120 countries due to their track record of causing civilian casualties. The decision to provide them to Ukraine has raised concerns due to the risk of unexploded bombs causing harm to civilians in the long term. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged the risk and explained that the decision was postponed as long as possible. Sullivan asserted that the cluster bombs provided by the US are safer compared to those used by Russia in the conflict, with a lower rate of unexploded bombs.

The decision bypasses US law prohibiting the use, production, or transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate exceeding 1%. Earlier in the war, when allegations of Russia’s use of cluster and vacuum bombs surfaced, the US referred to it as a potential war crime. The UN human rights office called for an immediate halt to the use of such munitions in any location. The Russian ambassador to the US criticized Biden’s decision, highlighting the risk of civilians being harmed by failed submunitions for years to come.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude for the military aid package worth $800 million provided by the US. He stated that it would bring Ukraine closer to victory and democracy over dictatorship. However, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the US Cluster Munition Coalition condemned the decision, citing the grave threat cluster munitions pose to civilian lives even after the conflict ends.

The response from US lawmakers on Capitol Hill has been mixed, with some Democrats considering the decision alarming and a mistake, while others, including Republican leaders, view it as a means to enhance Ukraine’s capability to counter Russian forces more effectively.

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Vladimir Putin has announced that an initial batch of tactical nuclear weapons has been deployed in Belarus, emphasizing that they would only be utilized if Russia’s territory or sovereignty faced threats. The US government has stated that there are no indications suggesting Russia’s intention to employ nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

Belarus, a crucial ally of Russia, served as a launchpad for Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February the previous year. Putin confirmed that the transfer of tactical nuclear warheads would be completed by the end of the summer, highlighting that it was a measure of “containment” to deter those considering a strategic defeat against Russia. These tactical nuclear weapons are designed for limited strikes and battlefield use, targeting specific areas without causing extensive radioactive fallout.

Putin is set to meet with African leaders in St. Petersburg following their visit to Kyiv as part of a peace initiative. However, while they were in the city, it came under Russian missile attack. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa called for de-escalation and peaceful negotiations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed the need to diplomatically isolate Russia and condemned its invasion. Putin reiterated his belief that Ukraine’s counter-offensive would not succeed and suggested that the country was running out of military equipment. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister reported advances in recapturing territory in the south of the country.

Putin also addressed economic matters, claiming that Western sanctions failed to isolate Russia and instead facilitated expansion in trade with “the markets of the future.” He praised new partnerships with Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American countries as reliable and responsible.

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated that the country’s long-awaited counter-offensive against Russia has begun. He acknowledged the occurrence of counter-offensive and defensive actions but refrained from providing specific details about the stage or state of the operation. Recent escalation of fighting in Ukraine’s south and east, along with speculation about the anticipated push, has contributed to the uncertainty surrounding the situation.

Reports suggest that Ukrainian troops have made advancements in the east near Bakhmut and in the south near Zaporizhzhia. They have also conducted long-range strikes on Russian targets. However, assessing the actual developments on the front lines is challenging as both sides present contrasting narratives. While Ukraine claims progress, Russia asserts that it is repelling attacks.

In Russia’s Kaluga region, which borders the southern districts around Moscow, the governor, Vladislav Shapsha, reported a drone crash near the village of Strelkovk. The accuracy of this report has not been independently verified by the BBC.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in a video interview that Ukrainian forces have indeed initiated their offensive, but their attempts to advance have been unsuccessful and resulted in heavy casualties.

Following discussions with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Kyiv, President Zelensky described Putin’s remarks as “interesting.” He shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows, and pretended not to know who Putin was, emphasizing the importance of conveying to Russia that their time is running out. Zelensky also mentioned that Ukraine’s military commanders are in a positive mood and urged Trudeau to relay this message to Putin. During Trudeau’s visit, Canada announced a new military aid package of 500 million Canadian dollars (£297m) for Ukraine.

A joint statement issued after the talks affirmed Canada’s support for Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations, stating that it should be pursued as soon as conditions permit. The matter is expected to be discussed at the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July.

Fighting has intensified in the strategic southern Zaporizhzhia region, with Ukrainian forces aiming to push south and divide Russian forces, thus disrupting the occupied territory that links Russia to Crimea. However, Ukraine’s progress in the region may be impeded by significant flooding caused by the destruction of the Nova Khakovka dam. The flooding has affected approximately 230 square miles (596 sq km) on both sides of the Dnipro River.

President Zelensky reported that 3,000 individuals have been evacuated from the flooded Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. While water levels have receded by 27cm, over 30 settlements on the right bank of the river, within Ukrainian-held territory, remain flooded, with nearly 4,000 residential buildings still submerged.

NATO and Ukraine’s military have accused Russia of detonating the dam, while Russia has placed the blame on Ukraine. However, it is highly likely that Russian forces, who controlled the dam, deliberately destroyed it to impede Ukrainian forces from crossing the river as part of their ongoing counter-offensive, according to the BBC’s Paul Adams.

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According to Russian officials and military bloggers, Ukraine’s military has launched attacks on occupying Russian forces in the strategically important southern Zaporizhzhia region.

Ukrainian troops, supported by tanks, artillery, and drones, are reportedly attempting to advance south of the town of Orikhiv for the second consecutive night. The counter-offensive is believed to be focused on regaining access to the Sea of Azov, which would weaken Russia’s combat capability and eliminate a land bridge to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Ukraine has been planning this counter-offensive for months and has been training troops while seeking advanced military equipment from Western allies.

The government has not revealed many details about its plans, but Ukrainian forces are reportedly testing Russian positions along the front line to identify weaknesses.

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Russia has accused Ukraine of sabotaging a key ammonia pipeline and blamed them for a recent blast that damaged the Togliatti-Odesa pipeline. Moscow claims that the incident may have a negative impact on efforts to renew a grain export deal between the two countries. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied these allegations and suggested that the explosion was likely caused by Russian shelling.

The pipeline, spanning 2,500 kilometers from Togliatti in Russia to three Black Sea ports in southern and western Ukraine, used to export 2.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually before operations were halted due to the Russian invasion in 2022. As part of the negotiations for the grain export deal last year, Ukraine and Russia agreed to ensure the safe passage of ammonia through the pipeline. The current agreement is set to expire on July 17.

The Kremlin expressed concerns about the pipeline blast, stating that it would negatively affect discussions on renewing the grain export deal. Russian officials mentioned uncertainty about the extent of the damage and the actions Ukraine would take. The Russian foreign ministry estimated that it would take one to three months to repair the damaged section, but the Industry and Trade minister stated that Moscow has no access to the affected area.

Ukraine strongly denied any involvement in the blast and instead accused Russia of conducting the attack. President Zelensky emphasized that the explosion occurred in a “grey zone” between territories controlled by Ukraine and Russia. He drew a distinction between this incident and the blast at the Khakovka dam, labeling the latter as terrorism orchestrated by Russia.

Reports have also emerged suggesting a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia. However, Ukrainian officials, including the secretary of the national security council, denied these claims and stated that any offensive action would be publicly known. US officials have indicated that while a Ukrainian counteroffensive may be in its initial stages, the main thrust of the operation has not yet begun.

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