Ukrainian troops begin training on German Leopard tanks in Europe

File photo of Denmark's Leopard 2A7 tank during military drills near Tapa, Estonia, taken February 5, 2023.
File photo of Denmark's Leopard 2A7 tank during military drills near Tapa, Estonia, taken February 5, 2023. ? Pavel Golovkin, AP

Ukrainian forces begin training on German Leopard tanks on Monday, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said, ahead of their delivery to the front line. With Russian forces keeping Ukrainian troops tied down with fighting in the eastern Donbas region, Kyiv is urgently awaiting deliveries of the tanks from its Western allies. Read FRANCE 24's blog to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).


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01:21am:?Ukraine withdraws 19 million Russian and soviet-era books from libraries

Ukraine had withdrawn from its?libraries about 19 million copies of books by last November that?came either from the Soviet era or were in Russian, a senior?lawmaker said on Monday.

Yevheniya Kravchuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian?parliament's committee on humanitarian and information policy,?said that of the 19 million books, 11 million were in Russian.

"Some Ukrainian-language books from the Soviet era are also?written off," Kravchuk said according to a statement published?on the website of the Verkhovna Rada, the country's parliament.

"There are also recommendations to write off and remove?books whose authors supported armed aggression against Ukraine."

It was not immediately clear what happened to the withdrawn?books.

9:09pm: Zelensky invited to participate in future European Council summit

European Council President Charles Michel has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to take part in a future EU summit, Michel's spokesman tweeted on Monday.

"For security reasons, no further information will be provided," the spokesman, Barend Leyts, added.

7:38pm:?Russia's Lavrov to visit Mali in sign of deepening ties

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to arrive in Mali?late Monday for talks with its junta leaders seeking Moscow's help in battling an Islamist insurgency that remains entrenched despite years of fighting.

The visit of less than 24 hours will be Lavrov's third trip to Africa since July, part of a bid to expand Russia's presence on the continent amid broad international isolation since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year.

Since taking control of Mali in two coups since August 2020, the military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goita has embraced Russian support to aid its anti-jihadist fight after evicting the forces of former colonial ruler France.

Several Malian officials have travelled to Moscow, but the visit by Lavrov is "the first of its kind" aimed at cementing "a new dynamic" for security and economic cooperation between the two countries, according to Mali's foreign ministry.

Mali has already received planes and attack helicopters from Russia as well as several hundred Russian soldiers described by Mali's leaders as instructors who are helping to reinforce Mali's defence and sovereignty.

7:30pm: Ukraine's main Catholic church moves Christmas to Dec. 25 in pivot to West

Ukraine's main Catholic church said on Monday it would move to a new calendar that would see Christmas celebrated on Dec. 25 rather than Jan. 7, amid an effort by Ukrainian institutions to break cultural links to Russia.

The move by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), which counts just under a tenth of Ukrainians as worshippers, was welcomed by Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko.

"This decision is appropriate to the demands of our time and public opinion," he wrote on Facebook, citing the results of a national online survey conducted by the government.

That poll, held in December 2022, showed 59 percent of over 1.5 million respondents supported moving Christmas celebrations to Dec. 25, when the feast is celebrated in Western Europe.

Until now, all major churches in majority-Orthodox Ukraine followed the Julian calendar, which celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. That is also the date on which Russia celebrates the feast.

6:38pm: Czechs to oppose Russian athletes at 2024 Olympics

The Czech Olympic Committee and the country's government on Monday slammed the idea of Russian and Belarusian athletes competing at the 2024 Olympic Games under a neutral flag.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said late last month it was looking into ways to let athletes from the two countries compete in Paris despite international sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

"Russian and Belarusian athletes cannot compete at the Olympic Games," the Czech Olympic Committee said in a statement.

"We can see no reason to change" the sanctions in place, it added.

But it said it would not push Czech athletes to boycott the Olympic Games, an idea considered by several European countries, including Ukraine or Estonia.

6:01pm:?Russia's January budget deficit widens as energy revenues slump

Slumping energy revenues and soaring expenditure pushed Russia's federal budget to a deficit of 1.76 trillion roubles ($24.78 billion) in January, as sanctions and the cost of Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine choke the economy's prospects.

Citing preliminary data, Russia's finance ministry said on Monday oil and gas revenues were 46.4 percent lower at 426 billion roubles in January than in the same month last year, which it put down primarily to lower prices for Russia's Urals blend and lower volumes of natural gas exports.

Non-oil and gas revenues were 28 percent lower at 981 billion roubles, attributed to lower domestic VAT and income tax takings.

Overall, budget revenues for the month were down 35.1 percent, while spending was 58.7 percent higher in January 2023, at 3.12 trillion roubles, already more than 10 percent of the full-year spending plan.

5:07pm: Russia sentences popular cookbook author over Ukraine posts

A Moscow court on Monday sentenced a popular cookbook author and blogger to nine years in prison after convicting her in absentia of spreading false information about the country’s military. The trial was part of the Kremlin’s sweeping, months-long crackdown on dissent.?

The charges against Veronika Belotserkovskaya, who lives abroad, were brought over her Instagram posts that the authorities alleged contained "deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to destroy cities and the civilian population of Ukraine, including children”.

Belotserkovskaya, whose Instagram profile says she was born in Odesa, a city in southern Ukraine, responded to the news of the sentencing by writing that she is, “on one hand, perplexed, and on the other hand, of course, proud”.

4:35pm: UN chief fears world headed for ‘wider war' over Ukraine-Russia?

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned nations on Monday that he fears the likelihood of further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict means the world is heading towards a "wider war".?

"The prospects for peace keep diminishing. The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing," Guterres told the United Nations General Assembly.

"I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open," he added.?

"We have started 2023 staring down the barrel of a confluence of challenges unlike any in our lifetimes," he told diplomats in New York.

Guterres also noted that top scientists and security experts had moved the "Doomsday Clock" to just 90 seconds to midnight last month, the closest it has ever been to signaling the annihilation of humanity.

3:23pm: Training begins on Leopard tanks

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said his forces would begin training on Leopard tanks on Monday, before their delivery to Ukraine. So far, Canada, Poland, Germany, the UK and the US have announced they will supply battle tanks to Ukraine.

Amid mounting international pressure last month, the German government announced the planned delivery of modern Leopard 2 tanks from army stocks.

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted late Sunday that the first German-made Leopard tank Canada is donating to Ukraine had arrived in Poland. It is part of a broad tank commitment by Ukraine’s Western allies to help it defeat Russia.?

2:56pm: Lavrov visits Iraq, discusses US sanctions?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad on Monday. The two discussed unpaid bills owed to Russian oil companies due to US sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein told a Baghdad news conference that sanctions “should not be imposed on Iraq because its cooperation continues with Russian companies".

Since the Ukraine war began nearly a year ago, the US and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russian officials, banks and financial institutions, raising fears in third countries about any transactions involving Russia.

Hussein said Russian oil and gas companies operating in Iraq were still awaiting some payments, without specifying how much was due.

He reiterated Baghdad's support for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.

"We support a ceasefire between both parties so negotiations to end this truly global crisis can begin," he said.

1:30pm: Poland redeploys Patriot missiles to Warsaw for drills

Patriot missile batteries that Poland acquired from the US last year have been deployed to the country's capital Warsaw as part of military exercise, according to Poland's defence ministry.

Poland is taking additional steps to strengthen its defensive capabilities as Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine enters its second year later this month. At least three ground-to-air missile launchers were seen Monday at Warsaw’s Bemowo airport.

Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Twitter over the weekend that the redeployment of the missile batteries from their base in Sochaczew, central Poland, to Warsaw was “an important element to the training" of the 3rd Warsaw Brigade of Missile Air Defense

1:07pm: Ukraine's defence minister will not be replaced this week, MPs say

The replacement of Ukraine's defence minister announced over the weekend in the wake of corruption scandals will not take place this week, lawmakers said Monday.

"We are waiting for the appointment of the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security Service of Ukraine. The personnel changes in the defence sector will not take place this week," David Arakhamia, who is the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky's party, said on social media.

On Sunday evening, Arakhamia said that Ukraine's military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov will replace Oleksiy Reznikov as defence minister.

1:04pm: Russian forces claim control of Mykolaivka in Ukraine's Donetsk

Russia's defence ministry said on Monday that its forces had taken control of Mykolaivka, a small village in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, according to state media.

12:30pm: Russian forces keep up pressure as Ukraine anniversary nears

Russian forces are keeping Ukrainian troops tied down with fighting in the eastern Donbas region as Moscow assembles additional combat power there for an expected offensive in the coming weeks, Ukrainian officials said Monday.

Weeks of intense fighting continued to rage around the city of Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said. They are located in the Donetsk region, which with neighboring Luhansk region makes up the Donbas region, an industrial area bordering Russia.

“The battles for the region are heating up,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks, adding that “the Russians are throwing new units into the battle and eradicating our towns and villages.” Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said shelling there had subsided because “the Russians have been saving ammunition for a large-scale offensive.”

12:05pm: Norway plans five-year $7.3-billion aid package to Ukraine

Norway's government said Monday it was planning a five-year aid package to Ukraine worth 75 billion kroner ($7.3 billion), as well as additional aid to other countries affected by the conflict.

"We are proposing that Norway gives a binding and lasting contribution to Ukraine", Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told reporters. "We are proposing that 15 billion kroner be given per year to Ukraine for five years, or 75 billion kroner".


? France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)


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