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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

War barely mentioned at Putin-Lukashenko press conference

Mention of the war in Ukraine was conspicuously absent from a press conference held by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin after their talks Monday.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Mention of the war in Ukraine was conspicuously absent from a press conference held by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin after their talks Monday.

Lukashenko appeared to try to calm fears that Belarus could be absorbed by its larger, dominant neighbor Russia, and said Belarus benefits from its close relationship with Russia in terms of energy and industry as the leaders pledged to deepen ties.

“With regard to someone is absorbing anyone … The question arises, for what? Russia has always met us halfway. There is not a single issue that has remained unresolved today. We are meeting the Russian Federation halfway in the most difficult moment,” Lukashenko said, according to Belarusian state news agency BelTA.

“If someone is hatching up plans to tear us apart, to drive a wedge between us, they will not succeed. In 2020, it was not Russia that attacked us around the perimeter. It was not Russia. Russia extended a helping hand to us. We were attacked from there [from the West]. They wanted to deprive us of both independence and sovereignty,” he claimed.

Belarus saw mass protests in 2020 after an election that many observers believe was rigged to keep long-term leader Lukashenko in power. The protests were met with a harsh response from Belarus’ security services. Lukashenko baselessly blamed the West for inciting the demonstrations. Russia said it was ready to support Lukashenko’s leadership should the protests get “out of control.”

Following months of increased joint military exercises and meetings, concerns have grown that Belarus could enter the Ukraine war to assist Russia (it has already allowed Moscow to launch attacks from its territory). On Monday, Lukashenko said nothing would be able to “break our relationship” with Russia but did not mention the possibility of Belarus assisting Russia in the war in Ukraine.

“So what is there to say? Just one more time: they will not be able to break our relationship. It will only strengthen. Today, in fact, together with the president and our colleagues, we have created a base for the future rapid progress,” Lukashenko said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Bakhmut ‘the hottest point on the entire front line,’ Zelenskyy says

The city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine remains a hot spot in the conflict — the hottest, according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Bakhmut remains the hottest point on the entire front line — more than 1,300 km of active hostilities. Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time goes by — and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the lost army of the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram Tuesday night.

“I thank all our fighters who are heroically holding the Bakhmut direction, Soledar, Avdiyivka, Maryinka, Kremensky direction and the entire Donbas region, which before the arrival of Russia was one of the strongest in Ukraine and which Russia is destroying to the ground. Even such cruelty will not give the enemy anything.”

Smoke rises from the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 19, 2022.

Sameer Al-doumy | Afp | Getty Images

The president claimed Russia had lost almost 100,000 soldiers in Ukraine and said the loss was for nothing.

“They wage a war and waste people’s lives – other people’s lives, not their loved ones, not their own lives, but others – and only because some small group in the Kremlin does not know how to admit mistakes and is terribly afraid of reality,” Zelenskyy said.

Estimates of Russian fatalities in Ukraine differ from one source to another other sources although most put Russia’s death toll as lower than Ukraine’s estimates. Russia itself has not released any data on fatalities in several months.

— Holly Ellyatt

EU approves price cap measure for natural gas in effort to combat energy crisis

European Union energy ministers agreed to a “dynamic” cap on natural gas prices Monday after two months of intense negotiations.

Introducing a limit on gas prices has been controversial for European officials. While many EU member states have argued that the measure is essential to bring down sky-high energy costs for consumers, others have worried about the potential market implications of the policy.

“We did our job, we have the deal. Another mission impossible accomplished,” Jozef Sikela, industry minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, said in a press conference.

Energy ministers overcame their differences and agreed to what they’re calling a market correction mechanism. It will be automatically activated under two conditions: If front-month gas contracts exceed 180 euros ($191) per megawatt hour on the Dutch Title Transfer Facility — Europe’s main benchmark for natural gas prices — for three working days in a row; and the price is 35 euros higher than a reference price for liquid natural gas on global markets for the same period.

The measure will apply from Feb. 15. When applied, it will set a “dynamic bidding limit” on natural gas futures transactions for 20 working days.

Read the full story here.

—Jenni Reid

Putin says situation extremely difficult in Russian-annexed Ukrainian regions

President Vladimir Putin said the situation in four areas of Ukraine that Moscow has declared are part of Russia was “extremely difficult” and ordered security services to step up surveillance to secure its borders and combat new threats.

Putin’s comments made on Security Services Day, widely celebrated in Russia, came as Kyiv renewed calls for more weapons after Russian drones hit energy targets and as fears grow that Moscow’s ally Belarus could open a new invasion front against Ukraine.

Putin ordered the Federal Security Services (FSB) to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to combat the “emergence of new threats” from abroad and traitors at home.

In a rare admission of the invasion of Ukraine not going smoothly, Putin cautioned about the difficult situation in Ukraine’s regions that Moscow moved to annex in September and ordered the FSB to ensure the “safety” of people living there.

“The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult,” Putin said late on Monday in comments translated by Reuters.

Reuters

U.S. Treasury official says U.S.-Poland relations are hindering Russia’s war effort

Soldiers from the Ukrainian armed forces’ 10th brigade move a T-72 tank forward as they attempt to repair a track, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on December 19, 2022.

Sameer Al-doumy | AFP | Getty Images

U.S.-Poland relations are affecting the Russian government’s ability to carry out its unprovoked war in Ukraine, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said.

During a meeting with Anna Moskwa, Polish minister of climate and environment, in Brussels on Monday, Adeyemo praised the nations’ combined support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia through sanctions, export controls and the $60 price cap on Russian seaborne oil devised by the G-7 countries, according to a readout.

The measures have effectively shut down Russian tank factories and weakened its finances and economic outlook, the officials said. Adeyemo also lauded Poland’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and highlighted each nation’s pledge to provide further aid to Ukraine.

— Chelsey Cox

Moldova fears a Russian offensive in the country’s east next year, spy chief says

Flags of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria and Russia flutter in central Tiraspol, in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria May 5, 2022. 

Vladislav Bachev | Reuters

Moldova’s spy chief warned of a “very high” risk of a new Russian offensive towards his country’s east next year and said Moscow still aimed to secure a land corridor through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria.

The comments by Alexandru Musteata, head of the Information and Security Service, echo recent messages out of Ukraine where top army generals have warned in recent days of the threat of a major new Russian offensive early next year.

“The question is not whether the Russian Federation will undertake a new advance towards Moldova’s territory, but when it will do so,” Musteata told the TVR-Moldova television channel.

He said his agency believed Russia was looking at several scenarios to reach Moldova and that it was possible an offensive would be launched in January-February or later in March-April.

— Reuters

Putin arrives in Belarus for talks with Lukashenko

MINSK, BELARUS – DECEMBER 19: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (R) seen during the welcoming ceremony at the Palace of Independence on December 19, 2022, in Minsk, Belarus.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Minsk for talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian state media reported Monday afternoon.

The meeting, Putin’s first to the Belarusian capital since 2019, comes amid increasing fears that Moscow may be pushing its ally to increase its military involvement in the war.

Speaking to Russian news agencies earlier Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called Belarus Russia’s “number one ally,” but said that suggestions that Moscow wanted to pressure Minsk into joining the conflict were “stupid and unfounded fabrications.”

—Karen Gilchrist

Kremlin dismisses reports that Belarus is to join conflict

The Kremlin on Monday rejected suggestions that President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belarus signals a ramping up of Minsk’s involvement in the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, December 14, 2022. 

Sputnik | Reuters

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the reports were “groundless” and “stupid,” hours before Putin was due to arrive in the Belarusian capital.

Putin’s visit Monday afternoon marks his first to the ex-Soviet ally in more than three years, and comes as Belarus’ defense ministry said it had finalized a series of inspections of its armed forces’ military preparedness.

—Karen Gilchrist

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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