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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Ukraine war spurs record global spending on military, Stockholm think tank says

Global military spending rose to a record last year as Russia’s war in Ukraine drove the biggest annual increase in expenditure in Europe since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, a leading conflict and armaments think tank said on Monday.

World military expenditure rose by 3.7% in real terms in 2022 to $2.24 trillion, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a statement.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February last year following years of growing tensions, has prompted European countries to rush to bolster their defenses.

Moscow claims its “special military operation” was necessary to safeguard it against what it sees as a hostile and aggressive West. Ukraine and its Western allies say Russia is waging an unprovoked war aimed at grabbing territory.

A Ukrainian tank opens fire on targets to support infantry units on the frontlines amid the Russia-Ukraine war in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on April 17, 2023. 

Muhammed Enes Yildirim | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

European military spending shot up 13% last year, primarily due to increases by Russia and Ukraine, but with many countries across the continent also ramping up military budgets and planning for more amid the surging tensions.

“This included multi-year plans to boost spending from several governments,” SIPRI Senior Researcher Diego Lopes da Silva said. “As a result, we can reasonably expect military expenditure in Central and Western Europe to keep rising in the years ahead.”

Ukraine’s military spending rose 640% in 2022, the largest annual increase recorded in SIPRI data going back to 1949, with that total not including the vast amounts of financial military aid provided by the West.

SIPRI estimated that military aid to Ukraine from the United States accounted for 2.3% of total U.S. military spending in 2022. Though the United States was the world’s top spender by far its overall expenditure rose only marginally in real terms.

Meanwhile, Russia’s military spending grew by an estimated 9.2%, though SIPRI acknowledged figures were “highly uncertain given the increasing opaqueness of financial authorities” since its war in Ukraine began.

“The difference between Russia’s budgetary plans and its actual military spending in 2022 suggests the invasion of Ukraine has cost Russia far more than it anticipated,” said Lucie Beraud-Sudreau, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.

— Reuters

Kremlin spokesman’s son claims he joined Russian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine

The son of the Kremlin’s high-profile spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed in an interview with a Moscow-based newspaper that he joined Russian mercenaries and fought in Ukraine for around six months.

In an article published by Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda on Sunday, 33 year-old Nikolai Peskov said that he served as an artilleryman in the Wagner Group, a private military company that is fighting alongside regular Russian units in Ukraine.

He served under an assumed name and said the decision to join Wagner fighters was his own initiative, but that his father Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary had supported his decision after some concerns, and had helped him contact the Wagner Group.

Nikolai Peskov said he considered it his “duty” to serve, saying “I just had to participate, I had to help everyone who was there. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch friends and other people go there,” adding that other friends had gone to fight in Ukraine.

Peskov was awarded a medal for bravery but declined to say what courageous act he and his comrades had performed. The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Telegram that he had been approached by Peskov senior who asked for his son to join the group.

A recruiting on-screen advert of the Wagner Group in Moscow. The Wagner Group is a private military company that came to prominence during the war in Ukraine. The text on the screen reads: Private military company Wagner. Join the team of the winners. Together we will win..

Vlad Karkov | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The interview has raised some eyebrows, however, given as it comes as Russia launches a major recruitment drive to attract new voluntary recruits into the armed forces. The war shows no signs of ending soon with an Ukrainian counteroffensive expected any time now.

Some commentators have also expressed doubts that the son of a member of Russia’s political elite would fight in Ukraine or that Peskov had done so.

Reuters noted that in 2022, an associate of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny phoned up Nikolai Peskov and pretended to be a Russian military official. He demanded that Peskov junior report to a draft office but Nikolai Peskov told him that he would not be going anywhere and would solve the situation at a different level, according to a recording of the call posted online.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia steps up major recruitment drive with war set to enter next phase

An ad in Saint Petersburg, Russia, promoting the army. The ad says ”serve Russia, with a real work.”

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Russia’s Ministry of Defense launched a major new drive for volunteers with an advertising campaign telling potential recruits, “you’re a real man. Be one.”

The U.K.’s defense ministry noted Sunday that “a pervasive campaign” has seen advertising appear on Russian social media sites, billboards and on TV.

“The new adverts appeal to potential recruits’ masculine pride, appealing for ‘real men’, as well as highlighting the financial benefits of joining up.” The ministry said it was highly unlikely that the campaign will attract the Russian defense ministry’s reported target of 400,000 volunteers.

One ad, Reuters noted, invited men to sign a contract with the Russian defense ministry for a salary starting at 204,000 Russian rubles ($2,495) a month. The ad showed men in everyday jobs and situations and alternatively as soldiers, concluding with the phrase: “You’re a real man. Be one.”

The public recruitment drive comes as both Russia and Ukraine prepare to step up the pace of fighting, with Kyiv expected to launch a counteroffensive imminently.

Regular Russian units, and the private military company called the Wagner Group, are now “competing for the limited pool of Russian fighting-age men,” the ministry said.

The authorities are almost certainly seeking to delay any new, overt mandatory mobilization for as long as possible to minimize domestic dissent, it added.

The Wagner Group had been allowed to recruit prisoners from Russian jails last year, with freedom offered to those who completed six months’ service in the private military company fighting in Ukraine. That avenue to recruits was closed recently, however.

— Holly Ellyatt

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