The Kremlin said on Monday that the Ukrainian people would suffer if the West sent tanks to support Kyiv, as the question of whether German-made Leopard tanks will be transferred to Ukraine remained unresolved.
The United States and its allies failed during talks last week in Germany to convince Berlin to provide its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, a key demand from Kyiv as it tries to breath new momentum into its fight against Russian forces.
Berlin said it would move quickly to allow allies to transfer Leopards in their own arsenals to Ukraine, if a consensus was found. But even that appeared to be inconclusive.
Asked about the issue at a daily news briefing on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the splits in Europe over whether to provide tanks to Kyiv showed there was increasing “nervousness” within the NATO military alliance.
“But of course all countries which take part, directly or indirectly, in pumping weapons into Ukraine and in raising its technological level bear responsibility (for continuing the conflict),” Peskov added.
“The main thing is that it is the Ukrainian people who will pay the price for all this pseudo-support,” he said.
The new year has started with the same pressing economic and political challenges for our countries. There is no indication that Russia is reconsidering its ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine.
And yet there is some reason for a more confident view on the months ahead of us. The cooperation between allies, including Germany, France and the UK, has been very close. The transatlantic relationship has been strengthened. Institutions like NATO, the EU or G7 not only lived up to their responsibility, they will come out of this crisis with new resolve.
Putin’s illegal war has underscored that European unity is key to counter this ruthless aggressor. Every issue allowed to divide European nations ultimately serves Russia.
Read the full piece from the German and French ambassador to the UK here
Moscow on Monday downgraded diplomatic relations with Estonia and ordered its ambassador to leave Russia, accusing the Baltic country of “total Russophobia.”
“The ambassador of the Estonian Republic will have to leave the Russian Federation on February 7,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding it was also downgrading diplomatic ties. The measures come after Estonia reduced staff levels at Russia’s embassy in Tallinn, the statement said.
EU countries will on Monday approve another 500 million euro ($544.90 million) tranche in military aid for Ukraine during a foreign ministers’ meeting, France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.
“I have no doubt this will be the decision we’ll take today”, Colonna said before entering the meeting in Brussels. ($1 = 0.9176 euros)
Poland’s prime minister says the government will ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
Morawiecki didn’t specify when the request will be made. He said that Poland is building a coalition of nations ready to send Leopards.
Even if there is no permission from Germany, Warsaw will take its own decisions, he said, without elaborating.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in South Africa on Monday for talks with one of its most important allies on a continent that is divided over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and related Western attempts to isolate it.
He was to meet Soth Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, in a trip some opposition parties and the small Ukrainian community have condemned as insensitive.
A ministry spokesman said Lavrov had arrived in South Africa on Monday morning. He and Pandor are expected to hold a joint news conference around 1000 GMT.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government regards South Africa as neutral in the conflict and has expressed a desire to mediate.
A close ally of President Vladimir Putin said that deliveries of offensive weapons to Kyiv that threaten Russia’s territories would lead to a “global catastrophe” and make arguments against using weapons of mass destruction untenable.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, warned that the United States and Nato’s support of Ukraine was leading the world to a “terrible war”.
“Given the technological superiority of Russian weapons, foreign politicians making such decisions need to understand that this could end in a global tragedy that will destroy their countries,” he wrote on Telegram.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian mercenary boss, responded to comparisons between himself and the monk Rasputin who treated the son of the last tsar for haemophilia, saying on Sunday his job was not to staunch bleeding but to spill the blood of Russia’s enemies.
The Financial Times newspaper said at the weekend that Prigozhin had growing influence on the Kremlin and likened him to Orthodox monk Grigory Rasputin, who had considerable influence on the wife of Russia’s last tsar, Nikolai II.
Prigozhin acknowledged only last September that he had founded the Wagner group, which has played a major role in the Russian military’s attempts to capture territory in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
“I am not very familiar with the history of Rasputin, but as far as I know, an important quality of Rasputin is that he staunched the blood flow of the young prince with incantations,” Prigozhin’s press service quoted him as saying, referring to the article.
“Unfortunately, I do not staunch blood flow. I bleed the enemies of our motherland. And not by incantations, but by direct contact with them.”
Boris Johnson on Sunday added to the pressure on Germany to authorise tank deliveries to Ukraine as he made a surprise visit to Kyiv.
The former prime minister said that “this is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need” after touring bomb-scarred suburbs of the Ukrainian capital.
Mr Johnson – whose firm support for Ukraine has made him highly popular in the country – was greeted by Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, outside his presidential office.
Read the full story from Roland Oliphant and Charles Hymas here
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said he hopes member states would be able to approve another 500 million euro ($545.00 million) tranche in aid money for Ukraine during a foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Borrell said he was hopeful EU members would reach an agreement on the funds, which are part of the European Peace Facility. ($1 = 0.9174 euros)
Russia ordered white supremacists to post letter bombs to Nato targets in Europe last year, the US believes.
US intelligence officials think that a group called the Russian Imperial Movement, which has military-style training centres in St Petersburg, wanted to scare Ukraine’s allies.
“Russian officers who directed the campaign appeared intent on keeping European governments off guard and maybe testing out proxy groups in the event Moscow decides to escalate a conflict,” the New York Times quoted unnamed US intelligence sources as saying.
Read more on the story from James Kilner here