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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 7

Nadia, center, prays at the grave of her son Oleg Kunynets, a Ukrainian military servicemen who were killed in the east of the country, during his funeral in Lviv, Feb 7, 2023.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EST.

11 p.m.: In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he met with Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, who visited Kyiv on Tuesday.

“Today I met with the German minister of defense, who has arrived in Kyiv. The topic of our conversation is obvious. We are doing everything for our skies to be clear, for our warriors to have powerful tanks and for our artillery not to be inferior to that of the occupier. I thank Germany and all partners for the respective support,” Zelenskyy said.

“Today, as usual, I held several meetings with the military and a meeting with the head of intelligence. We are paying maximum attention to what the occupiers are preparing. And to what our warriors need to effectively resist — in all directions.”

10 p.m.: U.S. prosecutors charged a Russian citizen who was also a U.S. resident with facilitating a sanctions evasion and money laundering scheme in relation to billionaire Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, in an indictment unsealed in federal court on Tuesday, the Justice Department said, according to Reuters.

Vladimir Voronchenko, 70, of Moscow, was accused of participating in a scheme to make payments totaling over $4 million to maintain four U.S. properties that were owned by Vekselberg, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Voronchenko, who resided at various times in New York, Florida, and Russia, held himself out as a successful businessman, art collector, art dealer, and close friend and business associate of Vekselberg, according to allegations in the indictment.

Washington imposed sanctions on Vekselberg in 2018 over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and in 2022 over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin denies interfering in the election and calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation."

9:30 p.m.: Ukraine's national security chief said on Tuesday Kyiv expects Russia to include the northeastern Kharkiv or southern Zaporizhzhia regions as targets of an anticipated offensive aimed at reclaiming the initiative in its year-old invasion, Reuters reported.

Oleksiy Danilov, head of the National Security and Defense Council, said Russian forces were probing Kyiv's defenses in partially Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia, part of a Moscow-controlled land bridge between eastern Ukraine and Crimea on the southern Black Sea coast.

In an interview with Reuters, he also said Kyiv "doesn't exclude" a new Russian push in the Kharkiv region, from which Moscow's forces were repelled by a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive last summer.

"Attempts at an offensive in either the Kharkiv or Zaporizhzhia direction will of course be made," he said, speaking in his office in the capital, Kyiv. "How successful they'll be will depend on us."

8:23 p.m.:

7:58 p.m.: Russia has demanded that the U.S. embassy in Moscow stop spreading what Moscow regards as fake news regarding its military operation in Ukraine and has threatened to expel U.S. diplomats, the TASS news agency reported, according to Reuters.

The warning included a harsh message to Lynne Tracy, the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow, TASS said, citing a senior Russian foreign ministry source who said Tracy had been told she must strictly adhere to Russian law when making any statements about Russia's armed forces in Ukraine.

U.S. diplomats engaged in what Moscow called "subversive activities" would be expelled, TASS quoted the source as saying.

7:05 p.m.: Ukraine said Tuesday that it would send a team of several dozen rescue workers to Turkey after an earthquake left thousands dead there and in neighbouring Syria, Agence France-Presse reported.

Kyiv will send "to the republic of Turkey a combined search-and-rescue team of the State Emergency Service consisting of 87 people", including 10 flight crew members, according to Ukraine's government website.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke with Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and "expressed condolences over the horrific tragedy that befell the people of Turkey due to the earthquakes".

"I informed him of the decision to send a group of rescuers and equipment from Ukraine to Turkey to help in overcoming the aftermath of the emergency," Zelenskyy said on social media.

6:24 p.m.: The U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of long-range missiles, rockets and launchers to Poland in a deal valued at up to $10 billion, the Pentagon said, according to Reuters.

Poland has been on a spending spree to modernize its military while simultaneously donating older weapons to its neighbor Ukraine to fight Russia's invasion.

The potential sale includes High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which Kyiv has praised for their battlefield successes such as destroying Russian warehouses and command posts.

The package includes 18 HIMARS launchers, 45 of the 185-mile (297-km) range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles and more than 1,000 Guided Multiple Rocket Launch System (GMLRS) rockets.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the potential sale on Tuesday.

5:46 p.m.: Oleksandra Matviychuk is the director of the Center for Civil Liberties, the Ukrainian NGO (non-governmental organization) that shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for its work documenting alleged Russian war crimes.

Matviychuk, a lawyer and rights activist, said Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine was the result of decades of impunity for the Kremlin, according to a wide-ranging interview with Vazha Tavberidze of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Georgian Service. She said Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials must ultimately be brought to justice, while acknowledging that process is likely to be lengthy.

The interview with Matviychuk was conducted on January 26 in Strasbourg, France, on the sidelines of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

4:54 p.m.: Hot Wheels: Stoves For Ukraine Made From Old Lithuanian Car Rims: Lithuanian actor Viaceslavas Mickevicius has helped bring warmth and kindness to Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022. Together with a growing number of volunteers, he helps produce stoves out of old car rims. The stoves are sent to Ukraine where they help provide heating for people in need during the frigid winter months. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

4:07 p.m.: A fire broke out Tuesday at a U.S. drone factory in Latvia that has built drones for Ukraine's military and NATO allies, Agence France-Presse reported.

Two dozen police cars, nine fire engines and five ambulances deployed to the scene of the fire at the factory run by U.S. firm Edge Autonomy on the outskirts of Latvia's capital, Riga.

The cause of the blaze was not known but two people were taken to hospital, Latvia's emergency services tweeted, adding a third person was receiving treatment at the facility site.

"A high-risk fire has occurred in the production building, sparking a lot of smoke," the fire service said on Twitter, urging local residents to keep their doors and windows closed.

Hours after some 50 firefighters were dispatched to the scene rescue services reported the blaze was under control as police launched an investigation into the incident.

3:18 p.m.: Ukrainian skier Ivan Kovbasnyuk, a two-time Olympian, can’t train at home in the Carpathian Mountains because war in the country has damaged the power grid so severely that there’s not enough energy to make the chairlifts operate, The Associated Press reported.

That’s just one of the reasons why he thinks athletes from Russia and Belarus shouldn’t be allowed to compete at the next Olympics — or in any international sports events.

“It’s not fair when Ukrainian sportsmen don’t have a chance to participate in the Olympics because they are dying on the battlefields while Russian athletes are just silently supporting (Vladimir) Putin’s crime regime,” Kovbasnyuk said after competing in the combined race at the Alpine skiing world championships on Tuesday.

“This is absolutely not OK,” he added through a translator. “We will do everything in our powers to prevent them from being a part of the Olympic family again. And we will defend ourselves until the end, down to the last soldier, to the last person in Ukraine.”

2:30 p.m.: Russia's U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia was asked at a press conference Tuesday about whether he thinks there will be peace in Ukraine this year, VOA’s U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer reported.

“Will we see peace in Ukraine in 2023? I hope. We all hope for peace,” he said.

Nebenzia noted that he will attend the U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday to discuss what he characterized as an “arms buildup” and “proxy war” by the West with “the help of poor Ukrainians who are dying for them.”

“So far, unfortunately, I don’t see any readiness on the other side to engage in anything new,” he said.

When asked what Russia’s concerns are regarding Ukraine, he said, “We said it in the beginning: that what was happening in Ukraine was a security issue for us. That we want Ukraine to demilitarize and to de-Nazify, and that we want to make sure that no threats are proceeding from that territory to the Russian Federation. These were announcements that were made officially at very beginning of that crisis.”

Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected Russia’s characterization of the conflict, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was unprovoked and unjustified.

2 p.m.:

1:40 p.m.: The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are buying 100 Leopard-1A5 battle tanks for Ukraine, the Dutch government said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The Dutch defense ministry said in a statement the tanks would be purchased "directly from German industry."

In an interview on Dutch national broadcaster NOS, Netherlands Defense Minister Kasja Ollongen said the tanks, a slightly older model, are "definitely still useable" for fighting in Ukraine.

1:25 p.m.: The German government's security council has approved delivery of 178 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from industry stocks, considerably more than previously announced, Reuters reported Tuesday, quoting a source who confirmed an earlier Spiegel magazine report.

"The export of 178 Leopard 1s is approved," said the person, who was familiar with the situation.

The report emerged as German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius made a surprise appearance in Kyiv.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted a picture of him and Pistorius posing with a scale model Leopard in a display case, writing: "The 'first' Leopard 2 has arrived in Kyiv."

1:05 p.m.: 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, Reuters reported, quoting a senior lawmaker.

Yevheniya Kravchuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on humanitarian and information policy, said Monday 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.

After Russia moved to annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Kyiv increasingly restricted the use of Russian books. The process of the so-called "de-russification" sped up when Russia invaded the country nearly a year ago.

12:40 p.m.: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday called for European Union financing for border fences, reviving an idea long seen as inadmissible ahead of a summit of the bloc's leaders to discuss curbing irregular immigration, Reuters reported.

Though it has taken in several million fleeing from Russia's war in the neighboring Ukraine, the bloc is trying to return more people to the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia as growing irregular arrivals revive harsher policies.

In a joint letter ahead of the summit, the leaders of Malta, Denmark, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Austria and Slovakia said the EU's "current asylum system is broken."

12 p.m.: The European Union has opened its doors to millions of Ukrainian refugees since Russia's invasion of Ukraine — even as member states tighten restrictions against economic migrants and asylum-seekers from elsewhere. That includes France, which unveiled new immigration legislation last week. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of Evry Courcouronnes.

As EU Welcomes Ukraine’s Refugees, Other Newcomers Cry Foul
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11:50 a.m.: President Joe Biden is ready to offer a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about his own leadership, The Associated Press reported.

His speech before a politically divided Congress comes as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding crosscurrents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, and growing tensions with China among them — and warily sizes up Biden’s fitness for a likely reelection bid.

11:35 a.m.: Russia has demanded that the U.S. embassy in Moscow stop spreading what Moscow regards as fake news regarding its military operation in Ukraine and has threatened to expel U.S. diplomats, Reuters quoted the TASS news agency as reporting on Tuesday.

The warning included a harsh message to Lynne Tracy, the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow, TASS said, citing a senior Russian foreign ministry source who said Tracy had been told she must strictly adhere to Russian law when making any statements about Russia's armed forces in Ukraine.

U.S. diplomats engaged in what Moscow called "subversive activities" would be expelled, TASS quoted the source as saying.

Russia has made "discrediting" its armed forces a crime punishable by up to five years in jail, while a charge of knowingly distributing "false information" about the military carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

11:15 a.m.:

10:55 a.m.: Ukraine said on Tuesday the last 24 hours were the deadliest of the war so far for Russian troops, Reuters reported.

Moscow pressed on with an intensifying winter assault in the east bringing tens of thousands of freshly mobilized troops to the battlefield.

The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified and Russia has also claimed to have killed large numbers of Ukrainian troops in recent weeks. Tallies of enemy casualties from either side have typically been seen as unreliable, and Kyiv offered few details of the latest battles.

But the assertion that the fighting was the deadliest so far fits descriptions from both sides of an escalating campaign of close contact trench warfare, which has left snow-covered battlefields of eastern Ukraine littered with corpses.

10:40 a.m.:

10:25 a.m.: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Tuesday he was ready to restart stalled negotiations over Sweden's application to join NATO as soon as Turkey was, Reuters reported.

Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, and while most member states have ratified the applications, Turkey has yet to give its approval in what must be a unanimous process.

The three nations last year reached an agreement on a way forward, but Ankara suspended talks last month as tensions rose following protests in Stockholm, where a far-right politician burned a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

"The first thing we need to do is calm down the situation. It is hard to have good talks when things are literally burning around you," Kristersson told a news conference during a visit to Estonia's capital.

He said preconditions for restarting talks were good, but that with Turkish elections due in May, it was understandable Turkey was focused on domestic policy. "As soon as they are prepared (for talks), we are obviously prepared," Kristersson said.

10:10 a.m.: Ukraine has expressed concerns over a court decision in Tbilisi rejecting an appeal to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who holds Ukrainian citizenship, from prison on health grounds, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called on Georgian authorities in a statement on Tuesday "to stop settling political scores with a Ukrainian citizen and ensure compliance with his rights and hand him over to Ukraine."

Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.

His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes to protest his incarceration.

9:45 a.m.:

9:30 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Tuesday for an end to the spread of "rumors or any other pseudo-information" that could undermine unity in the war against Russia, Reuters reported.

His remarks, in an address to parliament, appeared intended to end public speculation over whether Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov will be removed and underline that only the president can take and announce such decisions.

David Arakhamia, a senior lawmaker and ally of the president, said on Sunday Reznikov would be replaced after a corruption scandal at the ministry. A day later, Arakhamia said there would be no personnel changes this week, appearing to row back after Zelenskyy kept silent on Reznikov's future and other politicians publicly defended the minister's record.

"The necessary information is provided as regards each such step, whether personnel or institutional - at the level where decisions are made," he said, underlining that such decisions were the responsibility of only the president. "I thank everyone who refrains from spreading any rumors or other pseudo-information that could weaken the focus of our people in their work for the victory of Ukraine," he said.

The questions over Reznikov were the first public sign of serious disarray in Ukraine's wartime leadership. The confusion followed a crackdown on alleged official wrongdoing as Zelenskyy seeks to show that Kyiv can be a safe steward of billions of dollars of Western aid.

Reznikov said earlier on Tuesday that he was "holding the line", and showed no sign of stepping aside.

9:15 a.m.:

9:00 a.m.: Ukrainian lawmakers on Tuesday appointed Vasyl Malyuk to the post of chief of the Security Service and Ihor Klymenko to the post of interior minister, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Malyuk had served as the SBU's acting chief since August 2022.

Klymenko had been serving as acting interior minister after his predecessor, Denys Monastyrskiy, was killed in a helicopter crash in January.

8:50 a.m.: Ukraine's parliament approved changes to the 2023 state budget on Tuesday, raising state spending to support small businesses and channel more funds into reconstruction and recovery projects following Russia's invasion, Reuters reported.

Roksolana Pidlasa, the head of the parliamentary budget committee, said spending had been increased by 5.5 billion hryvnias ($150 million). The increase included funds to finance and modernize hospitals in the capital Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, and to rebuild bridges damaged in Russia's war on Ukraine.

The amended budget also plans for 1.28 billion hryvnias in additional support for small businesses in the processing industry and state guarantees for loans in the agriculture sector.

Almost a year of war has ravaged Ukraine's public finances, leading to double-digit inflation, higher unemployment, a sharp fall in exports and big losses in revenue and tax income.

Ukraine's budget deficit this year is expected to be about $38 billion. The government plans to cover the deficit with Western foreign aid.

8:35 a.m.:

8:20 a.m.: The Moscow City Court on Tuesday upheld an earlier verdict to revoke the license of Novaya Gazeta, a top independent newspaper that has been critical of the Kremlin for years, as part of Russian authorities’ relentless crackdown on dissent, The Associated Press reported.

The court rejected Novaya Gazeta’s appeal against September’s ruling by a district court in Moscow that approved a petition by Russia’s media regulator to revoke Novaya Gazeta’s license. The regulator accused the newspaper of failing to submit its newsroom charter to authorities on time, the claim that Novaya Gazeta rejected as a cover for what it described as the authorities’ effort to muzzle an independent voice.

Dmitry Muratov, Nobel Peace Prize-winning editor-in-chief of the newspaper, denounced Tuesday’s ruling, saying that it “serves a bunch of people who want to leave the nation facing only propaganda.”

Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Kremlin-controlled parliament approved legislation that outlawed alleged disparaging of the Russian military or the spread of “false information” about the country’s military campaign in Ukraine.

8:05 a.m.: A prosecutor has asked a court in the Siberian city of Barnaul to convict and sentence journalist Maria Ponomarenko to nine years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia’s armed forces with "fake" social media posts about the war in Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

Ponomarenko's lawyer, Dmitry Shitov, said the prosecutor also requested the court to bar Ponomarenko from journalistic and online activities for five years.

Ponomarenko was arrested in April 2022 for her online posts about Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

7:55 a.m.:

7:40 a.m.: Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre has left Moscow as requested by Russia's Foreign Ministry, Russian media reports said on Tuesday, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Last month, Moscow demanded that Laidre leave Russia by February 7, saying the level of diplomatic representation in both countries will be reduced from ambassadors to charge d'affaires.

The move came after Estonia told Russia to cut the number of diplomats it has in the Baltic nation to eight, equivalent to the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Estonia has expelled three Russian diplomats.

7:25 a.m.: Russian shelling hit more civilian targets in Ukraine, starting a fire at a town hospital and damaging five apartment buildings, local officials said Tuesday. At the same time, Ukrainian authorities reported a Russian troop buildup in eastern areas that Kyiv suspects is preparation for a new offensive around the anniversary of its Moscow’s invasion, The Associated Press reported.

The shelling in the northeastern town of Vovchansk caused multiple fires late Monday, including at its two-story municipal hospital, the regional State Emergency Service said in an online statement. Emergency crews evacuated eight civilians from the site before putting out the blaze, which caused no casualties, authorities said.

Vovchansk is in the Kharkiv region, which was occupied by Russia after its full-scale invasion began on February 24 and subsequently retaken by Ukraine during a late summer counteroffensive. The anticipated Russian push may seek to recapture territory Moscow lost in that counteroffensive.

Ukrainian officials say they expect Russian forces to make a new drive in eastern and southern Ukraine, as the Kremlin strives to secure territory it illegally annexed in late September and where it claims its rule is welcomed.

Russian forces are “regrouping” as they attempt to break Ukrainian lines in five areas in the country’s east and northeast, the Ukrainian military reported Tuesday.

7:10 a.m.:

6:30 a.m.: The five Olympic committees in the Nordic region on Tuesday urged the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from “international sports participation” because of the war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

The bodies from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway said they wanted to express their “steadfast support once again with the Ukrainian people and the demand for peace.”

“We stand firm in our position,” they said in a statement. “Now is not the right time to consider their return.”

Last week, the three Baltic prime ministers called for a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes and said an Olympic boycott was a possibility.

They spoke a few days after the Latvian Olympic Committee threatened to boycott the Paris Games if Russian athletes are allowed and called on other countries to form a coalition to pressure international sports bodies. It was the first national Olympic body other than Ukraine to threaten to boycott rather than compete against Russians.

Other national Olympic sports bodies, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, back the IOC’s efforts to find a path for Russians to compete.

6 a.m.: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is opposed to the presence of Russian competitors at the 2024 Olympics "while the war continues" in Ukraine, her office said on Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse.

It represents a change in the position of Hidalgo, who said last month she believed Russians could take part "under a neutral flag" to avoid "depriving athletes of competition".

5:30 a.m.: Reuters reported that Russia's defense minister said on Tuesday that Western arms shipments to Ukraine were effectively dragging NATO into the conflict, warning this could lead to an "unpredictable" level of escalation.

"The U.S. and its allies are trying to prolong the conflict as much as possible," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

"To do this, they have started supplying heavy offensive weapons, openly urging Ukraine to seize our territories. In fact, such steps are dragging NATO countries into the conflict and could lead to an unpredictable level of escalation," he said.

5 a.m.:

4:30 a.m.: In a rare acknowledgement that Western efforts to punish Moscow over Russia's invasion of Ukraine have crippled parts of the country's financial sector, Andrei Kostin, CEO of Russia' No. 2 bank VTB blamed sanctions for the lender's entire 2022 losses, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The West blocked several major Russian banks' access to the international SWIFT payments system soon after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year, with dominant lenders Sberbank SBER.MM and VTB VTBR.MM forced to shutter operations across much of Europe.

The sanctions hammer fell for VTB sooner than most domestic rivals and, being heavily exposed to international markets and with more than 20% of its loan portfolio in foreign currency, the bank was one of more than 100 loss-making lenders as the sector's profits slumped around 90% in 2022.

Kostin, in an interview with state television channel Rossiya 24, said the bank had managed to grow its retail and corporate loan portfolios, but that sanctions accounted for all the lender's losses.

"The main thing on which we incurred losses is that from February 24 to March 10, before decisions were made about restrictions on issuing funds in foreign currency to the population, $26 billion was withdrawn from our accounts," Kostin said.

Capital controls introduced in February and March last year included a ban on buying cash dollars and euros as depositors hurriedly withdrew funds and Moscow sought to wrestle back some control on the FX market.

VTB was forced to buy FX on the open market when the rouble had weakened sharply to more than 100 against the dollar, Kostin said. On Tuesday the rouble was trading at around 71 to the dollar.

3:35 a.m.:

2:30 a.m.:

2 a.m.: Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Mali early Tuesday for talks with its junta leaders seeking Moscow's help in battling an Islamist insurgency that remains entrenched despite years of fighting, Agence France-Presse reported.

Lavrov, who was in Iraq on Monday, was welcomed upon his arrival by his counterpart Abdoulaye Diop. The two men did not make any statements to journalists. The visit of fewer than 24 hours will be his third trip to Africa since July, part of a bid to expand Russia's presence on the continent amid broad international isolation after 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.

1:35 a.m.: Russia's military likely attempted to restart major offensive operations in Ukraine since early January this year, with the goal of capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk, Britain's Defense Intelligence update said on Tuesday.

However, it remains unlikely that Russia will be able to build up the forces required to significantly affect the war's outcome within the next few weeks, the update added.

1 a.m.: Taiwan will speed up development of drones for military use taking into account the lessons of the war in Ukraine and the threat posed by China, Reuters reported the island's defense ministry as saying on Tuesday.

Unmanned aircraft have played a crucial role on both sides since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Ukraine's defense minister has said that he regarded drones as the future of modern warfare.

Taiwan, which is facing a growing threat from China to use force to bring it under Beijing's control, has repeatedly said it is closely watching the war and learning lessons it could apply to fight off a Chinese attack, including how Ukraine has resisted a numerically-superior force.

Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesperson Sun Li-fang told reporters that the island is speeding up the development and production of drones.

12:30 a.m.: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the annual Munich security conference this month, her office said Monday according to Reuters.

Harris will use her February 16-18 stay in Germany and her attendance at the annual forum, as the war in Ukraine nears one year of combat, "to demonstrate Transatlantic unity and resolve," said a communique from press secretary Kirsten Allen.

The 59th edition of the security conference, which draws leaders from around the world, will be held February 17-19.

Harris will give a speech at the conference itself and meet with foreign leaders.

Her presence will also show U.S. leadership in the world and "our enduring commitment to support Ukraine," the statement says.

12:01 a.m.: The construction of protective structures for key facilities at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeast Ukraine is nearing completion, Russia's state TASS news agency reported on Tuesday, citing an adviser to the head of Russia's nuclear plants operator according to Reuters.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, was captured by Russian troops in March of last year, in the opening days of Moscow's invasion in Ukraine.

It remains close to the frontlines, and has repeatedly come under fire, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

"The erection of engineering and construction structures, which are designed to provide additional protection for important infrastructure facilities of the nuclear power plant, including those related to the storage of radioactive materials, is at the completion stage," TASS cited Renat Karchaa of Russia's nuclear plants operator Rosenergoatom as saying.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and Reuters.