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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 9

Ukrainian service members ride atop of a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle near a frontline in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Feb. 8, 2023.
Ukrainian service members ride atop of a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle near a frontline in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Feb. 8, 2023.

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

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

10:08 p.m.: At least 12 people were killed Thursday in a gas explosion in a housing block in the city of Novosibirsk in Siberia, Reuters reported, citing the Tass news agency, in Russia's second fatal gas explosion in three days.

The agency cited local officials as saying another three people were missing.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which is responsible for major crimes, said it had opened an investigation and detained two people who had performed gas maintenance work in the building several days before.

In a separate incident Tuesday, at least five people were killed in a gas explosion that ripped through a five-floor building in the town of Yefremov, south of Moscow. Gas explosions are relatively common in Russia because of aging infrastructure and lax safety regulations.

9:18 p.m.: Germany and Oman are in advanced talks to sign a long-term deal for liquefied natural gas lasting at least 10 years as Berlin continues its search for alternatives to Russian fuel supplies, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Europe has been scrambling to replace Russian gas since last year against a backdrop of war in Ukraine, with state-run Gazprom progressively reducing and then suspending the lion's share of pipeline supplies to Europe.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said the deal with Oman would be for between 0.5-1 million metric tons per annum, with one specifying around 0.8 mtpa over 10 years.

A third source familiar with the talks also said a 10-year deal was being discussed.

Oman's energy ministry also did not immediately respond to a comment request.

Europe's biggest economy hopes to replace all Russian energy imports by mid-2024, a major effort for a country that relies to a great extent on natural gas to power its industry.

8:17 p.m.: The United States and Britain announced sanctions Thursday on the Russian intelligence-linked Trickbot group known for hacking hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic and stealing financial data, Agence France-Presse reported.

The U.S. Treasury said the Trickbot group started operating out of Moscow in 2014 with cyberattacks on businesses and criminals using a so-called Trojan horse virus of the same name.

The Trickbot virus has since infected millions of computers worldwide and has evolved into a ransomware tool used to extort businesses by locking down their data until they pay to have it freed, according to a U.S. Treasury statement.

The sanctions announcement named seven members of the group, some of whom "are associated with Russian Intelligence Services," it said.

In a parallel action, the U.S. federal court in New Jersey unsealed an 11-year-old indictment of a leader of the group, Vitaly Kovalev.

The indictment charges Kovalev with working with Russians living in the United States to illegally access and steal tens of thousands of dollars from private accounts at several U.S. banks and then transfer the money out of the country.

7:22 p.m.: Russia-U.S. relations are in a state of "unprecedented crisis" without any sign of improvement, a senior Russian diplomat said Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov argued that the White House's emphasis on increasing weapons supplies to Ukraine to ensure Russia's defeat leaves no room for diplomacy.

"I don't see any prospect for a productive political and diplomatic process," Ryabkov said at a briefing. "We have a very deep and unprecedented crisis in Russia-U.S. relations. The Biden administration has driven them into a deadlock."

Ryabkov warned that the U.S. and its allies must carefully assess the risks stemming from supplying increasingly powerful Western weapons to Ukraine.

6:46 p.m.: Ukrainian intelligence wanted confirmation last autumn that officers of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) overseeing the occupation of Kherson were staying in a small hotel on a back street of the southern port city.

The task was assigned to Dollar: the code name for a civilian who had been secretly providing targeting coordinates and information on enemy operations in Kherson and the surrounding region, the operative said.

Reuters held extensive interviews with Dollar and two other members of the underground partisan network in Kherson after the city was captured in early November.

Their separate accounts provide a rare window into how information and sabotage operations were coordinated with Ukrainian intelligence services behind enemy lines, operations that are still ongoing elsewhere in Ukraine.

5:57 p.m.: NATO fighter jets scrambled 570 times to monitor Russian military flights in international airspace last year, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, quoting the German news agency dpa.

That meant the number of such intercepts nearly doubled compared to 2021, a NATO spokesman confirmed to dpa following a report by the German media group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

NATO sources say the spike was not only due to increased activity by the Russian military, but also to a stronger NATO presence on the eastern flank due to Moscow's war on Ukraine, which meant significantly more aircraft available for air surveillance there. Most of the intercepts took place over the Baltic Sea.

4:45 p.m.: Nearly a year ago, tens of thousands of Ukrainians sought refuge in the United States as Russian troops invaded their country. VOA’s Mike O'Sullivan spoke with two Ukrainian families in California about their lives one year later. ​

4 p.m.: A quarter of Ukraine's population is at risk of developing a severe mental health condition as the country grapples with the year-long Russian invasion, a senior health official said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Michel Kazatchkine, a member of the Eastern and Central European and Central Asian Commission on Drug Policy, said the conflict in Ukraine had not only resulted in a shortage of medical supplies and personnel but had also caused a major threat to mental health.

The World Health Organization "estimates that at this time, one out of four people in Ukraine is at risk of severe mental health conditions," Kazatchkine, who also serves as special adviser to the WHO's Regional Office for Europe, said.

Describing a recent visit to the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, Kazatchkine said he had seen dozens of military personnel hospitalized with "acute and tragic anxiety, depression and psychiatric conditions."

3:10 p.m.: Russia was stripped of hosting the 2025 swimming world championships on Thursday and Singapore was awarded the event by the governing body of the sport, The Associated Press reported.

Russia had originally been chosen in 2019 to host the event in Kazan, which also held the championships in 2015.

The International Olympic Committee has asked the governing bodies of sports not to stage events in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Singapore has everything we hope to share with our athletes: world-class facilities, proven experience of hosting events of the highest quality and a comprehensive approach to aquatic sports that runs from elite level to the community,” World Aquatics president Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement which did not mention Russia.

2:30 p.m.: Ukraine's defense minister said on Thursday hundreds of officials at the ministry or in the armed forces had been disciplined last year after internal audits, and that he had "zero tolerance" for corruption, Reuters reported.

Oleksii Reznikov's remarks appeared intended to defend his and the ministry's record on fighting corruption following a scandal which forced out one of his deputies and put his own position in doubt.

Reznikov said 621 officials from the armed forces and the ministry had received fines or reprimands for unspecified "violations" in 2022.

"My principled position was, is and will remain unchanged: zero tolerance for any violations," he wrote on Facebook. "All persons whose guilt has been proven by the relevant authorities bear and will bear responsibility."

Reznikov said all relevant materials had been handed over to law enforcement agencies after a deputy resigned last month following a media report that the ministry was buying food at inflated prices.

2:15 p.m.:

2:05 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Russia's economy had overcome the worst effects of sanctions and was expected to show modest growth this year, despite what he said were attempts to undermine certain industries, Reuters reported.

"For many of those who tried and are trying to create problems for us, it was a surprise how effectively we are countering the threats in the economy and in certain sectors of production," Putin said in televised remarks with officials.

"International institutions have to acknowledge that not only has Russia coped with the shocks that were expected ... slight growth is expected in the Russian economy this year."

Putin did not give a specific forecast for Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) in his remarks.

1:55 p.m.: Russia’s foreign minister met with Sudan’s military rulers on Thursday, state media in Sudan reported, the final stop on Sergey Lavrov’s tour of Africa, The Associated Press reported.

The top Russian diplomat has been seeking to strengthen ties and expand influence at a time when the West has sought to isolate Moscow with sanctions over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Lavrov held talks with General Abdel Fattah Burhan, the head of Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council, as well as with his deputy, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads a powerful paramilitary known as the Rapid Support Forces.

The meetings focused on improving cooperation between the two countries, the state SUNA news agency said, without providing details.

At a press conference later, Lavrov acknowledged the presence of Russian-owned mining companies in Sudan, “primarily in the field of developing the mineral resource base.″

”We appreciate the attention that the Sudanese leadership pays to them,″ Lavrov added.

1:40 p.m.:

1:25 p.m.: U.S. and French troops that are part of a NATO battlegroup in Romania held a military exercise on Thursday to test the 30-nation alliance’s eastern flank defenses, as Russia’s full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine nears its one-year anniversary, The Associated Press reported.

The joint combat drills at the Black Sea training range in Capu Midia, dubbed Eagle Royal 23, involved some 350 multinational battlegroup troops who practiced firing live ammunition from a U.S.-made HIMARS, a mobile, truck-mounted missile system. The HIMARS have been successfully used by Ukraine’s military against Russia.

General Tricand de la Goutte of France, which leads the battlegroup, told the media that the purpose of the drill is to “reinforce common procedures” within the multinational group in case it faces “a real defensive scenario.”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, NATO bolstered its presence on Europe’s eastern flank, including by sending additional multinational battlegroups to alliance members Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia.

1:15 p.m.: Poland is to close a key border crossing with Belarus until further notice, the Polish interior minister said on Thursday, as relations between Warsaw and Minsk sink to new lows, Reuters reported.

The already tense relations between Poland and Belarus were further strained on Wednesday when a journalist of Polish origin was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Belarusian court in a trial Warsaw says was politically motivated.

“Due to the important interest of state security, I decided to suspend until further notice from 1200 on Feb. 10 this year traffic at the Polish-Belarusian border crossing in Bobrowniki,” Mariusz Kaminski wrote on Twitter.

Bobrowniki, more than 200 km northeast of Warsaw, is one of the main crossing points between Poland and Belarus.

Kaminski also said that, as a result of the jailing of journalist Andrzej Poczobut, he would apply for further people connected with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to be added to sanctions lists. ​

1:05 p.m.: Russian troops occupied the village of Snihurivka for 9 months, when they retreated, they left behind a deadly legacy of booby-traps and landmines. A Ukrainian demining team is working to make the area safe again. VOA’s Yelyzaveta Krotyk has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

Ukrainian Deminers in Mykolaiv Work to Make Area Safe
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12:55 p.m.: Russia said on Thursday that it was ready to continue work on creating a safety zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after the head of state nuclear firm Rosatom met with U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi in Moscow, Reuters reported.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was seized by Russian forces shortly after they invaded Ukraine last year and has come under repeated shelling, with both Moscow and Kyiv trading blame and accusing each other of risking a nuclear accident.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has called for a safety zone to be created around the plant, to prevent heavy weapons and shelling from causing further damage.

"Rafael Grossi spoke about promoting his initiative to establish a nuclear and physical nuclear safety protection zone at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant," Rosatom said. "In this regard, (Rosatom CEO) Alexey Likhachev expressed the readiness of the Russian side to continue work on the implementation of the IAEA Director General's initiative," it said.

Grossi tweeted Thursday, saying he was in Moscow “to continue detailed technical work” to reach an agreement on a protection zone.

12:40 p.m.: The Ukrainian army's armored vehicles will be repaired in the Czech Republic as part of Prague's military help against Russia's aggression, Reuters reported, quoting the Czech Defense Ministry.

State-owned company VOP CZ signed a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine's government arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom on the repairs on Monday, the ministry said, without giving further details.

"The memorandum ... contains a specific plan and timetable for the repairs or securing of spare parts," said Ales Vytecka, director of Czech government's AMOS agency for military cooperation, who co-signed the memorandum.

The Czech Republic has been one of the top weapons providers to Kyiv among NATO alliance allies since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, supplying Ukraine with armored personnel carriers, tanks or howitzers.

12:30 p.m.: New European sanctions against Russia will include new export bans worth more than 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) and will take on Russian president Vladimir Putin's propagandists, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on Thursday, according to Reuters.

"We will target Putin's propagandists because their lies are poisoning the public space in Russia and abroad", von der Leyen said during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The new sanctions "will further starve Russia's military machine and shake the foundations of its economy," she added.

12:15 p.m.:

12:00 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described his relationship to Germany as up and down in an interview with Spiegel, saying he was "constantly having to convince" German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to help Ukraine for the sake of Europe, Reuters reported.

"I have to exert pressure to help Ukraine and constantly convince him that this help is not for us but for Europeans," Zelenskyy told Spiegel. "Our relationship to Germany goes in waves, it is up and down."

The Ukrainian president said he was grateful Germany had sent IRIS-T air defense systems which he said had saved lives but that the debate over sending tanks had put the relationship back in a "difficult phase."

Even prior to Germany's decision in late January to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Germany was the second biggest donor of military hardware to Ukraine after the United States, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

11:50 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that his country has intercepted plans by Russian secret services to destroy Moldova, and Moldovan intelligence confirmed the claim, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking to European Union leaders in Brussels, Zelenskyy said he recently told Moldovan President Maia Sandu about the alleged scheme.

“I have informed her that we have intercepted the plan of the destruction of Moldova by the Russian intelligence,” Zelenskyy said through a translator. He said the documents showed “who, when and how” the plan would “break the democracy of Moldova and establish control over Moldova.”

Zelenskyy said the plan was very similar to the one devised by Russia to take over Ukraine. He added that he did not know whether Moscow ultimately ordered the plan to be carried out.

After Zelenskyy’s comments, Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service released a statement confirming it has received “respective information from our Ukrainian partners” and said it has also identified “subversive activities, aimed to undermine the Republic of Moldova, destabilize and violate public order.”

“At the moment, we cannot provide more details as there is a risk of jeopardizing various ongoing operational activities,” the statement read, adding that all of Moldova’s state institutions “are working at full capacity and will not allow these challenges to happen.”

11:35 a.m.:

11:20 a.m.: Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said during a visit to a tank factory in the Siberian city of Omsk on Thursday that Moscow would increase production of tanks in response to Western arms supplies to Ukraine, Reuters reported.

"As we know, our adversary (Ukraine) has been begging abroad for planes, missiles, tanks. How should we respond? It is clear that in this case, it is natural for us to increase production of various armaments including modern tanks," Medvedev said in video footage of his visit posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been visiting various European countries this week in a bid to secure fighter jets and long-range weapons he says are needed to defend his country against invading Russian forces.

Medvedev, who was perceived as a relative liberal during his presidency from 2008 to 2012, has since positioned himself as one of the most hawkish advocates of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, often casting the conflict in apocalyptic terms in his regular Telegram posts.

11:05 a.m.: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that any delivery of fighter jets by the West would mark a more "direct" role by NATO countries in the war, and that it would only increase tensions and bring more pain and suffering to Ukrainians, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

"This is nothing more than the growing involvement of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine," Peskov told reporters.

"The line between indirect and direct involvement is gradually disappearing. One can only express regret in this regard, and say that such actions...lead to an escalation of tension, prolong the conflict, and make the conflict more and more painful for Ukraine," Peskov added.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at a briefing the same day that the United States’ efforts to increase the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine left no room for diplomacy.

"I don't see any prospect for a productive political and diplomatic process," Ryabkov said. “We have a very deep and unprecedented crisis in Russia-U.S. relations. The Biden administration has driven them into a deadlock.”

Referring to the provision of advanced weaponry to Ukraine, Ryabkov added that "the Americans need to thoroughly and deeply weigh the risks linked to their unabashedly cavalier course."

10:40 a.m.:

10:20 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday he had heard from several European Union leaders at a summit that they were ready to provide Kyiv with aircraft, hinting at what would be one of the biggest shifts yet in Western support for Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Zelenskyy gave no further details about the pledges, and there was no immediate confirmation from any European countries. But his remarks came amid signs during a European tour that countries were closer to lifting one of the main taboos in military aid for Kyiv since Russia's invasion last year.

"Europe will be with us until our victory. I've heard it from a number of European leaders... about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including the aircraft," Zelenskyy told a news conference.

"I have a number of bilaterals now, we are going to raise the issue of the fighter jets and other aircraft," he said.

Zelenskyy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, posted on social media that the question of long-range weaponry and fighter jets for Ukraine "has been resolved" and details would follow. He later edited the post to make it less certain, changing the wording to say the issue "may be resolved."

9:50 a.m.:

9:10 a.m.: The European Union has called on Russia to stop its ‘absurd' claims of victimhood in the war against Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent reported Thursday.

“There is no doubt that this Russian aggression is illegal under international law,” the EU delegation said in a statement during an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Vienna, according to the Kyiv Independent, which quoted Ukrinform.

8:15 a.m.: The question of fighter jets for Ukraine has been resolved, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday as the president held talks in Brussels on Kyiv's request for more weapons to fight Russian forces.

"The question of long-range weaponry and fighter jets for Ukraine has been resolved," Andriy Yermak, chief of the presidential staff, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. "Details still to follow."

8:00 a.m.:

7:50 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday thanked EU leaders for their support in countering Russia's invasion but urged them to supply even more weaponry, including fighter jets, so that Kyiv can prevail against Moscow, Reuters reported.

Zelenskyy made his plea at a summit in Brussels, on only his second foreign trip since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year. Having visited London and Paris on Wednesday, he turned his focus on EU lawmakers and leaders on Thursday.

"I am grateful to all of you who are helping, grateful to everyone who understands how much Ukraine right now needs these possibilities. We need artillery guns, shells for them, modern tanks, long-range missiles, modern aircraft," he said.

"We need to strengthen the dynamics of our cooperation more powerfully than the aggressor can mobilize its potential."

EU member countries have supplied large amounts of arms to Ukraine over the past year and have become increasingly comfortable with sending heavy weaponry such as battle tanks.

Earlier in the day, in an address to the European Parliament, Zelenskyy expressed gratitude for the support of both politicians and ordinary citizens in the EU.

7:10 a.m.:

6:40 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday that he believed his country would join the European Union after emerging victorious from its war with Russia, Reuters reported.

"We are moving closer to the European Union. Ukraine will be a member of the European Union," he said in an address to the European Parliament in Brussels, describing his country as "a Ukraine that is winning."

Ukraine became a candidate to join the EU last June but the process of joining the 27-nation bloc takes several years.

Zelenskyy said Kyiv and its European partners were defending themselves against what he cast as historic aggression from Russia.

"Europe, we are defending ourselves against the biggest anti-European force of the modern world," he said. "We, Ukrainians, on the battlefield, together with you."

Zelenskyy also thanked Ukraine's allies for the military and humanitarian aid they have provided since Russia's invasion in February last year, which has included air strikes on the country's critical infrastructure.

6:25 a.m.:

6 a.m.: Chinese social media company TikTok on Thursday pledged to do more to tackle disinformation on its platform by adding more safety features and broadening its fact-checking measures, spurred by the role played by state-controlled media and the war in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Presenting its progress report on what it did to live up to a beefed-up EU code of practice on disinformation in the past six months, the company acknowledged the need to step up its efforts.

"While we're proud to be providing this level of granular detail for the first time, we recognize that there is more work to be done. In the coming months, we're investing in a number of initiatives," Caroline Greer, director of public policy and government relations, said in a blogpost.

TikTok would expand its state-controlled media labels, ramp up action against disinformation linked to Ukraine, expand its fact-checking program across Europe to include more language coverage, and scale up the volume of claims it fact-checked, she said.

The company would also strengthen its approach to disinformation in its advertising policies.

TikTok said in the past six months it removed 191 adverts that breached its ban on political actors placing advertising on its platform and connected people to authoritative sources of information on COVID-19, the Holocaust, the war in Ukraine and other topics.

5:50 a.m.: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed EU lawmakers at the European Parliament Thursday. Sky News carried the full address on YouTube.

5:40 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the European Parliament on Thursday for the help Ukraine has been receiving from the EU to defend itself against the Russian invasion, before joining a summit of EU leaders to ask for more weapons, according to Reuters.

Having won promises of Western battle tanks in recent weeks, Ukrainian officials are now focused on trying to secure the supply of longer-range rockets and fighter jets.

"Thank you," Zelenskyy told EU lawmakers, who gave him a long-standing ovation, cheering and applauding, some of them wearing the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.

"We are defending ourselves in the battlefield, we Ukrainians, together with you," he said, adding that his country together with Europe was "defending ourselves against (the) biggest anti-European force of the modern world."

While Zelenskyy is unlikely to leave with immediate pledges to satisfy his requests, the visit gives him a chance to press his case in person with all the EU's 27 national leaders for the first time since Russia invaded his country on Feb. 24, 2022.

He did not repeat Ukraine's demand for jets in his speech to the European parliament.

Ukrainian officials are also pushing for membership talks within months.

But while some EU member countries are keen to give Ukraine the morale boost that would come with starting talks to join the bloc, others are much more cautious. They have stressed would-be members need to meet a range of criteria — such as cracking down on corruption — before they can even start negotiations.

5:15 a.m.: Reuters reported that EU lawmakers gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a long standing ovation before he spoke to the assembly, cheering and applauding him, some of them wearing the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flags in ribbons clipped to their jackets.

European Parliament chief Roberta Metsola backed Ukraine's call for more weapons.

"We know the sacrifice your people have endured for Europe and we must honor it not only with words but with action," she said, adding that this should include "the jets you need to protect the liberty too many have taken for granted."

4:40 a.m.: The European Union will deliver more military support to Ukraine, Reuters reported the EU'S foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reaffirmed on Thursday, as EU leaders arrived for a summit.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is preparing to lobby European leaders on Thursday at the summit in Brussels for more weapons in the fight against Russia and a quick start to EU membership talks for his country.

4:35 a.m.:

4:25 a.m.:

4:15 a.m.:

4 a.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to meet Thursday in Khartoum with Sudan's military rulers on Russia and other matters, the Associated Press reported, citing the country’s state-run SUNA news agency.

Along with Sudan-Russia ties, the talks were expected to focus on Khartoum’s role with affairs in its neighboring conflict-stricken countries, including Chad, South Sudan and Central African Republic, according to Sudan's acting Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq. He offered no further details.

Lavrov’s visit to Sudan comes as senior diplomats from the U.S. and other European nations conclude two days of talks with Sudanese military leaders and pro-democracy groups to push for a final agreement to restore the country’s transition to democracy.

An October 2021 military coup derailed Sudan’s short-lived, democratic transition. It came after the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 amid a popular uprising against his Islamist-backed repressive rule.

Late last year, the generals reached an initial deal with major pro-democracy groups to establish a civilian government. Internationally-backed talks were still underway to achieve a final agreement.

Lavrov’s visit is part of a multi-leg Africa trip that has taken him to Mali and Mauritania. It is Lavrov's second trip to Africa this year as Russia seeks to maximize its interests on the continent amid rising global interest in Africa's rich resources.

3:30 a.m.: Russia's Wagner mercenary group has stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, Wagner's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday, according to both Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

"The recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner private military company has completely stopped," Prigozhin said in a response to a request for comment from a Russian media outlet published on social media.

"We are fulfilling all our obligations to those who work for us now," he said.

Wagner began recruiting prisoners in Russia's sprawling penal system in summer 2022, with Prigozhin, a catering entrepreneur who served nine years in prison during the Soviet Union, offering convicts a pardon if they survived six months in Ukraine.

Wagner has not provided information on how many convicts joined its ranks, but Russian penal service figures published in November showed the country's prison population dropping by over 20,000 between August and November, the largest drop in over a decade.

According to figures published in January, the decline had largely stopped.

In December, Reuters reported that the U.S. intelligence community believes that Wagner had 40,000 convict fighters deployed in Ukraine, making up the vast majority of the group's personnel in the country.

3:15 a.m.: SpaceX has taken steps to prevent Ukraine's military from using the company's Starlink satellite internet service to control drones in the region, SpaceX's president said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service, which has provided Ukraine's military with broadband communications in its defense against Russia's military, was "never, never meant to be weaponized," Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president and chief operating officer, said during a conference in Washington, D.C.

"However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement," she said.

Speaking later with reporters, Shotwell referred to reports that the Ukrainian military had used the Starlink service to control drones.

Ukraine has made effective use of unmanned aircraft for spotting enemy positions, targeting long-range fires and dropping bombs.

"There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that," she said, referring to Starlink's use with drones. "There are things that we can do and have done."

Shotwell declined to say what measures SpaceX had taken.

2:40 a.m.:

2:20 a.m.: Russia is looking at introducing a one-off, voluntary windfall tax on big business, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing sources, as the country's monthly revenues from oil and gas drop to their lowest levels since 2020.

Three sources familiar with the discussions later told Reuters that authorities were considering a one-off budget contribution from businesses of about 200-250 billion rubles ($2.8-$3.5 billion).

The price of Russian oil URL-E has fallen around 20% since early December, when Western countries set a $60 price cap on Russian oil exports. Urals oil is trading around $56 a barrel, much lower than the $70 needed to balance the budget.

The finance ministry said last week that it was trebling its daily sales of foreign currency to cover the shortfall, but analysts have warned that tax rises are inevitable if Russia is going to continue ramping up defense spending.

1:45 a.m.:

1:20 a.m.:

12:50 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and French President Emmanuel Macron will travel together to attend a European Union summit later on Thursday, Macron's office said in a statement, according to Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Zelenskyy takes his mini-tour of European capitals to Brussels on Thursday, aiming to push European Union leaders for more weapons in the fight against Russia's invasion and for a quick start to EU membership talks.

Zelenskyy, who visited London and Paris on Wednesday, is expected to attend a summit of EU leaders and address the European Parliament during his trip to the Belgian capital.

12:30 a.m.:

12:01 a.m.: Russian consumer demand contracted at its fastest pace in seven years in 2022 and real disposable incomes fell, data released on Wednesday showed according to Reuters, as the country's population felt the effects of its dimming economic prospects.

Russia's export-dependent economy has withstood the impact of sanctions better than first expected, but still suffered a GDP contraction of around 2.5%, as the West imposed restrictions in an effort to punish Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.

Although its economic outlook this year is not so gloomy, Russia faces a labor market shortage, lower oil and gas revenues as price caps and embargoes kick in, as well as a sharply widening budget deficit, 2023 looks set to present new challenges for the government.

Real disposable incomes fell 1% in 2022, preliminary data from the Rosstat federal statistics service showed. Real wages, which are adjusted for inflation, rose 0.3% year-on-year in November, just the second positive reading since March.

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

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