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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Jan. 13

Nina Klinkova reacts to a sound of an explosion as she looks for humanitarian aid in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Jan. 12, 2023.
Nina Klinkova reacts to a sound of an explosion as she looks for humanitarian aid in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Jan. 12, 2023.

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

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

9:25 p.m.: The United Nations' nuclear watchdog announced Friday it was boosting its presence in Ukraine to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current conflict, Agence France-Presse reported.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it would soon have a permanent presence at all five of Ukraine's nuclear facilities, including Chernobyl, the plant closed after the 1986 disaster.

The agency's chief Rafael Grossi will visit Ukraine next week to get the operation underway, the agency added in a statement.

The decision marks a major expansion of the IAEA's activities in Ukraine. At the moment, only the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant, which is near the frontline, has a permanent IAEA presence.

But under the new plan, 11 or 12 of the agency's experts will be present in Ukraine to monitor the plants and provide technical assistance.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmygal announced the plan in December after a meeting with Grossi, although he did not at that time give many details.

8:48 p.m.: Germany's Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht plans to resign, a government source said on Friday, potentially adding to chancellor Olaf Scholz's problems as he cautiously seeks to step up military support for Ukraine.

Lambrecht, a member of Scholz's Social Democratic Party (SPD), aimed to resign next week and had informed Scholz about her decision, a government source said, confirming a report by Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

A defense ministry spokesperson described the reports as "rumors that we don't comment on." A government spokesperson also would not comment.

8:05 p.m.: Authorities in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine have accused a Briton who worked as an international conflict monitor of spying for Ukraine, Reuters reported on Friday, citing a Russian news agency.

State-owned RIA said David Orrells, who worked as a drone operator for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), was suspected of handing over intelligence on the positions of Russian-backed fighters and weaponry that the Ukrainians then used to launch attacks on them.

Contacted by Reuters, Orrells said he left Ukraine's Luhansk region in February last year, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, and was now "perfectly safe" back in the U.K.

He described the allegation as "laughable" and said he did not know why it was being made now.

7:17 p.m.: Guyana's oil exports jumped 164% last year, boosted by growing output and demand for the newest Latin American oil producer's light sweet crudes, particularly in Europe, where refiners ramped up imports to replace Russian supplies, Reuters reported.

Since a consortium led by Exxon Mobil began pumping in late 2019, Guyana's shipments have soared, bringing the South American nation's oil export income to $1.1 billion last year, according to official figures provided to Reuters.

The government's $1.1 billion share of oil revenue was up sharply from a combined $409 million in profit and royalties in 2021. High global prices pushed its take above the country's initial revenue forecast of $958 million.

6:41 p.m.: A popular Russian actor, who has spoken about Moscow's offensive in Ukraine and recently said he would be ready to fight alongside Kyiv's troops, was labelled a "foreign agent" on Friday. Agence France-Presse reported.

Artur Smolyaninov is one of tens of thousands of Russians who left the country after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine in February.

In an interview with Novaya Gazeta Europe released last week, the actor said he could imagine himself fighting against Russian troops.

"If I went to this war, it would be on the side of Ukraine," said the 39-year-old actor.

On Friday, Russia's justice ministry added the actor's name to its list of "foreign agents," a legal term used to crack down on Kremlin critics.

6 p.m.: Ukraine has denied claims by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, that Russian forces have captured all of Soledar, one of the hottest points in the war.

The town sits on a vast network of salt-mine tunnels that cover an estimated 200 kilometers. However, one geologist says the tunnels under the city have limited military value because they are too deep to move equipment into and there is little or no oxygen.

While the mines may not have great military value, taking Soledar and the tunnels that lie beneath it would be Moscow's most significant battlefield gain in months. Ukraine has said that fierce fighting continues. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

5:03 p.m.: The United States and Japan on Friday reiterated the importance of peace and stability in Taiwan Strait and warned against any use of a nuclear weapon by Russia in Ukraine.

The two nations, following a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also cited "provocations" by North Korea, Reuters reported, quoting a joint statement issued by the White House.

"We strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion, anywhere in the world," the statement said.

4:20 p.m.: Germany will continue to "weigh every step carefully" and consult with its allies on further weapons deliveries to Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday as he faces mounting pressure to approve German-made battle tanks for Kyiv, according to the Associated Press.

Germany has given Ukraine substantial military aid since Russia invaded, including howitzers, Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and the first of four IRIS-T surface-to-air missile systems. Last week, it announced that it would send 40 Marder armored personnel carriers — a step that came alongside similar moves by the U.S. and France — and as well as a Patriot air defense missile battery.

But critics, some inside Germany's governing coalition, have long complained of Scholz's perceived hesitancy to take the next step when it comes to weapons deliveries. Scholz has been wary of such pressure, insisting that Germany wouldn't go it alone with such deliveries and pointing to a need to ensure that NATO doesn't become a party to the war with Russia.

3:40 p.m.: A gas pipeline connecting Lithuania and Latvia was hit by an explosion on Friday but there was no immediate evidence of an attack, Lithuania gas transmission operator Amber Grid said, according to Reuters.

Video published by Lithuania's public broadcaster LRT showed a fire raging at the blast site in the Panevezys county in northern Lithuania. The fire was put out, the Lithuania pipeline grid operator's chief executive said.

"According to the initial assessment, we do not see any malign cause, but the investigation will cover all possible options," Amber Grid Chief Executive Nemunas Biknius told a news conference.

The supply of gas was cut off but the CEO said the blast had damaged one of two parallel pipelines sending gas from Lithuania to Latvia and that Amber planned to restore supply by using the unaffected one.

"We plan to restore the gas supply in a few hours, in comparable amounts. We plan that the clients will not feel an impact from this event," Biknius told reporters.

2:30 p.m.: Utility crews are working to restore power to towns and villages in Ukraine's liberated Kharkiv region. Near the village of Makarove, crews must carefully avoid minefields to hook up electrical cables. Meanwhile, volunteers are bringing drinking water, fuel, and food to villages cut off by damaged roads and bridges. Current Time, a co-production with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA, has this story.

1:35 p.m.: Germany is in talks with Iraq over the possibility of importing natural gas from the oil-rich country, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Friday, as Berlin scrambles to diversify its energy sources to replace a drop in Russian fossil fuel shipments, Reuters reported.

"We also talked about possible gas deliveries to Germany and agreed to stay in close contact," Scholz told journalists in a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in Berlin.

12:50 p.m.:

12:20 p.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday spoke with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, focusing on security and economic assistance, spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

“The Secretary emphasized the United States’ enduring and unflinching support for Ukraine, as underscored by recent provisions of advanced air defense equipment and armored vehicles from U.S. stocks,” the statement said.

12:05 p.m.: Germany expects to field Puma infantry fighting vehicles for a key NATO mission in the first half of 2023, its chief of defense said Friday, after Berlin had to withdraw the Puma from the alliance's quick reaction force due to problems in a drill, according to Reuters.

"As soon as we have sufficient vehicles repaired and operational for one company, we will use it for the VJTF," Eberhard Zorn said, referring to NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

Germany this year leads the alliance's quick reaction unit that constitutes NATO's first line of response and reinforcement in case of a conflict or heightened tensions with Russia.

11:40 a.m.:

11:15 a.m.: Russia is becoming too dependent on oil revenues to support its budget as it ramps up military spending, economists said, warning that the government may have to raise taxes if prices of crude fail to meet expectations this year, Reuters reported.

The price of Urals oil - Russia's main export - has plunged more than 20% since early December, when Western nations led by the Group of Seven (G7) imposed a $60 price cap on Russian oil exports to restrict Moscow's ability to finance what it calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Given that the 2023 federal budget is based on a projected Urals price of just over $70 a barrel, and prices are currently trading closer to $50, this could prove problematic.

As the price cap, Western sanctions and EU embargo make it harder for Russia to export oil, Moscow has relied on China and India - the world's largest and third-largest importers, respectively - to fill the gap.

"The growing dependence of the budget on oil raises concerns," Alfa Bank said in a note that warned a decline in revenue from gas and oil product exports "looms on the horizon."

10:50 a.m.: The European Union needs to keep increasing pressure on Russia and supporting Ukraine, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

"We need to keep increasing the pressure on Russia and we will continue, of course, our unwavering support for Ukraine," she told a news conference.

At the start of Sweden's six-month presidency of the European Union, von der Leyen said that Russia had cut 80% of gas supplies to the EU in eight months since the start of conflict in Ukraine, but that the EU had compensated by diversifying.

10:10 a.m.: Poland and Lithuania want to lower the price cap on Russian oil, and target Russia’s nuclear sector under new European Union sanctions against Moscow and Minsk for the war in Ukraine, senior diplomats from the two EU countries said on Friday, Reuters reported.

As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion nears, Europe is also starting to roll out 18 billion euros ($19.4 bln) of support for Kyiv and considering giving it German Leopard 2 tanks.

The EU’s leading Russia hawks will propose that the bloc bans more “Russian propaganda” media outlets and cuts more Russian banks from the SWIFT global messaging system, the diplomats said, asking not to be identified.

“It is more and more difficult to get the necessary unanimity in the EU for more sanctions. Nonetheless, we will propose an ambitious new package,” one of the diplomats added.

They said the 10th EU package of sanctions since Russia attacked Ukraine should be ready in time for the first anniversary of the invasion on February 24.

9:35 a.m.:

9:20 a.m.: A close ally of President Vladimir Putin suggested on Friday confiscating the property of Russians who have left the country and who "insult" the state and its armed forces from abroad, Reuters reported.

The proposal from Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, was clearly aimed at opposition figures - many already designated as "foreign agents" - who have condemned the Ukraine war after fleeing the country to avoid arrest.

"While abroad, they rent out real estate and continue to receive payments at the expense of Russian citizens. At the same time, they allow themselves to publicly pour dirt on Russia, insult our soldiers and officers. They feel they have impunity, believing that justice cannot reach them," he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted cautiously to Volodin's proposals, saying it was a "very complicated issue" and that Russian citizens should not be treated as enemies.

"Enemies are enemies and we have to fight them, but everyone else is our citizen and they should remain our citizens," the state TASS news agency quoted Peskov as saying.

8:50 a.m.:

8:30 a.m.: NATO said Friday it plans to deploy three surveillance planes to Romania next week to perform reconnaissance missions and to “monitor Russian military activity” within the 30-nation military alliance’s territory, The Associated Press reported.

The Airborne Warning and Control System surveillance planes, or AWACS, belong to a fleet of 14 usually based in Germany. Three of the aircraft will be sent Tuesday to an airbase near Romania’s capital, Bucharest, on a mission expected to last several weeks, the 30-nation alliance said in a statement.

The planes “can detect aircraft hundreds of kilometers away, making them a key capability for NATO’s deterrence and defense posture,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a statement.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, NATO has bolstered its presence on Europe’s eastern flank, including by sending additional battlegroups to Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.

8:00 a.m.:

7:30 a.m.: Ukraine on Friday denied fresh Russian claims of capture of the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, the Kyiv Independent reported.

“Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi reported that “ongoing battles” were continuing in the salt-mining town of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk Oblast on January 13, denying an earlier claim by the Russian defense ministry that the city was fully under Russian control,” according to the media organization.

7:15 a.m.: Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of the salt-mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine overnight after days of relentless fighting, claiming Moscow's first big battlefield gain after half a year of military setbacks.

Ukraine said earlier on Friday that its forces were still holding out in Soledar after a "hot" night of fighting in what has become one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the entire war.

Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in the town.

Russia said the capture of Soledar would make it possible to cut off Ukrainian supply routes to the larger nearby city of Bakhmut, and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there. Russia has been trying to seize Bakhmut for months in brutal warfare.

"The capture of Soledar was made possible by the constant bombardment of the enemy by assault and army aviation, missile forces and artillery of a grouping of Russian forces," Moscow's defense ministry said.

"Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it's not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself," U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House on Thursday, "and it certainly isn't going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down."

6:20 a.m.: Russia's Defense Ministry says the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, the site of fierce fighting for several days, is now under the control of Russian forces. The ministry said in a statement on Friday that it captured the strategically important salt-mining town overnight, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The claim could not be independently confirmed, and Ukrainian officials have yet to officially comment on the Russian statement. Ukraine said earlier on Friday that it was facing a "high intensity" Russian offensive in Soledar.

6:00 a.m.: As Russian troops wage a ferocious house-to-house fight for control of strongholds in eastern Ukraine, a parallel battle is unfolding in the top echelons of military power in Moscow, with President Vladimir Putin reshuffling his top generals while rival camps try to win his favor, The Associated Press reported.

The fighting for the salt mining town of Soledar and the nearby city of Bakhmut has highlighted a bitter rift between the Russian Defense Ministry leadership and Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire whose private military force known as the Wagner Group has played an increasingly visible role in Ukraine.

Putin’s shakeup of the military brass this week was seen as a bid to show that the Defense Ministry still has his support and is in charge as the troubled conflict nears the 11-month mark.

5:30 a.m.: Ukraine said Friday it was resisting a "high intensity" Russian offensive in Soledar, a nearly completely destroyed town in the eastern Donetsk region that is now the epicenter of the war, Agence France-Presse reported.

That assessment came hours ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

"It was hot overnight in Soledar. Hostilities continued. The enemy relocated almost all of its main forces to the Donetsk front and is maintaining a high intensity offensive," Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said. "This is a difficult phase of the war," she added.

The Kremlin has made capturing industrial Donetsk region its primary objective after nearly one year of fighting that has seen it abandon more ambitious goals like seizing the capital Kyiv and ousting Ukraine's government.

The Russian mercenary group Wagner claims to have spearheaded the offensive for Soledar and already announced earlier this week that its forces were controlling it. But both the Kremlin and the Russian defense ministry have urged caution and said fighting in Soledar was still ongoing.

President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed Thursday that Ukrainian forces defending Soledar and neighboring Bakhmut would be armed with everything they need in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

5:14 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and west of Donetsk City. They also continued defensive operations on the east bank of the Dnipro River.

4:25 a.m.: More than a dozen senior EU officials will meet with members of the Ukrainian government in Kyiv on Feb. 2, a day before the EU-Ukraine summit, a European Commission spokesperson said Thursday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet European Council and European Commission Presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen on Feb. 3 to discuss financial and military support for their fight against Russia's invasion.

The Ukrainian presidency had previously announced the summit would take place between the presidents in Kyiv, but the European Council has not confirmed the location.

European Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant told AFP that "around 15 commissioners" -- out of 27 -- could visit Kyiv for the meeting, confirming a report by Politico.

The commissioners taking part are those handling portfolios relevant to Ukraine, such as "financial matters, the question of EU membership or energy," she said, adding that the list had yet to be finalized.

The visit demonstrates "the extent of our work with Ukraine" and shows the EU's support for the country, she added.

3:13 a.m.: Al Jazeera reported Thursday that a Russian soldier was sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to fight in Ukraine.

Marsel Kandarov, 24, failed to report for duty in May 2022.

2:06 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said Russia is probably using convict labor for production demands related to the war in Ukraine.

Russia's largest tank manufacturer said it planned to have 250 convicts working for it.

12:02 a.m.:

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.

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