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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Jan. 19

Relatives of Maksym and Nataliia Shvets, a couple who died under the rubble after Russia hit their apartment building with a missile, cry near one of their coffins during a funeral service in Dnipro, Ukraine, Jan. 18, 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 p.m.: Russia's FSB security service said Thursday it opened a criminal case against a U.S. citizen suspected of espionage, as ties between Moscow and Washington disintegrate further over the Kremlin's nearly yearlong Ukraine offensive.

"The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation initiated a criminal case against a US citizen on the grounds of a crime under the 276 'Espionage' Article of the Criminal Code," the FSB said.

"The American is suspected of collecting intelligence information in the biological sphere, directed against the security of the Russian Federation," it added, without any further details.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said the United States had not confirmed the case and was seeking more information.

"Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification of the detention of US citizens," Patel told reporters. "We're looking into this matter and will continue to monitor," he said.

Several Americans are currently in detention in Russia and both countries accuse each other of political arrests.

9:25 p.m.: The Russian army has launched a "local offensive" near the town of Orikhiv in southern Ukraine, where the front has been largely stagnant for months, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a Russian-installed official Thursday.

"Our troops have gone into a local offensive around Orikhiv," the head of Moscow's installed authorities in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, Vladimir Rogov said, according to Russian state media.

The Kremlin has claimed it annexed the Zaporizhzhia region, and three other Ukrainian regions, despite not controlling them entirely.

The front in southern Ukraine has been largely frozen since Moscow withdrew from the major city of Kherson in November.

The Ukrainian army did not mention Orikhiv in its daily report on Thursday.

8:36 p.m.: EU chief Charles Michel on Thursday said that tanks "must be delivered" to Ukraine as he visited the war-torn country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Michel traveled to Kyiv on the eve of a major meeting at the U.S. military base of Ramstein in Germany to discuss military aid to Ukraine on Friday.

"I firmly believe that tanks must be delivered," Michel tweeted after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

"We want to support you because we are aware that the next few weeks may be decisive for what comes next," he wrote.

Zelenskyy for his part called his talks with Michel "meaningful."

"Ukraine and the European Union have already achieved significant results in our historic rapprochement," he tweeted. "We are working to achieve even more."

7:20 p.m.: The Netherlands is finalizing plans to provide Patriot air missile defense systems to Ukraine with Germany and the United States and will announce further military support to Kyiv on Friday, Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Dozens of Ukraine's allies meet on Friday at a U.S. army base in Ramstein, Germany, with billions of dollars in new weapons to be pledged.

"We are joining the United States, Germany in their project to provide Patriots to Ukraine," Ollongren told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "We are working out details and will provide details in Ramstein."

When asked whether that meant the Netherlands would provide spare parts, missiles or the system, she said the details were still being debated.

"What they need right now in this phase of the war is weapons to push the Russians back from the invaded parts of the country and more air defense because these attacks are still going on," she said.

A major question mark remains on whether German-made Leopard battle tanks, which are held by an array of NATO nations but whose transfer to Ukraine requires Germany's approval, will be on the table tomorrow. Germany has so far held back.

6:44 p.m.: CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last week to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, The Associated Press reported Thursday, citing a U.S. official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the director's classified schedule, said Burns emphasized Washington's "continued support for Ukraine" in the war. Burns also met with Ukrainian intelligence officials.

The CIA director has briefed Zelenskyy repeatedly before and since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last February, passing on U.S. intelligence findings about Moscow's war plans and intentions.

The war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin is soon to enter its second year having resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and with no clear resolution on the horizon. Washington is about to send another $2.5 billion in aid to Ukraine, including for the first time Stryker armored vehicles.

Burns' meeting with Zelenskyy was first reported by The Washington Post.

5:49 p.m.: A senior NATO commander warned on Thursday that Western tanks would not be a "silver bullet" for Ukraine in its fight with Russia, despite Kyiv's new arsenal outperforming Moscow's weaponry, Agence France-Presse reported.

"There is not a particular weapon system that is a silver bullet. A balance of all systems is needed," said U.S. General Christopher Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, after a meeting of NATO military chiefs.

But he added that "it's clearly the case that modern Western technology is outperforming Russian technology" on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The head of NATO's military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, steered clear of calling for the equipment to be sent to Kyiv but said that "if the Russians are fighting with tanks, the Ukrainians need tanks as well."

Bauer said Russia was likely planning a new offensive in spring as Moscow had not changed its overall objective of defeating Ukraine.

"That's what the Ukrainians have to prepare for. That's what they are thinking about," he said.

4:57 p.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone Thursday with his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, the Kremlin said, their second conversation in nine days.

The two presidents discussed the situation in Syria, where both have backed President Bashar al-Assad in a long-running civil war, and cooperation in transport and energy, Reuters reported, citing a brief readout of the call. The statement made no reference to the war in Ukraine.

Iran has taken on greater importance as a partner for Russia since Putin's invasion of Ukraine last February triggered waves of Western sanctions against Moscow. Tehran has acknowledged supplying Russia with military drones, though it says they were sent before the war started.

The United States said last week that Iran could be contributing to war crimes in Ukraine by providing drones to Russia.

4 p.m.: The European Union’s assembly called on the member states on Thursday to back the creation of a special court to judge any war crime of aggression by Russia in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

The nonbinding resolution was approved by a 472-19 vote with 33 abstentions in the European Parliament, and underscored the EU’s willingness to make sure Moscow should be brought to justice for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The legislature called on the EU “to work in close cooperation with Ukraine to seek and build political support in the U.N. General Assembly and other international forums ... for creating the special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.”

The call came despite the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court saying his court was capable of effectively dealing with war crimes committed in Ukraine. Karim Khan at the time pushed back against the plan by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to establish such a special court.

The European Parliament said, however, that it “considers that the establishment of the special tribunal would complement the investigative efforts of the ICC and its Prosecutor, as it would focus on alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine.”

3:19 p.m.: Germany's population rose to an all-time high of 84.3 million people in 2022, after stagnating over the past three years, as Ukrainian refugees came to Germany fleeing the war, Reuters reported.

In just the first half of the year, Ukrainians arriving in Germany swelled the population by 740,000. At the peak of the earlier refugee crisis prompted by violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, in the second half of 2015, Germany added 756,000 new residents.

Immigrants more than compensated for a low birth rate and ageing population, the federal statistics office said on Thursday. While the overall proportion of Germans of working age (15 to 63 years) was 61.6% in 2022, it was 75.9% among people coming from abroad.

2:30 p.m.:

2:15 p.m.: Russia will remain a threat to NATO even if its forces are defeated in Ukraine, a top military official in the Western alliance said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

"Whatever the outcome of the war, the Russians will most likely have similar ambitions ... therefore the threat does not go away," Admiral Rob Bauer, the chairman of NATO's military committee, told reporters at the alliance's Brussels headquarters.

While Russian forces, equipment and ammunition have all been depleted by the war, NATO countries expect Moscow will try to rebuild and even strengthen its military capacity, Bauer said.

"The general belief is that the Russians will reconstitute what they had, they will also learn from this conflict themselves and try to improve what they had," said Bauer, speaking at the end of a two-day meeting of top military officers from NATO member countries.

"So that will most likely, further down the road, have implications for our plans," he added.

It would take time for NATO to assess how long Russia would need to reconstitute and improve its forces, Bauer said.

2:05 p.m.:

1:50 p.m.: A team of Ukrainians has been learning demining techniques in Cambodia, one of the world's most heavily land mined countries after decades of civil war, Reuters reported.

Ukrainian officials have estimated it could take at least a decade to clear all the mines and explosives from its own land and territorial waters once the war with Russia is over.

Experts from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine were working with staff from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), trying out remote controlled detonations from a distance as well as working with mine detectors and sniffer dogs.

"It's very helpful training," Arseniy Diadchenko, part of the Ukraine team said.

The Cambodian team plans to send experts to Poland to continue the training with the Ukrainians.

1:40 p.m.: An extraordinary story of survival has emerged from Dnipro, central Ukraine, where dozens were killed in a Russian missile strike on January 14. Surgeon Yevhen Botvinov spent 3 1/2 hours applying pressure to stem his wife's bleeding after she suffered a head injury in the attack -- while also signaling to rescuers with a flashlight. He spoke to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the ordeal.

1:30 p.m.: The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Thursday he worried the world was becoming complacent about the considerable dangers posed by the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia atomic plant in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Russian forces captured the plant, Europe's largest, in March and it has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is working to set up a safe zone around the facility.

Grossi, speaking to reporters in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, said a nuclear accident could happen any day and reiterated the situation at the plant was very precarious.

"I worry that this is becoming routine, that people may believe that nothing has happened so far, so is the director general of the IAEA crying wolf?" he said when addressing reporters during a visit to Ukraine. "It (an accident) can happen any time and my duty is to do everything I can to prevent that from happening."

Grossi said on Twitter Thursday that he discussed the situation with Ukraine’s president, and that “work continues.”

1:15 p.m.: The founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday that his forces had taken the village of Klishchiivka, on the edge of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, but said that Ukrainian forces could not be forced from Bakhmut swiftly, Reuters reported.

In a transcript of an audio message published by Prigozhin's press service, the Wagner chief said: "We can safely say that the settlement of Klishchiivka, which is one of the important suburbs of Bakhmut, has been completely taken under the control of Wagner PMC units.

Klishchiivka, which had a pre-war population of around 400 people, is located around 6 miles (9 kilometers) from the city of Bakhmut, where Wagner units have been locked have been locked in a months-long battle of attrition with Ukrainian forces.

However, Prigozhin warned that Wagner would be unlikely to oust Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut soon: "Contrary to various opinions that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are fleeing from Artemovsk [the Russian name for Bakhmut], this is not so. The Ukrainian army is working clearly and harmoniously. We have a lot to learn from them."

12:50 p.m.: The U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF said Thursday it had delivered supplies for families affected by the war in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region.

12:25 p.m.: Poland’s prime minister said Thursday that the country was reviewing the supervision of its gas and oil installations and other strategic locations after a weekend incident in which three foreign divers had to be rescued from near a key oil port where they had no authorization to be, The Associated Press reported.

Premier Mateusz Morawiecki also said he had requested the secret security services to produce a detailed report on the incident.

Police in northern Poland are facing questions over why they released the three divers rescued from near the Gdansk oil port without conducting a detailed interrogation of them. That has raised questions, more so because the phone numbers they gave turned out to be inactive.

Security experts say the presence of the divers in the sensitive area of the Gulf of Gdansk last weekend raised concerns, given the high tensions with Russia over its energy deliveries. The divers had Spanish identity documents.

According to Polish media, the divers were rescued early Sunday after they sent a distress message when their unregistered small boat malfunctioned in stormy weather. They were equipped with professional diving gear and said they were looking for amber, but none was found in the boat. They had no permission to dive in the gulf.

12:00 p.m.: Rescue workers are still pulling what remains of bodies out of the rubble after a bomb hit a residential building in Dnipro, Ukraine on Saturday. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Dnipro that hundreds of survivors remain homeless.

VOA On the Scene: Survivors Homeless After Dnipro, Ukraine Blast
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11:45 a.m.: Serbian and pro-Ukraine activists filed criminal complaints against Russia's Wagner paramilitary group and its supporters on Thursday, accusing it of recruiting Serbs to fight in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Cedomir Stojkovic, a Belgrade-based lawyer who also leads the October civic group, said that those accused include Russia's ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, and Aleksandar Vulin, head of Serbia's state Security and Information Agency (BIA).

“We have reasonable suspicion that Vulin ... gave orders, directives and guidelines that the activities of the Wagner Group in Serbia should not be prevented,” he said.

Stojkovic said that Botsan-Kharchenko, who enjoys diplomatic immunity, could not be prosecuted in Serbia, but that he should be ordered to leave the country. Once a criminal complaint is filed, it is up to the state prosecutor to decide whether or not to proceed.

11:30 a.m.:

11:10 a.m.: Key European leaders see improvements in expectations for the economy this year in the face of high inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine but warn that there is more work to do, The Associated Press reported.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said Thursday on a panel session about European growth at the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, that activity “is declining compared with an excellent 2022.” She says expected economic growth of 0.5% in 2023 is “not a brilliant year, but it is a lot better than what we had feared.”

Inflation is still high — reaching 9.2% in December — so she says the bank will keep raising interest rates to get it under control. Inflation has been fed by high energy prices after Russia largely cut off natural gas to Europe amid the war in Ukraine.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also worried about inflation and praised the bank for doing the right thing.

European Union Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis pointed to how well energy relief for households and businesses targeted. He says around 70% of the support measures are not targeted, which feeds into inflation. He and Rutte say Europe needs to concentrate on building energy security, focusing on the transition to renewables.

10:45 a.m.: Denmark said on Thursday it will donate 19 French-made Caesar howitzer artillery systems to Ukraine, fulfilling the wish of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy but stunting the Nordic country's own military build-up, Reuters reported.

Kyiv last month asked Copenhagen to supply the weapons systems, sparking a debate in Denmark over whether the country could afford to donate much-needed artillery at the expense of its own armament as it seeks to build up depleted stock.

"We have been in continuous contact with the Ukrainians about the Caesar artillery in particular and I am happy that we have now received broad support from the Danish parliament to donate it to Ukraine's freedom struggle," Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said in a statement.

10:30 a.m.:

9:50 a.m.: European Union chairman Charles Michel met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Thursday to discuss EU support for Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion, as well as reforms needed for Ukraine to join the EU after the conflict ends, Reuters reported.

Michel said a day earlier he was personally in favor of the West providing tanks to Ukraine, and on Thursday the United States and Germany sought to resolve a stand-off that has so far prevented the West from sending modern battle tanks that Kyiv says it needs to help turn the tide against Russian forces.

"We will work with member states to make this happen," an EU official told Reuters. "Ahead of the EU-Ukraine summit, it's best to pinpoint with (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy what is most urgently needed and where we can boost our support."

In a joint briefing with Michel, Zelenskyy urged Ukraine's allies to supply Kyiv with more arms as soon as possible, saying this would help guarantee the security of Ukraine and Europe.

9:35 a.m.:

9:20 a.m.: Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, warned the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Thursday that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war, Reuters reported.

"The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war," Medvedev, who serves as deputy chairman of Putin's powerful security council, said in a post on Telegram. "Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends," said Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012.

Medvedev said NATO and other defense leaders, due to meet at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday to talk about strategy and support for the West's attempt to defeat Russia in Ukraine, should think about the risks of their policy.

Asked if Medvedev's remarks signified that Russia was escalating the crisis to a new level, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "No, it absolutely does not mean that." He said Medvedev's remarks were in full accordance with Russia's nuclear doctrine which allows for a nuclear strike after "aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened."

Russia and the United States, by far the largest nuclear powers, hold around 90% of the world's nuclear warheads. Putin is the ultimate decision maker on the use of nuclear weapons. While NATO has conventional military superiority over Russia, when it comes to nuclear weapons, Russia has nuclear superiority over the alliance in Europe.

9:10 a.m.:

8:55 a.m.: Poland's prime minister signaled that it could send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of a wider coalition even without Germany's re-export approval, raising pressure on Berlin ahead of a crunch meeting of allies on more military aid for Kyiv, Reuters reported.

"Consent is of secondary importance here, we will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do what is needed ourselves," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told private broadcaster Polsat News late on Wednesday.

A government spokesman was not immediately available to comment on whether Morawiecki meant Poland or an entire group of countries could send tanks without Germany's consent. Poland had repeatedly signaled that it would only send the tanks as part of a larger coalition.

"The most important thing is for Germany, but not only Germany ..., to offer their modern tanks, their modern heavy weapons, because Ukraine's ability to defend its freedom may depend on that," Morawiecki said.

Warsaw and other NATO allies have been urging Germany to give them the go-ahead to send the German-made tanks to Ukraine. On Friday, Germany and the United States will convene dozens of allies at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base, a meeting billed as a chance to provide the arms to shift the war's momentum in 2023.

8:25 a.m.: The European Parliament supports the creation of a special tribunal for Russian war crimes in Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent reported Thursday.

“The European Union's parliament has adopted a resolution calling on member states to back the creation of a special international tribunal for Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine,” it reported.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Twitter Thursday that he is grateful for the passing of the resolution, which he called an “important step.”

8:10 a.m.: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday urged allies to double down on sending military equipment to support Ukraine and speed up an end to fighting in the war with Russia, Reuters reported.

"There is nothing to be lost by doubling down on the materiel that we are sending to Ukraine and there is nothing to fear in escalation, and the best thing for the world is to get this thing done, and done fast," Johnson said in an interview as part of the Reuters Impact Arctic Warning series in Davos.

"That is the cheapest solution. It’s the solution that has the lowest in human life and suffering."

7:55 a.m.: The Swedish government announced a new package of military aid to Ukraine on Thursday that will include armored infantry fighting vehicles and the Archer artillery system, Reuters reported.

The package is worth 4.3 billion Swedish crowns ($419 million) and will also include light, portable NLAW anti-tank weapons, mine-clearing equipment and assault rifles.

"Ukraine's victory in this war is of almost indescribable importance," Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a news conference, adding that Ukraine was fighting for the freedom of all of Europe. "That's one of biggest reasons to why so many countries are doing so much to help Ukraine right now. The moral support is important, but also our joint security," he said.

Sweden will send about 50 of its tracked and armored Type 90 infantry fighting vehicles. It can be used to transport up to eight infantry soldiers and is equipped with a 40 millimeter automatic canon.

The government did not specify how many Archer systems it would supply. Sweden has 48 Archer systems, which is a vehicle-mounted self-propelled gun howitzer made by Bofors BAE that Ukraine has long expressed an interest in adding to its arsenal as it seeks to repel Russian forces.

7:40 a.m.:

7:20 a.m.: As Ukraine attempts to secure more modern arms from its allies, it has stepped up a parallel effort to lock in financial support from business leaders in Davos to help rebuild the country, Reuters reported.

Ukraine, which dominated the World Economic Forum's (WEF) last big meeting in May, has again sent dozens of executives, lawmakers and decision makers with a clear message from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy: commit now, not later.

Analysts say the mix of donors ranging from countries to development and international organizations, private sector players or the potential redistribution of seized Russian assets has already made coordination complicated. And the reality is that progress has been arduous.

"We have to think for the day after. The whole world needs Ukraine as a democratic and successful country. It is the best answer for our friends but also our enemies. It's our task to make it a successful country," Kyiv mayor and former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko told Reuters.

For Zelenskiy, the heavy Davos presence is more than just symbolically underscoring that Ukraine remains afloat and that Russia's one-time omnipresence in at the event is over. It is about creating momentum and giving assurances that even during the war, Ukraine is not closed for business.

7:05 a.m.:

6:55 a.m.: Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) says it has opened a criminal case against a U.S. citizen "on the grounds" of committing espionage, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

"The American is suspected of collecting intelligence information on biological topics directed against the security of the Russian Federation," the FSB, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB, said in a statement on Thursday.

It gave no further details or comment.

6:40 a.m.: Kyiv urged Western allies on Thursday to hurry up and supply tanks and air defense systems, saying Ukraine was paying in lives for the slow pace of discussions in foreign capitals, Reuters reported.

"We have no time, the world does not have this time," said Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Western allies meet at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday with the focus on whether Berlin will allow its Leopard 2 battle tanks to be supplied to Kyiv to help drive out Russian forces.

Ukraine, in a joint foreign and defense ministry statement, said the Kremlin was determined to escalate hostilities to revive its faltering invasion and that the threat of a new full-scale offensive by Russian forces was "very real."

"The question of tanks for Ukraine must be closed as soon as possible. Just like the questions of additional air defense systems," Yermak said in his statement. "We are paying for the slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It shouldn't be like that."

6:30 a.m.:

6:25 a.m.: European Council President Charles Michel arrived in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for talks on Thursday, and said he hoped the coming year would be one of "victory and peace."

"Back in #Kyiv to discuss all strands of cooperation," he wrote on Twitter, posting a photograph of himself on the platform of a train station. He later visited an EU-funded rehabilitation center.

6 a.m.: Two Iranian-born Swedish brothers have been given lengthy prison sentences for spying for Russia and its military intelligence service GRU for a decade, The Associated Press reported.

The oldest of the two naturalized Swedes was sentenced on Thursday to life while his younger brother was sentenced to nine years and 10 months.

They had appeared before the Stockholm District Court where they faced charges of having worked jointly to pass information to Russia from 2011 to 2021.

A life sentence in Sweden generally means a minimum of 20 to 25 years in prison. Almost the entire trial was held behind closed doors and much of the information from the preliminary investigation is secret.

5:34 a.m.: The United Nations on Wednesday called out inefficiencies in the operation of a deal allowing Ukraine Black Sea grain exports but did not lay blame for a backlog of more than 100 ships in Turkish waters waiting on travel approval and inspections.

Under the deal agreed to by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations in July, ships are inspected in Turkish waters on their way to and from Ukraine. The four parties work together to approve and inspect ships traveling under the agreement.

"The United Nations urges all parties to work to remove obstacles for the reduction of the backlog and improve operational efficiencies," it said in a statement.

"We have been pushing to get more inspections. We've been pushing to make sure that the inspections proceed quickly and thoroughly," deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said. "Everything has to be done with the cooperation of all the parties, and we're trying to do everything we can to move it faster."

Since November, three inspection teams have been deployed daily and so far, this month have concluded 5.3 inspections a day, said the United Nations, adding: "In the last two weeks, the average waiting time of vessels between application and inspection is 21 days."

It said some 3.7 million metric tons in Ukrainian exports moved under the deal in December, up from 2.6 million in November, while during the past two weeks nearly 1.2 million metric tons of exports shipped.

5:15 a.m.: Germany remains one of the most important allies for Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at his first meeting with his new German counterpart on Thursday before crunch talks on sending German-made tanks to Ukraine.

"Germany remains one of our most important allies ... I'd like to thank the German government for all that it has done to strengthen Ukraine's self-defense," Austin said at the start of his meeting with new German minister Boris Pistorius. He did not specifically mention the issue of tanks.

Pistorius, sworn in as minister only hours earlier, said Germany was ready to support Ukraine and that Berlin stood shoulder to shoulder with its allies.

"Together with our partners, we will continue to support Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and territorial independence and sovereignty."

5:10 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov continue to deny Ukrainian sovereignty and outright reject direct negotiations with Ukraine. Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions near Kreminna and continued offensive operations near Soledar, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City.

4:30 a.m.: Reuters reported that Russia's foreign ministry had announced Thursday that it would ban 31 New Zealand citizens from entering the country for promoting an "anti-Russian agenda" and supporting Ukraine, the second set of entry bans in six months.

The list includes journalists from several publications, former Defense Minister Ron Stanley Mark and an international relations professor from the University of Otago. They are all indefinitely barred from entering Russia.

The foreign ministry warned it would add further names to its ban list as long as Wellington continued to pursue what it called an anti-Russian course.

Thursday's action takes the number of New Zealander's barred entry into Russia to 193, following two waves of sanctions last year that also barred Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern announced last month a further NZ$3 million ($1.92 million) in humanitarian support for Ukraine as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy became just the second foreign leader to ever address the New Zealand parliament.

4:20 a.m.: Germany's incoming defense minister said on Thursday it was his job to strengthen the armed forces so that they could do their job at a time of war in Europe with Russia waging war against Ukraine, Reuters reported.

"These are not normal times, we have a war raging in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of annihilation on a sovereign country, on Ukraine," Boris Pistorius said after a ceremony at the defense ministry, adding that the task ahead was a huge challenge.

"Our task is to make the Bundeswehr strong now, it is about deterrence, effectiveness and readiness. And it is about continuing to support Ukraine, also with materiel of the Bundeswehr," he said.

4:07 a.m.: Canada summoned Russia's ambassador to Ottawa over attacks against civilians in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro that killed at least 45 people, including several children, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly.

Officials had summoned the ambassador to "make clear we do not accept the sheer brutality of Russia's recent attacks against civilians in Dnipro," Joly told reporters in Toronto.

The attack on an apartment building in Dnipro on Saturday was the deadliest for civilians since the start of a three-month Russian missile bombardment campaign.

Ukraine says the building was struck by a Russian Kh-22 missile. The Kremlin has said its wave of missile strikes Saturday did not target residential buildings.

Canada, like other Western nations, has placed broad sanctions on Russia over its invasion in Ukraine, and Joly said Ottawa would continue to hold Moscow accountable.

3:07 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said Russia is considering deploying its new T-14 Armata battle tanks in Ukraine. If it does, the update said, "it will likely primarily be for propaganda purposes," since there aren't many of the vehicles, and the tanks, 11 years in development, have been plagued with manufacturing problems.

2:12 a.m.: On Friday, Western allies will gather at a U.S. air base in Germany to offer more weapons for Ukraine. Attention is focused in particular on Germany, which has veto power over any decision to send its Leopard tanks, fielded by NATO-allied armies across Europe and widely seen as the most suitable for Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Polish President Andrzej Duda told the Davos gathering he was afraid Russia was preparing a new offensive in Ukraine within months and it was therefore crucial to provide additional support to Kyiv with modern tanks and missiles.

Poland and Finland have said they will send Leopard tanks if Germany approves them. Berlin says a decision will be the first item on the agenda of Boris Pistorius, named Germany's new defense minister earlier this week.

1:02 a.m.: Morocco is the first African nation giving Ukraine military aid, the Center for European Policy Analysis said. It'll provide spare parts for tanks.

12:02 a.m.: CNN reported that the U.S. is finalizing a $2.5 billion military aid package for Ukraine that will include Stryker combat vehicles. It'll also include Bradley Fighting Vehicles. "It marks a significant escalation in the armored vehicles the U.S. has committed to Ukraine in its fight against Russia," CNN reported.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.