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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Jan. 29

Ukrainian servicemen remove a grad rocket in a damaged house after an attack in Kherson, Jan. 29, 2023.
Ukrainian servicemen remove a grad rocket in a damaged house after an attack in Kherson, Jan. 29, 2023.

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

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

10:30 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin threatened to personally target Boris Johnson with a missile attack just before ordering Russian forces into Ukraine, the former UK prime minister has claimed, Agence France-Presse reported.

The apparent threat came in a phone call just ahead of the invasion on February 24, according to a new BBC documentary to be broadcast on Monday.

Johnson and other Western leaders had been hurrying to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine and try to deter a Russian attack.

"He sort of threatened me at one point and said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute', or something like that," Johnson quoted Putin as saying.

9:39 p.m.: Lawrence Freedman has spent his career studying war and diplomacy. He spoke to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Georgian Service about the futility of the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of total victory for either side, and why he doesn't think Russian President Vladimir Putin will use a nuclear weapon.

A British historian, Freedman specializes in international relations, foreign policy, and strategy. He has written academic works on the Cold War, nuclear deterrence, and the politics of military operations. In 2019, Oxford University Press published his book “Ukraine and the Art of Strategy,” an "account of the origins and course of the Russia-Ukraine conflict through the lens of strategy."

9:03 p.m.: Russian sources did not report any Russian ground attacks in #Zaporizhia Oblast for the second consecutive day. Russian sources reported only routine artillery fire without mentioning any ground assaults on January 28, the Institute for the Study of War.

8:01 p.m.: Ukrainian tank crews have arrived in Britain to begin training for their continued fight against Russia, the British Defense Ministry said on Sunday, just days after Britain and other NATO countries pledged more than 130 tanks to Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

“The U.K. will provide Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine alongside global partner nations -- demonstrating the strength of support for Ukraine, internationally,” the ministry tweeted on Sunday.

The United States and Germany agreed last week to send Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks, respectively, to Ukraine, while the United Kingdom earlier in January said it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany also allowed other countries, such as Norway and Poland, to send their German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

7:17 p.m.: Punished by Western Sanctions, Russia's Airlines are Showing More Cracks and More Problems, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

On January 9, a four-year-old Airbus A320 operated by the Russian airline S7 was flying from the Siberian city of Bratsk to Moscow when it encountered a problem: Its toilet system malfunctioned. The flight was forced to divert to the city of Kazan for an unscheduled landing.

Four days earlier, a Red Wings airline passenger jet flying from Kazan to Yekaterinburg also was forced to turn around and returned to its departure airport after its landing gear failed to retract.

Two months before that, a top transport official in the Pacific coast region of Primorye sent a letter to the ministry for the development of the Far East and Arctic in Moscow: We need new passenger planes because our current planes won’t be able to fly anymore after this year.

The reason, according to the letter obtained by the news outlet RBK? The plane’s Canadian-built Pratt & Whitney engines couldn’t be repaired due to Western sanctions.

6:15 p.m.:

5:30 p.m.: Belarus’s armed forces could face widespread desertion from conscripts should the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, order an invasion of Ukraine, a former senior law enforcement official said.

Alexander Azarov, who represents an association of former Belarusian security officials, made these comments amid conflicting signals whether Lukashenko may finally decide to commit Belarusian troops to the Ukraine invasion, now in its 12th month.

In November, satellite imagery obtained by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service showed that thousands of Russian troops may have returned to Belarus, renewing questions about another incursion into Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Russia and Belarus expanded joint military exercises, doing drills that drew on Russian experience in Ukraine. And the two countries’ air forces also held joint exercises that were completed last week, RFE/RL reports.

5:10 p.m.: Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated Sunday that Germany will not send fighter jets to Ukraine as Kyiv steps up calls for more advanced weapons from the West to help repel Russia's invasion.

Scholz agreed on Wednesday to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other European countries to send theirs, after weeks of intense debate and mounting pressure from allies.

"I can only advise against entering into a constant bidding war when it comes to weapons systems," Scholz said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

"If, as soon as a decision (on tanks) has been made, the next debate starts in Germany, that doesn't come across as serious and undermines citizens' confidence in government decisions."

Scholz's decision to green-light the tanks, was accompanied by a U.S. announcement that it would send 31 of its Abrams tanks, AFP reports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Berlin and Washington for the move, seen as a breakthrough in efforts to support Ukraine. But the Ukrainian leader immediately stressed that his country needed more heavy weapons from NATO allies to fend off Russian troops — including fighter jets and long-range missiles.

Scholz in the interview warned against raising "the risk of escalation", with Moscow already sharply condemning the tank pledges.

"There is no war between NATO and Russia. We will not allow such an escalation," he said.

4:35 p.m.: Ukraine denied on Sunday that Russian forces made gains near Bakhmut, dismissing Moscow’s earlier claim that it captured a village that could serve as a crucial step for the city's encirclement, The Kyiv Independent reports.

Kremlin-controlled Wagner mercenary group on January 28 claimed victory over the eastern village of Blahodatne in Donetsk oblast, located 10 kilometers north of Bakhmut. Capturing the village would imply that Russian forces had crossed the strategic Bakhmutovka River.

Blahodatne is west of Soledar, a salt-mining town that fell to Russia this month. Russia intensified its offensive on Soledar in early January in an effort to present some results after suffering a string of humiliating battlefield defeats in 2022.

After capturing Soledar, the Wagner mercenaries and Russian forces appear to be on track to encircle and occupy Bakhmut, a city they had tried to occupy for six months.

Capturing Bakhmut would allow Russia to disrupt Ukraine’s supply lines in the area and open up a main road leading to the two key Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

2:35 p.m.: In his nightly video address Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for more supplies and new weapons. "The speed of supply will be one of the key factors in this war,” he said. “Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces. So, we have to make time for our weapon,” he added.

Zelenskyy said the situation at the front is “very tough,” primarily in Donetsk. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other areas in the Donetsk region, he said, are under constant Russian attacks. “There are constant attempts to break through our defense.”

The Ukrainian leader said, “the enemy does not count its people and, despite numerous casualties, maintains a high intensity of attacks."

2:15 p.m.: Czech President-elect Petr Pavel talked by phone to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday, a day after winning the election. Pavel, a retired general who served as the head of NATO's military committee in 2015-2018, beat populist billionaire Andrej Babis in the presidential run-off.

Analysts told Agence France-Presse, Pavel is a staunch supporter of Ukraine and its bid to join the EU. He generally has a pro-Western stance compared to his predecessor, Milos Zerman.

Zelenskyy reached out to Pavel via Twitter Sunday to congratulate him.

Pavel said in a TV debate before the vote that his first foreign visit would be to neighboring Slovakia, as is the custom, followed by Ukraine.

1:20 p.m.: Western countries, concerned that time maybe in Russia’s war against Ukraine might be on Moscow’s side, are behind the recent decision to step up military hardware aid, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed Western officials.

According to the reports, some Western officials worry the Kremlin can dominate any lengthy war of attrition, keeping deploying men and means into the war, according to the report.

According to the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces, Russia has lost over 126,000 troops and thousands of pieces of military hardware since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. However, Russian forces continue offensive efforts near Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk Oblast, and southeastern Zaporizhzhia Oblast, engaging additional aviation, according to the Ukrainian military, The Kyiv Independent reported.

Despite the pledge by U.S., U.K. and Germany to provide Ukraine with dozens of modern tanks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Sky News that Ukraine needs up to 500 tanks to liberate the occupied territories.

12:22 p.m.: Four people died and five were injured when Ukrainian forces attacked a bridge in southeastern Ukraine's Melitopol district, Russian-backed authorities said on Sunday.

Reuters was unable to immediately corroborate the report.

The Russian-installed head of the occupied part of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, wrote on the Telegram messaging app that a rocket was launched from a HIMARS system at a railway bridge across the Molochna river in the Melitopol district.

"At this time, renovation work was under way at the facility. According to preliminary data, as a result of the shelling, four people from the railway brigade were killed, five were injured, they are receiving the necessary medical care," he said.

Zaporizhzhia region, which includes Europe's largest nuclear power plant, has been partially occupied by Russia since Moscow had sent its troops into Ukraine on February 24.

12:07 p.m.: Ukraine's minister of defense Oleksii Reznikov says that with main battle tanks supplied by allies now on the way, his country's next hope is to secure military aircraft that could be a "game changer" in its fight against Russia.

In an interview on CBC Sunday, Oleksii Reznikov said he had written a "wish list to Santa" and that on the list "remains jet fighters, fighter jets, aircraft and probably rockets … long-hand options to hit the Russians' fuel depots, ammunition depots and their commanders."

Reznikov told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that he hoped that the new two weeks of discussions with European and North American allies over military aircraft would lead to commitments. He noted that as the war has developed, military equipment that was once denied Ukraine has started to flow, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, as well as long range artillery and air defense systems.

"For me, everything that's impossible today [will be] possible tomorrow," he said.

11:30 a.m.: Three people were killed by Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Sunday that damaged a hospital and a school, the regional administration said.

"Today's Russian shelling injured nine people: three people died (two men and one woman), six were injured," the administration wrote on the Telegram app.

"As a result of enemy shelling, a number of civil infrastructure objects were damaged: the Kherson Regional Clinical Hospital, a school, a bus station, a post office, a bank, and residential buildings," it wrote in an earlier post.

Ukrainian firefighters search a house following Russian shelling in the city of Kherson, Jan. 29, 2023,
Ukrainian firefighters search a house following Russian shelling in the city of Kherson, Jan. 29, 2023,

Kherson was occupied by Russian troops from the early days of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine until its recapture by Kyiv's forces in November.

Since its liberation, the city has regularly been shelled from Russian positions across the Dnipro River, Reuters reported.

11:15 a.m.: As Ukraine prepares to launch a new offensive to retake territory in the spring, the campaign inside the Pentagon to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine is gaining momentum, according to a DoD official and two other people involved in the discussions. Those people, along with others interviewed for this story, asked not to be named in order to discuss internal matters.

Spurred in part by the rapid approval of tanks and Patriot air defense systems — which not long ago were off-limits for export to Ukraine — there is renewed optimism in Kyiv that U.S. jets could be next up, Politico reported.

10:44 a.m.: Russian officials added 19-year-old Olesya Krivtsova to the list of terrorists and extremists, on a par with ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban, for posting an Instagram story about the explosion of the Crimean bridge on October. Her post also criticized Russia for invading Ukraine. Olesya, who is under house arrest wearing a tracking device, is also sporting an anti-Putin tattoo. She is also banned from using social media and other forms of communication.

Kritsova’s lawyer, Alexei Kichin, said the teen may face up to three years in prison for discrediting the Russian army and up to seven years in prison under the article of justification of terrorism. Krivtsova’s legal defense hopes for a softer punishment such as a fine, CNN reported.

10:12 a.m.: It has been over 11 weeks since Ukrainian forces took back part of Kherson province from Russian occupation. But liberation hasn't diminished the hardship for residents, both those returning home and the ones who never left.

In the dead of winter, the rural village not far from an active front line, has no power or water. Still, residents have slowly trickled back to Kalynivske, preferring to live without basic services, dependent on humanitarian aid and under the constant threat of bombardment than as displaced people elsewhere in their country. They say staying is an act of defiance against the relentless Russian attacks intended to make the area unlivable, The Associated Press reported.

9:33 a.m.: Russia recently announced it intends to increase its armed forces by another 350,000 soldiers to a total of 1.5 million personnel. In justification of this move, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the "military security of the nation," as well as of the "new subjects" — as he called the illegally annexed Ukrainian regions — and the country's "critical infrastructure" could only be secured "if the most crucial components of the armed forces are reinforced."

According to Shoigu, the reform will begin this year and conclude in 2026. Its aim is threefold: to restore the former military districts of Moscow and Leningrad (today's St. Petersburg), create new troop formations in the illegally occupied zones in Ukraine, and establish 12 new mobile units.

However, Russia’s declining revenues from oil and gas exports due to international sanctions may prevent the Kremlin from boosting its military infrastructure as well as training and equipping 350,000 additional conscripts, Deutsche Welle reported.

9:03 a.m.: Friends and volunteers gathered in Kyiv’s St Sophia’s Cathedral to pay tribute to volunteer Andrew Bagshaw, who was killed with his colleague Christopher Parry while they were evacuating people from a front-line Ukrainian town. Bagshaw, 48, a New Zealand-British joint national, and Briton Parry, 28, went missing earlier this month while heading to the town of Soledar, in the eastern Donetsk region, during heavy fighting, The Associated Press reported.

8:15 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin is open to contacts with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz though has no phone call scheduled with him, a Kremlin spokesman told the state RIA Novosti news agency on Sunday.

Germany, previously the West's main holdout on providing modern battle tanks to Ukraine to help it fight off Russia's invasion, said last week it would send 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv and also approve Leopard shipments by allied European countries. The announcement, followed shortly after a U.S. pledge of M1 Abrams tanks to Kyiv, which infuriated the Kremlin.

"For now, there are no agreed talks (with Scholz) in the schedule. Putin has been and remains open to contacts," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

Scholz was quoted by the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel in an interview published on Sunday as saying, "I will also speak to Putin again – because it is necessary to speak.”

He added: “The onus is on Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine to end this horrendous, senseless war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives already.”

Spokespeople for Scholz could not be immediately reached for comment. The German Chancellor is currently on a visit to South America, Reuters reported.

7:45 a.m.: German arms-maker Rheinmetall is ready to greatly increase the output of tank and artillery munitions to meet strong demand in Ukraine and the West. It may also start producing HIMARS multiple rocket launchers in Germany, CEO Armin Papperger told Reuters.

He spoke days before Germany's defense industry bosses meeting with new defense minister Boris Pistorius for the first time. Pistorius plans to discuss how to speed up weapons procurement and boost ammunitions supplies in the long term after almost a year of arms donations to Ukraine has depleted the German military stocks.

Rheinmetall RHMG.DE makes a range of defense products but is probably most famous for manufacturing the 120mm gun of the Leopard 2 tank.

"We can produce 240,000 rounds of tank ammunition (120mm) per year, which is more than the entire world needs," Papperger said in an interview with Reuters.

Factfile on the German-made battle tank, Leopard 2A4.
Factfile on the German-made battle tank, Leopard 2A4.

The capacity for the production of 155mm artillery rounds can be ramped up to 450,000 to 500,000 per year, he added, which would make Rheinmetall the biggest producer for both kinds of ammunition.

Demand for these munitions has soared since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last February, not only due to their massive use on the battlefield but also as Western militaries backfill their own stocks, bracing for what they see as a heightened threat from Moscow.

Papperger said a new production line for medium caliber ammunition, used by German-built Gepard anti-aircraft tanks in Ukraine for example, would go live by mid-year.

5:19 a.m.: North Korea on Sunday criticized for a second day a U.S. decision to send tanks to Ukraine, calling it a "criminal act against humanity" aimed at perpetuating an unstable international situation, Reuters reported.

Washington's allegations that North Korea has provided arms to Russia are a "baseless" effort to justify its own military aid to Ukraine, Kwon Chung-keun, director of U.S. affairs at North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.

"The United States' attempt to slam offensive armed equipment such as the main tank, into Ukraine, ignoring the legitimate concerns and condemnation of the international community, is a criminal act against humanity aimed at perpetuating the unstable international situation," the statement said.

The baseless claims of North Korea-Russia arms deals are an "unacceptable and a grave provocation that must be responded to," Kwon added.

On Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, denounced U.S. pledges of battle tanks to Ukraine, claiming Washington was "further crossing the red line" to win hegemony by proxy war, KCNA reported.

4:13 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian forces reportedly continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line. Russian forces also continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka-Donetsk City areas. Russian forces continued a localized offensive near Vuhledar in western Donetsk Oblast. Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, continued to strike Russian rear areas in Luhansk Oblast.

3:10 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry had details about Russia's plans to include military training in secondary schools' curriculum.

The training begins Sept. 1 and includes a course called "Basics of Life Safety." As part of it, students will be trained with assault rifles and hand grenades.

"The initiatives highlight the increasingly militarized atmosphere in wartime Russia," the update said, "as well as being a (likely deliberate) evocation of the Soviet Union: similar training was mandatory in schools up to 1993."

2:07 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday redoubled his efforts to stop Russian athletes from participating the 2024 Olympics, saying they would try to justify the war against Ukraine if allowed to compete.

On Friday he said Ukraine would launch an international campaign to keep Russia out of the summer games, which will be held in Paris.

"If Russian athletes appear at international competitions, it is only a matter of time before they start justifying Russia's aggression and using the symbols of terror," he said in a Saturday evening video address.

Ukraine, he said, had written to major international sports federations asking them to clarify their position on what he called the International Olympic Committee's desire to "open up sports to the propaganda influence of the terrorist state."

1:10 a.m.: Expedited talks are under way among Kyiv and its allies about Ukraine's requests for long-range missiles, a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday.

Ukraine has won promises of Western battle tanks and is seeking fighter jets to push back against Russian and pro-Moscow forces.

"To drastically reduce the Russian army's key weapon — the artillery they use today on the front lines — we need missiles that will destroy their depots," presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine's Freedom television network. He said on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula there were more than 100 artillery warehouses.

"Therefore, firstly, negotiations are already under way. Secondly, negotiations are proceeding at an accelerated pace," he said without giving details.

Zelenskyy, speaking separately, said Ukraine wanted to preempt Russian attacks on Ukrainian urban areas and civilians.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine needed the U.S.-made ATACMS missile, which has a range of 297 kilometers. Washington has so far declined to provide the weapon.

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian air force denied a newspaper report that it intended to get 24 fighter jets from allies, saying talks were continuing, Ukraine's Babel online outlet said.

12:02 a.m.: Reuters reported that Ukraine has imposed sanctions against 182 Russian and Belarusian companies, plus three individuals.

"Their assets in Ukraine are blocked, their properties will be used for our defense," Zelenskyy said in a video address.

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

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