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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Ukraine’s heaviest fighting rages in the east, as NATO tries to maintain support against Russia

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Russian troops tried to advance into eastern Ukraine and trained tank, mortar and artillery fire on Kherson in the south, the Ukrainian military said, while Western allies tried to support Ukraine and its neighbors against Moscow.

In Washington, a $1.2 billion contract for six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) for Ukraine was awarded to Raytheon, the Pentagon said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday his country needs US-made Patriot missile defense systems to protect its civilian infrastructure, which came under heavy attack by Russia at the start of winter.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin had directed “his anger and his fire” at Ukraine’s civilian population and warned Russia that its strategy would not divide Ukraine’s supporters.

“Heat, water, electricity… these are President Putin’s new goals. He hits them hard. This brutalization of the Ukrainian people is barbaric,” Blinken said at a press conference in Bucharest after a two-day NATO meeting.

At NATO foreign ministers’ meeting on Wednesday, the allies pledged to help Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina now that they are under pressure from Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and ministers said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said the outcome showed NATO was “definitely not interested in a political and diplomatic solution in Ukraine”.

Russia invaded Ukraine nine months ago in what it calls a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of nationalists it considers dangerous. Ukraine and Western allies accuse Russia of unprovoked imperialist land grabbing.

Image: ROMANIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMATY-DEFENSE-NATO
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives for a press conference in Bucharest on Wednesday. Andrei Pungovschi/AFP – Getty Images

Ukraine ordered all Kyiv’s embassies abroad to beef up security after two letter bombs were sent to the Ukrainian ambassador in Madrid and a weapons company in Spain that manufactures rocket launchers donated to Ukraine. Spanish police said they are investigating a possible link between the two bombs, one of which injured an embassy security officer.

In eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where the heaviest fighting took place, Russian troops attempted to advance further and shelled several towns, including Bakhmut and nearby Soledar and Opytne, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement Wednesday night.

On the southern front, Russian troops took up defensive positions and trained tank, mortar and artillery fire on Ukrainian positions and on the regional capital of Kherson, which had been abandoned by Russian forces earlier in November.

Other battlefield activity was reported in northeastern and central Ukraine, the military said.

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.

“We are analyzing the intentions of the occupiers and are preparing countermeasures – tougher countermeasures than is currently the case,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a speech on Wednesday evening.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, said that 65% of consumers in Kherson are supplied with electricity.

Nearly six million customers in most regions of Ukraine and in Kiev were without electricity, Zelenskiy said Wednesday evening.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said the armed forces had shot down 340 of the approximately 400 Iranian drones Russian had launched during the war.

“We haven’t seen these Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles for about two weeks… the first batch is probably already gone,” he told Ukraine’s main television network.

On the economic front, there was an agreement on the resumption of Russian ammonia exports via a pipeline to a Ukrainian Black Sea port, UN deputy chief Martin Griffiths said.

“I think we’re pretty close, we’re approaching it this week,” Griffiths told a Reuters NEXT event.

A deal to ease global food shortages by helping Ukraine export its agricultural products from Black Sea ports was extended for four months on Nov. 17, though Russia said its own demands had not yet been fully met. The agreement was initially brokered in July by the United Nations with the help of Turkey.

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