Russia-Ukraine War: Putin Meets Belarusian Leader Over Potential Military Support, EU Finalises Gas Price Cap

It is the 300th day of Russian invasion of Ukraine today. The conflict initially simmered in 2021 after Russia started a large military buildup on the border with Ukraine which continued despite warnings from other western countries. On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to enter Ukraine. Since then the conflict has turned into a full-fledged war with both sides striving to resist each other.   

Here are the latest updates on the Russian-Ukraine conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said the situation in four areas of Ukraine that Moscow has declared as part of Russia was “extremely difficult” as Kyiv renewed calls for more weapons after Russian drones hit energy targets, as reported by the news agency Reuters.

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Putin recently visited Belarus to meet the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko amid growing fears in Kyiv that Moscow is pushing its closest ally to join a new ground offensive against Ukraine. Putin described the talks as “very productive” and insisted that Russia has no interest in “absorbing” anyone, adding that unspecified “enemies” wanted to stop Russia’s integration with Belarus. Lukashenko said high-level Belarusian-Russian negotiations covered “the entire range of matters concerning Belarusian-Russian relations”.

Belarus’s defence ministry informed it had concluded a series of inspections of its armed forces’ military preparedness, hours ahead of Putin’s visit to Minsk. This raised fears in Kyiv that Belarus, which acted as a staging post for Russia to launch its invasion of Ukraine in February, could be preparing to take a more active role in the conflict once again.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was ready for “all possible defence scenarios” against Moscow and its ally. “Protecting our border, both with Russia and Belarus, is our constant priority. We are preparing for all possible defence scenarios,”  Zelenskyy said on Sunday after a meeting with Ukraine’s top military command.

On the other hand, the exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya warned that the chances of Minsk sending soldiers into Ukraine “may increase in coming weeks”. Kyiv was “right to prepare” for Minsk to join Moscow’s new offensive because the probability “might increase in coming weeks”, Tsikhanouskaya said in an interview with Kyiv Post, according to the Guardian report.

Amid all this, the head of Moldova’s security service, Alexandru Musteata, also warned of a “very high” risk of a new Russian offensive towards his country’s east. Russia still aims to secure a land corridor through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, Musteata said, adding that his agency believed Moscow was looking at several scenarios to reach Moldova and that it was possible an offensive would be launched in January-February or later in March-April.

Meanwhile, a Russian drone attack caused “fairly serious” damage in the Kyiv region on Monday and three areas have been left without power supply, governor Oleksiy Kuleba said. Russia launched 35 “kamikaze” drones on Ukraine in the early hours of Monday striking critical infrastructure in and around Kyiv in Moscow’s third air attack on the Ukrainian capital in six days.

Ukraine’s air force said it shot down 30 out of 35 of the Russian-launched Shahed drones overnight. The Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 kamikaze drones were reportedly launched from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov, the force added, according to the Guardian report.

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had shot down four US-made HARM anti-radiation missiles over the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, in the space of 24 hours, the state-run TASS news agency reported. One person died and several were injured by Ukrainian shelling in the region on Sunday morning, the region’s governor said.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general António Guterres said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine “will go on” and does not see a prospect for “serious” peace talks in the immediate future. Speaking to reporters during his annual end-of-year conference in New York, Guterres said he “strongly hoped that peace could be reached in 2023, citing the “consequences” for Ukraine’s people, Russian society and the global economy if a deal is not found.

Rishi Sunak, while speaking at a meeting of European leaders in Latvia said that the West should reject unilateral calls by the Kremlin for a ceasefire in Ukraine and focus on “degrading Russia’s capability to regroup and to resupply.” The UK prime minister was speaking at a summit of the 10-country Joint Expeditionary Force in the Latvian capital at a time of heightened concern as to whether Britain will continue the robust support for Ukraine that began under Boris Johnson.

EU ministers agreed upon a plan to cap the price of gas putting to rest concerns over handling the cost of soaring energy prices after Russia cut gas supplies to Europe. A gas price cap will kick in if prices on the main European gas exchange, the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF), exceed €180 (£157) a megawatt-hour for three consecutive working days, far lower than the European Commission’s original proposal of €275 a MWh, which had been derided by cap-supporting countries as a joke.

Extending sanctions, the Canadian government announced plans to seize $26m in assets from the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, with the proceeds from the forfeiture to be diverted towards reconstruction in Ukraine and compensation of victims of the Russian invasion. The move marked the first case of the Canadian government using new powers to pursue the seizure of assets belonging to sanctioned individuals, it said in a statement.

(With inputs from agencies)