January 23, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 12:16 a.m. ET, January 24, 2023
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1:45 p.m. ET, January 23, 2023

It's overblown to say tank dispute is dividing NATO, White House national security spokesperson tells CNN

From CNN’s Amy Cassidy, Christiane Amanpour and Ben Kirby

John Kirby, US national security council coordinator for strategic communications, on Monday downplayed the notion that Germany’s indecision on providing advanced military tanks to Ukraine is dividing NATO.

“To say that this is dividing the alliance or somehow putting national security at risk in Ukraine because there’s a discussion over tanks is just way overblowing this thing,” the White House official told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Some Western allies continue to pressure Germany to authorize the delivery of its modern Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

No decisions have been made “one way or another,” Kirby told CNN.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said earlier on Monday that a decision would be taken “soon,” as EU Foreign Ministers meet in Brussels for talks on Monday. 

Kirby affirmed that “NATO has never been more staunchly united than it has been over the last year with this war in Ukraine,” but acknowledged the alliance is “not going to ever agree on every single aspect of every decision”. 

“What’s really important to remember is that these are national decisions, they’re sovereign decisions,” he said. 

“I certainly can't speak for the Germans on what’s going into their calculus about the Leopard tanks. The Leopards are very good and there [are] a lot of them on the European continent, and certainly, they could be effective on the battlefield. But again, what Germany does, they’ve got to decide," Kirby added. “They have to work through this in a sovereign way.”

8:44 p.m. ET, January 23, 2023

EU pledges an additional $590 million in support for Ukraine 

From CNN's Amy Cassidy and Lauren Kent

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell talks to the press in Brussels on January 23.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell talks to the press in Brussels on January 23. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday outlined the bloc's plans to continue supporting Ukraine, saying it reached an agreement to provide an additional 500 million euros ($543.03 million) and additional military training assistance worth 45 million euros ($48.87 billion), dedicated to a military training mission for Ukrainian forces. 

That brings the EU's total amount of military support for Ukraine, coming via the European Union's intergovernmental fund, to 3.6 billion euros ($3.9 billion), Borrell told reporters in Brussels on Monday. 

"Ukraine is resisting with courage and determination," Borrell said in a news conference. "Ukraine has to win this war and we will support in the best possible way."

Borrell added that the total figure of the bloc's support to Ukraine, including military, financial, economic and humanitarian aid, now stands at 49 billion euros ($53.21 billion). 

"Russia continues its systematic barbaric attacks on Ukrainian cities, killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructures," Borrell said. "We have not seen any genuine willingness from Russia regarding a fair and sustainable peace." 

Correction: This story has been updated to show that the total figure of EU support for Ukraine is $53.21 billion.

12:57 p.m. ET, January 23, 2023

US lawmaker on sending tanks to Kyiv: Russia "should totally expect that we would answer" with these weapons

From CNN's Sarah Fortinsky

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, dismissed the Russian threat that Ukraine “will pay” if Germany sends tanks, saying they’ve heard that threat before.

“The actions of the Russians are inexplicably aggressive, and I think that they should totally expect that we would answer with these kinds of weapons systems," the Pennsylvania Democrat said in an interview with CNN.

Asked what is driving the United States’ hesitancy to send its tanks – which Germany demanded in exchange for it doing the same – Houlahan said, “It really does sound as though there is some work to be done in terms of the conversations between those allies, both the United States and Germany.”

She added that she’s “heartened” by House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul, a Texan Republican, who said the United States must answer Ukraine’s call for everything it needs, and she echoed McCaul’s call for greater education of Congress, the administration, and the Department of Defense “to make it possible for us to be able to do that.” 

“And then I believe that Germany will follow along or follow suit. That has been sort of the pattern since the beginning of the war,” she said.

Houlahan praised McCaul’s leadership on the House Foreign Affairs committee and said she was hopeful, now that a Republican was chair of the panel and holds the majority in the House, that Republicans “will start really listening to the chairman, as he articulates, I think very, very well, what’s at stake here."

 “This is not just about Ukraine. This is in fact the world watching what happens for Ukraine, to Ukraine, so that we can make sure that we protect, as I mentioned, democracies around the world. And the implications of a failure in Ukraine are global,” she said.

1:02 p.m. ET, January 23, 2023

Poland is determined to send Ukraine tanks "regardless" of other countries’ decisions, foreign minister says

From CNN's Mick Krever 

Poland's Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau speaks during a round table meting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on January 23.
Poland's Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau speaks during a round table meting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on January 23. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Poland is "more than determined" to send Western battle tanks to Ukraine whether or not other countries join in the scheme, the Polish foreign minister said in Brussels on Monday evening.

“Certainly, we are going to send these tanks,” Zbigniew Rau told journalists after a meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers.

Rau had been asked whether Poland would send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and whether there are "any other states in the EU” that would join Poland.

The foreign minister said that “regardless of the decisions of other countries, we are more than determined, as we promised the Ukrainian side, to send the tanks.”

That appeared to contradict a statement earlier Monday by Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who said that a “condition” for Poland was the assembly of a “small coalition” of states willing to send battle tanks to Ukraine.

Rau said Monday that it “remains to be determined” whether other countries will join Poland in sending Western battle tanks to Ukraine, and that “there are negotiations underway.”

What Germany is saying: A spokesperson for the German government, Steffen Hebestreit, told journalists Monday that Germany had not received a request from Poland or any other country for permission to transfer Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – as would be required, because it is German-manufactured.

When asked whether Poland would seek such permission, Rau said “we will do it, certainly.”

When asked for his opinion on the German government’s approach to the issue, the Polish foreign minister said: “The German reactions could be more determined and more dynamic.”

CNN's Jo Shelley in London, Claudia Otto and Inke Kappeler in Berlin contributed reporting to this post.

2:09 p.m. ET, January 23, 2023

Here’s why the German-made Leopard 2 tanks are so important to Ukraine's war effort

From CNN's Rob Picheta

A Leopard 2 A7 main battle tank drives through the mud at a military training area in Munster, Germany, in 2017.
A Leopard 2 A7 main battle tank drives through the mud at a military training area in Munster, Germany, in 2017. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP via Getty Images)

Pressure is growing on Germany to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, with Kyiv stepping up its pleas and a spat brewing between Berlin and some of its NATO allies.

The German-made Leopard 2 tanks are seen as a vital, modern military vehicle that would bolster Kyiv’s forces as the war with Russia approaches the one-year mark.

On Friday, Germany failed to reach an agreement with its key Western partners on sending the vehicles, ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive in Ukraine.

But countries are continuing to press the issue this week, while Poland is seeking to build its own coalition to help bolster Ukraine’s military with all-important Leopards.

Here’s what you need to know about the Leopard 2 tanks — and why they’re so important to the war in Ukraine:

  • Leopard 2s are fast, contain a powerful gun, and are easy to maneuver: Each tank contains a 120mm Smoothbore gun, and a 7.62mm machine gun; it can reach speeds of 70 km per hour, or 50 kmp/h when off-road, making maneuverability one of its key features. And there is all-around protection from threats, including improvised explosive devices, mines or anti-tank fire, according to its German manufacturer, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.
  • The Leopard 2 is fuel efficient: Leopards meanwhile run on diesel, unlike Abrams, which makes their fuel consumption more efficient and reduces the number of fuel trucks required to support a battalion. This is among the reasons why critics of Berlin’s stance say Leopard 2s should be shipped to Ukraine regardless of whether the US decides to send its own M1 Abrams tanks.
  • There are about 2000 Leopard 2 tanks currently in Europe: In total, there are around 2,000 Leopard 2 vehicles spread across Europe, at different levels of readiness. The vast number of units already based near Ukraine, and the Leopard’s relatively low-maintenance demands compared to other models, lead experts to believe the tanks could help Ukraine quickly.
  • 13 European countries have Leopard 2s — but they need Germany's permission to share them: Thirteen European countries, including Poland and Finland, are already in possession of modern German Leopard 2 tanks, which were introduced in 1979 and have been upgraded several times since, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. Many of them have agreed to re-export some tanks to Kyiv, but require Germany’s permission.
  • Germany "is not blocking" export of Leopard 2s to Ukraine, EU says: The European Union’s foreign policy chief on Monday reiterated Germany’s position that it would not block another country’s desire to send German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. “The German minister said that Germany is not blocking other countries from doing this,” Josep Borrell, high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy, told journalists Monday. “Other countries which wish to export their Leopard tanks can do so. So Germany is not blocking exports of Leopard tanks.”
  • Ukraine's foreign minister says the provision of Leopard 2 tanks is at the final stage: Ukraine’s foreign minister said Monday that the provision of German-made Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine was at the final stage. “I have no doubt that Leopards will reach us,” Dmytro Kuleba said on Ukrainian television. “We are at the final stage.” Kuleba also suggested that the idea of providing aircraft for Ukraine had “moved forward.”

 CNN's Mick Krever contributed reporting to this post.

11:07 a.m. ET, January 23, 2023

Tanzanian national killed while fighting with Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine, Russian state media says

From CNN’s Jo Shelley, Anna Chernova and Bethlehem Feleke

A Tanzanian national has died while fighting with the mercenary group Wagner in Ukraine, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti has reported. 

RIA Novosti cited a fellow fighter as saying that 31-year-old Nemes Tarimo had come to Russia to study at the Russian Technological University MIREA. He had later been jailed. “While serving in the colony, he wished to volunteer in the special operation zone,” the report, published on Wednesday, said. 

Last Monday, Russian media outlet RIA FAN, part of a media holdings company run by Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, published what it said was video of a memorial service for Tarimo in Goryachiy Klyuch, a town in the Krasnodar region of Russia. 

CNN cannot independently verify the video’s authenticity. 

The accompanying article on RIA FAN said that Tarimo “fought near Bakhmut as part of the Wagner PMC and died while performing a combat mission” on Oct. 24.

Tarimo’s cousin, Rehema Makrene Kigoga, told CNN that he had got a scholarship to study abroad. She confirmed that he had died but said the family had “no idea that he was ever arrested” and did not know whether or not he had fought in Ukraine. 

Some context: The private military contractor has heavily recruited from Russian prisons over the last nine months. Previously it has deployed contingents to Syria and several African countries. 

The founder and head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has visited Wagner fighters on the front line and met former convicts who have completed their six-month tour of duty with Wagner. Prigozhin had promised them that in return for fighting they would be pardoned and be able to return home, rather than to prison.

CNN's Mariya Knight contributed reporting to this post.

10:38 a.m. ET, January 23, 2023

Former Wagner commander who fled to Norway to seek asylum arrested by immigration authorities

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Andrei Medvedev, a former commander of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, is seen in Oslo, Norway, in an image taken from video released January 15.
Andrei Medvedev, a former commander of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, is seen in Oslo, Norway, in an image taken from video released January 15. (Gulagu.Net/Reuters)

A former commander in Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, who fled to Norway to seek asylum after crossing the country’s arctic border, has been arrested by Norwegian immigration authorities. 

Andrei Medvedev said he feared for his life after refusing to renew his service with Wagner, according to an interview with Vladimir Osechkin, head of human rights advocacy group Gulagu.net, earlier in January. 

Medvedev said he was afraid of being executed in the same manner of Yevgeny Nuzhin – a defector from Wagner who was killed on camera with a sledgehammer.

"The person concerned has been arrested under the Immigration Act and it is being assessed whether he should be detained" [for a longer period of time], Jon Andreas Johansen, an official from Norway's National Police Immigration Service (NPIC), said in a statement to CNN on Monday. 

"Beyond that, we have no comments," Johansen said. 

On Monday, Gulagu.net head Osechkin said in a new statement posted on YouTube that Medvedev called him from the detention center and told him authorities arrested him on Sunday. 

Osechkin said Medvedev is appealing to the prime minister of Norway and journalists for protection and to stop the deportation process. 

More on the Wagner group: The mercenary group is headed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and has emerged as a key player in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – recently doing much of the fighting in the small eastern town of Soledar.

The group is often described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014, and has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.

Just last week, the US announced it would designate the Russian mercenary organization as a “transnational criminal organization” and impose additional sanctions against the group and its support network across the world.

CNN's Mick Krever and Katharina Krebs contributed reporting to this post.

9:59 a.m. ET, January 23, 2023

Netherlands will send 8 F-35 fighter jets to Poland as part of NATO effort to guard airspace

From CNN's Mick Krever 

A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jet belonging to the Netherlands Air Force at Graf Ignatievo Air Force Base near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, on April 14.
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jet belonging to the Netherlands Air Force at Graf Ignatievo Air Force Base near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, on April 14. (Georgi Paleykov/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

The Netherlands will send eight F-35 fighter jets to Poland at the end of this month, that country’s defense ministry said in a statement on Monday.

“In February and March, four warplanes will be available for the guarding of NATO airspace over eastern Europe, the so-called Air Policing,” the Dutch Defense Ministry said. “The other four F-35s are participating in a training program with allies, so-called Vigilance activities. These trainings increasing the readiness of NATO on the eastern flank and foster cooperation between the various NATO countries.”

The defense ministry said that the warplanes would be able to respond within minutes to intercept an airplane.

“Two F-35s permanent guard NATO airspace, the other two are reserves," the statement noted.

Poland is a NATO member and shares a border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

The Netherlands has also stepped up its support for Ukraine, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announcing plans to join the US and Germany in sending a Patriot missile defense system to Kyiv during a meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House.

8:12 a.m. ET, January 23, 2023

Latvia will downgrade diplomatic ties with Russia, foreign minister says

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

Latvia will downgrade its diplomatic ties with Russia, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Twitter Monday.

This decision was made in solidarity with Estonia, and it will go into effect on Feb. 24, he added.

The move comes after Moscow downgraded its diplomatic relations with Estonia and expelled the Estonian ambassador over allegations of "Russophobia."