Putin says eliminating possibility of Ukrainian shelling of Russia’s regions is a "priority"
From CNN’s Anna Chernova
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his defense ministry to prioritize protecting Russian territory from shelling by Ukrainian forces.
Speaking at a video conference regarding the restoration of residential infrastructure, Putin said residential houses in Russia's Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk regions – as well as Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 – were “damaged or destroyed” by the Ukrainian army referring to it as to “shelling by neo-Nazi formations.”
“Of course, the priority task is to eliminate the very possibility of shelling, but this is the business of the military department,” Putin said.
Many people found themselves in a difficult situation, “they lost their homes, were forced to move to relatives or to temporary places of residence, faced interruptions in the supply of water, heat, and electricity,” he added.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine have not officially acknowledged the shelling of the Russian territory.
11:26 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
Fighting Russia's Wagner mercenary group is like a "zombie movie," Ukrainian soldier says
From CNN's Tim Lister, Frederik Pleitgen and Konstantin Hak near Bakhmut
Southwest of the city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers Andriy and Borisych live in a candle-lit bunker cut into the frozen earth. For several weeks they have been confronting hundreds of fighters belonging to the Russian private military contractor Wagner throwing themselves against Ukrainian defenses.
Disguised in a balaclava, Andriy recounts one seemingly endless firefight when they came under attack by a flood of Wagner fighters.
“We were fighting for about 10 hours in a row. And it wasn’t like just waves, it was uninterrupted. So it was just like they didn’t stop coming.”
Their AK-47 rifles became so hot from constant firing, Andriy says, that they had to keep changing them.
“It was about 20 soldiers on our side. And let’s say 200 from their side,” he says.
The Wagner way of war is to send a first wave of attackers that mainly comprises raw recruits straight out of Russian prisons. They know little of military tactics and are poorly equipped. Most just hope that if they survive their six-month contract they can go home rather than back to a cell.
“They make the group – let’s say from 10 soldiers – reach 30 meters, then they start digging in to keep the position,” Andriy says of Wagner.
Another group follows, he says, to claim another 30 meters. “That’s how, step by step, (Wagner) is trying to move forward, while they lose a lot of people in the meantime.”
Only when the first wave is exhausted or cut down do Wagner send in more experienced combatants, often from the flanks, in an effort to overrun Ukrainian positions.
Andriy says facing the assault was a frightening and surreal experience.
“Our machine gunner was almost getting crazy, because he was shooting at them. And he said, I know I shot him, but he doesn’t fall. And then after some time, when he maybe bleeds out, so he just falls down.”
Andriy compares the battle to a scene out of a zombie movie. “They’re climbing above the corpse of their friends, stepping on them,” he says.
“It looks like it’s very, very likely that they are getting some drugs before attack,” he says, a claim that CNN has not been able independently to verify.
A Ukrainian agency alleges attempted "sabotage" at the eastern Ukraine power plant
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Mick Krever in London
The State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) claimed that it had averted a plot to detonate explosives at a power plant in eastern Ukraine.
“An official of one of the region's law enforcement agencies started collaborating with the enemy,” the SBI said. “He hid explosive devices, ammunition and means of initiating the explosion in a specially equipped cache near the TPP [power plant] in advance, but in the territory controlled by Ukraine.”
The alleged collaborator, described as a “former security guard,” was served “in absentia a notice of suspicion of high treason and preparation to commit sabotage,” the SBI said.
An explosion at the Kurakhove Thermal Power Plant was to be carried out by an accomplice of the accused, the SBI claimed, adding that it was looking for that person.
The agency released photos that it said showed security forces unearthing explosives.
CNN has seen no previous reports of an explosives plot at that plant.
The SBI claim was made as part of anti-corruption searches and crackdowns across the country in an effort to combat what they described as “the internal enemy" in the country, according to Ukrainian authorities.
10:54 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
Former Ukrainian defense official charged with embezzlement in substandard bulletproof vest case
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Mick Krever in London
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said Wednesday that it had charged the Ministry of Defense’s former head for procurement with embezzlement as part of anti-corruption searches and crackdowns across the country. At issue, it said, was the purchase of thousands of substandard protective vests.
“According to the investigation, this official purchased nearly 3,000 bulletproof vests for the Armed Forces of Ukraine for over UAH 100 million,” or $2.7 million. “However, according to several independent examinations, these products do not meet the requirements of class IV bulletproof vests and cannot properly protect Ukrainian soldiers.”
The SBU said that the official was charged with “misappropriation, embezzlement or seizure of property through abuse of office,” obstruction of the armed forces, and “committing a criminal offense by a group of persons.”
The SBU said that the individual faced five to eight years in prison, and had recalled the sub-standard vests.
“In addition, the SBU is conducting investigative actions against other officials in the security and defense sector who may be involved in illegal activities that harm state security. This is a set of measures aimed at strengthening the defense capabilities of our state.”
More on the searches: Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday said they conducted the series of anti-corruption searches and crackdowns in an effort to combat what they described as “the internal enemy" in the country.
10:11 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
Top Ukrainian security official says Russia is preparing for "maximum escalation" in the war
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv, Mick Krever, Jonny Hallam and Josh Pennington
Russia is gearing up for a “maximum escalation” of the war in Ukraine, potentially as soon as the next few weeks, according to a top Ukrainian national security official.
“These will be defining months in the war,” Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Sky News in an interview broadcast Tuesday.
“I’m conscious the main fights are yet to come and they will happen this year, within two to three months,” he said.
“Russia is preparing for maximum escalation. It is gathering everything possible, doing drills and training. When it comes to an offensive from different directions, as of now, I can say that we are not excluding any scenario in the next two to three weeks.”
Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence believes that the war is “on the edge” of a “very active” period.
"We are on the edge of a very active phase of hostilities, February and March will be very active,” Andriy Yusov, representative of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, said on national television.
Ukrainian officials have warned for some time of a renewed Russian offensive and have asked for more powerful weaponry from Western allies to counter the threat.
Following Danilov's comments, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said Wednesday that there a signs Russia is preparing for a renewed offensive in southern Ukraine.
“Not just on land, but on the sea and in air as well,” Natalia Humeniuk, head of the United Coordinating Press Center of Security and Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine, said on national television.
Ukrainian intelligence had noted changes to the activity of Russian naval forces in the Black Sea, she added.
“It increases and decreases rapidly, and the missile carriers are moving back and forth,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian Defense Ministry on Tuesday said it would hold a further week of joint military drills with Russia.
"During the week, military representatives from the two countries will practice joint planning of the use of troops based on the prior experience of armed conflicts in recent years," the ministry said in a statement.
CNN's Denis Lapin contributed reporting to this post.
10:00 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
Zelensky calls for an increase in sanctions against Russia
From CNN’s Zahid Mahmood in London
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the need to increase sanctions against Russia on Wednesday saying that the “terrorist state must feel the price of terror.”
“I stressed the need to increase sanctions against Russia and our team stressed that the terrorists state must feel the price of a terror and its capacity to continue aggression should be restricted,” Zelensky said in a news conference after meeting with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen in Kyiv.
Zelensky continued to put pressure on Austrian businesses to “step up” their cooperation with Ukraine and help to rebuild and modernize the country’s energy systems, telling businesses to leave Russia and set up in Ukraine.
“We know the situation concerning Austrian business, which despite the brutal Russian terror, are not leaving Russia, and continue to support the terrorist state, we believe with their own taxes,” Zelensky said. “And therefore, we would like these businesses to go to Ukraine instead.”
He also urged individual Austrian companies not to “betray Austrian society,” saying it’s an important issue which will be resolved on the basis of “shared values of freedom, democracy and human rights.”
Zelensky’s comments come as Van der Bellen visited Kyiv on Wednesday to discuss financial and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
9:55 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
Netanyahu says he would be willing to serve as mediator between Ukraine and Russia
From CNN's Sophie Tanno
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hassaid he would be willing to serve as mediator between Ukraine and Russia.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday,Netanyahusaid he was asked to mediate not longafter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year but declined the offer as he was not prime minister at the time.
“I was opposition leader at the time and I said, well I have a rule; one prime minister at a time,” he said.
When asked if he would agree to it now, Netanyahu said: “If asked by all relevant parties, I’ll certainly consider it but I’m not pushing myself.”
“I’ve been around long enough to know that there has to be the ripe time and the ripe circumstances. If they arise, I will certainly consider it," he told CNN.
He added that he would want the United States in particular to ask him as “you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen, and we have our own backyard to deal with.”
Netanyahu also stressed during the interview that he had a good relationship with US President Joe Biden, saying: “I think President Biden’s commitment to Israel is real, it’s not just words, it’s genuine, it comes from the heart. And my commitment to the alliance with the United States is real.”
He said that Washington and Tel Aviv had disagreed on many things, including Iran, but the alliance between the two countries “had to be unshakeable.”
9:27 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
Austrian president visits Kyiv as a "sign of solidarity"
From CNN's Stephanie Halasz
The Austrian President has arrived in Kyiv, according to a post on his Twitter account.
Later, Van der Bellen also posted a photo of himself in the Ukrainian town of Bucha on Twitter, commenting “Here in #Bucha, I mourn for every single life destroyed by this terrible war of aggression. These crimes against humanity, against everything we stand for, must not be forgotten and must not go unpunished.”
He has also met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Avakov was interior minister when the ‘Super Puma’ ES-225 helicopter involved in the crash was purchased from France as part of a contract signed in 2018. On Wednesday, he denied any wrongdoing.
“The investigating authorities did indeed conduct a search of my place – as part of working out one of the operational versions of the causes of the tragedy in Brovary,” Avakov said in a statement on Telegram. “The investigation was interested in the contracts for the purchase of Super Puma helicopters (Airbus Helicopters H225) by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
He said that the contracts were approved by parliament, and that the helicopters “have saved and will save thousands of lives.”
“The investigators behaved correctly, although the expediency of such investigative action looks a little dull, six years after the contract was concluded. Naturally, nothing corresponding to the interests of the investigation was found,” he added.
As is standard, Ukrainian authorities have said they are investigating all possible causes of the helicopter crash, including pilot error, technical malfunction, and sabotage.