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US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo plans to put Russia and its intelligence services on notice next week: The US is monitoring their efforts to circumvent US sanctions and is cracking down.
"As we look forward, one of the centerpieces of our strategy will be to counter attempts to evade our sanctions," Adeyemo is set to say Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, according to excerpts of his speech obtained by CNN. "We know Russia is actively seeking ways to circumvent these sanctions. ... In fact, one of the ways we know our sanctions are working is that Russia has tasked its intelligence services — the FSB and GRU — to find ways to get around them."
Adeyemo will deliver the remarks ahead of the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, reflecting on the US-led efforts to destabilize the Russian economy and push crushing sanctions to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin's ability to wage war.
His remarks also come as the Kremlin increasingly turns to its clandestine services to avoid Western sanctions.
Since Russia launched its bloody war against Ukraine, the US has imposed thousands of sanctions against Russian politicians, oligarchs and companies, cut off the Russian central bank from its dollar-denominated reserves as well as the global financial messaging system, undermined Russia's defense-industrial base and imposed a price cap on Russian oil and petroleum products.
"The thing that we are doing with our colleagues at Commerce is we're slowing Russia down and our colleagues at the Defense Department are speeding the Ukrainians up. So they're getting them the arms they need to fight off Russia in their country while Commerce and Treasury are slowing down Russia's ability to rearm. We're already seeing a big impact," Adeyemo told CNN in an interview ahead of his speech.
Despite the impact sanctions have had on the Russian economy, some observers have pointed to concerns over Moscow's ability to evade sanctions and re-orient trade routes to continue to acquire some of the technologies and financing needed to fund its war machine through countries like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and India.
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Vladyslav Orlov, an officer in Ukraine’s national guard, didn’t see what hit him, but the next thing he knew, the car he was traveling in last October was rolling over and in flames. He suspected Russian gunfire.
Pinned in the back seat, Orlov says he was initially unable to get out of the vehicle – his feet had been crushed by the car and his legs had been wounded by the explosion. Once he finally did, he and his team lay in the nearby grass watching the flames and figuring out their next steps, in disbelief they had survived.
“Sometimes I really don’t understand what has happened with me, I’m still somewhere on another planet,” Orlov, 27, told CNN.
He was eventually taken to a Ukrainian hospital. He was told he may need to have at least one leg amputated or that he may never walk again, in part due to inundated hospitals and strains on resources after months of war.
He was told the focus was to save his life, not necessarily his limbs.
“(There are) a lot of wounded guys, you know?” Orlov said. “Our doctors, everybody (is) working hard like from morning to evening, working absolutely hard but (there’s) no free space, ya know? (There’s not) enough medicine because it’s war,” he said in limited English.
So began the pursuit of another option – any option.
Ashley Matkowsky, Orlov’s American girlfriend and a videographer who had been working in Ukraine, recorded what Orlov looked like after the attack.
That video caught the attention of some US volunteers and eventually made its way to Gary Wasserson, a retired American businessman from New York who was already coordinating volunteer aid resources to the region.
“I sprung into action and started making calls in the United States,” Wasserson told CNN.
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Given the gigantic advantage that Russia enjoys over Ukraine in terms of aircraft and pilots, it’s staggering that Ukraine can still threaten Russian forces. Indeed it’s baffling that almost one year into the conflict Ukraine has an air force and helicopter fleet at all, given the effort to destroy them.
Ukraine's air force and army aviators along with their planes and helicopters are priority prey for Russia’s missiles. They’re likely top of the Kremlin’s list.
“We’re always surprised that we’re here. But, well, we are and we’re never going to stop,” says the deputy commander of the Sikorsky Brigade – his name and location are military secrets.
Ukraine gets more equipment by capturing it from Russian troops than it gets donated by allies. President Volodymyr Zelensky has begged NATO and other allies for, among other things, jets and other aircraft.
The response so far has been close to nil.
The United Kingdom has offered to boost Ukraine’s helicopter fleet with a handful of ancient Sea King aircraft that have been decommissioned from the military. Portugal, meanwhile, has given six Russian-made Ка-32А11VS – none of which are even airworthy and which, its defense minister said, Ukraine would have to fix itself.
So, Ukraine’s military is making do.
Ukrainian pilot Serhiy told CNN that his team has set up temporary locations near the front line where they hide fuel and ammunition. Support crews tuck themselves out of sight. Perimeter security exists but it’s invisible.
Yuri, a young flier who's paired with another pilot, said teams would benefit from newer fleet.
“All we have are skillful pilots who are flying old helicopters,” he said. “If we had new machines, we would be able to fulfill tasks much better. We would support the infantry better during combat, and of course there would be fewer casualties. Because the system that protects the helicopter is much better in Western models of helicopters.”
More than a million Ukrainians are at risk of losing access to drinking water because Russian forces are meddling with a reservoir in southeast Ukraine, according to Ruslan Strilets, the country's environment minister.
Speaking at a media briefing in Kyiv, Strilets accused Russia of deliberately spilling water at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant.
His comments echo Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who on Tuesday accused Russian forces of damaging and intentionally reopening floodgates at the power plant.
Strilets said there has been a "huge drop" in water levels at the Kakhovka reservoir, which is now sitting at 13.83 meters, compared to the average level of 16 meters. He warned that a drop below 12 meters would be devastating for surrounding habitats.
The environment minister said meddling with the reservoir could also endanger the ability to cool reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
The toll of Russia's attacks on infrastructure: In December, CNN reported that Russia's persistent attacks on Ukraine's energy grid had, at least temporarily, left millions of civilians without electricity, heat, water and other critical services in the bitter winter months.
In November, one of Ukraine's largest state hospitals was "on the verge of evacuating" some patients after it lost water supply because of Russian air strikes, a regional official told CNN.
With previous reporting from CNN's Maria Kostenko, Lauren Kent, Olga Voitovych, Sophie Tanno and Gabriel Kinder.
Fierce fighting continues around the strategic eastern city of Bakhmut, where Russian strikes killed five people in the last 24 hours, according to local Ukrainian military leaders.
At the Munich Security Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to lobby world leaders for more support as the war creeps up on the one-year mark.
Here's what else to know:
- Russian shelling in the east: Five people were killed and 10 were injured over the last 24 hours by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, military governor in Donetsk. The deaths occurred in the area of Horlivka, while a majority of the injuries occurred in the city of Bakhmut, an area where fighting has intensified, Kyrylenko said. Russian forces have reinforced their presence around Bakhmut through different units but Ukrainian units continue to try to prevent the city from falling into Russian hands, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said Thursday.
- Munich Security Conference: Zelensky told world leaders “there is no alternative to Ukrainian victory" as he continued to lobby for his country's admission to the EU and NATO. He also urged leaders to "hurry up" with additional agreements, delivery of aid and other decisions, a sentiment that was echoed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who asked allies to deliver tanks to Ukraine quickly.
- Biden to Poland: President Joe Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and other NATO leaders during his trip to the country next week, the White House said. Biden is expected to reaffirm the United State's support for Ukraine. It comes as Russia's invasion reaches the one-year mark.
- Fighter jets: A group of five bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to President Biden, requesting his administration send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Asked last month whether the US would be providing the US-made F-16 to Ukraine, Biden responded with a flat “no,” though he later said talks with Kyiv about weapon supplies are ongoing.
- Ongoing training: The first group of Ukrainian soldiers completed training at a United States base in Germany, according to the Pentagon, and a second group is already underway. The five-week course is aimed at teaching the troops maneuver, medical and basic soldier training. The course is part of an expanded US program to prepare Ukrainian forces to fight — a sign of US effort to train and prepare Ukrainians for a long-term war.
- Other impacts of the war: The energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine could push 141 million people worldwide into extreme poverty, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Nature Energy. Researchers modeled the impacts of increased energy prices in 116 countries and found household spending increased up to 4.8% on average, as coal and natural gas prices surged after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adding to post-pandemic increases.
The US government estimates the private military company Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties, including roughly 9,000 fighters killed, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
About half of those 9,000 have been killed since mid-December, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. And about 90% of those killed in December were recruited from Russian prisons.
The group has relied heavily on convicts to fill out its ranks. "That doesn't show any signs of abating," Kirby said Friday, though Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed last week that he will no longer recruit from prisons.
"They're treating their recruits, largely convicts, as basically cannon fodder, throwing them into a literal meat grinder here, inhuman ways without a second thought," Kirby said. "Men that he just plucked out of prisons and threw on the battlefield with no training, no equipping, no organizational command, just throw them into the fight."
Recently, Wagner suffered heavy casualties in the intense fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Kirby said Russia made "incremental gains" in and around the city as the fighting intensified over the last several days. He said the US cannot predict whether Russia will break through.
Even if they do, Kirby said the city holds "no real strategic value," because the US believes Ukraine would maintain its strong defensive lines across the broader Donbas region.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the US has “deep concern” about Russia's efforts to destabilize the government of Moldova.
This comes as Moldova President Maia Sandu said earlier this week that Russia was plotting a coup in Moldova.
“We have deep concern about some of the plotting that we’ve seen coming from Russia to try to destabilize the government,” Blinken said at a meeting with Sandu in Germany on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “We stand strongly with Moldova in support of its security, its independence, its territorial integrity, the very important reform efforts that the president and the government are making."
Sandu described 2022 as an “incredibly difficult year for Moldova” and thanked the US for its support with its myriad challenges, including with energy, the economy and security.
Why Moldova is important: Moldova, situated between Ukraine and Romania, was previously part of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a handful of “frozen conflict” zones in eastern Europe emerged, including a slither of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine known as Transnistria.
The territory declared itself a Soviet republic in 1990, opposing any attempt by Moldova to become an independent state or to merge with Romania. When Moldova became independent the following year, Russia quickly inserted itself as a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops in to back pro-Moscow separatists there.
This supposed “peacekeeping” presence, which has in practice seen the Kremlin prop up a puppet state that seeks to undermine Moldova’s sovereignty, has also mirrored Moscow’s pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.
Alarm bells in Moldova and the West grew louder following familiar refrains from the Kremlin that the rights of ethnic Russians were being violated in Transnistria – another argument used by Putin to justify his February 2022 invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, which contained two breakaway Russian-backed statelets.
In the context of the war today, the Russian-backed separatist enclave at the southwestern edge of the country could now present a potential bookend to any Russian assault westwards from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
President Joe Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda during his trip next week to thank him for the military and humanitarian assistance Warsaw has provided to Ukraine, the White House said.
The president will also deliver remarks and meet with the Bucharest Nine, the group of Eastern flank NATO allies, John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said.
The trip "comes at an important moment" as Russia's invasion of Ukraine reaches the one-year mark, Kirby said.
Biden meets with Duda on Tuesday morning.
"President Biden will thank President Duda and, in fact, the Polish people for the $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian assistance that they have provided to Ukraine over the past year. And for all the efforts that the Polish people have done to generously welcome more than one and a half million refugees from Ukraine," Kirby said.
During his meeting with leaders of the Bucharest Nine on Wednesday, Biden will "reaffirm the United States' unwavering support," according to Kirby.