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February 6, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news
By Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes and Leinz Vales, CNN
Ukraine’s main Greek Catholic church UGCC said Monday that it’s moving to a new calendar starting this year to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 instead of Jan. 7, as is traditional in Orthodox congregations.
UGCC — which says it represents just under 10% of Ukrainian population said the decision was made “taking into account the numerous requests of the faithful and having held preliminary consultations with the clergy and monastics of our church.”
Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko welcomed the move of UGCC, saying, “this decision meets the requirements of time and public opinion.”
The Ukrainian government launched a poll in December asking citizens about their opinion on whether the date for Christmas should be moved to Dec. 25. The minister shared the result of the poll, which showed nearly 59% of more than 1.5 million people favored the move.
“And it became obvious to everyone what exactly is the demand of society in this matter,” the minister went on to say, adding that “it’s also important that the transition is not forced.”
More background: Many Orthodox Christians, including those living in Russia and Ukraine, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.
Ukraine and Russia are both majority Orthodox countries and in recent years a large part of the Orthodox community in Ukraine has moved away from Moscow, a step accelerated by the conflict Russia stoked in eastern Ukraine beginning in 2014.
In November, a branch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine announced that it would allow its churches to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, rather than Jan. 7.
"I would very much like our experience of the calendar reform to serve our Orthodox brothers," the head of UGCC Sviatoslav Shevchuk said, urging the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to switch to the new calendar.
The leader of far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) celebrated his party’s 10th founding anniversary on Monday by criticizing the country's government's support for Ukraine.
AfD leader Tino Chrupalla said Germany’s high inflation is due to Berlin's refusal to move ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. He blamed the country’s multi-party coalition, headed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
By declining trade with Russia and China, Germany was making itself “unilaterally dependent on the West, with expensive and dirty fracking gas coming from overseas instead of cheap gas from Nord Stream,” Chrupalla said.
Several Western countries have seen a rise in inflation due to several factors, most notably Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Elenor Pospiech, the regional chairwoman of Germany’s ruling SPD party, pushed back, saying, the AfD is playing into Putin’s hands by fomenting uncertainty among the population.
“They are using fake news, labeling themselves as the anti-war party. Their actions are disruptive fire. This makes democratic work difficult,“ Pospiech said.
Some context: Ten years after its founding, the AfD has evolved from a rallying point for those dissatisfied with Germany's euro bailout policy into a party with anti-constitutional content, according to the German domestic intelligence services (BfV).
In one of the largest counterterrorism operations in the history of the Federal Republic, three former and one current AfD members were arrested, including ex-lawmaker and judge Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, when plans for a coup were uncovered in December 2022.
Ukraine expects Russia to mobilize up to half a million additional soldiers in the coming months, according to a senior intelligence official.
Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy head of Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, asserted in an interview that "Russia is going to mobilize 300,000 to 500,000 people in order to carry out offensive operations in the south and east of Ukraine in spring and summer of 2023."
"Those 500,000 are in addition to the 300,000 mobilized in October 2022," Skibitskyi said. "This proves that Putin’s Kremlin has no intention of ending this war. The Russian offensive may happen in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and possibly in Zaporizhzhia region. Russian troops will go on the defensive in Kherson region and in Crimea. This new mobilization wave will last up to two months."
Russian officials have consistently denied that another mobilization is planned. But at a conference in December of Russia's military chiefs, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed beefing up the armed forces to 1.5 million combat personnel from the current 1.15 million over a period of three years.
This was required "to guarantee the solving of problems related to Russia's military security", Shoigu said.
Skibytskyi also said that at the beginning of 2022, Defense Intelligence was aware that a "full-scale invasion was to begin in early February or a bit later....In January we saw troops from Russia's Eastern Military District begin arriving in Belarus," as well as preparations in Crimea.
At the time Ukraine publicly played down the prospect of a Russian invasion.
In the interview with "Ukrainian Technologies and Strategies," Skibytskyi said that "the first days into the war were unfavorable for us, the enemy had advanced right up to Mariupol. But it is the resilience of Mariupol that ruined the Russian plans in the south of the country."
He said that the defense of Mariupol had bogged down 10,000 to 12,000 enemy troops that had been earmarked for a push northwards to encircle Ukrainian forces defending the Donbas region. "Mariupol had played its part 100 percent," Skibytskyi said.
He also claimed that the Russians were now "having considerable troubles with missiles. They used to produce not more than 200 missiles per year depending on a type. Now they can only produce four Iskander missiles per month. As for the Kh-101 missiles, it can be something like 20-30 depending on the stocks of imported components."
The Iskander is a powerful and relatively accurate cruise missile.
Western analysts have also said they estimate that Russia is running low on inventories of some missiles.
Skibytskyi also provided a Ukrainian analysis of Russia's offensive drone program. "As of today. they have used about 660 Shahed drones. The contract provides for 1,750 units. Delivery and preparation also takes some time. According to our data, they are about to have another batch for delivery."
United Nations head António Guterres on Monday struck a somber tone as he warned leaders convened in New York at the organization’s General Assembly that the world is knowingly marching into a “wider war."
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is inflicting untold suffering on the Ukrainian people with profound global implications. The prospects for peace keep diminishing,” he said. "The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing. I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it's doing so with its eyes wide open."
A drone exploded early Monday in the Russian city of Kaluga, Vladislav Shapsha, the governor of the region, said in a post on his official Telegram channel.
"Tonight, residents on the outskirts of Kaluga heard a pop [popping sound]. It was established that at 5 a.m. in a forest near the city, a drone exploded in the air at a height of 50 meters," Shapsha said.
The governor didn't provide any additional details about the drone or its suspected origin.
The city of Kaluga is about 200 kilometers (or about 124 miles) southwest from Moscow.
"There was no damage to civilian and social facilities. There were no casualties. Representatives of law enforcement agencies are working on the ground," he said.
The landscape around the Ukrainian eastern city of Bakhmut provides natural defenses that make it an “unwinnable fortress,” the commander of Ukraine’s land forces said on Monday.
“This particular terrain has topographic features. The city is surrounded by dominating heights and hills which itself is an entanglement for the enemy,” Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Land Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said via Telegram.
The military’s “obstacle system along with natural landscape have turned this area into unwinnable fortress where thousands of enemies died,” Syrskyi said. “We are using all options, engineer capacities as well as natural ones in order to destroy the best enemy units. The battle is ongoing.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday “no one will surrender Bakhmut – we will fight as long as we can.”
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the leader of Russia’s Wagner private military company, said on Sunday that the battle in Bakhmut is ongoing with no signs of Ukraine’s armed forces retreating: “AFU fight to the last,” he said on Telegram, referring to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
More on Bakhmut: CNN reported in January that the US and Western officials were urging Ukraine to shift its focus from the brutal, months-long fight in the eastern city of Bakhmut and prioritize instead a potential offensive in the south, using a different style of fighting that takes advantage of the billions of dollars in new military hardware recently committed by Western allies.
CNN's Katharina Krebs and Uliana Pavlova contributed to this post.
A European Union official has underlined that “there is an open invitation to President Volodymyr Zelensky to visit Brussels,” but would not comment on whether he will be present at a meeting of European leaders in the Belgian capital this week.
Zelensky was asked whether he would travel to Brussels to address EU leaders during a news conference last Friday in Kyiv with Charles Michel, President of the European Council and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
“There is significant risk and Charles knows about this. We’ve discussed about this many times,” said Zelensky.
“I really want to travel,” he said, but “there are big risks about me traveling abroad.”
Last December, Zelensky traveled to the US to meet with US President Joe Biden and addressed the US Congress.
The Ukrainian president could now travel to address EU leaders at an extraordinary two-day summit scheduled for February 9-10.
Ukraine has officially applied to join the EU and Ukraine was granted EU candidate status in June 2022.
In an interview published January 30, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told Politico that Ukraine has an "ambitious plan" to join the European Union within the next two years.
Around 300,000 people in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa remain without power after a “technological accident” an electricity substation on Saturday, according to the region's military administration.
“The repair works at one of the substations are ongoing, the situation remains complicated," it said Monday.
Nearly 500,000 people were cut off following a "serious accident" on Saturday said Maksym Marchenko, head of Odesa region military administration.
“All services and facilities are involved. The damages are complex and very severe, so it is too early to give any qualitative forecasts on the completion of repairs,” said Marchenko.