Russia-Ukraine war updates for Feb. 5, 2024

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    NATO allies attend Hungarian parliament to push for Sweden membership

    A general view taken on February 5, 2024 shows empty seats (R) in the plenary hall of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest during an extraordinary sitting at the opposition’s request to debate Sweden’s NATO bid. Representatives of the governing Fidesz party led by Hungarian Prime Minister Orban and the right-wing Christian Democratic party stayed away from today’s session. Budapest remains the last holdout to ratify the Nordic country’s bid to join the military alliance, following Turkey’s ratification in January.

    Attila Kisbenedek | Afp | Getty Images

    Representatives from more than a dozen NATO countries, including the U.S. and Poland, made a surprise appearance at a Hungarian parliamentary session Monday to push lawmakers to approve Sweden’s accession into the allied group.

    Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by Viktor Orbán, boycotted the vote on ratifying Swedish membership, which was called by the opposition. That meant the session did not meet quorum.

    David Pressman, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, said that while 16 NATO ambassadors were in attendance, no members of Hungary’s ruling party were.

    “This is about the security of Hungary, of the United States, and of the entire NATO Alliance. We look forward to Hungary’s urgent action,” Pressman said on social media platform X.

    Sweden applied for NATO membership in May 2022 in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, which had been the other holdout country, approved the move in January.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the third Belt and Road forum in Beijing.

    Grigory Sysoyev | Afp | Getty Images

    The following day, Orbán said that the Hungarian government supported Swedish accession and would push for it at the earliest opportunity. Officials have expressed confusion about the precise nature of the Hungarian government’s apparent reluctance to approve membership.

    Orbán has increasingly become a thorn in the side of multilateral institutions which are seeking to show unified support for Ukraine.

    The prime minister met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Chinese investment summit in October, and is in an ongoing spat with the European Union over the approval of funding for Ukraine.

    — Jenni Reid

    Netherlands pledges six more F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine

    The Netherlands will deliver six more F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, taking the total number it has pledged to 24, Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said on Monday.

    “The Netherlands is readying six additional F-16 fighter aircraft for delivery to Ukraine,” Ollongren said in a post on social media platform X.

    “Ukraine’s aerial superiority is essential for countering Russian aggression.”

    — Reuters

    Georgia says it seized Russia-bound cargo of explosives sent from Ukraine

    Georgia’s State Security Service said on Monday that it had seized a clandestine shipment of explosives bound for the Russian city of Voronezh from the Ukrainian port of Odesa.

    The South Caucasus country’s domestic security agency said that the explosives were hidden in a cargo of car batteries that entered Georgia in January overland from Ukraine via Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, and were seized at its border with Russia.

    In a statement, it said that the explosive cargo arrived in Georgia in a Ukrainian-owned minivan and was to be transported to Voronezh, a Russian city about 180 km (110 miles) from the Ukrainian frontier. It did not say what for.

    Residents at the entrance to Orlyonok Park on a typical frosty day in Voronezh.

    Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

    In 2022, Russian investigators said that a truckload of explosives used in an attack that badly damaged the Crimean Bridge that year had entered Russia from Ukraine by a similar route.

    Ukraine’s SBU security service, which has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Russian targets, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Georgia’s government, which says it opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and wants to ensure it does not spill onto its own territory, has faced accusations of being tacitly pro-Russian since the outbreak of full-scale war in February 2022.

    — Reuters

    War critic’s election bid set to be rejected by Russia’s electoral authorities

    The supporters of anti-war presidential election hopeful Boris Nadezhdin said a working group from the Russian Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has recommended that Nadezhdin’s candidacy for the Russian election be rejected because of signature defects on his nomination papers.

    Nadezhdin, a former Russian lawmaker and outspoken critic of Russia’s war in Ukraine, submitted 105,000 signatures to the CEC last week that were in support of his candidacy.

    Boris Nadezhdin, a representative of Civil Initiative political party who plans to run for Russian president in the March 2024 election, talks to journalists as he visits an office of the Central Election Commission to submit documents and signatures in support of his candidacy, in Moscow, Russia January 31, 2024.

    Shamil Zhumatov | Reuters

    His campaign said the signatures were carefully chosen to avoid the possibility that the CEC would reject a significant proportion of them, meaning that he would be barred from running in the March vote.

    But according to Nadezhdin’s campaign, the CEC concluded in a meeting held Monday that 15.4% of Nadezhdin’s signatures are defective and, therefore, have recommended Nadezhdin should not be included on the ballot, NBC News reported.

    Nadezhdin’s campaign say they will challenge the CEC working group’s findings during a full meeting of the Electoral Commission on Wednesday Feb. 7. NBC has reached out to the CEC for comment.

    Nadezhdin’s spokesman Pavel Burlakov said “we do not agree with the decision of the working group. The whole world saw that we honestly collected signatures. The campaign team is ready to prove the unfoundedness of the working group’s decision.”

    Political analysts said that in Russia’s tightly controlled and orchestrated “democracy,” it was extremely unlikely that the Kremlin would let Nadezhdin stand in the election and risk him garnering a lot of votes, a scenario that the Kremlin would like to avoid at all costs. For its part, the Kremlin told CNBC last week that it was “not inclined to exaggerate the level of support for Mr. Nadezhdin.”

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Plot thickens over Tucker Carlson’s supposed trip to Moscow

    Speculation over why American journalist Tucker Carlson is now in Moscow (or at least believed to be in Moscow) have been fueled further after news outlet Izvestia published a video on Telegram which appeared to show a Russian man chatting to the journalist in a hotel in Moscow.

    Asked about the purpose of his trip to Russia, Carlson told the man: “I wanted to look at it. I read so much about it, I wanted to talk to people, see how everything works. And everything is very good here.” Carlson said he thought Moscow was a “beautiful” city. The video comments were translated by TASS news agency.

    There has been speculation that Tucker Carlson is in Russia ahead of a possible interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely gives interviews to foreign journalists.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 22, 2023.

    Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

    Earlier, the Kremlin declined to say whether or not Putin would grant an interview to the former Fox News host Carlson — or to confirm whether he was in Moscow.

    “We can hardly be expected to provide information on the movement of foreign journalists,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked about speculation that Carlson was in Russia to interview Putin.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Kremlin gives nothing away about why Tucker Carlson might be in Russia

    The Kremlin on Monday declined to say whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin would grant an interview to U.S. journalist Tucker Carlson or whether he was in Moscow.

    “We can hardly be expected to provide information on the movement of foreign journalists,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked about speculation that Carlson was in Russia to interview Putin.

    “Many foreign journalists come to Russia every day, many continue to work here, and we welcome this,” Peskov said. “We have nothing to announce in terms of the president’s interviews to foreign media.”

    Former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson speaks during the Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, July 15, 2023.

    Marco Bello | Reuters

    Carlson is a former Fox News host who launched a new subscription-based streaming video service in December to capitalize on his popularity among conservative voters. An interview he posted on X with Donald Trump last August has drawn more than 267 million views, according to the social media platform.

    The Mash Telegram channel on Saturday published a picture of Carlson and said he had arrived in Moscow.

    — Reuters

    Israel-Russia relations worsen as ambassador summoned over ‘unacceptable’ comments

    Israel’s new Ambassador to Russia Simona Halperin was summoned by Russia’s Foreign Ministry following what Moscow described as “unacceptable statements,” news agency Tass reported Monday.

    “In connection with unacceptable public statements by the Israeli ambassador, distorting Russian foreign policy approaches and historical realities, Halperin will be summoned to the Foreign Ministry,” the ministry reportedly told Tass.

    The summons comes after an interview, in the Kommersant newspaper, in which Halperin appeared to criticize what she saw as Russia’s foreign minister’s downplaying of the Holocaust saying Russia still does not officially mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as restate Israel’s opposition to the invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s Middle East policy.

    Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

    Russia and Israel have traditionally enjoyed cordial relations. But they soured after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was condemned by Israel, and more recently following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Hamas is backed by Iran, Russia’s close ally, putting Moscow in a tricky position in the Middle East. It has in recent months become openly critical of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, however.

    Responding to the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the comments were “an extremely unsuccessful start to a diplomatic mission, which should be aimed at developing bilateral relations in the interests of the peoples of the two countries.”

    “It is particularly indignant that the Israeli ambassador speaks disrespectfully about the efforts that Russia is making in its contacts aimed at helping resolve the fate of the [Israeli] hostages,” the ministry said, Tass reported.

    “The theses that the Holocaust is the extermination of only the Jewish people contradicts the resolution of the UN General Assembly. And reflections on the need for changes, as Halperin said, in the ‘state calendar’ of Russia, border on interference in internal affairs,” the ministry said.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Russia unlikely to meet 2024 revenue target, UK says

    It is unlikely that Russia’s planned revenue target for 2024 will be met, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense, which said Moscow will likely have to raise taxes and reduce contributions to its sovereign wealth fund to fund its planned expenditure.

    Noting that the Russian government has “ambitious” plans to increase expenditure by 26% in 2024, the defense ministry said this was “reliant on optimistic expectations of revenues rising by 22%, with oil and gas revenues expected to increase by almost 25%.”

    “It is likely the government will need to consider other policy measures to fund its planned expenditure,” the ministry said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

    The sun sets beyond an oil pumping unit, also known as a “nodding donkey” or pumping jack, at a drilling site operated by Tatneft OAO near Almetyevsk, Russia, on Friday, July 31, 2015.

    Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

    The ministry suggested it was likely that the government will need to reduce its contributions to the National Wealth Fund, its sovereign wealth fund, and increase domestic taxes and debt to fund its planned expenditure.

    “These policies will almost certainly have adverse effects on the economy in the medium to long term by maintaining inflationary pressures or constraining future economic growth. The National Wealth Fund is ostensibly for the long-term economic welfare of the Russian people but is increasingly being used to fund its invasion of Ukraine, with the value of its assets falling 10% in 2023,” the ministry noted.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Russia’s war in Ukraine has revived EU enlargement plans

    People hold a banner and Ukrainian flags during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. As part of the Western Balkans block waiting for EU-membership, Serbia is caught in a geostrategic rivalry between its Western allies and Russia.

    Vladimir Zivojinovic | Getty Images News | Getty Images

    Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine brought fresh political momentum to the European Union and its plans for enlargement in the Western Balkans. But whether the neighboring region is ready — and willing — to finally make the steps needed to join the union remains unclear.

    “I see the European Union more ready for the Balkans than the Balkans for the European Union,” Miroslav Lajčák, EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and Western Balkans, told CNBC last month.

    The Western Balkans, comprised of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia, represent a notable gap in the map of EU membership in southeastern Europe.

    Though each has applied for — and been granted — candidate or potential candidate member status over the past two decades following the fall of the socialist federation of Yugoslavia in 1992, progress on accession has been generally slow.

    But all that changed with the outbreak of war on Europe’s doorstep in February 2022. Within days of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine, neighboring Moldova and, soon after, nearby Georgia applied for EU candidate status — which they were granted in quick succession.

    “Ukraine and Moldova and Georgia brought a fresh energy and commitment – something that was almost lost in the Balkans,” Lajčák said. “Now, it’s very clear that the European Union is serious.”

    — Karen Gilchrist

    Ukrainian president visits front-line village of Robotyne

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops at the front-line village of Robotyne in southern Ukraine over the weekend.

    Ukrainian forces recaptured the village in the Zaporizhzhia region last August, describing the liberation as a significant breakthrough during their summer counteroffensive. Overall progress was slow, however, and only a handful of villages were recaptured from Russian forces.

    Empty tank shells are seen on a snow-covered field during winter near Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on January 22, 2024.

    Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

    Describing Robotyne as “one of the toughest parts of the front” Zelenskyy said he met soldiers of the 65th Mechanized Brigade and handed out awards to those who “distinguished themselves in battles these weeks.”

    Zelenskyy then held a security meeting in Zaporizhzhia, talking to officials about the region, its capital and heard reports from military commanders, both on the region and on another fighting hot spot, Avdiivka in Donetsk. There has been speculation that Zelenskyy could replace the head of his armed forces in a shake-up of the military, and potentially other ministries.

    On Sunday, Zelenskyy appointed Ivan Fedorov as the new head of Zaporizhzhia Regional State Administration. Fedorov, the former mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol, said after the appointment that his “goal remains unchanged: to join forces to bring Ukraine’s victory closer. I did this as mayor of the city. Now I’ll continue at the regional level.”

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Kremlin downplays level of support for anti-war election candidate hopeful Boris Nadezhdin

    A challenger to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long reign in office has emerged from an unlikely place — within Russia’s political establishment — in the form of Boris Nadezhdin.

    Standing on a platform for peace with Ukraine, friendly and cooperative global relations and fair elections, as well as a fairer civil society and smaller state, Nadezhdin submitted his bid to run for the presidency last week. Russia’s presidential election will be held March 15-17.

    Boris Nadezhdin, Civic Initiative party’s candidate for Russia’s 2024 presidential election, bringing 105,000 signatures to the polling station in Moscow, Russia on January 31, 2024.

    Boris Nadezhdin Press Service/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images

    The Kremlin sought to dismiss Nadezhdin’s potential to upset an election whose win for Putin is seen as a done deal. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told CNBC that “we are not inclined to exaggerate the level of support for Mr. Nadezhdin.”

    Political analysts say it’s likely that Russia’s Central Election Commission will find fault this week with Nadezhdin’s bid to get his name on the ballot paper.

    Nonetheless, the fact that Nadezhdin is even attempting to stand for election on an anti-war platform — and has garnered a certain level of public support — shows there is public appetite for his views, and that’s likely to make the Kremlin nervous after it has staked its political legacy and future on a victory in Ukraine.

    Read more here: Russian war critic poses an awkward challenge for Putin and the Kremlin as the election nears

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Senate releases $118 billion bipartisan aid proposal for Israel, Ukraine, border security

    Senators on Sunday released the details of a $118.2 billion bipartisan aid proposal for Ukraine, Israel and the southern U.S. border, after months of painstaking, closed-door negotiations.

    The long-awaited bill requests $60.1 billion for Ukraine aid, $14.1 billion for Israel and $20.2 billion to improve security at the U.S. border. It also includes smaller pockets of funding for humanitarian assistance in war-torn regions, and defense operations in the Red Sea and Taiwan.

    Ukrainian servicemen listen a high ranking officer after military exercises by assault units in Zhytomyr region on January 30, 2024, amid Russian invasion in Ukraine.

    Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

    President Joe Biden initially proposed a more than $105 billion aid package in October. The Senate’s new deal roughly matches the funding proportions Biden had requested for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

    The central difference in the new proposal is over $13 billion more in border security funding, which was a major point of contention in the months-long Senate talks.

    Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for its handling of the border, which has seen record numbers of migrant crossings in recent months. Democrats have countered that the president needs further executive authority to institute more aggressive border security.

    The president said Sunday that he supports the Senate’s bipartisan proposal, including the term that gives him “new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed.”

    “I urge Congress to come together and swiftly pass this bipartisan agreement. Get it to my desk so I can sign it into law immediately,” Biden said. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a vote is scheduled for the bill on Wednesday.

    Read more here: Senate releases $118 billion bipartisan aid proposal for Israel, Ukraine, border security

    — Rebecca Picciotto

    Unicredit CEO says business continues to be scaled down in Russia

    UniCredit CEO: Strategy on Russia is unchanged, continuing to scale down business Russia-Ukraine war update

    Andrea Orcel, CEO of UniCredit, discusses the Italian lender’s business strategy in Russia.

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