Ukraine war: Germany denies blocking tank delivery and other major developments

1. Fighting in southern Ukraine escalates as situation at nuclear plant worsens

Fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine has escalated greatly, according to a statement issued by a Russian-installed official in the area.

Vladimir Rogov, leader of the collaborationist movement “We are together,” said on the Telegram messaging platform that “the intensity of military activity has[d] increased sharply” in the direction of Zaporizhzhia.

He also added that Russian forces managed to capture a town in the region, just 50 kilometers south of the local capital.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s energy minister said on Friday that the situation at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was worsening due to the psychological state of its Ukrainian staff and the condition of the equipment.

The plant, the largest in Europe, has been bombed repeatedly during the conflict, raising fears of a potential disaster. Each side blames the other for the attacks.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, is trying to establish a safe zone around the facility.

2. EU countries work on the 10th sanctions package while Hungary blocks military aid

EU countries have been working on a tenth package of sanctions on Russia and 500 million euros in military aid to send to Ukraine, the last of which Hungary is currently blockading, diplomatic sources told Euronews.

The EU’s strongest anti-Kremlin critics have already called for another round of sanctions to curb the bloc’s nuclear fuel cooperation with Moscow, ban Russian diamond imports and cut trade with Moscow’s ally Belarus, among other measures. .

On Friday, senior diplomats from three intermediate countries said the next sanctions package should be ready around the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

EU officials have also been seeking ministerial approval for a seventh tranche of military aid for Ukraine, but Hungary is reportedly contesting this attempt.

Hungary’s foreign ministry and government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on reports that Budapest was blocking such a move ahead of the talks on Monday.

EU diplomats told Euronews they hope to reach a deal on military aid by Monday, which will require unanimous approval from all 27 EU member states.

3. Germany Denies Blocking Leopard Shipments To Ukraine Amid Ramstein Meeting

Germany’s newly appointed Defense Minister Boris Pistorius denied on Friday that Berlin was the latest country to block the shipment of Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine and said the government was ready to move quickly to send them if there was consensus among the allies.

“There are good reasons for the (tank) deliveries and there are good reasons against it,” he said, speaking to reporters at a meeting of NATO and defense leaders from about 50 countries at the Ramstein airbase in Germany.

“And given the whole situation of a war that has been going on for almost a year, all the pros and cons have to be weighed very carefully.”

This comes after Poland and other countries said they were waiting for Germany to lift its veto.

“The impression that has arisen from time to time, that there is a closed coalition and Germany stands in the way, this impression is incorrect,” Pistorius said.

Berlin has been under pressure to provide tanks to Kyiv, and the Scholz government is reportedly wary of taking steps that could be considered to make it part of the war with Russia.

Germany has become one of Ukraine’s main military backers, overcoming a taboo entrenched in the darkest moments of its 20th-century history, but it has yet to agree to send tanks or allow other countries to send their own German-made tanks.

Leopard tanks are considered very suitable for Ukraine as they are widely used, which means that several countries could provide some of their tanks to support Ukraine.

4. CIA chief meets with Zelenskyy, US official reports

CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last week to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a US official said in an article published by The Washington Post, the latest example of high-level contacts between the two countries.

The official, speaking anonymously, claimed Burns met with Ukrainian intelligence officials and emphasized Washington’s “continued support for Ukraine” in the war.

This is not the first time the CIA chief has briefed the Ukrainian president, speaking repeatedly before and since Russia invaded his neighbor, relaying US intelligence findings about Moscow’s war plans and intentions.

The CIA director, a former US ambassador to Moscow, told the PBS NewsHour last month that analysts at the agency forecast “a reduced pace and clashes between the two militaries as winter sets in.”

“I do not for one moment underestimate the burdens, the challenges, that this war represents for the Ukrainians first, but for all of us who support Ukraine,” Burns said. “But strategically, I think in many ways Putin’s war so far has been a failure for Russia.”

5. Kadyrov and Prigozhin dispute the Russian military leadership

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denounced a ban on Russian soldiers wearing beards on Thursday, joining Wagner’s mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in the two men’s latest criticism of Russia’s military leadership.

Writing on Telegram, Kadyrov denounced the rules as “a clear provocation”, claiming that his majority-Muslim troops wore beards as part of their religious duty.

This comes after an interview on Wednesday with Viktor Sobolev, a retired lieutenant general and member of Russia’s parliament, who defended a ban on beards, personal smartphones and tablets as an “elementary part of military discipline.”

Wagner’s boss Prigozhin called Sobolev’s comments “absurd” and “archaisms of the 1960s.”

He also recently attacked the Kremlin for failing to block the US-owned video-sharing platform YouTube, signaling a growing rift with Putin’s administration.

Kadyrov and Prigozhin, whose forces in Ukraine operate with a significant degree of autonomy, have grown more outspoken after Moscow’s armies suffered a cascading series of defeats in the fall.

The two men have entered into a tacit alliance, amplifying the other’s criticism of Moscow’s military leadership and calling for an intensification of the war effort.

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