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    Latest news from Russia and war in Ukraine

    Czech government OKs bill for 2% GDP spending on military

    U.S. military personnel work near F-35 fighter jet of the Vermont Air National Guard, parked in the military base at Skopje Airport, North Macedonia, on June 17, 2022. On Wednesday Jan. 4, 2023, The Czech Republic’s government has approved legislation to make it mandatory for the country’s defense spending to meet the required NATO goal of 2% of gross domestic product amid the Russian war against Ukraine.

    Boris Grdanoski | AP

    The Czech government approved a bill aimed at bringing defense spending at the required NATO goal of 2% of gross domestic product as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.

    Defense Minister Jana Cernochova said the move would”ensure a stable and transparent financing of big defense strategic projects in the future.”

    Cernochova said the war in Ukraine “made it clear we have to be ready for the current and future conflicts and that’s why a fast modernization of the army is absolutely necessary.”

    Although the Czechs will spend only 1.52% of GDP on defense this year, the 2% target should be reached in 2024 once the bill is approvied in parliament where the governing coalition has a majority in both chambers.

    NATO members agreed in 2014 to commit to the 2% spending target by 2024. Currently, only nine of the Western military alliance’s 30 members meet or surpass that goal.

    — Associated Press

    Ukraine sees speeding up inspections as key to Black Sea grain deal

    The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni, carrying Ukrainian grain, is seen in the Black Sea off Kilyos, near Istanbul, Turkey August 3, 2022.

    Mehmet Caliskan | Reuters

    Ukraine’s efforts to increase exports under the Black Sea grain deal with Russia are currently focused on securing faster inspections of ships rather than including more ports in the initiative, a senior Ukrainian official said.

    Ukraine is a major global grain producer and exporter, but production and exports have fallen since Russia invaded the country last February and started blockading its seaports.

    Three leading Ukrainian Black Sea ports in the Odesa region were unblocked in July under an initiative between Moscow and Kyiv brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. Under the deal, all ships are inspected by joint teams in the Bosphorus.

    Kyiv accuses Russia of carrying out the inspections too slowly, causing weeks of delays for ships and reducing the supply of Ukrainian grain to foreign markets. Russia has denied slowing down the process.

    — Reuters

    Putin sends new hypersonic cruise missiles to Atlantic

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a wreath-laying ceremony, which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia June 22, 2022.

    Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

    Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sent off a frigate towards the Altantic and Indian oceans armed with new hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles which he said were unique in the world.

    In a video conference with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Igor Krokhmal, commander of the frigate named “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov,” Putin said the ship was armed with Zircon hypersonic weapons.

    “This time the ship is equipped with the latest hypersonic missile system — ‘Zircon’ — which has no analogues,” said Putin, who is engaged in a standoff with the West over his war in Ukraine.

    “I would like to wish the crew of the ship success in their service for the good of the Motherland.”

    Shoigu said the Gorshkov would sail to the Atlantic and Indian oceans and to the Mediterranean Sea.

    “This ship, armed with ‘Zircons’, is capable of delivering pinpoint and powerful strikes against the enemy at sea and on land,” Shoigu said.

    Shoigu said the hypersonic missiles, known as either Tsirkon or Zircon, could overcome any missile defense system. The missiles fly at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of over 1,000km, Shoigu said.

    Russia, China and the United States are currently in a hypersonic weapons race. Because of their speeds — above five times the speed of sound — and manoeuvrability, such weapons are seen as a way to gain an edge over any adversary.

    The target of a hypersonic weapon is much more difficult to calculate than for intercontinential ballistic missiles.

    — Reuters

    Mariupol sea port being turned into military base, advisor claims

    A cargo ship is loaded with grain at the Port of Mariupol in Ukraine.

    Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

    The port of Mariupol is gradually being turned into a military base, an advisor to the occupied city’s mayor claimed.

    “The occupiers are gradually turning it into a military base,” Petro Andriushchenko said on Telegram.

    “At the end of December, all residents of Mariupol were released from the port (with the exception of certain specialists-collaborators) and workers were brought in from Moscow. Work has begun on the division of berths into conventionally civilian and conventionally military ones,” he said.

    Andriushchenko said the port had seen isolated, irregular arrivals of ships carrying building materials and containers of unknown content. He also noted that some port workers had been moved to Crimea in December and that contact with them had then been lost and their whereabouts were unknown to relatives. CNBC was unable to verify the claims.

    Mariupol was fully occupied by Russian forces last May following a prolonged siege with Ukrainian fighters holed up in the city’s Azovstal steelworks. Russia’s relentless bombardment of the city up to its capture left much of it in ruins.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Russian army trying to advance through its own corpses in Bakhmut, army chief says

    The head of Ukraine’s armed forces said fighting in the Luhansk and Donetsk areas around Bakhmut remains intense and difficult.

    “Heavy fighting” is taking place between Svatove and Kreminna in Luhansk, as well as toward Lysychansk, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valeriy Zaluzhny said on Telegram Tuesday.

    He said the most difficult situation remains in the area of Soledar, Bakhmut and Mayorsk, where “the Russian army is actually trying to move forward through its corpses, but units of the Defense Forces are holding back the advance,” Zaluzhny said on Telegram, according to a Google translation of his comments.

    Emergency service workers extinguish a fire after shelling on the Bakhmut front line in Ivanivske, Ukraine on Jan. 2, 2023.

    Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

    Bakhmut has been the epicenter of attritional warfare for several months, with Russian forces gaining little ground in their bid to capture the town, which analysts say has little overall strategic value for Russia.

    Despite that, Russia continues to expend weaponry and manpower on its offensive operation in the pocket of Donetsk that is part of the wider Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Moscow says it wants to “liberate.”

    Zaluzhny said Ukraine continued to hold positions around Avdiivka in the Donetsk region and was continuing counteroffensive actions. 

    “We are reliably holding defensive lines in the Zaporozhzhia direction and are making efforts to protect Kherson from enemy shelling,” he said. The situation on the border with Russia’s ally Belarus is fully under control, he added.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Infrastructure, apartments and kindergarten damaged in Zaporizhzhia attack, officials say

    A missile attack on the city of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine has targeted an infrastructure facility, destroying nearby warehouses and damaging apartment buildings, according to Ukrainian officials.

    Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said on Telegram Wednesday that one person had been injured in the rocket attack on the city. He said Russian forces had used S-300 missiles, according to a Google translation of his comments. Tymoshenko’s post contained images and video footage purportedly showing the destruction following the attack.

    An Ukrainian soldier returns to the front line after taking a rest in an underground shelter in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine.

    Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

    Anatoliy Kurtev, the acting mayor of Zaporizhzhia, urged residents of the city to take shelter, saying on Telegram earlier today that Russian forces were “on the defensive” in the Zaporizhzhia area. He said eight high-rise buildings had been damaged during the attack.

    “According to preliminary information, 8 high-rise buildings were damaged in one of the districts of the city … Their windows were blown out and their balconies were destroyed. In addition, the kindergarten building was damaged. There, too, the windows were broken and the roof was partially damaged,” he said on Telegram.

    Further information about the attack is still being established, the officials said. CNBC was unable to immediately verify the reports.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Ammunition likely being stored near Makiivka troop accommodation, UK says

    Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday it’s likely that ammunition is being stored near a Russian military complex that was destroyed in a Ukrainian attack on New Year’s Eve, highlighting unsafe and unprofessional practices by the Russian army.

    Russian emergency workers remove the rubble of vocational school 19 destroyed by shelling in Makeevka, Donetsk People’s Republic, Russia. The armed forces of Ukraine attacked the vocational school building in Makeyevka of the Donetsk People’s Republic from the HIMARS MLRS on December 31 to January 1.

    RIA Novosti | Sputnik via AP

    Russia’s Defense Ministry said 89 Russian servicemen had died in the attack on the building that was being used as a college and temporary accommodation for newly conscripted soldiers. It’s a rare admission of multiple losses by Russia, which blamed the attack on personnel using mobile phones, saying this had enabled Ukraine to target the location.

    Britain’s Ministry of Defense remarked on Twitter that Ukraine had completely destroyed a school building in Makiivka in Donetsk “which Russia had almost certainly taken over for military use.”

    “Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near to troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike creating secondary explosions.”

    It noted that the building was only 7.7 miles from the Avdiivka section of front line, “one of the most intensely contested areas of the conflict.”

    “The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage from well before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate,” U.K.’s defense ministry added.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Russia ready to ‘throw everything they have left’ at the war, Zelenskyy says

    President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the Kharkiv region for the first time since Russia started attacks against his country, on May 29, 2022.

    Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

    Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday night that Kyiv is prepared for renewed offensives and mobilization by Russia.

    Zelenskyy said on Telegram that he had spoken with his counterparts in Canada, the Netherlands, U.K. and Norway on Tuesday, with the conversation focusing on “what Ukraine immediately needs most right now — on the eve of those new mobilization processes being prepared by the terrorist state.”

    A burned civilian vehicle allegedly shot by Russian occupying forces on Jan. 3, 2023 in Oleksandrivka, Ukraine.

    Pierre Crom | Getty Images News | Getty Images

    “Right now is the moment when, together with our partners, we should strengthen our defense. We have no doubt that the present masters of Russia will throw everything they have left, and all they can muster, into trying to turn the tide of the war, and at least delay their defeat. We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for it,” Zelenskyy said, adding that “any attempt at their new offensive must fail.”

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Russia blames use of mobile phones for deadly Makiivka attack

    Russia has been left reeling as the death toll rises following a Ukrainian strike on newly conscripted soldiers in Makiivka, a town in the partially Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region in east Ukraine.

    Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday night that the death toll from the attack, which took place on New Year’s Eve, had risen to 89, according to reports by Russian state news agencies.

    It had previously said 63 soldiers had died in the attack, which struck a college for conscripts in Makiivka, in a rare admission of multiple losses.

    It blamed the unauthorized use of cellphones for the strike, saying their use had allowed Ukraine to locate and strike its personnel.

    “This factor allowed the enemy to locate and determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel for a missile strike,” the ministry said in a statement, reported by RIA Novosti.

    Mourners gather to lay flowers in memory of Russian soldiers who were killed in a Ukrainian strike on a college for newly conscripted Russian soldiers in the occupied city of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine on New Year’s Eve.

    Arden Arkman | Afp | Getty Images

    The ministry said Ukraine had struck the building in Makiivka using missiles from a HIMARS rocket system and claimed that Russian forces had intercepted four of six rockets. It claimed it had destroyed the HIMARS rocket system from which the attack was carried out. CNBC was unable to verify the defense ministry’s claims.

    The attack has caused consternation in Russia, with mourners gathering in Samara, the region where the majority of the mobilized soldiers reportedly came from.

    — Holly Ellyatt

    Moscow’s invasion is likely to inflict long-term economic decline on Russia

    Moscow thought it would emerge from the Ukraine invasion with a bigger role on the global stage. But it’s growing more isolated and looks likely to face a long-term economic decline. CNBC’s Ted Kemp reports.

    Russians angry at commanders over Ukrainian strike that killed scores

    Soldiers of the 59th brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fire grad missiles on Russian positions in Russia-occupied Donbas region on December 30, 2022 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Russia has tried to expand its control there since it invaded Ukraine.

    Pierre Crom | Getty Images News | Getty Images

    Russian nationalists and some lawmakers have demanded punishment for commanders they accused of ignoring dangers as anger grew over the killing of dozens of Russian soldiers in one of the deadliest strikes of the Ukraine conflict.

    In a rare disclosure, Russia’s defense ministry said 63 soldiers were killed in the Ukrainian strike on New Year’s Eve that destroyed a temporary barracks in a vocational college in Makiivka, twin city of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

    Russian critics said the soldiers were being housed alongside an ammunition dump at the site, which the Russian defense ministry said was hit by four rockets fired from U.S.-made HIMARS launchers.

    TV footage showed a huge building reduced to rubble as cranes and bulldozers picked through concrete debris lying several feet deep.

    Ukraine and some Russian nationalist bloggers put the Makiivka death toll in the hundreds, though pro-Russian officials say those estimates are exaggerated.

    Rallies to commemorate the dead were held in several Russian cities, including Samara, where some came from, RIA Novosti news agency reported. Mourners laid flowers in the center of Samara.

    “I haven’t slept for three days, Samara hasn’t slept. We are constantly in touch with the wives of our guys. It’s very hard and scary. But we can’t be broken. Grief unites … We will not forgive, and, definitely, victory will be ours,” RIA quoted Yekaterina Kolotovkina, a representative of a women’s council at an army unit, as telling one of the rallies.

    — Reuters

    Russia, shaken by Ukrainian strike, could step up drone use

    Russian emergency workers remove the rubble of vocational school 19 destroyed by shelling in Makeevka, Donetsk People’s Republic, Russia. The armed forces of Ukraine attacked the vocational school building in Makeyevka of the Donetsk People’s Republic from the HIMARS MLRS on December 31 to January 1.

    Sputnik via AP

    Emergency crews sifted through the rubble of a building struck by Ukrainian rockets, killing at least 63 Russian soldiers barracked there, in the latest blow to the Kremlin’s war strategy as Ukraine says Moscow’s tactics could be shifting.

    An Associated Press video of the scene in Makiivka, a town in the partially Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region, showed five cranes and emergency workers removing big chunks of concrete under a clear blue sky.

    In the attack, which apparently happened last weekend, Ukrainian forces fired rockets from a U.S.-provided HIMARS multiple launch system, according to a Russian Defense Ministry statement.

    It was one of the deadliest attacks on the Kremlin’s forces since the war began more than 10 months ago and an embarrassment that stirred renewed criticism inside Russia of the way the war is being conducted.

    The Russian statement Monday about the attack provided few other details. Other, unconfirmed reports put the death toll much higher.

    The Strategic Communications Directorate of Ukraine’s armed forces claimed Sunday that around 400 mobilized Russian soldiers were killed in a vocational school building in Makiivka and about 300 more were wounded. That claim couldn’t be independently verified. The Russian statement said the strike occurred “in the area of Makiivka” and didn’t mention the vocational school.

    — Reuters

    Russia aims to ‘exhaust’ Ukraine with continued attacks, Zelenskyy says

    “The morning is difficult. We are dealing with terrorists. Dozens of missiles, Iranian ‘Shahids’,” Zelenskyy wrote on his Telegram official account, referencing the Iranian-made Shahid drones increasingly used by Russian forces.

    Ukrinform | Future Publishing | Getty Images

    Russia aims to “exhaust” Ukraine with a prolonged stream of attacks across the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

    “We must ensure – and we will do everything for this – that this goal of terrorists fails like all the others,” he said. “Now is the time when everyone involved in the protection of the sky should be especially attentive.”

    Russian strikes on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure have ramped up of late, marking three consecutive nights of bombardment in the latest stream of attacks that began on New Year’s Eve. The strikes target Ukraine’s energy facilities in particular, leaving millions of people without heating and power amid the bitter winter cold.

    Russian forces are increasingly leaning on deadly Iranian-made Shahed drones, which have wrought havoc on Ukraine’s cities. Zelenskyy said that Ukrainian air defenses shot down more than 80 of such drones in the first days of January.

    — Natasha Turak

    Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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