BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – NOVEMBER 29: US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives at the NATO-Ukraine Council meeting during the second day of the NATO foreign affairs ministers’ meeting on November 29, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium. Speaking ahead of the NATO meeting, the military alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said Ukraine will become a NATO member after the war, and that a halt in fighting in Gaza should be extended. (Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images)
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that support for Ukraine was strong and would continue, as NATO foreign ministers met Ukrainian officials in Brussels to discuss the war on Wednesday.
“I have to tell you, listening to all of our colleagues around the table, every single one expressed strong enduring support for Ukraine,” he told reporters.
“Some are questioning whether the United States and other NATO allies should continue to stand with Ukraine as we enter the second winter of Putin’s brutality. But the answer here today at NATO is clear, and it’s unwavering: We must and we will continue to support Ukraine.”
Questions have been raised about the longevity of U.S. support for Ukraine given the forthcoming 2024 election and rumblings of discontent among some Republicans about continued military assistance.
Blinken insisted Wednesday that “the United States is not standing alone.”
“So we often talk about burden sharing and the imperative of burden sharing when it comes to Ukraine. That’s clearly what we’ve seen and what we continue to see.”
— Holly Ellyatt
Russia’s defense ministry claimed Wednesday that its forces had taken control of a village on the outskirts of the wartorn town of Bakhmut in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
The ministry said units of its southern group of forces had “liberated” the village of Artemovskoye (called Khromove in Ukrainian) in what Russia calls the Donetsk People’s Republic, a self-proclaimed republic and pro-Russian separatist region.
“Units of the Southern Group of Forces, with the support of aviation and artillery fire, improved the situation along the front line and liberated the village of Artemovskoye,” the ministry said, according to comments reported by the TASS news agency.
Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at their fighting position in the direction of Bakhmut, Ukraine, 18 November 2023.
Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu | Getty Images
The village had a pre-war population of 1,000 people, Reuters noted, and lies just east of Bakhmut, a town captured by Russian forces earlier this year after months of fighting that left the town largely destroyed.
CNBC could not verify the defense ministry’s claim and Ukraine is yet to comment.
— Holly Ellyatt
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tells reporters what messages he intends to deliver to NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday.
The Kremlin slammed Finland’s decision to close all of its border crossing points with Russia, saying the decision was unjustified.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that the decision to close the last open border crossing until Dec.13 was excessive.
“Finland is not threatened by anyone or anything, and in this case this is, of course, an absolutely redundant measure to ensure border security, because there is no threat there and in reality there is no tension,” the Kremlin spokesman told reporters, according to Google-translated comments carried by state news agency Tass.
Finnish border guard officers walk in the snow at the Raja-Jooseppi border crossing station to Russia in Inari, northern Finland, on November 25, 2023. Raja-Jooseppi in the far north of Finnish Lapland is the only crossing point open on the country’s eastern border. Finland has closed seven checkpoints in response to Russian officials allowing increasing numbers of undocumented asylum seekers to pass through to the Finnish side of the border. (Photo by Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva / AFP) / Finland OUT (Photo by EMMI KORHONEN/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images)
Emmi Korhonen | Afp | Getty Images
Finland made the decision to close its border Tuesday, after repeatedly accusing Russia of purposefully sending undocumented migrants through crossing points in a bid to create instability in Finland. Helsinki sees the “hybrid attack operation,” as it has described it, as retaliation for its joining NATO earlier this year.
Russia denies “weaponizing” migration — an accusation made by Finland and other countries, including Estonia and Latvia.
There have been media reports Wednesday that Poland plans to send troops to Finland’s border with Russia in an effort to shore up security there. Asked about those reports, Peskov said that this would represent a “completely unprovoked, unjustified concentration of armed units on the Russian border.”
He added that “tension may arise as a result of the concentration of additional units on the border.”
“The Finns must be clearly aware that this will pose a threat to us by increasing the concentration of military units on our borders,” Peskov warned.
— Holly Ellyatt
Sweden’s foreign minister said that Turkey has said it could ratify its much-awaited accession to the NATO military alliance “within weeks.”
NATO member Turkey raised objections to Sweden’s application, accusing Sweden of harboring individuals it deems to be terrorists. Hungary has also dragged its feet about ratifying Sweden’s accession.
“I had a bilateral with my colleague, the (Turkish) foreign minister … where he told me he expected the ratification to take place within weeks,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters, Reuters noted.
Billstrom told CNBC on Wednesday that Hungary’s foreign minister had promised to not be the last country to ratify Sweden’s accession, saying this would likely happen as soon as Turkey had given its own green light to the process.
“That means it is more in the hands of Ankara than maybe of Budapest. We expect white smoke from Budapest the moment there is white smoke from Ankara, to put it very bluntly,” he told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro in Brussels.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban “has repeatedly said that Hungary won’t be the last to ratify Sweden’s membership,” Billstrom said, noting that Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto had once again confirmed this to him on Tuesday.
— Holly Ellyatt
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told CNBC on Tuesday that the country will never send weapons to Ukraine, saying that the “more weapons delivered, the longer the war will take.”
Szijjártó added that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in October to see if there is scope for peace in the ongoing conflict.
Despite being a member of the EU, Hungary has maintained friendlier ties with Russia, pushing back against European sanctions on Moscow and against efforts to curb Russian oil and gas imports. Hungary has defended its continued energy cooperation with Russia, saying it needs to maintain energy supplies and combat inflation.
— Karen Gilchrist, Holly Ellyatt
Russia has been allowing migrants without valid documents through to the Finnish border, as well as “mobilizing” people toward Finland and the European Union, Finland’s minister for foreign affairs Elina Valtonen told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro on Tuesday.
“We consider this to be a hybrid operation by Russia,” she said, adding that Finland had “responded accordingly” by deciding to shut its entire border with Russia.
“We hope that Russia goes back to normal where they respect our treaties,” Valtonen said. If treaties continue to be disrespected by Russia, borders may remain closed, she added.
Border closures may also impact people who live across the two countries, and diplomatic missions that may otherwise use the crossings to come into the West, she added.
“I think this just goes to show that Russia, in its current state, is using all possible means to cause trouble,” Valtonen said.
She also addressed Ukraine’s application to join NATO, saying Finland believed Ukraine’s “rightful place is in NATO in the future,” while pointing out that the alliance cannot accept new members if they are actively involved in a war.
“Whatever the steps are we can take to advance Ukraine’s membership in NATO in the future we will take those steps,” Valtonen said.
She also reiterated support for Ukraine in its “fight for freedom.”
— Sophie Kiderlin
“We are not only keeping up our military support for Ukraine’s self defense, but we are increasing it by 8 billion euros [$8.79 billion],” Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said Tuesday in response to a question asked by CNBC’s Silvia Amaro.
Baerbock added that the NATO-Ukraine forum — scheduled as part of the ongoing NATO meeting in Brussels — also makes clear “that the security and the peace in Ukraine is also the insurance for peace in Europe.”
The wife of Ukraine’s military intelligence chief has been admitted to hospital with suspected poisoning, Ukrainian media reported Tuesday.
Sources in the Ukrainian intelligence community told the Kyiv Post news outlet that Marianna Budanova, the wife of Ukraine’s head of intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, had been poisoned.
KYIV, UKRAINE – MARCH 10: Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, speaks during the farewell ceremony for Dmytro Kotsiubailo on Independence Square on March 10, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The farewell ceremony for Dmytro Kotsiubailo known as “Da Vinci” was held in St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, and then the procession went to the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). 27-year-old “Da Vinci” was the commander of the “Da Vinci Wolves” battalion as part of the 67th Separate Mechanized Brigade. Three days ago, Dmytro Kotsiubailo died in a battle with Russian troops on the front line near Bakhmut. Dmytro became the first volunteer who received the highest national title of Hero of Ukraine during his lifetime with the award of the Order of the Gold Star for personal courage. (Photo by Yurii Stefanyak/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images
When asked to confirm reports that Budanova had been taken ill, a source in Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence was quoted as telling the Kyiv Post: “Unfortunately this is true.”
The Babel news outlet said its intelligence sources had informed it that Budanova had been “poisoned with heavy metals.”
Budanova’s condition in hospital is unknown but Babel reported that “the course of treatment is now being completed, and then there will be a check-up by the doctors,” quoting an unnamed source. Budanova had been diagnosed with heavy metal damage.
“These substances are not used in any way in everyday life and military affairs. Their presence may indicate a purposeful attempt to poison a specific person,” the intelligence agency said.
Media outlets said the suspected poisoning was being investigated and treated as an attempted assassination.
— Holly Ellyatt
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov attends a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russia May 9, 2022.
Chingis Kondarov | Reuters
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said an additional 3,000 Chechen fighters will be sent to fight in Ukraine.
“To solve the tasks set by our Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin, we will not spare any effort or resources,” Kadyrov said on Telegram Monday, adding:
“This position is shared with me by another three thousand worthy Chechen soldiers who have begun service as part of new units of the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian National Guard.”
He said two new regiments subordinate to Russia’s defense ministry had been created, called “AKHMAT-Russia” and “AKHMAT-Chechnya.” Kadyrov said most of the troops have battle experience and “the best equipment and modern weapons.”
“In addition, the guys are highly combative and very motivated to achieve results.”
Chechen fighters have a fierce reputation and one gained in two wars fought against Russia in the 1990s and early 2000s when the Chechen Republic sought independence from Russia. Times have changed since then, however, and Kadyrov is a Putin loyalist.
Kadyrov said the 3,000 Chechen personnel were ” the best of the best” and described them as “the ones who deserve to be the loyal foot soldiers of our unsurpassed leader Vladimir Putin!”
— Holly Ellyatt