Ukraine war live updates: Ukraine's army chief reportedly about to be sacked; Putin pins plane crash blame on U.S. Patriot system

Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi attends a ceremony marking the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine July 28, 2023. 

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukraine’s army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi is expected be dismissed from his post by the end of the week, news outlet CNN reported Wednesday, citing sources.

The news outlet reported that Zaluzhnyi, popular with the public but more problematic for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy amid a rift between the leaders, was called to a meeting at the president’s office on Monday and was told he was being fired, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

The move had come after months of tension between the officials, particularly after Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces since July 2021, gave an interview last November in which he described the war with Russia as being at a “stalemate,” a characterization Zelenskyy denied.

Zaluzhnyi reportedly refused a request from Zelenskyy to step down earlier this week and remains in post for now. But one of CNN’s sources said a presidential decree officially firing the military commander is expected by the end of the week

The move would be one of the biggest military shake-ups in Ukraine since the start of the war and could prove controversial if seen to be the result of a personal vendetta. Defense analysts point out that it’s standard practice for military commanders to be replaced during times of war, if new strategy and vision are deemed necessary.

Ukraine’s forces are seen to be making little headway in reclaiming Russian-occupied territory, instead having adopted a more defensive stance to retain the positions held.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) talks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) during their meeting on September 4, 2023 in Sochi, Russia.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to NATO-member Turkey next month to meet with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Reuters cited a Turkish official as saying Wednesday.

According to the official, the meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12, before Erdogan travels on to Egypt.

Putin’s international visits have been curtailed since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in March 2023 for his role in deporting Ukrainian children. However, Turkey is not party to the ICC’s Rome Statute, meaning it is not under obligation to detain Putin.

— Karen Gilchrist

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Ukraine used a U.S.-supplied Patriot air defense system to down a military transport plane in the Belgorod region last week, and called for an international investigation into the incident.

Russia previously accused Ukraine of using Western missiles to down the Ilyushin Il-76 plane over the border region, killing 74 people on board, including 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers it said were en route to a prisoner exchange.

“The plane was downed, and it’s been definitively established by an American Patriot system — the expert analysis has already established that,” Putin said, suggesting that two missiles had been used for the downing.

“We insist that an international investigation be carried out,” he added.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied that it downed the plane, and has demanded proof of who was on board.

— Karen Gilchrist

Ukraine and Russia have carried out a prisoner of war (POW) swap, a week after a scheduled prisoner exchange was canceled following the downing of a Russian plane carrying 65 POWs.

“Our people are back. 207 of them,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday.

“We return them home no matter what. We remember each Ukrainian in captivity. Both warriors and civilians. We must bring all of them back. We are working on it. The Ukrainian team has done another excellent job. Budanov, Yermak, Usov, Maliuk, and Klymenko. Well done!,” the president said, praising the efforts of senior government officials.

Russia’s defense ministry confirmed the swap, saying 195 Russian military personnel had been returned, saying the personnel had been “in mortal danger in captivity” without further details. It’s likely the comment was an attempt to discredit the conditions within Ukrainian prisoner of war facilities, however.

LVIV REGION, UKRAINE – AUGUST 3: Russian POWs are seen waiting in line to call home to Russia in a prisoner of war detention camp on August 3, 2023 in the Lviv region, Ukraine. Hundreds of captured Russian POWs including conscripts, mercenaries, Wagner militia and Storm-Z Russian prisoners are being held in up to 50 sites around Ukraine. Storm-Z is a series of penal military units established by Russia since April 2023. (Photo by Paula Bronstein /Getty Images

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia said that, in exchange, 195 Ukrainian POWs had been exchanged. The discrepancy for the figures cited by both sides was not immediately clear. It’s also unknown where or when the latest exchange took place.

In any case, the swap comes just days after a Russian military transport plane carrying 65 Ukrainian POWs, and nine Russians, crashed over the Russian border region of Belgorod.

Russia accused Ukraine of shooting down the plane with Western-provided missiles. Ukraine has not confirmed nor denied it shot down the plane and called for an international investigation into the incident. Russian law enforcement agencies were quoted yesterday by Russian media as saying that black box data suggested that there had been an “external impact” on the plane before it crashed.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu inspects implementation of the state defence order at a military-industrial complex facility in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Russia, in this picture released April 6, 2023.

Vadim Savitsky | Russian Defence Ministry | Via Reuters

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has told military manufacturers to “stop fooling around” when it comes to the ramping up the production of self-propelled artillery systems.

Russian news outlet RBC published a video online showing Shoigu visiting arms-producing factories in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg. During the tour of a manufacturing facility, Shoigu reportedly chides the management for not producing enough self-propelled artillery.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends an expanded meeting of the Defence Ministry Board at the National Defence Control Centre in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2023. 

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

“Listen, stop fooling around here, guys. We got busy with this in 2022. We should have had these machines operating at full capacity in 2023,” he told the plant’s bosses, in comments translated by Reuters.

“I’d like to receive within a week a specific proposal on how we’ll reach the indicators set by the president [Vladimir Putin] … this must be done, because all these orders are connected with the performance of very specific work on the battlefield,” he said.

The director reportedly responded that the factory had already increased production six-fold in the last two years.

The comments illustrate Russia’s determination to increase weapons and ammunition production, two years into its so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Moscow has called upon the country’s domestic military industrial complex to dramatically increase its manufacturing of a variety of combat hardware, from drones and tanks to artillery and military vehicles. Russia’s biggest weapons producer reportedly said last fall that Russia had ramped up the production of some military hardware by more than tenfold to supply Russian forces in Ukraine.

Western nations are also striving to increase weapons production in order to maintain the supply of arms to Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Boris Nadezhdin, the Civic Initiative Party presidential hopeful, talks to the media as he submits signatures collected in support of his candidacy at the Central Election Commission in Moscow on January 31, 2024.

Vera Savina | Afp | Getty Images

Russian anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin said on Wednesday he had submitted 105,000 signatures in his support to the Central Election Commission (CEC) to underpin his bid to challenge Vladimir Putin in an upcoming presidential election.

The CEC will check the authenticity and quality of the signatures submitted by Nadezhdin and other would-be candidates and announce next month who will join Putin on the ballot paper.

Putin’s victory is widely seen as a foregone conclusion, but Nadezhdin has surprised some observers with trenchant criticism of what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

After a series of heating outages across Russia during an unusually cold winter, Nadezhdin said earlier this month that the country would be able to afford to spend more on its citizens if it was not pouring so much money into the military.

As a candidate nominated by a political party, he needed to gather 100,000 signatures across at least 40 regions in order to stand in the March 15-17 election.

Putin, who has chosen to run as an independent rather than as the candidate of the ruling United Russia party, needs 300,000 signatures but has already collected over 3.5 million, according to his supporters.

— Reuters

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