Ukraine Latest: Armored Vehicle Pledges Boost Pressure on Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing renewed pressure to deliver heavier weapons to Ukraine after France said it would provide “light combat tanks” and President Joe Biden confirmed the US may send Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

(Bloomberg) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing renewed pressure to deliver heavier weapons to Ukraine after France said it would provide “light combat tanks” and President Joe Biden confirmed the US may send Bradley Fighting Vehicles. 

The discussions about meeting Ukraine’s long-sought goal of rearming its forces with the first armored combat vehicles from Western allies came as the nation’s military intelligence chief predicted a March offensive. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to call a unilateral ceasefire in Ukraine as Moscow stuck to its long-held line that Kyiv needs to give ground. The comment marks the first time Erdogan has called on Russia to suspend fighting without a commitment from Ukraine that it would do the same. 

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Key Developments

  • Scholz Faces Renewed Heat in Germany to Supply Tanks to Ukraine
  • Russia Pardons First Convicts Who Survived 6 Months at Front
  • Biden Says He May Send Ukraine US Bradley Vehicles for War
  • Ukraine Plant Must Be Seized From Russia, Nuclear Chief Says
  • Russia Ups Death Toll in Ukraine Strike, Blames Cell-Phone Use

On the Ground

Russian forces continued their assault on the eastern city of Bakhmut, shelling more than 60 settlements in the area, according to Ukraine’s general staff. Russian shelled targets in the southern Zaporizhzhia region more than 100 times in 24 hours, killing at least two and wounding three, Governor Oleksandr Starukh said. Another 45 settlements came under attack in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. 

(All times CET)

Russia Has Sufficient Artillery, Zaporizhzhia Governor Says (12:48 p.m.) 

Russian forces, which effectively had “unlimited” munitions early in the war, maintain a sufficient supply to be able to match Ukrainian artillery rounds and launch dozens of attacks in return, the regional chief in Zaporizhzhia, Oleksandr Starukh, said during a video briefing. 

Mobilized Russian troops are increasingly concentrating in the region, as elsewhere along the frontline, Starukh said. Ukrainian forces need more weapons to push the Russian troops away from cities, such as Zaporizhzhia’s eponymous regional capital. Even a retreat of 30 kilometers (19 miles) would put Kremlin forces’ S-300 rockets out of range, he said. 

Ukraine’s Economy Slumped by Nearly a Third Last Year (11:22 a.m.) 

Ukraine’s economy contracted by some 30% last year on the devastation wrought by Russia’s invasion, the Economy Ministry said. Its preliminary estimates for 2022 gave a range between 28.4% and 32.4%.

The scope of the economy’s plunge was less drastic than projections made at the beginning of the invasion last February, when some economists forecast a slump in gross domestic product on the order of 50%. The projection also beat the ministry’s initial estimate of more than 33%.

Erdogan Urges Unilateral Cease-fire in Putin Call (10:58 a.m.)

Calls for peace and negotiations in Ukraine “should be supported by a unilateral cease-fire and a vision for a fair solution,” Tayyip Erdogan told Russia’s Putin in a call.

Erdogan reminded Putin of “positive results” from negotiations over the grain corridor that Ukraine is using to export food, prisoner exchanges and the still unrealized safe zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Scholz Faces Renewed Heat to Give Tanks to Ukraine (10:52 a.m.)

Scholz came under renewed pressure in Germany to supply Ukraine with additional heavy weapons after France pledged to deliver armored fighting vehicles.

The German chancellor has so far resisted calls to directly supply modern armor, arguing the policy must first be agreed to among European Union and NATO allies. But Marcus Faber, a lawmaker with the Free Democrats Party, part of Scholz’s three-way coalition, said Germany needs to change course. The co-governing Greens also signaled support for more deliveries.

Scholz’s administration should start with training Ukrainian forces to operate the Leopard battle tank and Marder infantry fighting vehicle, he said. “It’s time to supply Ukraine at least with the Marder from industrial stocks directly,” Faber, in Kyiv for discussions with Ukrainian officials, told Bloomberg. 

Cold Weather Lifts Power Consumption in Ukraine (10:25 a.m.)

Power consumption continues to rise in Ukraine amid cooling temperatures and increasing industry and business activity after the holidays, national grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

The country’s energy system produces enough power to meet demand in during the night but is limiting consumption from 8 a.m. till 11 p.m. Russian shelling damaged an energy infrastructure site Wednesday in Ukraine’s east, and difficult weather conditions in the country’s central regions caused disruptions, the utility said.

Russia Pardons Convicts After Six Months at Front (9:56 a.m)

Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner military-contracting company, announced the pardons and hailed the roughly two dozen survivors as “warriors” in a meeting with them in the southern Krasnodar region near the Ukrainian border, according to the state-run RIA Novosti agency.

The longtime Putin ally is one of the most prominent supporters of his war. Prigozhin has about 50,000 personnel on the ground in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts and 10,000 contractors, the US said last month. 

One clip showed Prigozhin at an event with wounded fighters, including several who had lost legs. He didn’t comment on how many of the first wave of convict recruits were killed or captured, citing only one example of a man serving a 30-year sentence who he said had blown himself up in battle after being cut off from his unit.

Biden Confirms He’s Weighing Bradley Vehicles for Ukraine (10:03 p.m.)

Biden said he’s considering sending Ukraine the Bradley Fighting Vehicles to aid the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion.

Biden answered “yes” after he was asked by reporters traveling with him whether Bradleys were under consideration as the US prepares its next package of military aid to Kyiv. He didn’t elaborate.

While delivering Bradleys would represent a significant expansion of the type of weapons the US is providing to Ukraine, Kyiv has repeatedly asked its allies in NATO to send more heavily armored weapons including the US Abrams and German-made Leopard main battle tanks.


–With assistance from Aliaksandr Kudrytski.

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