Ukrainian officials have reported 36 missile strikes across the country. Meanwhile, the Munich Security Conference head called for the “de-Putinization” of Russia. DW rounds up the latest.
On Thursday, Russia pounded Ukraine with a barrage of 36 missile strikes across the country, targeting critical infrastructure. At least 16 of the missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defense batteries, Ukrainian officials said.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said that the country had been hit in the northern, western and southern regions. “Unfortunately, there are hits in the north, west and in the and Kirovohrad regions,” Yermak said on the Telegram news channel.
He said the Russian military had misled Ukraine’s air defenses by using counterfeit missiles. However, the Ukrainian army command stated that about 16 of the 36 missiles had been blocked.
According to the authorities, a 79-year-old woman was killed in the Dnipropetrovsk region as a result of a missile strike. At least eight people were injured and damage to 50 homes and one industrial plant was reported. In the western Ukrainian region of Lviv, three missiles hit the plant that was described as a critical infrastructure facility.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday said Ukrainians troops had retreated after Russian attacks in the Luhansk region, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said that Ukrainian forces warded off some Russian attacks but the situation remained difficult.
Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Thursday, February 16.
Kyiv says it downed suspected spy balloons
Ukrainian authorities have said six alleged spy balloons were discovered over the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
The Ukrainian Air Force recorded “around six hostile aerial targets” and shot several of them down, the Kyiv military administration confirmed on Telegram.
Primary findings suggest that the objects were balloons floating in the wind, which could have been equipped with intelligence equipment or reflectors, the statement said.
There is a possibility that the Russians dispatched to uncover Ukrainian anti-aircraft positions. The balloons are now going to be examined to understand their function, the authorities said on Wednesday.
Ukraine reported sightings of several flying objects in the last week.
US defense secretary in Estonia: ‘Our commitment to Article Five is ironclad’
On a visit to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke at a press conference alongside his counterpart, Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur.
As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches next week, Austin said, “We stand with you prepared to deter and defend against any critical threat to our shared security.”
Estonia, along with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, were considered captive nations under Soviet occupation for half of the 20th century. Following their independence in 1991, all three joined NATO and the EU along with Poland in 2004.
In Tallinn, Austin noted that “the Ukrainian people remind us that we can never take freedom for granted. Now Estonians know that very well. Estonians know how important it is for all countries to stand up for a free Ukraine.”
In assessing the battle in Ukraine, Austin said, “I think we have all been very, very impressed with what we have seen from Ukrainian forces.”
“Our commitment to Article 5 is ironclad. We take that very seriously and we will live up to our commitments,” Austin concluded.
Oil-rich Norway pledges $7 billion in aid to Ukraine
All parties of Norway’s parliament backed an aid package worth 75 billion Norwegian kroner ($7.4 billion, €6.9 billion) for Ukraine over a five year period. The parties backed the plan that the center-left government presented in the beginning of February.
The plan approved 15 billion kroner ($1.5 billion, €1.4 billion) annually in civilian and military aid between 2023 and 2027. Regardless of the outcome of Norway’s parliamentary elections scheduled for 2025, the broad consensus on the funds signify the aid will be continued beyond the formation of a new government.
“Now you’re setting a very important precedent for long-term financial support to a country that defends its independence and the right of every nation to live in accordance with generally recognized international norms,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Norwegian MPs via video call.
The aid package was named after Fridtjof Nansen, an acclaimed Norwegian polar explorer and diplomat who earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his pioneering work in humanitarian aid. Norway has become Europe’s main supplier of natural gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Study shows Ukrainian refugees can integrate well in Germany
Ukrainian war refugees were well-equipped to integrate and build a life in Germany, a representative study presented by Mediendienst Integration in Berlin on Thursday suggested.
Based on surveys of more than 11,000 refugees, the research project estimated that 72% of Ukrainians have a high level of education or vocational training. Almost half of the adults were younger than 40 years.
In October 2022, 17% of the refugees were employed, with the share being a bit lower among women than men. 70% of the adults were female, many with minor children. Around 204.000 Ukrainian children and adolescents went to school in Germany.
Of those surveyed, 37% intended to stay in Germany for a minimum of several years or for an indefinite time period. 34% wanted to leave once the war in Ukraine was over. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, around 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Germany.
Israeli foreign minister pledges ‘solidarity’
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, marking his first visit to the country since the Russian invasion in February last year.
In the first visit by an Israeli minister to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on February 24 of last year, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said his country is “committed to the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
At a press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, Cohen said, “Israel stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Israel has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but has declined to deliver weapons to Kyiv. Israel has, however, provided Ukraine with humanitarian assistance and protective gear, such as helmets.
Israel will also support Ukraine’s peace initiative at the UN next week.
Throughout the war, Israel has tried to remain friendly to both sides of the conflict. Cohen spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his first call upon assuming the role and he noted Tuesday that more than one million Israelis have ties to the former Soviet Union.
The Israeli foreign minister was also present at the formal reopening of the country’s embassy in Kyiv.
Belarus will ‘only’ join Russia’s offensive if attacked
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko turned down the possibility of his country joining Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, saying it would only fight alongside its ally Moscow if it was attacked.
The president said that Belarus had never attacked nor posed a threat to anyone in their history, vowing “it will continue to remain this way.” He said Belarus was “always committed to the peaceful resolution of any international problems” and that it was “doing everything to stop the bloodshed.”
While Belarus provided parts of its territory to Russia to invade Ukraine from the north, its military has not been involved in the conflict.
The Belarusian president met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the seventh time in a year last week.
Russia’s Wagner wants Bakhmut to fall by April
The head of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, suggested that Russian forces could take the war-ravaged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine in “March or in April,” according to messages shared online during the night.
Prigozhin slammed Russia’s “monstrous military bureaucracy” for failing to seize the Donetsk region before the end of 2022.
Munich Security Conference head calls for ‘de-Putinization’
Christoph Heusgen, the head of the Munich Security Conference, said that Russia needs “de-Putinization” before it can reset its relationship with Germany.
“I use the term de-Putinization because that country is completely aligned with Putin,” Heusgen told Germany’s Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) media group.
In a recently published book, Heusgen said that Germany and Russia’s relations could only restart “with a different government in Moscow that acts on the basis of international law and is prepared to carry out something at home like the ‘denazification’ that took place in Germany.”
Russia expels four Austrian diplomats
Moscow announced the expulsion of four Austrian diplomats after Vienna declared four employees of Russia’s foreign missions in Austria personae non grata. Vienna believed the four Russians were using diplomatic cover to conduct intelligence gathering operations.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the expulsion of Russian diplomats was an “unfriendly and unjustified step” that had resulted in “serious damage to bilateral relations.” Moscow blamed Vienna for the spat.
Militarily neutral, EU member state Austria has joined other EU nations in expelling Russian diplomats since the country invaded neighboring Ukraine nearly one year ago.
Polish ambassador to Germany criticizes Berlin over Ukraine discussions
Poland’s ambassador to Germany. Dariusz Pawlos, has criticized Berlin for a lack of willingness to discuss issues concerning Ukraine.
Pawlos made the comments to Germany’s Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper.
“We don’t get appointments for short, quick consultations. That’s disappointing sometimes,” he said.
“We have tanks in sufficient numbers and the contingent we have pledged is available. To promise tanks and then not provide them would be schizophrenic,” said Pawlos, dismissing reports on the condition and operational capability of Polish tanks.
Regarding the question of whether to supply Kyiv with fighter jets, Pawlos said: “Poland is open to everything that helps Ukraine.”
Latvian Foreign Minister blames energy dependence on Russia
Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia’s Foreign Minister, told DW that he believes “the biggest mistake that I would name was the dependency on Russian energy sources” in the run up to the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“To some extent even we were a bit optimistic some years ago that probably the cooperation between Russia and the European Union and Russia and the West would actually transform the country,” Rinkevics noted.
He added that the West should continue to deliver weapons to Ukraine, “As long as it takes. As long as Ukraine fights this war. As long as Ukraine liberates its territories.”
“This is the matter of the survival of Ukraine, and that is the price,” he concluded.
More on the war in Ukraine
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is attending the Munich Security Conference to discuss Ukraine.
DW takes a look into whether Ukraine is running out of ammunition.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had agreed to expand its ammunition-making capacity.
ar, sdi, los/rt,fb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)