Day 284 of the Invasion of Ukraine: US Intelligence expects a "Slowdown" of the WarUkraine | December 4, 2022, Sunday // 11:41| views
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
US intelligence expects a "slowdown" of the war in Ukraine
US intelligence expects hostilities in Ukraine to develop at a slower pace over the next few months.
US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said she saw no evidence of a break in Ukraine's will to resist despite Russian attacks on energy and other critical infrastructure amid the coming winter. At the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, Haines said:
"We are already seeing a somewhat reduced tempo of the conflict. Most of the fighting is currently around Bakhmut and the Donetsk region and has slowed somewhat with Russia's withdrawal from the Kherson region east of the Dnieper River. We expect in the coming months that both armies will be in a situation where they will try to re-equip, re-supply, in a sense rebuild, so that they are prepared for a counter-offensive".
At this stage, Haines thinks Ukraine is more likely to prepare better than Russia during this period.
According to her, Russian President Vladimir Putin was surprised that his country's armed forces did not achieve more after their invasion of Ukraine, but despite this, his political goals for the neighboring country have not changed.
As for the United States' other major geopolitical rival, China, Avril Haines said President Xi Jinping does not want to accept Western vaccines against Covid-19 despite the challenges with the novel coronavirus disease. The recent protests against the strict containment measures due to the infection are not a threat to the Chinese Communist Party's power, but may affect the situation of Xi Jinping himself, Haines said.
Russia's Wagner Group denies sending 'bloody packages' to Ukrainian embassies
Russia's mercenary firm Wagner Group denied sending the "bloody packages" containing animal eyes, and a spate of letter bombs to Ukrainian embassies and several consulates across Europe.
Responding to the allegation of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova sent CNN a single-word comment: "psycho." And Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch and head of the Wagner mercenary group, said he had nothing to do with the packages and also said that Wagner Group would "never engage in boorish stupid antics."
Earlier, Kubela accused Russia of being behind the more than a dozen letters containing explosives or animal parts that were sent to a series of Ukrainian diplomats.
"Think about the madness when some hooligans send bomb letters or other offensive things, what does this have to do with Wagner PMC," Prigozhin said in a written response to CNN.
Earlier, in Spain, the "bloody packages" were found with a spate of letter bombs, including one that injured a staffer at the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid. This incident has raised suspicion about links to Russia while prompting Kyiv to ask for increased security at its overseas offices, The Washington Post reported.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the "bloody packages" a "well-planned" campaign of intimidation and terror.
A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman said packages were received at embassies in the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy and Austria, as well as at consulates in Naples and Brno, in the Czech Republic.
Yevhenia Voloshchenko, a Ukrainian official in Rome, said the parcel received at her embassy contained a fish eye. Czech police said the envelope in Brno contained "animal tissue," adding that it had first been checked for explosives and prompted an evacuation of the immediate surroundings, including a kindergarten. Police said a similar package also arrived at the Ukrainian Embassy in Prague, according to The Washington Post.
Separately, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See said the entrance to his apartment residence in Rome had been vandalized, with the outside stairwell, ceiling and front door smeared with a "dirty substance." An Italian police spokesman said the substance was faecal matter.
It is unclear whether the letter bombs in Spain have any connection to the other incidents across Europe. The letter bombs were received at a series of high-profile locations, including the office of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, where the letter was disabled in a controlled detonation.
Meanwhile, Russia's embassy to Spain came out in its defence and said that it has no role in the campaign, denouncing any threat or terrorist act against a diplomatic mission as "totally condemnable."
WSJ: Oligarch Kovalchuk convinced Putin to invade Ukraine – “The West was weak”
One of the most influential voices behind Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine was that of 71-year-old oligarch Yury Kovalchuk, who argued that the war could prove Russia's strength.
This is what the American "Wall Street Journal" (WSJ) wrote in an extensive article, citing people close to the billionaire.
According to the publication, Kovalchuk has been a close friend of Vladimir Putin for decades and shares his vision of Russia as a great military power and a cultural counterpoint to the United States. The oligarch and the president often met after the start of the war in Ukraine, talking on the phone and by video link, a family friend of Kovalchuk and a former senior member of Russian intelligence told the publication.
The US Treasury called Kovalchuk Putin's "personal banker" when it sanctioned him in 2014. He is also one of the country's biggest media moguls, owning an empire of TV channels, newspapers and social media that often propagandize the Kremlin's line, writes the Wall Street Journal.
Thus, Kovalchuk keeps two of the most important things for the regime - money and the media, incl. the Russian social network VKontakte, in which a large-scale propaganda campaign in support of the war is carried out.
A physicist by education, oligarch Kovalchuk is motivated more by patriotic ideology than wealth, people who know him say. He does not hold an official position in the Russian government. However, it has great influence over Kremlin policy and personnel and has helped secure dachas and yachts for Putin to use, as well as lucrative jobs and stocks for the president's family and friends, according to people familiar with the deals, financial documents and anti-corruption groups. Putin's partner-in-law Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics, for example, is on the board of NMG (National Media Group) - owned by Yury Kovalchuk. He also controls the sanctioned Bank "Russia" (Россия).
The two friends sometimes spent hours together talking about the growing conflict with the West, Russian history and their shared interests, the Kovalchuk family friend and former Russian intelligence official said. According to the former intelligence official, Kovalchuk argued to the president that the West was weak and that the time had come for Russia to demonstrate its military might and protect its sovereignty by intervening in Ukraine.
Putin and Kovalchuk, both from St. Petersburg, have a long history. In 1991, Kovalchuk and his partners acquired Bank Russia after its owner, the Communist Party of St. Petersburg, was dissolved. Putin, then one of the city's deputy mayors, steered business to the bank, according to the 2014 book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?" of Karen Dawisha.
When Kovalchuk traveled to Moscow after Putin became president in 2000, he stayed for several weeks at the presidential dacha, according to a person close to the Kremlin during that period. According to another person close to the Kremlin, he had a strong influence on Putin's views on geopolitics.
Macron: If Putin agrees to talks, the West should consider guarantees for Russia's security
The West must consider how to respond to Russia's need for security guarantees if President Vladimir Putin agrees to talks to end the war in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron said, Reuters reported.
In an interview with French TV channel TF1, recorded during his state visit to the United States, Macron indicated that Europe must prepare its future security architecture. In his words, this means there must be an answer to Moscow's fear of NATO coming to its doors and of deploying weapons that could threaten it.
“This topic will be part of the peace topics, so we need to prepare for what we are prepared to do, how we protect our allies and member states and how to give assurances to Russia the day it comes back to the table for negotiations”, Macron said.
Both Russia and the US have said they are open to talks in principle, with US President Joe Biden saying he would only talk to Putin if the Kremlin shows it is interested in ending the war, Reuters notes. According to Kyiv, negotiations are possible only if Moscow stops attacking and withdraws its troops from Ukraine.
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