Ukraine war: Battle for Bakhmut continues, Russia will achieve its 'noble goals', oil export ban

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By Euronews  with Reuters
Smoke billows after Russian attacks in the outskirts of Bakhmut, 27 December 2022
Smoke billows after Russian attacks in the outskirts of Bakhmut, 27 December 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Libkos

1. Moscow will achieve its 'noble goals', says top Russian diplomat

The head of Russia's diplomacy has said he is "convinced" Russia will achieve its objectives in Ukraine through "patience" and "stubbornness". 

"I am convinced that thanks to our stubbornness, our patience and our determination, we will defend our noble goals -- those vital for our people and our country," Sergei Lavrov said in a televised interview broadcast on Wednesday.

"This while always remaining open to fair dialogue and agreements to ensure equal and indivisible security in Europe," he continued.

Lavrov maintained that dialogue could only take place if Kyiv recognised the four regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia annexed in September. 

On 30 September, Russia absorbed Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporijjia and Kherson in a move considered illegal under international law. Putin vowed they would remain part of Russia "forever". 

EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/AFP
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a conference on 23 December, 2022.EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/AFP

Russia's top diplomat said an "inalienable part" of negotiations would be that these four regions should "belong to the Russian Federation," adding that Moscow should "of course" conquer them. 

Ukraine has flatly ruled out ceding these areas to Russia. Moscow's forces no longer fully control the regions following a rapid Ukrainian offensive earlier in the year. 

Lavrov added: The areas "must be freed from the threat of Nazification which they have endured for many years", echoing the Kremlin line that Russian-speaking populations in Ukraine need protecting from supposed "Nazis" in Kyiv.

Experts have dismissed this claim as false. 

"We are not in a hurry, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said. We want to end as quickly as possible this war that the West has prepared and unleashed against us via Ukraine," Lavrov continued. 

2. Kherson bombarded again while fighting intensified around Bakhmut

Russian forces fired 33 rockets at civilian targets in the Ukrainian city of Kherson in the 24 hours leading up to early Wednesday, Ukraine's military said. 

The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its morning report that Russian forces were attacking populated areas on the right bank of the Dnipro river near Kherson with mortars and artillery.

Russian forces abandoned Kherson last month in one of Ukraine's most significant gains in the 11-month war, but fighting has entered a slow, grinding phase as bitter winter weather has set in.

"There has been very little change in terms of the front line but pressure from the enemy has intensified, both in terms of the numbers of men and the type and quantity of equipment," said Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.

The heaviest fighting has been around the eastern city of Bakhmut, a bombed-out ghost town, which Russia has been trying for months to storm at a huge cost in lives, and further north in the cities of Svatove and Kreminna, where Ukraine is trying to break Russian defensive lines.

In Bakhmut, home to 70,000 people before the war and now in ruins, Reuters reporters saw fires burning in a large residential building. Debris littered the streets, and the windows of most buildings were blown out.

"Our building is destroyed. There was a shop in our building, now it's not there anymore," said Oleksandr, 85, adding he was the only remaining resident there.

Nearby, 73-year-old Pilaheia said she had long gotten used to the "constant explosions".

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Russia set out to subdue Ukraine within days, but its forces were defeated on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, in the spring and forced to withdraw from other areas in the autumn.

Putin responded by summoning hundreds of thousands of reservists for the first time since World War II.

3. Putin bans oil sales to countries participating in price cap

Putin retaliated on Tuesday against a price cap on its oil imposed by Western countries, saying Russia would ban oil sales to countries that abide by the cap imposed on 5 December.

The cap, unseen even in the times of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, is aimed at crippling Russia's military efforts in Ukraine - without upsetting markets by actually blocking its supply of oil.

Under the cap, oil traders who want to retain access to Western financing for such crucial aspects of global shipping as insurance must promise not to pay more than $60 per barrel for Russian seaborne oil.

That is close to the current price for Russian oil, but far below the prices at which Russia was able to sell it for much of the past year, when windfall energy profits helped it offset the impact of financial sanctions.

JUAN BARRETO/AFP or licensors
This photo from September 16, 2022, shows an abandoned Russian tank at a gas station on the outskirts of Izyum, in the Kharkiv region, eastern Ukraine on September 16,JUAN BARRETO/AFP or licensors

The oil ban decree from Putin was presented as a direct response to "actions that are unfriendly and contradictory to international law by the United States and foreign states and international organisations joining them".

The ban would halt crude oil sales to countries participating in the price cap from 1 February -- 1 July 2023. A separate ban on refined oil products such as gasoline and diesel would take effect on a date to be set by the government. Putin would have the authority to overrule the measures in special cases.

Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, and any actual disruption to its sales would have far-reaching consequences for global energy supplies.

4. Zelenskyy promises to oust Russian troops, saying 'we know what must be done'

Putin has repeatedly spoken of a desire for peace talks in recent days.

But his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made clear Russia has preconditions, including that Ukraine recognises the conquest by force of around a fifth of Ukrainian territory, which Russia says it has annexed.

Ukraine says it would never agree to relinquish land.

Zelenskyy has been promoting a 10-point peace plan, discussing it with US President Joe Biden, among others, and urging world leaders to hold a Global Peace Summit.

In a late-night address on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said a meeting of the military command had "established the steps to be taken in the near future".

"We will continue preparing the armed forces and Ukraine's security for next year. This will be a decisive year. We understand the risks of winter. We understand what needs to be done in the spring," he said.

5. Italy cautious about supplying air defence systems to Ukraine

Italy's defence minister struck a cautious tone on whether Italy would be able to supply Ukraine with air defence systems, as requested by President Zelenskyy.

The systems would be provided "if possible", Guido Crosetto told Il Messaggero newspaper in an article published on Wednesday.

However, "if we give air defence missiles to Ukraine, we must take them from our stocks and we have to do that without depleting them, and being sure about the quality," he added.

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP or licensors
A protestor holds an anti-Russia poster during a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Rome on October 13, 2022.FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP or licensors

Crosetto told Reuters this month that the Franco-Italian SAMP/T air defence system was among the military aid that Kyiv had requested from Rome.

His remarks to Il Messaggero follow a Tuesday call between Zelenskyy and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, after which Zelenskyy tweeted that Rome was considering supplying air defences.

He is pressing Ukraine's Western allies to step up military aid to help counter three months of Russian missile and drone strikes on civilian infrastructure.