1. Fighting in southern Ukraine increases as situation at nuclear plant worsens
Fighting in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region has enormously intensified, according to a statement released by a Russian-installed official in the area.
Vladimir Rogov, the leader of the collaborationist "We Are Together" movement, said on messaging platform Telegram that "the intensity of military activity ha[d] sharply increased" in Zaporizhzhia's direction.
He also added that Russian forces had managed to capture a village in the region, just 50 kilometres south of the local capital.
In the meanwhile, Ukraine's energy minister said on Friday that the situation at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station was worsening because of the psychological state of its Ukrainian staff and the condition of the equipment.
The plant -- Europe's largest -- has been shelled repeatedly throughout the conflict, raising fears of a possible disaster. Each side blames the other for the attacks.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, is attempting to set up a safe zone around the facility.
2. EU countries work on 10th sanction package as Hungary blocks military aid
EU countries have been working on a tenth package of sanctions on Russia and €500 million in military aid to send Ukraine, the latter of which Hungary is currently blocking, diplomatic sources told Euronews.
The EU's strongest anti-Kremlin critics have already been calling for another sanction round to curb the bloc's nuclear fuel cooperation with Moscow, ban imports of Russian diamonds and reduce trade with Moscow's ally Belarus, among other measures.
On Friday, senior diplomats from three middle-way countries said the next sanction package should be ready around the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
EU officials have also been seeking approval from the ministers for a seventh tranche of military aid for Ukraine, but Hungary is reportedly contesting this attempt.
The Hungarian foreign ministry and the government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on reports that Budapest was blocking that move ahead of the talks on Monday.
EU diplomats told Euronews that they are hopeful to reach a deal on the military aid by Monday, which will require the unanimous approval of all 27 EU member states.
3. Germany denies blocking Leopard shipment to Ukraine amid Ramstein meeting
Germany's newly-appointed Defence Minister Boris Pistorius on Friday denied Berlin was the last country blocking the shipment of Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying the government was ready to move swiftly on sending them if there was consensus among allies.
"There are good reasons for the (tank) deliveries and there are good reasons against," he said, speaking to reporters at a meeting of NATO and defence leaders from approximately 50 countries at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
"And in view of the entire situation of a war that has been ongoing for almost one year, all pros and cons must be weighed very carefully,"
This comes after Poland and other countries said they were waiting for Germany to lift its veto.
"The impression that has occasionally arisen, that there is a closed coalition and Germany was standing in the way, this impression is wrong," Pistorius said.
Pressure has been building on Berlin to provide tanks to Kyiv, with Scholz's government reportedly being wary of taking steps that could be considered to make it a party to the war with Russia.
Germany has become one of Ukraine's main military supporters -- overcoming a taboo rooted in the dark moments of its 20th-century history -- but it has not yet agreed to send tanks or allow other countries to send their own German-made tanks.
Leopard tanks are seen as highly suitable for Ukraine as they are used widely, meaning several countries could provide some of their tanks to support Ukraine.
4. CIA chief meets with Zelenskyy, US official reports
CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last week to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a US official said in an article published by The Washington Post, the latest example of high-level contacts between the two countries.
The official, speaking anonymously, claimed that Burns met Ukrainian intelligence officials and emphasised Washington's "continued support for Ukraine" in the war.
This is not the first time the CIA chief has briefed the Ukrainian president, speaking repeatedly before and since Russia invaded its neighbour, passing on US intelligence findings about Moscow’s war plans and intentions.
The CIA director, a former US ambassador to Moscow, told PBS NewsHour last month that agency analysts forecasted "a reduced tempo and fighting between the two militaries as winter sets in."
"I don’t underestimate for a moment the burdens, the challenges, that this war poses for Ukrainians first and foremost, but for all of us who support Ukraine," said Burns. "But strategically, I think, in many ways, you know, Putin’s war has thus far been a failure for Russia."
5. Kadyrov and Prigozhin contest Russian military leadership
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Thursday decried a ban on Russian soldiers wearing beards, joining Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in the two men's latest criticism of Russia's military leadership.
Writing on Telegram, Kadyrov denounced the rules as "a clear provocation", claiming his Muslim-majority troops wore beards as part of their religious duty.
This comes after a Wednesday interview with Viktor Sobolev, a retired lieutenant general and member of Russia's parliament, who defended the ban on beards, personal smartphones and tablets as an "elementary part of military discipline".
Wagner boss Prigozhin called Sobolev's comments "absurd" and "archaisms from the 1960s".
He has also recently attacked the Kremlin for failing to block US-owned video-sharing platform YouTube, signalling a growing rift with Putin's administration.
Kadyrov and Prigozhin, whose forces in Ukraine operate with a significant degree of autonomy, have become more outspoken following Moscow's armies suffered a string of cascading defeats in the autumn.
The two men have struck up a tacit alliance, amplifying each other's criticism of Moscow's military leadership and calling to escalate the war effort.