As the war enters its 658th day, these are the main developments.
Here is the situation on Wednesday, December 13, 2023.
- Yevgeny Balitsky, the Moscow-installed head of the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhia region, said Russian forces had “advanced significantly forward northeast of Novopokrovka”. The village lies some 20km (12 miles) east of Robotyne, which Kyiv said it recaptured in August. Balitsky said Russian forces were “not only holding the line but are gradually moving forward”. Ukraine acknowledged battles in the area. “The defence forces repelled three enemy attacks in the areas north of Pryutne and west of Novopokrovka of the Zaporizhia region,” the army said in its daily report.
- The Ukrainian Air Force said it shot down nine of 15 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russia at several regions of Ukraine.
- One person was killed and four others injured during 24 hours of Russian bombardment of the southern Kherson region, according to Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the regional military administration.
- Ukraine claimed to have captured a tactically important hill in the eastern Donetsk region. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on social media that his troops had taken the foothold, which provides a vantage point over the front line near Pivdenne, a mining town to the northwest of the Donetsk city of Horlivka.
- A major outage at Kyivstar, the operator of Ukraine’s biggest mobile network, left 24.3 million people without mobile coverage and potential air raid alerts after what appeared to be the largest cyberattack since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country. “War is also happening in cyberspace. Unfortunately, we have been hit as a result of this war,” Chief Executive Officer Oleksandr Komarov told national television. Ukraine said it was investigating possible Russian state involvement and Kyivstar said it hoped to restore services by Wednesday.
- A declassified US intelligence report assessed that 315,000 Russian troops had been killed and injured in the war in Ukraine – nearly 90 percent of the personnel Moscow had when the conflict began – a source familiar with the intelligence told the Reuters news agency. The report also assessed that Moscow’s losses in personnel and armoured vehicles to Ukraine’s military had set back its military modernisation by 18 years.
Politics and diplomacy
- United States President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy met at the White House to discuss the “vital importance” of continued US assistance for Ukraine after US Republicans, who want to link funding for Ukraine to new border security measures, blocked billions of dollars of support.
- At a press conference following the meeting, Biden reiterated the need to maintain military aid for Ukraine, saying Republicans who stood in the way would hand a “Christmas gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If we don’t stop Putin … [he] will keep going,” Biden said.
- Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said about 600,000 Ukrainians were fighting Russian forces and that the country’s troops had been successful in the Black Sea as well as in establishing a new corridor for grain exports. He said the goal in 2024 was to “take away Russia’s air superiority”.
- The Ukrainian president earlier appealed directly to the US Congress over new funding and said that while he had got “positive” signals from the meeting, he would focus on action rather than words. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, did not appear to have been swayed. “What the Biden administration seems to be asking for is billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win and with none of the answers that I think the American people are owed,” Johnson said.
- Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said Russia would be closely watching the meeting between the two leaders. Peskov said that further US military aid to Ukraine would be a “fiasco”, claiming the billions of dollars in previous aid had not helped Ukraine on the battlefield.
- Zelenskyy emphatically rejected as “insane” suggestions that Ukraine should give up some of its territory to secure a peace deal with Russia. “It’s a matter of families and their history. We are not going to give up territories to terrorists,” Zelenskyy told reporters.
- Poland’s newly-elected prime minister, Donald Tusk, said Warsaw would demand the “full mobilisation” of the West to help Ukraine. “There is no alternative,” he said.
- The US announced a wave of new sanctions targeting more than 250 individuals and entities in countries including Turkey, China and the United Arab Emirates, as it tries to further isolate Russia over its full-scale invasion.
- Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who Russia detained in October, was slapped with additional charges of “spreading false information about the Russian army”. RFE/RL’s acting president and board member Jeffrey Gedmin said the network “strongly condemned” the move. “It is time for this cruel persecution to end,” he said.
- The US announced a new $200m military aid package for Ukraine including ammunition for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), high-speed anti-radiation missiles and artillery rounds. It is separate from the package currently stalled in Congress. “Unless Congress take action to pass additional aid, this will be one of the last security assistance packages we will be able to provide Ukraine,” the Biden administration said in a statement.