Ukraine-Russia war live: Putin ‘forms new Africa mercenary group’ with same name as Nazis

The Kremlin has formed its own mercenary group to operate in Africa, it has been reported.

Bloomberg said Vladimir Putin’s government was looking to take advantage of the demise of the Wagner group, which operated extensively in several countries on the continent.

The new group is called the Africa Corps and shares its name with the Nazi forces which fought in North Africa in the Second World War.

The Bloomberg report said 20,000 men are expected to be recruited for operations primarily in the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

The Wagner Group, led by the late Yevheny Prighozin, had extensive security operations on the continent and would often receive stakes in mines and other natural resource contracts as payment.

04:23 PM GMT

That’s all for today, thank you for following

Here’s are today’s key moments:

  • Ukraine war contributing to the crisis in French farming

  • European Commission welcomes EU decision to send Ukraine money from Russian assets

  • Kremlin ‘forming own African mercenary group’

  • Kremlin backs ally Iran in face of likely US retaliation

  • Ukraine’s gains ‘in jeopardy’ without more aid, says Blinken

  • Russia and Belarus to create joint media outlet

04:00 PM GMT

Ukraine war contributing to the crisis in French farming

The war in Ukraine is contributing to the crisis in French farming, Emmanuel Macron has said.

The French president told a press conference in Sweden that tariff-free Ukrainian imports were undercutting French farmers.

“We have asked to have clear measures on imports from Ukraine because today we have things in volume and quality that are destabilising the European market, whether it comes to chickens or cereals,” he said.

Gabriel Attal, the prime minister, added that France needs an “agricultural exception” to European Union red tape.

03:42 PM GMT

Zelensky: ‘We must ensure Ukraine’s control over its skies’

Zelensky has restated called for an ‘air shield’ to protect the country from missiles and drone attacks.

Posting on X, Zelenskiy said: “Russia has launched over 330 missiles of various types and approximately 600 combat drones at Ukrainian cities since the beginning of the year.

“To withstand such terrorist pressure, a sufficiently strong air shield is required. And this is the type of air shield we are building with our partners.

“We must ensure Ukraine’s control over its skies, which is also critical to ensuring security on the ground — from frontline positions to hospitals and schools in the rear. Air defense and electronic warfare are our top priorities. Russian terror must be defeated – this is achievable.”

03:11 PM GMT

Russia is not handing over Ukrainian bodies from crashed plane

Russia has shown no willingness to return the bodies of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war who died in a military plane crash in Belgorod region last week, a Ukrainian military spy official said on Tuesday.

Moscow announced that the plane was shot down by Ukraine on its way to a prisoner swap. Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces shot it down.

“It’s a statement from Russia that our prisoners were there, and so far we can analyse only their words. Now there is no readiness to transfer the bodies from the other side,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesman, was quoted as saying by Suspilne broadcaster.

Last week, Russia said that body parts were being collected and removed for genetic testing. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said on Friday he had no information on what would happen to the remains or whether they would be handed to Ukraine.

Footage from the site, released by the Russian Investigative Committee, shows a single body in a snowy field as well as items of clothing. Reuters verified the location of the crash site seen in one of the videos but was unable to independently verify the date or other details.

02:42 PM GMT

In pictures: Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, sits in evacuation ambulance

Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska sits in an ambulance

Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska sits in one of the 50 evacuation ambulances that were transferred from the UAE government to Ukrainian medics in Kyiv – HANDOUT/AFP

02:37 PM GMT

European Commission welcomes EU decision to send Ukraine money from Russian assets

The European Commission has welcomed the decision of EU ambassadors regarding the decision to send Ukraine profits generated by Russian assets, previously frozen in Europe since the start of the war.

Christian Wiegand, the spokesman for the European Commission, said that Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and the Vice-Presidents of the European Commission are “ready to prepare the next step as quickly as possible”.

Weigand emphasised that the purpose of these measures is for the excess profits of the Russian Central Bank to be transferred to Ukraine eventually.

01:49 PM GMT

Sergey Lavrov meets Chinese deputy foreign minister to discuss Ukraine

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has held a meeting with Ma Zhaoxu, the Chinese deputy foreign minister.

The pair discussed the conflict in Ukraine, the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and the Korean peninsula, the Russian foreign ministry said.

01:25 PM GMT

Ukraine imprisons priest for praising pro-Russian separatists

The abbot of a Ukrainian Orthodox church has been sentenced to two years in prison for praising pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas.

Dmytro Tikhov, 54, was accused of parroting the Russian narrative that there was a “civil war” in Ukraine and reposting comments made by the Russian Orthodox Church which justified the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory on his Telegram channel, local media reported.

Dmytro Tikhov, a priest at a Moscow-linked church

Dmytro Tikhov, a priest at a Moscow-linked church, has been sentenced for pro-Russian activity – UKRAINSKA PRAVDA

The priest, from Eparchy of Vinnytsia and Bar in the centre of the country, was also accused of spreading anti-Ukrainian propaganda during his sermons and in conversations with members of his congregation.

Ukrainian secret service agents said they detained Tikhov after he had been hiding at different addresses around the country.

12:52 PM GMT

‘Long road ahead’ before Orban can meet Zelensky

There is a “long road ahead” before a meeting can happen between Viktor Orban and Volodymyr Zelensky, the Hungarian foreign minister has said.

Speaking a day after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto said that Ukraine would have to meet Hungary’s conditions to establish a “clean slate” before the two country’s leaders could meet.

Mr Szijjarto did not specify what the conditions were.

The foreign minister also nodded to a shift in the country’s stance on EU aid to Ukraine by saying Budapest was open to using the bloc’s budget to fund an aid package providing it had unanimity from member states.

Previously, Mr Orban, Vladimir Putin’s closest ally among European leaders, blocked a €50billion (£42.7billion) package for Ukraine at a summit last month.

12:43 PM GMT

Hungary to vote on Sweden’s Nato membership by February

Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, has revealed that the country will vote on Sweden’s bid to join Nato by late February at the earliest.

Speaking a day after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart, Mr Szijjarto said: “Parliament’s regular session starts in late February, so I think we can wait for the regular session and put this on the agenda then if the majority agrees, of course.”

He said he saw no need to call an extraordinary session of the Hungarian parliament to vote on Sweden’s bid to join the military organisation.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of Nato, expressed optimism on Friday that Sweden could be ready to join the group by March.

12:01 PM GMT

Kyiv man detained after ‘spying for Russia’

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) has detained a Kyiv resident who is accused of spying for Russia.

The 52-year-old man is alleged to have spied on military facilities and other critical infrastructure in the capital city.

He faces life imprisonment if convicted.

11:48 AM GMT

Orban: Review Ukraine aid every year and I will drop my veto

Viktor Orban has said he will drop his opposition to further European Union military aid for Ukraine if it is reviewed every year.

Repeating a position he has outlined previously, Hungary’s prime minister told the French Le Point magazine: “Hungary is ready to participate in the solution of the 27 (EU member states) if you guarantee that each year we will decide whether or not to send this money.

“And this annual decision must have the same legal basis as today: it must be unanimous.”

11:30 AM GMT

MoD: Russia bombs own village for fourth time this month

Russia has bombed one of its own villages for the fourth time this month, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

In its latest defence intelligence briefing, the MoD said two FAB-250 bombs had been dropped on two villages in the Belgorod region on Saturday.

“It cannot be confirmed whether such incidents occur due to poor procedures when arming the aircraft prior to sorties or poor execution by aircrew during missions,” it said.

“It is likely a combination of both. The increasing frequency of these occurrences likely demonstrates a degree of air and ground crew fatigue within the Russian front line, as well as exposing inadequate training.”

11:10 AM GMT

Kremlin ‘forming own African mercenary group’

The Kremlin is forming its own mercenary group to operate in Africa, it has been reported.

Bloomberg cited sources who said Vladimir Putin’s government was looking to take advantage of the vacuum left by the demise of the Wagner group, which had extensive interests on the continent.

The group, named the Africa Corps, shares its title with the Nazi forces who operated in North Africa in the Second World War.

The report said 20,000 men would be recruited for operations primarily in the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

10:37 AM GMT

Russia to deploy new weapons to disputed Asian islands

Russia will deploy new weapons to a disputed Asian island chain which is also claimed by Japan, Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, has said.

Russia and Japan never signed a peace treaty formally ending the Second World War.

The Kuril Islands – which Japan calls the Northern Territories – remaining the primary stumbling block between the two sides for a peace deal.

10:13 AM GMT

Kremlin backs ally Iran in face of likely US retaliation

The Kremlin has signalled its support for Iran as it faces the prospect of likely American retaliation for the killing of three American soldiers in Jordan by Tehran proxies on Sunday.

“We do not welcome any actions that lead to destabilisation in the region and increase tensions, especially against the backdrop of the excessive potential for conflict,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters.

“We will not welcome the continuation of such actions, regardless of who they come from. The level of tension is high now and we need to take steps to de-escalate. This is what will prevent the conflict from spreading.”

Iran has supplied Russia with Shahed drones and other munitions for its war with Ukraine.

09:51 AM GMT

Watch our analysis: Russia and Ukraine face off in Belgorod

09:44 AM GMT

British-Russian dissident found at different prison colony

British-Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza has been found at a different prison colony after disappearing from a Siberian jail.

Mr Kara-Murza was transferred from the Omsk IK-6 colony to its IK-7 prison, having been moved without any warning given to his family or lawyer on Monday.

In a letter to his lawyer Maria Eismont, he said he had been sent to a type of punishment cell known by its Russian initials as an EPKT, the strictest form of isolation.

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison last April on charges of treason and spreading “false information” about the war in Ukraine.

09:28 AM GMT

Ukraine reaches record high on anti-corruption index

Ukraine has reached a record high position on an anti-corruption index.

Transparency International gave Kyiv a score of 36 on its corruption perception index, an improvement of three points on 2022 and 11 points on 2013.

A score of zero means a country is highly corrupt and 100 means it is free of corruption.

Ukraine ranked 104th out of the 180 countries on the index, 37 places ahead of Russia in 141st on 26 points.

09:04 AM GMT

Russia and Belarus to create joint media outlet

Russia and Belarus will create a joint media firm including two newspapers, an online magazine and a television channel.

Maksut Shadaev, head of Russia’s digital development ministry, said it would follow a “unified, co-ordinated policy”.

It is the latest move towards integration between Moscow and Minsk. Belarus was used as a staging ground for Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin has deployed nuclear weapons in the country.

08:52 AM GMT

Overnight Russian attacks kill two

Overnight Russian attacks on Ukraine killed two people and have left five others injured.

In Donetsk, a 38-year-old man was killed by a missile as he cycled home from work in an attack which also injured a 50-year-old woman.

Authorities in Kherson said a man died and his wife was wounded after Russian shelling on the village of Veletenskoye.

08:39 AM GMT

Russia turns off 4G to fine-tune anti-drone defences

Russia has turned off 4G mobile internet connections in the regions of Leningrad, Novgorod and Pskov to “fine-tune” its anti-drone defences.

The oblasts previously announced that the signal would be disrupted from Jan 25 to Jan 30 for technical adjustments to the “radio frequency spectrum”.

“Russia may be retooling aspects of its air defense umbrella in deep rear areas amid continued Ukrainian drone strikes within Russia,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank said.

08:27 AM GMT

Russian drone attack caught Ukraine by surprise

Ukraine only shot down 15 of the 35 Russian drones which attacked overnight because there were “an unexpected number” of them.

Col Yurii Ihnat, the Ukrainian air force’s spokesman, said on the national telethon: “These [statistics] may seem strange to some people. They are used to seeing up to 100 percent of targets successfully downed.

“We need to explain this to the public: This is not due to a change in enemy tactics.

“The enemy struck with an unexpected number of UAVs on multiple fronts and from different directions.”

08:18 AM GMT

In pictures: Drone strike damage

Firemen work at a factory set alight by a Russian drone strike overnight in Bila Tserkva, south of Kyiv

Firemen work at a factory set alight by a Russian drone strike overnight in Bila Tserkva, south of Kyiv – NATIONAL POLICE OF UKRAINE/REUTERS

Russia launched 35 drones on Ukraine overnight and 15 were shot down by anti-air defences

Russia launched 35 drones on Ukraine overnight and 15 were shot down by anti-air defences – STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE OF UKRAINE/REUTERS

08:07 AM GMT

Ukraine’s gains ‘in jeopardy’ without more aid, says Blinken

Ukraine’s gains on the frontline are “in jeopardy” if the United States and other Western countries do not send it more military aid, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has said.

“Without it, simply put, everything that Ukrainians achieved and that we’ve helped them achieve will be in jeopardy,” he said.

“Absent that supplemental, we’re going to be sending a strong and wrong message to all of our adversaries that we are not serious about the defense of freedom, the defense of democracy.

“It will simply reinforce for Vladimir Putin that he can somehow outlast Ukraine and outlast us.”

07:54 AM GMT

Ukraine ‘downs Russian Su-34 fighter jet’

Ukraine downed a Russian Su-34 fighter jet over Luhansk on Monday, Ukrainian armed forces have said.

Andriy Kovalev, spokesman for the general staff, told Ukraine’s telethon that soldiers had shot it down.

Further details were not disclosed.

07:42 AM GMT

Ukraine unable to outproduce Russia, says minister

Ukraine is unable to outperform Russia’s production of weapons and munitions, Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine’s strategic industries minister, has said.

He said that Ukraine instead needs to focus on achieving an edge over their enemy through cheaper innovations.

“You have to pump the maximum amount of money you can into drones,” he told Time magazine.

07:34 AM GMT

Ukraine downs 15 of 35 Russian drones overnight

Ukraine’s air force said Russia had launched 35 drones and two missiles over Ukraine in the early hours.

It said anti-air defences had shot down 15 of the drones. It did not comment on the fate of the missiles.

The drones were downed over the Mykolaiv, Sumy, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Kyiv regions.

07:27 AM GMT

EU to send Ukraine profits of frozen Russian assets

The European Union will send Ukraine profits generated by Russian assets that have been frozen in Europe since the start of the war.

The plan is expected to generate a total of £11 billion ($15 billion) from 2023 to 2027, the Financial Times reported.

Reuters reported that the move was agreed at a meeting of all 27 ambassadors of EU countries at a meeting on Monday.

The West has considered confiscating the frozen assets in full, which are worth a total of £236 billion ($300 billion).

But there are doubts about the legality of doing so and Russia has threatened to retaliate by seizing an equal amount of assets from Western companies operating in Russia.

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