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Ukraine war latest: Putin to visit Saudi Arabia, UAE; Qatar announces return of 6 Ukrainian children from Russia

by The Kyiv Independent news desk December 5, 2023 11:02 PM 6 min read
A local resident walks with his bicycle in the embattled city of Avdiivka in eastern Donetsk Oblast on Dec. 4, 2023. (Marek M. Berezowski/Anadolu via Getty Images)
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Key developments on Dec. 5:

  • Putin to visit Saudi Arabia, UAE
  • Qatar announces return of 6 Ukrainian children from Russia
  • Official: Ukrainian volunteer killed in Russian attack on International Volunteer Day
  • UK Defense Ministry: Russian forces control most of destroyed Marinka

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Dec. 6, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Dec. 5.

Putin made few trips abroad in 2023 after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in March for his role in the deportations of Ukrainian children.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE are party to the ICC's Rome Statute, meaning they are under no obligation to detain the Russian leader.

"Tomorrow President Putin’s working visits to the UAE and Saudi Arabia will take place," Peskov said at a press briefing. According to the Kremlin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Russia for talks the next day.

The topics on the agenda for the meetings in Saudi Arabia and the UAE include discussions on the oil market, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and "bilateral relations," Peskov said.

Ukraine has also maintained relations with Saudi Arabia, which has played an important role in negotiating prisoner exchanges with Russia.

Zelensky traveled to Saudi Arabia for the first time in May 2023, meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and appealing to Arab leaders to support Ukraine's peace plan.

Since Saudi Arabia hosted a summit on Ukraine's 10-point peace formula in August, Zelensky has held a call with the crown prince on a near-monthly basis.

Western officials also gathered in the UAE in September to discuss strategies to counter sanctions evasion.

Russia often uses imports from third-party countries, such as the UAE, as a means of circumventing sanctions.

Bloomberg reported on Nov. 9 that the UAE has agreed to begin restricting the export of sensitive materials with potential military use to Russia.

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Qatar announces return of 6 Ukrainian children from Russia

Following negotiations mediated by Qatar, Russia has allowed six Ukrainian children to return to their families in Ukraine, Qatar's Foreign Ministry announced on Dec. 5.

The return of the children comes as part of Qatar's "ongoing mediation and coordination efforts in reunifying families separated by the conflict," the Foreign Ministry said.

The children are scheduled to leave Moscow on Dec. 5. and travel to Ukraine via Belarus, the Washington Post reported.

The children were reportedly living with relatives in Russia and Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.

According to the Washington Post, one of the children,  an 11-year-old boy, had been living with relatives in Russian-occupied Donetsk Oblast.

His mother is still held as a prisoner of war in Russia after being captured while serving with the Ukrainian army, an unnamed official told the newspaper.

The boy's father died "around a decade ago, and he will now stay with a maternal aunt."

Qatar's International Cooperation Minister Lolwah Al-Khater said that the exchange was "building on the momentum of recent weeks."

"Today's announcement marks another small yet significant step forward in this collaborative process," she said.

Qatar cooperated with Ukraine to help bring back Bohdan Yermokhin on Nov. 19, a Ukrainian teenager who was illegally deported by Russia from occupied Mariupol.

Yermokhin had been placed with a foster family in Moscow Oblast and served with a conscription notice.

In October, Qatar brokered a deal with Moscow and Kyiv to bring back four children to Ukraine. The deal was orchestrated after months of high-level talks involving Moscow and Kyiv.

The Ukrainian government has identified over 19,500 children who have been deported or forcibly displaced by Russia, less than 400 of whom have been returned to Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Maria Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over their role in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.

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Official: Ukrainian volunteer killed in Russian attack on International Volunteer Day

One of the two people killed in Russia’s morning attack on Kherson was Ruslan Anisenko, a volunteer of the Spravzhni organization, the regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported on Dec. 5.

The deadly attack coincided with International Volunteer Day, mandated by the UN General Assembly to pay tribute to volunteers worldwide.

Since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014, local charities and volunteers have played a critical role in providing the Ukrainian military with supplies and helping civilians affected by the war.

Russian forces struck Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson early on Dec. 5, killing two people and wounding another four, according to the regional authorities.

Three doctors suffered minor injuries in an attack that targeted a local medical facility, the authorities said. A 72-year-old man was also reportedly injured and hospitalized.

Ukraine's Armed Forces liberated Kherson and other regional settlements on the west bank of the Dnipro River in the fall 2022 counteroffensive.

Russian forces were pushed to the river's east bank, from where they have since been firing at the liberated territories, regularly resulting in civilian deaths and injuries.

Russian attacks against Kherson Oblast on Dec. 4 and overnight killed one person and injured five others, Prokudin said earlier.

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UK Defense Ministry: Russian forces control most of destroyed Marinka

The Russian army has made "creeping advances" through the ruins of Marinka in Donetsk Oblast and now "likely controls" most of the area, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported in an intelligence update on Dec. 5.

"Ukrainian forces remain in control of pockets of territory on the western edge of the town," according to the Defense Ministry.

Russia's efforts to capture Marinka, which is now "comprehensively ruined," is part of an autumn offensive focused on Donetsk Oblast, the intelligence update said.

The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said on Oct. 23 that Russia was launching heavy attacks at many parts of the eastern front, including in the direction of Marinka, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka.

Marinka, which had a population of 9,000 in February 2022, has been a front-line town since 2014. It lies 30 kilometers southwest of Avdiivka.

The U.K. Defense Ministry reported on Nov. 27 Russian forces in Ukraine have likely suffered “some of the highest" casualty rates in the past six weeks, mainly caused by Russia’s offensive against Avdiivka.

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