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Key developments on Dec. 23:
- Russia doesn’t want peace, but pause for regrouping, says NATO chief
- Russia’s attacks across 7 Ukrainian oblasts kill 5, injure 14 over past day
- 54 Russian torture chambers discovered in liberated areas
NATO chief skeptical about Russia-Ukraine peace talks
In an op-ed for the Financial Times, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Kremlin of using “invitations to negotiations” as a mere pretext to buy time for Russia to ready itself for a new offensive against Ukraine.
“Russia hopes to freeze the war to allow its forces to regroup, rearm and try to launch a renewed offensive,” he wrote in an op-ed.
The NATO chief described 2022 as “a year of dismal failure for (Russian) President Vladimir Putin,” saying the Russian leader has underestimated both Ukraine and the unity of NATO.
He added that Putin “is ending his year of failures with more cruelty against Ukrainian civilians, cities, infrastructure and health facilities.”
“It was (Vladimir) Putin who started the war. He can end it today by getting out of Ukraine. Right now, he shows no signs that he is seeking real peace,” he said.
Stoltenberg argued that Russia has demonstrated a “willingness to take large numbers of casualties,” going so far as to conscript over 200,000 additional servicemen in recent months and sourcing weapons from authoritarian regimes like Iran.
In a similar statement in early December, the White House expressed skepticism about the possibility of dialogue with Moscow by saying, “Putin has shown absolutely no inclination to be interested in dialogue of any kind.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, stated on Dec. 2 that Russia would stand to gain from negotiations with Ukraine and Western countries that included a ceasefire, as it would allow the country to regroup and prepare its military for further attacks on Ukraine.
Ukraine has made it clear that it will not enter into talks with Russia unless the latter returns all occupied territories, including Crimea peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.
In mid-November, President Volodymyr Zelensky presented a 10-point peace plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The plan envisages preventing ecocide in Ukraine, punishing those responsible for war crimes, withdrawing all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine, restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the release of all prisoners of war and deportees. The proposals also call for ensuring energy security, food security, and nuclear safety.
“If Russia opposes our peace formula, you will see that it only wants war,” Zelensky then said.
The Kremlin dismissed the proposal by ruling out withdrawal from Ukraine by the end of 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Dec. 13 that Kyiv needs to accept new territorial “realities,” which include Moscow’s illegal “annexation” of four Ukrainian regions – Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson oblasts.
Putin asks Russia’s defense industry to make more weapons for his war in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his defense industry leaders to increase their production and ensure that the country’s military receives all necessary weapons, equipment, and hardware for fighting in Ukraine as quickly as possible.
“It’s also important to perfect and significantly improve the technical characteristics of weapons and equipment for our fighters based on the combat experience we have gained,” he said on Dec. 23.
The comments came a day after he described the Patriot air defense system - the most advanced air defense weapon in the U.S. arsenal that will be provided to Ukraine after Kyiv’s long plea - as an “outdated weapon” that Russia will be able to counter.
“The Patriot is quite an outdated system, it doesn’t work as well as our S-300 (surface-to-air) missiles,” Putin told journalists. “We’ll take this into account. It’s just a way to prolong the conflict... They want to supply the Patriots. Let them supply them - we’ll crack them (like nuts).”
This week, Putin also pledged that Russia would invest “unlimited” funds in its military.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it has lost control of approximately half of the territory it initially seized, Reuters noted.
Additionally, Russia has left behind or lost a significant amount of military equipment, including over 3,000 tanks, and has lost 100,950 troops, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.
Thousands of civilians allegedly tortured by Russian troops during occupation
The Prosecutor General’s Office said on Friday that some 54 torture chambers have been discovered in territories recently freed from Russian occupation.
In response to a request from the Zmina human rights center, prosecutors revealed that they are currently investigating more than 5,079 cases of torture, bodily harm, or other inhumane treatment believed to have been carried out by Russian troops.
The office also disclosed that 855 criminal investigations have been launched into war crimes against children, including ten cases of sexual violence.
The bodies of killed civilians and torture chambers have been found in various settlements in areas regained by Ukrainian forces. In October, the Ukrainian Reintegration Ministry reported that around 1,000 bodies – both military personnel and civilians, including children - had been exhumed in recently liberated settlements.
Following the liberation of the southern city of Kherson in November, Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights, said he was “shocked” by the scale of torture Russian forces inflicted on the residents. He also reported that even children were kept in the torture chambers.
Russian attacks across 7 Ukrainian oblasts kill 5, injure 14
Russian attacks on seven regions in eastern and southern Ukraine have resulted in five deaths and 14 injuries, according to local authorities.
The majority of casualties occurred in the eastern Donetsk Oblast, where four civilians were killed, and seven more were injured, said Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
The attacks also damaged five houses, a college, and a high-rise in the region.
In the Kharkiv Oblast, near the border with Russia, missiles and artillery were used to attack settlements. Five people were injured, Oleh Syniehubov, the oblast governor, said.
In the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, a missile strike hit a private house with two children inside, though they survived the attack.