Key developments on Jan. 26:
- Military intelligence: Russia currently refuses international commission to investigate Il-76 plane crash
- Bloomberg: Putin signals openness to peace talks, US is skeptical
- Prosecutor’s Office: Russian shelling of Donetsk Oblast town kills woman
- Ukraine retrieves bodies of 77 fallen soldiers
Russia has not passed on information about the Russian Il-76 transport plane crash to the International Committee of Red Cross yet for an international investigation, Ukraine's military intelligence (HUR) spokesperson Andrii Yusov said on Jan. 26.
Ukraine has called for an international investigation to establish the facts about the plane crash in Russia's Belgorod Oblast on Jan. 24.
Moscow claims that Ukrainian air defenses shot down the plane, which it claims to have been carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs).
"Such information (about Ukrainian prisoners of war allegedly on the board) should be public and passed on, in particular, by the aggressor state to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which should verify the health status, conditions of detention and treatment of prisoners of war," Yusov said on TV. "As far as we know, no such information has been transferred to the International Committee of the Red Cross at this stage."
Ukraine's military intelligence confirmed that a prisoner exchange had been planned for Jan. 24 but added that the Russian side had not informed the Ukrainian side about the need to ensure airspace safety over Belgorod before the plane crash.
Ukraine said that it is still trying to find more details about the POWs that were supposed to participate in the exchange.
Without neither confirming nor denying Ukraine's involvement in the plane crash, Ukraine's General Staff said in its statement that Kyiv is closely monitoring the launch points of Russian missiles and the logistics of their delivery, especially with the use of military transport aircraft, amid intensifying Russian attacks.
"Concerning specific causes of the plane's crash, the request to create an international commission is logical and well-founded," Yusov said. Such an investigation could examine the wreckage of the plane and uncover its black box, he noted.
"At the moment, as we hear, Russia rejects the possibility of such a commission."
According to the Russian state news agency TASS, Russian authorities have discovered both black boxes of the downed aircraft, sending them to a Moscow military laboratory for analysis.
A senior Russian lawmaker Andrey Kartopolov claimed on Jan. 25 that Ukraine was given a 15-minute warning ahead of the flight. Kyiv is denying this claim.
Ukraine's Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he had turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to find out whether Russia informed the organization about the supposed POW transport.
"I want to get an official response from the ICRC that the Russian Federation announced they would be transporting Ukrainian prisoners of war in one way or another on that day," Lubinets said.
"I am 99% convinced that they did not inform anyone because they never do this, just as they violate other norms of the Geneva Convention."
Following Russia's appeal, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to address the Il-76 crash but failed to give a definitive statement on the events.
"The United Nations is not in a position to verify these reports or the circumstances of the crash," UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo said.
Bloomberg: Putin signals openness to peace talks, US is skeptical
Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending signals to the U.S. that he is willing to discuss terms to end Russia's war against Ukraine, Bloomberg reported on Jan. 25, citing two undisclosed sources close to the Kremlin.
Except for unsuccessful talks during the spring of 2022, there have been no direct peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Kyiv said categorically that a full Russian withdrawal is a condition for any talks.
Russian representatives relayed messages to senior U.S. officials last month through an undisclosed intermediary, Bloomberg wrote. In a surprising concession, Putin allegedly said he is willing to drop his opposition to Ukraine joining NATO in exchange for control over the occupied Ukrainian territories, amounting to about 18% of Ukraine.
The Russian leader has made no indication of such a concession in public. During a December 2023 conference, Putin reaffirmed that the original stated goals of the full-scale invasion remain the same.
"There will be peace when we achieve our goals. They haven't changed. Denazification of Ukraine, the demilitarization of Ukraine," Putin said.
The Kremlin has used false accusations of Nazi-led Ukraine to justify its aggression. Russia has also repeatedly spoken out against Kyiv's NATO aspirations, labeling them as a threat to its own security.
Kyiv has rejected recognizing any territorial concessions in exchange for peace. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said that freezing the war in its current state would only give Russia time to recuperate for another attack later on.
"If there is a stalemate and a frozen conflict, we have to honestly say that our children, or our grandchildren, will have to fight," Zelensky told journalists in November 2023.
U.S. officials approached by Bloomberg said they are unaware of any new efforts on Putin's part, adding that such potential attempts would likely be disingenuous.
They believe this may be an attempt to drive a wedge between Ukraine and its allies. It could also undermine Zelensky's effort to mobilize global support for his 10-point peace formula, which Ukraine envisions as a basis for peace talks.
"The Russians want us to create this idea that the channel is there and that everything depends on the U.S., so no one or nothing else plays a role," Fiona Hill, a former top White House official responsible for Russia, told Bloomberg.
"It's a classic Russian play."
Concerns about Ukraine's prospects in the war have been mounting as over $100 billion in U.S. and EU aid remain stalled by domestic political disputes. In turn, Russia has ramped up its defense production and secured assistance from its partners like Iran or North Korea.
Prosecutor’s Office: Russian shelling of Donetsk Oblast town kills woman
Russian troops shelled the town of Krasnohorivka in Donetsk Oblast on the afternoon of Jan. 26, killing a 60-year-old woman, the regional prosecutor’s office reported.
The woman’s death comes amid active fighting in the area as Russia seeks to occupy the entirety of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk Oblast.
Krasnohorivka, a town in the Marinka community with a pre-war population of around 14,700 and located roughly 30 kilometers west of the Russian-occupied Donetsk city, lies at the front line.
Russian forces also struck Novohrodivka near the city of Pokrovsk overnight on Jan. 26, wounding an 11-year-old boy who was sleeping in his room, the prosecutors said on Telegram.
Russia fired two Soviet-era S-300 missiles at Novohrodivka, damaging 10 houses, two apartment buildings, a store, garages, and civilian cars, according to the Donetsk Oblast Prosecutor’s Office.
Donetsk Oblast’s settlements close to the front line suffer from regular Russian attacks, leading to civilian casualties and large-scale destruction of homes and infrastructure.
Also on Jan. 26, Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported that a Russian FPV (first-person-view) drone struck a volunteer's car in the front-line town of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk Oblast.
Since the start of Russia's war against Ukraine in 2014, local and international charities and volunteers have been risking their lives to help civilians in front-line areas. In September last year, two foreign volunteers were killed, and two more were hospitalized when their car was struck by Russian shelling while driving through Chasiv Yar.
The car struck on Jan. 26 had distinct humanitarian mission markings on the hood and roof, according to Ukrainska Pravda's journalists who were filming the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The drone first passed over the car, then turned around and dropped explosives at the vehicle "in a few seconds," the media outlet wrote.
The car reportedly belongs to Yevhen Tkachov, a volunteer of the humanitarian mission "Proliska" supported by the UN Refugee Agency. Tkachov managed to hide ahead of the attack, as did the journalists.
Ukraine retrieves bodies of 77 fallen soldiers
The bodies of 77 fallen Ukrainian soldiers were returned to the Ukraine-controlled territory on Jan. 26, the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of the Prisoners of War reported.
The Geneva Conventions dictate that people who lost their lives during war are entitled to a dignified burial. The bodies of around 2,000 soldiers have been repatriated to Ukraine in the last two years, according to the headquarters.
“Preparation work for the repatriation event was carried out for a long time,” the headquarters said on Telegram, thanking the International Committee of the Red Cross for assistance.
The retrieval was carried out in coordination with the Security Service of Ukraine, the Interior Ministry, the Armed Forces, emergency services, and other state structures.
The bodies of Ukrainian soldiers will be transported to specialized state institutions for forensic examination and identification. Afterward, they will be handed over to their relatives for the funeral.
In the previous transfer on Dec. 22, the headquarters reported that the bodies of 66 fallen Ukrainian soldiers had been returned for burial.
Ukraine has not disclosed how many soldiers were killed in Russia’s full-scale invasion. Former Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in July 2022 that this information would remain secret until the end of martial law.