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Ukraine latest updates: US troops arrive in Germany

Ukraine news from February 4: Troops deployed to reinforce Washington’s NATO allies arrive in Wiesbaden, US military says.

A column of US army soldiers boards an aircraft
S Army soldiers from the 18th Airborne Division board a C-17 aircraft as they deploy to Europe from Fort Bragg

The first US troops deployed to Europe to reinforce Washington’s NATO allies have arrived in Germany, the US military’s European Command has said.

Meanwhile, China put on a united front with Russia on Friday as the Ukraine crisis escalates, with President Xi Jinping joining Vladimir Putin in opposing further NATO expansion.

In a joint statement issued on Friday after the Russian president met Xi in Beijing, the two powers called on NATO to “abandon the ideological approaches of the Cold War”.

The United States and its European partners fear Russia may be readying an attack on its neighbour given Moscow’s massing of more than 100,000 soldiers near the two countries’ shared border. But the Kremlin denies such plans and instead blames Washington and NATO for undermining the region’s security.

This live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for February 4.

Germany should send Ukraine weapons: Security conference chief designate

Germany should step up its leadership on the international stage and liberalise its arms exports policy, including considering sending weapons to Ukraine, the future chief of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), Christoph Heusgen has said in an interview.

Heusgen said that Berlin was showing political leadership in the crisis – for example, reviving the Normandy format of talks with representatives from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

But Germany should consider exporting weapons so Ukraine could defend itself, too, said Heusgen, the former senior German diplomat who will take over the MSC at the end of this year’s event on February 18-20. Using history as an excuse was no longer appropriate or even logical, he said.

Hacking team tied to Russia targeted Western ‘government entity’ in Ukraine: Researchers

A hacking team that Ukraine says is controlled by Russian intelligence has targeted a wide range of organisations in the country, including a “Western government entity,” according to cybersecurity research.

In a report, Microsoft Corp said a group called “Gameredon” had tried to obtain sensitive information from a wide range of military, governmental and nongovernmental organisations in Ukraine since last October.

The report included a screenshot of one such attempt, which showed an email, embedded with malicious code, disguised as an official update on the COVID-19 pandemic from the World Health Organization.

US soldiers expected to land in Poland Saturday

The first main US forces are expected to arrive in Poland on Saturday, defence sources have told Reuters, in order to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank.

The sources, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the troops’ arrival, said that the plans could change depending on security and logistics.

US military equipment began to arrive in Poland this week.

Ukrainian troops hold drills with US missiles

Ukrainian troops have trained at the Yavoriv military base in western Ukraine, using anti-tank missiles, launchers and other military hardware delivered by the US as part of a $200m security package.

Soldiers, some in white camouflage gear, fired missiles or stood observing, while military vehicles drove across a snowy landscape.

“These weapons will help stop military vehicles, damage them and in the urban environment they will allow us to destroy buildings where the enemy hides,” said Andriy Bestyuk, spokesman for the General Staff of the Ukrainian army.

White House: Looking at options to lower gas prices for Americans

The White House has said President Joe Biden is still looking at options to lower petrol prices for Americans and suggested oil companies are not drilling as much as they could be.

Press secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters the US has been in touch with allies and suppliers to ensure a steady flow of natural gas to Europe should Russia invade Ukraine and disrupt supplies.

As for whether or not there could be more oil drilling, “I would point you to the oil companies on what available places they have and if they are maximising that. My understanding is they are not.”

Biden, Germany’s Scholz to discuss deterring Russian aggression: White House

US President Joe Biden plans to discuss with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz a joint commitment to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine next week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said.

“They will affirm the deep and enduring ties with between the United States and Germany and discuss their shared commitment to ongoing diplomacy and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” Psaki said.

Macron to push peace talks progress during Moscow trip: Official

Macron will seek to capitalise on progress made during peace talks on eastern Ukraine last month when he holds face-to-face talks with Putin next week, a French presidency official has said.

The official said Macron would also see whether there could be ways for Russia to reduce its military buildup in the region to make it less threatening as part of efforts to defuse tensions.

US troops arrive in Germany

The first US troops deployed to Europe to reinforce Washington’s NATO allies have arrived in Germany, the US military’s European Command says.

“Soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps arrived in Wiesbaden today,” a spokesperson for the command said in a statement, adding that they would establish a headquarters in Germany to support 1,700 paratroopers meant to deploy to Poland.

“These are the first of 2,000 soldiers to arrive in Europe following the Pentagon’s announcement of additional forces moving from the United States to Europe in support of our NATO allies,” the statement said.

Who are the Russia-backed separatists?

Since fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, separatist rebels of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics have been accused of being proxies for Russian interests, if not simply Russian soldiers in disguise.

But who exactly are the rebels in the statelets known as the DPR and LPR, home to 2.3 million and 1.5 million people respectively?

Facing Putin’s threat, Ukraine’s president plays two roles

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is currently having to walk a political tightrope between the country’s foreign policy and his domestic legitimacy.

Read more on the Ukrainian president’s balancing act here.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

UK and Germany agree on need for ‘consistent’ Russia message

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Germany’s Scholz have agreed that Western allies need to deliver a “clear and consistent” message to Russia on the repercussions of any attack on Ukraine.

A statement from Johnson’s office said the two leaders also concurred during their talks by phone on the importance of dialogue with Moscow, adding that they would seek to use all diplomatic channels available to bring an end to the current tension.

“They agreed to continue working together and with other international partners on a comprehensive package of sanctions. The Prime Minister stressed that those sanctions should be ready to come into force immediately in the event of further Russian incursion into Ukraine,” the statement said.

Russia-China joint statement on ‘no-limits’ partnership

Moscow and Beijing have affirmed that their tightened relationship is superior to any political or military alliance of the Cold War era, will have “no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation” and is aimed at countering the influence of the US.

“Friendship between the two States has no limits,” the two powers’ declared in a joint statement, announcing plans to collaborate in a host of areas including space, climate change, artificial intelligence and control of the internet.

Here are some of the key points from the statement, which was issued following Xi and Putin’s meeting.

  • Russia voiced support for China’s stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposition to any form of independence for the island.
  • Both expressed opposition to the AUKUS alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, which they said increased the danger of an arms race.
  • China joined Russia in calling for an end to NATO enlargement and supported its demand for security guarantees from the West, notably regarding Ukraine.
  • Both expressed concern about the US’s plans to develop missile defence and deploy it in various parts of the world.
  • They also criticised attempts by “certain states” to establish global hegemony and impose their own standards of democracy, a thinly veiled barb aimed directly at Washington.
  • Both said they planned to strengthen their cooperation on artificial intelligence and information security.

Lithuanian PM raises alarm over presence of Russian troops in Belarus

Russia’s recent deployment of troops to Belarus is of “great concern” to the neighbouring Baltic states, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has said.

“[The] Russian troop deployment in Belarus for so-called exercises is a great concern to us, we must be ready to react at [the] European Union level,” Simonyte told a news conference after meeting with her Estonian and Latvian counterparts.

“We must send a message to Russia that the price for further aggression would be very high,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry says the UK’s move to introduce new legislation that could be used to toughen London’s sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis will “cause another escalation of tensions”.

“A reaction will follow,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Russia-Ukraine crisis: When oil prices climb, Putin gets bolder

Amid the historic tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the grand geopolitical dynamics currently unfolding between Moscow and the West, the role that crude oil plays in greasing the wheels of conflict can become obscured.

But a look back at past conflicts reveals a strong correlation between soaring oil prices and Moscow’s willingness to assert its will aggressively beyond its borders.

Soviet nostalgia on Ukraine’s impoverished front line

In Krasnohorivka, a city in conflict-hit eastern Ukraine, some people say they feel abandoned by the central government in Kyiv and long for a return to the prosperity they claim to have enjoyed while living under the banner of the Soviet Union.

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The Ukraine-Russia crisis in infographics

Al Jazeera has put together a series of infographics that explain the background of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Have a look here.

UK has ‘high confidence’ Russia is seeking to ‘engineer a pretext’ for invasion

The UK has “high confidence” that Russia is seeking to “engineer a pretext” to invade Ukraine, Johnson’s spokesman says, referring to US intelligence reports.

“I can’t comment on the specific intelligence but we have high confidence Russia is planning to engineer a pretext, blaming Ukraine for the attack in order to justify a Russian incursion into Ukraine,” the spokesman said.

NATO chief Stoltenberg to head Norway central bank

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will become Norway’s central bank (Norges Bank) new chief, the country’s government has said.

While the job is open from March 1, Stoltenberg has said he will first serve out his term at NATO, which runs until September 30. Norges Bank separately said it expects the new governor to take over on or around December 1 this year.

The appointment ends any speculation that Stoltenberg would stay on at NATO, meaning the search for his successor must now begin in earnest ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s leaders scheduled to take place in June.

Russia warns of ‘reaction’ to UK sanctions move

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry says the UK’s move to introduce new legislation that could be used to toughen London’s sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis will “cause another escalation of tensions”.

“A reaction will follow,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Germany’s Scholz to visit Kyiv, Moscow

The German chancellor will travel to Ukraine on February 14 before heading onwards to Russia for a meeting with Putin a day later, a government spokesperson says.

The trip will mark Scholz’s first visit to both countries since he replaced former German leader Angela Merkel in December, and comes amid criticism that he has kept a comparatively low profile amid widespread diplomatic efforts aimed at defusing the crisis.

Berlin was also talking to Paris and Warsaw about organising a meeting between Scholz and the leaders of France and Poland, the German government spokesperson added.

Moscow and Beijing tell NATO to stop expansion

Russia and China have issued a joint statement voicing opposition to any further NATO expansion.

The two powers’ called on the US-led alliance to abandon its “ideologized Cold War approaches”.

A halt to NATO’s eastwards addition of new member states is a key demand of the Kremlin in its standoff with the West over Ukraine. The US has rejected that proposal but said it is willing to discuss other topics such as arms control.

China supports Russia’s proposals to create legally binding security guarantees in Europe, the joint statement said.

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Erdogan slams Western leaders’ efforts on Ukraine: Reports

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have done nothing to help resolve the Russia-Ukraine crisis and are a “hindrance” to efforts to achieve a resolution, according to Turkish media reports.

The comments come after Erdogan met Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Thursday and repeated an offer for Turkey to mediate the crisis with Moscow. He also proposed hosting a meeting of the Ukrainian and Russian leaders.

“I have to say this very clearly: if you pay attention, the West has unfortunately not contributed anything to solving this matter,” Erdogan told reporters on his return flight from the Ukrainian capital. “I can say they were literally only a hindrance”.

“There is a serious issue in Europe now in terms of leaders who can solve this issue,” he added. “[And] When we look at…the United States, Biden has not yet shown a positive approach to the matter.”

Putin announces new gas contract during Xi meet

Russia’s president has unveiled a new gas deal with China, promising to up Moscow’s exports at a time when the Kremlin is at odds with European customers over Ukraine.

“Our oilmen have prepared very good new solutions on hydrocarbon supplies to the People’s Republic of China,” Putin said during his meeting with Xi.

“And a step forward was made in the gas industry, I mean a new contract on supplying 10 billion cubic metres (353 billion cubic feet) per year to China from Russia’s Far East,” he added.

Russia is already Beijing’s third-largest gas supplier and has been strengthening ties with China – the world’s biggest energy consumer – while reducing its dependence on its traditional buyers in Europe.

Kremlin says Putin will discuss Russia’s security demands with Macron

Putin will talk to Macron about Russia’s demands for security guarantees from the West during the latter’s visit to Moscow next week, the Kremlin has said.

Russia considers the planned visit important, and Putin will tell the French leader his interpretation of Washington’s initial response to Russia’s demands, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing.

Continuing the diplomatic effort, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to visit Moscow on February 15, Peskov said. But no agreement has yet been reached on a proposal from Turkey to host talks between Russia and Ukraine, he added.

Reporter confronts US spokesperson over Russia claims

Footage being shared on social media shows a tense exchange between Matt Lee, a reporter for The Associated Press, and US State Department spokesman Ned Price after the journalist asked for Washington to provide evidence to back up its recent allegations against Russia.

The US has repeatedly warned Russia may be readying an attack against Ukraine and on Thursday accused Moscow of a plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that the Kremlin could use as a pretext to take military action against its neighbour.

“It’s an action that you say they have taken, but you have shown no evidence to confirm that,” Lee said to Price during a news briefing in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

Price replied that the US’ claim was “derived from intelligence information” and that officials only declassify information when they are confident in its accuracy.

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