Kyiv denies Russia's claim of control over contested Soledar; Ukraine set to receive more Western tanks

This has been CNBC's live blog covering updates on the war in Ukraine.

Russia said it now controls the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar in Donetsk, after months of intense fighting — a claim that Ukraine has denied. One Russian-appointed official previously said "pockets of resistance" of Ukrainian troops still remained, as Kyiv insisted as recently as Friday afternoon that its forces were still holding out.

Soledar is crucial as Russian control of the town can cut off Ukrainian forces fighting in embattled Bakhmut.

Western allies prepared to send more heavy weaponry to Ukraine, including equipment such as tanks previously deemed too provocative, ahead of an anticipated Russian spring offensive. The U.S. is still declining to say whether it will provide the Ukrainians with main battle tanks.

The Ukraine war has 'completely gone wrong' for Putin, FT journalist says
The Ukraine war has 'completely gone wrong' for Putin, FT journalist says

Zelenskyy says battle for Bakhmut and Soledar still ongoing

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin for a temporary cease-fire during Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.
Ukrinform | Future Publishing | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the battle for the eastern towns of Bakhmut and Soledar in the Donetsk region continues.

Earlier on Friday, the Kremlin said its forces had taken the salt mine town of Soledar.

Zelenskyy praised those "both on the front lines and all our other fronts," in a nightly address shared on his Telegram channel.

"Although the enemy has concentrated its greatest forces in this direction, our troops – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all defense and security forces – are defending the state. I thank every soldier, sergeant, officer of brigades and other army units who are bravely and staunchly performing their tasks," he said.

— Amanda Macias

Attacks on health care facilities higher in Ukraine than anywhere else in the world, UN says

Members of the Ukrainian military receive treatment for concussions and light injuries from Ukrainian military medics at a frontline field hospital on May 10, 2022 in Popasna, Ukraine.
Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

The United Nations said that the number of recorded attacks on health care facilities in 2022 was higher in Ukraine than anywhere else in the world.

"There were 745 incidents as of 4 January," Undersecretary-General Rosemary Di Carlo said in a speech before the United Nations Security Council.

"In the most affected regions in the east and south of the country, reportedly 15% of facilities are either partially or completely nonfunctional and up to 50% in Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv," she added.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. Ambassador to UN slams Russia for holding up global grain shipments

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield makes a statement at a stakeout at the Security Council at UN Headquarters. Meeting was convened at the request of the Russian Federation who accused Ukraine of developing biological weapons under the tutelage of the United States without providing any evidence.
Lev Radin | Lightrocket | Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield demanded Russia cooperate in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that has opened up the passage of more than 16.9 million metric tons of agricultural goods from Ukrainian ports.

"Due to Russia's deliberate slowdown of inspections, dozens of ships are waiting to depart and dozens more are waiting for inspections before they can bring their grain cargo to the world," Thomas Greenfield said in an address before the U.N. Security Council.

"This backlog means extra expense and extra delay for millions of tons of grain, a majority of which is destined for developing countries. The backlog means 2.5 million tons of grain are just sitting there, waiting to move," she said, adding that some vessels have been waiting for over a month.

"Grain is moving at just half the rate of the pace back in September and October. The initiative should operate as it was envisioned, moving five million tons of food per month. The world's hungry deserve nothing less," she added.

— Amanda Macias

Blinken reaffirms U.S. support and discusses security assistance with Ukraine's Kuleba

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, pictured here at the Ukrainian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, called Russia "worse than ISIS" after apparent evidence emerged of civilian atrocities near Kyiv.
Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to a State Department readout of the call.

"The two focused on continuing robust security and economic assistance in the run-up to, and beyond, the first anniversary in February of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine," wrote State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Blinken also reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine as Russia's war enters its second year and gave an update on the Biden administration's most recent security assistance package.

— Amanda Macias

A winter freeze near Kharkiv allows for easier river crossing

A winter freeze near Kharkiv allows Ukrainians to cross the frozen Siverskyi Donets River as workers repair a bombed bridge in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.

Most of Ukraine continues to experience a daily barrage of both missiles and drones from Russia as the nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the start of the war. 

A Ukrainian soldier crosses the frozen Siverskyi Donets River as workers repair the bombed bridge on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images
A local resident suffering from a stroke is transported to the hospital by healthcare workers on the frozen Siverskyi Donets River as workers repair the bombed bridge on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images
A local resident suffering from a stroke is transported to the hospital by healthcare workers on the frozen Siverskyi Donets River as workers repair the bombed bridge on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images
Fishers catch fish through holes drilled on the 20 cm thick ice covering the frozen Siverskyi Donets River on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images
Fishermen catch fish through holes drilled on the 20 cm thick ice covering the frozen Siverskyi Donets River on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images
People cross the frozen Siverskyi Donets River as workers repair the bombed bridge on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images
Workers repair the bombed bridge crossing the frozen Siverskyi Donets River on January 13, 2023 in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom | Getty Images

-Pierre Crom | Getty Images

Ukrainian officials meet with Biden's sanctions coordinator as war nears one-year mark

The US and Ukrainian float on the South Lawn of the White House ahead of a meeting between President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.
Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office Andriy Yermak said he met with President Joe Biden's sanctions coordinator, Amb. James O'Brien, via video conference to discuss "strengthening sanctions against individuals and legal entities that continue to support Russia's aggression against Ukraine."

"We focus on the most important people who have propaganda influence in Russia. In particular, those who personally participated in the annexation of Ukrainian territory. People who openly support the war in Ukraine. And some of them even say how many Ukrainians should be killed, how many attacks should be carried out against civilians and civilian infrastructure," Yermak said.

Yermak added that it was unacceptable that Russian propaganda influencers can freely visit and maintain properties in the United States, Great Britain and the European Union.

"Today it is propaganda from public people that has the greatest impact on Russian society. And if these people travel freely around the world and are fine with supporting the war and killing of Ukrainians, it is a signal to all Russians that everything is fine. It should not be so," Yermak said in a readout of the meeting.

Biden's ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova and Ukraine's Minister of Economy Yulia Svyrydenko also attended the meeting. 

— Amanda Macias

German exports to Russia down 52.8% in November compared to same period a year earlier

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the Red Square Victory Day Parade, on May 9, 2019 in Moscow, Russia.
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

German exports to Russia dropped by 52.8% to 1.2 billion euros in November 2022 compared to the same period a year prior, according to Germany's federal statistical office.

"In contrast, exports to the United States, the most important destination of German exports, increased by 30.9% to 14.4 billion euros," the office wrote, adding that motor vehicles and machinery were among the top exported goods.

Germany, Europe's largest economy, said that other important export partners were France at 10.5 billion euros and the Netherlands at 10.1 billion euros.

— Amanda Macias

12 vessels leave Ukrainian ports under Black Sea Grain Initiative

Ships, including those carrying grain from Ukraine and awaiting inspections, are seen anchored off the Istanbul coastline on November 02, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

Twelve vessels carrying 346,356 metric tons of grain and other food products have left Ukrainian ports, the organization overseeing the export of agricultural products said.

Two ships are destined for China, another two vessels will depart for Turkey, two more ships will travel to Greece and another two vessels will sail to Italy. The remaining four ships will head to Morocco, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia's naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen will discuss food security and energy costs triggered by Russia's war during a trip to Africa

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during the daily press briefing on May 7, 2021, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

High on U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's agenda on a multi-country tour of Africa will be efforts to mitigate the fallout of Russia's war in Ukraine.

"Russia's brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created global headwinds, including exacerbating food insecurity and high fertilizer and energy prices that are particularly being felt in African countries," a senior Treasury official said on a call with reporters.

"We will work with Africa to address the spillover effects of Russia's illegal war in Ukraine," added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Yellen's trip comes as the United Nation's Black Sea Grain Initiative deal, which has overseen the movement of more than 16.9 million metric tons of Ukrainian agricultural goods to global destinations, nears expiration.

— Amanda Macias

Putin ally suggests seizing property of war critics who fled Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (R).
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

A close ally of President Vladimir Putin suggested confiscating the property of Russians who have left the country and who "insult" the state and its armed forces from abroad.

The proposal from Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, was clearly aimed at opposition figures — many already designated as "foreign agents" — who have condemned the Ukraine war after fleeing the country to avoid arrest.

"Recently, some of our fellow citizens consider it possible to insult Russia, its inhabitants, soldiers and officers, and openly support villains, Nazis and murderers," Volodin said, the latter terms referring to the forces that Moscow claims to be fighting in Ukraine.

"Their goal is clear — to curry favour and try to maintain their well-being abroad," he wrote on his Telegram channel.

— Reuters

NATO planes to be sent to Romania to eye Russian activity

NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, right, and the President of Boeing International, Sir Michael Arthur, speak during a media conference at Melsbroek military airport in Melsbroek, Belgium, on Nov. 27, 2019.
Virginia Mayo | AP

NATO said it plans to deploy three surveillance planes to Romania next week to perform reconnaissance missions and to "monitor Russian military activity " within the 30-nation military alliance's territory.

The Airborne Warning and Control System surveillance planes, or AWACS, belong to a fleet of 14 usually based in Germany. Three of the aircraft will be sent Tuesday to an airbase near Romania's capital, Bucharest, on a mission expected to last several weeks, the 30-nation alliance said in a statement.

The planes "can detect aircraft hundreds of kilometers away, making them a key capability for NATO's deterrence and defense posture," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a statement.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, NATO has bolstered its presence on Europe's eastern flank, including by sending additional battlegroups to Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.

— Associated Press

Ukraine's defense minister says Ukraine is a 'de facto' member of NATO

Ukrainian Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov attends the Ukraine Security Consultative Group meeting at Ramstein air base on April 26, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
Thomas Lohnes | Getty Images

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov described his country as being a "de facto" member of the NATO alliance. He added that he is sure Ukraine will receive the advanced weaponry it's long sought from the West, including fighter jets and tanks.

"Ukraine as a country, and the armed forces of Ukraine, became [a] member of NATO," Reznikov told the BBC in an interview. "De facto, not de jure. Because we have weaponry, and the understanding of how to use it." De facto and de jure translate to "in fact" and "by law," respectively.

"It's true. It's a fact," Reznikov said, questioning why such a statement would be controversial. "I'm sure that in the near future, we'll become member of NATO, de jure."

While Western allies have sent billions of dollars worth of heavy weaponry to Ukraine already, they have been hesitant to provide Ukraine with items such as battle tanks and fighter jets for fear of provoking Russia into a more dangerous escalation. Reznikov dismissed those sentiments.

"This concern about the next level of escalation, for me, is some kind of protocol," he said.

NATO membership has been a long controversial topic for Ukraine, which Russia used as a pretext for its invasion. Ukraine has for years wanted to join the 30-country alliance, in a move that Russia and its President Vladimir Putin see as an existential security threat.

Moscow in late 2021 demanded that Ukraine pledge to never join NATO, a request that both Washington and Kyiv refused. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged NATO to allow Kyiv's fast-track accession. The alliance has so far been unwilling to accommodate this request, despite supplying Ukraine with support, weapons and military training.

NATO does not want to appear as if it is directly fighting Russia. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty says that an attack on one member means an attack on the entire alliance.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine denies Russia's claim of control over Soledar

Ukrainian officials are denying Russia's claim that its forces have taken control of the salt mining town of Soledar in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province.

"The statements of the Russian MoD about the capture of the city are not true. There are battles in Soledar," Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman of the Eastern group of the Ukrainian army, told local news outlet RBC-Ukraine.

If the Russian announcement is true, it would be Moscow's first noteworthy victory in several months.

— Natasha Turak

Russia's defense sector is likely using convicts for its manufacturing: UK MoD

It is "highly likely" that Russia is using convict labor to work in its defense manufacturing sector, the UK's Ministry of Defence said in its latest daily intelligence update.

"In November 2022, Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), Russia's largest tank manufacturer, told local media that it would employ 250 prisoners after meeting with the Federal Penal Service (FSIN)," the ministry wrote in a series of tweets.

"There is a long tradition of prison labour in Russia, but since 2017 forced labour as a specific criminal punishment was reintroduced," it added.

The ministry said that the FSIN has "been accused of extreme brutality and corruption."

— Natasha Turak

Russia claims control of Soledar after months of fighting

Maxar satellite imagery of bombed out apartment buildings and homes in Soledar, Ukraine.
Maxar | Maxar | Getty Images

Russia says it has taken control of Soledar, the eastern Ukrainian salt mining town in Donetsk that has been the site of bloody fighting for months. Russian authorities called the development a "crucial step."

The town is highly strategic as Russian control of it will cut off Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, a city that has seen some of the war's heaviest fighting in recent months.

Ukrainian officials said as recently as Friday afternoon that their forces continue to hold out after "hot" battles overnight.

— Natasha Turak

France hopes to send Ukraine light tanks in coming months; more Western countries may follow

France aims to send light combat tanks to Ukraine in two months, French armed forces minister Sébastien Lecornu said in a statement after holding a phone call with Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov.

The promise of the French AMX 10-RC tanks signifies a step-up in weapons provisions from the West to Ukraine, as tanks were previously deemed too much of an escalation risk to give to the Ukrainians. The recent decision to send tanks from the U.S. as well as the U.S.'s Patriot air defense system and Patriot missile batteries from Germany indicate that Western allies are ready to send more previously-withheld heavy weaponry to Ukraine ahead of an anticipated Russian spring offensive.

— Natasha Turak

Russian-installed official: 'Pockets of resistance' remain in Soledar

This grab taken from AFP video footage shows a member of Ukraine's military looking away as a BM-21'Grad' MLRS 122mm rocket launcher fires on the outskirts of Soledar on January 11, 2023.
Arman Soldin | Afp | Getty Images

Conflicting reports continue to emerge concerning the salt mining town of Soledar in Ukraine's embattled eastern Donetsk province.

Andrey Baevsky, a Russia-installed official in Donetsk, told Russian media outlet TASS that there are still "pockets of resistance" of Ukrainian troops holding out, after the head of the Russian private military firm Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Tuesday that his forces had captured the town.

"At the moment, indeed, there are still separate small pockets of resistance in Soledar, (but) our guys continue to crush the enemy in these places," Baevsky said.

"In general, the operation developed successfully and the western outskirts of Soledar are already completely under our control," he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected Prigozhin's assertion, saying on Wednesday night: "The fighting continues. The Donetsk direction is holding out. And we do everything, without stopping for a single day, to strengthen Ukrainian defense."

— Natasha Turak

White House declines to say if U.S. will equip Ukraine with main battle tanks

White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, November 28, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The White House declined to say whether the U.S. would specifically provide Ukraine with main battle tanks after other countries recently announced similar commitments.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a daily briefing that some weapons and equipment that Ukraine requests "won't always come from the United States," though a significant portion has.

Kirby said there are a wide variety of factors including location, timelines and future maintenance requirements, that contribute to the makeup of U.S. security assistance packages for Ukraine.

He added that the U.S. routinely works with Ukraine on "understanding their needs and capabilities" when assembling military aid packages.

Last week, Washington announced its largest package since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began nearly a year ago.

The upcoming military aid package, the 29th such tranche, brings U.S. commitment to Ukraine's fight to about $24.9 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.

New to this aid package are 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, armored tracked vehicles manufactured by U.S. defense firm BAE Systems. Bradleys are typically equipped with a rotating turret, mounted 25mm gun and TOW anti-tank missiles. The U.S. will provide 500 TOW anti-tank missiles and 250,000 rounds of ammunition for use with the Bradleys.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy praises troops holding the Ukrainian cities of Soledar and Bakhmut as Russian fighting intensifies

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint press conference with President of Guatemala Alejandro Giammattei on July 25, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised his country's forces for holding the cities of Soledar and Bakhmut as Russian fighting intensifies.

He vowed to funnel additional weapons to the Ukrainian troops in those regions and on the frontlines.

"The day will definitely come when the Ukrainian flag will be absolutely on par with all flags of the EU member states," Zelenskyy said in a nightly address shared on his official Telegram channel.

— Amanda Macias

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