- Kiev and surroundings under drone attack – governor
- Putin meets ally Lukashenko in Minsk
- Russian troops in Belarus to conduct exercises – Interfax
- Kissinger says the time is approaching for a negotiated peace
KYIV, Dec. 19 (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was ready for all possible defense scenarios against Moscow and its ally Belarus, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin headed for Belarus and Russian troops stationed there prepared to conduct exercises to be carried out.
Officials in Kiev have been warning for months that neighboring Belarus could join Russian forces and once again serve as a launching pad for another attack to form a second front in the months-long war.
“Protecting our border, both with Russia and Belarus, is our constant priority,” Zelenskiy said after a Sunday meeting of Ukraine’s top military command. “We are preparing for all possible defense scenarios.”
Putin will go to Belarus on Monday for his first visit in 3.5 years. The Kremlin describes it as a broad “working visit” to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus – one of Russia’s closest allies – allowed its territory to be used as a launch pad for Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, but has not directly joined the fighting. Lukashenko has repeatedly said he has no intention of sending troops from his country to Ukraine.
Whatever Lukashenko could be persuaded to do for Russia, “this will not help them, nor any other sick ideas in this war against Ukraine and Ukrainians,” Zelenskiy said.
Russian troops moved to Belarus in October will conduct battalion tactical exercises, the Russian news agency Interfax reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry.
It was not immediately clear when and where in Belarus the exercises will be held.
Kiev and surrounding areas were attacked again early Monday, with the Ukrainian capital’s military administration saying nine Iranian Shahed drones had been shot down in Kiev’s airspace.
“Air defense systems are at work in the region,” Kiev region governor Oleksiy Kuleba told Telegram. “Stay in shelters and safe places until the alarm is over. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”
Several loud booms were heard, but it was not immediately clear whether it was air defense systems destroying the drones or drones hitting their targets.
Zelenskiy on Sunday again called on Western nations to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses following weeks of Russian airstrikes on the country’s energy grid as a frigid winter sets in.
Zelenskiy said power has been restored to three million Ukrainians in the past 24 hours after a massive rocket attack on power infrastructure on Friday that killed three people and damaged nine power plants.
“Electricity has been restored for another three million Ukrainians,” he said. “Plus six million yesterday. That means after the terrorist attacks on Friday, we already have results for nine million of our people.”
The conflict has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and displaced millions from their homes.
Zelenskiy told the Ukrainians that forces were holding out in the town of Bakhmut – the scene of the country’s fiercest fighting for many weeks as Russia attempts to advance into the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
“The battlefield in Bakhmut is critical,” he said. “We control the city, even though the occupiers are doing everything they can to leave no wall undamaged.”
Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed administrator of the Moscow-controlled part of the Donetsk region, said Ukrainian troops fired on a hospital in Donetsk city, killing one person and wounding several others.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield accounts.
KISSINGER CALLS FOR NEGOTIATION
Putin sees what he calls Russia’s “special military operation” as a turning point when Moscow finally rose against a Western bloc, led by the United States, that sought to capitalize on the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 by destroy.
Kiev and the West say Putin has no justification for what they have labeled an imperial war of occupation that has led to Russia now controlling about a fifth of Ukraine.
Henry Kissinger, an architect of the Cold War policy of détente toward the Soviet Union as secretary of state in the 1970s, said the time was approaching for negotiated peace.
“The time is approaching to build on the strategic changes already made and integrate them into a new structure to achieve peace through negotiation,” Kissinger wrote in The Spectator magazine.
Ukraine rejected the proposal, saying it amounted to appeasing the aggressor by sacrificing parts of Ukraine.
“All proponents of simple solutions should remember the obvious: any agreement with the devil – a bad peace at the expense of Ukrainian territories – will be a victory for Putin and a recipe for success for autocrats around the world,” the president said. Ukrainian Presidential Assistant Mykhailo Podolyak. said on Telegram.
Kremlin officials could not be reached for comment late Sunday.
Reporting by Reuters Bureaus Written by Lincoln Feast Edited by Shri Navaratnam
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