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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Now is not the time for elections, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Nov. 4, 2023.

Thomas Peter | Reuters

It’s “irresponsible” to talk of holding elections during wartime, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday, saying discussions around holding a vote in March 2024 were inappropriate when Ukraine is focused on fighting Russia’s invasion.

“We all understand that now, in wartime, when there are so many challenges, it is absolutely irresponsible to throw the topic of elections into society in a lighthearted and playful way,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

“We must realize that now is the time of defense, the time of the battle that determines the fate of the state and people, not the time of manipulations,” he added.

There has been some talk around whether Ukraine, which is operating under martial law, should hold a presidential vote next spring. On the one hand, Kyiv wants to demonstrate its commitment to democratic processes as it looks to join the EU, but there are also concerns that a political distraction is the last thing Ukraine needs right now as its fight against Russia hangs in the balance, with little overall progress in retaking territory, and largely attritional warfare.

“I believe that now is not the right time for elections. And if we need to put an end to a political dispute and continue to work in unity, there are structures in the state that are capable of putting an end to it and giving society all the necessary answers. So that there is no room left for conflicts and someone else’s game against Ukraine.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Army chief’s assistant killed by explosive device hidden in birthday gift

Valery Zaluzhny at an event commemorating Ukraine’s Independence Day on Aug. 24, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny, confirmed Monday that his assistant, Hennadiy Chastyakov, was killed on his birthday when an unknown explosive device went off in one of the gifts.

“Today, under tragic circumstances, on his birthday, my assistant and close friend, Major Hennadiy Chastyakov, died in the family circle,” Zaluzhny wrote on Telegram,

“An unknown explosive device went off in one of the gifts. Hennadiy is survived by his wife and four children. My deepest condolences to the family,” he added.

Zaluzhny called Chastyakov’s death an “unspeakable pain and heavy loss for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and for me personally.”

Investigations are now taking place into the circumstances surrounding Chastyakov’s death, he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia says it has destroyed multiple drones over Crimea

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that it has destroyed multiple drones over Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula it has occupied since 2014.

On the morning of November 7, an attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack using seventeen aircraft-type UAVs on objects on the territory of the Russian Federation was stopped,” the ministry said on Telegram. A UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone.

Six years on from the day Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty of accession to absorb Crimea in the Russian Federation on March 18, 2020 in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“Duty air defense systems destroyed nine Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles and intercepted eight over the Black Sea and the territory of the Republic of Crimea,” it added.

Ukraine has not publicly commented on the alleged attack and CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has been typified by the use of drone warfare. Drones continue to be vital weapons for both sides, used as both explosive devices and for surveillance and reconnaissance.

— Holly Ellyatt

Kremlin insists Putin has not yet decided whether to run in 2024

The Kremlin said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet announced his decision to run in the 2024 election.

Citing six unnamed sources, Reuters reported earlier that Putin had decided to run in in March vote next year.

Asked to comment on the report, Kremlin Dmitry Peskov told TASS news agency that “Putin has not yet made any statements on this matter. And the campaign itself has not yet been officially announced.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin (R) and his spokesman Dmitry Peskov (L) attend the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on December 9, 2022.

Vyacheslav Oseledko | Afp | Getty Images

There is little real political plurality in Russia and even supposed “opposition” parties generally support Putin’s government. Peskov himself previously said in September that “if we assume that the president stands as a candidate, then it is obvious that there can be no real competition for the president at this current stage.”

The Russian presidential elections are scheduled to take place on March 17, 2024. TASS reported that the Federation Council, or Senate (the upper house of Russia’s parliament, or Federal Assembly) will make an official decision on the date of elections in December, after which political parties must hold their pre-election congresses and officially nominate candidates. 

Changes to Russia’s constitution in 2021 means Putin, age 71, can run for another two terms in office, potentially remaining in office until 2036.

Ukraine confirms 19 dead after Russian strike on awards ceremony

ZAPORIZHZHIA REGION, UKRAINE – JUNE 30, 2023 – Servicemen of the 128th separate mountain assault brigade pass a special obstacle course as part of the exam to receive a mountain assault beret. (Photo credit should read Dmytro Smoliyenko / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Future Publishing | Future Publishing | Getty Images

Ukraine’s 128th separate Transcarpathian Mountain Assault Brigade confirmed Monday that 19 of its soldiers died in a Russian strike on an awards ceremony last Friday.

“The missile attack by an insidious enemy took the lives of 19 fighters of the 128th separate mountain assault brigade,” it said on Facebook.

“Now a thorough check of all the circumstances of the tragedy is being conducted, until it is completed we call you not to spread unverified, often fake information.”

“Our best fighters have died… We express our sincere condolences to their relatives and promise to pay back 100 times more for our brothers,” the post concluded.

The deaths have stoked public anger given that Russia attacked the brigade during an awards ceremony, an even that was seen as an easy target.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took the unusual step of addressing the incident and losses in his nightly address on Sunday, admitting that the “tragedy could have been avoided.”

Russia’s Putin to stay in power past 2024, sources say

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 8, 2023.

Grigory Sysoev | Sputnik | via Reuters

Vladimir Putin has decided to run in the March presidential election, a move that will keep him in power until least 2030, as the Kremlin chief feels he must steer Russia through the most perilous period in decades, six sources told Reuters.

Putin, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president for longer than any other Russian ruler since Josef Stalin, beating even Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year tenure. Putin turned 71 on Oct. 7.

The sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of Kremlin politics, said that news of Putin’s decision had trickled down and that advisers were now preparing for the campaign and a Putin election.

For Putin, who opinion polls show enjoys approval ratings of 80% inside Russia, the election is a formality if he runs: with the support of the state, the state media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win.

“The decision has been made – he will run,” said one of the sources who has knowledge of planning. A choreographed hint is due to come within a few weeks, another source said, confirming a Kommersant newspaper report last month.

Another source, also acquainted with the Kremlin’s thinking, confirmed that a decision had been made and that Putin’s advisers were preparing for Putin’s participation. Three other sources said the decision had been made: Putin will run.

“The world we look out upon is very dangerous,” said one of the sources.

— Reuters

‘Wet from head to toe’: Russian morale reportedly dropping as weather changes

Eyewitness accounts from deployed Russian troops in Ukraine suggest that the soldiers’ battle against the elements remains a major preoccupation for Russia’s army, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Sunday.

In an intelligence update on X, formerly known as Twitter, the ministry said Russian soldiers who recently returned from Ukraine who were speaking at the Ogakov Readings military affairs conference in Moscow on Nov. 1 described being “wet from head to toe” for weeks on end on the front line.

“One soldier highlighted that the risk of fire alerting Ukrainian forces meant that they ‘couldn’t even boil a mug of tea.’ They highlighted living and eating ‘monotonous’ food in pervasive mud,” the U.K. noted.

A soldier from a Ukrainian assault brigade walks on a muddy road used to transport and position British-made L118 105 mm Howitzers, on March 4, 2023, near Bakhmut, Ukraine.

John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Maintaining a decent level of personal comfort and sound administration in defensive positions is challenging for any army, the ministry noted, “however, open-source evidence suggests a generally very poor level on enforcement of basic field administration amongst Russian forces.”

“This is likely partially caused by a deficit in motivated junior commanders as well as variable logistical support.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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