Ukraine war: Fury in Russia at military top brass, killer drones, Sweden NATO membership

1. Russia’s outrage over devastating attack on troops in Ukraine

Russians have called for military commanders to be punished after several Russian soldiers died in an attack in Ukraine.

Nationalist bloggers and lawmakers accused Russia’s top brass of ignoring the risk of a Ukrainian strike and leaving troops in a dangerous situation.

In a rare revelation, Russia’s defense ministry said 63 soldiers were killed on New Year’s Eve, after a large explosion destroyed a makeshift barracks in Makiivka in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Kyiv put the death toll at around 400 Russian soldiers dead and 300 wounded in the incident, making it one of the deadliest attacks of the war so far.

Russian critics say the soldiers were placed next to an ammunition dump by military commanders, exaggerating the devastation caused by the Ukrainian strike.

Four rockets fired from US-made HIMARS launchers hit the site, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Russian military bloggers, who have considerable influence in the country, have also accused senior officials of knowing the site was within range of Ukrainian rockets.

Many of those killed were recently mobilized troops, meaning they were called up by Russian authorities rather than volunteering to fight.

Igor Girkin, one of the most high-profile Russian military bloggers, killed or wounded hundreds of men. Ammunition was stored at the site and military equipment was not hidden there, he said.

Archangel Spetznaz Z, another Russian blogger with more than 700,000 followers, wrote, “What happened in Makivka was terrible. “Who would have thought to put a large number of personnel in one building, where even a fool would be hit by artillery, and many people would be injured or killed?”

Commanders “couldn’t care less”, he added.

2. Putin orders screening of documentaries about Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered his government to screen “documentary films” on the war in Ukraine.

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The Ministry of Culture must now show national documentary films in cinemas on subjects related to Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and the fight against “Ukrainian neo-Nazis”, a message published by the Kremlin website read.

Russia defends its war in Ukraine as an attempt to “de-Nazify” the country, accusing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and leaders in Kyiv of being ultra-nationalists.

Experts challenge claims that Ukraine is ruled by Nazis as false.

The decision to examine the Ukraine-related video comes after a number of Russian counter-filings. In recent months, Moscow forces have withdrawn from the northeastern Kharkiv region and the southern city of Kherson.

Since the offensive began in February, Russia has passed several laws restricting information about the war in Ukraine.

A law severely punishes anyone who spreads what authorities consider “lies” about the Russian armed forces.

3. France reaffirms support for Sweden’s NATO bid

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his country’s continued support for Sweden’s bid to join NATO on Tuesday during a visit to the Nordic country.

Macron, who met Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristerson in Stockholm, reiterated his desire to see Sweden and Finland join the Western military alliance.

Sweden launched a bid to join NATO in May 2022, along with Finland, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although the pair are closely associated with the US-led alliance, they are not officially part of NATO.

Their membership is currently blocked by Turkey and Hungary.

Macron said he wanted Sweden to join “as quickly as possible”, while his Swedish counterpart expressed interest in strengthening cooperation with France in the defense and space sectors.

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“You can count on France’s support and solidarity,” Macron insisted.

The two leaders reiterated Europe’s resolve to support Ukraine as it faces a Russian offensive and as winter sets in.

“Ukrainians need our support more than ever,” Macron said.

“Ukraine’s victory is existential for Europe and the whole world,” added Ulf Kristerson.

Macron visited Sweden to explore the possibility of building a new nuclear power plant in the Nordic country, among other things.

It will be his first visit to the EU capital since Sweden took over the six-month rotating EU Council presidency on January 1.

4. Drone advancements in Ukraine could usher in the dawn of killer robots

Drone advances in Ukraine accelerate a long-awaited technology trend that could see the world’s first fully autonomous robots on the battlefield

Military analysts and researchers warn that the longer the war drags on, the more likely it is that drones will be used to identify, select and attack targets without human assistance.

Such a development ushered in the age of warfare and marked a revolution in military technology as profound as the introduction of the machine gun.

Ukraine already has semi-autonomous attack drones and counter-drone weapons that use AI. Russia also claims to have AI weapons, although this has not been proven.

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of a country fielding combat robots that have completely killed themselves.

Experts say it is only a matter of time before Russia or Ukraine deploys them.

“Many states are developing this technology,” said Zachary Cullenborn, a weapons innovation analyst at George Mason University. “Apparently, it’s not that hard.”

Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, acknowledged that fully autonomous killer drones are a “logical and inevitable next step” in weapons development.

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Ukraine is doing “a lot of R&D in this direction,” he said.

“I think the potential for this in the next six months is great,” Fedorov told reporters in a recent interview.

Ukrainian military leaders currently prohibit the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons, although that may change.

5. Bulgaria quits Russian gas in deal with Turkey

Bulgaria signed an energy deal with Turkey on Tuesday in a bid to expand supplies after Russia halted gas deliveries due to the Ukraine war.

“This [deal] It allows us to buy gas from all international producers and unload it in Turkey, which suits us,” said Bulgaria’s interim energy minister Rosen Hristov.

According to the Turkish Energy Minister, Fatih Donmez, the contract will apply for the next thirteen years and will transport up to 1.5 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year.

This gas is equivalent to almost half of Bulgaria’s total needs.

The agreement between Bulgarian public gas operator Bulgargaz and Turkish public gas company Botas provides access to the country’s terminals and Turkish transit networks.

It also has a pledge to “enhance safety [gas] Deliveries” throughout the Balkan region.

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Moscow gave Bulgaria — an EU member state — nearly all the gas it needed, an estimated 3 billion cubic meters of gas.

Russia stopped deliveries in April 2022 as Sofia was one of the countries that refused to pay for gas in rubles demanded by Russia in retaliation for EU sanctions.

Currently, Bulgaria imports one billion cubic meters of natural gas from Azerbaijan.

In July, it opened a new gas pipeline connecting to Greece and supplied by LNG from the US.

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