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Latest in Ukraine: Alcohol Contributing to Russian Casualties, UK Says

on 4/2/2023
New developments: “Russian UNSC presidency is a slap in the face to the international community,” said Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba in a tweet. On Saturday, Russia took over the presidency of the U.N.'s top security body, which rotates every month. The last time Moscow held the post was in February 2022, when its troops launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine's top security agency notified Metropolitan Pavel, the abbot of famed Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Orthodox monastery that he was suspected of justifying Russia's aggression, a criminal offense. The Metropolitan refuses to vacate the religious site. A new $2.6 billion U.S. military aid package that could include air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks for Ukraine could be announced next week, U.S. officials say. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu promised during a visit to Moscow to boost munitions supplies to Russian forces in Ukraine, according to footage published by the Defense Ministry on Saturday on Telegram. A "significant minority" of the some 200,000 casualties Russia has suffered since invading Ukraine were due to noncombat causes, the British Defense Ministry said Sunday in its latest intelligence update. The noncombat causes include alcohol consumption, road traffic accidents and "climatic injuries" such as hypothermia. "Russian commanders likely identify pervasive alcohol abuse as particularly detrimental to combat effectiveness," the update said. "However, with heavy drinking pervasive across much of Russian society, it has long been seen as a tacitly accepted part of military life, even on combat operations." Meanwhile, a Ukrainian spring counteroffensive could begin anytime now, Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov said last week. According to the Associated Press, Kyiv is gearing up for a long fight, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is working to keep troops and civilians motivated. In an interview with The Associated Press, Zelenskyy said Western help has been vital in strengthening Ukraine’s resistance and in shaping the course of the war, now in its 13th month of intense fighting with no negotiated peace in sight. The Ukrainian military starts the spring with an influx of powerful weapons. Germany said this week it had delivered the 18 Leopard 2 tanks it promised to Ukraine. Poland, Canada and Norway have also handed over their pledged Leopard tanks. Additionally, British Challenger tanks have arrived, while Ukraine’s defense minister says he hopes Western partners will supply at least two battalions of the German-made Leopard 2s by April. He expects six or seven battalions of Leopard 1 tanks, with ammunition, from a coalition of countries. About 80 tanks make up a battalion. The U.S. pledged Abrams tanks, and France promised light tanks, along with training of Ukrainian soldiers. More aid A new $2.6 billion U.S. military aid package that could include air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks for Ukraine's fight against Russia is expected to be announced as soon as Monday, U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Friday. A half-dozen types of munitions, including tank munitions, are also expected to be on the list of equipment that could be finalized this weekend. The officials added that the dollar amount and specific equipment in the package could change. Also slated for inclusion were precision aerial munitions, bridging equipment Ukraine would use to assault Russian positions, recovery vehicles to help disabled heavy equipment such as tanks, and additional rounds for NASAMS air defenses that the U.S. and allies have given Kyiv. Faltering offensive According to the British Defense Ministry’s daily intelligence update on Ukraine, Russia has made only marginal gains. The ministry reported that the Russian chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, has failed to stage a general winter offensive in Ukraine with the aim of extending Russian control of the whole of the Donbas region. Gerasimov took command of the “special military operation in Ukraine,” the report said, but 80 days on, “it is increasingly apparent that this project has failed” at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties and “largely squandering its temporary advantage in personnel gained for the autumn’s partial mobilization.” During a visit to Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu promised to boost munitions supplies to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, according to footage published by the Defense Ministry on Saturday. Shoigu has in recent months come under bitter criticism from hard-line advocates of Russia's campaign in Ukraine, including Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, who have accused him of failing to supply sufficient munitions to troops on the frontline. ‘Slap in the Face’ In his nightly video address on Saturday, Zelenskyy said it is absurd that Russia has assumed the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, adding is showed the U.N.’s "total bankruptcy." Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba also called Russia’s UNSC presidency “a slap in the face to the international community.”   The U.S. on Thursday urged Russia to “conduct itself professionally,” saying there was no means to block Moscow from the post. The Kremlin said Friday it planned to "exercise all its rights" in the role. Nuclear risk "The risk of a nuclear weapon being used is currently higher than at any time since the depths of the Cold War," Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, said Friday. "The war in Ukraine represents the most acute example of that risk," she said. Nakamitsu said the lack of dialogue and the erosion of the disarmament and arms control agreements combined with dangerous rhetoric and veiled threats could potentially lead to nuclear escalation. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened Friday that Belarus could host intercontinental nuclear missiles on its soil in addition to the tactical nuclear weapons its Russian ally and neighbor has decided to station in Belarus. Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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