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Ukraine reportedly considering dismissing three army commanders

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense is considering dismissing three commanders of the armed forces, Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources in Ukraine’s military and political leadership.

According to the sources, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov is preparing to dismiss Tetiana Ostashchenko, the commander of Medical Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the Tavriia Operational Strategic Group of Forces, and Serhii Naiev, commander of Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

BAKHMUT DISTRICT, UKRAINE – OCTOBER 25: An infantry soldier fires an RPG at movement he sees in the morning fog, as the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade ‘Edelveys’ operate at the zero frontline with infantry holding fire at positions 100 meters below Russian positions, on October 25, 2023 in the Bakhmut district of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces continue to fight to retake Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces in May, following a yearlong battle. Over the summer, Ukraine regained territory north and south of Bakhmut but Russia has held the city itself. (Photo by Kostya Liberov/Libkos via Getty Images)

Libkos | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Paramedics and volunteers involved in medical support for Ukraine’s Defence Forces have reportedly been insisting on Ostashchenko’s dismissal, the news outlet said, while no reasons were given for the potential dismissal of Naiev or Tarnavskyi, who is in charge of one of the fronts of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Ukrainska Pravda asked the President’s Office to comment on the possible firings. Serhii Nikiforov, President Zelenskyy’s press secretary, responded that if such a decision were made, it would be duly announced on the president’s official website, the news outlet said.

“One of the sources noted that the question of these dismissals has been under consideration for several months now,” it added.

If the dismissals do take place, it’s likely to reflect criticism of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which has seen few gains since it was launched in June.

Holly Ellyatt

Russian troops found abusing alcohol and drugs likely posted to ‘Storm-Z’ penal units

LVIV REGION, UKRAINE – AUGUST 3: Russian POWs are seen waiting in line to call home to Russia in a prisoner of war detention camp on August 3, 2023 in the Lviv region, Ukraine. Hundreds of captured Russian POWs including conscripts, mercenaries, Wagner militia and Storm-Z Russian prisoners are being held in up to 50 sites around Ukraine. Storm-Z is a series of penal military units established by Russia since April 2023. (Photo by Paula Bronstein /Getty Images

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian soldiers found to be abusing alcohol or drugs are likely being posted to vulnerable “Storm-Z” units that are predominantly made up of Russian prisoners, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said Monday.

In September 2023, independent Russian media outlet Vertska reported that up to 15% of Russian soldiers in Ukraine were using drugs, including amphetamines and cannabis, which were easy to obtain even on the frontline.

“These reports are credible and follow numerous reports since the invasion of a high rate of disciplinary incidents, crimes and deaths related to alcohol abuse amongst the Russian force,” the ministry said in an intelligence update on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.

“One of the core drivers of poor Russian discipline and substance abuse likely remains the continued lack of opportunity for combat troops to rotate away from the front line.”

“Russian commanders likely frequently punish drug and alcohol abusers by posting them to Storm-Z assault detachments, which have effectively become penal units,” the British ministry added.

Storm-Z assault detachments predominantly comprise prisoner recruits and are used in what analysts say are highly attritional infantry-led frontal assaults.

Russian “milbloggers” closely following and commenting on the war on social media have claimed that “Storm-Z” assault detachments in the areas around Avdiivka and Bakhmut — two fighting hotspots in eastern Ukraine — are often destroyed after a few days of active operations and on average lose between 40-70% of their personnel.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s foreign minister calls for increased aid and EU accession talks

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister on Monday called for an increase in military aid, faster work on a 12th package of sanctions against Russia, and for a decision to be made next month on the start of negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the European Union.

In a statement on the foreign ministry’s website, Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the European Commission’s recommendation last week that formal talks should begin with Ukraine on joining the bloc. However, he appeared to criticize the EU’s failure to discuss new sanctions on Russia, as was previously planned.

“Thanks to the positive recommendation of the European Commission, Ukrainians felt that our struggle was not in vain, that our efforts were recognized. We count on the unanimous support of your leaders in December, when the European Council will meet to approve the decision to open negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the EU,” he said, according to a Google translation.

Kuleba’s comments came after he participated in the council of foreign ministers of the EU. Ukraine’s foreign minister also welcomed the appointment of former British Prime Minister David Cameron as his new U.K. counterpart.

— Karen Gilchrist

Germany will ‘massively’ expand funding for Ukraine in 2024

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stands next to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (3rd from right), Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov (2nd from right) and Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov (5th from right) in Kharkiv on the site of a substation destroyed by the Russians during her trip to eastern Ukraine.

Jorg Blank | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Germany will significantly expand assistance to Ukraine next year, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Monday.

“Our support will be massively expanded for next year,” she said, according to the Associated Press. The comments come after several media reports, citing unnamed sources, stating that Germany plans to expand its military funding for Kyiv next year.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported at the weekend that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition wants to increase Germany’s military aid for 2024 from a planned 4 billion euros to 8 billion euros ($8.5 billion). The plans have not been confirmed yet, however, and will need to be approved by a parliamentary committee.

Asked about the report, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told the ARD broadcaster that “right now, as Ukraine has to continue its fight and at the same time part of public attention worldwide is directed more toward Israel, this is a strong signal to Ukraine that we won’t leave it in the lurch.”

— Holly Ellyatt

More signs appear of Ukrainian involvement in Nord Stream blasts, Russia says

Climate scientists described the shocking images of gas spewing to the surface of the Baltic Sea as a “reckless release” of greenhouse gas emissions that, if deliberate, “amounts to an environmental crime.”

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Kremlin said on Monday that more signs were appearing of Ukrainian involvement in the blasts that ruptured Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipelines last year, following a Washington Post report that a Ukrainian military officer coordinated the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters in a call that it was “alarming” that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has denied that Kyiv was involved in the blasts on the Baltic seabed, was reported to have been unaware of the operation.

— Reuters

Kremlin says Putin 2024 election announcement is due soon

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet made a decision on participating in the next presidential elections, his press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

“It is clear that the time for the announcement of elections is approaching, but so far there have been no decisions. As soon as they are, we will inform you,” he told reporters on Monday.

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

Neither Putin, 71, nor the Kremlin has confirmed he will run for another six-year term in office, taking his presidency up to 2030 and potentially beyond. Several media reports have cited unnamed sources saying Putin will stand for office, however.

Peskov told CNBC last week that while no decision had yet been made, he had “no doubt that if he puts forward his candidacy, he will win confidently.”

“Society is consolidated around the president,” Peskov added.

Read more here: Kremlin says Putin will ‘win confidently’ if he runs in the 2024 presidential election

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian artillery pounds Avdiivka but Ukrainian forces resist encirclement

Russian forces pounded the town of Avdiivka in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk region Monday morning, Ukrainian officials said Monday.

Police officer Gennady convinces a local resident who lives in a dilapidated house to evacuate on October 30, 2023 in Avdiivka, Ukraine.

Libkos | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“This morning, Avdiivka was subjected to massive artillery shelling,” the acting chief of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, Ihor Moroz, said on Telegram.

A number of households and an industrial building sustained damage in the area, Moroz said, and Russian artillery shelling was reported in the area of the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, the largest coke producer in Ukraine.

CNBC was unable to verify the report. Avdiivka has become one of the most intense combat hotspots in Ukraine with Ukraine’s General Staff stating Monday that Russian troops continued to try to surround the town, but unsuccessfully. Avdiivka lies south of Bakhmut and similarly has been a key Russian target since the beginning of the war given its strategic location in Donetsk.

— Holly Ellyatt

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