The White House said it is expected that the Wagner Group of mercenaries – which is highly active in eastern parts of Ukraine – will continue to receive weapons from North Korea.
We’ve had an update on the situation regarding German-made tanks in the last few minutes.
The Ukrainian defence minister Oleskii Reznikov said he had “a frank discussion” with his German counterpart Boris Pistorius about the supply of Leopard 2s.
He added that talks will continue between the two ministers.
Mr Reznikov made the remarks after he attended a meeting of Western allies in Germany, where Ukraine’s partners did not agree to give the tanks to Kyiv.
Germany, which makes the Leopard tanks, would have to approve any transfer.
Zbigniew Rau, Poland’s foreign minister, has reacted to the West’s failure to come to a decision over the transfer of German-made tanks at a meeting today.
He said that “Ukrainian blood” is the “price of hesitation over Leopard deliveries. We need action, now”.
Mr Rau added: “Arming Ukraine in order to repel the Russian aggression is not some kind of decision-making exercise.”
Analysis by Mark Stone, US correspondent
As Sky News reports from the Russian town where the mercenary group Wagner trains its fighters (see 4.49pm post), in Washington – at the White House – officials have been revealing some remarkable statistics.
The White House’s National Security Council Spokesman Admiral John Kirby told us tonight that around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters are currently deployed to Ukraine.
Basing his assessments on US intelligence reports, Kirby said that 10,000 of them are contractors but the other 40,000 are convicts.
“Greater than 90% of Wagner’s casualties have been ex-convicts that they’ve plucked out of prison with no training and thrown into the fight,” he said.
He also claimed that Wagner is becoming a rival power centre to the Russian ministry of defence. He built the picture of an increasing Russian power struggle.
The Americans also announced that Wagner has been designated a Transnational Criminal Organisation, a label which unlocks various mechanisms to disrupt its work.
A broader number of nations and institutions will now be more able to cut the money flow to Wagner.
It’s a form of sanction, but as we know, sanctions have been distinctly incapable of stopping Russian aggression so far in this war.
As part of its case against Wagner, the Americans have released two satellite images as evidence that North Korea is supplying Russia with weapons.
Two released images show, say the Americans, Wagner-operated rolling stock at locations either side of the tiny, shared border between North Korea and Russia.
For some time the West has believed that North Korea, along with Iran, had been helping to replenish Russia’s weapons stock.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has denied it was recruiting Serbs to fight in Ukraine, a day after activists filed criminal complaints against the organisation in Belgrade.
Among those named in the complaints were Russia’s ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, and Aleksandar Vulin, head of Serbia’s state Security and Information Agency.
“I do not recruit Serbs,” Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a statement, saying he had never head of either Mr Botsan-Kharchenko or Mr Vulin.
Earlier this week, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Russia should halt its efforts to recruit Serbs to fight alongside Wagner forces.
He said Russian websites and social media groups were publishing advertisements in the Serbian language in which the Wagner group called for volunteers.
It comes as the US said it was imposing fresh sanctions on the Wagner Group, accusing it of delivering North Korean arms into Russia for the Ukraine war.
Wagner denies this is the case.
We reported earlier as the White House claimed it had evidence that North Korea was providing the Russian Wagner Group with weaponry for use in Ukraine.
The satellite images below, revealed by White House spokesman John Kirby, allege to show Russian railcars moving between Russia and North Korea.
A former Navy SEAL has been killed in Ukraine, a US official has confirmed.
Daniel W Swift, from Oregon, was killed on January 18, it was reported.
The Navy Absentee Collection and Information Centre confirmed that Mr Swift had an “active deserter status” since 11 March, 2019.
The official added: “We cannot speculate as to why the former Sailor was in Ukraine.”
The US is “frustrated” with Germany over its “back and forth” on providing much-needed tanks to Ukraine, a senior US official said in a briefing.
If followed a visit by several US officials to Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
The source said Berlin has “tried to put the US on the spot about sending its own Abrams tanks – but it isn’t going to work”.
They added that the US “will not provide Ukraine with costly, difficult-to-maintain tanks that administration officials don’t think the Ukrainians need to achieve their goals, just in order to give another country cover for their own internal decisions”.
It was also said that Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley don’t believe the Abrams tanks “are going to be a net positive for the Ukrainians given how difficult they are to operate and maintain”.
They insisted that the US “isn’t holding back” on providing its own tanks because it is worried that doing do would be escalatory.
The official also said that the US “doesn’t know” how the issue with the German-made Leopard 2 tanks will be resolved.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tonight said that Ukraine will still have to fight to ensure a supply of “modern heavy armour”.
His comments came after allied Western nations failed to agree on whether or not to hand over German-made Leopard battle tanks.
“Every day we make it more obvious that there is no alternative to taking a decision about tanks,” he said.
Currently the export licence for Leopard 2’s is owned by Germany, meaning other countries also need authorisation to send their stocks abroad.
With the lack of any agreement at Ramstein air base today, expect this argument to rumble on.
Some nations may decide to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine whether they get permission from Berlin or not – indeed Poland’s prime minister has already suggested his government could pursue this course of action.
The idea of a comedy night in a country twisted out of shape by war jars somewhat against the backdrop of blitz-like living conditions and mounting casualties in eastern Ukraine.
But in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, where blackouts and power rationing have become a feature of winter life, the need for humour as a means of escape remains, according to Sky News Ukraine War Diarist Oksana Koshel.
In the latest episode of the podcast, she attends a comedy night, albeit reluctantly, with her husband and fellow diarist Seva.
It’s an experience that brings both reflection and perspective as well as some profound realisations about the war.
Here’s some immediate reaction to the US claim that North Korea is supplying weaponry to the Russian mercenary Wagner Group in Ukraine.
Our US correspondent Mark Stone had this to say…
“This is very interesting, and interesting that it should come now.
“The White House has designated the Wagner Group a Transnational Criminal Organisation. More than that, they have now instructed the US justice department to look into it specifically.
“All of this effectively opens the gates and allows both the Americans and others… to be able to investigate Wagner too and to be about to cut off financial supplies.
“On the face of it, a significant move from the White House.
“As well as this, they have released in the last 20 minutes some satellite images which they say show the transfer of weapons from North Korea to Russia.
“They say this took place at some point recently.”
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