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Battles Rage in Eastern Ukraine Amid Rumors of Military Leadership Changes

Members of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade (Azov Unit) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire 152 mm howitzer 2A65 Msta-B, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Bahmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Feb. 6, 2023.
Members of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade (Azov Unit) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire 152 mm howitzer 2A65 Msta-B, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Bahmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Feb. 6, 2023.

Battles are raging in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, with the city of Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar at the epicenter of relentless fighting.

"The battles for the region are heating up," Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks, adding that "the Russians are throwing new units into the battle and eradicating our towns and villages."

Russia's military buildup along the Ukrainian border and particularly along Ukraine's eastern and northeastern boundaries since late January 2023 are also indicative of a possible large Russian offensive before the anniversary of Russia's invasion on February 24, Ukrainian officials said Monday.

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesperson Vadym Skibitsky predicted that Russia will likely press its offensive in the Donbas and could also launch an attack in the Zaporizhzhia region. He added that Russia is likely to mobilize another 300,000 to 500,000 troops in addition to the 300,000 mobilized in the fall.

Rumors of a political reshuffling within the Ukrainian government add another layer of challenges to Ukraine's defensive war against Russia. Reports of a possible resignation or removal of Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov came after a series of accusations of corruption within the ministry. The questions over Reznikov's fate were the first public sign of serious rift in Ukraine's wartime leadership.

Sunday, Kyiv announced that Reznikov would be transferred to the post of minister for strategic industries to strengthen military-industrial cooperation and would be replaced by General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the country's military intelligence agency.

Since then, David Arakhamia, head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's parliamentary bloc, reversed his earlier comments, saying on Telegram that "there will be no personnel changes in the defense sector this week."

Reznikov has said that while he was not planning to resign, any decision about his future would be made by the president.

UN chief warns of escalation

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday warned nations that he fears the likelihood of further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict means the world is heading toward a "wider war."

"The prospects for peace keep diminishing. The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing," he told diplomats in New York. "I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open."

As Ukraine awaits more weapons from the West to repel Russian forces, Switzerland is close to breaking with a centuries-long tradition as a neutral state, as pro-Ukrainian sentiments pervade public and political sectors, pressuring the government to end its ban on exports of Swiss weapons.

Under Swiss neutrality, dating back to 1815 and enshrined by treaty in 1907, Switzerland will not send weapons directly or indirectly to combatants in a war.

Lawmakers are divided on the issue.

"We want to be neutral, but we are part of the Western world," said Thierry Burkart, leader of the center-right FDP party, who has submitted a motion to the government to allow arms re-exports to countries with similar democratic values to Switzerland.

Norway's prime minister proposed Monday a $7.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, the latest show of support from Ukraine's European allies as it fights off a Russian invasion.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told reporters after meeting with opposition leaders that the aid would be delivered over a five-year period, and that his government wants to add additional support for other countries affected by the conflict.

"We are proposing that Norway gives a binding and lasting contribution to Ukraine," he said.

Norway's parliament must approve the aid package.

The Financial Times reported Monday that the European Union is preparing for a potential visit this week by Zelenskyy to address the European Parliament.

EU leaders traveled last week to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders to discuss the EU's response to Russia's invasion as well as Ukraine's application to join the European Union.

The United States and other Western governments have pledged billions of dollars in new military assistance, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to help Ukraine withstand new attacks and launch counteroffensives.

"Not all of the Western weaponry will arrive in time," Reznikov said. "But we are ready. We have created our resources and reserves, which we are able to deploy and with which we are able to hold back the attack."

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.