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Ukraine war: Russian forces massing in east, bounty on Western tanks, sanctions evasion network

Russian forces are concentrating in eastern Ukraine – officials

Russia is building up its military power in eastern Ukraine, local officials said Wednesday.

Moscow has begun amassing troops in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, and Kyiv suspects it is preparing for an offensive in the coming weeks.

Kremlin forces are evicting local residents living near the front line so that they cannot provide information about the transfer of Russian troops to Ukrainian artillery, said the governor of the Lugansk region Serhiy Gaidai.

“There is an active transmission [Russian troops] to the region, and they are definitely preparing for something on the eastern front in February,” said Haidai.

Military analysts expect a new strike from Moscow soon. The US-based Institute for the Study of War said late Tuesday that “the most likely course of action is an imminent Russian offensive in the coming months.”

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces also announced today that Russia is concentrating its efforts in the neighboring Donetsk region, especially in an attempt to capture the key town of Bakhmut.

Donetsk and Lugansk make up the Donbass, a valuable industrial region bordering Russia that President Vladimir Putin has identified as a target since the start of the war.

Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian authorities here since 2014.

Donetsk region was one of four regions illegally annexed by Russia last fall, but it controls only about half of it. To capture the remaining half, Russian forces have no choice but to pass through Bakhmut, which offers the only approach to the larger cities held by Ukraine.

Russian troops have been trying to capture Bakhmut for several months now. Moscow-installed authorities in Donetsk said Russian troops were “closing the ring” around the city.

US blocks global network helping Russia evade sanctions

On Wednesday, the United States imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and entities in several countries, accusing them of being part of a global sanctions evasion network that supports Russia’s military-industrial complex.

The move, taken at a time when Washington is trying to increase pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, is part of a U.S. effort to combat sanctions evasion around the world.

They want to limit Russia’s access to the revenue it needs for the war, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.

The sanctions evasion network is led by Russia and Cyprus-based arms dealer Igor Zimenkov, who was sanctioned Wednesday along with his son Jonathan.

The Finance Ministry said projects related to the Russian military machine, including the supply of high-tech devices to Moscow’s forces in Ukraine, are supported by the group, along with state-owned Russian defense companies.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment.

The sanctions, which freeze any American assets of those on the list and bar Americans from doing business with them, mark the latest round of sanctions against Russia.

“Russia’s desperate attempts to use puppets to circumvent US sanctions demonstrate that sanctions have made it much harder and more expensive for the Russian military-industrial complex to resupply Putin’s war machine,” U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

Kremlin hails award for Western tanks in Ukraine

On Wednesday, the Kremlin welcomed a Russian company’s offer of “bonus payments” to soldiers who destroy Western-made tanks on the battlefield in Ukraine, saying it would help Russian troops win.

This week, the Russian company Fores offered 5 million rubles ($72,000) in cash to soldiers who would be the first to destroy or capture American Abrams tanks or German Leopard 2s in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian troops would “burn down” all Western tanks delivered to Ukraine, adding that the awards were an additional incentive for Russian soldiers.

“This testifies to the unity and desire of everyone to make their own contribution, one way or another, directly or indirectly, to achieving the goals of the special military operation,” Peskov told reporters.

“As for these tanks, we have already said that they will burn down. With such incentives, I think there will be even more enthusiasts.”

Western-made tanks — far more advanced than anything so far used by Ukraine or Russia in the conflict — are unlikely to be on the front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine within a few months.

Putin called on the military to stop shelling of Russia by Ukrainians

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the Russian military must stop Ukrainian shelling of Russian territory, which he said has left many people homeless or without electricity.

Putin spoke at a government meeting on the restoration of destroyed housing and infrastructure in the regions of southwestern Russia bordering Ukraine.

“Of course, the primary task is to exclude the very possibility of shelling. But this is the business of the military department,” Putin said in a comment posted on the Kremlin website.

Ukraine does not claim responsibility for the strikes on Russian territory, but has called them “karma” for Moscow’s invasion.

Many Ukrainian cities have been razed to the ground, and Russia has been systematically targeting the country’s energy infrastructure, often leaving people without power and water in the dead of winter.

Putin said people were facing “very acute” problems and needed repairs and compensation, specifying that houses were damaged or destroyed in Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk, as well as in Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine and annexed in 2014.

“Many people found themselves in a difficult situation, lost their homes, were forced to move to relatives or places of temporary residence, faced interruptions in the supply of water, heat, electricity,” he said.

Putin’s comments signal Moscow’s dissatisfaction with the frequent attacks in southern Russia, including attacks on targets such as electrical substations and weapons and fuel depots.

Cherry on the cake: Ukraine was presented with a French radar

Ukraine’s defense minister said on Wednesday that the lives of Ukrainians will be saved by a sophisticated radar supplied by France.

The air defense system is powerful enough to detect incoming missiles and exploding drones in the sky over the entire Ukrainian capital and its environs.

Minister Oleksiy Reznikov was so excited by what he called Ukraine’s new “electronic eyes” that he quickly coined a nickname for the Ground Master 200 radar, “The Great Master.”

Speaking through an interpreter at a ceremony to hand over the radar to his French colleague, Reznikov called the French GM200 a “very effective” upgrade of Ukraine’s network of some 300 different types of air defense radars.

Manufacturer Thales says the radar detects and tracks missiles, artillery and mortar shells, rockets, aircraft, drones and other threats.

“Thanks to your support, Ukrainian lives will be saved,” the minister said at a ceremony in Limur, where Thales manufactures equipment.

“This radar will be the icing on the cake,” he added. “That’s why it will be called ‘Grand Master’.

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