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Ukraine Latest: War’s Massive Minefield; Putin’s Failed Gambit

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The cease-fire unilaterally declared by Moscow over Orthodox Christmas ended Saturday night. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian troops had violated Vladimir Putin’s order, continuing to shell the town of Bakhmut and other Ukrainian positions. Ukraine’s general staff said civilian infrastructure was targeted by multiple missile strikes.

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(Bloomberg) —

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The cease-fire unilaterally declared by Moscow over Orthodox Christmas ended Saturday night. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian troops had violated Vladimir Putin’s order, continuing to shell the town of Bakhmut and other Ukrainian positions. Ukraine’s general staff said civilian infrastructure was targeted by multiple missile strikes. 

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The Biden administration on Friday unveiled its latest, $2.85 billion package of weapons for Ukraine, including powerful offensive equipment that was previously withheld. 

Ukraine announced sanctions against 119 mostly Russian cultural figures, including soprano Anna Netrebko and various show business personalities and propagandists. Ukraine’s prime minister said Russia’s invasion has created a minefield the size of the UK. 

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(See RSAN on the Bloomberg Terminal for the Russian Sanctions Dashboard.)  

Key Developments

  • Putin’s Energy Gambit Fizzles as Warm Winter Saves Europe
  • McCarthy’s Speaker Deal Could Stymie Defense Spending Next Year
  • US Adds Offensive Weapons for Ukraine in $2.85 Billion Package
  • Russia Says It Starts Brief Ukraine Cease-Fire That Kyiv Scorned
  • Russia Looks to Press Big Firms for More Cash as War Costs Mount

On the Ground

Ukraine’s forces repelled Russian attacks near 16 settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the General Staff said on Facebook. Russian forces continue offensive in the direction of Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Lyman. Ukrainian aviation delivered 21 strikes at Russian strongholds and three strikes at Russian anti-aircraft complexes. Three Russian reconnaissance drones were downed. A UN mission delivering humanitarian aid to Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region came under Russian shelling, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said. The outskirts of Zaporizhzhia were also shelled. A civilian was killed in missile strikes on the town of Merefa in the Kharkiv region. 

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(All times CET)

Warm Winter Defuses Putin’s Energy Gambit (9:52 a.m.)

Mild weather, an expanded array of suppliers and efforts to reduce demand are taking the sting out of Vladimir Putin’s plan to squeeze Europe by weaponizing energy. Gas reserves are still nearly full, and prices have tumbled to pre-war levels. 

“The danger of a complete economic meltdown, a core meltdown of European industry, has — as far as we can see — been averted,” said German Economy Minister Robert Habeck.  

Read more: Putin’s Energy Gambit Fizzles as Warm Winter Saves Europe

Luhansk Region Gas Pipe Blast Leaves 13,000 People Without Gas (9 a.m.)

An explosion at a gas pipeline near Luthuhyne in Luhansk on Saturday left about 13,000 people without gas supplies, Interfax reported. A preliminary investigation showed the blast was deliberate, the newswire said, citing emergency ministry of the occupation administration.

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Ukraine PM Says Russia Has Created a Massive Minefield (8:30 a.m.)

Russia’s war has resulted in a minefield of some 250,000 square kilometers (96,000 square miles), Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. That would be roughly the size of the UK. 

“It is currently the largest minefield in the world,” Shmyhal said in an interview published on Sunday. “It’s not only making it difficult for people to travel, but also causing major disruptions in farming, which is one of our main industries.”

Russia Bracing for New Ukrainian Counteroffensive, UK Says (8 a.m.)

Kremlin troops have bolstered defensive fortifications in central Zaporizhzhia Oblast in anticipation of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive either in northern Luhansk or in Zaporizhzhia, the UK defense ministry said in a Twitter Update. 

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“Deciding which of these threats to prioritize countering is likely one of the central dilemmas for Russian operational planners,” the UK said. 

Zelenskiy Says Russia Breached Its Own Cease-Fire (7:10 p.m.)

Russian forces are violating their own cease-fire, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. He said Russian shells again hit Bakhmut, a city’s that has been embattled for months, and other Ukrainian positions. 

The president noted the number of Ukrainian soldiers who attended a Christmas service in the 11th-century Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv, where services were held in Ukrainian for the first time in decades. 

Ukraine Sanctions Russian Singers, Actors and Propagandists (5 p.m.)

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree Saturday imposing sanctions on 119 individuals, most of them Russian show business and film stars, as well as media personalities. 

The list includes Vienna-based opera singer Anna Netrebko, Oscar-winning movie director Nikita Mikhalkov and pop singer Dmitry (Dima) Bilan, who has performed at the Eurovision song contest. 

The list also includes nationalist ideologist Alexander Dugin, whose daughter was killed in a car bombing in August; Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-run RT media group; and the heads of think-tanks known to advise the Kremlin, including Fyodor Lukyanov and Sergei Karaganov. 

Zelenskiy Aide Says Russia Firing ‘Along the Entire Contact Line’ (2:30 p.m.)

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Russian forces are firing “along the entire contact line” as the 36-hour cease-fire declared by President Vladimir Putin enters its final hours, Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, without offering more details. 

The halt in hostilities, tied by Putin to Orthodox Christmas holiday, is scheduled to end at midnight Moscow time, or 10pm CET. 

Russia’s defense ministry said Saturday its troops were repelling Ukrainian offensives in the Donetsk region. 

Pope Francis Calls for ‘Concrete Steps Toward Peace’ (2 p.m.)

In extending best wishes to members of the Eastern churches celebrating Orthodox Christmas on Saturday, the pontiff sent greetings “in particular” to “the suffering people of Ukraine” and called for concrete steps toward peace.  

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Ukraine Envoy Urges Haste in German Military Support (12 p.m.) 

Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin warned against delays in decisions on future military support, days after Germany’s government announced it would supply Kyiv with Marder infantry fighting vehicles. Oleksii Makeiev said he was optimistic that Leopard-type tanks might be offered next. 

The Iris-T air defense system and Gepard flak tanks previously provided by Germany were “already showing a fantastic result” in intercepting Russian missiles and drones, and the Marders “will benefit our ground forces enormously,” Makeiev told the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche. 

It’s understandable that Germany wants to coordinate decisions with its partners, “but it is crucial not to hesitate too long in supplying weapons. Every day costs us many lives,” Makeiev said.

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