Key events

Protesters in Berlin have called on the German government to allow the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters
A number of European countries have the German-made tanks, but need approval from Berlin to supply them to Ukraine.
A number of European countries have the German-made tanks, but need approval from Berlin to supply them to Ukraine. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters
A protester hold up a placard reading: ‘Chancellor give tanks’, in reference to Olaf Scholz.
A protester holds up a placard reading: ‘Chancellor give tanks’, in reference to Olaf Scholz. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

A former US Navy Seal has been killed this week in Ukraine, American officials said on Friday. They said he was not fighting in an official capacity.

Daniel W Swift, who was a 1st class petty officer, was injured in Dnipro and died of his wounds on Wednesday.

No other details were available, including whether Swift’s body has been taken out of Ukraine.

The navy said he deserted his post in San Diego, California, in March 2019. “We cannot speculate as to why the former sailor was in Ukraine,” the navy said.

At least five other Americans are known to have died fighting in Ukraine, according to state department statements and reports from individual families.

Swift joined the navy in 2005 and was assigned to a Seal unit in 2007. He voluntarily left the service in January 2014 but rejoined in 2015.

The state department declined to address Swift’s death specifically but said in a statement that it could confirm the recent death of a US citizen in Ukraine.

“We are in touch with his family and providing all possible consular assistance,” the department said.

Russia has claimed to have captured a village in eastern Ukraine as part of its intense, months-long push toward the city of Bakhmut, the Associated Press reports.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the village of Klishchiivka, which is located 9km south of Bakhmut, had been “liberated”.

The claim couldn’t be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment on the claim.

Taking Klishchiivka would be only a minor breakthrough, but the Kremlin is hungry for good news from the battlefield after months of setbacks.

Bakhmut, on the other hand, would be a bigger prize. It could allow Russia to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines in the east and threaten other Ukrainian-held cities in the surrounding Donestk region.

However, US officials have begun to nudge the Ukrainians to shift focus away from Bakhmut and focus on preparation for an offensive in the south, according to an official familiar with the views of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The official said administration officials have conveyed that they believe there is a high potential for the Russians to eventually push Ukrainian forces out of Bakhmut, which has seen some of the war’s most intense fighting to date.

Administration officials believe that significant forces will be needed for an expected Ukrainian offensive in the south, but many of those forces are currently embroiled in Bakhmut.

A Ukrainian soldier gestures while pulling a broken tank to a truck near the frontline town of Bakhmut.
A Ukrainian soldier gestures while pulling a broken tank to a truck near the frontline town of Bakhmut. Photograph: Reuters

Ukrainians to train on Leopard 2s in Poland, says minister

Ukrainian forces will train on Leopard 2 battle tanks in Poland, Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has been quoted as saying, despite allies’ failure to reach an agreement to supply the German-made vehicles to Kyiv.

Reznikov spoke to Ukrainian-language Voice of America after attending a meeting at the Ramstein US airbase in Germany, where Ukraine’s partners did not take a decision on handing over the tanks. Germany, which makes the Leopard tanks, would have to approve any transfer.

Reznikov described the training development as a breakthrough, attributing the success to efforts by Poland.

“We will start with this and then we will move further,” Voice of America quoted him as saying.

Reznikov, echoing earlier comments by Ukrainian officials, said he hoped Germany will reach a decision on the tanks.

“I see this in an optimistic way,” he added. “Because the first step has been taken – we will start training missions on the Leopard 2.”

Earlier Reznikov had tweeted his gratitude to the German government and people for their military aid and hospitality.

Next to a photograph of himself with the new German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, he wrote: “We had a frank discussion on Leopards 2. To be continued.”

Congratulated 🇩🇪 DefMin Boris Pistorius @BMVg_Bundeswehr on the appointment to his new position.
We had a frank discussion on Leopards 2. To be continued.
I also thanked the 🇩🇪 Government and the 🇩🇪 people for their military assistance to 🇺🇦 and hospitality at #Ramstein 8 pic.twitter.com/pOnWhHuGos

— Oleksii Reznikov (@oleksiireznikov) January 20, 2023

Welcome

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Our top story this morning: Ukrainian forces will train on Leopard 2 battle tanks in Poland, according to Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, despite allies’ failure to reach an agreement to supply the German-made vehicles to Kyiv. Reznikov described the training development as a breakthrough, attributing the success to efforts by Warsaw. More on that shortly.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • Russia claimed to have captured of a village in eastern Ukraine as part of its months-long push towards the city of Bakhmut. Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Klishchiivka, 9km south of Bakhmut, had been “liberated”. The claim could not be independently verified. Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment. Russian proxy forces in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic earlier said they had taken control of Klishchiivka.

  • US officials have begun to nudge the Ukrainians to shift focus away from Bakhmut and focus on preparation for an offensive in the south. Joe Biden’s administration reportedly believes there is a high potential for the Russians to eventually push Ukrainian forces out of the hotly contested city, which has seen some of the war’s most intense fighting to date. Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, is also reportedly alarmed by the losses the Ukrainian army is taking in Bakhmut.

  • Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said he did not believe it was realistic to expect Ukraine to push Russian troops out of its internationally recognised territory in 2023. “From a military standpoint, I still maintain that from this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he said at a press conference at the Ramstein US air force base in Germany.

  • Germany has declined to take a decision on whether to give Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine at a special international summit held at Ramstein. It had been hoped in Europe and the US that Germany would at least allow Leopards owned by countries such as Poland and Finland to be re-exported, but despite days of pleading, Berlin’s newly appointed defence minister said no final decision had been taken.

  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, pleaded with Germany and western allies to send their battle tanks to Kyiv at the opening of the meeting in Ramstein. Urgent action was necessary, the Ukrainian leader said, because “Russia is concentrating its forces, last forces, trying to convince everyone that hatred can be stronger than the world”.

  • The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the group of Kyiv-supporting defence ministers were focused on “making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now”. Speaking after the Ramstein airbase meeting, Austin described Germany as a “reliable ally”.

  • The Kremlin said supplying additional tanks to Kyiv would not “fundamentally change anything”. Russia’s relationship with the US was at its “lowest point historically”, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said, with “no hope” of bilateral relations improving “in the foreseeable future”.

  • A former US navy Seal has been killed in Ukraine, American officials said on Friday. Daniel W Swift, a 1st class petty officer who deserted his post in San Diego in March 2019, was injured in Dnipro and died of his wounds on Wednesday. Officials said he was not fighting in an official capacity. The navy said it “cannot speculate as to why the former sailor was in Ukraine”.

  • EU countries are reportedly working on a 10th round of Russia-related sanctions. The next package of sanctions “will be somewhere around” the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, one senior diplomat told Reuters. EU officials are also seeking approval from the ministers for a seventh tranche of military aid for Ukraine worth €500m.

  • The US will impose additional sanctions against the Wagner Group, the White House national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, has said. The US treasury department plans to designate Wagner as a significant transnational criminal organisation, which would freeze any assets the group has in the US and prohibit Americans from providing Wagner with funds, goods or services.

  • Italian authorities are on the hunt for a Russian oligarch after two of his luxury yachts that were seized under EU sanctions mysteriously disappeared from a port in Sardinia. The yachts, belonging to Dmitry Mazepin, the billionaire owner of a mineral fertiliser company, went missing from the Sardinian port of Olbia within weeks of each other last summer.

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