Ukraine war live updates: Russia and Saudi Arabia meet as Middle East crisis rattles oil markets; Kyiv appeals for winter help

Saudi Arabian Minister of Energy Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak during the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia on June 16, 2022.

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The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was difficult to overestimate Russia’s coordination with Saudi Arabia and other partners on global oil markets amid the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters on a conference call that the visit of Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, to Moscow provided a great opportunity to discuss current affairs, adding that the oil markets were very sensitive to events unfolding in Israel.

— Reuters

The United States has said that it will begin flight training for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.

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Allies appeared to take another step closer to supplying F-16s fighter jets to Ukraine, with Denmark and Belgium saying they planned to send the fighter jets to Kyiv — but not until 2024 and even 2025.

Denmark expects to make its first delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in March or April next year, citing Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen’s comments to national broadcaster TV 2, on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said earlier that Belgium will also send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but only from 2025. Speaking to Bel RTL radio, Dedonder didn’t say how many jets would be sent to Ukraine.

Ukraine has repeatedly requested F-16 fighter jets from its NATO allies that use them, such as the Netherlands and Norway, with a number promising to provide the military aircraft.

The U.S. has not confirmed whether it would also provide F-16s but Washington promised that it would not block requests from allies to export their own supplies of the U.S.-made aircraft to Ukraine. It has also said it would help train Ukrainian pilots to use the aircraft that first came into service in the 1970s.

Kyiv has frequently expressed concern that it has to wait a long time between requests for weaponry and their supply. A number of allies, Germany among them, have appeared concerned over supplying longer-range missiles, having already procrastinated about providing battle tanks before finally agreeing to their export to Ukraine early this year.

— Holly Ellyatt

The Kremlin played down on Wednesday a suggestion by the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament that Russians who support Ukraine should be sent to a far eastern region known for its Stalin-era Gulag prison camps.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (R).

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Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, told lawmakers on Tuesday that those who had left Russia and rejoiced at Ukrainian drone and missile attacks on their country should know that they were no longer welcome in their homeland and should be sent to the Magadan region if they returned.

Asked about the comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a regular news briefing that Volodin had had in mind those who “vividly expressed an anti-Russian position”, and added that the overwhelming majority of people were free to choose where they lived.

“They have a homeland – Russia,” he added.

 — Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his latest meeting with Kyiv’s allies in Belgium on Wednesday — at which Kyiv hopes to secure more air defense systems, artillery and ammunition — could be “critical” to Ukraine’s resilience this winter.

On Wednesday, Zelenskyy arrived in Belgium, where he is to take part in a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — comprising 54 of Ukraine’s international allies, including NATO members — on extra support for the country.

“I have an important appeal to all present defense ministers of the countries that are members of this powerful coalition,” he said on Telegram, ahead of the meeting.

Zelenskyy is due to hold meetings with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives at the European Political Community Summit in Granada, Spain, on Oct. 5, 2023.

Juan Medina | Reuters

“We are preparing, we are ready. Now we need some support from the leaders,” he told reporters, Reuters said, before meeting defense ministers from NATO and other allied countries.

Ahead of the meetings, Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “preparing once again to use winter as a weapon of war” by attacking energy infrastructure in Ukraine.

“We need to prevent that, with more advanced and increased capabilities for air defense, we can make a big difference,” Stoltenberg said, according to Reuters.

The meeting comes at a difficult time for Ukraine; the counteroffensive it launched in June has not made as much progress as allies hoped, given the extensive lines of defenses and fortifications laid by Russia last winter and spring.

— Holly Ellyatt

The current war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas could affect oil markets, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.

Novak represents Moscow in discussions and policy-setting carried out by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, collectively known as OPEC+.

On Wednesday, he will meet with Saudi Energy Minister and de facto OPEC leader Abdulaziz bin Salman to consult on the crude market, Reuters reported.

“Of course, we are discussing these issues. Any such events in the world can in one way or another affect the situation with the consumption of energy resources in one direction or another,” Novak said Wednesday, in Google-translated comments carried by Russia’s state news outlet Tass.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.

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Russia and Saudi Arabia are the largest OPEC+ producers and typically set the tone of the alliance’s output strategy and of voluntary production moves carried out by some members.

Crude prices have been bolstered by instability in the Middle East. Over the weekend, a terrorist attack delivered by Hamas struck Israel on nearly the 50th anniversary of the Arab-Israel war of 1973, which rattled oil markets through an Arab oil embargo against the U.S.

Ruxandra Iordache

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is in Belgium Wednesday as he continues meetings with Western leaders, trying to bolster European support and military assistance for Kyiv ahead of winter.

NATO defense ministers are due to meet in Brussels, as are Zelenskyy and officials from 54 nations supporting Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Air defense systems and more ammunition for Ukraine are expected to be high on the agenda.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov is also set to attend a session of the NATO-Ukraine Council, a body established at the alliance’s last summit in July to foster closer cooperation between NATO and Kyiv, Reuters noted.

U.S. President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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As well as the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the damage to a subsea gas pipeline and a telecommunications cable linking NATO members Finland and Estonia will also be discussed, as well as the outbreak of war between Israel and Palestinian militant group, Hamas.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will give a statement at the start of the summit and a press conference Wednesday evening.

Zelenskyy’s trip to Belgium comes after his visit to Romania on Tuesday, where joint security and Ukrainian grain exports were on the agenda.

— Holly Ellyatt

The Russian military is facing a mental health crisis, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, noting that Russian psychologists have already identified approximately 100,000 military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The number, first identified in December 2022, “is almost certainly now higher as the Russian military fails to provide sufficient rotation and recuperation from the battlefield,” the U.K. said in an intelligence update on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“With a lack of care for its soldiers’ mental health and fitness to fight, Russia’s combat fighting effectiveness continues to operate at sub-optimal levels,” the ministry said.

Russian citizens drafted during the partial mobilization being dispatched to combat coordination areas after a military call-up for the Russia-Ukraine war in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 10, 2022.

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“There are additional indications that doctors in Russia are sending military personnel who are unfit to fight to the front. Appeal claims against Russian military medical commissions are higher in 2023 than they were in 2022, with many cases denied or claims abandoned,” the ministry noted.

The mental health crisis affecting many Russian soldiers many of whom have been forced to fight in Ukraine following a partial mobilization, or have been recruited from Russian prisons has been highlighted by multiple commanders, including the former 58th Combined Arms Army’s Major-General Ivan Popov who was relieved of command in July 2023.

— Holly Ellyatt

The Kremlin rebuffed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s suggestion that Russia had a vested interest in stirring up tensions in the Middle East, saying it had “absolutely no basis” in fact.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the conflict had been simmering for years and that Russia had ties to both the Israeli and Palestinian territories.

“Many people know the backstory, but it is so deep that not everyone already knows the nuances,” the Kremlin spokesman added, news agency Interfax reported.

“In this case, we maintain relations with both sides of this conflict,” Peskov told reporters, answering a question on whether the Kremlin shares the position of the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who expressed support for Palestine.

Russian law enforcement officers stand guard in front of the mausoleum of the Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin as people pass by at Red Square in downtown Moscow on July 18, 2023.

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“Of course, we have long-standing historical ties with the Palestinians, we continue our contacts. Indeed, we are talking about contacts at different levels, including at a high level over time. But at the same time, we also have our relations with the state of Israel, with whom we also have a lot in common, especially the large number of our compatriots who live in this state,” he said.

Peskov said Moscow was ready to offer support to both sides but conceded there had been few successful attempts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians previously.

“We are ready to continue to make efforts and play our part,” he said, without giving further detail.

— Holly Ellyatt

A centre for training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jets is being established in Romania, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Zelenskyy and his Romanian counterpart, Klaus Iohannis, agreed that Ukrainian pilots would be enrolled in the first wave of training, he wrote.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, left, and Klaus Iohannis, Romania’s president, at the Cotroceni presidential palace in Bucharest, Romania, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

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The two leaders signed a bilateral declaration on their security cooperation, which included improving transport, facilitating border crossings and opening new checkpoints.

Zelenskyy and Iohannis also “condemned the terrorist attack on Israel,” with Zelenskyy saying the entire world must condemn terror and all those who support it.

— Hannah Ward-Glenton

The outbreak of bloodshed, violence and war between Israel and Hamas has put Russia in an awkward position, with Moscow traditionally treading a fine diplomatic line between Israel and its allies in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin on April 21, 2016.

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Russia is gearing up for the 2024 presidential election and is unlikely to implement potentially unpopular policy moves ahead of the vote, the U.K. said.

Russia’s presidential election will take place on March 17 in 2024, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence said Tuesday.

Current President Vladimir Putin is almost certainly expected to run for office again again although he has not yet publicly announced his intention to run again. Still, there’s speculation that Putin’s election campaign will begin informally next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during Russian-Uzbek talks at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on October 6, 2023 in Sochi, Russia. 

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“While elections in Russia are subject to interference and control by the Kremlin, they remain a core tool of political legitimisation,” the ministry said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“It is almost certain that Putin’s election campaign will focus on the theme of Russia as a separate civilisation in need of defence from external enemies – a narrative frequently used to justify the state’s actions and Putin’s consolidation of power.”

In the build-up to the election, the Kremlin will almost certainly seek to minimise unpopular policy moves, the U.K. said, adding that “it is therefore highly unlikely that any further mobilisation wave will be implemented before the March 2024 presidential election.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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