Putin’s doomsday plane ‘little fishy’ says Clapper
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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Kyiv on Tuesday, becoming the highest-ranking government official from Germany to visit Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on February 24. Germany and Ukraine are seeking to mend ties after wrangling over weapons supplies and the roll-out of sanctions.
Berlin has recently thrown its weight behind a Russian oil embargo with Ms Baerbock saying her country aimed to cut its Russian energy imports to zero, adding “and that will stay that way forever”.
Ms Baerbock also announced the German embassy in the Ukrainian capital would reopen in a symbolic vote of confidence after its diplomats were evacuated as a result of the conflict.
The foreign minister said Germany and the Netherlands would provide 12 Howitzers to Ukraine with training on how to operate the long-range weapons to begin immediately.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “The fact that Germany is standing up for peace, for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine – this is a big historical turning point and I am grateful to the German government for this position.”
“I would like to thank Germany for changing its position on a number of questions.
“We saw the first Russian rocket hit Kyiv on February 24 and it also struck Germany’s traditional Russia policy.”
He pointed to Germany’s changed stance on weapons supplies and support for the oil embargo as examples.
Relations between Kyiv and Berlin have been strained with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reluctant to visit Ukraine as Kyiv was unwilling to receive German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Mr Steinmeier, a Social Democrat ally of Mr Scholz, is unpopular in Kyiv because he is linked there with a previous German policy to pursue ties with Russia.
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Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine’s outspoken ambassador in Berlin, called Mr Scholz’s reasons those of an “offended liver sausage”, implying his behaviour was similar to a petulant child.
Mr Scholz is now planning a trip after he and Mr Steinmeier were invited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ms Baerbock’s visit comes as a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the PM will travel to Sweden and Finland on Wednesday as the two countries consider joining NATO.
Russia’s invasion sparked an urgent rethink of security policy in both countries with each expected to make a decision about whether to apply to join the military alliance this month.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “We support countries’ democratic capability to decide on things like NATO membership.
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“We understand the positions of Sweden and Finland and that is why the Prime Minister is going to discuss these broader security issues.”
Mr Johnson will meet counterparts in Stockholm and Helsinki during a one-day trip.
A formal application to join NATO could be made at the alliance’s June summit in Madrid. It is likely to be fast-tracked, though getting the signatures of all 30 alliance members could take up to a year.
Finland and Sweden would like to have some guarantees that NATO member nations would defend them during any transition period, when they would be applicants to the alliance, but not yet in.
However, such a move could ramp up tensions with Moscow, which used the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO as part of its justification for the invasion.
Meanwhile, top US intelligence officials said on Tuesday that the three-month-long war is at a “bit of a stalemate” and Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be preparing for a long conflict.
Russia, which calls the invasion “a special military operation,” poured more troops into Ukraine for a huge offensive in the eastern part of the country in April but its gains have been slow.
It came after an assault on Kyiv was beaten back in March by strong Ukrainian resistance.
Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “The Russians aren’t winning and the Ukrainians aren’t winning and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here.”
He added that so far, between eight to 10 Russian generals have been killed in the deadly war.
At the same hearing, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said a Russian victory in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine might not end the war.
She said: “We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas.”
Ms Haines added that Putin was counting on Western resolve to weaken and as the conflict continued, there was concern about how it would develop.
She said: “Combined with the reality that Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia’s current conventional military capabilities … the next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory.”
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