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Putin admits heavy losses as EU to open membership talks with Ukraine – live

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Kyiv suffers ‘largest ever’ drone attack by Russia leaving ‘five wounded’

The EU has agreed to open membership talks with Ukraine.

European Council President Charles Michel said on Thursday: “The European Council has decided to open accession negotiations with Ukraine & Moldova.” Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky declared the move a victory “for Ukraine and all of Europe”.

The announcement came after Vladimir Putin inadvertently admitted that more than 300,000 Russian soldiers have died or been heavily wounded in the ongoing war. The figures are in stark contrast to the last death toll offered by the Kremlin, which suggested less than 6,000 troops in Ukraine had been killed.

During his first news conference since the full-scale invasion, he suggested that 244,000 Russians had been mobilised, before adding that 486,000 had volunteered to fight. He then proceeded to say that 617,000 Russians were fighting in Ukraine.

This figure roughly aligns with US estimates that were declassified earlier this week, which suggested that Russia had suffered 315,000 dead and injured troops in Ukraine. But the last time the Kremlin offered an estimate of the death toll was September 2022, in which they said only 5,937 soldiers had been killed.

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‘Three Kinzhals launched from three fighter jets’

The Air Force said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces used three Kinzhals launched from three fighter jets in Russia’s central Tula region, and that its anti-aircraft missile unit shot down one of the missiles in the Kyiv region.

“Of course, we do not comment on the consequences of hits/non-hits by enemy missiles in the Khmelnytskyi region,” it added.

Local authorities said earlier that emergency services were working at the two crash sites, but no injuries or damage were recorded.

Overnight, Russia launched 42 drones and 6 missiles at Ukraine, with 11 people injured and buildings and warehouses damaged by falling debris. The Ukrainian military said it destroyed 41 drones.

Sam Rkaina15 December 2023 05:00

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Russian missile strikes continue

Ukraine‘s Air Force said Russian MiG-31K fighter jets carrying Kinzhal hypersonic missiles struck targets in central Ukraine just 10 minutes after their takeoff from Savasleyka airbase sparked a national alert on Thursday.

The Air Force said it shot down one Kinzhal missile over Kyiv region, while another two hit Starokostiantyniv district, location of an air base in Khmelnytskyi region west of Kyiv that has been repeatedly attacked during the 21-month-old war.

Kyiv regional governor Ruslan Kravchenko said no casualties were reported, nor damage to critical and civilian infrastructure, after explosions were heard by a Reuters correspondent near the capital.

Firefighters working on the remains of houses in the Donetsk region

(EPA)

Sam Rkaina15 December 2023 04:00

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Other EU candidates and their success rates

Turkey applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for actual entry.

Only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed in the years since, and the whole process is at a standstill as a result of various disputes.

Several countries in the Balkans meanwhile have become discouraged by the bloc’s failure to live up to its lofty membership promises.

North Macedonia submitted its entry bid in 2004. Even after subsequently changing its name to settle a longstanding dispute with EU member Greece, the country is still waiting for membership talks to begin because Bulgaria, another member, threw up a hurdle related to ethnicity and language.

Bosnia remains plagued by ethnic divisions that make reform an almost impossible challenge. The commission said last month that it should only start membership talks after more progress is made. It expressed concern about the justice system and other rights failures in the Bosnian Serb part of the country.

Serbia and Kosovo refuse to normalize their relations, and stand last in the EU’s line.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German chancellor Olaf Scholz

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Sam Rkaina15 December 2023 03:00

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Why Ukraine’s membership journey is rocky

EU officials had said talks couldn’t officially begin until Ukraine addresses multiple issues including corruption, lobbying concerns, and restrictions that might prevent national minorities from studying and reading in their own language.

While EU officials say Ukraine has made progress on these issues in recent months, it still has a long way to go.

Every EU country has gradually agreed to support Ukraine‘s bid — except Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Putin’s greatest ally within the EU. Orban maintains that Ukraine isn’t ready to even start talking about EU membership.

In a surprise move, Orban stepped aside Thursday and abstained from the vote to allow Ukraine‘s membership talks to begin. It is just a beginning, and many steps remain.

Debt crises, waves of migration and Brexit had all contributed to the bloc’s skittishness toward expanding its ranks in recent years. So, too, did the growth of Euro-skeptic political forces in many member countries.

But the urgency created by Russia’s invasion and Ukraine‘s request for expedited consideration upended the EU’s go-slow approach to adding new members, and reversed years of ‘’enlargement fatigue.”

Thursday’s decision also has an impact on other would-be members, who feel the EU is showing favoritism.

Sam Rkaina15 December 2023 02:00

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Why joining EU matters to Ukraine

Ukraine is one of several countries that have long wanted to join the EU, seeing it as a path to wealth and stability. While the EU is not a military alliance like NATO, membership in the bloc is seen by some as a rampart against Russian influence.

Ukraine officially applied for EU accession less than a week after Russia invaded in February 2022. The capital Kyiv faced the threat of capture, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government faced the threat of collapse.

The start of membership talks less than two years later is only one step in a long journey. But it sends a strong signal of solidarity with Ukraine just as U.S. support for Ukraine‘s military is faltering and a Ukrainian counteroffensive is stalled — and as Putin appears increasingly emboldened.

Ukraine’s President Zelensky visits Germany

(EPA)

Sam Rkaina15 December 2023 01:00

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How do you join the EU?

Ukraine got a green light Thursday to start sped-up talks on joining the European Union.

That’s a big boost for war-ravaged Ukraine and a loud message to Vladimir Putin – but it could be years or even decades before the country actually becomes a member of the EU.

Here’s a look at what Thursday’s decision means, and why joining the EU is especially important, and especially hard, for Ukraine.

EU HISTORY AND HOW DO YOU JOIN? The European Union was born after World War II as a trading bloc with a bold ambition: to prevent another war between Germany and France. The six founding members were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Since then, the EU has steadily expanded to contain 27 democratic nations, many from the former communist bloc in Eastern Europe, inspired by the idea that economic and political integration among nations is the best way to promote prosperity and peace.

This notably led to the creation of the shared euro currency in 1999, the continent’s open borders, and trailblazing rules to reduce carbon emissions and regulate tech giants.

To join the EU, candidate countries must go through a lengthy process to align their laws and standards with those of the EU, and show that their institutions and economies meet democratic norms. Launching accession talks requires approval by consensus from the 27 EU nations.

Sam Rkaina14 December 2023 23:59

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US Senate to vote on Ukraine funding, border security next week

The U.S. Senate will vote on military aid for Ukraine and Israel next week as negotiations continue over changes to U.S. border security policy that would be tied to the funding, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday.

The Senate will delay its holiday break, which had been due to start Friday, and convene Monday to give negotiators time to reach an agreement, Schumer said.

“So much hangs on our success,” Schumer said. “We know the world is watching.”

Democratic President Joe Biden has been urging lawmakers to pass a supplemental aid package to provide $50 billion in new security to Ukraine as it fights Russia, as well as $14 billion for Israel as it wages war against Hamas in Gaza.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, as well as Republicans in the Democratic-majority Senate, have repeatedly said they will only vote for that aid if it is paired with new controls for the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sam Rkaina14 December 2023 23:00

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Ukraine shoots down hypersonic Kinzhal missile over Kyiv

Ukraine‘s air force shot down a hypersonic Kinzhal missile over Kyiv on Thursday, a spokesman said.

Responding to a question about an explosion heard in Kyiv, Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said: “Anti-aircraft missile defense systems were at work.

“One missile was shot down.”

Sam Rkaina14 December 2023 22:00

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Putin confronted by critical text messages beamed on screen at year-end news conference

Across the four hours of a marathon end-of-year press conference, Vladimir Putin offered a familiar mix of threats and jibes against Western nations as he tried to paint a rosy picture of Russian life.

However, he was confronted by criticism from ordinary Russians when text messages were beamed in front of him in an apparent gaffe.

Having cancelled the usual annual event last year, this was the first held since the Russian president launched his war almost two years ago.

Mr Putin said “there will only be peace in Ukraine when we achieve our aims” – essentially forcing Kyiv into submission. It is a threat that Russia has repeated while Ukraine’s forces have put up a stout defence of their territory.

With Mr Putin having recently announced he is running for the presidency again in March 2024, he had to be seen to be backing his war machine, although even he let slip that any Russian gains in Ukraine were “modest”; Kremlin-speak for the fact that there has been little movement on the frontlines in recent months.

The heavily stage-managed news conference was watched by millions across Russia. Ordinary citizens submitted questions alongside those from journalists, and Russian media said at least 2 million were sent in advance, with some being shown on a screen at the venue, even if they weren’t answered by Mr Putin. That led to some awkward messages for the president.

Sam Rkaina14 December 2023 21:19

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Hungary says Ukraine is not prepared

Ukraine badly needs support from its Western allies in its nearly two-year fight against Russia’s invasion. Its counter-offensive has failed to make major gains and the Biden administration has so far been unable to get a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine through the U.S. Congress.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “a strategic decision and a day that will remain engraved in the history of our Union.”

Orban had very different words to describe the decision.

“Hungary’s stance is clear, Ukraine is not prepared for us to start talks on EU membership,” he said, calling the decision to start talks “irrational” and “inappropriate.”

“But 26 member states were adamant that this decision must be made so Hungary decided that if 26 decide so, they should go on their own path and Hungary does not wish to participate in this bad decision,” he said.

French president Emmanuel Macron talks to Viktor Orban at the sidelines of the EU summit on Thursday

(REUTERS)

Sam Rkaina14 December 2023 20:15

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