It is “too early” to talk about a potential 2024 election bid for Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“The president has not made any statements in this regard,” Peskov told reporters Monday when asked whether Putin was seeking to run in the next election.
“Work continues as part of the president’s regular routine schedule,” he added.
Asked if the Kremlin has already started preparing for the campaign, Peskov said it is “too early” to talk about it as the Kremlin has “a lot of current affairs.”
Putin has “a very active schedule and a busy agenda,” he added.
Putin is currently serving his fourth term as president, and has effectively been in power since 1999 when he was first appointed prime minister. He later became acting president when his predecessor Boris Yeltsin stepped down.
In 2021, Putin signed constitutional amendments into law which would allow him to seek two more six-year terms when his current presidency ends in 2024.
Russia has downgraded its diplomatic relations with Estonia and expelled the country’s ambassador over allegations of “Russophobia.”
The move comes after Estonia hosted a meeting of Western defense officials in its capital city Tallinn last week to pledge further military support to Ukraine.
“In recent years, the Estonian leadership has been purposefully destroying the entire edifice of its relations with Russia,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.
It accused Tallinn of elevating “blanket Russophobia” and the “cultivation of hostility” to the “level of state policy.”
Moscow also accused Estonia of forcing it to reduce the number of staff at the Russian embassy in Tallinn.
Estonian ambassador Margus Laidre was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry on Monday, and “was presented with a statement of resolute protest against the actions of the Estonian authorities.”
Laidre is due to leave the Russian Federation on February 7.
“The Estonian side must bear full responsibility for this turn of events in the relations between Russia and Estonia,” said the ministry. “We will continue to respond to hostile actions on the part of the Estonian leadership.”
Estonia has been part of a group of NATO allies arguing strongly for Germany to provide its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine to help Kyiv fight off Russia’s invasion.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that each meeting at the US Ramstein Air Base develops the trust that Ukraine’s allies have in Kyiv, following the summit there on Friday.
“Back home after Ramstein 8. With each meeting, I see how our partners’ trust in Ukraine grows. This is all due to the hard work of our soldiers and representatives,” Reznikov tweeted.
“More trust means more weapons. To protect our land, sea… and sky,” he said, adding that the next meeting at the US base in Germany will take place in February.
The meetings started in April 2022, as key allies of Kyiv gathered in Ramstein to chair Ukraine-focused defense talks amid Russia’s invasion.
Leaders failed to reach an agreement Friday on the issue of sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite growing pressure on Berlin from NATO and Kyiv to step up its military aid ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive.
The Kremlin has said that Ukraine will bear the consequences if third countries supply it with tanks, amid growing pressure on Germany to dispatch advanced weaponry to Kyiv.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned the ongoing debate over sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine suggests that the “nervousness among the members of the alliance is constantly growing.”
“All the countries that directly or indirectly take part in the pumping [of Ukraine] with weapons and in raising their technological level, are all responsible for it,” Peskov said Monday.
The Ukrainian people will have to pay for this,” he added.
Some context: Berlin has been under fire for failing to reach an agreement with its key Western allies to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday that Germany would not stop Poland from sending Leopard 2 combat tanks to Ukraine if asked.
Russia previously warned of further escalation if more weapons were sent into Ukraine that will allow strikes on the Russian territory, saying it will “mean bringing the conflict to a new level.”
There is still no date set for discussions between the United States and Russia on the New START nuclear arms treaty, which is the only agreement left regulating the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters he blamed what he described as the “escalating trend in both actions and rhetoric on the part of the United States,” according to the TASS news agency.
The New START Treaty limits all deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons by Russia and the US. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, during the first weeks of President Joe Biden’s term in office. It requires both countries to allow on-site inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities by the other.
Poland’s prime minister has said his government will build coalition of countries ready to donate modern tanks and other equipment to Ukraine, as he criticized Germany for “wasting time” on the issue of sending advanced weaponry to Kyiv.
When things seem to be going in a slightly better direction on the subject of heavy weapons for Ukraine, Germany steps in and raises doubts. The enemy is in the east, and we are wasting time on discussions that do not lead to anything good,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the PAP Polish Press news agency.
“We will build a smaller coalition of states ready to donate some of their modern equipment, modern tanks to Ukraine. We will not passively watch Ukraine bleed to death,” he said Sunday.
Morawiecki added that Berlin’s “attitude” towards transferring German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was “unacceptable.”
“Germany is a powerful country in terms of its economy and military strength… I will say it bluntly. Ukraine and Europe will win this war – with or without Germany. However, it is up to Germany whether they want to join the mission of stopping Russia’s barbarism, or whether they will watch it passively, dooming themselves to being recorded on the wrong side of history.”
Some context: Western leaders have put increased pressure on Germany to dispatch Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, after President Volodymyr Zelensky called on allies to help bolster Ukrainian defense against Russia’s invasion.
Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Sunday “there will be a decision soon” on whether Berlin would transfer the tanks.
Berlin says it will soon make a swift decision on the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, as Western leaders put increased pressure on Germany to send advanced weaponry to Kyiv following repeated requests from President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has said he anticipates a timely decision on the delivery of the tanks, adding he deems them necessary for a Ukrainian offensive in the eastern Luhansk and Donbas regions.
“Everyone understands the need he [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] is in and everyone understands the necessities and that is why there will be a decision soon, whatever it will be,” Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said.
“That tanks are needed, that an offensive movement is needed with regard to Donbas, with regard to Luhansk, that is absolutely clear, but how that will be equipped then has to be seen, but there are also other states that can make their contributions,” he told public broadcaster ARD Sunday.
Though he described Germany as “a Leopard nation,” adding it has a “special responsibility that we have to live up to,” Pistorius stressed the importance of a decision on Leopard tanks “being closely coordinated,” with allies.
“We are talking about heavy armored weapons that can and must be used for offensive purposes, and we have to weigh up very carefully when to bring them into the equation, and I think it is right to do so cautiously and carefully in the German and European interest and not hastily or recklessly,” Pistorius added.
Weapons intended for warfare that are manufactured in the country cannot be re-exported without the federal government’s approval, according to German law.
Under the “War Weapons Control Act“ the German government must consent to any delivery of German-made weapons to a war zone.
Some context: Germany has so far failed to reach an agreement with its key Western allies on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite growing pressure from NATO and Kyiv to step up its military aid ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive.
Some Kyiv officials have expressed frustration at Berlin’s indecision over whether to dispatch its tanks to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk told CNN’s Isa Soares that Germany’s lack of action is a “huge disappointment for all Ukrainians.”
CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed reporting.
Ukrainian forces launched a HIMARS strike on a mechanical plant dispensary in occupied Luhansk Saturday, amid efforts from Kyiv to retake control of the eastern region.
The dispensary in Kadiivka was used as a “location” for Chechen fighters led by pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, the Ukrainian Armed Forces Center for Strategic Communication claimed.
Six rockets were launched destroying the dispensary of the mechanical engineering plant according to the the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) mission to the Joint Centre of Control and Coordination on ceasefire and stabilization of the demarcation line (JCCC).
It is unclear whether the dispensary was used by pro-Russian forces, and for what purposes.
The dispensary may have been used as a hospital for soldiers, information from a local source shared by the JCCC alleged.
In June, Kadyrov shared a video on his Telegram channel of a delivery of medical supplies to a hospital in Kadiivka.
The extent of casualties is still being clarified according to the JCCC, but Andrey Marochko, spokesperson of the LNR militia confirmed that there were no casualties among “the civilian population.”
In December, Russian state media TASS reported that a hotel in Kadiivka, said to be the headquarters of the Wagner Group, was destroyed in a HIMARS strike.
Some background: The versatility of the US-made HIMARS system is clear from its name: the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Its mobility makes it harder to target and it can be crewed by just eight soldiers. The rockets supplied to Ukraine have a range of 70 to 80 kilometers (about 50 miles). And their GPS guidance systems make them extremely accurate.
The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday he hoped bloc members agree to another tranche of aid to support Ukraine, during a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
“I hope we will reach a political consensus,” Borrell told reporters ahead of the meeting.
He added no formal decision is expected to be taken Monday about the funds, which are part of the European Peace Facility (EPF).
The EPF has been operational since July 2021 and finances activities with military implications, supporting the armies of partner countries and EU member states with infrastructure, training and equipment.
The funds were mobilized for the first time in EU history in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the delivery of military equipment, including lethal weaponry.