(Bloomberg) --

Russia’s defense ministry said 14 people were killed in an overnight Ukrainian strike on a hospital in occupied Luhansk using HIMARS. Three civilians were killed and more than a dozen people were injured in a Russian strike Saturday on Kostyantynivka in Donetsk oblast, Ukrainian officials said.  

Ukraine’s president slammed a plan by the International Olympic Committee to consider allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Paris 2024 summer games as individuals. 

A top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Kyiv is in talks with allies about the need for missiles and planes to shore up Ukraine’s defense against Russia. 

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Key Developments

  • Russian Refiners Churn Through Crude Ahead of EU Import Ban
  • Ex-NATO General Scores Victory Over Populist in Czech Election
  • Finland Hints at Russian Involvement in Sweden Koran Burning 
  • Putin Braces for Long War as He Plans New Offensive in Ukraine
  • EU to Battle on Oil Price Caps, Sanctions in Push to Hurt Russia

On the Ground

In the 24 hours through early Saturday, Russia’s army fired 10 missiles, one of them at Zaporizhzhia civilian infrastructure, 26 air strikes and 81 shells from multiple rocket systems, including at civilian facilities in the city of Ochakiv, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in an update. Some civilians were killed or wounded. Russia shelled the Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv regions with mortar and artillery. It also shelled Kherson and the surrounding region in the south. Russian troops continue to advance in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Novopavlivka sectors, escalating strikes near Bakhmut on Saturday. 

(All times CET)  

Zelenskiy Aide Says Talks Underway on Planes, Missiles (5:39 p.m.)

Ukraine is engaged in talks with allies on the need for long-range missiles and military aircraft, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff said Saturday on Freedom TV. “Talks are moving fast,” Mykhailo Podolyak added.

“Partners understand the logic of the war. We will have more losses without jets,” he said, adding that Ukraine needs long-range missiles to hit Russian ammunition storage sites, including in Crimea. Zelenskiy called for more support, including planes and missiles, after the US and Germany this week said they would send battle tanks. 

On Friday, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban said Western allies have “drifted” toward being active combatants in Ukraine by sending “ever more modern” weaponry to Kyiv. “It started with the Germans saying they were willing to send helmets,” Orban said. “Now, we’re at battle tanks, and they’re already talking about planes.”

Four Ships Carrying Grain Sail From Ukraine’s Ports (4 p.m.)

Four vessels with a total of 147,170 tons of soybeans, wheat, and corn left Ukrainian ports Saturday, heading to Turkey, Bangladesh and China, the Joint Coordination Center said. 

The JCC monitors implementation of the deal brokered by the UN and Turkey that allowed export of food from three Ukrainian ports otherwise blocked by Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February. The JCC’s inspections team concluded seven inspections of vessels Saturday and plan another 10 on Sunday, according to an emailed statement. 

Currently, 34 vessels are waiting for inspection: 10 of them waiting to move into Ukrainian ports and 24 loaded with cargo waiting to sail. Another 80 more applications have been submitted, Ukraine said. 

Russia Says Many Killed, Wounded in Ukraine Strike on Hospital (3:30 p.m.)

Russia’s defense ministry said Ukrainian forces struck with HIMARS a district hospital in Novoaidar in occupied Luhansk, killing 14 people and wounding 24. The report couldn’t be verified and there was no immediate comment from Ukraine. 

Service members and the local population were being treated at the facility, Russia’s ministry said. Among the casualties were patients and medical staff. 

Ukraine-Backing Ex-NATO General is Next Czech President (3:32 p.m.)

A former NATO general pledging unwavering support for Ukraine will become the next Czech president after securing a convincing victory over a former billionaire prime minister. 

Petr Pavel, who once served as NATO’s highest-ranking military, had 57.1% with almost 90% of polling districts counted, according to data published by the Czech Statistics Office on Saturday. Andrej Babis, a chemicals, farming and media magnate known for his clashes with the European Union, had 42.9%.  

Read more: Ex-NATO General Scores Victory Over Populist in Czech Election

Finland Hints at Russian Involvement in Swedish Koran Incident (3:10 p.m.)

Finland’s foreign minister hinted that Russia may have been involved in last week’s Koran-burning protest that threatens to derail Sweden’s accession to NATO. 

Potential ties between a right-wing activist and Russia have “been investigated and certain connections in his vicinity have been found,” Finland’s Pekka Haavisto said Saturday. Sweden’s government has made no official comment. Russia didn’t respond to Haavisto’s remarks. 

The episode “raises the question of whether some third party is seeking to stir the pot,” the Finnish minister said. 

Read more: Finland Hints at Russian Involvement in Sweden Koran Burning 

Ukrainian Woman Killed in Jerusalem Attack (3 p.m.)

A Ukrainian woman was among those killed in an attack in Jerusalem that claimed seven lives outside a synagogue on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

The round of violence began Thursday when Israeli soldiers in the Jenin area of the West Bank clashed with Palestinian gunmen, killing nine. A 10th later died in a separate incident. 

The tensions escalated just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to arrive with plans to meet both with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his new Israeli government and Palestinian leaders. 

Ukrainian Defense Ministry Plans to Spend $547m on Drones (2:11 p.m.)

Ukraine’s defense ministry said it plans to increase the purchase of drones for the army this year, according to an emailed statement. 

It plans to spend 20 billion hryvnia ($547 million), and it has already signed contracts with 16 Ukrainian producers. 

Three Civilians Dead as Russia Strikes Donestsk (1 p.m.)

Three civilians were killed and more than a dozen were injured in a Russian strike on Kostyantynivka in Donetsk on Saturday, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration. 

Four high-rise apartment buildings, a hotel, garages and civilian cars were damaged, Kyrylenko said on Telegram. Rescue workers are at the scene. 

US Ambassador to Meet with Russia’s Ryabkov (9:30 a.m.)

Lynne Tracy, the new US ambassador to Russia, is expected to meet early next week with Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, the RIA news agency reported. No specific day was mentioned. 

Tracy, a career diplomat and the first woman to hold the post, arrived in Moscow on Thursday. She was deputy head of the US mission in Russia from 2014 to 2017 and was most recently ambassador to Armenia. 

Her arrival comes as tensions between Washington and Moscow are high, and days after the US said it would supply Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine for its defense against the Kremlin’s invasion. 

Zelenskiy Slams IOC Over 2024 Paris Olympics ‘Pathway’ Plan (8:10 a.m.)

Ukraine’s president slammed a plan by the International Olympic Committee that may allow Russians and Belarusians to compete at the 2024 Paris summer games, still 18 months away. 

The IOC on Wednesday said it would explore “a pathway” for those athletes to compete in Paris, potentially as individuals, adding that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport.”

“There is no such thing as neutrality when a war like this is going on,” Zelenskiy said Friday in his nightly video address. “It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.” He invited the IOC’s president to visit the front lines. 

Russian Disinformation Over War is Pervasive, UK Says (8 a.m.)

Disinformation by Moscow in its public announcements about the invasion of Ukraine remains “pervasive,” the UK defense ministry said. 

It gave as an example Russian losses in a Ukrainian strike on troop accommodation at Makiyivka in Donetsk Oblast on Jan. 1. In a rare public admission, Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged 89 casualties — but the UK estimates 300 were likely killed. Ukraine previously estimated about 400 deaths. 

Defense Minister Meets Pentagon’s Inspector General (4 a.m.)

Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, wrote on Twitter Friday about his meeting in Kyiv with a US Defense Department delegation led by Robert Storch, the department’s inspector general. Also in Kyiv were the inspectors general of the State Department and USAID. 

In his tweet, Reznikov said that Ukraine’s allies “continue to see for themselves that transparency & accountability are critical components of our policy.”

Storch, who was an inspector general for the National Security Agency and a deputy inspector general at the Justice Department, assumed his current role in December. 

Ukraine May Export 5 Million Tons of Grain in January (5 p.m.)

Ukraine’s grain export may total near 5 million tons in January “despite complications” caused by Russia in the Bosphorus, Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotskyi said, according to the ministry’s website. Vessel wait times in the Bosphorus Strait sometimes add as much as $30 to $40 per ton of grain in additional costs, squeezing farmers.

Ukraine to Use Drone Hunter System to Protect Energy Facilities (3:45 p.m.)

Ukraine has obtained six systems to help detect and down Russian Shahed drones, Digital Transformation Minister Mykhaylo Fedorov said on Telegram. The protecting systems were purchased with money from the official government fundraising platform United24.

Russian Diesel Heads to Europe Ahead of Import Ban (3:40 p.m.)

Oil traders are sending huge amounts of Russian diesel to the EU, with an import ban on the fuel just days way. 

Countries from the bloc imported more than 600,000 barrels-a-day of diesel-type fuel from Russia in the first 23 days of this month, according to data from Vortexa Ltd. compiled by Bloomberg. That’s a little more than both the average imports for 2022 and arrivals over the same period last year, before Moscow’s troops invaded Ukraine.

Traders Cram Russian Diesel Into Europe as Import Ban Looms 

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