Key developments on Dec. 27:
The Russian and Belarusian strongmen showed a united front to the West on Dec. 27, claiming they reached agreements on “many issues” at a regional summit as Russia continues to wage its brutal war against Ukraine.
The discussion points of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko at the summit held in St. Petersburg are unclear.
The two men’s deepening ties have raised Ukraine’s alert level of a potential border escalation from its northern neighbor Belarus.
Senior Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia could launch a new major offensive from multiple fronts in early 2023, including another attempt at capturing Kyiv from the north.
Lukashenko arrived in Moscow on Dec. 24, shortly after Putin’s rare visit to the Belarusian capital of Minsk earlier in the week.
Russia has long tried to lure Belarus – already allowing Russian troops to use its territory as a launchpad for invasion – into directly joining its war in Ukraine.
In response, Ukraine is strengthening its defense at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border and closely monitoring the Belarusian and Russian units on the other side of the border, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service spokesman Andriy Demchenko said at a briefing on Dec. 27.
Demchenko added that Russia had not created a strike force yet, which it needs to launch a new ground operation against Ukraine.
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Ukraine’s Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov said that Russia’s military activity in Belarus appears to be its attempt to lure Ukraine into diverting its soldiers from the southeast of the country to the north.
Meanwhile in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky held the regularly scheduled meeting with military command and law enforcement agencies on Dec. 27. The front-line situation and 2023 plans were discussed, the presidency said in a statement but didn’t provide details.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops pushed out the Russians from the embattled city of Bakhmut after they made “a slight advance” in that direction, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that Russian troops have still not succeeded at encircling Bakhmut, but they continue to mass their forces to capture the city.
“You see how courageously Bakhmut holds on, how many losses our soldiers inflict on the enemy and it simply cannot move on,” Malyar said on television.
For months, Russia has thrown its troops and equipment en mass to capture the salt-mine city, once home to 70,000 people. If Russia captures Bakhmut, the key cities in Donetsk Oblast, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, could be under a bigger threat.
Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Dec. 26 that over 60% of the infrastructure in Bakhmut is either partially or completely destroyed.
In southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian forces continue their counteroffensive efforts on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, Southern Operational Command spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk said.
Humeniuk said that there is a noticeable drop in Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones after it received a new batch earlier in December. She added that it is likely because Russia initially used them in large numbers to detect Ukraine’s air defense systems.