UK: Luhansk and Donetsk Formally Integrated into Russian Armed Forces

“Militias from the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) were formally integrated into the Russian armed forces on 31 December 2022,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday in its update on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, posted on Twitter.

Luhansk and Donetsk are both internationally recognized as being part of Ukraine.

However, Russia “claims the LNR and DNR as intrinsic parts of the Russian Federation following the fixed accession referendums of September 2022,” the ministry said.  In addition, Russia “has discreetly controlled both since 2014, creating DNR’s 1st Army Corps and LNR’s 2nd Army Corps and supporting them with Russian military officers.”

“The status and identities of the DNR and LNR likely remain divisive within the Russian system.  Even before the February 2022 invasion, these territories represented a significant drain on Russian finances,” the British Defense Ministry said.  “Now the Kremlin has overtly committed to supporting them, they will likely constitute a large political, diplomatic and financial cost for Russia which will last well beyond the current phase of the conflict.”

Meanwhile, the United States will send 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine as part of a new round of military aid to Kyiv, two defense officials tell VOA.

The Bradleys will come with hundreds of TOW anti-tank guided missiles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to a government document shared with VOA before an official announcement expected Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden first announced that Bradleys would be included in the new package, a statement the Pentagon confirmed later Thursday.

“It’s not a tank, but it’s a tank killer,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. “It will provide a significant boost to Ukraine’s already-impressive armored capabilities, and we’re confident that it will aid them on the battlefield.”

Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Bradleys are “a significant improvement compared to what the U.S. has already provided.”

“The Bradley Fighting Vehicle will help infantry forces accompany fast-moving armored forces, providing the infantry additional protection, agility and firepower,” Bowman said.

Germany and France also are sending armored vehicles, the two countries announced this week.

In addition, Germany will match the U.S. in sending Ukraine a Patriot missile battery for defense, the White House said Thursday. Training to use the Patriots, which former officials say will take months to complete, is still being finalized.

“We’re exploring a variety of options, to include potential training here in the U.S., overseas or a combination of both,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon.

The Patriot is the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the West has provided to date to help repel Russian aerial attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday thanked France for its AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, which are built around a powerful turret-mounted GIAT 105mm gun, while also calling on allies to provide heavier weapons.

“There is no rational reason why Ukraine has not yet been supplied with Western tanks,” Zelenskyy said.

Asked last month why the U.S. had not yet supplied Ukraine with the American-made M1A1 Abrams tanks, Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper told VOA the U.S. prioritized the supply of armored personnel carriers like Humvees that Ukraine could use “right now,” along with helping refurbish Soviet-type tanks that Ukrainians are already familiar with and could be “deployed immediately.”

“Something like a Western-style tank would take a much longer time period, not just to train on, but a much more complex and challenging maintenance and sustainment system,” she said in an exclusive interview. “[It’s] not something that could happen in the immediate future.”

Pressed on Thursday about possibly sending M1A1 Abrams, Ryder added, “We’re going to keep all options on the table.”

Orthodox Christmas cease-fire

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered a 36-hour cease-fire in his war against Ukraine over the Orthodox Christmas holiday.

He ordered Russian troops to stop attacks for a day and a half on its neighboring country starting at noon Friday, the Kremlin said. Many Orthodox Christians, including those living in Russia and Ukraine, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6 and 7.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a supporter of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, called on Thursday for both sides of the war in Ukraine to observe a Christmas truce. But the Kyiv government dismissed it as “hypocrisy” and a cynical trap, and Ryder also expressed skepticism.

“While Russia seems to be pretty good at exporting violence, they don’t seem to be pretty good at exporting the truth. And so we’ll see,” Ryder said in response to a question from VOA.

In an order, Putin said, “Proceeding from the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a cease-fire and allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukraine’s president, characterized the Russian Orthodox Church as a “war propagandist” that had incited the “mass murder” of Ukrainians and the militarization of Russia.

Separately Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Putin that negotiations to halt Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be supported by a unilateral cease-fire.

Erdogan’s office said he and Putin spoke by phone and that peace talks should include a “vision for a fair solution.”