Over Christmas weekend there have been indications of both Russia and Ukraine at the very least signaling a willingness to open sincere negotiations with the other side. But only under specific sets of circumstances. In an interview aired on Christmas Day, Russian leader Vladimir Putin claimed he is ready to negotiate with ‘all parties engaged in the Ukraine War’ however, the Ukrainian government and its Western supporters have refused to consider peace talks. “We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,” Putin said in the interview.
Today, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his nation wants to chair a so-called ‘peace summit’ at the United Nations in February, 2023. He suggested that the UN secretary general could mediate the conference, but then went on to apply a caveat to Russia’s participation in a peace summit: Russia would be included only if it faces a war crimes tribunal in an international court. Since the chances of Moscow agreeing to this term are basically non-existent, don’t expect to see Russia and Ukraine sitting down to discuss peace at any point in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, a second attempted Ukrainian drone attack on an airbase deep inside of Russian territory appears to have taken place. The Russian defense ministry reported that air defense forces in and around the Engels Airbase engaged and destroyed a drone near the base. But unfortunately, falling debris killed three servicemembers. Engels is a major Russian bomber base that was supposedly targeted by the Ukrainian military earlier in December. Neither the Ukrainian government or armed forces have admitted being behind the attack, but military spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said the explosions were the result of what Russia was doing on Ukrainian soil.
North Korea is continuing preparations for the launch of the nation’s first intelligence satellite, set for April, 2023. State media reported on Monday that “important, final phase” test was conducted Sunday. According to KCNA, the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) oversaw the test at the Sohae satellite launching station. The test’s purpose was to confirm progress on satellite imaging, data transmission and ground control systems. A vehicle supposedly carrying a mock satellite was launched. Coincidentally, South Korea and Japan both reported the isolated launches of two North Korean medium-range ballistic missiles Sunday, adding some credibility to the report.
KCNA also distributed two black and white low-resolution photographs of Seoul and the South Korean port of Inchon, located a short distance away. Apparently, these images were taken on Sunday during the launch. However, the low-resolution images, as well as photographs of the launch site have produced skepticism among many observers. Specifically, the launch vehicle for the test, which appeared to be an obsolete rocket carrying cameras. There were no signs of a satellite being carried.
This observation aside, North Korea’s determination to place a spy satellite in orbit this coming spring falls in line with Pyongyang’s drive to modernize its nuclear weapon and missile programs. If a satellite is launched in April its cameras will be obsolete by modern standards. This aside, placing an intelligence gathering platform in orbit will signal an advancement and acknowledgement of the North’s technological capabilities. As has been the case with its missile programs, subsequent satellites will see marked improvements from the original.
Kim Jong Un is certainly making the most of the world being distracted by the war in Ukraine, and to a lesser degree China for most of the past year. Missile launches have become an almost weekly event. So much so that the world hardly notices, despite the fact a number of the tests openly defy UN resolutions and sanctions aimed at the North’s nuclear weapon programs. In the absence of a strict rebuke or effective deterrent from the UN or United States, the tests and progress will assuredly continue on and North Korea’s nuclear weapon programs will reap the rewards.
With UN General Assembly set to get underway next week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges the glut of troubles facing the world at the moment. He described the state of the world as “A time of great peril.” Fair description considering the wars, economic crisis, poverty, climate chaos and other issues in play across the planet right now. The question is: What is the United Nations prepared to do about it?
Guterres is calling for cooperation from UN member-states, while acknowledging the global response to these crises has been weakened by a number of mitigating factors. In an interview with NPR, the secretary-general admitted that the supranational body’s ability to contend with matters such as the Ukraine-Russia War and the energy crisis now brewing in Europe is limited. More to the point, Guterres doesn’t expect UN efforts to result in progress to be made on many fronts.
This will be the first in-person General Assembly since 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath many leaders attended remotely. 140 world leaders are expected to attend, a marked increase from 2021’s 80. There will be one exception granted though. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy was granted permission by the UN General Assembly to address the body via video link.
There are growing indications that North Korea is moving forward with plans for its first nuclear weapons test in over four years. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise lately, though this has been underreported in light of the war in Ukraine. Last week, Kim Jong Un promised to continue development of its nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible speed.” This has prompted concerns that a test will be scheduled to disrupt the late May visit of US President Joe Biden to South Korea. Chinese and South Korea diplomats met in Seoul on Tuesday with China pledging to play a ‘constructive role’ in attempting to get North Korea to resume negotiations.
South Korea, with a new administration taking power on 10 May, is quite interested in deterring North Korea from escalating the situation. One element that appears to be coaxing the North along the slippery path it’s on at present is Russia. Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin have forged close ties over the years and the North is one of the few nations supporting Russia in its war without misgivings. In exchange for this loyalty, Russia could return the favor by blocking a UN effort to impose severe sanctions on North Korea if it does move forward with a nuclear test.
Having said this, it must be mentioned that the global economic fallout from Russia’s adventure in Ukraine and the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in China could hit the North Korean economy especially hard. Supply chain issues now coming into play will exacerbate food shortages. Inflation will also play a greater role. Food prices in North Korea often mirror global prices. With food prices rising around the world, the North’s prices are expected to do the same in the coming weeks, taking the country’s economic issues from bad to worse in the process.
Forty-six civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, according to Russian news reports. Another report from Ukrainian troops defending the plant tells of twenty civilians who were evacuated during a ceasefire. It remains unclear if these two groups are the same or different. However, The UN confirmed today that an operation to evacuate people from the steel plant in Mariupol is under way. According to estimates, there are 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and several hundred soldiers sheltering in the massive plant. According to news updates at 1540 Eastern Time, the UN has announced an operation to evacuate all civilians inside the city will begin on Monday
In eastern Ukraine, fighting has picked up around Kharkov as Ukrainian forces strive to push Russian troops farther away from the nation’s second-largest city. The battlelines around Kharkov have been static since the early days of the war. Russian troops are entrenched in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, operations carried out by Ukrainian forces have retaken four villages around Kharkov: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. Those claims have yet to be independently verified.
Germany’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being criticized (yet again). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told a German newspaper that Berlin’s actions have been hesitant when compared to other European nations. Kuleb said Germany should “take the leading role in Europe, especially in questions of Eastern policy.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted little time in defending his decisions on Ukraine. “I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies. I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.” Scholz has been heavily criticized for not providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine fast enough.