Ukraine war: Zelenskyy hails US aid, Abramovich wealth ‘reorganization’, Orthodox Christmas

1. ‘Exactly what is needed’: Zelensky hails US military aid

Ukraine’s president praised the US on Friday for promising to supply it with tank-killing armored vehicles, as part of a new multibillion-dollar package of military aid.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy said they are “exactly what is needed” for Ukrainian troops as they fight Russia’s invading force.

On Friday, the White House announced its latest raft of military assistance for Kyiv, the biggest to date.

The 2.85 billion dollar package included Bradley armored vehicles — known as tank-killers since they can fire anti-tank missiles — for the first time.

In his nightly televised address on Friday, Zelenskyy called it “a very powerful package.”

“For the first time, we will get Bradley armored vehicles – this is exactly what is needed. New guns and rounds, including high-precision ones, new rockets, new drones. It is timely and strong,” he said.

He thanked his US counterpart Joe Biden, the country’s lawmakers and “all the Americans who appreciate freedom, and who know that freedom is worth protecting.”

In 2022, the US will send nearly 50 billion dollars in assistance to Ukraine, including humanitarian, financial and military support, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute.

2. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas under the shadow of war

Orthodox Christians in Russia and Ukraine filled churches on Friday evening for Christmas Eve celebrations, with the conflict raging between the Orthodox neighbors.

Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, the world’s largest Orthodox denomination, led elaborate services at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, together with dozens of priests swinging smoking incense and chanting.

A day earlier, Kirill called for a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed, but Ukrainian officials dismissed it as an attempt to allow Moscow’s forces to regroup.

Kyiv residents ventured out into a light dusting of snow to buy gifts, cakes and groceries for Christmas Eve family celebrations, hours after the cease-fire was supposed to have started.

In a video message, Zelenskyy praised Ukrainians as “united as never before”, lamenting that the conflict has forced many to abandon Christmas folk traditions that prohibit sewing and hunting.

“It is forbidden to sew and knit, but we weave camouflage nets and sew bulletproof vests, overcoming evil. Our ancestors did not go hunting in these days, but we fight so that we do not become prey and to defeat the beast,” he said.

Of 260 million Orthodox Christians in the world, about 100 million are in Russia, while Ukraine has around 30 million believers.

3. London to host international meeting on alleged war crimes

Justice ministers from around the world will gather in London to increase support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) as its investigations of alleged war crimes in Ukraine, the British government said on Saturday.

The meeting in March, which will be hosted by UK Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and his Dutch counterpart Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, will be attended by ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan, according to a statement.

“Almost a year on from the illegal invasion, the international community must give its strongest backing to the ICC so war criminals can be held to account for the atrocities we’re witnessing,” said Raab, who is also the deputy prime minister.

The meeting will seek to increase the global financial and practical support to the ICC and coordinate efforts to ensure it has all it needs to carry out investigations and prosecute those responsible, the statement said.

Russia has denied targeting civilians and other war crimes.

The UK has been steady in its backing for Ukraine, having provided 2.3 billion pounds in military support to Kyiv.

4. Abramovich’s trusts Reorganized Before Russia Sanctions – Report

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich transferred his children several secret trusts worth billions before being slapped with sanctions, according to the Guardian.

His seven children became the owners of 10 offshore trusts, amounting to at least 4 billion dollars in early February 2022, the UK newspaper reported.

Abramovich — former owner of Chelsea FC — was sanctioned shortly after this “sweeping reorganization” of his finances, with experts saying the move made it harder to target the oligarch.

An anonymous source shared the “large cache” of documents — dubbed “the Oligarch files” — with the newspaper, it reported.

They show that Abramovich’s children – five of whom are adults, with the youngest aged nine – became billionaires almost overnight.

The reorganization happened just as Western governments were threatening to sanction Russian oligarchs if Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Sanctions experts told the British newspaper that the move will make it harder for countries to sanction Abramovich. Once Israel’s richest man, the 56-year-old is accused of having close ties with the Kremlin and Putin.

He has been sanctioned by the UK, EU and Canada, although not the US. However, the US Justice Department seized two of his aircraft last year, saying they had been used in violation of sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine.

While western sanctions have hit many of those close to the Russian presidency, penalties have largely avoided targeting their families as well.

The Guardian noted that the reorganization could lead to more calls for his children to face asset freezes as well.

5. Putin praises Russian Orthodox Church for offensive support of Ukraine

Russia’s president praised the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting the Ukraine war in an Orthodox Christmas message seeking to rally people behind his vision of modern Russia.

The Kremlin issued Putin’s message after he attended an Orthodox Christmas Eve service on his own inside a Kremlin cathedral, instead of joining other worshipers in a public celebration.

Putin praised the Orthodox Church, whose influential head Patriarch Kirill has fully supported the offensive in Ukraine.

Church organizations are “supporting our soldiers taking part in a special military operation,” he said, using the official Kremlin term for its invasion of Ukraine.

“Such great, multifaceted, truly ascetic work deserves the most sincere respect.”

In his message, Putin said he viewed the Russian Orthodox Church as an important stabilizing force in society, amid a historical clash between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

“It is deeply gratifying to note the enormous constructive contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations in unifying society, preserving our historical memory, educating youth and strengthening the institution of the family,” he continued.

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, but the Russian Orthodox Church’s backing for Moscow’s war in Ukraine has angered many Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

It has divided the worldwide Orthodox Church, with others strongly opposed to the war.

Patriarch Kirill has called on believers to support pro-Russian “brothers” during Moscow’s offensive in eastern Ukraine.

In a sermon last year, he said that dying in Ukraine “washes away all sins”.

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