Key updates on Nov. 24:
- Defense Ministry: $4.8 billion to be allocated for shells, missiles in 2024
- Latvian president arrives in Ukraine on official visit
- German ambassador: New Patriot air defense system to arrive in Ukraine this winter
- Washington Post: Russian, Chinese companies discuss possible underwater Crimean tunnel project
- Zelensky asks military to present new mobilization plan
- SBU: Ukrainian man sentenced to 12 years in prison for spying for Russian military
The Ukrainian government will earmark Hr 175 billion ($4.8 billion) for the purchase of shells and missiles as part of the country's 2024 defense budget, said Deputy Defense Minister Yurii Dzhyhyr on Nov. 24.
Dzhyhyr also said that another Hr 80 billion ($2.2 billion) will go towards the purchase of military equipment. Another top priority is to repair damaged military equipment, as well as purchase spare parts, he added.
As much as possible, the Ukrainian government will try to make purchases from domestic suppliers.
"According to our estimates, more than Hr 190 billion ($5.2 billion) from the funds that will be contracted next year will remain with domestic producer(s)," Dzhyhyr said.
The delivery of shells from the U.S. has dropped in recent months as the stability of continued aid from Ukraine's largest supplier of military aid increasingly comes into question.
Hopes that Ukraine's European allies may be able to fill in the gaps in shell provisions were also likely proving to be overly optimistic, as Bloomberg reported on Nov. 10 that the EU pledge to deliver one million shells to Ukraine by March 2024 was behind its target.
Latvian president arrives in Ukraine on official visit
Zelensky welcomed his Latvian counterpart in Ukraine's capital, thanking Rinkevics's homeland for "taking a principled stance in favor of Ukraine's full-fledged EU membership."
"Ukraine's place is in the European Union. It has achieved significant progress in implementing reforms despite active hostilities and struggles against the Russian aggressor," Rinkevics said.
Ukraine became an EU membership candidate in June last year and now hopes for a positive decision on the start of accession talks by the end of 2023.
"President Rinkevics reiterated Latvia's firm and unwavering support for Ukraine, including military aid," Zelensky wrote on social media, adding he and Rinkevics discussed continued military aid for Kyiv.
Rinkevics' trip to Ukraine included a visit to the village of Yahidne in Chernihiv Oblast, which was briefly occupied by Russian forces in early 2022.
Latvia's head of state visited a local school where Russian troops held residents hostage in inhumane conditions for almost a month.
The Baltic country is involved in Chernihiv Oblast's reconstruction efforts, contributing more than $5.5 million this year.
The prime minister of Latvia's neighbor Lithuania, Ingrida Simonyte, arrived in Kyiv earlier on Nov. 24.
German ambassador: New Patriot air defense system to arrive in Ukraine this winter
The system was originally pledged by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Oct. 5, but he did not give a timeline for when it would be delivered.
Jaeger also discussed a variety of other subjects in the interview.
He mentioned that the flow of Ukrainian refugees to Germany has largely stopped, with around 800 Ukrainians arriving in Germany per month. In total, about 1 million Ukrainians are currently living in Germany, including some 200,000 children who go to German schools and learn the language.
Despite reports that aid for Ukrainians in Germany might decrease, Jaeger said that "people from Ukraine can count on the fact that they will continue to receive adequate support in Germany."
Amid concerns from Europe that increasingly Ukraine-skeptic parties are winning elections, such as in Slovakia and more recently in the Netherlands, Jaeger acknowledged that there is a segment of the electorate that is opposed to continued support for Ukraine.
However, he said that it totals perhaps a fifth of voters, compared to 80% who approve of Germany's commitment to Ukraine.
Germany is ready to support Ukraine until victory, he said, and also "wholeheartedly supports Ukraine's accession to the EU."
"I hope that my term of office will be enough not only to achieve victory, but also to really go with Ukraine a significant part of the way to Brussels," Jaeger added.
Washington Post: Russian, Chinese companies discuss possible underwater Crimean tunnel project
Russian and Chinese state-connected business executives have reportedly begun discussing the possibility of constructing an underwater tunnel across the Crimean Strait amidst fears that Ukrainian forces will continue striking the Kerch Bridge, the Washington Post reported on Nov. 24, citing unnamed sources from Ukraine's intelligence service.
The sources shared the intercepted emails to the Washington Post to allegedly expose the project and potential Chinese involvement. The emails were corroborated by information that the Washington Post separately acquired.
Neither Chinese officials nor representatives of the Chinese and Russian companies supposedly involved responded to requests for comment, the Washington Post said.
Among the revelations from the leaked emails were communications between executives from Chinese and Russian companies that said meetings on the proposed project have allegedly already occurred.
One such email notes that the state-owned Chinese Railway Construction Corporation, CRCC, was "ready to ensure the construction of railway and road construction projects of any complexity in the Crimean region.”
The nature of the emails reflects the lengths to which China is attempting to maintain secrecy about the proposed project, with several intercepted communications saying that the CRCC's name be hidden from all documents and that it would only participate with a “strict provision of complete confidentiality."
Nonetheless, U.S. officials whom the Washington Post spoke to were surprised that China would potentially be willing to even consider being involved in such a risky project.
Beyond the likelihood of sanctions being leveled at any company participating in the tunnel project, it would also face the threat of strikes from the Ukrainian military. The illegally constructed Kerch Bridge connecting occupied Crimea to Russia has already been struck on more than one occasion.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) took credit for an attack on the bridge on July 17 that damaged sections of the road.
An underwater tunnel would be less susceptible to attack and thus would provide a more durable connection.
The proposal to create an underwater tunnel, if true, illustrates the extent of Russian security concerns about the bridge.
The project would cost at least $5 billion, an engineer told the Washington Post, and several years to complete. More advanced construction methods involving dredging ships would be difficult to use due to security reasons. The project would also require the constant protection of the Russian military.
The length of the project shows that Russia is likely considering that Ukrainian threats to Crimea will likely exist for the foreseeable future. Even if started immediately, the tunnel would be unlikely to contribute to Russia's war effort anytime soon.
Zelensky asks military to present new mobilization plan
President Volodymyr Zelensky instructed Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov to present a new mobilization plan by next week, the president said on Nov. 24, RBC Ukraine reported.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, Zelensky said he listened to reports on mobilization challenges and options for their solution at today's meeting of the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
Some of the issues have already been resolved, he added.
"I would like people to understand the entire action plan, where we are going, what the challenges are," the president said.
Zelensky wrote on his Telegram channel on Nov. 24 that the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief meeting addressed "mobilization and demobilization, rotations in the Armed Forces of Ukraine," and "issues regarding conscripts who were called to service before the start of the full-scale invasion."
Special attention was also paid to the work of medical military commissions and military enlistment offices, the president added.
Both of these bodies have been rocked by corruption scandals in the past months, leading to Zelensky's dismissal of all regional heads of enlistment offices.
The Defense Ministry and military leadership have seen further personnel changes since Umerov replaced his predecessor, Oleksii Reznikov, in early September.
Medical Forces commander Tetiana Ostashchenko was fired on Nov. 19 following repeated appeals from medics and volunteers. In a more surprising move, Zelensky also replaced Special Operations Forces commander Viktor Khorenko on Nov. 4.
SBU: Ukrainian man sentenced to 12 years in prison for spying for Russian military
A Ukrainian man was sentenced to 12 years in prison following an investigation by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for spying for the Russian military in Donetsk Oblast, the SBU announced on Nov. 24.
The man tried to identify the locations of Ukrainian troop concentrations, military bases, headquarters, and weapons and munitions depots, which he then shared with Russian forces operating in the area.
The alleged spy lived in Sloviansk, in the Ukrainian-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast, about 25 kilometers from the front line .
The SBU said that he sent these coordinates by voice messages through liaisons, likely in hopes that he could hide his involvement in spying for Russia.
Following an investigation, the SBU arrested the man and found the phone he used to message his Russian contacts.
The SBU turned over the details of the investigation to the Donetsk Oblast Prosecutor's Office, which charged the man with "providing assistance to the armed forces of the aggressor state."
His 12-year sentence was shorter than some of the other prison terms that have been issued in similar cases.
In some cases, Ukrainians found spying for Russia during the full-scale invasion have been charged with treason, which can carry a life sentence if convicted.
A Ukrainian woman was sentenced to life in prison in October for providing the Russian military with photographs of strategic sites in Ukraine, including domestic defense industry factories.