KYIV — Russia’s president made an unexpected visit overnight from Thursday to Friday to Rostov-on-Don, the headquarters of the Russian army in Ukraine, the Kremlin announced.
This is Vladimir Putin’s second trip to the southern Russian city in less than a month.
The Russian leader – accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the commander of military operations in Ukraine Valéri Gerassimov – was shown new military equipment and heard reports on the military’s progress in Ukraine, according to the Kremlin.
Close to Ukraine, Rostov-on-Don is the operational centre for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
It was the scene of Wagner’s spectacular mutiny in June, with the mercenary force briefly seizing the army HQ before a deal was put to stop their rebellion.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament has passed a new state budget for 2024, aiming to bolster its counteroffensive against the Russian invasion that started some 20 months ago.
More than half of the budget of 3.35 trillion hryvnias (€87 billion) is set to be spent on the war effort.
“Practically 50% of our spending is for the defence and security of Ukraine,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said after the decision became official. “There will be more weapons and vehicles, more drones, ammunition and missiles. Every hryvnia from the taxpayer will go to the army.”
The revenue for 2024, however, is expected to be €45.4 billion, almost half of the expenditure.
Ukraine is banking on its Western allies to plug the gap, though funds could be difficult to obtain because of donor “fatigue”, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said.
The country has already received €32.4 billion in financial aid this year, around €3 billion more than the year the invasion started.
Ukrainian economy shrank by nearly a third as a result of the war, as people fled the country and infrastructures suffered heavy damages.
The government expects the economy to grow next year, noting businesses and people have adjusted to the new reality.
A Russian missile strike on the Ukrainian port of Odesa hit a Liberian-flagged freighter, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Thursday.
A port worker was killed and another wounded, as well as three citizens of the Philippines,
The report did not give the name of the ship or the country of its owners, but Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the ship was to carry iron ore to China.
The extent of the damage was not immediately reported.
The Odesa port and others in the region are economically vital to Ukraine as its outlets to the Black Sea, from which ships can head for world markets.
Odesa port facilities have come under Russian attack 21 times since Russia in August declined to renew a deal allowing Ukraine to safely export grain via the Black Sea, Kubrakov said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in October that a new Black Sea export corridor had allowed some 50 ships to set sail. — Euronews