Russia praises decision allowing its athletes to compete in 2024 Olympics; Kremlin missiles pound Ukraine: Updates

Russian Olympic officials on Thursday praised the International Olympic Committee’s decision allowing Russian athletes to participate in the Summer Olympics in Paris next year.

The IOC Executive Board agreed to allow individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in Olympic events if they are not “actively supporting” Russia’s war in Ukraine. The athlete also must compete under neutral status.

“I believe that this is already a success,” said Igor Levitin, vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee. “The Olympic community realizes that the Olympic Games cannot transpire without Russia’s participation.”

The international athlete advocacy group Global Athlete issued a statement blasting the IOC decision, saying it “sends a message to the world that the International Olympic Committee endorses Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine.”

BIDEN SEEKS TO AVOID WIDER WAR:Delivery of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine escalates conflict

Workers check a destroyed residential area after a Russian rocket attack in Hlevakha, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan.  26, 2023.

Workers check a destroyed residential area after a Russian rocket attack in Hlevakha, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

Other developments:

►The US will send Ukraine the Abrams tanks in their more advanced M1A2 configuration, rather than the older A1 version now in storage, Politico reported, citing three unidentified officials it said had knowledge of the deliberations.

►The US Treasury designated the private Russian militia Wagner Group a “significant transnational criminal organization.” The declaration freezes Wagner’s US assets and bans Americans from providing financial or other support.

►Ukraine’s Security Service said it had detained a lieutenant colonel accused of conducting intelligence operations and passing state secrets to Russian contacts.

►The EU believes it has the legal authority to “temporarily leverage” more than $36 billion in Russian central bank assets to help pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine, Bloomberg reported, citing people it said were familiar with the financial details.

►Of the 50,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons by the Wagner Group to fight in Ukraine, 40,000 are either dead or missing, and only 10,000 are still fighting, says Olga Romanova, head of the prisoner advocacy group Russia Behind Bars.

UKRAINE TO GET ELITE TANKS: Here is how they will aid in war with Russia

No sign that US aid is getting stolen in Ukraine, administration officials say

The US has not noticed any indication its aid to Ukraine is getting stolen or misused, Biden administration officials told a Senate committee Thursday, two days after several Ukrainian government officials were pushed out amid allegations of corruption.

Among those leaving President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration was his deputy head of office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who was accused in media reports of driving an SUV donated for humanitarian aid. Ukrainian media also reported the Defense Ministry was buying food meant for troops at elevated prices in a possible profiteering scheme.

Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told senators the government shakeup in Ukraine is proof of Zelenskyy’s efforts to root out corruption, a key message of his campaign.

“We have been very clear that we need to see, as they proceed this war, the anti-corruption steps, including good corporate governance and judicial measures, move forward,” Nuland said.

Any signs of corruption could jeopardize the influx of billions of dollars in military and humanitarian assistance that Ukraine has been receiving from the US and its allies since Russia’s invasion 11 months ago.

Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told senators that US officials have “not seen credible evidence of any diversion of US-provided weapons outside of Ukraine.”

Russia responds to tank deal with massive missile attack

Russia unleashed a massive missile assault on non-military Ukraine targets Thursday, killing at least 11 people one day after the US and Germany agreed to send dozens of elite tanks to Ukraine in a deal that could alter the fortunes of combatants on both sides of the 11-month-old war.

Ukrainian air defense shot down 47 out of 55 Russian missiles fired at energy and other critical infrastructure, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces said. Valerii Zaluzhnyi said 20 missiles had been destroyed over Kyiv alone in what was the first such Russian barrage in almost two weeks. Major Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed by falling debris from a rocket.

Eleven deaths were confirmed and at least 11 other people were injured across the country, state emergency services reported. In the Zaporizhzhia province, one missile killed three people and seven wounded, local officials said.

“Russia’s goal remains the same – psychological pressure on Ukrainians and the destruction of critical infrastructure,” Zaluzhnyi said.

2 Germans face treason charges, accused of passing secrets to Russia

Authorities in Germany have arrested a second suspect in an espionage case that embarrassed Germany’s foreign intelligence agency. Federal prosecutors said Arthur E., a German citizen whose surname wasn’t released, was detained at Munich airport last month after arriving from the United States. Prosecutors said the suspect was accused of passing state secrets to Russian intelligence. Arthur E. was not an employee of Germany’s spy agency, prosecutors said. German authorities said they received support in their investigation from the FBI.

Authorities said the suspect obtained the information from Carsten L., an agency employee arrested in Berlin on Dec. 21. Both suspects face treason charges.

German tanks could be rolling in Ukraine in March

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Ukrainian crews would start their training in Germany within days on German-made Marders, which are infantry fighting vehicles, while training on the heavier Leopard 2 tanks would start “a little later.”

“In any case, the aim with the Leopards is to have the first company in Ukraine by the end of March, beginning of April,” he said. “I can’t say the precise day.”

Germany said it would supply 14 high-tech Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and authorize other European countries to send up to 88 more. The US will send 31 elite M1 Abrams tanks and support vehicles to Ukraine, the Biden administration said.

Britain, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada are among other nations supplying tanks and heavy armored vehicles to Ukraine.

GERMAN LEOPARD 2 TANKS: Tanks are heading to Ukraine

Four evicted from Australian Open after waving Russian flags, threatening guards

Four people who displayed Russian flags and threatened security guards were evicted from the Australian Open, tournament officials and police aid Thursday. The Open, the year’s first tennis grand slam, has banned Russian and Belarusian flags from its grounds because of the war in Ukraine.

The flags, with at least one featuring the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, were being waved during a gathering outside Rod Laver Arena after Novak Djokovic beat Russian player Andrey Rublev in straight sets Wednesday in the quarterfinals.

“Players and their teams have been briefed and reminded of the event policy regarding flags and symbols and to avoid any situation that has the potential to disrupt,” Tennis Australian said in a statement.

One of Russia’s most popular websites draws tires

Russia banned the popular news website Meduza, designating the Russia-focused, Latvian-based site as an illegal, “undesirable organization” that poses “a threat to the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order and national security.” The website was started in 2014 by former employees of a Russian-based website that had struggled to remain independent.

Among Thursday’s stories in the publication are one headlined “A casting call for opportunists” that discusses the Kremlin gearing up for “elections” in the newly annexed regions of Ukraine. Another one discusses how “arbitrary and cruel law enforcement is reducing Russian society to paranoia and paralysis”

US wants to stop Russia from flying US-built planes into Turkey

US officials are pressing Turkey to stop Russian airlines from flying American-made airplanes to and from the country as the Biden administration attempts to further economically squeeze Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing officials the newspaper said were familiar with the talks.

Administration officials have been warning as far back as August that Turkish businesses and individuals could face fines or other penalties for activities that aid Russia. The Turkish finance ministry affirmed that it would “not allow any institution or individual” to use Turkey to evade sanctions. More recently, US officials warned against services such as refueling and providing spare parts to US-made planes flying to and from Russia and Belarus, the Journal said.

“At a certain point, they will have to take an enforcement-related action,” Emily Kilcrease, a former deputy assistant US trade representative and now senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, told the Journal. “Otherwise the whole kind of thing falls apart, if it turns out they have knowledge of violations and they haven’t been able to do anything to address it.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Russia is happy its athlete can be in Olympics

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