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Zelenskiy, EU leaders to meet By Reuters

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© Reuters. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meet to discuss how to help Ukraine defend itself

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(Reuters) – European Union leaders will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Friday, bringing the promise of new sanctions against Russia but disappointing Ukraine’s hope for swift membership to the EU.

CONFLICT* CIA Director William Burns said the intelligence agency assesses that the next six months will be “critical” for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

* Russia, determined to make progress before Ukraine receives newly promised Western battle tanks and armoured vehicles, has picked up momentum on the eastern front and it announced advances north and south of Bakhmut, which has suffered persistent Russian bombardment for months.

Russian forces are pushing from both the north and south to encircle Bakhmut, using superior troop numbers to try to cut it off from re-supply and force the Ukrainians out, Ukrainian military analyst Yevhen Dikiy said.

* Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.

* Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said Russia’s arms suppliers would “significantly” increase their deliveries in 2023 to help its forces inflict a “crushing defeat” on Ukraine.

* Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said a fresh Russian offensive could begin around Feb. 24, which will be the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.* Reuters could not verify battlefield reports.

* The United States has answered President Zelenskiy’s plea for rockets that can strike deep behind the front lines of the conflict with Russia. Now Russian forces will need to adapt or face potentially catastrophic losses.

ARMS, AID, DIPLOMACY* The German government approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from industrial stocks and is in talks over purchasing back 15 Gepard tanks from Qatar to send to Kyiv, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Friday.

* EU countries will seek a deal on Friday on a European Commission proposal to set price caps on Russian oil products amid divisions between member states, diplomats said.

* Poland believes it will be possible to build a coalition of some 40 countries, including the United States, Britain and Canada, by Feb. 10 backing calls to block Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics, a Polish minister said.

CORRUPTION CRACKDOWN

* Ukrainian authorities are investigating senior military officials in two separate cases of suspected corruption, officials said, part of a crackdown on wrongdoing before talks with European Union leaders.

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