HERE IS THE SITUATION ON FRIDAY DECEMBER 15, 2023. (660 DAY)
In a surprising move, the European Union (EU) has opted to initiate membership negotiations with Ukraine, a decision reached after eight intense hours of talks in Brussels. Despite opposition from Hungary and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who had previously threatened to veto any discussions regarding accession, unanimity was achieved when Orbán exited the room as leaders formalized the decision.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, hailed the development as a triumph, not only for Ukraine but for all of Europe. Orbán, on the other hand, expressed Hungary’s dissent, stating, “Hungary does not want to share in this bad decision, and for this reason, Hungary did not participate in the decision today.”
However, the EU faced challenges in reaching a consensus on a €50 billion ($55 billion) aid package for Ukraine and the renegotiation of the EU budget, with Hungary employing its veto power. The financial assistance, intended to support Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion, could not secure the endorsement of all 27 leaders.
Simultaneously, the EU decided to initiate membership negotiations with Moldova, prompting Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, to declare, “My country turns a new page today.”
In his annual end-of-year press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained a defiant stance, asserting that peace in Ukraine would only be achieved when Russia accomplished its objectives. While expressing openness to improving relations with Europe and the US, Putin placed blame on the West for strained ties, asserting that Russia had done nothing wrong in its invasion of Ukraine.
Amid ongoing hostilities, Ukraine reported the downing of numerous Iranian-designed drones by its air defense systems, targeting the southern city of Odesa in Russia’s latest overnight assault, resulting in 11 injuries.
In other developments, The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, arrested in Russia on espionage charges, lost an appeal to be released from jail. Meanwhile, discussions about a potential prisoner swap involving Gershkovich and former US marine Paul Whelan were acknowledged by Putin, who expressed hope for an agreement satisfactory to both sides.
A Moscow court ordered a retrial in the case of a Russian human rights campaigner facing charges of discrediting the country’s armed forces. Finland announced plans to sign a defense agreement with the US, providing broad military access along its border with Russia.
Romania identified a drone crater near its border with Ukraine following a Russian attack on Ukrainian port infrastructure. The Guardian’s visit to Avdiivka revealed a city in ruins, symbolic of the decade-long frontline struggle, with only 1,200 residents remaining.