NEW UPDATE :
- Ahead of the White House meeting, House Speaker Johnson says there is currently no deal on the border and Ukraine aid.
- Military intelligence: Attacks using sabotage targeted western Russian railways
- Germany supplies Ukraine with vehicles and tank ammunition.
- A Russian mortar attack in Zaporizhzhia Oblast wounded an RFE/RL journalist.
- Russian companies are being forced to leave Cyprus due to sanctions.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson: No Right Moment for Immigration Deal, as Sabotage Hits Russian Railways, Ahead of Biden’s Meeting on Ukraine Aid
Politico revealed on January 16 that Biden had requested a bipartisan summit of high-ranking officials to attempt to reach a consensus on issues related to border security, aid to Ukraine, and other spending concerns. Internal conflicts over spending have plagued the United States for months, dating back to October 2023, when former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy was removed.
Republicans in the Senate obstructed the approval of $61.4 billion in aid for Ukraine in December, primarily due to their apprehension that the bill lacked border security provisions.
On the morning of January 17, Johnson stated, “I don’t think this is the time for comprehensive immigration reform because we know how complicated that is.“
He went on, “We have to secure our border before we talk about doing anything else,” adding that he had already informed Biden over the phone earlier in the day that he was not prepared to reach a deal.
“I’m going to tell the president what I’m telling all of you, what we’ve told the American people: border, border, border,” said Johnson.
Johnson expressed concerns about the ability to pass new aid legislation beyond border issues in his other remarks about Ukraine. With a razor-thin majority in the House, Republicans have made it clear that they will not support any more aid for Ukraine, no matter what concessions are made on immigration and the border.
Military Intelligence: Sabotage Hits Russian Railways
The military intelligence agency (HUR) of Ukraine reported on January 17 that sabotage attacks have been directed towards railway tracks in the oblasts of Saratov, Yaroslavl, and Nizhny Novgorod.
The HUR claimed that “unknown opponents of Putin’s regime once again burned several relay cabinets on the railway” and other sections of the military logistics track.
The organization released a compilation video that seemed to depict several arson assaults on relay boxes and other track infrastructure components.
Railway traffic on certain track sections was “paralyzed” as a result of the alleged sabotage, according to the HUR.
The HUR did not say whether it was involved in the attacks, but in recent months, Ukrainian intelligence services have been connected to several incidents on Russian railways.
The HUR took credit in November for its participation in a cooperative operation against local opposition that caused train disruptions in the Moscow area.
In late November and early December, Ukrainian media outlets asserted that the Baikal-Amur railway in Russia’s Buryatia Republic was the target of two sabotage operations by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).
These reports have not been independently verified by The Kyiv Independent.
According to Russian Railways, on January 8, fourteen freight train cars derailed in the Far East of Russia. The previous day, Nizhny Tagil, an industrial city close to the Urals, had reports of explosions at a railway track near an oil depot.
Germany supplies Ukraine with vehicles and tank ammunition.
The German government declared on January 17 that it had given Ukraine vehicles, helmets, drones, and ammunition for Leopard 1 tanks.
The German army and government contracted with private businesses to provide the supplies.
Sixteen Zetros tanker trucks, eight armored personnel carriers, five border protection vehicles, and three additional vehicles are part of the delivery.
In addition, 1,840 helmets, 25 Heidrun reconnaissance drones, and 50 mobile satellite terminals are included in the delivery.
Germany stated that it also intends to send 15 Gepard anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine to help with air defense, but it withholds the delivery schedule owing to security concerns.
On January 16, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz informed US President Joe Biden that Berlin would give Ukraine more than seven billion euros in humanitarian aid and security support on its own in 2024.
In south Ukraine, a Russian mortar attack injured a journalist.
Journalist Dmytro Yevchyn of RFE/RL’s Crimea-focused service was injured on January 17 by Russian mortar attacks in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the outlet reported.
Since the start of the full-scale invasion, at least 17 journalists have died in Ukraine, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Unknown numbers of people have been hurt.
According to RFE/RL, Yevchyn, who has been employed by the publication since 2018, was filming a video close to the front-line city of Robotyne when he was hit in the leg by shrapnel from a Russian mortar strike.
Yevchyn received first aid from nearby Ukrainian troops, who also assisted him in leaving the area. Later on, he was brought to a hospital located in Zaporizhzhia.
Although the operation was successful, doctors informed RFE/RL that Yevchyn would need to stay in intensive care for the foreseeable future.
Russian media: Cyprus sanctions are driving Russian businesses out
The Russian state-controlled media outlet Kommersant reported on January 16 that Russian businesses have been departing Cyprus more frequently as a result of the Western sanctions that affect their capacity to do business.
Many Russian companies that are feeling the pinch of Western sanctions, according to Kommersant, have decided to move back home or to nations that are more welcoming to Russian companies, like Kazakhstan or the United Arab Emirates.
Following a massive leak of financial documents from Cypriot financial service providers in November 2023, known as “Cyprus Confidential,” and an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), it was discovered that financial services in Cyprus actively assisted Russian oligarchs and Putin’s allies in evading sanctions.
Nikos Christodoulides, the president of Cyprus, announced after the revelations that he had called in specialists in financial crime to help with inquiries into the evasion of sanctions.
He declared that there should be “absolutely no shadows” over Cyprus since they make it more difficult to draw in “quality” foreign investment.
Furthermore, recent reports suggest that Cyprus’ efforts to combat Russian money may have paid off.
In December, the Moscow Times reported that at least ten of the biggest Russian companies doing business in Cyprus had left the country due to the growing interest of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Russian companies and oligarchs in Cyprus. It’s unclear if the ICIJ report had anything to do with the FBI’s increased attention to Cyprus.
Cyprus has long been thought of as one of the main locations in Europe where Russian money travels.
According to the AP, Russians accounted for 40% of all deposits made in the nation in 2013. Money from Russia and Belarus has continued to flow into the island nation despite Western sanctions imposed following the start of the full-scale invasion.
There has been more than just economic migration to Cyprus from Russia. Both Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied area in the country’s north, which have long been popular destinations for Russian emigrants, have witnessed a rise in Russian migration since the invasion.
Out of the 382,000 people who live in the de facto republic, the Guardian reported in September that nearly 40,000 Russians have settled in Northern Cyprus alone in 2023.