Russia dealt with trade blow by key ally as Putin plans new attack

Ukrainian MP praises UK’s support against Russia

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Kazakhstan, one of Russia’s closest allies, will close its trade representation in Russia, the Prime Minister has declared. Announcing the news, the country’s Ministry of Trade said the offices will be closed down by order of Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov.

The trade representation of Kazakhstan in Russia has the organisational and legal form of a state institution. It is engaged in providing free assistance to domestic exporters and distributors, as well as attracting foreign investment to Kazakhstan.

It is not the first time the Russian President is faced with such a blow from one of his ex-Soviet counterparts.

He has been trying to secure his alliance in a series of summits since the start of his invasion of Ukraine.

In November, Putin travelled to Armenia for a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

The Moscow-led group of ex-Soviet states, including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, met in Armenia’s capital Yerevan.

Vladimir Putin was expected to project Russia’s power at the meeting but it looked as if Moscow’s recent lack of interest in his partners caused some cracks in the alliance.

At the end of the summit, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan clashed with the Russian leader over Putin’s reluctance to come to his aid in a conflict against Azerbaijan.

Tensions rose in September between Armenia and Azerbaijan and two sides say more than 200 soldiers died in the conflict.

Mr Pashinyan told his counterparts at the summit: “It is depressing that Armenia’s membership in the CSTO did not deter Azerbaijan from aggressive actions.

“Right up to today we have not managed to reach a decision on a CSTO response to Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenia. These facts do grave harm to the image of the CSTO both inside our country and outside its borders, and I consider this the main failure of Armenia’s chairmanship of the CSTO.”

Russia is mustering its military might in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, local officials said Wednesday, in what Kyiv suspects is preparation for an offensive in the eastern area in coming weeks as the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion approaches.

Also Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government continued its crackdown on alleged corruption, reportedly targeting the head of the Kyiv tax service, customs officials, a former government minister and an oligarch.

READ MORE: Leaked document shows Russia’s early plans for Ukraine invasion

Zelensky was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft, and the new allegations come as Western allies are channeling billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight against Moscow.

On the battlefront, the Kremlin’s forces are expelling local residents from their homes near the Russian-held parts of the front line so that they can’t provide information about Russian troop deployments to Ukrainian artillery, Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai said.

“There is an active transfer of (Russian troops) to the region and they are definitely preparing for something on the eastern front in February,” Haidai said.

Military analysts anticipate a new push soon by Moscow’s forces, with the Institute for the Study of War saying in an assessment late Tuesday that “an imminent Russian offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of action.”

A new offensive might also coincide with the invasion anniversary on February 24.

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The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Wednesday that Russia is also concentrating its efforts in neighbouring Donetsk province, especially in its bid to capture the key city of Bakhmut.

Donetsk and Luhansk provinces make up the Donbas, an industrial region bordering Russia that President Vladimir Putin identified as a goal from the war’s outset and where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian authorities since 2014.

The regional governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, posted images of the aftermath of the shelling in Bakhmut, showing huge black holes in residential buildings in the embattled city.

He said that Russia is “actively deploying new military personnel to the region.”

Donetsk was one of four provinces that Russia illegally annexed in the fall, but it controls only about half of it. To take the remaining half, Russian forces have no choice but to go through Bakhmut, which offers the only approach to bigger Ukrainian-held cities.

Russian forces have been trying for months to capture Bakhmut. Moscow-installed authorities in Donetsk claimed Russian troops are “closing the ring” around the city.

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