According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Russian invasion of the NATO states Poland and Latvia is basically "completely out of the question" - with one exception. Putin made the comments in a conversation with the right-wing US talk show host Tucker Carlson, who had already conducted the interview with the Kremlin leader in Moscow on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has entrusted the army of the country attacked by Russia to a new commander in chief - 58-year-old Colonel General Olexander Syrsky.
“No interest” in invading Poland
For the first time since the start of the war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia's president was questioned in detail by a US interviewer. Asked whether he could imagine a scenario in which he would send Russian troops to Poland, Putin replied:
"Only in one case: if Poland attacks Russia." It goes against common sense to get involved in “a kind of global war,” Putin continued. He accused the NATO states of intimidating their own people by making them believe there was an “imaginary Russian threat.”
In the case of US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who is in custody in Russia, Putin said he was willing to talk. "I do not rule out that Mr. Gershkovich will return to his home country," he said in the interview. "It makes no sense to keep him in prison in Russia."
The new commander in chief
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Zelenskyj announced in a decree the promotion of the previous commander of the Ukrainian land forces, Colonel General Olexander Syrskyj, to the new commander-in-chief. In a second decree, he released the previous top military officer, Valerij Saluschnyj (50), from his post.
The change ends a conflict between the head of state and the successful General Saluschnyj that had been brewing for a long time. At the same time, however, it represents the strongest shake-up in Ukraine's power structure since the Russian invasion began almost two years ago.
Syrskyj wants to expand the use of unmanned weapon systems and electronic warfare to defend against the Russian invasion. This was a building block for a victory in the liberation struggle, the colonel general wrote in the Telegram news channel. "Only the change and constant improvement of the means and methods of warfare will enable us to successfully follow this path." He described the rapid and precise supply of the troops at the front with the foreign armaments delivered as equally important.
Syrskyi - unlike his predecessor in the post - went through Soviet training and received his officer training in Moscow. He is ethnic Russian, was born in the Vladimir region of Russia and has lived in what is now Ukraine since 1980. The list of his achievements is long. He was a commander when Ukraine defended itself from 2014 against the Russian occupiers of eastern Ukraine, who were disguised as a separatist movement.
According to military experts, there has long been a connection between Syrsky and President Zelensky - even bypassing Saluzhny. The USA announced that it would work well with the new commander in chief.
Political earthquake in Kyiv
Saluzhny's dismissal after almost two years of war was a political earthquake in Kiev. The beefy general was considered popular in the army and among the population. However, he probably assessed the military situation more negatively than the political leadership and made this public in articles. Zelensky took two hours to speak behind closed doors with leading Ukrainian journalists and explain his decision. This is what participants reported afterwards.
The President and Defense Minister Rustem Umjerov publicly thanked the outgoing top military leader. However, they agreed that “new approaches” were needed in the third year of the war. They didn't give any details. News of the dismissal, although expected, was not well received by many Ukrainian military observers. “Kicking out Zalushny and replacing him with Syrsky is not a new approach. Sorry,” criticized the well-known Ukrainian journalist IIlya Ponomarenko.
Moscow and Kyiv exchange prisoners of war
Ukraine and Russia exchanged prisoners of war for the second time in just a few days. Zelensky announced on Thursday that 100 Ukrainian national guardsmen, border guards and soldiers had returned home. “We work for anyone and everyone and won’t stop until we get everyone back,” he wrote on Telegram. According to the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, 100 Russian soldiers also returned from captivity. The United Arab Emirates helped broker the exchange.
The two countries last exchanged around 400 prisoners on January 31st. Before that there had been a break of several months. Then an exchange was planned for January 24th. However, it may have failed because a Russian military transport plane crashed or was shot down over the Russian border region of Belgorod. The exact course of events is unclear. According to Moscow, 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war were on the plane on the way to the exchange and were killed. Ukraine doubts that the Ilyushin Il-76 actually transported prisoners.
Investigators discover kidnapped Ukrainian children in Russia
International investigators, together with Europol, have found the whereabouts of eight possibly kidnapped Ukrainian children in Russia. The children were probably deported to the neighboring country during the Russian invasion, Dutch police said. 60 investigators from 23 countries took part in the search operation at Europol's headquarters in The Hague.
Since the war began almost two years ago, thousands of children from Ukraine are said to have been abducted by the Russians. The International Criminal Court based in The Hague has therefore already initiated investigations and issued international arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights, Maria Lwowa-Belova.