Live Updates on Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Stoltenberg Claims Start of New Russian Offensive Observed by NATO

A British security guard who was spying for Russia at the embassy in Berlin was accused of collecting highly sensitive information for over three years, including confidential government communications with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as heard in a London court. David Ballantyne Smith, 58, who has entered a guilty plea for eight charges, is said to have begun collecting information as early as March 2018 until his arrest in August 2021.

Smith was taken into custody a day after meeting “Irina”, an MI5 officer posing as a member of the Russian military intelligence service. Prosecutor Alison Morgan told the Old Bailey in London that a USB stick was recovered during a search of Smith’s home in Potsdam, Germany, which contained photos of embassy staff and diplomatic passports.

Smith had also filmed several sensitive documents, including a November 2020 letter from then-trade minister Liz Truss and business minister Alok Sharma to Prime Minister Johnson, which was classified as “secret”. He had sent a letter containing highly sensitive information about the British embassy and its employees to Gen Maj Sergey Chukhrov, the Russian military attaché to Berlin, in November 2020.

Smith had pleaded guilty in November to eight offenses under the Official Secrets Act, one of which was related to passing information to Chukhrov. He admitted to seven other charges related to collecting information that could be useful to the Russian state. Smith denies having any intention of causing harm to Britain and claims that he only wanted to cause “inconvenience and embarrassment”. He also denies receiving any payment.

The prosecution argues that Smith, who had expressed anti-west and anti-NATO views and support for Vladimir Putin, had a clear intention of causing harm to the UK.

“New Russian Offensive in Ukraine Commenced: Stoltenberg Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, announced that a new Russian offensive in Ukraine has already begun. President Putin is said to have deployed thousands of additional troops and is willing to endure significant casualties and losses to exert pressure on Ukraine. Stoltenberg emphasized that Russia compensates for its lack of quality with quantity, making it imperative for the West to expedite its support to Ukraine in the form of weapons, ammunition, spare parts, and fuel to potentially save lives.”

During a phone conversation with Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed his gratitude for the new defense package and talked about opportunities for further collaboration, according to Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy stated that the defense package from Norway will enhance their defenses on land, air, and sea.

Støre proposed last week to provide Ukraine with approximately 75 billion crowns (£6.1 billion) in aid over a five-year period. According to him, in 2023, half of the aid would be allocated for military requirements and the other half for humanitarian aid, although this distribution could be subject to change in the future. The increase in oil and gas revenue from Russia’s conflict has earned Norway billions, with its oil and gas profits reaching unprecedented levels over the past year as energy prices rose three-fold following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, resulting in Norway becoming Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas.

A British security guard working at the UK embassy in Berlin, David Ballantyne Smith, has been accused of collecting confidential information for the benefit of Russia. The Old Bailey in London heard that Smith had been collecting information, including “secret” government communications with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for over three years starting from March 2018.

He was arrested in August 2021, a day after meeting with an MI5 officer posing as a member of Russia’s military intelligence service. According to the prosecution, Smith had filmed sensitive documents, including a classified letter to Johnson, and had sent a letter containing confidential information about the embassy and its staff to the Russian military attache in Berlin. Smith has pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act, including passing information to the Russian attache, but denies having the intention to cause harm to Britain or receiving any payment for his actions.

The prosecution argues that Smith’s anti-Western and anti-NATO views, as well as his support for Vladimir Putin, demonstrate his clear intention to harm the UK.

Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, has urged all NATO members to approve Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the alliance without any further delay.

Speaking at a news conference in Helsinki with her Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto, Baerbock emphasized that the addition of Finland and Sweden would enhance the strength of the entire alliance.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the two Nordic countries had expressed interest in joining NATO, but their applications have not yet been ratified by Turkey and Hungary.

While Turkey has stated that it may approve Finland’s membership application first, it has also called for Sweden to take a tougher stance against the PKK, which Turkey and the EU consider a terrorist organization responsible for a 2016 coup attempt.

Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, and Mariusz Błaszczak, the Defense Minister, met with Polish and foreign instructors who were conducting intensive training for Ukrainian troops in operating German Leopard 2 tanks

. The two officials also observed a Leopard 2 training session at a military base and test range located in Świętoszów, South-West Poland, as reported by the Associated Press.

The Polish military stated that Ukrainian tank crews, who were participating in battles in the eastern region of Ukraine, were undergoing training for up to 10 hours a day, including weekends. Additionally, training was being held in Germany as well.

Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, expressed his hope that the Leopard 2 tanks provided by Germany, Canada, and some European nations to Ukraine would enable Ukrainian forces to effectively combat their adversary. He also noted that the Ukrainian soldiers undergoing training have directly come from the frontlines and are resolute in their defense of their country despite having faced immense hardship.

Germany has committed to providing a minimum of 178 Leopard 1 tanks and 14 Leopard 2 tanks. In addition, Poland has promised to supply 14 Leopard 2 tanks, along with over 300 T-72 tanks from the Soviet era and PT-91 tanks that have been modernized.

Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian armed forces, has disputed Russian claims that they have taken control of the village of Krasna Hora near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

According to Cherevatyi, the battles for the village are ongoing and the Ukrainian forces are keeping it under their control.

He also stated that Bakhmut remains the main focus of Russian attacks and that Ukrainian forces are actively fighting against the Russian troops who have the ability to fire on the routes to Bakhmut. Cherevatyi stated that the Ukrainian forces are engaged in counter-battery fighting to reduce the threat.

A recap of the situation in Ukraine:

-NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, announced the start of a new Russian offensive in Ukraine, and that NATO plans to increase ammunition stockpiles and that the issue of possible aircraft supply to Ukraine will be discussed at the upcoming two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

-Reports suggest that Russia may have lost an entire brigade of the 155th naval infantry while storming the eastern Ukrainian city of Vuhledar. A Ukrainian official stated that a large number of Russian forces, including the command staff, were destroyed in the cities of Vuhledar and Mariinka in Donetsk, and that Russian forces were losing 150-300 marines a day near Vuhledar, with an estimated total of 5,000 soldiers in the brigade either killed, wounded, or taken captive.

-The Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, stated that Moscow will achieve its goals in Ukraine by the end of the year, including capturing Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa. He has formed an alliance with the head of the Russian mercenary Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and other nationalist hardliners who support the war.

-Russia reported its troops have advanced 2 km to the west in four days along the front line in Ukraine, with the commander of the central military district stating that Russian servicemen broke the enemy’s resistance.

-Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner group, claimed that the mercenary force took the village of Krasna Hora on the northern edge of the embattled city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, and released a video appearing to show Wagner fighters next to the entrance sign of the village. US thinktank Institute for the Study of War confirmed that Russian forces had captured at least part of the village of Krasna Hora.

-Ukrainian forces started training in Germany on operating Leopard 2 tanks, with the tanks set to arrive in Ukraine by the end of March.

-Overnight, Russia shelled Kherson, resulting in one death, and causing damage to train infrastructure, preventing trains from Kyiv and Lviv from reaching the city.

-Russia stated that it would be “inappropriate” to extend the Black Sea grain deal unless sanctions affecting its agricultural exports are lifted, with the deal up for renewal next month.

-Moldova’s President, Maia Sandu, accused Russia of planning to use foreign saboteurs to overthrow her country’s government and prevent it from joining the EU, and using it in the war against Ukraine. Norway’s intelligence service considers Russia as the main security threat to Norway and Europe, with the deputy head of the foreign Norwegian intelligence service stating that oil and gas installations in Norway could be targeted by Russian sabotage.

-The US advised its citizens to leave Russia immediately due to the war in Ukraine and the risk of arbitrary arrest or harassment by Russian law enforcement agencies, while France also advised its citizens against traveling to Belarus given the “new offensive launched by Russia in Ukraine”.

-Ukraine accused Silvio Berlusconi of “kissing Putin’s bloody hands” after the former Italian Prime Minister blamed Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for Russia’s invasion of the country.

-In the past five years, Russian arms supplies to India were worth $13 billion.

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