Ukraine war: Russian missiles shot down, Ukraine F-16s alliance, Japan blasts Moscow over nukes

Japan slams Russia-Belarus nuclear deal, slaps on sanctions

Japan on Friday imposed additional sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine, blasting the Kremlin's new deal to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Tokoyo will freeze the assets of dozens of individuals and groups and ban exports to Russian military-related organisations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.

“As the world’s only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, Japan finds Russia’s threats of nuclear weapons and their use absolutely impermissible,” he said.

“Japan’s government demands Russia and Belarus stop actions that further escalate tensions as we continue to watch the development with strong concern.”

Japan is coordinating with the other G7 countries and the global community to make things better for Ukraine, Matsuno added.

Wagner Group in Mali sanctioned for alleged arms trafficking

The leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group in Mali was sanctioned by the US on Thursday for allegedly bolstering Russia's military arsenal.

Washington warned Ivan Maslov could be working to buy mines, drones and other weapons systems from foreign suppliers to deliver to Russian fighters in Ukraine.

US Treasury Department said there were indications the Kremlin was trying to use the West African nation as a way-station for arms shipments.

The suspicions against Mali, however, are yet to be proven according to state department spokesman Matthew Miller.

“We have not seen, as of yet, any indications that these acquisitions have been finalized or executed, but we are monitoring the situation closely," he said earlier this week.

The Wagner Group has brokered deals across the African continent, providing security to what are often autocratic national leaders, frequently in exchange for rights to mine gold and other resources.

Ukraine thwarts Russian drone and missile attack overnight

Ukraine shot down 10 missiles and 25 drones launched by Russia last night against Kyiv, Dnipro and eastern regions, Ukrainian officials said on Friday.

The Ukrainian air force said it knocked out 10 missiles fired from the Caspian Sea, 23 Iranian-made Shahed drones and two reconnaissance drones, according to US-based news agency Reuters.

Attacks continued until the early hours of Friday with several drones and missiles hitting targets in Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk.

Officials there have not confirmed any deaths so far.

“It was a very difficult night," Dnipro regional governor Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram. "It was loud – the enemy launched a mass attack on the region with missiles and drones. Dnipro has suffered.”

Lysak said several sites were damaged by the attacks, including civilian houses, cars, and companies, including a transport hub and gas station.

US says allies will unite to train Ukrainians on F-16 jets

European allies are developing a coordinated programme to train Ukrainian forces on the F-16 fighter jet, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday.

Austin said Ukraine's allies recognise that in addition to training, Ukraine will also need to be able to sustain and maintain the aircraft, plus have enough munitions.

But Pentagon leaders warned it will be a costly, complex task and won't be a magic solution to the war.

"The Russians have a thousand fourth and fifth-generation fighters, so if you’re going to contest Russia in the air, you’re going to need a substantial amount" of fighter jets, said General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Providing 10 F-16s could cost $2 billion including maintenance, according to him.

Milley said F-16s have a future role as part of Ukraine's air capabilities, but it's “going to take a considerable length of time to build up an air force that’s the size and scope and scale that would be necessary.”

The US's European allies have been vocal in their support for the fighter jet training in recent days. However, there are warnings it could escalate tensions with Russia.

German Chancellor to talk to Putin 'in due course'

The German chancellor Olaf Scholz said he plans to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin soon on a variety of topics, including halting the war in Ukraine.

Olaf also held out the prospect of resuming contact after a near-total breakdown in relations since fighting broke out in February.

“My last telephone call was some time ago,” Scholz told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper in an interview published on Friday. “But I plan to speak to Putin again in due course.”

The leaders spoke by telephone in early December, AFP reports.

Scholz said Putin had to understand that the war could not be ended by making “some kind of cold peace”.

“Rather it is about a fair peace, and the prerequisite for that is the withdrawal of Russian troops,” he added.