‘Victory’: Zelenskyy hails major win for Ukraine

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed a major “victory” after the European Union agreed to open formal membership negotiations, despite Hungary blocking a €50bn (AUD $81bn) aid package.

The veto by Hungarian President Viktor Orban followed an historic win for Ukraine that could accelerate it’s ascension to the bloc of European countries, in what would be a major blow to Russia.

“This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens,” Zelenskyy said in a post on Twitter.

The Kremlinsaid the decision to bring Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia closer to European Union membership could ultimately destabilise the bloc.

“This is absolutely a politicised decision — the EU’s desire to show support to these countries in this way. But certainly such new members can actually destabilise the EU,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

While Hungary’s leader did not block the vote for EU membership, he vetoed against funding Ukraine’s war unless Brussels releases billions of euros it has frozen due to rule of law concerns.

European Council President Charles Michel said the matter will be tabled again in the new year in an attempt to give Hungary time to change its mind.

“Tonight we spent a very powerful signal to the European citizens, a very powerful signal to the Ukrainian citizens,” he said.

Ukraine is also seeking USD $61bn (AUD $90bn) in aid from the United States, however, those negotiations have been stalled due to inter-party disagreements.

At least two loud explosions rang out over Kyiv on Thursday, in an apparent attack by Russian forces, which have recently only targeted the capital at night.

AFP journalists in the city said two blasts had echoed over the city, the latest strikes in Russia’s nearly two-year invasion of Ukraine.


The summit coincided with Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year press conference.

The Russian President appeared surprised when he was confronted by an AI-generated image of himself asking him if he had doubles during his marathon end-of-year press conference.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, hello,” the image on a big screen said to Mr Putin, who appeared briefly taken aback.

“I wanted to ask you if it’s true that you have a lot of doubles?” a male voice behind the image said, saying he was a student in Saint Petersburg.

The 71-year-old Russian leader laughed.

“I can see that you can look like me and even talk in my voice,” he said.

“But I thought about it and decided that only one person should look like me and talk in my voice,” he added, smiling.

Mr Putin also responded to a video from a young child worried that her grandmother would be replaced by a computer image.

“I can tell you for sure, nobody will replace your grandmother. That is impossible,” Mr Putin said.

The longtime Russian leader has called for Russia to rival “biased” Western chatbots with its own technology.

He said it is “impossible to stop” AI, adding: “That means that we should lead in it.”

Mr Putin has repeatedly called for Moscow to end its dependence on Western technology and has ordered his government to pour funding into developing supercomputers and AI research.


Putin talked up Russia’s offensive in Ukraine as he staged a marathon press conference on Thursday local time after saying he plans to stay in the Kremlin until at least 2030.

Emboldened by what he considers to be the failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the 71-year-old leader looked relaxed as he brushed off nearly two years of Western sanctions and reaffirmed his aggressive stance on Ukraine.

“There will be peace when we achieve our goals,” Mr Putin said, speaking at his first traditional end-of-year appearance since Russia shocked the world by sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Those goals “are not changing”, he insisted, “the de-nazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine, and its neutral status.”

Russian forces were “improving their position on almost the entire line of contact” in Ukraine, he said.

Mr Putin’s four-hour appearance on national television comes at one of the lowest points for Kyiv in the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and erased entire cities across Ukraine’s south and east.

Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive petered out without making much progress and its Western support is fraying due to budgetary dissent among US politicians, as well as frictions within the European Union.

Mr Putin hinted that nearly two years of Western sanctions and international isolation had done little to hurt Russia’s economy or morale.

“There is enough for us not only to feel confident, but to move forward,” Mr Putin said.

Russia said it had downed nine Ukrainian drones heading for Moscow just hours before Mr Putin’s event was set to kick off.

Ukraine said it had shot down all but one of the 42 Russian drones that attacked Odessa, in a barrage that wounded 11 people.

Ukraine’s strong resistance and support from its allies had surprised observers around the world and in Moscow, where many had expected to take Kyiv in a few days.

But almost two years into his offensive, Mr Putin appears to be sensing the tide turning in his favour.


The echoes of Russia’s military operation reverberated in the grand Moscow hall where hundreds of journalists had passed four police checkpoints to hear Mr Putin speak.

The leader conveyed that Moscow and Washington are in contact over US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been jailed in Russia since March on espionage charges that the White House and the Wall Street Journal have denounced as baseless.

Mr Putin denied that Russia had refused an offer to release Gershkovich and said talks were ongoing.

Gershkovich, an American citizen who was based in Moscow as a correspondent for the Journal, was arrested by Russian authorities while on a reporting trip in the Urals, roughly 1400kms east of Moscow.

Since then, Gershkovich has been awaiting trial at the Lefortovo prison in Moscow. The White House has said he is “wrongfully detained.”

Russian prosecutors have not made public any evidence to prove he is guilty of working as a spy.

It comes as Russia rejected a “substantial offer” aimed at freeing Gershkovich.

Mr Putin said: “We have not refused to return him. We want to reach an agreement, and these agreements should be acceptable and satisfy both sides,” he told a New York Times reporter. “We have contacts with our American partners on this matter. It’s not an easy dialogue. I will not go into details, but it seems that we are speaking in a language that is understandable to each other.”


A former top commander of Russian-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine went on trial in Moscow on Thursday on charges of extremism for criticising the Kremlin’s military strategy towards Kyiv.

Igor Girkin, a 52-year-old hard line nationalist who is better known by his alias Igor Strelkov, was instrumental in sparking hostilities in 2014 between Kremlin proxies and Kyiv that preceded Russia’s current military campaign in Ukraine.

He fell foul of Moscow and was detained after the Wagner mercenary group – a key force fighting in Ukraine for the Kremlin – tried to topple Russia’s military leadership in June.

Girkin was detained in July following a series of social media posts critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin that went out to hundreds of thousands of followers.

The case against Girkin, who became an outspoken blogger, has illustrated how any criticism of the military is off-limits, even from ardent Russian nationalists who support the conflict.

Girkin, who has declared plans to challenge Putin in the presidential election set for March, faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Originally published as Ukraine-Russia War: Zelenskyy hails major win for Ukraine

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