Russia can sustain war effort ‘for another two or three years,’ say analysts

A report estimates Russia has lost more tanks fighting in Ukraine than it had before February 2022.

A report estimates Russia has lost more tanks fighting in Ukraine than it had before February 2022. Vladyslav Musiienko/ReutersCNN — 

Russia can sustain its war effort in Ukraine “for another two or three years” but will have to sacrifice “quality for quantity” as it replaces destroyed or damaged weapons with older systems held in storage, according to a report published this week.

The report by the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimated Russia has lost more tanks on the battlefields in Ukraine than it had when it launched its full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, but these losses were not likely to “cause an end to the fighting anytime soon.”

“Despite losing hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery pieces per month on average, Russia has been able to keep its active inventory numbers stable” by reactivating old systems, boosting its industrial capacity and buying from abroad, the think tank said.

The IISS estimated that Russia can “sustain its assault on Ukraine for another two or three years, and maybe even longer.”

The report comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears its second anniversary, with Moscow’s forces conducting a flurry of offensives along the nearly 1,000-kilometer frontlines in an attempt to break what Ukraine’s former top general described last year as a “stalemate.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine is shifting to a more defensive footing after its much-vaunted counteroffensive last summer failed to reap the desired gains, and as it struggles with its own manpower constraints and the supply of ammunition from the West begins to run dry.

The United States Senate on Tuesday passed a $95.3 billion foreign aid bill, including $60 billion in support for Ukraine, setting up a showdown with the House as Speaker Mike Johnson said he did not plan to bring the bill to the floor.

In its separate annual Military Balance report, the IISS said global defense spending increased by 9% to a record $2.2 trillion in 2023, the IISS said, as the world adjusts to what it called an “era of instability.” It said Russia’s invasion had spurred European countries to boost defense spending and strengthened NATO, but said much of the additional funding was “scrambling to rectify shortcomings from years of underinvestment.”

It noted that the European Union is on track to miss “by a wide margin” its target of delivering Ukraine 1 million 155-millimeter shells by March.

“Western governments find themselves once again in a position where they must decide whether to furnish Kyiv with enough weapons to deliver a decisive blow, rather than just enough arms not to lose,” Bastian Giegerich, director general of the IISS, said Tuesday.

‘Intense’ losses

While Russia has suffered “intense” armored vehicle losses since February 2022, the IISS said “there are few signs they will cause an end to the fighting anytime soon.”

The report tracked the active fleets of both Russia and Ukraine’s main battle tanks (MBTs), armored personnel carriers (APCs), infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and other equipment. It cross-referenced indicated losses from battlefield images with other information sources, including data leaked from the Pentagon and open-source trackers, but said estimating the losses is an “imprecise science.”

It said Ukraine’s number of active MBTs “remains near pre-war levels,” while its number of APCs and IFVs “increased thanks to Western support.” Despite this, it warned Ukraine’s attempts to field these additional vehicles “outpaced equipment supply,” meaning some units did not have enough equipment to be close to full strength.

Russia, meanwhile, has lost more than 3,000 armored fighting vehicles in the past year alone, the report said, but this was offset by its reactivating around 1,200 MBTs and nearly 2,500 IFVs and APCs from storage. While this has meant trading “quality for quantity,” Russia has also been able to manufacture new vehicles. The authors concluded Russia could sustain its current rate of attrition for up to three years and maybe longer.

The report also detailed how, despite international sanctions, Russia’s economy had proved resilient and it had ramped up defense spending for 2024.

“Russia has raised its official defense budget for 2024 more than 60% year-on-year. Total military spending now represents one third of its national budget and will reach about 7.5% of GDP, signaling the focus on its war effort,” Giegerich said.

Russian tanks drive near the settlement of Olenivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 2022.

Russian tanks drive near the settlement of Olenivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 2022. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), another think tank, published its own report this week on Russia’s shifting military objectives and capacity.

“Russia still maintains the strategic objective of bringing about the subjugation of Ukraine. It now believes that it is winning,” it said.

The report said Russia will seek to achieve its objective in three stages.

First, it will aim to continue pressure along the Ukrainian frontlines, draining its munitions and manpower.

“Parallel to this effort, the Russian Special Services are tasked with breaking the resolve of Ukraine’s international partners to continue to provide military aid,” it said.

Then, once Ukrainian munition stocks are depleted, Russia will mount fresh offensive operations to make significant advantages on the battlefield, in an attempt to gain leverage over Kyiv “to force capitulation on Russian terms.”

Russia was planning to achieve this victory by 2026, the report said.

The authors stressed, however, that this outcome could be averted “if Ukraine’s partners continue to provide sufficient ammunition and training support” to the Ukrainian armed forces in order to blunt Russia’s attacks in 2024.

“If Russia lacks the prospect of gains in 2025, given its inability to improve force quality for offensive operations, then it follows that it will struggle to force Kyiv to capitulate by 2026,” the report said.

First on CNN: House GOP in discussions with Biden special counsel Robert Hur for testimony

US Attorney Robert Hur speaks outside of the US District Court, in Baltimore, Maryland on November 21, 2019.

US Attorney Robert Hur speaks outside of the US District Court, in Baltimore, Maryland on November 21, 2019. Michael A. McCoy/Reuters/File

House Republicans have reached out to special counsel Robert Hur to discuss having him testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee about his report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Hur’s report released last week did not charge the president with a crime, but it painted a picture of a forgetful commander in chief who failed to properly protect highly sensitive classified information – a depiction that could hurt Biden politically and that Republicans have seized on.

Hur has retained Bill Burck as his personal attorney. While there is no date on the calendar, they are looking toward the end of February, one of the sources told CNN. The Justice Department declined to comment.

In the wake of the report, House Oversight Chairman James Comer has separately said the Justice Department should provide his committee with all of the classified materials that could relate to the Republican-led impeachment inquiry into the president.

“The Justice Department must provide Congress with unfettered access to these documents to determine if President Biden’s retention of sensitive materials were used to help the Bidens’ influence peddling schemes,” Comer said in a statement provided to CNN.

House Oversight Republicans have also called on the Justice Department to release the full transcript of the president’s interview with the special counsel that is quoted in the final report.

The two special counsels appointed during the Trump presidency, Robert Mueller and John Durham, both testified to Congress once they submitted their reports to the Justice Department.

After expressing some reluctance, Mueller agreed to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees in July 2019 about his investigation, delivering halting and stilted responses that mostly stuck to his report.

The negotiations for Mueller’s appearance stretched out for weeks, ultimately leading to an agreement where Mueller appeared after he was subpoenaed.

Last June, Durham testified to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation and report into the FBI’s probe into Trump and Russia, and he spoke behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee.

Hur’s special counsel report found that Biden willfully retained classified information, including top secret documents, and knew he was in possession of some documents as far back as 2017. He also shared some of that information with the ghostwriter of his 2017 memoir.

The special counsel decided not to charge the president in the case – primarily because he found that nothing proved a willful intent by Biden to illegally hold onto classified information and the president cooperated with the investigation.

Yet, in a politically damaging line of reasoning, Hur wrote that one reason Biden wasn’t going to be prosecuted was because he would present to a jury as an elderly man “with a poor memory.” Biden’s lawyers objected to the description – calling it “investigative excess” and accusing Hur of flouting Justice Department rules and norms.

The report is sure to become an issue in the 2024 campaign – where Biden’s likely opponent, Donald Trump, is facing criminal charges for his handling of classified material, even though Hur made clear how different the two cases were.

What King Charles’ diagnosis means for Prince William

Prince William resumed his royal work on Wednesday, hosting an investiture ceremony at Windsor and later attending a gala dinner in London.

Prince William resumed his royal work on Wednesday, hosting an investiture ceremony at Windsor and later attending a gala dinner in London. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This is a version of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.LondonCNN — 

There is never a good time to find out a parent has cancer. It’s a particularly difficult moment for Prince William.

His father’s cancer diagnosis comes as the heir to the British throne was already navigating a health scare at home. It was only last month that his wife Catherine had abdominal surgery that will sideline her for several months.

Little is known about the Princess of Wales’ procedure, but her lengthy recovery signals a serious operation. With three young children to care for, William’s diary was also cleared. His priority abundantly clear: Family comes first.

With Charles’ candid disclosure, those plans are evolving. William is now unexpectedly needed to pick up some of his father’s public-facing responsibilities, given he’s the next-in-line. He’s been thrust into a role that not too long ago Charles was doing for the late Queen Elizabeth II – stepping in as needed while the monarch was temporarily unavailable.

The demands of being the immediate heir saw William make a partial return to royal duties on Wednesday after a three-week absence. He kicked things off by hosting an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle. Dressed in his RAF uniform, he smiled warmly, charming guests while doling out honors on his father’s behalf.

The prince has “an unwavering commitment to duty and service,” a royal source told CNN, adding that “investitures are an important part of his royal role, celebrating people up and down the country doing incredible things for their communities.”

Later, he attended a gala dinner in central London as the patron of the London Air Ambulance, where he publicly addressed the royal double health scare for the first time.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you, also, for the kind messages of support for Catherine and for my father, especially in recent days. It means a great deal to us all,” William said.

He then quipped: “It’s fair to say the past few weeks have had a rather ‘medical’ focus. So, I thought I’d come to an air ambulance function to get away from it all.”

William chats with with Air Ambulance pilots, doctors and paramedics on Wednesday evening.

William chats with with Air Ambulance pilots, doctors and paramedics on Wednesday evening. Daniel Leal/Getty Images

Beyond those two engagements, there is nothing else scheduled for him in the days ahead. That could partly be down to a school break next week but also because the 41-year-old royal is continuing to make his family his focus.

Charles, who flew to his Sandringham home after a blink-and-you-miss-it reunion with Prince Harry on Tuesday, is still handling state matters while going through his unspecified treatments. That will give William some flexibility as it means the prince appears not to be needed to pick up any constitutional business. But that will be something his staff are carefully coordinating with Buckingham Palace.

While it could be some time before we next see him, the Prince of Wales will likely be called on to lead the family for the annual Commonwealth Day service – a staple celebration in the royal calendar that will be held at Westminster Abbey on March 11.

The developments this week will have been an eye-opener for William, with the future surely occupying some of his thoughts. The Prince of Wales has never been in a rush to be King. He knows a greater share of the royal burden falls on him with every passing year and has taken it on willingly. He’s not shy about taking on the top job one day, but he has other things he wants to do first.

Queen Camilla has been undertaking a full program of engagements and a larger public-facing role as she supports her husband through his treatment.

Queen Camilla has been undertaking a full program of engagements and a larger public-facing role as she supports her husband through his treatment. Arthur Edwards/Getty Images

As William himself put it during a sit-down with the BBC in 2016, he thinks it’s “important to grow into a particular role with the right characteristics and right qualities.”

He has repeatedly said and shown that he wants to be a more present parent. With his public service, he has spent the last 17 months reinventing his version of the Prince of Wales role in a way that is noticeably different to his father’s tenure.

William has narrowed in on key themes – his ambitious eco-prize and pioneering five-year plan to tackle homelessness – where he wants to bring measurable change. He’s also seen his father’s strong international relationships, and ramped up his diplomatic efforts by taking trips designed to build his own ties with Britain’s allies and partners.

Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla leave Clarence House, the day after it was announced King Charles has been diagnosed with cancer, in London, Britain, February 6, 2024.REUTERS/Toby Melville

RELATED ARTICLEHow much does the public have a right to know about King Charles’ cancer diagnosis?

The King’s diagnosis means William is now one of the most prominent faces of the clan – alongside Queen Camilla. As such, the demands on his time increase and he doesn’t have as many working royals backing him up as he had once hoped to.

The other eight working family members are continuing their public engagements and CNN understands they could also pick up some additional duties on Charles’ behalf if needed.

Queen Camilla, for example, has been undertaking a full program of public duties in recent weeks, with no sign of taking her foot off the gas. Meanwhile, Princess Anne – known for her no-fuss attitude and quietly steadfast service – already stepped in this week with an investitures ceremony on Tuesday.

William’s challenge in the days and weeks ahead is how he uniquely balances his personal and professional commitments.

The world just marked a year above a critical climate limit scientists have warned about

Firefighters in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile on February 3, 2024, as the country suffers its most lethal fires on record.

Firefighters in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile on February 3, 2024, as the country suffers its most lethal fires on record. Javier Torres/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Global warming surpassed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 12 months for the first time on record, new data shows, breaching a critical threshold that, if it continues, will push the limits of life on Earth to adapt.

The past year was 1.52 degrees hotter on average than temperatures before industrialization, according to data from Copernicus, the European Union’s climate and weather monitoring service. That 12-month average was boosted by the hottest January on record, which was 1.66 degrees warmer than the average January temperature in pre-industrial times.

Keeping global warming below 2 degrees, but preferably 1.5, was the centerpiece goal of the Paris Agreement, which most of the world’s nations signed onto in 2015.

Scientists are more concerned with multi-year warming above these thresholds, but the 12-month record shows the world is fast approaching the Paris Agreement’s limits.

Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral research assistant in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, said the record was a “significant milestone,” but didn’t mean the Paris Agreement had failed.

Photo taken Aug. 16, 2023, shows the damage in Lahaina caused by deadly wildfires on the island of Maui in Hawaii. (Kyodo)

RELATED ARTICLEThe 1.5-degree climate goal may be ‘deader than a doornail,’ and scientists are bitterly divided over it

“However, exceeding 1.5C in one year underlines the rapidly shrinking window of time humanity has to make deep emissions cuts and avoid dangerous climate change.”

Heat records on land and sea have tumbled over the past year. The last eight months in a row have been the hottest such months on record, Copernicus said, while 2023 was the hottest calendar year.

The average global sea surface temperature for January was also the hottest on record for that month by a large margin: 0.26 degrees warmer than the previous record, set in 2016.

“2024 starts with another record-breaking month – not only is it the warmest January on record but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5°C above the pre-industrial reference period,” Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess said in a statement. “Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing.”

The climate crisis is driven primarily from humans burning coal, oil and gas for energy. El Niño, a natural climate pattern that originates in the Pacific Ocean, has also boosted temperatures in much of the world in recent months.

Extreme weather events already made more frequent and severe by long-term global warming are now being supercharged by El Niño, scientists say. The combination of the two has proved particularly destructive.

More than 160 wildfires that spread over an area of Chile this week have killed more than 120 people and reduced entire neighborhoods to ashes, making them the deadliest blazes in the country’s recent history.

The twin threat also supercharged the California storms this week, scientists said, enhancing rainfall and boosting the storm’s destructive power.

Bipartisan border deal faces grim odds in the Senate ahead of key vote

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the lead GOP negotiator on a border-foreign aid package, speaks with reporters outside the chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. Any bipartisan border deal could be doomed because of resistance from former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. James Lankford, the lead GOP negotiator on a border-foreign aid package, speaks with reporters outside the chamber at the Capitol in Washington on January 25, 2024. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Fewer than 24 hours after a long-awaited, bipartisan border deal and foreign aid package was unveiled in the Senate, opposition is rapidly mounting in the chamber – making it increasingly possible the bill will not survive a key vote expected this week.

It would take only 41 senators voting against the bill to sink the deal in an upcoming procedural vote, and there are already 23 senators who have signaled publicly they are opposed to it. With so many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lining up against the deal, the bill is at risk of not getting the 60 votes needed to advance.

“I think the proposal is dead,” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said when asked about his position on the border bill after departing a meeting in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Monday.

A few minutes earlier, as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa was entering McConnell’s office she had similarly dire warnings about the prospect of passing the bill. Ernst said she is still reviewing it, but also that, “hopefully we can find a path forward, but I just don’t know if that’s possible right now.”

The grim odds facing the bill in the Senate come as former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson have continued to attack the deal, ratcheting up pressure on Senate Republicans to oppose it or risk facing a conservative backlash. Johnson was quick to say after the deal was formally unveiled that it would be “dead on arrival” in the House.

While Republicans opposed to the deal are attacking it as too weak, the bill would mark a tough change to immigration law, which hasn’t been modified for decades, and would give the president far-reaching powers to significantly restrict illegal migrant crossings at the southern border.

The sweeping $118.2 billion legislative package would also provide aid to key US allies abroad, including billions of dollars to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and security assistance for Israel, as well as humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine.

The bill is the product of months of bipartisan negotiations with a trio of senators – Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.

So far, 20 Republican senators have publicly criticized the bill, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a member of Senate GOP leadership. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a prominent senior Republican, has also said he has serious concerns with the package.

A majority of Senate Republicans are now leaning against the bill or actively planning to vote “no” during the first procedural vote on the package.

“People are still reviewing and digesting the text. And we will figure out from there, based on the input we get from our members, what the path forward is,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune said on Monday.

As for his personal position on the bill, Thune said he said he hasn’t decided.

“I’m like everyone else. I’m reviewing the text. I think James Lankford worked as hard as he could, got the best deal he could under the circumstances. This is something our conference wanted to do,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

He acknowledged that House GOP leaders who have said the bill is dead on arrival had “complicated” matters in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said he will vote to filibuster the border deal Wednesday. But he also argued that bipartisan Senate leaders should come to an agreement so senators have more time to fully study and assess the border deal. They should then set up a floor debate that will allow for amendments to be voted on to make changes to the bill.

He said this approach might allow them to pass the funding for Ukraine and Israel — something he supports — and deal with the border deal with more than the three days notice that Schumer is allowing.

“I think it would only be fair to be able to have time to debate the bill, to amend the bill,” he said. “There’s more work to be done.”

Two Democratic senators have publicly attacked the bill – New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and California Sen. Alex Padilla.

Menendez called the deal “unacceptable” in a statement Sunday evening and said, “Accepting this deal as written would be an outright betrayal to the communities we have sworn an oath to protect and represent. If these changes were being considered under Trump, Democrats would be in outrage, but because we want to win an election Latinos and immigrants now find themselves on the altar of sacrifice.”

Padilla said in a statement that it “misses the mark,” adding it will “cause more chaos at the border, not less,” and it “fails to provide relief for Dreamers, farm workers, and the other undocumented long-term residents of our country who contribute billions to our economy, work in essential jobs, and make America stronger.”

Padilla indicated on Monday that there are more Democrats than people know of who will oppose the bill, making it even harder for the bill to get 60 votes to advance on Wednesday.

And independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont indicated in a statement on Sunday that he will oppose funding for Israel, saying, “The United States cannot continue to fund Netanyahu’s horrific war against the Palestinian people,” referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Supporters of the deal have pushed back on the criticism, including what they have argued are misrepresentations of what the bill would do.

Lankford, a top GOP negotiator, said on Sunday that he is “confused” by criticism from Johnson, who declared that the deal Lankford cut with Democrats is “worse than we expected.”

“I’m a little confused that it’s worse than expected since it builds a border wall, expands deportation flights, expands ICE officers, Border Patrol officers, detention beds. How it creates a faster process for deportation. How it clears up a lot of the long-term issues and loopholes that have existed in the asylum process that stops the chaos on the border. So I’m a little confused. I will have to get with the speaker’s team on that to find out what would be ‘worse than expected’ based on the actual text. Hopefully, they’ve an opportunity to actually read the text,” Lankford told reporters in a conference call.

He said he will have “frank” conversations with GOP senators this week about their concerns with the bill ahead of a key test vote Wednesday and said he thinks there are “misconceptions” about how the bill works.

If the deal fails in the chamber this week, senators will have to decide whether to try to pass aid to Ukraine and Israel separate from border and immigration measures. It’s unclear, however, whether a foreign aid package would be able to pass on its own as many Senate Republicans have demanded tighter border security in exchange for aid to those allies.

Zelensky set to announce dismissal of Ukraine’s top commander within days as rift grows over war, source says

Ukraine General Valerii Zaluzhnyi holds press conference ** STORY AVAILABLE, CONTACT SUPPLIER** Featuring: Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi Where: Kyiv, Ukraine When: 26 Dec 2023 Credit: Ukrinform/Cover Images **UK AND USA RIGHTS ONLY**  (Cover Images via AP Images)

The news about Zaluzhny comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is set to enter its third year. Ukrinform/Cover Images/APKyiv, UkraineCNN — 

Ukraine’s popular army chief Valery Zaluzhny was called to a meeting at the president’s office on Monday and told he was being fired, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN, following weeks of growing speculation over tensions between Volodymyr Zelensky and his top commander.

A formal announcement has not been made, meaning Zaluzhny was still in post as of Wednesday evening, however, a presidential decree is expected by the end of the week, one of the sources told CNN, in what would be the biggest military shakeup by Zelensky since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion almost two years ago.

Rumors of the meeting, and Zaluzhny’s dismissal, exploded around Kyiv on Monday evening, lent credibility by a rift widely understood to have opened up between the president and his commander-in-chief following the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive last year.

Tensions are said to have risen in particular when Zaluzhny described the war with Russia as a stalemate, in an interview and essay with The Economist magazine in November.

On Monday, presidential spokesman Serhiy Nykyforov told CNN and others that rumors of the army chief’s dismissal were untrue. The defense ministry also put out a message on its social media channels which read, “Dear journalists, an immediate answer to everyone: No, this is not true.”

And in his daily evening address Monday, Zelensky himself made no reference at all to his army chief.

A Ukrainian artillery crew with the Bureviy Brigade fires on a Russian position, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, Jan. 13, 2024. After a Ukrainian summer counteroffensive in the south that fell far short of objectives, and with Russian troops currently on the attack and Western military aid less assured than in the past, the country's prospects are looking bleak. (Finbarr O'Reilly/The New York Times)

RELATED ARTICLE‘The enemy is amassing’: Ukrainian army officials give unvarnished account of the battlefield

But according to one of the sources, at a small gathering at his office on Monday – also attended by Defense Minister Rustem Umerov – the president declared he had “made a decision to dismiss the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.” The account is in line with other reports, including in The Washington Post and the Financial Times.

In a conversation described as “calm,” Zelensky then proceeded to offer Zaluzhny a different position, which Zaluzhny declined.

Ukraine’s president then underlined his decision, saying the fact Zaluzhny had turned down the new role did not change the fact he was being removed from his current post.

CNN reached out to the president’s office on Wednesday requesting further comment but did not receive a reply.

Two names in particular are being discussed as possible successors, one of the sources, a senior military commander, told CNN.

One of them is the current head of the Defense Intelligence Directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, a 38-year-old general known to have strong ties with Zelensky and seen as representing a new generation of military leaders.

Asked by CNN in an interview on Tuesday whether he was set to become Ukraine’s new commander-in-chief, Budanov knocked it down, suggesting it was unlikely he would be speaking to CNN at that moment if such an appointment had just been made.

“We are in a war, and all sides are using all available means, including information warfare,” the military spy chief added.

The other frontrunner is Oleksandr Syrskyi, currently the Commander of Ukrainian Land Forces, the senior military commander speaking to CNN said.

Syrskyi’s office has not responded to CNN’s attempt to reach him.

Despite the failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive to make any significant progress in rolling back Russian forces in the south and the east of the country, Zaluzhny remains one of the most popular leaders in the country.

A poll published by the Kyiv Institute of Sociology in December found 88% of Ukrainians supported the top general. Zelensky’s approval rating, though also high, was considerably lower at 62%.

The poll was conducted after differences between the two leaders had apparently broken into the open over the prosecution of the war.

“Just like in the First World War we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” Zaluzhny had written in The Economist in November as it became clear that Russia’s deeply-laid minefields, and overwhelming heavy artillery fire, had largely prevented significant Ukrainian success in the counteroffensive.

“There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough,” but instead an equilibrium of devastating losses and destruction, the army chief added.

Those comments drew immediate criticism from the president’s office.

“If I were in the military, the last thing I would do is to comment to the press, to the public, on what is happening at the front [and] what might happen at the front … because then we will facilitate the aggressor’s work,” Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of the president’s office, said on Ukrainian television at the time.

Zelensky did not openly criticize Zaluzhny, but told a live news conference in December: “I am waiting for very concrete things on the battlefield. The strategy is clear: We have an understanding of our actions. I want to see details,” Reuters reported.

Launched in June, Ukraine’s counteroffensive was its main effort to drive Russian forces back from the territories they have occupied since 2022, particularly in the south of the country. Ukraine had aimed to push south from the town of Orikhiv towards the Sea of Azov, splitting Russia’s forces in two and cutting its land bridge to Crimea.

But Ukraine’s gains were modest. Its forces attempted to push from Orikhiv towards Tokmak, but only made it as far as Robotyne, a little over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south.

Ukraine’s lack of progress led to a call from its armed forces at the end of December for a huge mobilization effort of up to half a million new conscripts. The request is currently before parliament.

One soldier contacted by CNN currently fighting around Avdiivka in the east said any decision to dismiss Zaluzhny was a mistake.

“He is a worthy general. Our government wants to overthrow him because he is not very convenient for them,” the soldier said, adding, “It seems like ‘Zelensky’s guys’ sold us out a long time ago.”

US aircraft carriers lead ‘large deck’ exercises with Japan east of Taiwan

US Navy aircraft fly in formation during an exercise held in the Philippine Sea on January 31.

US Navy aircraft fly in formation during an exercise held in the Philippine Sea on January 31. US NavySeoul, South KoreaCNN — 

A dozen United States and Japanese warships, including two US aircraft carriers, have been putting on a show of military might this week in the Philippine Sea east of Taiwan.

Analysts say the joint exercises show the US Navy can respond to contingencies across a broad swath of Asian waters where tensions with China remain high – even while facing hostilities in the Middle East.

The US Navy aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Theodore Roosevelt were joined by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Ise, seven US guided-missile destroyers and two US cruisers for what the Navy calls a Multi-Large Deck Event (MLDE).

“The U.S. and Japan are uniquely capable of rapidly assembling multiple large-deck naval forces in support of mutual security interests in the Indo Pacific,” Rear Adm. Carlos Sardiello, commander of the Vinson-led Carrier Strike Group 1, said in a statement.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during exercises in the Philippine Sea on Jan. 31.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during exercises in the Philippine Sea on Jan. 31. US Navy

The dozen warships conducted “defense drills, sea surveillance, cross-deck exercises and tactical maneuvers to advance unique high-end warfighting capability,” the US Navy statement said.

The exercises began Monday and were scheduled to conclude Thursday, according to a statement from the Japanese military.

Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said while exercises occur regularly in the area, the timing of this show of force is important.

“There had been earlier trepidations that the Mideast flareups would draw a US strategic refocus away from the Western Pacific,” Koh said.

“This was seen as a demonstration of US commitment to its strategic focus on the region despite what happens in the Mideast,” he added, noting that a third US aircraft carrier in Asia-Pacific, the USS Ronald Reagan, is now in Japan.

Meanwhile, according to the USNI Fleet Tracker, only one US carrier – the USS Dwight D Eisenhower – is in the Middle East, where Houthi rebels have sustained a series of attacks on US naval assets and commercial shipping in the Red Sea, despite multiple US and British strikes on the group’s infrastructure inside Yemen.

Hawaii-based analyst Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said staging the joint exercises in the Philippine Sea shows the US Navy can get forces quickly to areas where China’s naval units have been active in recent months.

“As an exercise, it demonstrates the mobility of aircraft carriers. Geopolitically, it also highlights the carrier’s ability to support a range of contingencies across a broad area,” Schuster said.

Potential maritime flashpoints

That broad area reaches as far south as islands and reefs in the South China Sea, where Chinese and Philippine vessels have been in recent confrontations. It also extends west to the democratically ruled island of Taiwan, which is reporting bumps in Chinese naval and air activity in surrounding waters since an election in January.

And it stretches northwest to the East China Sea and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyus by China, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory and where it has put an almost-constant coast guard presence in the past year, according to Japan.

All those areas are potential military flashpoints between China and the US and its allies.

But Taiwan has been the major focus since elections on January 13, in which voters gave the island’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party a historic third consecutive presidential victory, shrugging off warnings from China that their reelection would increase the risk of conflict.

Beijing responded soon after the vote by saying, “Taiwan is part of China.”

China’s ruling Communist Party views Taiwan as part of its territory, despite having never controlled it, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.

The head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, told a conference in Hawaii after the Taiwan election that he expects Beijing to show its displeasure at the result of the vote.

“The coercive pressure campaign against Taiwan continues, and we’re watching it in the wake of the elections,” Aquilino told the Pacific Forum.

“I’m not sure what they’re going to do, but I expect some demonstration of force against Taiwan in the near term.”

The US admiral also noted the importance of the exercises like the US-Japan joint maneuvers taking place this week.

“Laying down the ability to be able to move forces forward, to be able to sustain the force, to be able to train and operate with our allies and partners in their home territory provides an asymmetric advantage,” Aquilino said.

A Biden-Trump rematch would be mostly about Trump

In this September 2020 photo, Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

In this September 2020 photo, Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Morry Gash/Pool/Getty Images/File

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.CNN — 

President Joe Biden may be the incumbent in the White House, but rather than a referendum on Biden and his policies, the coming general election is shaping up to be yet another referendum on former President Donald Trump.

But what may be more interesting than those horse-race figures in a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS is voters’ motivation, which is dominated by Trump on both sides of the political divide. Most Biden supporters (68%) said they would be casting their vote against Trump as opposed to just 32% who said it would be a vote to support Biden.

It’s the opposite for registered voters supporting Trump; 60% said it would be a vote for Trump compared with 40% who would be casting a vote against Biden. And that’s before Trump’s four separate criminal trials get underway.

A second straight Biden-Trump matchup could be a very close race. For now, Trump has an edge; he gets the support of 49% of registered voters in CNN’s poll compared with 45% who back Biden. The figures are identical to CNN’s poll in the fall.

A divisive, upsetting rematch

The Republican primary is not yet over. But considering Trump’s lead in the Republican delegate race and his growing support among Republican primary voters – more on that below – it is entirely appropriate to consider what the general election holds.

“The poll finds that a victory by either candidate would leave most of the nation dissatisfied and a substantial share upset,” write CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta and Ariel Edwards-Levy in an ominous note about the future. Read their full report on the CNN poll.

Biden’s favorability dropped last year. Trump’s rose

More Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Biden than have an unfavorable view of Trump in CNN’s poll.

Trump’s unfavorable rating has dropped over the past year from January 2023, when 63% said they had an unfavorable view of the former president. It’s now at 55%. Biden’s unfavorable rating during that same period has increased, from 54% a year ago to 59% this year.

This is one poll

A polling pro tip, which I’ll channel from Agiesta, CNN’s polling director: It’s not smart to put too much stock in the head-to-head figure in any one poll, particularly a poll in January for an election that won’t take place until November. Another poll out this week, conducted by Quinnipiac, shows Biden with a slim lead.

Concerns about Biden’s age stick

The most-cited concern about Trump among Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters is his demeanor. Fifteen percent worry about his tactlessness, his abrasiveness and his mouth. Compare that with the most-cited concern about Biden among Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters: 46% worry about his age.

Biden is weaker against Haley

Republicans are barreling toward a third straight Trump nomination, but former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley makes a compelling case that she could be a stronger candidate against Biden.

In CNN’s poll, she would beat Biden 52% to 39% among registered voters if the election was held today. The Quinnipiac poll also suggests Haley would be in a stronger position against Biden in a general election.

Trump’s command of the GOP is complete

In case there is any lingering doubt about Trump’s position atop the Republican Party, consider that in CNN’s poll he now gets the support of 70% of Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters compared with Haley’s 19%.

Those are the strongest figures for either Trump or Haley in CNN’s polling during the primary campaigns, but with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire behind him, it’s clear the party is coalescing around Trump for the third straight time.

Why is Haley still in this race?

If she is trailing Trump so badly in polls and he won the first primary contests, why is Haley still in the race? She continues to make the argument that she’s better suited to lead the country for two terms.

“The fact that we would have two 80-year-old candidates running for president is absurd,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday.

Why stay in the race when she’s so far behind in the polls?

“We’ve had two states that have voted,” Haley told Tapper. “You need 1,215 delegates. Donald Trump has 32. I have 17. We still have 48 states and more territories to go before we get there. I’m not going anywhere.”

The campaign portion of this election is only beginning

Such a potentially close election could be won on the margins with turnout among key groups in key states. Keep an eye on the electoral votes that Trump won in 2016 and Biden won in 2020 – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and one electoral vote from Nebraska, which awards some of its electoral votes by congressional district.

That’s why Trump was meeting with Teamsters union leaders and members in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. He’ll try hard to peel union support away from Biden and hope his populist nationalism with its focus on White, working-class voters again resonates in Rust Belt states.

Biden was traveling to Michigan to meet with United Auto Workers union members Thursday, following his endorsement by UAW last week. But it will only be with a coalition of voters – union members and beyond – that either candidate wins the presidency.

Biden’s youth problem

For Biden, he’ll have to convince younger progressives souring on his presidency to turn out in droves.

Younger voters in particular have turned on Biden, although it’s not clear they have turned toward Trump.

There is a growing rift among Democrats over Biden’s strong support for Israel as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza grows. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have routinely been interrupted by loud protesters trying to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians. Michigan, one of those key states, has a particularly strong Arab American population.

What does the Middle East have to do with Michigan?

Voters might be more focused on voting for or against Trump, but Biden’s policy clearly does matter.

Rep. Hillary Scholten, a Michigan Democrat, told CNN’s Manu Raju that Biden needs to do more to win the state and that a negotiated peace agreement in the Middle East would help.

“There is a lot of pain in our state right now,” Scholten told Raju. “We have a large Arab American population, a large Jewish population, the lack of peace in the Middle East, we are entering the fourth month of the Israel-Hamas war. It is felt in a deeply personal way in places like Michigan that it isn’t in other parts of the country.”

These mini-battles for blocks of voters could be the story of the election, and the main question could be if Biden can muster enough opposition to stop Trump again, as opposed to motivating Democrats to reelect him.

Retired conservative federal judge urges Supreme Court to disqualify Trump from office

Retired judge and and informal advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, J. Michael Luttig, testifies during the third hearing of the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2022. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Retired Judge J. Michael Luttig testifies during the third hearing of the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2022.Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

A former conservative federal appellate judge is urging the Supreme Court to keep Donald Trump off the ballot, arguing the ex-president’s effort to cling to power after his 2020 election loss was “broader” than South Carolina’s secession from the US that triggered the Civil War.

“Mr. Trump tried to prevent the newly-elected President Biden from governing anywhere in the United States. The South Carolina secession prevented the newly-elected President Lincoln from governing only in that State,” J. Michael Luttig, a former judge on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, told the justices in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Monday.

“Trump incited, and therefore engaged in, an armed insurrection against the Constitution’s express and foundational mandates that require the peaceful transfer of executive power to a newly-elected President,” the brief said. “In doing so, Mr. Trump disqualified himself under Section 3 (of the Constitution).”

E. Jean Carroll appears on "CNN This Morning" on January 29, 2024.

RELATED ARTICLEE. Jean Carroll says courtroom was a ‘campaign stop’ for Trump

Luttig has long been one of the most high-profile conservatives to argue that Trump engaged in an insurrection following his loss in 2020 and that he should as a result be barred from holding office. The former judge played a critical role in the heated fight over the certification of the 2020 presidential election, providing in a series of tweets legal ammunition to help then-Vice President Mike Pence defy Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.

The US Supreme Court agreed earlier this month to review the unprecedented decision from the Colorado Supreme Court that removed him from that state’s ballot. In a 4-3 ruling issued last month, the state court said Trump is constitutionally ineligible to run in 2024 because the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists holding office covers his conduct on January 6, 2021.

The justices in Washington are set to hear oral arguments in the case on February 8.

Monday’s brief, which was submitted on behalf of several other notable lawyers, including conservative attorney George Conway, urges the high court to examine the issue through a textualist lens – meaning they would focus specifically on the words of the disputed constitutional provision.

“Because Section 3 emerged from the hallowed ground of the Civil War, this Court must accord Section 3 its fair meaning, not a narrow construction,” the brief said.

The brief also pushes back on Trump’s argument that the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban” can only be enforced by Congress after a candidate is elected, with Luttig and the others arguing that enforcement of the provision is instead within the purview of courts.

Trump’s argument, the brief said, “would deprive voters of the ability to make a truly informed decision, because they could not know if they were voting for someone who cannot serve.”

It continued: “And it would risk chaos as courts litigate whether a newly-inaugurated President is disqualified at the same time the country needs a President to be indisputably occupying the office and making enormously consequential decisions – including as commander-in-chief, appointer of cabinet members, leader of the executive branch, vetoer of bills, etc.”

MacKenzie Scott sold 65 million Amazon shares worth over $10 billion in the last year

FILE - Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.  Scott publicized some $2.1 billion that she's made in charitable donations since November 2022, in a post Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, on her website Yield Giving.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.Evan Agostini/Invision/APCNN — 

MacKenzie Scott continues to sell billions of dollars in Amazon stock.

In 2023, she unloaded nearly 65.3 million shares of Amazon, currently worth more than $10 billion, according to a filing.

After her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was finalized in 2019, Scott became the wealthiest woman in the world, receiving about 19.7 million shares, equal to 4% of Amazon’s total outstanding shares, in the settlement. She has since sold off portions of her Amazon stake, donating billions of dollars to charity.

Bezos retained the voting rights to Scott’s shares as part of the agreement, which is why he reported them to the SEC when disclosing his 11.5% stake in the company.

In 2019, Scott signed the Giving Pledge, a promise signed by hundreds of the world’s richest people to give away the majority of their wealth. The pledge has been signed by business titans like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Bezos is not a signatory, though he told CNN in 2022 that he planned to devote the bulk of his wealth to fighting climate change and supporting people who can unify humanity.

In December, Scott announced that she had made $2.15 billion in donations over the past year through her foundation, Yield Giving. The nonprofit had donated to 360 organizations, according to the announcement.

Although Scott has sold billions of dollars worth of Amazon shares in recent years, her net worth is still more than $37 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.