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Last spring, the mood in Ukraine was upbeat.

The West had rallied to President Zelenskyy’s call for military support to enable a spring offensive, and there was an air of optimism that Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine was to be defeated.

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However, a year on, the much-anticipated Ukrainian spring offensive failed to deliver any significant changes to the frontline, and 2024 started with Russia on the front foot in the Donbas.

Vital supplies of Western military aid to Ukraine are waning, and President Putin will feel emboldened by his recent election result and his growing military advantage over Ukraine.

Although the Ukrainian forces have proven brave and tenacious on the Ukrainian battlefield, Russia has the advantage of “mass”.

Western high-tech precision weapons provided the Ukrainian military with a crucial advantage against the Russian invaders; however, two years into the war, Western war chests have been emptied, and the future is now looking increasingly bleak for President Zelenskyy and his fellow Ukrainians.

A new recruit of the 1st Da Vinci Wolves Separate Mechanized Battalion attends a military exercise in Ukriane
Pic: Reuters
Image:
Pic: Reuters

Is this the beginning of the end for Ukraine?

High-end warfare consumes huge quantities of ammunition and weapons and requires a rapid mobilisation of the established defence industrial base to provide both the quantity, and quality, of munitions required.

Although the West’s defence industrial base has a significantly greater potential than Russia, the West has been slow to invest.

In stark contrast, Russia’s defence industry is now three times the size it was at the start of the war, and Russia’s oil revenues are sustaining the flow of weapons from both North Korea and Iran.

Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the collegium of the Prosecutor General's office in Moscow, Russia,
Pic: Sputnik/Reuters
Image:
Pic: Sputnik/Reuters

Despite robust Western political rhetoric in support of Ukraine, actions speak louder than words, and Putin will feel emboldened by the West’s hesitancy over the level of commitment to combating Russian aggression.

Putin knows well that Russia has a significant military and economic advantage over Ukraine.

However, he also knows that Russia is no match for NATO or a concerted and determined Western campaign of military support for President Zelenskyy.

The question is whether Western support will continue at the level required.

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What is happening in Ukraine?

Putin’s threats resonate – even if he can’t risk NATO war

Putin has consistently threatened escalation in response to Western military aid to Ukraine.

At the start of the war, the West prevaricated about providing anti-tank weapons due to Putin’s threats.

However, the West eventually agreed to send modern tanks and then long-range missiles – such as Storm Shadow – despite a growing tirade of threats from Putin.

But even now, Russian threats of retaliation against Germany are delaying the supply of Taurus missiles.

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Putin knows he cannot afford to precipitate a war with NATO or the West, but his threats resonate with nervous Western leaders.

Ultimately, bullies such as Putin only respect strength and resolve.

If he were to subjugate Ukraine – eventually – his battle-hardened military, backed by a robust and sustainable defence industrial base, would hold a significant military advantage over any of Russia’s neighbours.

Unless the West shifts from appeasement to a robust defence of Ukraine, why would Putin stop?

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West could call Russia’s bluff to stop brutal war

Although there is no quick fix to the weapons crisis, the West does have other options available.

President Macron has consistently argued that the West should not rule out putting Western “boots on the ground” in Ukraine.

This is not just about Western military personnel – such a move would also enable the West to deploy modern weapons that cannot be gifted to Ukraine for security reasons.

Also, the Russian air force has struggled to prevail over a significantly smaller and less capable Ukrainian air force, losing over 10% of its pre-war fighter jets.

If the West was to impose a No-Fly Zone over all or part of Ukraine, that would present a huge threat to the Russian military advance, and significantly tip the balance of power Ukraine’s way.

President Putin would recognise the significance of such a move and would increase his threatening rhetoric, but he knows that it is Russia that is responsible for the war and for invading a vulnerable neighbour.

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 126th Separate Territorial Defence Brigade prepares a shell for a D-30 howitzer in Kherson. 
Pic: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Reuters
Image:
Pic: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Reuters

Russia cannot risk an escalation – its military has been decimated by the war to date, and nuclear weapons are only a credible option if Russia itself is threatened.

Ultimately, this is all about the resolve and determination of Western political leaders.

Nobody wants to get embroiled in a brutal war, but history suggests that aggressors such as Putin will not desist unless they are robustly challenged.

The West has the capability to halt Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine, but does it have the political resolve?

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Baby saved from womb of mother killed in Israeli strike

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Baby saved from womb of mother killed in Israeli strike

Palestinians in Rafah are reeling from a series of devastating Israeli airstrikes that have killed 22 people – including 18 children.

The last 48 hours, horrific even by Gaza’s standards, are an indicator of what may follow in any Israeli Rafah offensive.

Doctors told the Sky News team in Gaza how they saved the life of an unborn baby even as her mother was dying from head injuries.

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“We tried to rescue the patient,” Dr Ahmad Fawzi said.

“We realised that she was pregnant.

“We had to do an emergency caesarean to save the baby.

“Thanks to God, we managed to save the baby.”

A medic holds a Palestinian newborn girl after she was pulled alive from the womb of her mother Sabreen Al-Sheikh (Al-Sakani), who was killed in an Israeli strike, along with her husband Shokri and her daughter Malak, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in this still image taken from a video recorded April 20, 2024. Reuters TV via REUTERS
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The Palestinian baby girl was saved from the womb of her mother. Pic: Reuters

The little girl lies in an incubator.

She has no name but there is tape attached to her hand with writing that says: “The baby of the martyr Sabreen al Sakani”.

The baby’s mother Sabreen, her father Shoukri, and three-year-old sister Malak all died in the Israeli airstrike.

Her uncle says he will care for her now.

The Palestinian baby girl was saved from the womb of her mother. Pic: Reuters
Image:
The Palestinian baby girl was saved from the womb of her mother. Pic: Reuters

Also in Rafah, another airstrike killed 17 children and two women all from the same extended family, say Palestinians.

There were heartbreaking scenes at the hospital as relatives mourned the children being placed in body bags.

A relative, Umm Kareem, told how the children were killed as they slept in their beds, saying: “These children were sleeping. What did they do? What was their fault?

“Pregnant women at home, sleeping children, the husband’s aunt is 80 years old.

“What did this woman do? Did she fire missiles? We complain about our concerns to God.”

The strikes, all in Rafah, have provoked unusually sharp criticism of Israel by the UK government.

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Families mourn as airstrike kills children

Lord Ahmad, foreign minister for the Middle East, tweeted that he was “appalled by the Israeli strike, on a residential apartment in the densely populated Rafah in Gaza, which resulted in more children being killed”.

“We must stop this fighting immediately and bring an end to this conflict,” he added.

But there is no end in sight. Quite the opposite.

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In an address to the nation ahead of Passover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used language from the Bible to hint at what might be coming for Rafah.

The enemy, he said, is “hardening its heart and refusing to let our people go”.

“Therefore, we will strike it with additional painful blows – and this will happen soon,” he added.

Israel’s government says it must take the fight to Hamas in Rafah to bring back its hostages and destroy the enemy, but far more civilians are being killed than Hamas fighters in this war.

Rafah is the most densely-populated area of Gaza. And when the offensive begins here, many more will die.

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Trail of destruction in Lebanon’s ‘ghost towns’ – as daily explosions fuel fears of escalating war

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Trail of destruction in Lebanon's 'ghost towns' - as daily explosions fuel fears of escalating war

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon has told Sky News the dangers in the region have not gone away and called for calm, wisdom and de-escalation as a matter of urgency.

Joanna Wronecka spoke from her office in Beirut about her worries and appealed for restraint from all those involved.

“I’m very concerned,” she said. “Because we need just a small miscalculation and the situation can escalate even more.”

She was referring to the spike in cross-border firing between the Israeli military and the Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who’ve been trading attacks with growing intensity since 7 October.

UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka
Image:
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka

It’s resulted in around 100,000 Lebanese fleeing their homes along the border and around 80,000 being forced to leave their communities on the Israeli side.

We saw a trail of destruction as we joined a UN peacekeepers patrol in south Lebanon.

UNIFIL peacekeepers
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UN peacekeepers on patrol in south Lebanon.


Village after village, town after town have been left like ghost towns, with those homes still standing now emptied of residents. We saw multiple houses and buildings flattened, craters in roads and acres of farmland left burned and unusable.

In Alma Shaab town, a few hardy folk have opted to stay despite the dangers.

“It’s dangerous to stay here,” Nader Eid said. “But we have to. We have to survive and we have to keep our home safe… and to keep Alma safe.”

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Exchange of fire is regular and often

Walking past crushed buildings which were once people’s homes, Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Vio from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says the exchange of fire and attacks is regular and often.

“For sure, it’s daily,” he says. “Every day we can count some different kind of activity and in different numbers.”

The UN mission in the country, only weeks ago, marked its 46th anniversary but used it to call for all involved to lay down their weapons and talk peace.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Vio
Image:
Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Vio

Before the Hamas attack inside Israel on 7 October, the border area was judged to have enjoyed a relative period of calm and stability but that all changed with the events across the border.

Since then Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops have been exchanging more and more serious fire, violating the terms of an earlier agreement contained in the UN Resolution 1701.

That agreement preserved what’s known as the Blue Line – an official demarcation area on disputed territory between Lebanon and Israel. All sides agreed this would be a demilitarised zone with no militia or military engagement in this area.

But Israeli forces continue to strike inside Lebanon at locations they say are being used by Hezbollah to mount attacks inside Israel.

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IDF footage of alleged strikes on Hezbollah

Hezbollah argues they are mounting strikes in support of the Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in Gaza, as well as distracting IDF troops on a separate additional front.

There are many suspicions among the Lebanese that the Israeli attacks are an attempt to snatch territory from them.

Whatever the motivations, the daily explosions have fuelled concerns across the region over the potential for the war to escalate hugely, drawing in multiple militias in multiple countries.

‘Lebanon is in a very sensitive place’

Ms Wronecka says: “One mistake, one miscalculation can make a difference and put this region in a completely new situation. And taking Lebanon’s geopolitical position into account, Lebanon is in a very sensitive place.

“So we deploy every day, every moment to speak about responsibility and restraint.”

Lebanon is home to around 250,000 Palestinian refugees, among them an 85-year-old man called Abu Jamal.

He fled to safety in Lebanon more than seven decades ago during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The hugely traumatic event became known as the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) and saw more than half the Palestinian population displaced and dispossessed with many never returning to their homes.

Abu Jamal with his key
Image:
Abu Jamal

‘I pray to see my country… before I die’

Mr Jamal sees many parallels between what’s happening now in Gaza and what he fears may happen in parts of Lebanon too.

He was eight when he left his family home – a day he remembers with searing clarity.

He has a large key which he says was the key to his family’s front door, now part of Israel. He said: “My dad told me that it would be one or two months and we’d go back home – and we’ve been here in Lebanon for 76 years.

“This is the key to our home. I’m still hanging it in my bedroom. I pray to God we return back to our country Palestine. I pray I see my country and our land before I die.”

Reporting with cameraman Jake Britton, specialist producer Chris Cunningham and Lebanon producer Jihad Jineid.

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‘Ukraine will not be the second Afghanistan,’ says Zelenskyy after US aid package approval

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'Ukraine will not be the second Afghanistan,' says Zelenskyy after US aid package approval

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the crucial US aid package for Ukraine sends “sends a powerful signal” that his country “will not be the second Afghanistan”.

After months of deadlock, Democrats and Republicans joined together in the US House of Representatives to approve a package – worth $60.8bn (£49bn) – to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Speaking on NBC News show Meet The Press, Mr Zelenskyy said the aid is “a show of leadership from the United States”.

“This aid will strengthen Ukraine and send the Kremlin a powerful signal that it will not be the second Afghanistan,” he said.

“The US will stay with Ukraine, they will protect Ukrainians and democracy.

“Half a year we have been waiting. Now we have reached this important moment and this positive vote.”

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Moment US approved $60.8bn Ukraine aid

The aid package will now go to the US Senate, where it is expected to be passed on Tuesday.

During the months of delays, some Republicans were critical of the aid proposal and argued America should be focussing on its own southern border instead of European ones.

Asked about the opposition, Mr Zelenskyy said: “The Americans are not funding the war. They, first and foremost, protect freedom and democracy all over Europe.

“Ukraine is fighting, and sending it sons and daughters to the front line. It reduces the price for the whole Europe, NATO and the US.

“The US army does not have to fight to protect NATO countries – Ukrainians are doing that. It’s only the ammo that [aid] is providing.

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‘Grateful’ Zelenskyy reacts to US aid

‘We will have a chance for victory’

Addressing how the money will be used, Mr Zelenskyy said he hopes to get “tangible assistance to soldiers on the frontline as soon as possible”.

“We will have a chance for victory if Ukraine really gets the weapons system which we need so much,” he said. “This support will really strengthen the armed forces.”

Ukraine’s priorities are long-range artillery and air defences, Mr Zelenskyy added.

The US House’s decision to approve the aid was praised by UK Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron, who called the funding “a vital step forward”.

“If Putin ever doubted the West’s resolve to back Ukraine, this shows our collective will is undimmed,” he wrote on X.

“With support, Ukraine can and will win.”

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