A comprehensive overview of the Russia-Ukraine conflict: the latest updates on day 660.

The European Union has made the decision to commence membership negotiations with Ukraine, a surprising move that will provide significant support to Volodymyr Zelenskiy and weaken the position of Vladimir Putin. The announcement, which came on Thursday following intense negotiations in Brussels, was made despite the objections of Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had previously declared that his country would veto any talks of accession.

After lengthy discussions, Orbán left the room just as the leaders formally agreed to initiate the negotiations, achieving unanimity. The Hungarian prime minister stated, “Hungary does not wish to be a part of this ill-advised decision, and therefore did not participate in today’s decision.”

Zelenskiy responded to the news by stating, “This is a victory for Ukraine—a victory for all of Europe. It is a victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens.”

Later on, European Union leaders failed to reach an agreement on a €50 billion ($55 billion) aid package for Ukraine, as well as on the renegotiation of the EU budget due to Hungary’s veto. The financial assistance was intended to help the war-torn country withstand the Russian invasion. However, as all 27 leaders were unable to endorse the package, it could not proceed.

Additionally, the EU has decided to open membership negotiations with Moldova. Moldova’s President Maia Sandu declared, “Today, our country turns a new page.”

During his annual end-of-the-year press conference, Putin spoke for the first time since the invasion began. He stated, “There will only be peace in Ukraine when we achieve our aims,” in an attempt to project confidence in his military campaign. Putin also expressed a readiness to mend relations with both Europe and the US, but maintained that Russia was not at fault for invading Ukraine. He placed blame on the West for “damaging relations” with Russia.

On Thursday, Ukraine reported that its air defense systems had successfully taken down numerous Russian-launched drones, designed by Iran, that were targeting the city of Odesa in the south. This latest barrage resulted in 11 people being injured.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in Russia on charges of espionage, lost an appeal on Thursday to be released from custody. He will remain detained until at least January 30.

When asked about a potential prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich and former US marine Paul Whelan, Putin expressed hope for an agreement that would be “satisfactory to both sides.”

A Moscow court has ordered a retrial for a veteran Russian human rights activist who is facing charges of discrediting the country’s armed forces.

The Finnish government has announced that Finland will sign a defense agreement with the US, granting the American military extensive access to areas near its long border with Russia.

Romania’s defense ministry has reported the discovery of a drone crater near its border with Ukraine, following a recent Russian attack on Ukrainian port infrastructure.

The Guardian visited the city of Avdiivka, which has been on the front line for nearly a decade. The city, now in ruins, is home to only 1,200 residents, but continues to hold immense symbolic value.

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