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Ukraine briefing: Harris arrives in Munich for conference; Kyiv says 5 killed in Russian shelling in Bakhmut


Russia on Thursday launched dozens of missiles targeting critical infrastructure across Ukraine, including the country’s largest oil refinery, officials said. At least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general said.

The barrage came as Vice President Harris arrived in Germany on Thursday for an annual meeting of political, intelligence and defense leaders at the Munich Security Conference. Harris is expected to discuss U.S. support for Ukraine, as well as NATO membership for Sweden and Finland.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • The United States and its allies are planning major new sanctions against Russia to coincide with the Feb. 24 anniversary of the start of the war, Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said Thursday. “You will see around the 24th a big new package of sanctions from both the US and all of our G7 partners,” she told reporters. The package will include more banking restrictions, limit the flow of technology to Russia’s defense industry, and clamp down on sanctions evasion.
  • Germany’s armed forces are in a worse place than they were last year, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in an interview with The Washington Post, despite boasting a huge boost in defense spending after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany is not the only one: Other allies who have supplied Ukraine’s military, including the United States, have expressed concerns about decreasing stock of defense supplies.
  • Israel’s foreign minister arrived in Kyiv on Thursday in the first visit by an Israeli minister since the war began. Eli Cohen tweeted that he would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reopen the Israeli Embassy on his trip. Israel has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine but it has not provided Kyiv with intelligence or weapons.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country will join Russia’s war only if Ukraine attacks Belarus. “I am ready to fight together with the Russians from the territory of Belarus only in one case so far: if a single soldier comes from there to the territory of Belarus to kill my people,” he said Thursday. “If they commit aggression against Belarus, the answer will be the cruelest.”

Global impact

  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Estonia on Thursday to meet with the country’s defense minister. Estonia, a Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people, has given the most government support to Ukraine as a percentage of its GDP. “You’ve made hard decisions to give Ukrainians the assistance that they need to defend themselves,” Austin said at a joint press conference with Defense Minister Hanno Pekvur. “Estonia’s leadership reminds us that even small countries can make a big difference.”
  • The United States will provide the Czech Republic with $200 million for military upgrades and to help replace equipment the country has provided to Ukraine, the U.S. Embassy announced Thursday. According to Czech news agency CTK, the package comes in addition to the $106 million Washington pledged last year.
  • An estimated 1.1 million Ukrainians arrived in Germany last year, the German federal statistics office announced Thursday. Even after the return of 139,000 people to Ukraine, the figure still surpassed the number of Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi nationals who arrived in Germany between 2014 and 2016, at the height of the European migrant crisis, the office said.

Battleground updates

  • More than 200 Russian and Ukrainian servicemen were freed Thursday as part of a prisoner exchange between the two sides. Russia released 101 Ukrainians, including a local government official, Zelensky said on Telegram. Ukraine released 101 Russian servicemen, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
  • Russian shelling in Bakhmut on Thursday killed five civilians and injured nine more, the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general said. The statement said Russian forces used tube artillery and a Grad multiple rocket launcher system to target civilian areas of the city and that an investigation was launched to determine whether Russia violated the laws of war.
  • Russia has lost about half of its prewar fleet of modern battle tanks in the Ukraine conflict and is instead turning to stocks of older vehicles, according to an annual audit of the world’s military resources by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Across Eastern Europe, the war is driving Cold War-era models out of storage, the think tank added.

From our correspondents

As Russians inch forward near Bakhmut, Ukrainians dig fallback defenses: At the front line in Bakhmut, Ukrainians are preparing for the possibility of a Russian advance. This part of the Donetsk region has become the epicenter of Russia’s push to regain momentum in its year-old invasion, Steve Hendrix and Serhii Korolchuk report.

Any Ukrainian fallback is likely to be limited, commanders say. Even if Ukrainian troops give up the fight in Bakhmut — an area with more symbolic value than strategic — Russia lacks the trained troops and weaponry to rush headlong into the wider Donetsk region.