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Ukraine live briefing: Biden and Scholz to meet; Russian fighters claim to be closing in on Bakhmut


President Biden is set to welcome German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the White House on Friday for a working visit, which will involve discussions about Ukraine. The two leaders are expected to share notes on their recent meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Ahead of the meeting, the State Department announced an additional $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

Fierce fighting continues to rage over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. The head of Russia’s Wagner Group, a mercenary outfit, claimed Friday that his fighters had “practically surrounded” the city, but a Ukrainian defender told The Washington Post that Ukrainian forces still control it and have not been ordered to retreat. Russian forces are “constantly hitting the city randomly with artillery, grads and mortars,” the soldier said.

Russian forces have fought for months to seize Bakhmut — which would give Moscow its first symbolic victory of the year and a broader foothold in the Donbas region, even though military experts say the city is of limited strategic value.

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

Why Russia and Ukraine are fighting over Bakhmut

Key developments

  • Wagner Group boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin said that “the pincers are closing” on Bakhmut, in a video posted Friday on Telegram in which he claimed to be speaking from a rooftop in the city. He paraded three men who appeared to be captured local fighters on camera and said Ukrainian forces should withdraw to “give them a chance to leave the city.” The Washington Post could not independently verify Prigozhin’s claims to have “practically surrounded” Bakhmut. However, the Institute for the Study of War, citing geolocated footage, said Thursday that pro-Kremlin forces have made gains in areas near Bakhmut.
  • A Ukrainian soldier defending Bakhmut said enemy forces are “right now on three sides trying to get to us,” with some of the heaviest fighting striking the city’s south. Yuriy Syrotyuk, who is stationed with Ukraine’s Fifth Independent Assault Brigade, dismissed Prigozhin’s claims as “boasting.” In a phone interview Friday, Syrotyuk added that it does not feel as though the situation has significantly changed in the past 24 hours and that his last meal — chicken strips and rice — was even served hot, a sign of relative normalcy. Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, wrote Friday on Telegram that “intense fighting is taking place in and around” Bakhmut, as Russia “continues to accumulate forces to occupy the city.”
  • Biden and Scholz may discuss China’s potential to supply weapons to Russian forces in Ukraine during their Friday meeting, Kirby said. “I certainly would expect … in the context of talking about what’s going on in Ukraine, that the issue of third-party support to Russia could come up,” he told reporters. “But I don’t want to get ahead of where we are here. We haven’t seen the Chinese make this decision.”
  • Kicking Russia out of the Group of 20 nations would be a mistake, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Friday as a high-level meeting of G-20 foreign ministers drew to a close in New Delhi. “We have to keep ways of talking, or at least listening,” Borrell said. He noted that while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had walked out of a G-20 meeting in Indonesia last year after Russia was criticized for the war, he had at least stayed and listened this time. Russia was suspended from the Group of Eight after its invasion of Crimea in 2014.
  • Lavrov was laughed at for saying Moscow was the victim, not the aggressor, in the Ukraine war. “The war was launched against us,” he said Friday during a conference in New Delhi, prompting a mixture of guffaws, groans and eye rolls from the audience of academics, government officials and business executives. However, Lavrov also drew strong applause when he accused critics of hypocrisy and pointed out the U.S. role in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Battlefield updates

  • The United States announced an additional $400 million in military aid for Ukraine on Friday. The arms package mostly consists of ammunition for howitzers and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS — along with Bradley fighting vehicles, demolition munitions and other equipment, according to the statement from Blinken. The announcement, less than two weeks after a $2 billion package, brings the administration’s total military aid to more than $30 billion, including nearly $20 billion in off-the-shelf drawdowns, with the rest in U.S.-funded contract purchases for Ukraine.
  • A Russian anti-Putin group fighting on Ukraine’s side claimed responsibility for an attack in Russia’s western Bryansk region, which Russian officials said killed two people. The Russian Volunteer Corps said it carried out Thursday’s attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine and described it as a “terrorist attack.” Ukrainian officials have denied involvement. Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, released what it claimed to be footage of the attack on Friday, appearing to show a vehicle riddled with bullet holes and two bodies. The Washington Post could not independently verify the footage.
  • The Wagner mercenary group is stepping up recruitment efforts at sports clubs throughout Russia, according to a statement on founder Prigozhin’s Telegram channel. “This effort likely represents a youth-targeted expansion of ongoing Wagner recruitment efforts,” the Institute for the Study of War said.

Global impact

  • The war in Ukraine is not distracting the United States from its challenges in Asia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday. “Not only are we not distracted, on the contrary, we’re more deeply engaged than ever,” he said during a panel discussion in India’s capital. Blinken made the comment during a talk with other members of the Quad — a group consisting of Australia, Japan, India and the United States. Even though Washington has spent billions of dollars in support of Ukraine and provided a massive arsenal of weaponry, Blinken insisted the United States could “run and chew gum at the same time,” reiterating that the “future is so much in the Indo-Pacific.”
  • The U.S. Treasury Department and the State Department announced new sanctions Friday targeting three people accused of committing human rights abuses against Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian journalist and opposition leader who has been imprisoned in Moscow since April for criticizing Russian military tactics in Ukraine. Kara-Murza, who is a Washington Post opinion contributor, was charged with “spreading deliberately false information” and faces up to 15 years in prison. Among the officials facing sanctions are the judge who oversaw Kara-Murza’s pretrial detention hearing, the special investigator who ordered the opening of a criminal case against him and the Russian national who served as an expert witness for the Russian government in his hearing.
  • Belarus has jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski. The democracy and human rights activist was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for financing protests, a judgment that his supporters say is politically motivated. An outspoken critic of President Alexander Lukashenko, Bialiatski won the international prize in 2022, sharing it with Russian and Ukrainian rights defenders.

From our correspondents

Ukraine uncovers new grave near Bucha, site of alleged Russian atrocities: Ukrainian officials have dug up potential proof of further killings carried out by Russian troops, report Missy Ryan, Kamila Hrabchuk and Alice Martins. The remains of three men were exhumed from an unmarked grave near Bucha after a man who buried them returned to inform authorities about it.

Andriy Nebytov, police chief for the Kyiv region, where Bucha is located, said residents have been reluctant to report incidents of violence they witnessed under Russian occupation. “It is difficult to evaluate the actions of people who have experienced such fear,” Nebytov told reporters at the site. “Russians killed and destroyed in front of their eyes, then [residents] buried these people.”

Natalia Abbakumova, Robyn Dixon, Francesca Ebel and Matt Viser contributed to this report.