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Ukraine live briefing: Harris arrives in Munich for conference; Russia fires barrage of missiles at Ukraine


Vice President Harris arrived in Germany on Thursday for an annual meeting of international political, intelligence and defense leaders at the Munich Security Conference, where they will take stock of their response to Russia’s war on Ukraine ahead of the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion. Harris is expected to discuss next steps in U.S. support for Ukraine, as well as Sweden and Finland’s attempts to join the NATO military alliance. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also attend the meeting before traveling to Turkey and Greece.

Russia launched a “barrage” of missile strikes against critical infrastructure overnight, Ukrainian officials said. Dozens of missiles were fired at Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian army said Thursday, while critical infrastructure in Lviv was hit, according to the regional governor.

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

Key developments

  • Areas of northern, western and central Ukraine were hit in Thursday’s strikes, according to Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office. A 79-year-old woman was killed and at least seven other people were injured in one of the attacks on the eastern city of Pavlohrad, the regional governor said.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has 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, according to Belarus’s state news agency. “If they commit aggression against Belarus, the answer will be the cruelest.”
  • Ukraine shot down several Russian balloons that flew over Kyiv, triggering air raid sirens, officials said Wednesday. The balloons were probably decoy targets meant to divert attention and waste ammunition, but some could also have been carrying surveillance equipment, officials said, explaining why they were targeted.
  • Yevgeniy Prighozin, the oligarch and chief of the Wagner mercenary group, acknowledged in a statement this week that he also founded the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy company that has carried out Russian information warfare across the globe. His claims were impossible to verify. The Putin ally also boasted in November about interfering in the U.S. midterm elections.

Global impact

  • The United States will give the Czech Republic $200m 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.
  • Israel’s foreign minister arrived in Kyiv, in the first visit by an Israeli minister since the war began. Eli Cohen tweeted early Thursday that he would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reopen the Israeli Embassy during his visit to the capital. While Israel has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine since the war began, it has not imposed sanctions on Russia or its officials, or provided Kyiv with intelligence or weapons – unlike most other Western nations.
  • 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 surpasses the number of Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi nationals who arrived in Germany between 2014 and 2016, at the height of the European migrant crisis, it said.
  • In Russia, a court sentenced RusNews journalist Maria Ponomarenko to six years in jail on Wednesday, the outlet said on Telegram. She was indicted over a Telegram post about the attack on a theater in Mariupol in March last year, which killed hundreds of people. The prosecutor, RusNews said on Telegram, had asked for a nine-year sentence. The court found her guilty of “spreading false information about the Russian armed forces’ actions,” the Associated Press reported.
  • A Russian victory in Ukraine could embolden China and lead to war with the United States over Taiwan, an exiled Russian tycoon has warned. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, issued the warning in an interview with The Washington Post ahead of a major security and defense conference in Germany this weekend.

Battleground updates

  • Russian forces struck critical infrastructure in Lviv early Thursday, the region’s military head said on Telegram, but no casualties were reported. Maksym Kozyskyi, the chief of Lviv’s military administration, had earlier asked citizens to shelter in place as air raid sirens were triggered.
  • 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.
  • Putin is unlikely to announce further escalations or a major mobilization effort in his upcoming address to the Russian Federal Assembly, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. In the annual address scheduled for Tuesday — two days before the first anniversary of the invasion — Putin will likely “repackage” measures by the country to integrate occupied territories and cite them as a “novel” achievement, it said.

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.