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Ukraine live briefing: Kyiv optimistic for Western fighter jets; Ukraine holds line around Bakhmut

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Kyiv appears to be optimistic that its Western allies will grant its requests for fighter jets. “Let’s wait and see. That’s what we heard about tanks,” Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain, told the BBC on Sunday, referring to apprehension from military backers before an agreement on tanks was made. Prystaiko’s comments came after Poland’s president cast doubt on sending Ukraine F-16s.

On the battlefield, Russia is reinforcing its troops around Lyman and Bakhmut, the center of some of the bloodiest fighting in recent months, according to Ukraine’s armed forces. In a Sunday update, they said Russia is continuing to focus its offensive efforts in the area, including with airstrikes on troop positions. The commander of Ukraine’s military, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, said Ukrainian troops are holding their ground in Bakhmut “despite constant enemy pressure.”

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

1. Key developments

  • Prystaiko’s comments about Kyiv’s request for jets came after Polish President Andrzej Duda said sending F-16s was a “very serious decision.” Poland has fewer than 50 of the advanced warplanes, so it would require “many” replacements if it were to donate any to Ukraine, Duda said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked European Union and British leaders for warplanes during his trip to Western Europe last week.
  • Zelensky named Ukraine’s security and defense agencies as the next targets of his promised zero-tolerance approach to corruption after high-profile dismissals in recent weeks related to his probe. The comments in Zelensky’s nightly address follow his visit with E.U. leaders; stamping out corruption is a key requirement of Kyiv’s aspiration to join the bloc.
  • In a separate decree Saturday, Zelensky said he was firing a top official, Ruslan Dziuba, who was deputy commander of the National Guard. No reason was provided in the brief statement about Dziuba’s dismissal.
  • Jens Stoltenberg will not seek a fourth extension as NATO’s secretary general when his mandate expires in October, a spokesperson for the alliance said in a statement. It followed a German newspaper report that the alliance’s members were hoping to retain the former Norwegian prime minister at its helm for several more months as the Russian invasion rages on.

2. Battleground updates

  • The Russian tycoon behind the mercenary Wagner Group said it could take Moscow up to two years to seize the regions of eastern Ukraine it illegally claimed to annex in September, or three years if it wants to occupy areas east of the Dnieper River. Yevgeniy Prigozhin made the remarks in a rare video interview with a Russian military blogger, Reuters reported. Wagner mercenaries are involved in a bloody and grinding battle against Kyiv’s forces in the eastern Donbas region.
  • One person was killed and two were hospitalized after a Russian strike on a residential building in Nikopol, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Washington Post could not confirm the strike, which the ministry blamed for the destruction of four residential buildings and an educational facility.
  • Ukraine’s armed forces said they were repelling Russian offensives along an expansive axis, stretching through the eastern Donetsk region. Kyiv’s forces said Russian troops had launched missile, drone and airstrikes across Ukraine on Saturday.
  • A Russian rocket damaged a building in the Kharkiv region and caused a large fire, officials said Sunday morning. A 35-year-old civilian was injured and taken to a hospital in the Saturday night attack, Oleh Synyehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said on Telegram. Three Russian missiles struck infrastructure in the city, the Ukrainian military said on Facebook.

3. Global impact

  • Representatives from the International Monetary Fund are set to meet with Ukrainian officials in Poland this week, as Kyiv pushes for a multibillion-dollar borrowing package to help fund its budget deficit and the cost of critical repairs to its war-damaged infrastructure, Reuters reported.
  • Senior members of JPMorgan met with Zelensky to discuss “attracting private capital to rebuild Ukraine,” according to the presidential website. Zelensky also took part via video link in an annual investment summit organized by JPMorgan.
  • Ukrainian rescuers have pulled 12 people from the rubble in Turkey since the earthquakes last week, according to the Ukrainian emergency services. Zelensky visited the Turkish Embassy in Kyiv this weekend to mourn the more than 33,000 people killed in Turkey and Syria. Russia also has sent rescue crews to both quake-hit nations.
  • The Kremlin announced a cut of 500,000 barrels of oil per day in response to a price cap the West has imposed on its fuel. Although the cut is relatively modest in a global context, it could be a sign of things to come, according to analysts.

4. From our correspondents

Biden to travel to Poland ahead of first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: President Biden is set to travel to Poland before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on Feb. 24, Mariana Alfaro reports, in a visit aimed at reaffirming Washington’s commitment to the security of the region.

Biden will “make it very clear that the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, told reporters ahead of the Feb. 20-22 visit.

washingtonpost