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Ukraine live briefing: Kyiv says it shot down Russian balloons; Moscow jails journalist


Ukraine has shot down several Russian balloons over Kyiv, defense officials said, adding that they were likely carrying intelligence equipment. The balloons were likely decoy targets meant to divert attention and waste ammunition, Ukraine’s defense ministry said Wednesday on Telegram.

In Russia, a court sentenced RusNews journalist Maria Ponomarenko to six years in jail on Wednesday, the outlet said on Telegram. She was indicted for a Telegram post about the attack on a theater in Mariupol in March last year. The prosecutor, RusNews said on Telegram, had asked for a nine-year sentence.

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

Key developments

  • At least six small balloons were spotted over Kyiv, the city’s military administration said, most of which were shot down. The balloons triggered air raid sirens in Kyiv, they said in a post on Telegram. The balloons could be carrying reconnaissance equipment, the post said.
  • Russia has lost about half of its pre-war fleet of modern battle tanks in the Ukraine conflict, according to an annual audit of the world’s military resources by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and is instead turning to older vehicles to maintain its fleet. Across Eastern Europe, the war is driving Cold War-era models out of storage, the think tank said.
  • 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 Vladimir Putin’s regime, issued the warning in an interview with The Washington Post ahead of a major security and defense conference in Germany this weekend.
  • Yevgeniy Prighozin, the oligarch and chief of the Wagner mercenary group, said 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.

Battleground updates

  • Eastern Ukraine is facing round-the-clock attacks by Russian forces, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a Telegram post, describing the situation as tense and difficult.
  • Russian forces stuck 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 had been triggered.
  • 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, Putin will likely “repackage” measures by the country to integrate occupied territories and cite them as a “novel” achievement, it said.

Global impact

  • Support for providing weapons or funds to Ukraine has declined among Americans, according to an AP-NORC poll. Most Americans still think that the United States should play some role in the war.
  • NATO countries and Western allies announced more weapons and ammunition for Ukraine on Wednesday, in another move to boost Kyiv’s military capabilities. Western nations pledged 48 Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, while the Netherlands plans to send 20,000 rounds of tank ammunition, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said.
  • Ukraine might receive fewer battle tanks than promised by European allies, Bloomberg reported Thursday. “We will not reach the size of a battalion,” Pistorius told reporters after a NATO meeting in Brussels.
  • Switzerland has concluded that confiscation of private Russian property would undermine its Constitution, the government said in a statement Wednesday. “Support for Ukraine will continue, independent of the discussions on frozen assets,” the statement read.

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 reports.

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.