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Ukraine live briefing: Peace talks ‘out of the question,’ Ukrainian official says; Biden to visit Poland

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Peace talks with Russia remain “out of the question,” a senior Ukrainian official said Saturday. Only a Ukrainian victory would end “the war in Europe,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said, as he accused Russia of being unwilling to leave territory it had occupied or take responsibility for the almost year-long conflict.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had “received good signals” following his “diplomatic marathon” this week to London, Paris and Brussels seeking military aid and support. “This applies both to long-range missiles and tanks, and to the next level of our cooperation — combat aircraft. But we still need to work on this,” he said in his nightly address.

President Biden plans to visit NATO ally Poland on Feb. 20 ahead of the first anniversary of the conflict. He will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss “our collective efforts to support Ukraine and bolster NATO’s deterrence,” the White House said in a statement Friday, as well as reaffirm “how we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

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

1. Key developments

  • Ukraine said Russia launched more than 100 missiles on Friday. “The threat of strikes by the russian federation on civilian targets across Ukraine remains high,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an update Saturday, adding that Russia had also used Shahed-type drones. Local officials reported that civilian infrastructure was hit, stripping much of the country of power and heat.
  • Zelensky has pushed for a ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Zelensky made a passionate plea to a group of 35 international sports and government ministers, urging them to push the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban the athletes, amid a simmering debate on the issue. “The Russian state has chosen the path of terror and that is why it has no place in the civilized world,” he said Friday.
  • Moldova appointed a new prime minister shortly after Russian missile violated its airspace. Dorin Recean will replace outgoing leader Natalia Gavrilita, who resigned Friday. Nearby Romania, a NATO member, confirmed Russian targets did not pass through its airspace, despite reports to the contrary by Ukrainian officials.

2. Global impact

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is looking to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine, he told CNN on Friday during a visit to the United States. Lula said Ukraine had the right to defend itself “because the invasion was a mistake on the part of Russia,” but that Brazil would not give Ukraine ammunition. “I don’t want to go join the war. I want to end the war,” he said. He has proposed setting up a “peace club” of countries that could mediate an end to the war, and has repeatedly rejected calls from Western countries to support Kyiv with weapons.
  • Ukraine has submitted a request for F-16 fighter jets to the Netherlands, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said. “We need to discuss the availability of F-16s with the Americans and other allies,” Ollongren told local media.
  • Russia is to cut its oil production by 500,000 barrels a day from next month in response to price caps imposed by the United States and Europe on its fuel exports, its Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said. The move will effectively reduce Russia’s output by about 5 percent. Analysts have said the decision could lead to higher gasoline prices globally.

3. Battleground updates

  • Rivalry between Russia’s military and the Wagner private mercenary group is rising, according to a daily intelligence update from Britain’s defense ministry. There is “increasingly direct rivalry between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Wagner,” it said. It added that data had showed a “drop-off” in the number of recruits to Wagner from Russian prisons and warned the “Russian leadership faces the difficult choice of either continuing to deplete its forces, scale back objectives, or conduct a further form of mobilisation,” if it is to continue to amass troops.
  • Ukraine is without 44 percent of nuclear generation and 75 percent of thermal power capacity after Russian attacks on Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said, according to Reuters. The strikes were against “entire power plants that heat millions of homes and lights thousands of city blocks, offices, hospitals, and schools,” Vedant Patel, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said in a press briefing. “This is a deliberate targeting of infrastructure that keeps Ukrainians alive in winter.”
  • Two of the three operating Ukrainian nuclear power plants have reduced power as a precaution after renewed shelling of energy infrastructure, Ukrainian regulators told the International Atomic Energy Agency. Instability in the electrical grid from the shelling caused one of the reactor units at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant to shut down, the IAEA said in a statement, adding that nuclear safety systems at the plant worked as expected.

4. From our correspondents

Pentagon looks to restart top-secret programs in Ukraine: The Pentagon is urging Congress to resume funding two top-secret programs in Ukraine that were suspended before Russia’s invasion, U.S. officials told The Washington Post. If resumed, the programs could allow U.S. Special Operations troops to employ Ukrainian operatives to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation, Wesley Morgan reports.

“When you suspend these things because the scale of the conflict changes, you lose access,” retired three-star general Mark Schwartz said, “and it means you lose information and intelligence about what’s actually going on in the conflict.”

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