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Ukraine live briefing: Zelensky picks up anti-corruption drive; Kyiv holds line around Bakhmut


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky named Ukraine’s security and defense agencies as the next targets of his promised zero-tolerance approach to corruption, following high-profile dismissals in recent weeks related to his probe. The comments in Zelensky’s nightly address follow his visit with European Union leaders; stamping out corruption is a key requirement of Kyiv’s aspiration to join the bloc.

On the war front, Russia is reinforcing its troops around Lyman and Bakhmut, the center of some of the bloodiest battles 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

  • Zelensky took aim at inefficiency, criminality and outside influence across Ukraine’s sprawling wartime bureaucracy in his nightly address, adding that he had met with defense and legal officials to discuss how to protect government agencies from “any attempts from outside or inside to reduce their effectiveness and efficiency.” He said the country’s security services, bureau of investigations, and prosecutor general’s office have all taken steps to root out those working for “the aggressor state,” Russia.
  • 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 on his dismissal.
  • Ukraine continues to rule out peace talks with Russia. Only a Ukrainian victory would end “the war in Europe,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Saturday, adding that otherwise, Russia will “criminally dominate the world.”

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, 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.
  • Ukraine’s armed forces said they were repelling Russian offensives along an expansive axis, stretching through the eastern Donetsk region. Kyiv’s forces also said that Russian troops had launched missile, drone and airstrikes across Ukraine on Saturday.
  • Three S-300 missiles damaged infrastructure in Kharkiv, officials said Saturday night. A civilian received shrapnel wounds and was taken to a hospital, Oleh Synyehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said on Telegram.

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.
  • Zelensky visited the Turkish Embassy in Kyiv to mourn the more than 28,000 people killed in Turkey and Syria in a pair of major earthquakes. “Eternal memory to the deceased,” he said on Telegram. “We wish those who suffered a quick recovery.”
  • The Kremlin announced a 500,000-barrel-per-day oil cut in response to a price cap imposed by the West 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.