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Ukraine-Russia live briefing: Netherlands closes St. Petersburg consulate as prime minister visits Kyiv


A day after The Washington Post reported that Western nations are clamping down on Kremlin espionage, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said it is closing its consulate in St. Petersburg. Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, met with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday, the Ukrainian president said. They discussed military aid and potential penalties for Russia.

Earlier Saturday, Vice President Harris accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity.”

“I know firsthand the importance of gathering facts and holding them up against the law,” she told an audience of global political and defense leaders at the Munich Security Conference. “In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity.”

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

Key developments

  • The Dutch government is limiting the number of Russian diplomats allowed in the Netherlands and closing the Russian trade office in Amsterdam, Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra tweeted Saturday afternoon. He cited “Russia’s continued attempts to place intelligence officers into the Netherlands under diplomatic cover.”
  • The United States has determined that Russia committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also in Munich, said in a statement Saturday. He said the determination had been made on the basis of a “careful analysis of the law and available facts” and that “members of Russia’s forces have committed execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children; torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution, and mock executions; rape; and, alongside other Russian officials, have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia.”
  • Harris accused Moscow of undertaking a “widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population,” and she cited deadly attacks in Bucha and Mariupol as she vowed continued U.S. support for Ukraine. “Borders must not be changed by force,” she added, warning that other nations might feel “emboldened” to follow Russia’s “violent example.”
  • The West is struggling to find the ammunition Ukraine needs to fight Russia, a consequence of decades of wishful thinking that war would not return to Europe, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at the conference. Her acknowledgment follows a warning from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week that Ukraine is using ammunition far faster than its allies can provide it. Baerbock said Germany, which Washington has long said is underinvesting in its own defense, has learned from the Ukraine conflict and is building new ammunition production lines.
  • Meanwhile, China is considering providing “lethal support” to Russia in its efforts against Ukraine, including weapons and ammunition, Blinken said in an interview with Face the Nation’s Margaret Brennan. Blinken recalled a past meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin that discussed a “partnership with no limits.”

Global impact

  • China is looming large at the traditionally Eurocentric conference given the surprise announcement that Xi is planning to deliver a “peace speech” on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China will lay out its position on resolving the Ukraine conflict in a document underscoring that countries’ territorial integrity must not be violated, said China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, who spoke on a panel at the conference on Saturday. Wang said world powers need to start thinking “about what kind of efforts we can make to stop this war” and underscored that “nuclear wars must not be fought.”
  • The West is showing Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine’s allies will not “lose our nerve,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the security conference. In his speech, Sunak urged allies to send more support, and he mentioned his nation’s vow to send longer-range missiles and other military aid. Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “agreed on the importance of giving Ukraine the military momentum they need to secure victory against tyranny,” according to a joint statement released Saturday.
  • White House officials said President Biden had no public meeting scheduled with Zelensky “right now.” Biden is visiting Poland next week and is expected to deliver remarks ahead of the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion and meet with his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda. “The trip is going to be in Warsaw,” Kirby said.
  • Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said the entry of his country and Sweden into NATO is “solely and exclusively” in Turkey’s hands. Finnish lawmakers are expected to ratify NATO’s founding treaties Feb. 28. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed support for Finland’s bid but has been more equivocal about Sweden’s application.
  • Blinken met with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Munich, days after she publicly accused Russia of trying to stage a coup in her country. “We have deep concern about some of the plotting that we’ve seen coming from Russia to try to destabilize the government,” Blinken said after their meeting. Sandu said 2022 was “an incredibly difficult year for Moldova,” citing economic, energy and security concerns arising in part from the war in neighboring Ukraine. Russia exercises considerable influence in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, which borders southwestern Ukraine.

Battlefield updates

  • Two explosions were reported in Khmelnytskyi in western Ukraine on Saturday, the regional governor, Serhiy Hamaliy, said on Telegram. Several areas across the country also experienced power outages as precautionary limits were placed on electricity supplies. Air raid alerts briefly sounded across much of the nation Saturday morning.
  • Preemptive power outages were done to protect networks and generation facilities from Russian missile attacks, Zelensky said during his nightly address Saturday. “This day began with preventive power outages in some regions of our state,” he said. “And we end this Saturday without power outages in almost the entire territory of our state. Apart from Odesa, where the recovery continues after previous attacks and some areas where networks were damaged by wind gusts. Most of the territory of Ukraine has power. Most of our people have electricity.”
  • Russia’s Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties fighting in Ukraine, according to the White House, including approximately 9,000 killed. (Casualty figures include those wounded in combat.) About half of the mercenary group’s members who died in combat were killed since mid-December during heavy fighting near Bakhmut, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing. Most of those killed were criminal convicts, Kirby contended, men whom Putin “just plucked out of prisons and threw on a battlefield.”
  • The first Ukrainian unit to undergo U.S. combat training in Germany has completed its course, the Pentagon said, and will return to the battlefield ahead of an anticipated Russian offensive in the spring. The group comprises about 635 soldiers who were instructed in the use of the more-advanced weaponry promised to Ukraine by the Biden administration.
  • It is becoming harder for the Kremlin to “insulate the population from the war in Ukraine,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a report. More than half of Russians “had either a friend or relative who had served in the so-called Special Military Operation,” it added, citing a Russian poll. In its daily intelligence update Saturday, it added that a senior Russian lawmaker had delivered a report on the war to Putin, who is expected to discuss the conflict at his annual address to the nation next week.
  • Russian forces have made minor advances toward Bakhmut’s city center, the Institute for the Study of War said in a daily assessment, citing geolocated footage of a Ukrainian armored fighting vehicle firing at Russian positions in the northeastern part of the city late Friday.

From our correspondents

While world leaders meet in Munich, antiwar demonstrators gather outside: In Germany, anti-American sentiment has been a growing theme, bringing together the far-left, the far-right, peaceniks and pro-Russian citizens who say Washington is exacerbating the war, Loveday Morris reports.

As Harris addressed delegates less than a mile away Saturday, demonstrators in the central Königsplatz square sang “Ami go home,” a slogan against the American post-World War II presence in Germany that has resurged since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It was a reminder of the divisions that cleave Germany, where just over half of the population supports arming Ukraine, as about 10,000 demonstrators gathered at the southern German city’s majestic Königsplatz.

David Stern contributed to this report from Kyiv