America’s top spy sees a “grinding struggle” ahead for Russia in Ukraine, with President Vladimir Putin’s military able to make incremental gains but no significant breakthrough as it seeks to take control of large parts of its neighbour.
Amnesty International said in a report Russia committed a war crime with a deadly air strike in March in Mariupol on a theater where civilians were sheltered. Indonesian President Joko Widodo is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday after holding talks with Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
NATO laid out plans to boost forces in Europe by placing about 300 000 troops on high alert to counter Russian aggression as leaders from the 30-member military alliance held talks in Madrid. Finland and Sweden were formally invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation after Turkey dropped its opposition, all but ensuring NATO’s expansion on Russia’s doorstep.
- NATO Allies Back Sweden, Finland Bid to Join Alliance
- Sanctions-Ravaged Russia Offers Opportunities for Indian Firms
- Top US Spy Sees ‘Grinding Struggle’ Ahead for Russia in Ukraine
- Sweden, Finland Make Cut for NATO After Coffee-Break Reset
- NATO to Boost Troop Levels in Biggest Overhaul Since Cold War
- NATO Finds Embrace in China’s Backyard, Stoking Xi’s Worst Fears
On the ground
Kremlin forces are pressing ahead with their goal of occupying all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Russian military is closing in on Lysychansk, Kyiv’s last major foothold in the Luhansk region. Russian missiles continued to strike Ukrainian cities away from the front lines, keeping up a barrage that has intensified over the last several days.
(All times CET)
Putin Says Finland, Sweden Are Welcome to Join NATO (6:25 a.m.)
Russia has no “problems” with Sweden or Finland, like it has with Ukraine, so they are welcome to join NATO if they want, Putin said late on Wednesday in Ashgabat, according to Interfax.
If NATO decides to place military personnel as well as infrastructure in Sweden and Finland, Russia will have to respond in kind, the news agency cited him as saying. The enlargement of the military alliance through the two joining is “a totally different thing” compared with the potential expansion of NATO to Ukraine, he said.
Amnesty Says Russia Committed War Crime In Mariupol (6:00 a.m.)
Amnesty International said in a report Russia committed a war crime when its forces struck a theater in Mariupol in March where hundreds of civilians had been sheltering, killing at least a dozen people and likely many more.
The human rights group commissioned a physicist to construct a model of the blast that leveled the theater. Its investigation concluded the most plausible cause was a deliberate air strike targeting a civilian facility most likely using two, 500-kilogram bombs.
Ukraine blamed Russian forces for killing 300 people in the strike and US President Joe Biden called Putin a war criminal as news emerged that the theater sheltering civilians had been leveled. Russia has blamed Ukraine for a what it said was a “false flag” operation.
UK Gives £1 Billion to Ukraine for Offensive Operations (11:30 p.m)
Britain will almost double its military support to Ukraine with an extra £1 billion ($1.2 billion), to help the country move beyond defense against Russia’s invasion to mounting offensive operations.
The increase in funding, to be announced by Boris Johnson at the NATO summit, would go toward air defense systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, electronic warfare systems and thousands of pieces of vital equipment for Ukrainian soldiers, his office said in an emailed statement.
Top US Spy Sees ‘Grinding Struggle’ Ahead for Russia (9:37 p.m.)
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines presented this as the most likely of three scenarios the US intelligence community is forecasting in an appearance at an annual conference of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security in Washington.
Longer term, Putin’s aims have remained consistent, even in the face of military setbacks, Haines said. The Russian leader still seeks to take most of Ukraine and achieve the “neutralization” of the country by preventing it from edging toward membership in the NATO alliance, she added.
UK Could Help Secure Shipping Routes for Grain (6 p.m.)
British surveillance aircraft could help Ukraine get grain out of the country by securing shipping routes, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told reporters in a briefing at NATO.
Rivet Joint or P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft could be used in areas of the Black Sea to protect ships in leaving Ukraine’s blockaded ports, Wallace said. Turkey, which controls access to key straits of the Black Sea, is trying to “hammer out details” with Russia, along with the United Nations, about allowing Ukrainian grain ships to leave, he added.
Wallace played down chances of Royal Navy warships being sent to the Black Sea: “That would mean we would ask the Turks to lift the blockade on foreign warships or warships from other fleets.”
US Sees Long Ways to Go on Freeing Up Ukraine Grain (5:38 p.m.)
The US thinks efforts to free up Ukrainian grain for global markets still have a long way to go, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in an interview on Bloomberg Television from Madrid.
“We are working very, very hard with partners all around the world to try to see what we can do to get more grain out of Ukraine,” Kirby said. “We have helped increase the flow by ground, by rail, out of Western Ukraine, but that’s not enough. We know that. And we know there’s a sense of urgency here.”
Ukraine Welcomes Soldiers in Largest-Yet Prisoner Swap (5:01 p.m.)
The Ukrainian government agreed to the largest prisoner swap since the invasion began on Feb. 24, with 144 soldiers returning home, the nation’s military intelligence said on its Telegram channel.
Ninety-five of the returnees defended the Azovstal steel plant, the last redoubt of the long-embattled port of Mariupol before Russian forces took the city, 43 of which were members of the Azov battalion. Most of the exchanged prisoners are heavily wounded, the military said.
Zelenskiy Says G-20 Attendance Is Conditional (4:28 p.m.)
The Ukrainian leader, welcoming Indonesia’s president, said his attendance this year at the G-20 summit hosted by Widodo would depend on the security situation as well as “the list of the summit’s attendees,” according to Interfax news service. Putin is also invited to attend.
Widodo also made a tour of Kyiv’s war-ravaged suburb of Irpin, expressing hope that the war can end “soon.”
Russia Steps Up Crackdown as Ukraine Conflict Drags On (4:16 p.m.)
Russian lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a law dramatically escalating efforts to stamp out dissent as the invasion stretches into its fifth month.
The measure, approved by the lower house of parliament in the last of three readings, allows authorities to declare as “foreign agents” anyone deemed to be under “foreign influence.” The draft law will head for Putin’s signature after a vote in the upper house.
Syria Becomes First to Recognize Breakaway Ukraine Regions (3:47 p.m.)
Kremlin ally Syria has recognized two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, the government news service SANA reported, citing the Foreign Ministry. Syria’s decision to recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic marks the first time a foreign government has established ties with the separatist entities.
Russia intervened with an air campaign in Syria in 2015 that succeeded in averting the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion took place days after Putin recognized the independence of DNR and LNR, a move rejected by Kyiv and most foreign governments.
NATO Allies Back Sweden, Finland Invited to Join (2:51 p.m.)
NATO leaders formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the military alliance and agreed to sign their accession protocols, propelling the bids from the Nordic countries forward after weeks of stalling by Turkey.
“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure,” according to summit conclusions agreed by NATO leaders in Madrid. “The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the alliance, including during the accession process.”
The leaders welcomed a memorandum agreed by Turkey, Sweden and Finland late Tuesday that led to Ankara lifting its block on the countries’ bids to join. Turkey had concerns the two Nordic nations didn’t do enough to tackle Kurdish groups it views as terrorists.
Johnson Would Be ‘Amazed’ If Putin Attends G-20 (2 p.m.)
The UK prime minister said he would be “absolutely amazed” if Putin attends the G-20 summit in Indonesia in November, calling the Russian president a “pariah figure.”
Both Putin and Zelenskiy have been invited to the G-20 gathering in Bali by Indonesia’s Widodo, although the Kremlin hasn’t confirmed if the Russian leader will go in person or take part online. Russia has been heavily sanctioned by some G-20 states over its war in Ukraine.
Biden, Erdogan to Discuss Sale of F-16 Jets (12:58 p.m.)
Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will discuss the sale of dozens of new F-16 warplanes to modernize Turkey’s flee on the sidelines of a NATO summit.
Erdogan is now seeking to capitalize on a relatively positive atmosphere in relations with NATO and the US after a period of frosty ties over his government’s purchase of advanced Russian air defenses.
Lithuania Hit With Cyberattack (12:35 p.m.)
Lithuania’s defense chief said the Baltic nation has come under an unprecedented cyberattack from a group linked to the Kremlin this week after the government announced it would start blocking the transit of sanctioned goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas blamed the hacker group Killnet for a wave of distributed denial-of-service attacks against state institutions and businesses in the nation of 2.8 million.
The Kremlin, which has repeatedly denied that it conducts such campaigns, had no immediate response.
UK Sanctions Russia’s Richest Man (12:19 p.m.)
The UK government sanctioned Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s richest man, as it added more measures in an attempt to punish what it called President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
It wasn’t clear whether the sanctions would extend to MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC, the world’s biggest producer of palladium and platinum, in which Potanin controls over 30%. Nickel spiked on the news.
Potanin was previously sanctioned by Canada and Australia. He is worth about $37.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Russia Eyes Buying ‘Friendly’ FX to Offset Ruble Surge (12:06 p.m.)
Russia is considering spending extra revenues from oil and gas to buy the currencies of so-called friendly countries in order to stem a rally in the ruble that’s become a major economic problem.
The ruble has surged 46% this year against the dollar as a flood of earnings from exports has hit a market where capital controls and import declines since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have all but eliminated demand for foreign currency.
NATO Set to Place More Forces on High Alert (11:03 a.m.)
NATO leaders were on track to sign off on the so-called new force model, under which the alliance will pre-position more equipment, boost air defenses and earmark forces to defend specific allies and maintain those forces at a certain level of readiness.
Biden said in Madrid on Wednesday that the US will establish a permanent headquarters in Poland for the Fifth Army Corps, maintain an additional rotational brigade of thousands of troops in Romania and bolster other deployments in the Baltic states.
The Pentagon will also send two more F-35 squadrons to the UK and bolster air-defense systems in Germany and Italy, in addition to 100,000 US troops already in Europe.