Ukraine live briefing: Putin meets with soldiers’ mothers; NATO chief warns of bleak winter for Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Friday at his state residence outside Moscow with mothers of Russia's servicemen fighting in Ukraine. (Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin Pool/Sputnik/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday pledged ongoing support for Ukraine, saying that backing Ukrainian forces now is a step toward a lasting peace. “Most wars end with negotiations. But what happens at the negotiating table depends on what happens on the battlefield,” he said at a news conference in Brussels.

Stoltenberg also accused Russia of using ever more brutal tactics against Ukraine in the wake of recent battlefield losses. “This is a horrific start to the winter for Ukraine,” he said. He pledged to push for additional support for Kyiv at next week’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania.

On the eve of Russia’s Mother’s Day, President Vladimir Putin met with mothers of Russian soldiers at his official residence outside Moscow, the first time he has publicly met relatives of servicemen fighting in Ukraine. Putin said he “personally” shared their suffering and that “nothing can replace the loss of a child, a son, especially for a mother.” Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s top general said more than 100,000 Russian troops were believed to have been killed or injured since the Feb. 24 invasion. Tens of thousands of men have left the country to avoid being drafted.

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

1. Key developments

  • Efforts to restore water and power supplies across Ukraine are continuing, but two-thirds of the capital, Kyiv, remained without heat and half of households still had no electricity by early Friday, according to the city’s mayor. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Friday that more than 6 million people were affected by blackouts in the country, primarily in the capital. Ukraine’s four working nuclear power plants have been reconnected to the national grid after losing off-site power earlier this week, International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement Friday.
  • Strong winds, rain and freezing temperatures are hampering repair work on infrastructure hit in the recent strikes, Ukraine’s main power grid operator Ukrenergo said Friday on Facebook. The country’s finance minister told Reuters that the attacks on infrastructure, which Zelensky has described as “energy terror,” are also raising Ukraine’s reconstruction bill. An assessment released in late summer, before the Kremlin intensified air attacks, pegged Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction costs at $349 billion.
  • Zelensky urged European nations Friday to remain united over the issue of imposing a price cap on Russian oil. “It’s not helping Ukraine to stand against Russia; this is helping Europe to stand against Russian aggression,” he told a conference in Lithuania via a live video link, according to Reuters news agency. European Union member states have thus far failed to agree on a price cap level, with proposals in the range of $65 to $70 per barrel seen as too high by some and too low by others.
  • The Dutch parent company of Yandex, Russia’s foremost technology firm, often called “Russia’s Google,” said it is exploring divesting most of the company and developing some services — including tech for self-driving cars, cloud computing and education technology — outside Russia. Yandex N.V., the parent company, cited “the current geopolitical environment” in a statement Friday announcing the decision to review options to restructure the group. Yandex operates in 15 countries.

2. Global impact

  • Pope Francis praised the “noble and martyred people” of Ukraine in a letter addressed to Ukrainians nine months after the start of the war. The pope condemned “the absurd madness of war” and compared Ukrainians’ suffering to that of Jesus on the cross. “The cross that tortured the Lord lives again in the tortures found on the bodies, in the mass graves uncovered in various cities, in those and so many other bloody images that have entered our souls, that make us cry out: why? How can men treat other men this way?” the pontiff wrote, according to Vatican News.
  • Former German chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “didn’t come as a surprise” but that she had been powerless to prevent the conflict. Merkel, who led Germany for 16 years before stepping down last year, told Der Spiegel news magazine in an interview published Friday that she had sought to establish talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in summer 2021. “But I no longer had the power to get my own way because everyone knew: She’ll be gone in autumn,” Merkel said.
  • Two Iranian-born Swedish brothers charged with spying for Russia for a decade have gone on trial in Stockholm. Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, are accused of having worked to pass information to Russia and its military intelligence service, the GRU, between September 2011 and September 2021, the Associated Press reports.
  • Britain will provide 24 ambulances to Ukraine as part of a new aid package to support the country during the coming winter. The measures, which were announced Friday as part of Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s visit to Kyiv, are in addition to $60 million in defense support unveiled by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week. Also Friday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said France is sending 100 high-power generators to Ukraine. And Lithuania, Latvia and Romania will send transformers and generators, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Zelensky in a phone call Friday, according to a news release.
  • The presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania signed a joint declaration to shore up their security cooperation and support the enlargement of the European Union and NATO as the war in nearby Ukraine shows no signs of abating.

3. Battleground updates

  • Russia attacked the suburbs of Zaporizhzhia city overnight, with rockets hitting a hospital and service station, Oleksandr Starukh, head of the regional military administration, said Friday on Telegram. No casualties were reported.
  • Ten people were killed in Russian shelling in the southern region of Kherson on Thursday, according to the regional governor. Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on Telegram early Friday that 54 others were injured in the attacks.
  • German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Thursday that Patriot air defense units bound for Poland were for the defense of NATO and could not be sent on to Ukraine, which is not part of the alliance, Reuters reported. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Twitter that he had asked Germany to send Ukraine the missile launchers.
  • Russia and Ukraine said they exchanged 50 prisoners of war each. The Ukrainian side of the swap included troops captured in Mariupol, others at the Azovstal steel plant where fighters made a last stand, and some taken prisoner at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and at Snake Island, where the defiance of defenders became a symbolic moment for Ukraine early in the war, Andriy Yermak, head of the presidential office of Ukraine, said Thursday on Twitter.

4. From our correspondents

Russian legislature advances bill criminalizing ‘promoting’ LGBTQ relationships: The Russian parliament’s lower house passed the final reading of a bill that seeks to ban attempts to promote homosexuality, including in movies, books or advertising, writes The Washington Post’s Francesca Ebel. The bill now goes to the upper chamber, which is expected to approve it, and then to Putin, who is expected to sign it.

Citizens who promote what the Duma dubs the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” could be fined up to $6,600; organizations could be fined up to $82,100. Foreign nationals could be sentenced to up to 15 days and deported. Sexual minorities in Russia already face significant oppression, and the bill should be seen as an attempt to distract the public from Russia’s recent battlefield failures in Ukraine, a rights activist told The Post.