Ukraine live briefing: Shelling leaves Kherson dark; Biden and Macron condemn Russia

A Ukrainian tank rolls Wednesday on a road near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)
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Russian shelling on Thursday left Ukrainians in recently liberated Kherson cold and in the dark, just days after the power was restored following Russian occupation, according to the Associated Press.

The attacks came as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the barrages are intended to “knock out energy facilities that allow you to keep pumping deadly weapons into Ukraine in order to kill the Russians,” referring to the United States and NATO.

President Biden and French Presidential Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed their support for Ukraine and condemnation of the Russian invasion in a joint news conference in Washington on Thursday. Biden also said he would be willing to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin if the Russian leader expresses interest in ending the conflict.

“I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact … he’s looking for a way to end the war,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “He hasn’t done that yet.”

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

Key developments

  • Spanish officials stepped up security Thursday after confirming that at least six letter bombs had been sent to high-profile targets in recent days, including the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid, the U.S. Embassy, the Spanish prime minister’s office, the Defense Ministry, a military air base and an arms manufacturer. The one sent to the Ukrainian Embassy caused a minor injury, but the others were “neutralized by the security services,” the Interior Ministry said. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has ordered security at all of Ukraine’s embassies to be strengthened in response. It remains unclear why the sites in Spain were targeted.
  • The United States and France “deplore Russia’s deliberate escalatory steps,” Biden and Macron said in a joint statement following their meeting on Thursday, pointing in particular to “its irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and its disinformation regarding alleged chemical attacks, and biological and nuclear weapons programs.” The leaders expressed their commitment to provide “significant resources” to support Ukraine’s citizens through the winter, and said their countries would work with allies at an international conference in Paris on Dec. 13 to coordinate assistance to Ukraine. They also pledged to hold Russia accountable for atrocities and war crimes.
  • The United Nations called for a record $51.5 billion in funding for 2023, citing “shockingly high” emergency needs, including the Ukraine war. Emergency relief official Martin Griffiths pointed to the war, the coronavirus pandemic and climate change as factors that have contributed to a year of “suffering,” and he warned of “an acceleration” of those crises in 2023.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Ukraine war has “shattered peace in Europe.” At the Berlin Security Conference on Thursday, he also called for more arms support to Kyiv and for its allies to “stay the course.” He warned of Europe’s “dangerous dependency” on Russian natural gas and economic reliance on other “authoritarian states,” including China.
  • Ukraine’s defense intelligence branch accused representatives of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy company, of “laundering” money allocated to manage the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. In a statement Thursday, the agency alleged that Rosatom employees and Russian occupation authorities were redirecting funds earmarked to pay the station staff. A “significant part” of the occupation authorities have left the plant since Russia seized it in early March. About 500 Russians remain, “to intimidate the staff and encourage them to cooperate with the occupiers,” the statement said.

Global impact

  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry blasted the decision by Germany on Wednesday to recognize the Holodomor as genocide carried out by the Soviet leadership. The famine in the early 1930s under the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is believed to have killed about 4 million Ukrainians. The vote in the German parliament came several days after commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the famine. Moscow decried the move on Thursday as being part of a “Western-sponsored campaign aimed at demonizing Russia.”
  • Switzerland has frozen about $8 billion in Russian assets as of Nov. 25, the Swiss state secretariat for economic affairs said in a news release Thursday. Fifteen properties belonging to sanctioned individuals or entities are also blocked. Nearly $50 billion in Russian deposits have been referred to the Swiss authorities for investigation.
  • Four lion cubs rescued from Ukraine have been flown to an animal sanctuary in Minnesota, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of a number of groups working to rescue animals from the war. The cubs, who were orphaned at a few weeks old and survived sporadic bombing and drone attacks, “have endured more in their short lives than any animal should,” said Meredith Whitney, a wildlife program manager with the nonprofit group. They spent the past three weeks at Poznan Zoo in Poland.

Battleground updates

  • Fifty Ukrainian soldiers were released as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia, Ukraine’s security services said Thursday. Ukrainians who fought at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol were among those released, Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said in a Telegram post. An equal number of Russian prisoners were freed in return, Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk separatist republic in eastern Ukraine, said in a Telegram post. Those include 20 fighters from the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Zelensky in his nightly address said that “more than 1,300 Ukrainians have already been returned from Russian captivity” since Feb. 24.
  • Russia has pulled back some troops around the city of Kherson, Ukraine’s military said in an update Thursday morning. Some soldiers and military equipment have left the town of Oleshky, across the Dnieper River from the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces recaptured last month. Russian troops have withdrawn from other nearby river towns, the military said, even as Russian shelling of Kherson and its suburbs continues.
  • Russian troops are also withdrawing units and preparing to evacuate occupation authorities in Russian-occupied towns in the Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukrainian military said in an update later Thursday. In one village, occupation authorities “are conducting a census for the so-called voluntary evacuation of the population,” the statement said.
  • Ukraine’s armed forces say there’s still a threat of Russian missile strikes on energy and critical infrastructure across Ukraine. According to Zelensky, about 6 million people across the country including in Kyiv are disconnected from electricity. Russian forces carried out 20 airstrikes on Ukrainian troop positions on Wednesday and shelled the recently liberated city of Kherson, Ukraine’s military said in a battlefield update. The reports couldn’t be independently verified by The Washington Post.

From our correspondents

What Russia will do with Belarus is an open question, writes Robyn Dixon. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told his security ministers on Thursday he was worried about attacks from NATO, Ukraine and even exiled Belarusians fighting in Ukraine against Russia who could try to seize Belarus by force.

This comes days after the sudden death of the country’s longtime foreign minister. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and is known for making baseless claims. These claims come amid comes amid rumors of plots and intrigue, many dismissed by analysts as unlikely, in the wake of the death of Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, a close ally and confidant of Lukashenko’s, last weekend.

Amar Nadhir, Robyn Dixon, Dan Lamothe, Loveday Morris, Eugene Scott and John Wagner contributed to this report.