Ukraine live briefing: Few crossing Dnieper River into Kherson; ‘reduced tempo’ of war to continue, U.S. intel chief says

A man pushes his bike near destroyed residential buildings on Sunday in Borodyanka, Ukraine, near Kyiv. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

KHERSON, Ukraine — On Saturday, more than three weeks after Ukraine regained control of this city, Ukrainian officials lifted a ban on crossing the Dnieper River, encouraging residents on the occupied eastern bank to flee to Kherson. But those hoping to cross in the opposite direction remained barred Sunday.

Few have taken up Ukrainian officials’ offer, though one person was killed by a gunshot while trying. Ukrainian forces have reportedly crossed the river onto the eastern bank, and Russian forces have battered Kherson with shelling from the east in recent days.

The United States expects the “reduced tempo” of fighting in Ukraine to continue over coming months, National Intelligence Director Avril Haines told a panel on Saturday. Her assessment comes as the Institute for the Study of War, a D.C.-based think tank, said that mud has prevented large vehicles from traversing eastern Ukrainian terrain during much of the past week, though the weather probably will become more conducive to combat in the winter.

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

1. Key developments

  • Ukrainian authorities offered no assistance to those crossing the river. The Kherson City Council announced the death of a woman, 65, who was killed crossing the river with her husband, who survived. Local authorities did not respond immediately to requests for more information, and they did not say whether Russian or Ukrainian forces had fired the shots.
  • There has been a “slowdown” in fighting following Russia’s retreat from Kherson and that is “likely to be what we see in the coming months,” Haines told the Reagan National Defense Forum in an interview with NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell on Saturday. “Most of the fighting right now is around Bakhmut and the Donetsk area,” Haines added.
  • Russia and Ukraine will both probably “try to refit, resupply, in a sense, reconstitute” in the spring, so they are prepared for the other side’s counteroffensive, Haines said. However, she added that U.S. intelligence officials “actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that. I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that time frame.” As The Washington Post has reported, Ukraine’s military appears to be pondering its next move.
  • The ground in Luhansk will soon harden as temperatures drop, according to its regional governor, Serhiy Haidai. Troops in the area have been sinking into the mud, Haidai said Friday on Telegram, hindering the advances of Ukrainian forces. The Institute for the Study of War said Saturday that December is “one of the most optimal times of year for mechanized maneuver warfare in this region.”
  • Russia will not sell oil to nations that cap its prices, according to a Kremlin official. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said a Western move to penalize Russia’s seaborne oil was “interference,” according to Reuters. “We will sell oil and petroleum products only to those countries that will work with us under market conditions, even if we have to reduce production a little,” he added.

2. Battleground updates

  • Russia is “not capable of indigenously producing” munitions at the pace that it is using them, Haines said at the forum. “So that is going to be a challenge, and that’s why you see them going to other countries effectively to try to get ammunition,” she added.
  • Russian public opinion toward the war could be souring, with the conflict in Ukraine now in its 10th month, said Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto. “The war was more popular when you don’t have to send your close relatives or your brothers or your sons to the front,” Haavisto told Japan’s Kyodo News agency in an interview conducted Thursday and published Sunday. Britain’s Defense Ministry also suggested that “the conflict has become increasingly tangible for many Russians” since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial military mobilization.
  • Ukraine announced sanctions against 10 representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, accusing them of working with Russian occupation authorities or supporting the invasion. The sanctions, announced Saturday by the Security Service of Ukraine, freeze the assets of the church officials — most of whom live in Russian-occupied territories — and prevent them from owning land in Ukraine, among other restrictions.

3. Global impact

  • Oil-producing nations voted to keep output at current levels instead of decreasing it to prevent further dips in the price. The decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its partners, known as OPEC Plus, comes after the group agreed in October to cut output by 2 million barrels a day, causing anger in Washington amid concerns that lowering the supply would send the price of gas soaring and benefit Russia.
  • The Biden administration called the Western plan to cap the price of Russian oil at $60 a barrel “welcome news.” The Russian Embassy in the United States decried it as “a reshaping of the basic principles of free markets,” adding: “Russian oil will continue to be in demand.” Zelensky characterized the move as “a weak position” and said the cap should be much lower. It remains to be seen whether the move, which goes into effect Monday, will seriously hit Moscow’s finances in the near term, because the cap is close to current prices.
  • Putin is expected to “eventually” visit the Donbas region, press secretary Dmitry Peskov told state media, without giving a timeline. This would be Putin’s first known visit to the eastern Ukrainian territory since the start of his full-scale invasion in February. Russia illegally claimed annexation of the Donbas region in late September despite its forces not having full control there. Donbas holds significance for Putin because it was controlled by the Russian Empire in the mid-18th century.
  • “I am absolutely convinced that there is not a diplomatic solution with Putin’s regime, so long as it is still there,” said Irina Shcherbakova, a co-founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Russian rights organization Memorial, according to Agence France-Presse. “The solution that there will now be is a military one,” Shcherbakova said at a ceremony Sunday in Hamburg, where she was given an award for her human rights work. She said calls for peace were “childish.”
  • The leader of a Russian mercenary group denied sending bloody packages containing animal eyes to several Ukrainian embassies in Europe. Ukrainians have blamed Russia for this set of packages and for several letter bombs detected in Spain, one of which injured a staff member at the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid. Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, through his press service, said his mercenary organization Wagner Group would “never engage in boorish stupid antics.”

4. From our correspondents

List of world’s most expensive cities is altered by war in Ukraine: A list of the most expensive cities in which to live changed drastically this year, an apparent result in particular of the ripple effects from the war in Ukraine.

Moscow and St. Petersburg, the most populous cities in Russia, had the most drastic jumps in rank of any city included on the list, Claire Healy reports. Moscow went from the 72nd position last year to the 37th in 2022. Many cities in Western Europe, on the other hand, became less expensive, as currencies and economies weakened. Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, was not on this year’s list, compiled semiannually by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit as part of a Worldwide Cost of Living survey.

Usual suspects New York and Singapore tied for first place, a rank driven by high incomes and a strong U.S. dollar. Tel Aviv, which topped the list last year, dropped to third, with Los Angeles and Hong Kong following in fourth.

Nichols reported from Seoul, Timsit from London, Brasch from Atlanta and Parker from Washington. Evan Halper in Washington contributed to this report.

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