Ukraine live briefing: Deadly Russian strikes hit Ukraine; U.S. names Wagner Group a ‘transnational criminal’ entity

People shelter in a metro station in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday as air raid alerts sounded across the country. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)
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KYIV, Ukraine — Officials across the country reported several Russian strikes, including in the capital and the regions of Vinnytsia and Odessa, which left at least 11 people dead and 11 injured, according to emergency services spokesman Oleksandr Khorunzhyi. Washington Post correspondents in Kyiv heard at least two explosions early Thursday, while the head of the Kyiv military administration, Serhiy Popko, said that “about 20 missiles of various types were detected in Kyiv’s airspace” and that “all aerial targets [were] destroyed.”

The strikes were launched a day after allies agreed to send tanks to the battlefield. Ukrainian officials welcomed the U.S. and German decisions to send M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks, respectively, and pressed for more military support, including fighter jets and long-range missiles. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such international weapons support would be “perceived as direct involvement in the conflict.”

The United States on Thursday designated the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary outfit fighting in Ukraine, a “transnational criminal organization.” The White House had said the move was coming. A slate of sanctions announced by the Treasury Department under the new designation is meant to target the group’s international support network. The company, which Washington says has 40,000 convicts, some required directly from Russian prisons, and 10,000 contractors deployed to Ukraine, is also active in the Central African Republic and Mali.

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

What is the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary company in Ukraine?

1. Key developments

  • “Every Russian missile against our cities, every Iranian drone used by terrorists is an argument why we need more weapons,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Thursday. “Only weapons neutralize terrorists.” He praised the Ukraine “tank coalition” for sending modern battle tanks, and Canada for joining the group Thursday with the announcement that it would send four German-made Leopards.
  • The variant of the American tank going to Ukraine will be the M1A2 Abrams, Pentagon spokesman Sabrina Singh said Thursday, disclosing for the first time new details about what kind of tank will be purchased and sent to the government in Kyiv. The M1A2 is more modern than the M1A1 that is still in service, with more advanced electronics and targeting ability, according to U.S. military specifications. The U.S. military owns both versions. Singh, speaking at a news conference, declined to address Thursday whether the United States has declined to send some of the thousands of Abrams tanks in its own arsenal because of classified aspects to its depleted uranium armor. The Pentagon, she said, has no “excess” tanks in its own inventory to provide Ukraine.
  • Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the Russian tycoon behind the Wagner mercenary group, decried the new U.S. sanctions, calling them illegal. In a statement, Prigozhin said that he alone funded the group and said that he would “spit on” any sanctions, which he said would not impact him. Prigozhin and Wagner have been accused of working to evade sanctions in the past; some U.S. lawmakers feel that Wagner should be designated a terrorist organization, a label that would carry with it even stronger financial restrictions.

2. Battleground updates

  • A strike in Kyiv killed one person and injured two Thursday, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram. The casualties were in the city’s suburban Holosiiv district, he added. In Vinnytsia, regional governor Serhiy Borzov reported that “enemy rockets” hit near the central Ukrainian area but that “there are no casualties.” Near the port city of Odessa, Russian missile strikes also damaged two “critical energy infrastructure facilities,” said Yuriy Kruk, head of the region’s military administration. He also reported no casualties. The Post could not independently verify the reports.
  • Russia launched “55 air and sea-based missiles” at Ukraine, said Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s armed forces commander, calling it a “massive missile attack.” Ukraine’s air force also said 24 Iranian-made drones were shot down. The Post could not independently verify the claims. “Waves of Russian drones and missiles can’t stop Ukraine’s heroic defenders, its brave people or our determined, unified support,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink tweeted in response to the strikes.
  • Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty told The Post on Wednesday that Kyiv’s forces withdrew from Soledar. The Russian mercenary Wagner Group claimed to have captured it. Cherevaty did not say when the withdrawal took place from the salt-mining town, which was home to about 10,000 people before the war, but he said it was done in an “organized manner.” The Post could not independently verify his claims.
  • Russia is training troops in neighboring Belarus who are likely to be “recommitted to operations in Ukraine,” according to Britain’s Defense Ministry. “There is a realistic possibility that other Russian units are being rotated into Belarus for similar training, and that Russia will continue this model to regenerate and prepare units to maintain its force in Ukraine,” it said.

3. Global impact

  • The new U.S. ambassador to Russia has arrived, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow tweeted late Wednesday. Lynne Tracy served as deputy chief of mission in Moscow from 2014 to 2017 and has previously worked in Armenia and Afghanistan, among other places.
  • France’s foreign minister toured the port city of Odessa on Thursday in a show of support after UNESCO added its historic center to its list of endangered World Heritage sites. “While the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always surmounted global upheavals, is preserved from further destruction,” Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, said in a statement.
  • Sweden promised nearly $2 million Thursday to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s mission in Ukraine. The pledge came the same day that IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that “powerful explosions have been occurring outside ” the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, where Grossi has been calling for the establishment of a protected nuclear safety zone. The six reactors at the plant remain shut down, with two continuing in hot shutdown mode to supply steam and heat to the plant and the nearby city of Enerhodar, according to the IAEA.

4. Analysis from our correspondents

Ukrainian journalists are uncovering Ukrainian corruption: A number of senior Ukrainian officials resigned or faced dismissal this week over allegations of corruption — a deeply uncomfortable development for the country at a time when the world has rallied around it, providing defense and financial support.

Over the past few months, journalists in Ukraine have been on the trail, writes The Post’s Adam Taylor.

For one top Ukrainian official, the downfall came from a fatal weakness: a conspicuous interest in luxury cars. In October, Ukrainian news outlet shared photos of Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Zelensky’s office, driving a new Chevrolet Tahoe SUV that had been donated for humanitarian aid. Two months later, the news website Ukrainska Pravda reported that Tymoshenko had been filmed multiple times driving a 2021 Porsche Taycan, worth about $100,000.

Fighting corruption is one condition for European Union membership, a prize Ukraine has long been seeking.

Masih reported from Seoul, Suliman from London and Taylor from Washington. Natalia Abbakumova, Robyn Dixon, Dan Lamothe, Amar Nadhir and Paul Sonne contributed to this report.