Ukraine live briefing: Zelensky writes to Macron about Russia competing in Olympics; Ukraine calls for long-range missiles

Ukrainian soldiers before going to the front line in the Donetsk region on Saturday. (Andriy Dubchak/AP)
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron encouraging him to bar Russian athletes from competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics as the war rages on. The International Olympic Committee earlier this week reaffirmed that it will allow “neutral athletes” from Russia and Belarus to participate without representing their state.

“The International Olympic Committee’s attempt to get Russian athletes back to compete and participate in the Olympics is an attempt to tell the world that terror can allegedly be something acceptable,” Zelensky said during his nightly address Sunday.

He also reiterated his plea for Western nations to supply Ukraine with more potent weapons, including the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, to help Kyiv defend against Russian attacks from places far from the front line. Kyiv has long argued that it needs the U.S.-made weapons to strike Russian targets in places such as Crimea — which have been used to launch missile and drone attacks across Ukrainian cities, with devastating effect. Washington has so far resisted Kyiv’s calls, concerned that providing Ukraine with a weapon capable of hitting targets inside Russia could escalate the nearly year-long conflict.

“We have to make time our weapon. We must speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weaponry options for Ukraine,” Zelensky said during his address.

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

1. Key developments

  • “In the first half of the [20th] century, too many mistakes were made in Europe that led to horrific tragedies. There was also a major Olympic mistake. The Olympic movement and terrorist states should definitely not intersect,” Zelensky said during his nightly address.
  • Germany and Poland are set to begin tank training programs for Ukrainian forces in days as they rush deliveries for spring. Ukraine has said that it needs at least 300 tanks to support a large-scale spring offensive. Several days of nonstop negotiations last week broke a stalemate among Kyiv’s allies, paving the way for the delivery of German-made Leopard 2 tanks and, eventually, the U.S. M1 Abrams.
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended the decision to supply tanks, but he said Germany would avoid sending troops or bringing NATO into a war against Russia, according to a government readout of Scholz’s interview with Tagesspiegel. In the interview, which published this weekend, Scholz said his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin should continue because they show that the West will not budge from its demand that Russian forces leave Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti that Putin is open to more talks, though none are scheduled.
  • Britain’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian tank operators have arrived in the United Kingdom to receive training on how to use the Challenger 2 tanks that London recently pledged to send Kyiv. The ministry posted photos of more than a dozen individuals, with their faces blurred, disembarking from a Royal Air Force plane.
  • Intense fighting continues on the front lines in eastern Ukraine, where Western and Ukrainian officials and military analysts have warned that Moscow is probably gearing up for a major offensive in the spring, in a bid to regain the upper hand after a string of Ukrainian military successes in recent months.
  • Ukraine’s energy system remains under heavy strain, with the country’s electric transmission operator warning on Sunday that Russian attacks on Thursday “caused significant damage” to parts of the high-voltage network. Ukrenergo said one of the country’s thermal power plants was shut down for technical repairs, further reducing the electricity supply. Repair work is ongoing, it added.

2. Battleground updates

  • Russian artillery struck a hospital, a school, residential buildings and municipal facilities in Kherson on Sunday, Zelensky said in his nightly address. Three people were killed and six injured, he said, adding that the regional authority needed blood donations to treat the wounded. Two of the wounded were nurses, he added.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed there was a strike on a hospital as well, killing 14 and injuring 24 others, the agency posted on Telegram. The Russians accused Ukraine of firing an American-made HIMARS rocket launcher system at a hospital in the Kremlin-controlled Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. Officials in Kyiv have not confirmed that they were responsible for the attack, and The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the Kremlin’s account.
  • Five people were killed and at least 15 wounded in Russian attacks against villages and towns in Donetsk overnight, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Private homes and businesses were damaged, he said.
  • Russia and Belarus tested Kinzhal hypersonic missiles as part of a two-week joint air drill between the countries, the news agency Interfax reported, citing a television station affiliated with the Belarusian Defense Ministry. Kinzhal missiles can sustain hypersonic speeds — more than five times the speed of sound — and follow low trajectories, and are maneuverable, so they are difficult even for sophisticated air defense systems to detect. Russia has previously used them in Ukraine.
  • A Russian official dismissed a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that explosions are occurring “almost daily” outside the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of Russia’s Rosenergoatom nuclear power engineering company, described the U.N. nuclear agency’s report as a “provocation,” according to Russian news agency Tass. The plant is Europe’s biggest, with six nuclear reactors.
  • The Russian Education Ministry’s move to incorporate elements of basic military training into the country’s secondary school curriculum beginning in the next school year is a sign of “the increasingly militarised atmosphere in wartime Russia,” the British Defense Ministry said. “Similar training was mandatory in schools up to 1993,” shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it added.

3. Global impact

  • A documentary about journalists in Mariupol has won an award at the Sundance Film Festival. Last week, “20 Days in Mariupol” won the Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary. “As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war’s atrocities,” the synopsis says. The southern port city was under attack for nearly three months before Russia claimed it in May.
  • Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, also criticized the International Olympic Committee for allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in events in the lead-up to the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. Last year, the IOC recommended a ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. This year, the IOC executive board decided that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” and that Russian and Belarusian athletes — provided they have not openly supported the war — can compete in qualifying events as “neutral athletes.” Kallas called the decision “politically and morally wrong.”
  • Kyiv imposed sanctions on 185 Russian and Belarusian companies and individuals it said are connected to the war. “Their assets in Ukraine are being blocked; the available property will be used for our defense,” Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday.
  • North Korea rejected as “baseless” U.S. claims that it supplied Russia with weapons, describing it as an attempt by Washington to justify its own military aid for Kyiv, according to a statement carried by state news agency KCNA on Sunday. Kwon Chung-keun, director of U.S. affairs at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, also called the U.S. decision to send M1 battle tanks to Ukraine a “criminal act against humanity,” Reuters reported.

4. From our correspondents

66,000 war crimes have been reported in Ukraine. It vows to prosecute them all. KYIV — More than 66,000 alleged war crimes have been reported to Ukrainian authorities since the Russian invasion began in February, according to Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General. The number is growing by hundreds every day as investigators fan out into areas retaken from the Russians and Ukrainians step up to lodge complaints, ranging from the theft of property to torture, murder, rape, the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and the relentless missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure.

It’s a staggering number of cases, one that would overwhelm any judicial system anywhere, legal experts say. But Ukraine’s prosecutor general Andriy Kostin has vowed to investigate all of them and to bring to trial all those in which enough evidence can be gathered. President Volodymyr Zelensky has made justice for the victims of war crimes one of his conditions for eventual peace with Russia. The issue is as important for Ukraine as defeating the Russians militarily if Russia is to be deterred forever from attacking Ukraine, Kostin said.

“We have to win in both battles — in the fight for our territory and in the fight for justice,” he said in an interview.

The battle for justice could prove just as challenging as the fight for land.