Ukraine briefing: ‘Winter is over’ Zelensky says, praising effort to maintain energy and heat

Ukrainian service members ride a military vehicle near the city of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region Feb. 27. (Reuters)
6 min

Winter “was very difficult, and every Ukrainian without exaggeration felt this difficulty,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech marking the first day of spring after a winter at war. “But we still managed to provide Ukraine with energy and heat.” Ukrainians celebrated the day. “They wanted to freeze us and throw us into darkness. We survived!” said Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

The besieged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine is facing the “most difficult situation” in the country as the battle for control of the front-line city intensifies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in remarks Wednesday. “The intensity of fighting is only increasing,” and Russia is exerting “insane pressure” on Ukrainian forces by sending troops “to constantly storm our positions” without regard for their lives, he said.

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

Key developments

  • Finland’s Parliament voted to speed up the country’s accession to NATO, bringing the Nordic nation closer to joining the transatlantic military alliance. The bill passed on Wednesday by a vote of 184-7. The move to accelerate the accession could lead Finland to join the alliance before Sweden; the tightknit pair often coordinate on security and had planned to join NATO together, but Turkey has dragged its feet on approving Sweden’s bid over concerns around Stockholm’s approach to groups that Ankara considers to be terrorists.
  • Hungary’s president urged lawmakers to move urgently to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO. All 30 NATO members must agree to admit new states to the alliance, but legislation to approve the accessions of Finland and Sweden has stalled in Hungary’s legislative body, with some lawmakers accusing the Nordic nations of insulting Hungary in recent years, the Associated Press reported. Hungarian President Katalin Novak said Wednesday that “the accession of Sweden and Finland is justified,” urging the National Assembly to “make a wise decision as soon as possible.”
  • Russia is not interested in “meaningful diplomacy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. He urged neutral countries preparing to attend this week’s Group of 20 meeting in India to reject the terms Moscow has outlined for negotiating an end to the war in Ukraine. Blinken said the Kremlin’s position that Ukraine must accept Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory as a precondition for negotiations should not be accepted by any nation. “That’s obviously a nonstarter and should be a nonstarter, not just for Ukraine and for us, but for countries around the world,” Blinken said.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would host Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow, state media outlets reported. It was not clear when such a visit would occur. China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, visited Moscow last week. Blinken has warned that China will face sanctions if it supplies lethal support to Russia. China has denied any such plans and in recent days has been positioning itself as a potential peacemaker in the conflict.
  • Ukrainians have been celebrating the arrival of spring on social media, posting photos of flowers and hailing their survival as a victory over Russia. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Wednesday: “Putin suffered another major defeat. Despite the cold, darkness, and missile strikes, Ukraine persevered and defeated his winter terror.”

Global impact

  • Finland is building a fence along its border with Russia to address the “changed security environment.” The border fence is set to span nearly 125 miles of its more than 800-mile-long border with Russia, according to Finland’s Border Guard, which announced the move Tuesday. It noted that while Russia controls outbound traffic into Finland, “Finland cannot rely on the effectiveness of Russian border control.” Large numbers of Russians have fled since the start of the war. Those with visas have fled to Finland or elsewhere in Europe, while others have escaped to nearby countries such as Armenia and Kazakhstan.
  • The war in Ukraine is due to dominate conversations at the Group of 20 summit in India, where foreign ministers from the world’s most powerful economies, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, are gathering on Wednesday. Blinken is also due to attend the summit this week.
  • Blinken has “no plans” to meet his Russian and Chinese counterparts at the G-20 gathering, the top U.S. diplomat said Wednesday. Washington, Beijing and Moscow are at odds over the war in Ukraine, but Blinken said he does not intend to hold bilateral meetings with Lavrov or China’s Qing Gang, who will both be in New Delhi at the same time. Blinken said he suspects he will be in “group sessions” with his two counterparts, however, “at one time or another.”
  • Denmark is scrapping a national holiday in a bid to create greater tax revenue for military spending, despite public opposition. Lawmakers voted on Tuesday to end the celebration of Great Prayer Day, a religious holiday that had been commemorated since the 17th century, next year. The government has estimated that ending the holiday will add about $430 million to the government budget. The government says this money could be added to the Danish military spending in the hope of meeting NATO targets set at 2 percent of a member state’s total economic output.

Battleground updates

  • Russia said it foiled a “massive” Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea by shooting down and disabling several drones, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, according to state media outlets. The claim could not immediately be independently verified. In the year since the invasion, occupied Crimea and Russian regions bordering Ukraine have been targeted in a slew of drone attacks, while Russia has bombed Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure using missiles and drones.
  • Ukraine’s military said early Wednesday that it repelled 85 attacks in Bakhmut and nearby towns in the area in the past day.
  • Russian missiles struck civilian and infrastructure targets in Ukraine’s Kremenchuk district, regional Governor Dmytro Lunin said Wednesday. The attack could not immediately be verified independently, and the casualty count remained unclear.
  • Water will begin flowing from Russia’s Rostov region to residents of occupied areas of Ukraine’s Donbas in April, following the construction of a new pipeline, Russian state-owned TV station Zvezda reported Wednesday. The site was visited by top defense officials, as the Kremlin attempts to put a positive spin on the invasion, which is facing increasing opposition in Russia as the war enters its second year.

From our correspondents

Congress presses the Pentagon on Biden’s reluctance to give Ukraine F-16s: Amid growing pressure from Ukrainian officials and others, a top U.S. defense official has told lawmakers that supplying warplanes to Kyiv is not the wisest use of U.S. funds at this stage in the war, reports Dan Lamothe.

I do think this conversation will continue,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, explained to members of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “It’s just hard for me to tell any member of Congress, or the American public, that the best use of that dollar spent right now is on F-16s,” Kahl said.