Ukraine live briefing: ICC and Ukraine agree to open country office; E.U. leaders discuss plans to pressure Russia

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an armored personnel carrier at the front line in Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region on Wednesday. (Libkos/AP)
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Ukraine and the International Criminal Court signed an agreement to establish a country office in Ukraine on Thursday. The plan would see Ukraine join seven other ICC field offices, including in Mali and Georgia.

“This is just a start, a strong start, and I’m convinced that we will not stop until all perpetrators of international crimes committed in Ukraine are brought to justice, independently of their political or military position,” said Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin at the signing. Zelensky said the move would allow “international justice to be even more active” in investigating Russia on Ukrainian soil.

European Union leaders met in Brussels the same day for the first round of a two-day summit on topics including continued E.U. support for Ukraine and measures to increase pressure on Russia. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres is also in attendance. Since the war began, E.U. member states have made available about $73 billion to Ukraine, the bloc said, adding that it is “united in its solidarity with Ukraine and will stand by the country for as long as it takes.” The leaders endorsed a previously approved European plan to send 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine over the next year.

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

Key developments

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky toured the front-line region of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Thursday, following his visit to the heated conflict zone of Bakhmut a day before. He said in his nightly address that he saw more than 50 villages “almost completely destroyed,” with some villages with 90 percent of their buildings ruined.
  • “I held a long meeting in Kherson with all those responsible for the region: for defense, for the social situation. We separately and carefully considered the energy situation, the issue of recovery,” Zelesnky also said in his speech.
  • Ukraine would need $411 billion for reconstruction efforts, according to a new estimate from the World Bank. Direct damage in the country exceeds $135 billion, the joint study by the Ukrainian government, the European Commission and the United Nations found.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” days after coming under fire, including from his own party, for dismissing the invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.” In an interview with Piers Morgan, which Morgan teased in a New York Post column ahead of its airing, DeSantis said Putin should be held “accountable” for the war.
  • Lawmakers in Sweden formally voted to allow the country to join NATO. “Sweden will be safer and more secure and we will be a security provider to the alliance,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said in a tweet announcing the vote. Sweden applied for membership in the alliance in May. Its candidacy still requires final approval from NATO’s existing members.
  • Slovakia delivered four of its 13 pledged MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The aircraft transfer was carried out by Ukrainian pilots along with help from the Slovak Air Force, the Slovakian defense ministry said on Facebook. “In time for spring, birds traditionally arrive in Ukraine..." Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter, thanking Slovakia for the jets.
  • Russia awarded medals to the two fighter pilots who dumped fuel on and then hit the propeller of a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, according to the Russian state news agency Tass. The White House recently released footage of the incident that appeared to refute the Kremlin’s claims that the United States was the aggressor. The Pentagon said this week that the United States would continue to conduct operations over the Black Sea.
  • The Embassy of Russia in the United States took a swipe at NSC’s Kirby on Thursday, saying: “The qualities of a boor and a hooligan are becoming a habit of official representatives in Washington.” The comments came in response to what the Russian’s called Kirby’s own “offensive remarks” about the Russian pilots who were honored for the Black Sea drone incident. Kirby the previous day had said, “If that’s bravery, then I guess they’ve got a different definition of it. It’s ludicrous.” He said the pilot was “at worst, maliciously putting himself and U.S. property at great risk, and at best, just an idiot.”

Global impact

  • Arresting Putin if he traveled abroad would be “a declaration of war against Russia,” Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday, according to state news agency Tass. The International Criminal Court last week issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Medvedev spoke in response to earlier comments by the German federal minister of justice that Berlin would be obliged to comply with the ICC if Putin were to visit. The warrant is considered largely unenforceable, as Russia does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICC.
  • Prince William, heir to the British throne, made a surprise visit to troops in Poland, according to Kensington Palace. William met with British and Polish troops and praised their “extraordinary work in support of Ukraine.” He also visited Ukrainian refugee families staying in a shelter in Poland and said more needs to be done to address “the humanitarian crisis.”
  • Russia has invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit Moscow, the Kremlin said Thursday. Hossein Amirabdollahian will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday for negotiations and developments across the Middle East.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed more than 2,500 sanctions related to the Russian invasion, Secretary Janet L. Yellen said. “We have degraded the Kremlin’s ability to replace more than 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment that it has lost on the battlefield,” she said at a Senate subcommittee meeting. Some of the steps, she added, such as capping the price of Russian oil, have “cut into the Kremlin’s revenues.”
  • The International Olympic Committee cannot be a referee in global political disputes, said the president of its ruling body, Thomas Bach. He spoke in the wake of backlash for refusing to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Games to be held in Paris. The remarks, reported by Reuters, were made at a political forum in Germany.

Battleground updates

  • Russia intends to increase the size of its air defense forces, Shoigu said at a meeting of Defense Ministry officials. The priority will be to equip Russian troops with advanced air defense and antimissile defense systems, he added.
  • Russia is making only “incremental gains” in Bakhmut, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday, on the day Zelensky visited the front line in the eastern city. “It’s where the most vicious fighting is going on,” Kirby said, adding that Ukrainian troops are continuing to fight “very bravely to try to prevent Bakhmut from falling.” The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a Thursday update that “the tempo of Russian operations appears to be slowing" in Bakhmut, and cited reports of unit relocations and increased offensive operations in other directions.
  • Russia’s limited drone and missile strikes Wednesday may indicate that its forces struggle with precision missile shortages, the ISW said. The think tank added that Russian forces conducted more intensive strikes during the fall of 2022, which suggests they might now be rationing high-precision munition.

From our correspondents

Ukraine, pumped up by Western weapons, is held back by slow deliveries: While Ukraine’s Western allies have promised military support, many officials and analysts warn that the help is taking too long to arrive. The Pentagon’s recent announcement that it will speed up delivery of Abrams battle tanks and decisions by Poland and Slovakia to provide fighter jets reflect this alarm, report The Washington Post’s Siobhán O’Grady, Alex Horton, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Anastacia Galouchka.

The highly symbolic announcement of fighter jets was loudly applauded in Kyiv, but the Soviet-era planes are of limited use given the nature of the war, largely a close-range artillery fight in which neither side controls the skies. The Abrams tanks that are expected to add major armored muscle won’t arrive until the fall — some six months after an anticipated spring Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Natalia Abbakumova contributed to this report.