Ukraine live briefing: Kremlin boosting tank production, Putin says; Kyiv frustrated by U.N. human rights report

Russian prisoners of war at a Ukrainian detention camp in January. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)
8 min

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Saturday to bolster his tank supply over the next three years, boasting that Moscow’s fleet would eventually exceed Ukraine’s by three times. Putin’s comments follow reports of Russia’s mounting tank losses on the battlefield.

Putin also told state media station Russia 24 that the Kremlin would store tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. U.S. officials said Saturday evening that they had seen reports of Russia’s announcement and were monitoring the implications. “We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry expressed frustration at U.N. human rights monitors after they reported that Kyiv and Moscow had committed rights violations against civilians and prisoners of war. Ukraine considers “it unacceptable to place responsibility on the victim of aggression,” the ministry said Friday in a statement.

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

Key developments

  • Moscow plans to produce or upgrade more than 1,600 tanks in three years, Putin said in an interview that aired Saturday on Russian state TV. He said that while Western governments — which he dubbed “arsonists” — planned to deliver more than 400 tanks to Kyiv, Russia would upgrade and produce more than 1,600 new tanks. The Pentagon announced this week that it will expedite its M1 Abrams shipments to Ukraine, and European allies are sending Leopard battle tanks.
  • Putin’s comments follow reports of mounting Russian losses, as well as shortages of weapons and armor. Russia may be bringing Stalin-era tanks out of storage — some more than 70 years old — according to researchers. Western intelligence has also said that Moscow’s tank losses are increasing, with one analysis group estimating that Russia may have lost more than 2,000 tanks since the beginning of its invasion. Ukraine is awaiting deliveries of Leopard battle tanks from European allies and M1 Abrams tanks from the United States.
  • The Kremlin has moved 10 nuclear-capable warplanes to Belarus, Putin said in the Russia 24 interview. He claimed that the move doesn’t violate nonproliferation promises because it is not transferring their ownership. He likened the strategy to the U.S. practice of stationing weapons in European nations.
  • Russia and Belarus have talked about putting nuclear-capable assets in Belarus for some time, according to a State Department spokesperson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the department. The move could be political signaling on Belarus Freedom Day, which is celebrated by the opposition to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the spokesperson said. The move also comes one day after the United States took action to impose sanctions and visa bans on Belarusian officials.
  • The U.N. monitoring mission in Ukraine had found proof of summary killings, sexual violence and torture against prisoners of war and civilians, it said, and Russia had carried out the great majority of violations. “The cruelty and large-scale impact on civilians that we have seen over the last year will continue, unless both parties to the conflict ensure full compliance with international humanitarian law,” Matilda Bogner, the head of the mission, said.
  • The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency’s top official will visit Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant next week to get a firsthand view of the facility. “The nuclear safety and security dangers are all too obvious, as is the necessity to act now to prevent an accident,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement Saturday. It will be the second time Grossi visits the site and the first since a permanent presence of IAEA experts was established there in September last year.
  • U.N. human rights monitors said most of the human rights violations they documented were committed by Russian forces. Russia committed 621 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of civilians, while Ukraine committed 91, they said. They also alleged that Russia was responsible for 109 cases of sexual violence, and Ukraine for 24. Brutal treatment of prisoners of war is common on both sides, the mission said.

Global impact

  • Canada and the United States pledge to keep the “torch of liberty burning brightly” for Ukraine, President Biden said in an address to the Canadian parliament in Ottawa on Friday. Biden said both nations had sent military hardware to Ukraine and imposed economic sanctions on Moscow, “denying Russia critical inputs for its war machine.” He also praised Canada for taking in Ukrainian refugees and for its “strong and united” commitment to NATO, along with the United States.
  • U.S. prosecutors accused a Russian national of espionage and wire fraud, among other charges. Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov used a Brazilian alias to study at an unidentified American university in Washington D.C., obtain a driver’s license in Virginia and make connections with “persons of interest,” before unsuccessfully trying to get a job at the International Criminal Court in April 2022, prosecutors said. He was arrested in Brazil for fraud charges.
  • China’s peace proposals show it’s not fully aligned with Russia, said the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell. Beijing wanted to be a “facilitator” rather than a mediator, he said, but also expressed skepticism at China’s 12-point plan, largely viewed as inadequate by the West. Borrell’s comments follow a high-profile state visit to Moscow by China’s President Xi Jinping. The focus on an economic rather than a military partnership showed there remained “some limits” to Moscow and Beijing’s ties, he added.
  • Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden agreed to strengthen joint air defenses against Russia. The four countries’ air forces will ultimately aim to operate as one by integrating command and control, conducting combined airspace surveillance and joint training, according to a news release.
  • Charged with war crimes by the ICC, Putin must limit travel to avoid arrest, reports The Washington Post. Some 123 countries are parties to the U.N. treaty that underpins the International Criminal Court and are in theory obligated to detain him — making much of the globe off-limits to the Russian president. The Kremlin said Friday no decisions had been made on whether Putin would attend an August summit in South Africa, a country reportedly seeking legal advice on the matter.

Battleground updates

  • Ten thousand Ukrainian civilians, mostly the elderly and disabled, face the brunt of living in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. Those who haven’t fled fierce fighting live in “very dire conditions,” spending days facing “intense shelling” in underground shelters, said the ICRC’s spokesman Umar Khan, Reuters reported. “All you see is people pushed to the very limits of their existence and survival and resilience.”
  • Russia’s assault of Bakhmut has “largely stalled,” according to a daily intelligence update from Britain’s defense ministry Saturday. It said “tensions” between Russia’s Defense Ministry and the private mercenary group, Wagner, were probably exacerbating problems. Russian and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a stalemate of fighting for the eastern city. Moscow has “likely shifted its operational focus toward Avdiivka” south of Bakhmut, it added, suggesting an “overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023.”
  • Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut are “managing to stabilize” the front line, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, said during a phone call with his British counterpart, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. However, Bakhmut remains “the toughest” part of the front line, Zaluzhny said.

From our correspondents

How to flee house arrest in Russia: Escapees tell their secrets. Russian activists and ordinary people who oppose Putin’s war in Ukraine tell The Post’s Robyn Dixon, Natalia Abbakumova and Francesca Ebel of their perilous journeys fleeing house arrest.

Olesya Krivtsova, 20, branded a terrorist by the Russian authorities for opposing the war, fled Russia for Lithuania, in the European Union. To do so she disguised herself as a homeless beggar, swapped cars three times and arrived in Lithuania after several days on the run.

Krivtsova said she “cried a little” at her newfound freedom and threw away an electronic ankle bracelet that Russian authorities had used to monitor her house arrest. Krivtsova said it was better to risk her life escaping than face the possibility of 10 years in jail, after fellow students denounced her for antiwar posts in a social media chat group.