President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia will continue to strike Ukraine’s energy grid after waves of missile attacks have left parts of the country without clean water and electricity. Pope Francis broke down and wept as he spoke about the suffering of Ukrainians during a prayer at Rome’s Spanish Steps. Follow our live blog for the latest on the war. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
19:02: Blinken expects Sweden and Finland to join NATO “soon”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that he is confident that the US will be able to call Sweden and Finland NATO allies soon, saying Turkey’s concerns about the two nations joining the alliance are being addressed.
At a press briefing, he said the two nations were already integrating into the alliance’s work.
“This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey. And it will not turn into one,” Blinken said. “I have every expectation that both will formally become members soon.”
16:34: Pope cries as he discusses the plight of Ukrainians during traditional prayer
Pope Francis broke down and wept Thursday as he mentioned the suffering of Ukrainians during a traditional prayer at Rome’s Spanish Steps.
The Pope’s voice began to tremble when he mentioned the Ukrainians and he had to stop, unable to speak, for about 30 seconds while his head trembled. As he resumed the prayer, his voice cracked.
15:30: American basketball star Brittney Griner “on his way home” after prisoner exchange
In a sign that Russia is maintaining lines of communication with the West despite the war in Ukraine, Washington said Moscow had freed American basketball player Brittney Griner in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” the president Joe Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
Russia confirmed that Bout had been exchanged for the 32-year-old Griner, who was held in a Cold War-style standoff between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
14:05: Putin says Russia will continue to attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure
President Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia will continue to attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, after successive waves of missile attacks have left parts of the country without clean water and electricity.
During a ceremony in the Kremlin, Putin described the attacks on Ukraine’s vital infrastructure as a response to the October explosion that hit a bridge connecting Russia with the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow blames on Ukraine.
13:15: Ukraine detains a couple of suspects for spying for Russia in Odesa
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has arrested a married couple suspected of spying for Russia in the Black Sea city of Odesa, one of Ukraine’s largest ports.
An SBU statement did not name the pair but accused them of gathering intelligence for Russia on locations of possible military deployments and the movement of air defense units.
It said the pair were believed to be Russian military intelligence officers who had planned to set up a network of operatives in southern Ukraine.
SBU officials found cellphones and computer equipment with evidence of “hidden correspondence with the attacker,” it said. “The SBU detained both spies as they attempted to transfer classified information to Russia.”
11:50am: Russia says aim of Zaporizhzhia safe zone is to ‘stop shelling of Ukraine’
The Russian Foreign Ministry says the main goal of a proposed safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is to “stop shelling of Ukraine.”
Both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the facility, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, and risking a nuclear accident.
The facility has come under repeated fire since Russia seized it shortly after launching its invasion in February, prompting the IAEA’s nuclear watchdog to call for a demilitarized safety zone around the facility.
10:55 am: Kremlin says “risk” of Ukrainian attacks in Crimea
The Kremlin has acknowledged that its forces are vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks on the Crimean peninsula after the Russian military shot down a drone near its largest city.
“There are certainly risks as the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organizing terrorist attacks. But on the other hand, information we receive indicates that effective countermeasures are being taken,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russia previously said it had shot down a drone over the Black Sea near Sevastopol – the largest city in Crimea that hosts a key Russian naval base.
Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and has used the peninsula as one of its battlegrounds for its latest invasion of Ukraine. In return, its forces there have been regularly attacked by drones.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was target last month by a “massive” drone attack that Moscow blamed on Ukraine.
09:35: Germany’s Scholz wants anti-aircraft shield for the next five years
Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz hopes to develop a missile defense shield in the next five years, he said in an interview with Funke Media Group and French newspaper Ouest-France.
“Right now the government is talking to the manufacturers of the various systems to get ready for concrete decisions,” Scholz said.
The German leader also reiterated his aim to increase defense spending to meet the 2% of GDP target set for NATO allies, including the deployment of air defenses for a so-called Sky Shield with other NATO states.
Germany and more than a dozen NATO partners aim to jointly acquire air defense systems that protect allied territory from missiles.
Among the options being considered are Israel’s Arrow 3 system, US Patriot and German IRIS-T devices.
8:45am: Ukrainians without electricity, clean water as Russia cuts power grid
Successive waves of Russian missile strikes have left Ukrainian cities without electricity or clean water as freezing temperatures hit. FRANCE 24’s foreign director Rob Parsons reports from Mykolaiv in the south of the country.
7:15 a.m.: Russian troops take part in tactical exercises in Belarus
Russia says its troops are taking part in tactical exercises in Belarus, amid fears Moscow is pushing its ally to become more involved in the Ukraine war.
Belarus has said it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but President Alexander Lukashenko has previously ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, citing threats from Kyiv and the West.
In a statement, Russia’s Defense Ministry said: “Servicemen of the Western Military District … continue intensive combat training on the fields of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus.”
Video clips posted by the ministry showed Russian soldiers in snow gear training near tanks in a wintry landscape and firing weapons including artillery.
01:30: Scholz says the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons has decreased, for now
The risk to the President of Russia Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons as part of its war in Ukraine has declined in response to international pressure, Germany’s chancellor says Olaf Scholz said in an interview published Thursday.
The war continued with “unabated brutality” but for now one thing had changed, Scholz told Funke media in an interview to mark his first year in office.
“Russia has stopped threatening to use nuclear weapons. As a reaction to the international community marking a red line.”
Despite deep divisions, it was important that the dialogue with the Kremlin continued, Germany’s leader added.
22:34: Russians may want talks just to get new recruits trained, Stoltenberg says
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that it is not a good idea to get involved in the Russian negotiations and this is in line with what the Ukrainians are saying. Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Kyiv, reports.
21:00: US slams ‘loose talk’ on nuclear weapons after Putin’s comments
The United States on Thursday condemned “loose talk” about nuclear weapons after the Russian president Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would only use a nuclear weapon in response to an enemy attack.
State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to respond directly to Putin, telling reporters: “We think any loose talk about nuclear weapons is completely irresponsible.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)
Originally published on France24