Ukraine live briefing: Zelensky lobbies U.S. speaker on fighter jets, invites him to visit

April 19, 2023

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), then the House minority leader, before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Congress in December. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he spoke with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about his country’s “defense needs and capabilities” and thanked him for the United States’ “unflagging bipartisan support.” Zelensky again invited McCarthy — whose party includes influential members who are averse to continued U.S. assistance — to visit Ukraine. The speaker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated the United States’ support for Sweden’s accession to NATO, as Turkey and Hungary continue to block the process. Speaking with his Swedish counterpart at Musko naval base, Austin said he was “confident” that Sweden will join the defense alliance before a NATO Summit in July.

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

Key developments

  • Zelensky said he “raised the issue of F-16” fighter jets in his call with McCarthy. The United States has been reluctant to provide Kyiv with the warplanes, and President Biden said in January he would not send the jets. Zelensky said in his evening address that he also urged McCarthy to support providing long-range weapons and additional artillery.
  • Austin urged Turkey to make a decision about Sweden’s accession to NATO “sooner versus later.” The U.S. defense secretary said he “won’t second-guess” Turkey’s leadership or “predict” when they will decide. Sweden had sought to join NATO at the same time as neighboring Finland, which joined the alliance this month.
  • Inspections of ships carrying grain from Ukraine have resumed following negotiations among Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. “Inspection teams are already at work,” said Ismini Palla, a spokeswoman for the initiative’s Joint Coordination Center. Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of sabotaging the deal to ensure global grain shipments, and inspections had not taken place since Monday.
  • A Moscow court rejected Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s appeal against spying charges. The American reporter stood inside a glass-enclosed defendant’s dock Tuesday as he appealed the charges, which Moscow has not substantiated and carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. “We’re deeply concerned by the news that Russia will continue to wrongfully detain Evan following a sham judicial proceeding,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. Russia’s Federal Security Service accused Gershkovich in March of trying to obtain classified information — a claim that the reporter, the Journal and the U.S. government have denied.
  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny faces new charges after his lawyer said he was provoked by workers at the penal colony where he is being held. The lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said employees at the penal colony placed a foul-smelling inmate inside Navalny’s cell to provoke him into a response that would break the facility’s rules. According to Kobzev, Navalny was forced into the cell, at which point he grabbed the inmate by the collar and dragged him to the exit. Navalny was jailed in 2021 and is serving an 11½-year sentence for charges widely viewed as trumped up. His lawyers say they fear he is slowly being poisoned in the penal colony because he has fallen ill and experienced dramatic weight loss.

Global impact

  • South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he is open to sending military aid in case of a large-scale attack against civilians in Ukraine. Yoon told Reuters that under certain extreme scenarios including a “massacre or serious violation of the laws of war, it might be difficult for us to insist only on humanitarian or financial support.” The statement marked a potential shift, as Yoon had maintained that his government’s policy prohibits sending lethal aid to nations at war. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticized what he called Seoul’s “unfriendly stance” and said that sending weapons would “indirectly mean a certain stage of involvement in this conflict.”
  • Swedish vodka brand Absolut said it would immediately halt exports to Russia. The reversal came amid backlash after Absolut’s owner told Agence France-Presse this month that it had resumed exports after halting them last year following the invasion.
  • Poland’s prime minister said Warsaw reached an agreement allowing Ukrainian grain to be transported across its borders,although the goods are still not allowed to remain in the country. Poland has expressed concern that cheap Ukrainian grain could hurt domestic producers.
  • The United States charged four Americans over their roles in an alleged campaign to push pro-Kremlin propaganda and influence U.S. politics. They are accused of working for a Russian operative who had sought to promote the invasion of Ukraine.

Battleground updates

  • Disinformation is a “major element” of Russia’s war strategy, Britain’s Defense Ministry said. But this strategy comes in different forms, it added — including “narrative laundering, whereby Russia promotes information from proxies, or unverified social media sources, which then permeates to more mainstream or state-run media.” The goal is to obscure the fact that the original information comes from Russian state actors to make it more credible. “Their current priorities almost certainly include discrediting the Ukrainian government and reducing international support for Ukraine,” the ministry said.
  • Russian forces are making gains in Bakhmut, analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank said, citing Russian and Ukrainian military sources in their assessment. The Russian Defense Ministry said the Wagner mercenary group’s forces have advanced into the city, which has been the site of a fierce, months-long battle for control. According to the ISW, Ukrainian authorities have said that Russian forces are stepping up their attacks against Bakhmut and are not running out of artillery ammunition. Ukrainian service members have complained of shortages on the front line.

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