Russian forces have shelled the entire front line in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said, part of what appears to be the Kremlin’s scaled-back ambition to secure only the bulk of territory it has claimed.
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* The fiercest fighting was near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and Russian troops were also trying to advance near Lyman, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November, the region’s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
* The Ukrainian general staff said its forces had attacked Russian positions and troop assembly points in at least half a dozen towns in the south of Ukraine.
* Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
* Russian President Vladimir Putin has given conflicting statements on the goals of the war but is now clear the aims include some expansion of Russia’s borders – in contrast with his past comments that there were no territirial aims.
* Putin repeated his accusation that the West was “exploiting” Ukraine and using its people as “cannon fodder” in a conflict with Russia.
* U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has been released in a prisoner swap with Russia and is on her way back to the United States, President Joe Biden said, ending what he called months of “hell” for her and her wife.
* The Kremlin said the exchange should not be seen as a step towards improving bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington, saying they remained “in a sorry state.”
* The White House said the prisoner swap will not change the U.S. commitment to Ukraine.
DIPLOMACY, U.S. SUPPORT
* Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will speak to Putin on Sunday, and to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in order to strengthen the U.N.-backed Black Sea grain deal.
* The United States plans to impose new sanctions against Russia and China on Friday that include punishing Moscow for its use of Iranian drones in its war against Ukraine, two U.S. officials said.
* The U.S. House of Representatives passed a defense bill that provides Ukraine at least $800 million in additional security assistance next year.
* The United States is preparing to send Ukraine a $275 million military aid package offering new capabilities to defeat drones and strengthen air defenses, according to a document seen by Reuters and people familiar with the package. (Compiled by Cynthia Osterman, Robert Birsel and Andrew Heavens)