The besieged Southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol is waiting Friday to see whether Russia will honor a humanitarian corridor that could allow aid into the city and allow evacuations out.
“We remain hopeful, we are in action moving towards Mariupol … but it’s not yet clear that this will happen today,” Ewan Watson, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday.
Convoys delivering the aid and the evacuation buses were stopped Thursday by Russian forces.
Turkey’s top diplomat, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said in a televised interview Thursday that Turkey is working to bring the two sides back to the bargaining table.
The head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia, said that talks would resume Friday by videoconference.
A Russian regional official says two Ukrainian helicopters launched an airstrike on a fuel depot early Friday in the Russian city of Belgorod, setting the facility afire. The incident is the first time Russia has reported a Ukrainian attack on Russian territory.
Ukraine’s president said in his nightly address Thursday that he has stripped two top generals of their rank.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the generals “antiheroes.” One of the generals had been the chief of internal security at the country’s main intelligence agency, while the other had been the intelligence agency’s chief in the Kherson region.
The Ukrainian leader said he did “not have time to deal with all the traitors, but gradually they will all be punished.”
Ukrainian authorities estimate Russia overnight withdrew 700 units of equipment from the Kyiv region, moving them back into Belarus, VOA’s Jamie Dettmer writes from Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
Gen. Oleksandr Gruzevych, deputy chief of staff of Ukraine’s armed forces, said the departing armored personnel carriers could be redeployed to eastern Ukraine’s Donbas to strengthen forces there for an offensive.
“The troops that are leaving the area around Kyiv are pretty significant,” Gruzevych said.
The withdrawal seems to be consistent with Russian declarations that it intends to deescalate around Kyiv and to focus on the Donbas. Ukraine’s General Staff said Friday that it believes Russia aims to seize areas in the Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts that it does not currently occupy, as well as blockade the towns of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk and it predicts Russian will continue to relocate troops to eastern Ukraine.
However, Russian ground forces are facing stiff resistance in their efforts to enlarge their occupation in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian military officials say overnight seven Russian attacks were repelled in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. They claimed three Russian tanks, two armored personnel carriers, two artillery systems were destroyed and a Russian drone shot down.
But Russia is also transferring more missile units to Belarus — a possible prelude to an intensification of ballistic missiles attacks on targets across Ukraine.
Britain’s military intelligence division warned early Thursday that a majority of Russia’s forces near Kyiv were holding in place “despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units.”
“Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days,” Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, the British defense attaché, said in a statement.
A senior U.S. defense official described the Russian movements as “minor,” warning that Russian forces continue to target Kyiv and other northern cities with airstrikes and artillery.
“It has not been wholesale by any means, nor has it been rapid,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said later Thursday, saying less than 20% of the Russian forces arrayed against Kyiv and Chernihiv had been moved.
“It’s not exactly clear … where they’re going to go, for how long, and for what purpose,” Kirby said. “But we do not see any indication that they’re going to be sent home.”
U.S. defense officials believe most of the repositioned Russian forces are likely headed to Belarus for supplies and maintenance before heading back into Ukraine, possibly to help Russian forces fighting in the eastern part of the country.
However, even there, U.S. officials believe, Russia’s military has been stymied.
“As for actual progress, pinching it off or sealing it off and fixing Ukrainian armed forces [in the Donbas], they have been frustrated and not successful,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence.
Russia has put more effort into the Donbas, the official added, warning that “it could mean that this could be a lengthy, more drawn-out conflict.”
Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized the largest-ever release from the strategic petroleum reserve, announcing the release of 1 million barrels a day for six months — a move aimed at lowering domestic oil prices as the sanctions on Russian oil and gas have sent prices skyrocketing globally.
This is the third time Biden has ordered releases from the strategic reserve. The first two did not cause a meaningful decline in prices in global oil markets.
Russia on Thursday said it would expand the list of European Union officials prohibited from entering the country in response to a broad range of Western sanctions that continue to be imposed on Russia after its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
The travel ban applies to the EU’s “top leadership,” which includes “a number of European Union commissioners and heads of EU military structures” and the “vast majority” of parliamentary members, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Other public officials and “media workers who are personally responsible for promoting illegal anti-Russian sanctions” were also targeted.
VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin, Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb, United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer and White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report.