Ukraine live updates: Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes a surprise visit, announces billions more in aid
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Kyiv on Thursday. The Biden administration is expected to ask Congress for another $2 billion for long-term investments in security in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
Here's what we're following:
Russian filtration centers: The U.S. accuses the Kremlin of a campaign of deporting Ukrainians and separating children from their families.
Ukraine's surprise counteroffensive: With Russia focused on the south of the country, Ukraine has launched a surprise counterattack in the northeast region near Kharkiv.
Ukraine official says Russia wants to siphon power from the ailing Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
KYIV, Ukraine — The head of Ukraine's atomic energy operator accused Russia on Thursday of trying to "steal" Europe's largest nuclear plant by cutting it off from the Ukrainian electricity grid and leaving it on the brink of a radiation disaster.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has been without an outside source of electricity since Monday and receives power for its own safety systems from the only one of its six reactors that remains operational, Enerhoatom chief Petro Kotin told The Associated Press.
"We are trying to keep this unit running as much as possible, but eventually it will have to be shut down and then the station will switch to diesel generators," he said, adding that such generators are "the station's last defense before a radiation accident."
Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for shelling that has damaged parts of the plant as well as the transmission lines that connect it to Ukraine's electricity network and provide power for the crucial cooling systems that are needed to prevent a meltdown.
The head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, warned the U.N. Security Council this week that "something very, very catastrophic could take place" at the plant and urged Russia and Ukraine to establish a "nuclear safety and security protection zone" around it.
Kotin said the Russians "have a crazy idea to switch the ZNPP to the Russian power system; in fact they are trying to steal the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant of Ukraine and steal all the electricity it produces."
He said the Russians gave the plant management a 10-page plan about three or four weeks ago to connect the plant to the electricity grid in Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
On the same day, the Russians started shelling the power lines that connect the plant to the Ukrainian grid, and on Monday, the last line was cut, Kotin said.
This left the plant in "island mode," meaning it receives power from its only operational reactor, a highly unusual and unstable way of operating a nuclear plant that he said shouldn't last for more than two hours but has now been in effect for more than three days.
"At any moment, the unit can be stopped completely, and after that, the only power source for the entire nuclear plant will be a diesel generator," he said. While there are 20 generators on site, "if one of these diesel generators fails, the consequences can be very deplorable and bad for the radiation danger of the ZNPP."
Kotin said the plant has enough diesel fuel for 10 days. After that, about 200 tons of diesel fuel would need to be brought in daily for the generators, which he said was "impossible" while the plant was occupied by Russian forces.
Ukraine expands its counteroffensive in Kharkiv after drawing Russian attention south
Ukraine has launched a surprise counterattack in the northeast Kharkiv region. Experts say Russia’s concentration in the south of the country has created opportunities for Ukraine in the northeast.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there was "good news from northern front" and implied that some settlements had been recaptured from Russian forces.
An official representing the Russian-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces “encircled” an eastern town between Kharkiv and Russian-occupied Izium.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, has said that Russia’s attention on the counteroffensive happening in the south, near Kherson, likely opened up opportunities for Ukraine to launch attacks near Kharkiv.
With Russian gas cut off, Europeans try to reach a heating plan for winter
European governments are set to massively intervene in the bloc's energy markets this winter after Russia cut off gas supplies and energy prices soared.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is using energy as a weapon by cutting off the natural gas supply, but he will fail, says European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Russian gas imports have dwindled from 40 percent of the bloc’s total to just 9 percent. But with skyrocketing energy prices provoking protests and possible social unrest, European politicians have little choice but to take unorthodox and expensive measures to placate outraged consumers.
Options include caps on wholesale gas prices and modifying trading rules on energy exchanges. The Czech Republic, which is leading the bloc this year, is aiming for a set of proposals that can be acted on without involving the European Parliament.
The U.S. accuses the Kremlin of a campaign to deport and disappear Ukrainians
Russia is forcibly moving Ukrainians into Russian territory and then taking children away from their parents, the U.S. says, calling it a war crime.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield called a Security Council meeting Wednesday on the so-called filtration centers where Ukrainians are being held.
“Filtered,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “This word does not begin to convey the horror and depravity of these premeditated policies.”
The Biden administration is warning that Russia is laying the groundwork to annex parts of Ukraine and change the demographics of those regions.
Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. has evidence that Kremlin officials are overseeing the campaign to deport or disappear Ukrainians and coming up with target lists.
“Colleagues, there will come a day when we are gathered in this council to condemn the Russian Federation’s attempts to annex more of Ukraine’s territory,” she said. “I will ask that you remember what you have heard here today. No one, no one will be able to say they were not warned.”
Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzia, called the meeting part of a disinformation campaign, and that Ukrainians who go to Russia go through a registration process, not filtration.
Nebenzia used the occasion to again blast the U.S. and others for supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Defense Secretary Austin announces $675 million more in weapons for Ukraine
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced an additional $675 million in weapons to Ukraine today at a defense conference in Germany.
Secretary Austin said at the U.S. airbase in Ramstein, Germany, that President Biden approved the additional weapons package, which will include "howitzers, artillery munitions, HIMARS missiles, Humvees, armored ambulances, anti-tank systems, small arms and more."
Austin was scheduled to meet with defense ministers from Ukraine, Germany and other EU member states, as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
They’re discussing how countries can work together to train Ukrainian forces and improve their own defense industrial bases for the long haul as Russia’s war in Ukraine endures its sixth month.
"Russian forces continue to cruelly bombard Ukrainian cities and civilians with missiles and artillery fire, but Ukrainian forces have begun their counteroffensive in the south of their country," Austin said. "And they're integrating the capabilities that we all have provided to help themselves to fight and reclaim their sovereign territory."
Secretary of State Blinken makes an unannounced visit to Ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine — Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Kyiv today, where he is expected to announce billions of dollars more financial aid to help Ukraine in Russia's invasion.
This is Blinken's second trip to the Ukrainian capital since this year's conflict began in February. He is the highest-ranking official in the Biden administration to visit the country in over six months of conflict. After arriving in the capital city early Thursday, Blinken visited a children's hospital and met with U.S. embassy staff.
Later in the day, he is expected to announce that the Biden administration plans to ask Congress to make another $2 billion available for long-term investments in security in Ukraine and neighboring countries, many of whom are in NATO and are at risk of future Russian aggression, State Department officials tell NPR.
He is also expected to give more details about an additional $675 million in military aid announced earlier Thursday by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is Germany at a meeting with defense counterparts from all over the world.
The aid, which is part of President Biden's presidential drawdown authority, is set to include more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (MIMARS), as well as more munitions and armed vehicles, according to the U.S. State Department.
This latest tranche will bring the total security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale ground invasion on Feb. 24 to $13.5 billion.
Blinken's trip, six months into the conflict, is meant to show that the U.S. is "fully committed to Ukraine," according to State Department officials.