As Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine escalated on Thursday, a top Ukrainian defense official said the fighting had reached "maximum intensity."
In Moscow, Russian lawmakers agreed to scrap the age limit of 40 for those signing their first voluntary military contracts – a move that could bolster its overstretched forces.
And in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday the Biden administration wants to rally the international coalition opposing Russia's invasion of Ukraine to also help counter China, which the U.S. sees as a more serious, long term threat to the global order.
While the U.S. sees Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as the most acute and immediate threat to international stability, Blinken said the administration believes China poses a greater danger.
“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said in a major address at George Washington University.
“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order — and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” he said. “Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”
►The Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region says Russian bombardments killed three people in and around the city of Lysychansk, which is a key focus of fighting. In the northern Kharkiv region, governor Oleh Synehubov said two men were killed and 10 others injured, including a 9-year-old girl, in shelling of the town of Balakliya.
►The Russian military says it has destroyed a large Ukrainian unit with equipment at a railway station in the east.
►The U.S. will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt to international investors on Wednesday, making Russia's first default on its debts in more than a century all but inevitable. The Treasury Department said it does not intend to renew the license for Russia to keep paying its debtholders through American banks.
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One U.S. military officer in Ukraine as part of the American diplomatic team
The move to reopen the U.S. embassy in Ukraine has brought one American military officer back into the country as part of the diplomatic team, according to the Associated Press.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the defense attache, a colonel, has gone back to Kyiv with other embassy staff. The defense attache reports to the chief of mission and is there for diplomatic work, not security.
Kirby said that so far, the State Department is handling embassy protection with diplomatic security personnel and has not asked for Marines. And no other troops are going into Ukraine at this point.
“Nothing has changed about the president’s direction that US troops will not be fighting in this war in Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. He said active discussions about security are ongoing with the State Department.
Russia starts broadcasting state-controlled news in Mariupol
Russia has started broadcasting its state television news in the ravaged port city of Mariupol and other locations it controls in eastern Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian officials said Thursday.
Russia said it has launched “three mobile complexes for informing and alerting the population” that will be “broadcasting news for two hours in different parts of Mariupol.”
Such mobile units also operate in the city of Volnovakha and the Lyman district of Ukraine's Donetsk province, broadcasting state news, “practical information” and cartoons for children, Russian state news agency Tass reported Thursday.
Belarus will send troops to the Ukraine border, president says
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday he was forming a southern military command and sending battalion tactical groups to the area that borders Ukraine.
Lukashenko did not give details, but battalion tactical groups typically consist of mechanized infantry including tanks. Russia used Belarusian territory for rocket attacks on Ukraine at the start of the war, but the country's military has not joined the Russian ground operation.
Ukrainian authorities have expressed concern that Belarus may agree to a wider participation in the war.
Finland prime minister visits Ukraine
KYIV — Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin has become the latest European leader to visit Ukraine.
Marin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday in Kyiv, according to Ukraine's presidential office.
She also visited the towns of Bucha and Irpin where Russian soldiers are alleged to have killed civilians, the office said in a press release.
Zelenskyy thanked Marin for Finland’s weapons deliveries and its support for sanctions against Russia.
"These are very important direct signals of support, first of all for the Ukrainian people, our people, who see that they are not left alone with today’s ordeals," Zelenskyy said.
Jolted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland recently broke with its policy of non-alignment and applied for membership in NATO together with neighboring Sweden.
-Associated Press, Ella Lee
Russia has lost substantial amount of military equipment, Pentagon says
The Russian military has lost 1,000 tanks, 350 artillery cannons, 50 helicopters and three dozen warplanes since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, a senior Defense Department official said Thursday.
The official said the losses are substantial for Russia. However, Russia still has the majority of the combat forces it deployed to attack Ukraine – and more troops and equipment in the fight than Ukraine, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe intelligence assessments.
President Vladimir Putin has committed 80% of Russia’s combat forces to the war in Ukraine, the official said. Those forces continue to make incremental progress in eastern Ukraine with smaller units and smaller objectives than earlier in the war.
Resistance from Ukrainian troops remains stiff, the official said. They continue to push Russian troops away from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
Russian troops continue to be killed daily, the official said, declining to say how many casualties its military has suffered since the start of the war. Russia reinforcements to Ukraine are increasingly reservists, the official said. Russia has also raised the age limit for enlistment from 40 to 50.
Meanwhile, western military aid and training continues to flow into Ukraine, the official said. U.S. troops are training Ukrainian forces on the use of Harpoon anti-ship missiles that Denmark is providing. The potent missiles are intended to help Ukraine defend its Black Sea coastline.
Harpoons are designed to be fired from ships. The Ukrainians will launch them from the ground, requiring significant training, the official said.
Ukrainian troops are firing 85 of the 108 M777 howitzer cannons the Pentagon has sent to Ukraine, the official said. Artillery such as the howitzer has become central to the fighting in eastern Ukraine where open terrain favors long-range attacks.
U.S. urges groups to keep allowing Russia online
Internet providers around the globe should continue to provide services to Russia to encourage the flow of independent information, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a briefing Wednesday.
“We urge involved players around the world not to disconnect Russia from the Internet, so that information continues to flow into the country, and the Internet remains free and open within Russia itself,” Price said.
Putin: West will fail in effort to isolate Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the West will fail in its attempts to isolate Russia and face growing economic problems.
Speaking Thursday via video link to members of the Eurasian Economic Forum, Putin said Russia wasn’t going to shut itself off from international cooperation. The forum includes several countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.
Putin said that trying to isolate Russia is “impossible, utterly unrealistic in the modern world” and “those who try to do it primarily hurt themselves.”
The Russian leader cited growing economic challenges in the West, including “inflation unseen in 40 years, growing unemployment, rupture of supply chains and the worsening of global crises in such sensitive spheres as food.”
“This is not a joke,” he said. “This is a serious thing that will have an impact on the entire system of economic and political relations.”
Zelenskyy offers condolences after Texas school shooting
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered condolences to the families of the 19 children killed in an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
It's "terrible to have victims of shooters in peaceful times," Zelenskyy said while speaking at a news conference Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
"I would like to express my condolences to all of the relatives and family members of the children who were killed in an awful shooting in Texas in a school," Zelenskyy said. "The people of Ukraine share the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims and all Americans."
Authorities said a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday in Uvalde, a small community about an hour from the Mexican border.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: US to use coalition against Russia to counter China