Russia-Ukraine WarAllies Will Ship More Heavy Arms to Ukraine

The new U.S. aid aims to help Ukraine ‘break through’ Russian defenses.

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Credit...Andreea Campeanu/Getty Images

The United States plans to send Ukraine 90 Stryker armored combat vehicles as part of a roughly $2.5 billion shipment of arms and equipment that is expected to be announced at a meeting of allies in Germany on Friday, the Defense Department said on Thursday.

The decision to send Strykers for the first time, and possibly deliver them within weeks, comes just days after Britain committed to sending Ukraine 14 Challenger battle tanks and the United States, France and Germany agreed to send dozens of armored infantry fighting vehicles, including 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Germany has also been under pressure to authorize the delivery of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

The U.S. announcement comes weeks after the Biden administration announced a $3 billion package of military assistance that will include Bradleys, which officials said would be especially helpful to Ukrainian units fighting Russian forces in the Donbas region of the country’s east.

Western officials fear that Ukraine has only a narrow window before an anticipated Russian springtime offensive, and have been working quickly to give Kyiv sophisticated weapons that they had earlier held out on sending because of concerns of provoking Moscow.

On Wednesday, Colin H. Kahl, the U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters that Ukraine needed more mechanized infantry and armored personnel carriers to punch through heavily fortified Russian defenses.

“The Russians are really digging in,” he said. “They’re digging in. They’re digging trenches, they’re putting in these dragon’s teeth, laying mines.”

“To enable the Ukrainians to break through given Russian defenses,” he added, “the emphasis has been shifted to enabling them to combine fire and maneuver in a way that will prove to be more effective.”

The Stryker is a medium-weight, eight-wheeled armored vehicle that can carry troops and weapons. It was first deployed by the Pentagon in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The latest package for Ukraine, reported earlier by The Washington Post, would also include 59 more Bradley Fighting Vehicles; ammunition for HIMARS rocket artillery; eight Avenger air defense systems; 155-millimeter and 105-millimeter artillery rounds; other vehicles; and air defense systems, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

Ukraine allies announce new military aid ahead of a key meeting of defense ministers.

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Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

BRUSSELS — A number of countries announced new military aid packages for Ukraine on Thursday, the day before their defense ministers are to gather at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate their help for Ukraine.

The meeting in Germany will include officials from as many as 50 countries, chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, and will focus on how to provide Ukraine the weapons it needs, including advanced Western tanks, to try to push back Russian troops from occupied territory in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine and some of its allies have been putting pressure on Germany to supply or authorize the export to Ukraine of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks, but Berlin wants Washington in particular to be part of a collective decision to send Western tanks.

To get a jump on the Ramstein gathering, Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, and his Estonian counterpart, Hanno Pevkur, hosted a meeting of their colleagues from the Baltics and Central Europe at an army base in Estonia to announce more military aid for Ukraine.

Some of the donations listed in the so-called Tallinn Pledge — which was also signed by Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Slovakia — had already been announced, including Britain’s commitment to send Challenger 2 tanks. Others appeared new, including another round of Brimstone missiles from Britain and S-60 anti-aircraft guns with 70,000 pieces of ammunition from Poland.

The countries said in a joint statement that they were committed to “collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations” in support of Ukraine.

“Together we will continue supporting Ukraine to move from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil,” the statement said.

Western officials say that Ukraine has only a narrow window before an anticipated Russian springtime offensive, and they have been working to speed heavy, sophisticated weapons to Kyiv.

In Brussels, after a meeting of top NATO defense officials known as the Military Committee, its chairman, Adm. Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, and the top American officer in Europe, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, said that quality tanks are important for Ukraine as part of what they called “a balance of all systems.”

“There is not a particular weapon system that is a silver bullet,” General Cavoli said. “In the end, attack simply comes down to a balance between firepower, mobility and protection,” and tanks can play an important role in military success.

The officers were careful to say that individual nations were making their own decisions about supplying Ukraine with particular weapons systems, but they made it clear that the Russians were rebuilding their own military stocks.

“In a war like it is being fought, every type of equipment is necessary,” Admiral Bauer said. “And the Russians are fighting with tanks. So the Ukrainians need tanks as well.”

Details of fresh weapons aid have begun to emerge ahead of the Ramstein meeting, including plans by the United States for a $2.5 billion package that includes nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles, and a pledge from Sweden to deliver NLAW anti-tank missiles and CV90 infantry fighting vehicles in its largest equipment package to date.

Estonia said the package it announced on Thursday as part of the Tallinn Pledge was also its largest military aid package yet to Ukraine, including remote fire and anti-tank weapons as well as ammunition worth a total of 113 million euros, or about $122 million. Military assistance to Ukraine will increase to 370 million euros, or slightly more than 1 percent of Estonia’s gross domestic product.

“The free world must continue to provide arms assistance to Ukraine, and do so at much greater scale and speed,” Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said in a statement. “All countries must look into their stockpiles and ensure that industries are able to produce more and faster.”

U.S. and German defense officials meet amid debate over sending tanks to Ukraine.

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Credit...John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III met with his new German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, in Berlin on Thursday as their nations were struggling to reach an agreement over sending battle tanks to Ukraine.

Speaking to journalists just one hour after he was sworn into office as defense minister, Mr. Pistorius said the United States and Germany stood “shoulder to shoulder” and would look for ways to continue to support Kyiv.

On Friday, the two officials are scheduled to take part in a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a 40-country coalition that Washington set up to help meet Ukraine’s needs after the Russian invasion, at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Less than a day before that meeting, however, Berlin and Washington have not reached an agreement on whether German-made Leopard 2 tanks should be sent to Ukraine, German lawmakers said. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the head of the German Parliament’s defense committee, said that Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not want to send any of Germany’s tanks unless Washington also committed some of its Abrams tanks. The chancellery declined to comment on the matter.

It is also unclear whether Berlin will allow other European nations that have Leopard tanks to send them to Ukraine. Poland and Finland have expressed a desire to do so, but they need approval from Berlin to re-export the tanks.

One German lawmaker who has been involved in the debate in Berlin said that other European allies appeared to want all countries with Leopard tanks to contribute to Ukraine together, perhaps to prevent Russia from putting pressure on any single European nation.

Britain said this week that it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks, which would be the first Western tanks in Ukraine’s forces.

As Russia pushes to shore up its forces in advance of a potential new Russian offensive, Ukraine is under pressure, with the counteroffensive that it began in the fall bogged down. The fighting has depleted both sides’ supply of tanks, which are crucial for quick movement on the battlefield. The delivery of such weapons from the West would also serve as a morale boost for Ukraine after nearly a year of full-scale war.

Leopard 2 tanks could help Ukraine in a new Russian offensive.

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A German Leopard tank during a NATO military exercise held in Lithuania last October.Credit...Mindaugas Kulbis/Associated Press

Germany on Wednesday ended weeks of speculation by saying it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and also allow other countries to send their own.

Here is a brief look at the Leopard 2 tanks and how they could be valuable to Ukraine.

What is a Leopard 2 tank?

The Leopard 2 is one of the world’s leading battle tanks, used by the German Army for decades and by the militaries of more than a dozen other European nations, as well as by the armies of countries as far apart as Canada and Indonesia. It has seen service in conflicts in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Syria.

The tank, which is powered by a diesel engine, features night-vision equipment and a laser range finder that can measure distance to an object, enabling it to better aim at a moving target while traveling over rough terrain. There are multiple iterations of the Leopard 2 with different features and designs.

How could the tank help Ukraine?

Until now, both Ukraine and Russia have used Soviet-era tanks in battle, and the Leopards would offer a big step forward in capability. Ukraine’s government has been calling for tanks on top of earlier packages of military aid from allies in the United States and Europe that included aircraft, air defense systems to protect against Russian missile and drone attacks and longer-range artillery.

Supplies of the Leopard 2 would help offset Russia’s superiority in artillery firepower, which aided Moscow in seizing two cities in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk Province over the summer. They could be of particular value as the war approaches its second year and Ukraine looks to reclaim lost territory and expects a Russian spring offensive.

What are the advantages of Leopards over other tanks?

Britain has promised to supply Ukraine with 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks, and U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the White House would announce as early as Wednesday that it would send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The American-made M1 Abrams tanks require constant upkeep and generally run on special fuel.

Military experts said that the chief advantage of the Leopard 2 was the quantity that could be sent to Ukraine and the relative ease of repair and logistics.

“The Leopards are in Europe, they are easy to get to Ukraine and several European countries use them, so they are readily available,” said Minna Alander, a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “Logistics and maintenance would be easier. Spare parts and know-how are here in Europe, so the training of Ukrainians would be easier.”

In addition, because several European countries use the vehicles, multiple nations could contribute either the tanks themselves, or spare parts, training capacity or logistics, said Ms. Alander, an expert in northern European security and German foreign policy.

Why does Germany have to approve the transfer of Leopards owned by other countries?

According to German officials, re-exporting German-made tanks without Berlin’s permission would be illegal.

The contracts that a country signs to obtain weapons from German manufacturers or German military stocks requires them to request a re-export license from the federal government should they wish to send such weapons to another country. (The United States has similar requirements, as do other countries, like Switzerland.)

What are the potential pitfalls?

Ukraine’s leaders and military experts in the United States and elsewhere have said in recent weeks that Russia appears to be preparing for an offensive in the late winter or early spring. It is not clear that the supply of Western tanks, including the Leopard 2, would arrive at the battle front quickly enough to confront that threat.

“Ukraine needs them as soon as possible, and everything points to Russia preparing for a bigger offensive in the spring, so the clock is really ticking,” Ms. Alander said.

Even if the Ukrainians get trained quickly, that could still take months, and there are still questions about how many tanks could be provided and at what level they could be maintained.

Erika Solomon and John Ismay contributed reporting.

The C.I.A. director visited Kyiv last week for a meeting with Zelensky, a U.S. official says.

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Credit...Pool photo by Al Drago

William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, traveled to Kyiv last week for secret consultations with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, according to two U.S. officials.

The C.I.A. tries to keep Mr. Burns’s travels secret, and the agency never comments on the topic. But one U.S. official acknowledged Mr. Burns’s visit and said that it was meant to “reinforce our continued support for Ukraine and its defense against Russian aggression.”

Since just before the invasion, Mr. Burns has made periodic visits to Ukraine to meet with intelligence officials and to convey information to Mr. Zelensky. A second American official said that Mr. Burns’ recent visit was an intelligence mission designed “to ensure that information continues to flow both ways.” The visit was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

There was no comment from Mr. Zelensky or his office about the meeting.

The U.S. government has periodically complained that it knows more about Russian military movements and plans than Ukraine’s. Kyiv has often been tight-lipped about its operational plans. But before Ukraine’s September counteroffensive, its officials began to share more about their intentions, allowing the U.S. to provide intelligence that helped Kyiv’s military reshape its plans to target weak points in Russian lines.

Mr. Burns also met with senior Ukrainian intelligence officials on his recent trip, though U.S. officials would not discuss the nature of those discussions.

Mr. Burns, a career diplomat, emerged early in the Biden administration as an emergency envoy and problem solver for the White House. And the intelligence relationship between Washington and Kyiv has been vital to the war effort. Ukraine is heavily dependent on insights from the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies on Russian planning.

Shortly before the invasion, he traveled to Ukraine to warn Mr. Zelensky and urge him to shore up defenses around Kyiv. The intelligence provided on that trip helped Ukraine fend off the initial attack by elite Russian airborne troops on Hostomel Airport, north of Kyiv.

The latest visit comes at a crucial point in the war. Ukraine is pushing for more heavy Western weapons, the Russian military has changed its general in command, and the war has ground into a stalemate over the winter aside from the fighting in and around Bakhmut.

Other high-level U.S. officials have also visited Ukraine in recent days. On Monday, a delegation including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; Jon Finer, the principal deputy national security adviser; and Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, met with Mr. Zelensky.

Russia’s security service says it has opened an espionage case against a U.S. citizen.

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Credit...Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Russia’s domestic intelligence agency has opened a criminal case against a United States citizen for collecting intelligence information related to “biological” topics, the country’s Interfax news service reported on Thursday.

The report did not identify the person or say whether the agency, the Federal Security Service, known as F.S.B., had taken an American into custody.

A State Department spokesman said the United States was “aware of unconfirmed reports” of an investigation into an American citizen and was looking into the matter. The spokesman, Vedant Patel, said that he was not aware of a U.S. citizen being detained recently in Russia, but cautioned that the United States often has imperfect information about events there.

“Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification of the detention of U.S. citizens in Russia,” Mr. Patel said. “Russian authorities also don’t regularly inform the embassy of the trial, sentencing or movement of U.S. citizens.”

He added that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “continues to engage with Russian authorities to ensure timely consular notifications and access to all U.S. citizens.”

One American citizen, Paul Whelan, is in prison in Russia on charges of spying that he and the U.S. government call fabricated. U.S. officials have been working for years to secure his release.

South Africa plans joint naval drills with Russia and China next month.

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Credit...Nic Bothma/EPA, via Shutterstock

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s military said on Thursday that it planned to hold joint training exercises off its coast next month with Russia and China, a move criticized by the United States, which has been trying to rally other countries to isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine.

The exercises will coincide with the first anniversary of the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24. South Africa was among three dozen countries that abstained last year in a vote at the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russia for its claim to have annexed several regions of Ukraine.

South Africa has conducted military exercises with Russia and China before, as well as with the United States and NATO countries. The South African National Defense Force said that the upcoming drills, to be held from Feb. 17-27 near the coastal towns of Durban and Richards Bay, were a “means to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China.”

The United States, which has fostered a decades-long strategic partnership with South Africa, immediately expressed disapproval. David Feldmann, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, said in a statement, “We note with concern” the plan by South Africa to move ahead with the joint exercises “even as Moscow continues its brutal and unlawful invasion of Ukraine.”

He added, “We encourage South Africa to cooperate militarily with fellow democracies that share our mutual commitment to human rights and the rule of law.”

The naval drill is a show of diplomatic independence for South Africa, analysts said. South Africa is part of an alliance with Brazil, Russia, India and China — known by the acronym BRICS — and this naval exercise reasserts South Africa’s position that it will not allow the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to dictate its diplomatic relations.

“It is seen as a war that is happening in Europe, and as far as South Africa is concerned, it’s not part of this war,” said Denys Reva, a maritime researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.

A correction was made on 
Jan. 20, 2023

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the organization with which Denys Reva is affiliated. It is the Institute for Security Studies, not the Institute of Security Studies.

How we handle corrections

Russian paramilitaries claim to capture a Ukrainian stronghold in the Donbas region.

The head of Russia’s Wagner private military company has claimed that its fighters, who have used ruthless tactics to try to advance in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, have captured the village of Klishchiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold southwest of the key city of Bakhmut.

The Ukrainian Army said early on Thursday that it had repelled Russian attacks against Klishchiivka during the previous 24 hours, but there was no immediate comment about the claim by the Wagner group.

The loss of the village could imperil Ukraine’s ability to hold onto Bakhmut by severing supply lines to the city. Bakhmut has been a focal point of Russian attacks over the recent months as Russia continues its push to capture all of the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine. The city has also become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Klishchiivka, a small village south of Bakhmut, has been the site of intense fighting in recent weeks. Ukrainian forces had deemed it key to the defense of Bakhmut because it lies on high ground directly east of roads into the city that are heavily used by the Ukrainian military.

“The Russians are pushing everywhere,” said Mongo, a soldier fighting for Ukraine stationed in Bakhmut who asked to be identified by his military call sign.

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The eastern Ukrainian city has been a focal point of Russian attacks in recent months in Moscow’s push to capture the Donbas region.CreditCredit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Russia’s campaign to take Bakhmut has come at an enormous cost in casualties. But with signs that Russia has advanced to the north in Soledar — a small salt-mining town that Russia claims to have captured, though Ukraine says it is still fighting there — and the loss of Klishchiivka to the south, Ukraine’s ability to keep control of Bakhmut looks increasingly shaky.

Ukrainian officials estimate that there are more than 20,000 Russian soldiers around Bakhmut, including Wagner fighters and Russia’s elite airborne units.

From Klishchiivka, Russian artillery would be able to more accurately shell Ukrainian forces entering or exiting Bakhmut. And if Russian forces manage to cut off or begin to directly threaten some of Bakhmut’s important supply routes, Ukrainian troops would probably be forced to withdraw from the city or risk encirclement.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner company, said in an audio statement released via his catering company’s press service on Wednesday that he could “safely state” that his fighters had captured Klishchiivka in full and that “fierce battles” continued around the village.

“The enemy clings to every meter of the ground,” Mr. Prigozhin said in the statement. “Despite various opinions that the Ukrainian army is running away from Artyomovsk, that is not the case,” he said, using the Soviet name for Bakhmut. “In any case, Wagner units are advancing meter by meter,” he added. “Artyomovsk will be captured.”

A claim by Mr. Prigozhin in his statement that Klishchiivka had been captured “exclusively” by his fighters could widen a rift between his company and regular Russian troops. As the Russian army has suffered setbacks in Ukraine in recent months, Mr. Prigozhin has clashed with the country’s military leadership over its conduct of the war.

Zelensky continues to push for Western tanks on the eve of a key conference.

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Credit...Sergei Supinsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On the eve of a critical meeting with allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine continued to stress the need for powerful Western-made tanks to aid his country’s defense efforts.

Calling the subject “relevant and really sensitive,” Mr. Zelensky told reporters on Thursday that the acquisition of heavy tanks from European allies and the United States depends on factors outside his control and “not on the will of Ukraine.”

“We exert political pressure as best we can, but the most important thing is that we exert reasoned pressure,” Mr. Zelensky said, according to the Ukrinform news agency, during a joint news conference in Kyiv with Charles Michel, the president of the European Council. “Against thousands of tanks available to the Russian Federation, the courage of our military and motivation of the Ukrainian people are not enough.”

Later, in his nightly address, Mr. Zelensky called modern Western tanks “one of the most important elements” for victory. He said Ukraine was waiting to see if Germany would agree to allow several countries, including Poland and Lithuania, to donate their German-made Leopard 2 to Ukraine.

“Now we are waiting for a decision from one European capital that will activate the prepared chains of cooperation on tanks,” he said.

Ukraine has long asked its Western allies to include their tanks in military aid packages, and this week Britain committed to sending Kyiv 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks in a bid to persuade other nations to offer similar support.

On Thursday, the American and German defense secretaries met in Berlin to discuss, among other things, their difficulty in reaching such an agreement: Germany has been reluctant to send its Leopard 2 tanks or to authorize their transfer from other nations that have them, and Washington has not promised Ukraine any of its M1 Abrams tanks, as German officials have suggested.

The matter has become more pressing amid concern among Ukraine’s allies that Kyiv's military lacks sufficient time to break an impasse with Russian forces before Moscow initiates another ground offensive in the spring. Ukraine was also shaken this week by a helicopter crash that killed the country’s interior minister and his deputy, creating a vacuum in the cabinet.

Although Ukraine’s Western allies have largely balked at the requests for tanks, several countries, including France, Germany and the United States, have agreed recently to give Ukraine dozens of armored infantry fighting vehicles. And the U.S. plans to send Ukraine nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles as part of a roughly $2.5 billion shipment of arms and equipment announced by the Defense Department on Thursday.

‘The Daily’ examines why the U.S. is sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine.

Since the war in Ukraine began, the United States and Ukraine’s other allies have held back from sending Kyiv their most potent arms. A new episode of “The Daily” podcast looks at how, and why, that has started to change over the past few weeks.

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Listen to ‘The Daily’: What Sending More Weapons to Ukraine Means for the War

The West is supplying more weapons at greater sophistication. What does this mean for the future of the conflict?
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Listen to ‘The Daily’: What Sending More Weapons to Ukraine Means for the War

The West is supplying more weapons at greater sophistication. What does this mean for the future of the conflict?

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email transcripts@nytimes.com with any questions.

sabrina tavernise

From “The New York Times,” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. And this is “The Daily.” [MUSIC PLAYING]

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the United States has held back from sending Kyiv its most powerful weapons, arming them, critics said, with just enough not to lose the war, but not enough to win it. Over the past few weeks, that has started to change.

archived recording 1

The United States may be soon sending even further advanced weapons systems to Ukraine.

archived recording 2

The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said Britain would send tanks to Ukraine along with additional artillery support.

archived recording 3

Ukraine’s foreign minister says patriot missiles from the US will soon arrive in Kyiv to help in its fight against Russia.

sabrina tavernise

Today, my colleague, Eric Schmitt, on how the West is supplying more and more powerful weapons and what that escalation tells us about the future of the war.

It’s Thursday, January 19.

So, Eric, in the past few weeks, we passed what felt like to me a pretty important marker in the war in Ukraine, which was that the US agreed to give Ukraine patriot missiles, these really powerful weapons that Ukraine had been asking for for a long time, but had never gotten.

And then European countries said they’d give Ukraine tanks, something they had not given before. So my question for you is, what does all of this say about where we are in the war, that the West is giving all these really advanced weapons?

eric schmitt

Well, we’re at a really critical phase of the war right now, Sabrina. Western nations are basically making some very important decisions in the next several days about whether to give increasing combat power to Ukraine to help Ukraine both fend off these Russian attacks that are devastating their cities and their electrical grids, but also help them push the Russians back, regain more territory, and also thwart what they fear is going to be a Russian assault in the spring.

sabrina tavernise

So basically, the West is seeing this as a moment that if they give the right kind of support, they can really bring about a big change in the trajectory of the war.

eric schmitt

That’s right. And it’s really seen as a window of opportunity. They’re trying to give them some additional firepower that allows them to punch through some of the dug-in Russian defenses that Moscow has put up in these last few months.

sabrina tavernise

So tell us what the thinking is when the U.S and the West decides to give a new weapon. What’s in their mind? What are they calculating?

eric schmitt

So I think what’s happened over the course of the war is that the West looks at three basic things.

One is, what do the Ukrainians actually need right then and there? What’s going to be most effective in fighting the Russians?

The second is, can you trust the Ukrainians to use this responsibly? And can they actually handle this kind of weaponry, or is it to advance for them? And third, and this is very important for President Biden, to what extent does providing this kind of weaponry risk escalating the fight with Russia to drag the United States and NATO into an even further conflict?

So what this amounts to basically is that you have kind of signature weapons for each distinct phase of the war so far. So there’s an evolution to all this, both in what they need, how they can use it, and then there’s also been very much of an evolution in the risk calculation that the Biden administration and the West has gone through.

sabrina tavernise

OK. So this pattern of a distinct weapon for each phase of the war, for each season basically, what do you mean by that? Like, tell me how it worked from the beginning.

eric schmitt

So at the beginning of the war, for instance, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, he was asking for the moon. He wanted everything he could get his hands on, as many weapons and arms as possible to repel this huge Russian invasion. He wanted a no-fly zone, American Jets to come in and basically defend his airspace. He wanted high-speed fighter jets. He wanted rocket launchers, like HIMARS.

And then he wanted air defense systems like the Patriot missiles. But the United States is looking at those three criteria we talked about and saying, well, what can we get to the battlefield right away that’s going to make a difference right now? And the battlefield, which at this point of the war is in urban areas, like Kyiv, and you have Russians bombing cities with helicopters, and you have tanks rolling in — if you remember that major armored column that was miles long early in the war — so these are the immediate threats that are facing the Ukrainians. And the Americans are trying to figure out, what kind of weapons can we get that will help them out?

And so what they’re saying is, we can get to you weapons like stinger anti-aircraft missiles, javelin anti-tank missiles. These are portable systems that can strike helicopters and low-flying aircraft. You’ve got the javelins that can take out that armored column.

sabrina tavernise

And these are things that soldiers literally just put on their shoulders and fire?

eric schmitt

Yeah. These were seen as weapons that the United States could rush quickly to the battlefield. The Ukrainians either knew how to use them, or they could be trained very quickly. They could be quite effective on the ground.

And remember, the other criteria here is the fear of escalation. The administration looks at these weapons and says, look, these are defensive weapons we’re sending to Ukraine to help propel this illegal invasion. We don’t believe these can be considered by Moscow, no matter what the Kremlin says, as offensive weaponry. And so we think this is an appropriate type of weapon to send that they can use right away that’ll have an effect.

We realize Zelenskyy is asking for a lot. But this is what we can send right now that makes a difference right away.

sabrina tavernise

OK. So they get these shoulder fired things, the javelins, the stingers, but not the big stuff, no fighter Jets.

eric schmitt

That’s right. Things like fighter Jets or longer range missiles, things like that that could strike inside of Russia itself, these are seen as kind of no-go red lines for the Biden administration, as they still are trying to calculate the risk of escalation spiraling out of control with the Russians. They don’t know where Putin’s red lines really are, so they’re being cautious. And sometimes they’re being criticized for that caution. But that’s how they move about this.

sabrina tavernise

So, Eric, what’s the next stage or phase as we’ve been talking about? Like, how do things evolve from here?

eric schmitt

Well, it turns out that the stingers and the javelins have their intended effect. The Ukrainians are able to use these weapons to shoot down combat aircraft that are attacking cities like Kyiv. They’re able to take out an astonishing number of Russian tanks with the javelins. And so they’re, over the first several weeks, they’re able to actually repel this Russian invasion.

And it turns out to be a total disaster for the Russians, so much so that they have to basically pull their troops out of the North and basically regroup and move around to an area of the Eastern part of the country called the Donbas.

sabrina tavernise

Right.

eric schmitt

And that has a meaningful impact on how this war is going to be fought because the battlefield is now changed. Unlike the urban areas where the initial weeks of the war was fought, the Donbas region is much more wide open plains. I mean, think Kansas, for instance. And so the war is now going to be waged in this much different environment. And it’s an environment that puts Russia at a big advantage because they can use some of their best and most plentiful weaponry they’ve got, long-range artillery shells, and just tens of thousands of these shells that basically rain down on the Ukrainian forces on the other end of this.

And the problem is that the Ukrainians, they’ve got artillery too, because they’re using a lot of former Russian stuff. But their artillery typically doesn’t reach as far as the Russian artillery does. So once again, Zelensky goes to the West and says, hey, I need more. I need more.

But again, the West, the Biden administration and Western allies, go back and they’re making a calculation, saying, we’re not going to give you all of these things. We’re going to try and give you something that will allow you to specifically deal with Russia’s long-range artillery. And that weapon system is something known as HIMARS.

sabrina tavernise

Remind us what the HIMARS are.

eric schmitt

Yeah. The HIMARS is this kind of longer range artillery system that can fire multiple rockets up to 50 miles. But again, the concern was that these not be overly provocative. So the administration actually adjusted these HIMARS so that the range that they could use them in, strike targets, would be still within Russian-occupied Ukraine. They would not be used to strike targets inside of Russia itself.

sabrina tavernise

Interesting.

eric schmitt

Think about the Goldilocks approach. Here, it’s long enough to hit new targets that will disrupt this new kind of Russian offensive, but not so long that they could actually strike inside of Russia and provoke perhaps even a nuclear response from the Russian military. This is all again, calibrated.

They’re learning — the administration and the West is learning — what are Putin’s red lines? They’re doing something they would never have done early on. But they’re learning along the way that they can take a little bit more risk in providing these kind of weapons with certain modifications on them that will help the Ukrainians push back.

sabrina tavernise

And, Eric, how does it change the war? What difference do the HIMARS make?

eric schmitt

So the HIMARS are important because these are very precision weapons. They’re GPS guided. And so unlike regular artillery, which just hits in a general vicinity, these are hitting very specific command posts, very specific ammunition depots. And the effect is almost immediate, the Ukrainians say.

And they sense kind of disarray in the Russian ranks because they had gotten complacent, thinking that their rear lines were safe. And now, it’s not. It almost immediately blunted this artillery offensive that the Russians were pushing forward with and looked like they had a real dramatic advantage of. So again, this evolution of the weapons now has given the Ukrainians the ability to start pushing back on the Russian offensive in a way they didn’t have before.

sabrina tavernise

Got it. OK, so there’s this new momentum for the Ukrainians, partly because of the HIMARS. How do the Russians respond? Because it seems like the kind of thing that the Russians would see as a pretty big escalation on the part of the United States.

eric schmitt

That’s right. First of all, they pull back. They have to kind of take up more defensive positions. But now they start firing on the civilian infrastructure in cities like Kyiv and the electrical grid. And they basically say, OK, you’re going to go after our forces on the ground, but we’re also going to take this fight to a different level. We’re going to go after the civilian population and hoping to break the Ukrainian will that way. If not necessarily on the battlefield, we will take it directly to the citizens and make their lives as miserable and bleak as possible.

sabrina tavernise

That was a serious escalation when Russia started to punch out the power infrastructure all over Ukraine. It wasn’t escalating to a nuclear conflict as some people were worried about. But it did make a serious big, new problem for Ukraine. So what happened next? What did the Ukrainians ask for?

eric schmitt

So what happened next, Sabrina, was that the Russian attacks on the infrastructure actually even increase even more after some really humiliating setbacks the Russians suffered in the northern area of Kharkiv and the southern city of Kherson. This so angered the Russians that they stepped up their attacks by Iranian drones that they had purchased, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles.

And the problem with these systems was that many of these missiles are being fired by Russian bombers that are inside of Russian airspace.

sabrina tavernise

Wow. That’s so far away.

eric schmitt

Yeah. So the Ukrainians, even though they seemed to have gained some momentum on the battlefield, they really seem to be losing the war at home, in that their cities are under attack, and winter is coming. It’s cold. The electrical grid is going out. Water doesn’t work.

It’s a devastating in effect. And they put out a call for air defenses. And it’s a whole array of different systems that the Ukrainians are asking for from the United States and other Western countries.

sabrina tavernise

And air defenses meaning what? What are they asking for exactly?

eric schmitt

These are systems that are basically things that can either knock down, jam, or otherwise thwart, whether it’s drones that are flying in that you can knock down or confuse, or missiles that can shoot down incoming missiles. The principle, the gold standard of these air defense system is something called the Patriot missile system. This is something that’s been around for decades. And they’re some of the most coveted defensive weapon systems in the American arsenal.

sabrina tavernise

OK. So we’re talking about weapons that Biden has now, several times, refused to send. So how does he respond? I mean, when the Ukrainians ask him for these Patriot missiles, what’s his response?

eric schmitt

Well, the administration is really forced into a difficult position because they see the destruction playing out before their very eyes. It’s the immense human toll, the casualties on the ground, the imagery coming from these damaged buildings. So there is a vigorous debate within the administration.

You have advisors to the president urging him to go ahead and send these Patriot missiles, even though it’s going to take several months for the Ukrainians to learn how to use and operate them. You have others that are warning that there are other systems, maybe other countries could give their Patriot missiles to them because the United States needs them. There’s their own concern about US combat readiness.

The president is having to weigh all this. And he’s also obviously hearing from President Zelenskyy over and over again — I need your help. I need your help. My cities are being destroyed before your very eyes.

So ultimately, Biden decides that, yes, he is going to send the Patriot missiles to Ukraine. And he decides that the time to announce that should coincide with a visit to Washington that President Zelenskyy is secretly planning to make at the end of December. It would be his first trip outside of Ukraine since the war began. So on Wednesday, December 21, just as Zelenskyy is arriving in DC from this long overnight flight —

archived recording (joe biden)

Well, Mr. President, it’s good to have you back. Delighted that you were able to make the trip.

eric schmitt

Biden unveils this massive spending package.

archived recording (joe biden)

We’re going to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, particularly air defense. And that’s why we’re going to be providing Ukraine with Patriot missile battery.

eric schmitt

It includes the Patriot missiles.

archived recording (volodymyr zelenskyy)

All my appreciation from my heart, from the heart of Ukraine as all Ukraines.

eric schmitt

And there’s an entire day full of pomp and circumstance in Washington, with Zelensky meeting with Biden and his top aides.

archived recording 4

Members of Congress —

archived recording (volodymyr zelenskyy)

I think it’s too much.

archived recording 4

I think it is.

eric schmitt

And speaking in front of a jam-packed Congress to thunderous applause —

archived recording (volodymyr zelenskyy)

We have artillery, yes. Thank you.

eric schmitt

— Where Zelenskyy both thanks to the United States for all that it has done —

archived recording (volodymyr zelenskyy)

But for the Russian army to completely pull out, more cannons and shells are needed.

eric schmitt

— but also ask for more help.

archived recording (volodymyr zelenskyy)

We stand. We fight. And we will win because we are united, Ukraine, America, and the entire free world.

[APPLAUSE]

eric schmitt

And it’s a very clear and public signal that the US is standing behind Ukraine and is ready to escalate its support to a whole new level. And it’s a clear message to Putin that the US isn’t backing down.

sabrina tavernise

So what was Russia’s response to the US sending Ukraine these Patriot missiles?

eric schmitt

Well, Putin actually addressed this directly at a news conference in late December.

archived recording 6

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

eric schmitt

He was actually dismissive of the Patriot, calling it an old system that they would basically work around.

archived recording (vladimir putin)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

eric schmitt

But clearly, it was important to bully the Ukrainian spirits that they know they were going to get this system even though it was going to be a few months away. But meantime, the Russian attacks have continued, with a vicious attack on Dnipro, an apartment building that killed dozens of people just last weekend. So the assault on the cities continues, even as the combat, with the exception of a couple of places, essentially stalemated along this hundreds of miles of front lines.

sabrina tavernise

It seems like there’s a pattern here, right? I mean, basically, Ukraine asked for some sort of weapon. The Biden administration debates whether to provide that weapon, and eventually does provide that weapon. And that decision allows Ukraine to fight back against Russia in a new way, which then causes Russia to have to change its tactics to deal with that new weapon. And that sets off a whole new cycle of exactly the same thing.

eric schmitt

That’s right. We’ve seen this through these phases. We’ve described whether it’s just the initial defensive phase to pushing back on the artillery, and now, we’ve come to the next phase of this, which is what kind of new combat power can the West rush to Ukraine that they can learn to operate it quickly that will make a difference on the battlefield?

sabrina tavernise

And what kind of weapon are we talking about, Eric, and from whom?

eric schmitt

So the next weapon that the West, the United States is going to be sending are infantry fighting vehicles. They’re armored vehicles. They can fire cannons on Russian positions. But most importantly, these are an upgrade to what the Ukrainians already have. They have some of their own armored vehicles of their own, but they’ve been shot up over the course of the war.

And this happened in early January, where three countries did commit dozens of these armored fighting vehicles. And they’re coming from the United States. They’re coming from Germany. They’re coming from Britain.

But what this commitment did was it opened a larger discussion about, OK, what has the Ukraine really been asking for — battle tanks, massive tanks that can crunch through Russian defenses much more effectively, long-range cannons, and indeed, just in the last several days, the British have announced that they will send just over a dozen of their challenger battle tanks. And this is all seen as a way of hopefully putting pressure on the largest single European supplier of battle tanks, Germany.

We’re really going to see this come to a head on Friday when there was a very important meeting of senior defense and military officials at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. And the main subject that’s going to be on the table is battle tanks and specifically, whether Germany, which manufactures have very effective tank, called the Leopard tank, will either donate tanks of its own — and it has hundreds and hundreds of these tanks — or allow countries that it’s sold Leopard tanks to that have said they will donate their German tanks to Ukraine if Germany gives them permission to.

So far, it has resisted. It has not wanted to be in the lead in sending offensive weaponry to Ukraine to fight against Russia. But it’s coming under increasing pressure from its allies, such as Britain, to at least let countries that have German tanks give those tanks to Ukraine so they can use them in the fight against Russia. And that’s kind of where we are in the war. And it kind of gives you an insight into where people think this very important moment is that if they don’t seize upon this right now, if they allow Russia more time to mobilize, the opportunity for Ukraine to punch through and gain back more territory would be lost.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

sabrina tavernise

We’ll be right back.

So, Eric, I’ve been watching this war as you know, from the beginning. And if you’d asked me even a few months ago, I would have said that the future was this war kind of ending up in some frozen state. And eventually, the real effort would be the West trying to get both sides to come to the negotiating table.

But instead, it’s just been this incredible ramping up by the West of weapons, crossing red line after red line that they, themselves, had drawn. So why is the West doing this?

eric schmitt

Well, I think there’s several reasons, Sabrina. I think it’s largely, as conditions on the battlefield have changed, the Pentagon and the rest of the Biden administration and Western allies have had to change along with it. As you said, red line after red line have fallen over these last several months. In part, it’s because the Ukrainians have showed they can use the weaponry and the arms that the US and the Western Allies send them. They can use them very responsibly and effectively and sometimes, ingeniously.

We’ve also seen over time that perhaps, the concerns about Russian escalation have become somewhat more muted. There’s less anxiety about Russian escalation as the West presses forward and kind of sees what the reaction is from the Kremlin and what they actually do and how much risk can be taken. They learn more about the decision-making process of the Russians right now.

And then I think there’s just also, frankly, the opportunity here, where they see that a year’s long stalemated war is just not in anybody’s favor, except for Russia’s, really.

sabrina tavernise

Right.

eric schmitt

It’s certainly not in Ukraine’s favor. So really, there is an increasingly calls for, what does it take to allow Ukraine to win, not just not to lose.

sabrina tavernise

But what does winning look like in the perspective of the West?

eric schmitt

Well, that’s the big question, Sabrina, because if you listen to Zelenskyy, he’s saying winning means taking back all territory that the Russians seize going back to 2014, even the Crimean Peninsula, which many believe is very difficult to do militarily. And that might actually cross a red line.

The administration officials have certainly said it’s more realistic, although still difficult, to retake territory that was seized since last February, since the Russian invasion. Biden administration officials and other top Western government leaders have been very careful to say that the definition of winning really is up to the Ukrainians. But that’s only half the story.

Yes, it’s true in terms of how far the Ukraines can push on the ground. They’re the ones fighting and dying for this. But they also rely so heavily on Western military aid, on Western economic aid. And as a question, just how long can the US and its allies sustain both of those in a prolonged conflict? And so there will be a voice that the West has in the end.

sabrina tavernise

So if the West isn’t aligned with Ukraine on what the end looks like, how does it see the end? I mean, at what point does the West say, no more, we’re done?

eric schmitt

Well again, the public commitments are that the US will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. Privately however, there’s concern about just how long the domestic support in the United States or in Western countries will remain high for the Ukrainians. And that’s where we’re coming to this point where people are willing to take, and talk about taking more risk, certainly much more risk than they would have taken at the beginning of the war, but even more risk than they would have taken just a few months ago to try and empower the Ukrainians to break through, to demonstrate to the Russians they can take back more territory, and thus to put them in a better position down the road for some kind of eventual settlement with the Russians, which is still, at best, months and months away right now. But that’s kind of the outlook that Americans are looking at.

sabrina tavernise

So, Eric, are there any red lines left, I mean, any weapons that the administration is saying, as of this moment, they won’t give in on?

eric schmitt

There are few, Sabrina. Right now, it looks like the administration is still dug in it will not send American battle tanks, the so-called Abrams tanks. They guzzle too much gas. They’re too hard to maintain. And particularly if there’s a German alternative available, that’s what they want to do.

Fighter Jets are also off the table for now, although they haven’t ruled them out for longer term. But more immediately, most interestingly, the next weapon system that may be sent is something called ATACMS.

sabrina tavernise

ATACMS?

eric schmitt

ATACMS — this is a longer range missile, perhaps twice or longer the range of the HIMARS, which could obviously, because of that range, strike targets inside of Russia itself —

sabrina tavernise

Oh, wow.

eric schmitt

— which of course, is a huge red line. And that’s one of the main reasons why the United States has not provided these longer range missiles to the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians have promised that if the Americans give them ATACMS, they will not strike into Russia. So the next big test of course, of this trust that’s been growing and evolving over the last several months is whether the US would entrust these new longer weapon systems that would be able to hit all kinds of Russian targets, because the US still does not know exactly what Putin’s red lines are.

So the Biden administration’s caution, a caution which they’ve been criticized for, is probably still going to be very much in place until a decision is made that it’s worth the risk to help the Ukrainians push forward at this important moment.

sabrina tavernise

Eric, is there an argument to be made that the West should have given all the big guns right from the start so Ukraine could have quashed the Russians right away, knowing that Russia would not have responded with nuclear weapons, as we see now, rather than what we did, which was to have this drag on?

eric schmitt

Well certainly, that’s been an argument of the administration’s critics, that they’ve been too slow to provide all these arms and equipment that they’ve eventually provided anyway. But also, you have to take into consideration, as we’ve discussed before, what’s the capability of the Ukrainians? They had to demonstrate that they could basically get on a learning curve. And they’ve done so.

With each progressive weapon system, they’ve adapted. They’ve trained faster than people thought. They’ve utilized them in the field more effectively than people thought. And so they’ve won over many of their skeptics in the American military and elsewhere that said, well, I don’t know if we can trust them to give these weapons, or they’re not capable of doing this. They’ve proved their skeptics wrong time and time again. And I think that’s what’s helped contribute to have these red lines fall as consistently as they have up to this point.

sabrina tavernise

But, I guess, Eric, having been a war correspondent, as you know, I have spent a lot of time thinking about conflict. And it strikes me that as the months go on and we increase these weapons supplies, bigger and stronger ones, there are fewer and fewer places to go in terms of increase. Right? We’ve ticked up a lot.

And at the same time, the risk is greater, a risk that we will trip over one of Putin’s red lines and spark a nuclear conflict. So in a way, it turns out that Ukraine doing better and potentially being able to win this war, has led to a place of greater risk.

eric schmitt

I think that’s right, because they have to take the chance and pushing through now because that’s their real only opportunity to try and come out of this without the increased threat of having this threat of Russia constantly hanging over them. But again, what Putin’s red lines are, are opaque. And that’s what makes all these decisions in this calculus so challenging for the West, because they don’t want to inadvertently do something that will make the war even worse than it is. But if they do too little, they know they’re going to be solidifying the gains for Russia, and they’ll lose the opportunity to help Ukraine prevail in this conflict

sabrina tavernise

Eric, thank you.

eric schmitt

Thank you, Sabrina. [MUSIC PLAYING]

sabrina tavernise

Here’s what else you should know today. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced it would lay off 10,000 workers, the latest in a growing list of big technology companies that have announced plans for workforce reductions. In the past few years, the tech industry grew more rapidly than it had in decades, as Microsoft and other tech companies hired frenetically to meet the surge in demand for online services during the pandemic. For Microsoft, the cuts amount to less than 5 percent of its global workforce.

And a helicopter carrying senior Ukrainian officials crashed in a Kyiv suburb, killing more than a dozen people, among them, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs and his top deputy. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. The minister, Denys Monastyrsky, had been a close political ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who, in an address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called for a minute of silence to honor those who were killed and asked countries gathered there to move faster to support his country’s war effort.

Today’s episode was produced by Rachel Quester, Michael Simon Johnson, and Luke Vander Ploeg with help from Rachelle Bonja. It was edited by Lexi Diao and Paige Cowett and was engineered by Marian Lozano. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. We’ll see you tomorrow.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

An Orthodox Epiphany ritual offers ‘healing’ for Ukrainians coping with nearly a year of war.

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Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
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Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
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Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Across Ukraine on Thursday, Orthodox Christians plunged into frigid lakes, ponds and rivers to mark Epiphany, taking part in an annual rite that marks the end of the country’s monthlong festive period.

Epiphany, as celebrated across the Eastern Orthodox world, commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ. Many mark the occasion by dipping themselves into cold waters — a purifying tradition that this year felt particularly meaningful for some in Ukraine, where war has turned lives upside down for the past 11 months.

On Thursday afternoon, crowds gathered at a pond and a lake in Polyanytsya, a small village in western Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains, as a misty fog clung to the pine-covered slopes. The weather was warmer than usual, as it has been in much of Europe, and the snow that typically coats the nearby ski slopes has yet to materialize this season.

Often the pond is covered in ice, but not this year. On the shore, a priest held a small ceremony, sprinkling holy water that mixed with the raindrops falling from the clouds overhead, and celebrants stripped down to shorts and swimsuits for their ritual immersion.

At the lake, Taras Bihus, a 29-year-old soldier who had recently returned to the area from fighting on the frontline, crossed himself as he walked slowly into the water. He emerged with a heavy exhale, slapping his arms and legs.

“It’s healing for the body and healing for the mind,” Mr. Bikus said.

Ukraine says it will take time to determine the cause of a helicopter crash that killed 14 people.

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Credit...Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Ukraine has established a commission to investigate the cause of a helicopter crash that killed 14 people including the country’s interior minister this week, an Air Force spokesman said on Thursday, but it will likely take weeks to reach a conclusion.

The helicopter came down on Wednesday near a kindergarten and a residential building in Brovary, a small town outside Kyiv, causing severe damage and panic among parents and children who were at the school. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine described it as a “terrible tragedy.”

The interior minister, Denys Monastyrsky, was one of Mr. Zelensky’s trusted advisers. The crash left a void at the top of the ministry just as Kyiv prepares for a possible Russian offensive in the spring and endures a barrage of missile and drone attacks on its energy infrastructure.

Ukraine will send six survivors of the crash abroad for treatment for burns, the deputy health minister, Iryna Mykychak, said. The six, who include children, are “the most difficult and complex cases” after the crash, she said, though she added in an appearance on Ukrainian television that “none of them is in a critical or life-threatening condition.”

They had already been transferred to a burn unit at a hospital in the capital, she said, giving no details about their onward destination. In all, 25 people were being treated in the hospital, including 11 children, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said on Wednesday.

The officials aboard the helicopter had been traveling to a combat zone, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office. Also killed, according to Ukraine’s Parliament, were Yevhen Yenin, the first deputy minister for internal affairs; and Yurii Lubkovich, the ministry’s state secretary.

The precise cause of the crash — whether mechanical failure, pilot error, environmental factors or sabotage — remains unknown. Yurii Ihnat, an Air Force spokesman, said on Ukrainian television on Thursday that an investigative commission would “take a lot of time” to reach its conclusion.

“Each part of the helicopter is collected, each detail can say something, give more information on what had happened,” he said. “It is not a matter of several days. It is necessary to fully establish, find out the details of what happened on that day.”

The crash came as Kyiv renews a diplomatic push for some of the most lethal armaments from allies, who worry that Ukraine’s military lacks time to break a deadlock with Russian forces before Moscow launches another ground assault.

Mr. Monastyrsky, the highest-ranking Ukrainian government official to die since Russia invaded in February, oversaw tens of thousands of Ukrainians fighting to defend their country as part of the police, national guard and border units.

He also directed the rescue and recovery efforts this week in Dnipro, where a Russian missile killed 45 people in one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in the nearly yearlong war.

In his nightly address on Wednesday, Mr. Zelensky said that Mr. Monastyrsky’s responsibilities had been reallocated and that the country’s head of national police, Ihor Klymenko, would lead the ministry until a replacement is chosen.

At Davos, calls for unity on Ukraine come easier, thanks to European resilience on energy.

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Credit...Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

DAVOS, Switzerland — Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany offered a robust expression of solidarity with Ukraine at the World Economic Forum this week, a stance reflecting not only the imperative of repelling a brutal aggressor but also palpable relief that Europe has not been crippled by Russia’s war.

Mr. Scholz was among several European officials who trekked to the frigid, snow-covered streets of the Alpine ski resort where the forum is held to express confidence that Europe was withstanding the sudden loss of Russian energy supplies. By diversifying rapidly into alternate energy sources and bolstering efforts to conserve, he said, the Germans had staved off the danger of homes losing heat or electricity.

“I can say that our energy supply for this winter is secure,” Mr. Scholz said to a receptive audience at the annual gathering. “Thanks to well-filled storage facilities, thanks to improved energy efficiency, thanks to remarkable solidarity within Europe, and thanks to the readiness of our companies and of millions of citizens to save energy.”

The chancellor made no mention of another pressing matter: whether Germany will send battlefield tanks to Ukraine. The German government is widely expected to announce its decision on Friday after its officials meet with American and other allies at the Ramstein Air Base in western Germany.

Mr. Scholz has come under escalating pressure from Britain and other countries to send Leopard 2 tanks, and to give other countries that own the German-made tanks the greenlight to do so, too. But Germany has been reluctant, fearing that they could lead to a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces. And important questions remain unanswered, among them whether any German commitment would be linked to a commitment by the United States.

Among those piling on the pressure at Davos was Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who called on the West to speed up aid. “The time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill,” he said via a video link from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

The timing of his appearance was a stark reminder of the dangers Ukrainian leaders face. He asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims of a helicopter crash in a suburb of Kyiv, who included Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs and more than a dozen others.

The speeches by Mr. Scholz and Mr. Zelensky came during a frenetic week of diplomacy — in Davos and in foreign capitals — as Ukraine appealed to the West for tanks, air defense missiles and other advanced weapons. Its goal is to reinforce its battlefield position ahead of a potential new Russian offensive.

An event for Ukraine becomes one of the hottest tickets at Davos.

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Credit...Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA, via Shutterstock

DAVOS, Switzerland — There’s very little to laugh about when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine. But Britain’s former prime minister, Boris Johnson, provided a rare moment of levity amid the solemn pledges of support for Ukraine from political leaders and corporate titans attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.

On Thursday, Mr. Johnson was at a breakfast for Ukraine, which became one of the biggest draws at the gathering. He listened as Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister, used a hockey metaphor, which she credited to the Canadian superstar Wayne Gretzky, to describe why the West should do more for Ukraine.

When Ms. Freeland had finished, Mr. Johnson leaned into his microphone and said, “Tell Putin to get the puck out of Ukraine.”

The room erupted in laughter, a brief moment of light relief at a gathering that has been otherwise consumed by sober questions, like whether Germany will send Leopard 2 tanks, or whether investors like Goldman Sachs and BlackRock will pour billions of dollars into the reconstruction of Ukraine. (Their bosses say yes, though BlackRock’s chief executive, Larry Fink, added that investors were entitled to a “fair and just return.”)

Ukraine has long had a lively presence at the World Economic Forum, thanks largely to the efforts of Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire who has drawn A-list politicians and business people to a breakfast gathering there for many years.

Now that his country’s survival commands the world’s headlines, the breakfast is a bona fide news event. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte; President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry; and current and former American senators were all on hand. The crowd of several hundred spilled into the hallway outside.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine attended the event via a video link, and thanked steadfast supporters of Ukraine like Mr. Johnson, who as prime minister made Britain an early contributor of weapons to Ukrainian troops. With Germany still deciding whether to send tanks, Mr. Zelensky urged Europe not to dawdle.

“This is not a cinema where you wait for the film to start,” he said.

Mr. Johnson, who became friends with Mr. Zelensky over four visits to Ukraine during his time in office, picked up the Ukrainian president’s theme. Mr. Johnson dismissed fears — expressed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and at times by Mr. Biden — that heavier weapons could escalate the conflict, risking a direct clash between Russia and NATO.

“Give them the tanks,” Mr. Johnson said. “There’s absolutely nothing to be lost.”

The U.S. and Israel condemn Lavrov’s comments on the Holocaust.

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Credit...Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

The United States and Israel have condemned comments made by Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in which he likened Western nations’ actions against Moscow’s war in Ukraine to the Holocaust.

“Our first reaction is how dare he compare anything to the Holocaust, anything, let alone a war that they started,” John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, told reporters at a press briefing on Wednesday, referring to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago.

Mr. Lavrov said at an annual news conference on Wednesday that the United States had gathered a coalition of European countries that is using Ukraine as a proxy to solve “the Russian question.” He compared such actions to those of Adolf Hitler, “who sought a final solution to the ‘Jewish question.’”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called Mr. Lavrov’s remarks “unacceptable.” It said in a statement that relating current events to the Holocaust — the systematic killing of millions of European Jews — “distorts the historical truth, desecrates the memory of those who perished and the survivors” and should be “strongly rejected.”

Ariel Muzicant, the president of the European Jewish Congress, an organization that represents Jewish groups across the continent, said in a statement that Mr. Lavrov’s remarks were “Holocaust distortion at its most basic level.”

It is not the first time Mr. Lavrov has drawn ire for such comments. Last May, Israel condemned his assertion that Jews were “the biggest antisemites” and his false claim that Hitler had Jewish roots.

“This is not the first time the minister has used Holocaust equivalence and Hitler references,” Mr. Musicant said. “This must stop.”

Israel has walked a fine line during Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although it has expressed support for Kyiv, it has also tried to avoid damaging relations with Russia, which has a large military presence in Syria, Israel’s neighbor.

In March, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was also criticized in Israel when, in a virtual address to the country’s Parliament, he compared the suffering of Ukrainians in the war to that of Jews during the Holocaust.

Patrick Kingsley and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

Ukraine urges the U.N.’s atomic watchdog to impose sanctions on Russia’s state nuclear firm.

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Credit...Nacho Doce/Reuters

Ukraine’s prime minister has urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to impose sanctions on Russia’s state nuclear firm as the atomic agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, stations experts at Ukraine’s nuclear power plants to provide stability in the face of Russian attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure.

The call from the official, Denys Shmyhal, aimed to increase pressure on Russia, which has seized control of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex and whose strikes briefly forced Ukraine’s three other nuclear facilities to disconnect their reactors from the electricity grid in November.

Russia’s invasion and its monthslong campaign of strikes on energy infrastructure have made Ukraine a critical focus for the International Atomic Energy Agency and a challenge for its director, Rafael Mariano Grossi, who was in the country this week for the latest in a series of visits.

“We continue to insist on restricting Russia’s rights and privileges at the I.A.E.A. and terminating cooperation with Russia in the nuclear sector,” Mr. Shmyhal said on Wednesday. His comments were carried by Ukraine’s Pravda news website.

The United States, European countries and others have imposed waves of sanctions on Russia but none directly on its state nuclear company, Rosatom.

The agency’s experts will monitor the plants for physical integrity, safety and security, and will check on conditions for workers, Mr. Grossi said in a briefing this week at the Rivne nuclear plant in western Ukraine. He described the presence of the experts as “essential,” not least to inform the international community about any potential problems.

In a country that suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl in 1986, the focus in Ukraine now is on the Zaporizhzhia complex. Russian troops seized it early in the invasion, effectively turning it into a battle zone.

Russia has stationed troops at the complex, and the Ukrainian authorities have accused them of using its grounds to shell surrounding towns. Each side has blamed the other for shelling that has damaged the complex’s infrastructure, including power lines and a storage area for spent nuclear fuel.

All six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia complex have been cycled down as a precaution, and I.A.E.A. inspectors have been monitoring safety and security there since September. Mr. Grossi’s mission this week was to station inspectors at the other plants and to push to establish a safety and security zone around the Zaporizhzhia complex.

Since seizing the plant, Russian forces have detained and interrogated its Ukrainian operators, and tried to push them to sign contracts with Rosatom.

The head of Ukraine’s nuclear company, Energoatom, said on Tuesday in comments carried by the Interfax Ukraine news website that about 650 of the up to 3,000 people currently working at the plant had signed the contracts.