Ukraine live briefing: France to train and equip several Ukrainian battalions with armored vehicles and light tanks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a news conference in Berlin. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)
6 min

BERLIN — Following his visit to Germany, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise stop in Paris, where he and French President Emmanuel Macron had dinner Sunday night.

The two leaders later announced that France plans to train and equip several Ukrainian battalions with “tens” of armored vehicles and light tanks in coming weeks. A joint declaration from the countries said France “remains unwavering in its commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”

The visit to France came after a news conference earlier Sunday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during which Zelensky described a new German defense package as “a very strong pillar of support” and thanked Germany “for every life in Ukraine you saved.” Germany’s initial reluctance to provide Ukraine with its Leopard 2 battle tanks prompted backlash from other Western allies. But on Saturday, the government announced a fresh $2.95 billion in military aid for Kyiv. The latest package is likely to include 30 Leopard 2 tanks, at least 100 other armored vehicles, 200 reconnaissance drones and ammunition, according to a top Ukrainian official.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • France will offer political, financial, humanitarian and military support to Ukraine for as long as needed, Macron said in a statement after the meeting with Zelensky. He praised Ukraine’s armed forces and civilians, saying they are not only defending their country, but also contributing to the security of Europe.
  • Scholz said Germany would support Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” at the news conference with Zelensky on Sunday morning. “This is about fighting back an attack on Ukrainian territory,” he said. Rejecting a characterization of ties between Berlin and Kyiv as rocky, Scholz said, “We have very good relations.”
  • Zelensky also met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the trip, his first to the country since the Russian invasion began. “Germany will continue to support Ukraine politically, militarily and financially for as long as it is necessary,” Zelensky said on Telegram.
  • For the first time, Russia appeared to acknowledge Ukrainian claims of an advance in the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut. Russian troops retreated from some northwest positions in Bakhmut, according to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who described the move as a decision to “enhance defense lines.”

Battleground updates

  • Six people were killed in Russian attacks on Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram early Sunday. Ten high-rise buildings were damaged in the cities of Kostyantynivka and Kurakhove, he said, adding that more than a dozen people were wounded.
  • Russian forces deployed Shahed drones and missiles launched from the air and sea against targets across Ukraine, according to Ukrainian military officials, who said in an update early Sunday that more than 30 civilians were injured in the attacks. Ukrainian forces destroyed 25 drones and three missiles overnight, they added.
  • Two people were injured in attacks targeting the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil, Ukraine emergency services said, which is also the hometown of Ukraine’s Eurovision act Tvorchi. Russian forces targeted a warehouse in the city with a cruise missile around the same time as Tvorchi’s performance at the song contest in Liverpool. A second attack followed in the early hours of Sunday, with no casualties reported.
  • The fighting strength of Russian armed forces in Ukraine has considerably diminished since the invasion began, according to the British Defense Ministry. “Now the force is mostly poorly trained mobilised reservists and increasingly reliant on antiquated equipment, with many of its units severely under-strength,” British officials said Sunday. Ahead of Ukraine’s much anticipated spring counteroffensive, British officials suggested Russian troops would be strained by any “large-scale military effect” across the 756-mile front.

Global impact

  • The Ukrainian leader received the International Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, Germany, on Sunday for “work done in the service of European unification.” The award was conceived shortly after World War II by people who wanted to see a more democratic and peaceful Europe. In a speech at the ceremony, Zelensky said Ukraine’s victory would be Europe’s, too: “Wherever our blue and yellow flag returns to the liberated land, Europe returns. Our Europe! The values return that you — just like us — defended on your squares and enshrined in your constitutions.” He also reiterated his call for Ukraine to be admitted to the European Union.
  • Ukraine’s reign at the Eurovision Song Contest ended Saturday when Swedish singer Loreen’s song “Tattoo” overtook 2022 winner Kalush Orchestra. Britain, last year’s runner-up, hosted the contest because Ukraine is still under invasion. Contestants representing 26 countries advanced to the final round, including Ukraine’s electronic music duo Tvorchi, who were selected from an underground bomb shelter. They performed “Heart of Steel,” written about the siege of the Mariupol steel plant a year ago.
  • Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, skipped a state celebration, adding to speculation about his health, the BBC reported. The 68-year-old leader usually speaks at the annual National Flag, Emblem and Anthem Day, but this year the prime minister read a message on his behalf. Last week, the BBC report said, “Lukashenko looked visibly tired, and his right hand was bandaged.” His office has not commented on his health status, the report said.
  • Key areas of the Russian economy should be nationalized to support the war effort, the head of the country’s federal crime agency suggested, according to Reuters. “We are essentially talking about economic security in a war,” said Alexander Bastrykin. He added that the main sectors of the economy should return to being state-owned.
  • South Africa is “actively nonaligned” on the war in Ukraine, a top adviser to President Cyril Ramaphosa said, according to Reuters. Security adviser Sydney Mufamadi said in an online briefing that “our contribution will always be calculated at helping the parties and everybody else to bring such conflicts to an end.” On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa accused Pretoria of facilitating a shipment of weapons and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

From our correspondents

Zelensky, in private, plots bold attacks inside Russia, leak shows: Ukraine’s president has cultivated a stoic, statesmanlike image in public, garnering praise from the country’s Western allies. But in private, John Hudson and Isabelle Khurshudyan report, he has shown an inclination for far more aggressive tactics, such as attacks inside Russian territory, according to previously undisclosed classified U.S. military documents.

The internal communications involving Zelensky and his top aides and military leaders suggest discussions about occupying villages in Russia for leverage against Moscow and bombing a pipeline transferring Russian oil to Hungary, a NATO member.

Masih reported from Seoul, Timsit from London, Sands from Marseille, France, and Javaid from Washington. Karla Adam contributed to this report from Liverpool, England.