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Putin once pledged not to kill Zelenskyy, ex-Israeli leader says; Ukraine expects to get jets from West: Live updates

Ukraine leaders on Sunday dismissed as "lies" a pledge reportedly made by Russian President Vladimir Putin not to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Naftali Bennett, whose brief run as Israel's prime minister ended in June, met with Putin in Moscow less than two weeks after Russia's Feb. 24 invasion trying to mediate an end to hostilities.

“He gave me two great concessions,” Bennett said in an interview with Israeli journalist Hanoch Daum released late Saturday. “I said, ‘Do you intend to kill Zelenskyy?’ He said, ‘I won’t kill Zelenskyy."

Putin also agreed not to demand that Ukraine disarm, Bennett said. He said he immediately relayed the information to Zelenskyy, who promised not to join NATO. Both sides have moved away from those positions.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed Putin's pledge, tweeting that Putin has previously made promises not to occupy Crimea and not to invade Ukraine.

"Do not be fooled," Kuleba said of Putin. "He is an expert liar."

Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podoliak also rejected the claims, tweeting that the Russian invasion "isn’t about NATO expansion, security guarantees or sanctions, it's (Russia's) desire to destroy & kill Ukrainians."

AMERICAN KILLED: Ukraine mourns American Daniel Swift, killed in combat; Britain won't send fighter jets: Live updates

A woman walks out from a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket, in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 5, 2023.
A woman walks out from a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket, in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 5, 2023.

Other developments:

►Putin’s ambitions do not end with the conquest of Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly warned. "He wants to upend world politics and call time on the international order," Cleverly said. "And if he succeeds, he will drag us all back to an age of violence and conquest.''

►Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said four people were injured Sunday when a Russian S-300 missile fell near an apartment block in Kharkiv city, and another was hurt when a missile hit a university building.

►In the Black Sea port of Odesa, workers labored to connect temporary generators after the city was plunged into darkness following a large-scale network failure that grid operator Ukrenergo blamed on equipment “repeatedly repaired” after Russian strikes.

Zelenskyy warns Russia plans to soon seek revenge for battlefield defeats

Russia wants to avenge its battlefield losses from last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the country Sunday, warning that such attempt at reprisal may come this month.

"There are already many reports that the occupiers want to do something symbolic in February,'' Zelenskyy said, pointing to signs both on the frontline and "in the information field.'"

A counteroffensive that began in late summer allowed Ukraine to recapture more than 50% of the territory Russia claimed earlier in the war — including most of Kharkiv province in the north and the southern city of Kherson — handing the Kremlin embarrassing defeats. The countries are now battling over the Donetsk province in the east, and the fighting is expected to become even more intense as the weather warms.

"We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and win,'' Zelenskyy said.

Russia gaining ground near crucial city of Bakhmut

Over the past week, Russia has made "small advances in its attempt to encircle" the crucial Donbas town of Bakhmut, the British Defense Ministry said in its latest assessment of the war. The two main roads into the city for Ukrainian defenders are likely now both threatened by direct fire, the assessment says.

Earlier in the week, Russian paramilitary forces "highly likely" seized a subordinate route linking Bakhmut to the town of Siversk. "While multiple alternative cross-country supply routes remain available to Ukrainian forces, Bakhmut is increasingly isolated," the assessment said.

Bakhmut is considered an important link in the supply line for both sides seeking control of the city of 75,000 people. Unfettered access would be key to gaining control of the Donetsk region, which Russia has claimed to annex but thus far has not been able to fully occupy.

Russia controls almost all of neighboring Luhansk, which along with Donetsk makes up the industrial Donbas region Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said is a primary objective of the war.

Ukraine expects to get fighter jets from West

Western nations will probably grant Ukraine's request for warplanes soon, despite recent public rejections from President Joe Biden and other world leaders, Ukraine’s defense minister said Sunday.

Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine has already received everything from its “wish list to Santa,” except planes. “There will be planes, too," he added.

Reznikov said the planes are crucial if Ukraine is to repel a Russian offensive he predicted could begin around the war's one-year anniversary, Feb. 24. Biden said Monday at the White House that the U.S. won't provide F-16s to Ukraine. Britain also has rejected the request for planes.

If that changes, Reznikov might not be at his current post by the time it happens. He will probably be replaced as early as this week by Kyrylo Budanov, the head of military intelligence, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

The news outlet added that Reznikov would remain in the administration.

A man looks at objects at a flea market in Kyiv, Ukraine.
A man looks at objects at a flea market in Kyiv, Ukraine.

New attempts by G-7, EU to limit Russian oil gains

Two days after the Group of Seven nations agreed to a $100-a-barrel price cap on diesel fuel and other refined oil products from Russia, the European Union imposed a ban on them in an attempt to deny Russian President Vladimir Putin's government resources for his war in Ukraine.

The EU, which has tentatively agreed to the price cap, is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian oil while joining other Western nations in punishing the Kremlin for invading Ukraine.

At the same time, the Western powers are avoiding blocking the flow of Russian diesel to countries like China and India to prevent a spike in prices that would hurt consumers worldwide.

In December, the G-7 nations imposed a $60-a-barrel price cap on Russian crude oil.

Contributing: The Associate Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine Russia live updates: Putin once pledged not to kill Zelenskyy