(Bloomberg) -- European Union leaders approved plans to send Ukraine one million rounds of ammunition within 12 months during their meeting in Brussels. Four MiG-29 fighter jets have been transferred to Kyiv from Slovakia, of a total of 13 to be donated by the EU nation. 

Ukraine’s top commander hinted at a counteroffensive “very soon,” a day after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited front-line positions near the besieged city of Bakhmut, a focus of fierce battles with Russian forces in recent months. On Thursday, he toured Kherson in the south and spoke of that visit in his nightly address.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the powerful founder of the Wagner mercenary group, is preparing to scale back his private army’s operations in Ukraine after Russian military chiefs cut key supplies of men and ammunition, people familiar with the matter said.

Key Developments

  • Credit Suisse, UBS Among Banks Facing DOJ Russia-Sanctions Probe
  • Putin’s Mercenary Prigozhin Shifts Focus After Ukraine Setbacks
  • EU Eyes Funds of Up to €500 Million to Help Ammunition Firms 
  • US Fears a War-Weary World May Embrace China’s Ukraine Peace Bid
  • Russian National Escapes From Italian House Arrest, Lawyer Says

(All times CET)

Zelenskiy Says Residents Are Returning to Destroyed Villages (10:45 p.m.)

Zelenskiy said he had returned from a tour of Kherson in the south, where some 50 villages had been almost totally destroyed by the Russians. He added, however, that residents were coming back anyway. 

“In some places, more than 90% of the buildings in the villages are ruined. But even in such villages, people return, and this is proof that life still prevails,” he said in his nightly address on Thursday.

“I especially want to thank everyone involved in demining,” Zelenskiy added. It is nice to see when the fields of the Kherson region, cleared of Russian mines and shells, are cultivated again, live again.

Zelenskiy Urges EU to Convene ‘Peace Formula Summit’ in a World Capital (8:17 p.m.)

Zelenskiy urged European Union leaders to hold a “Peace Formula Summit” in “one of the world’s capitals” because convening it in Kyiv means not all the leaders could come.

“Wouldn’t this add to European global strength? Ir surely will,” Zelenskiy said in video remarks to EU leaders meeting in Brussels. 

Ukraine’s president also repeated his calls for long-range missiles and modern fighters jets as well as faster delivery of weapons and ammunition already pledged.

Ukraine Backs Down From Claim Russia Left Nova Kakhovka (7:21 p.m.)

Ukraine’s military retracted a claim that Russian troops left the southern Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, which would have been a surprise move amid Moscow’s attempts to advance in Ukraine’s east. It blamed inaccurate information it had received.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian army said on Facebook that “occupants are still in Nova Kakhovka. Information about the enemy leaving the city was published because the available data was not used correctly.”

Ukraine’s Naftogaz Opens New Gas Wells (4:32 p.m.)

Despite the continued war, Ukraine’s state-run energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy opened two new gas wells this month, said CEO Oleksiy Chernyshov. “We not only ensure the operation of our facilities, but also work on drilling new wells,” Chernyshov said. New technologies were implemented while developing hydrocarbon deposits, he said. 

Four Slovak Fighter Jets Handed Over to Ukraine (2:45 p.m.)

Kyiv received its first four MiG-29 jets from Slovakia on Thursday, and Ukrainian pilots flew the fighter jets. The rest of Slovakia’s Soviet-era war planes will be transported in upcoming weeks, defense minister Jaroslav Nad said in a statement.

Slovakia last week approved sending 13 MiG-29 jets to Ukraine as part of a broader military aid agreement.

Ukraine Says 140,000 Square Km of Its Territory Is Mined (2:44 p.m.)

The 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 square miles) that are mined is roughly twice the size of Ireland, and it’s almost impossible for Ukraine to demine them on its own, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a televised interview. 

She proposed an international anti-mine coalition that would help with clearing efforts focused in agricultural areas to make them safe for production, and on towns and villages that have been liberated from Russia. 

ICC to Open an Office in Ukraine (1:48 p.m.)

The Hague-based International Criminal Court signed an agreement with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office to establish an office in Ukraine, according to a statement on the court’s website. 

It would be the ninth field presence for the court and a “new chapter in close cooperation,” said Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said. Last week, the ICC pre-trial chamber issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Finland Doubles Leopard 2 Donation to Ukraine (1:21 p.m.)

Finland will donate another three Leopard 2 armored mine-clearing vehicles to Ukraine as part of its 14th military-aid package, bringing its shipments of such vehicles to six, Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen told reporters in Helsinki. 

The aid package of 161 million euros ($175 million) also contains funds for training and maintenance for the tanks, as well as heavy weapons and munitions, Kaikkonen said. Finland’s total military aid to Ukraine has reached 910 million euros.

Zelenskiy Travels to Kherson Region to Inspect Damage, Repairs (12:25 p.m.) 

Zelenskiy traveled to the Kherson region in southern Ukraine to inspect repairs to residences and infrastructure damaged by Russian attacks. The city, back under Ukrainian control since November, is the target of frequent shelling — including overnight, with one woman dead and another injured. 

“We have to ensure full restoration and protection of our energy sector!” Zelenskiy said on Telegram. “I am grateful to everyone who works for this and returns the light to our people!”

It was the second straight day for Ukraine’s president to travel near a front-line area. On Wednesday Zelenskiy visited the area around Bakhmut, site of an ongoing battle that’s left much of the city in ruins. 

China a Challenge in Relations With Russia for European Leaders (11:31 a.m.)

China is in the driving seat in its relationship with Russia, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told reporters, adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow was “a little bit of an eye-opener for us in Europe.”

Speaking ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Karins said while some might have hoped China could assume the role of a broker in the war in Ukraine, “China is not doing this at all — it’s moving overtly on the side of Russia and this is a big challenge for all of us.”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also told reporters Xi and Putin “are great friends, we can see,” stressing it was important that China respects the international rules-based order and warning that helping the aggressor would defy that.

Most Ukrainians Optimistic About Economy Despite War (11:26 a.m.)

Most Ukrainians are largely optimistic about the economic future of their country, unlike before the war when pessimism prevailed, a poll by the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv showed.

A total of 52% of respondents expect positive economic changes in the next two to three years, while only 11% expect the economy to deteriorate, according to Andriy Bychenko, the head of sociological research at Razumkov.

About half of respondents said their incomes declined over the past year. A full 37% of Ukrainians have had at least one relative or friend killed or wounded, according to the poll.

EU Eyes New Funds of Up to €500 Million to Help Ammunition Firms (11:05 a.m.)

The EU plans to spend between €300 million ($327 million) and €500 million to support ammunition producers through the bloc’s budget, according to European Commissioner Thierry Breton.

The funds would come on top of the €2 billion agreed by foreign and defense ministers earlier this week as the EU aims to provide Ukraine with ammunition over the next year.

Breton, the internal market commissioner, acknowledged in an interview a possible bottleneck in gunpowder production. “We have that on our radar, we’ve already started to work on this,” Breton said, adding that some countries are already candidates to build new capacities.

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