Ukraine live briefing: War fuels record defense spending in Europe

A U.S. soldier signals to an M1 Abrams tank in Poland in December ahead of military exercises on the country's Baltic Sea coast. Europe’s military spending reached a level unseen since the Cold War in 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (Mateusz Slodkowski/AFP/Getty Images)
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its worldwide impact helped push global defense spending to a record high last year, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Global defense expenditures rose by 3.7 percent to an all-time high of $2.24 trillion, the group reported, while taking into account inflation.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that it “respects the sovereign status of the former Soviet countries after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.” A ministry spokeswoman was responding to growing backlash in Europe to remarks by Beijing’s ambassador to France that questioned the legitimacy of former Soviet states.

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

Discord leaks

  • In February, with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine days away, officials in Kyiv were busy making plans to attack Moscow — an effort Washington worked to head off, according to leaked documents, The Washington Post reports.
  • Why would there be a need for us to do this? What task would such a one-time action solve?” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter in a statement that sought to cast doubt on the information in the documents.
  • When asked about The Post’s report about planned Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to comment on “any purported intelligence documents.” But “when it comes to what Ukraine does to defend itself against Russian aggression, these are decisions for the Ukrainians to make,” he said.

Key developments

  • Europe reported the biggest year-on-year defense spending increase, according to the Stockholm institute, although the United States maintained the world’s biggest military budget, spending $877 billion in 2022. In Western and Central Europe, military spending exceeded equivalent levels in 1989 — when the Cold War was drawing to a close — for the first time.
  • European countries including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania condemned comments by the Chinese ambassador to France, in which he questioned the legitimacy of former Soviet states. Last week, Ambassador Lu Shaye said on France’s LCI news channel that the states “don’t have actual status in international law because there is no international agreement to confirm their sovereign status.”
  • A discussion between France’s Foreign Ministry and Lu is expected Monday, after European lawmakers urged France’s foreign minister to declare the Chinese ambassador persona non grata over his remarks. In an open letter published by Le Monde, the signatories called the comments a threat to the security of France’s European partners. China and Russia are close allies.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the global situation had become “possibly even more dangerous” than during the Cold War. The top Russian diplomat, speaking at the U.N. Security Council on Monday, said the problem was a loss of trust in multilateralism, and accused a “Western minority” of trying to speak for all mankind. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, seated next to Lavrov as Russia holds the council’s rotating presidency for April, said risks of conflict were at a “historic high” and criticized Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 23 condemned a decision by the United States to deny entry visas to Russian journalists traveling to New York. (Video: Reuters)

Global impact

  • Russia accused the United States of violating its obligations by not issuing visas to journalists planning to cover Lavrov’s trip to the United Nations in New York. The State Department declined to offer details about the visas, citing privacy issues. “The United States takes seriously its obligations as a host country of the U.N.,” the State Department said in a statement. It added that hundreds of Russian visas are approved each year and that the expulsion of U.S. diplomats by Russia has slowed visa adjudication efforts at the embassy in Moscow.
  • “Peace can come only on Ukraine’s terms,” wrote the prime ministers of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in a letter published in Foreign Affairs urging Western leaders to continue supporting Ukraine. “Accordingly, defeating Russia now, in Ukraine, will reduce the chances of Ukraine’s backers’ having to spill their own blood and further treasure later,” the three heads of state wrote. “It will send a clear message that frozen conflicts and endless wars have no place in our region.”
  • The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group is making aggressive moves to bring together an anti-Western coalition of states in Africa, according to leaked U.S. government documents reviewed by The Post. Alarmed U.S. officials have rushed to target the group’s network and businesses with sanctions and cyberoperations, the documents suggest.
  • Europe’s relationship with China will be on the agenda at June’s European Council summit, Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet Monday. The meeting of European leaders comes as the war in Ukraine places further pressure on strained ties with Beijing.
  • South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said that Seoul has to consider its “many direct and indirect relationships” with Russia and Ukraine when deciding what assistance to supply Kyiv. Yoon was speaking to The Post ahead of a trip to the United States this week, where he is expected to come under pressure for his country’s reluctance to supply lethal aid to Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin could end the Black Sea grain deal, which facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain, if the Group of Seven industrialized nations imposes a blanket ban on exports to Russia, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said Sunday on Telegram. Medvedev now has a senior security role. The G-7 consists of the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada. Japan holds the G-7 presidency this year, and Kyodo News reported last week that such a step is being considered.

Battleground updates

  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday that it repelled an overnight attack by unmanned speedboats on a naval base in the port city of Sevastopol, in Crimea. A handful of such attacks have been reported.
  • Russia is using passports as a tool in the “Russification” of occupied areas in Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Monday, noting that authorities “are almost certainly coercing the population to accept Russian Federation passports.” In Kherson, a partially occupied region visited by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, residents have been warned that if they do not accept a Russian passport by June 1, they will be deported, British officials said.
  • Ukraine has probably set up military positions on the eastern side of the strategically important Dnieper River in the Kherson region, according to a battlefield assessment published by the Institute for the Study of War, which cites geolocated footage shared by Russian military bloggers. The Washington-based think tank said it was the first time it has observed reliable imagery of a continued Ukrainian presence in the area, which the Kremlin has illegally claimed to annex but does not fully control.

From our correspondents

As Russians plot against Chad, concerns mount over important U.S. ally: The Wagner Group discussed a plan in February to recruit and train rebels from Chad, a key U.S. security partner in the region, leaked American intelligence documents suggest.

Discussions between Wagner Group founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin and associates are detailed in documents as part of an “evolving plan to topple” the Chadian government, which faces the twin security challenges of growing Russian influence and Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel region, Rachel Chason reports. Chad has adopted more repressive tactics against dissidents, but critics say regional security challenges have blunted the Western response.

Robyn Dixon, Shane Harris, John Hudson, Isabelle Khurshudyan and David Stern contributed to this report.