Updated May 25, 2023 at 9:03 a.m. EDT|Published May 25, 2023 at 2:45 a.m. EDT

Russian soldiers will replace Wagner Group mercenaries withdrawing from Bakhmut, Ukraine, on May 25 according to Wagner Group leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin. (Video: Reuters)

Russia’s Wagner Group began a planned withdrawal Thursday from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, according to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary force. “From today at five in the morning, May 25 until June 1, most of the units will rebase to camps in the rear,” he said in a video. “We are handing our positions to the military.” Earlier this week, he vowed to hand over responsibility for the embattled city, now under Moscow’s control, to Russia’s Defense Ministry — with which he has engaged in long-running public feud over resources and support. The Washington Post could not independently verify his claims.

Regular Russian army units replaced Wagner forces in Bakhmut’s outer suburbs, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a Telegram message Thursday. She added, however, that Wagner units are still in the city. Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, told The Post he could confirm that some Wagner troops are rotating but that he didn’t know the scale. He noted that Russia has mounted fewer attacks there over the past two days.

In neighboring Belarus, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an agreement Thursday with his Belarusian counterpart, allowing for the storage of tactical nuclear weapons on the Russian ally’s territory.

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

Key developments

  • The delivery of the first F-16 fighter jet to Ukraine will be “one of the strongest signals from the world that Russia will only lose,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Wednesday. Last week, the Biden administration relented on a long-standing Ukrainian request to allow allies to send advanced U.S.-made fighter jets to Kyiv. Britain and the Netherlands said this month they would build an international coalition to support Ukraine’s air capabilities, including training pilots and procuring F-16s.
  • The nuclear storage deal between Russia and Belarus meets “every existent international legal obligation,” Shoigu said during a signing ceremony in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. He warned that further steps could be taken to protect the countries’ collective security. At the same time, he underlined that Russia “is not giving nuclear weapons to Belarus” and that control over their use and deployment remains “in the hands” of Moscow.
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Thursday. The group includes dozens of countries that provide weapons and military support to Ukraine.

Global impact

  • Zelensky urged Iran to stop supplying Russia with Shahed drones, which have been used to target critical infrastructure in Ukraine. More than 1,100 Iranian-made drones have been deployed in Ukraine, he said in his nightly address, adding that most were downed by Ukrainian troops.
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reaffirmed Russia’s position that Ukrainian intelligence units were responsible for a drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month, citing a New York Times report that suggested U.S. officials hold similar beliefs. “We said right off the bat that the Kyiv regime was behind the drone attack. … It doesn’t make much difference which unit is behind it,” he said. U.S. officials told the Times that the incident still lacked clarity and that their level of confidence that the Ukrainian government directly authorized the attack was “low.” Ukraine has denied involvement in the attack.
  • The United States is trying to distance itself from reports of an attack in the Belgorod region of Russia, where two heavily damaged U.S.-made Humvees were seen in a video verified by The Washington Post. The area was alleged to have been targeted by anti-government Russian militias. The U.S. Defense Department did not approve the transfer of any equipment outside the Ukrainian military, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary.

From our correspondents

In wartime Russia, a farm-to-table evangelist finds refuge in a village: As tens of thousands of people fled Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, one entrepreneur chose to stay back. Boris Akimov, founder of one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in Moscow championing local produce, instead moved to a tiny village northeast of the capital to set up a new one, Robyn Dixon writes.

Akimov, like many others in Russia, sees the war as terrible but also beyond his scope of influence. He avoids the news instead. He is now reviving old culinary traditions and building up his small country restaurant.

Amar Nadhir and Natalia Abbakumova contributed to this report.

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