President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia will continue to strike Ukraine's energy grid after waves of missile attacks that have left swaths of the country without clean water and electricity. Pope Francis broke down and cried as he spoke of the suffering of Ukrainians during a prayer at Rome's Spanish Steps. Follow our live blog for the latest on the war. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
7:02pm: Blinken expects Sweden and Finland to join NATO 'soon'
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said he is convinced the United States will be able to call Sweden and Finland NATO allies soon and said Turkey's concerns about the two nations joining the alliance are being addressed.
Speaking at a press briefing, he said that the two nations were already integrating into the work of the alliance.
"This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey. And it's not going to turn into one," Blinken said. "I have every expectation that both will formally become members soon."
4:34pm: Pope cries as he discusses Ukrainians' plight during traditional prayer
Pope Francis broke down and cried on Thursday as he mentioned the suffering of Ukrainians during a traditional prayer at Rome's Spanish Steps.
The pope's voice began to tremble as he mentioned the Ukrainians and he had to stop, unable to speak, for about 30 seconds while his head trembled. When he resumed the prayer, his voice was cracking.
3:30pm: US basketball star Brittney Griner 'on her way home' after prisoner swap
In a sign that Russia maintains lines of communication with the West despite the war in Ukraine, Washington said Moscow had freed US basketball player Brittney Griner in return for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
"She's safe, she's on a plane, she's on her way home," President Joe Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner's wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
Russia confirmed that Bout had been exchanged for the 32-year-old Griner, who was detained in a Cold-War style standoff between Moscow and Washington over Russia's war in Ukraine.
2:05pm: Putin says Russia will continue to strike Ukraine energy infrastructure
President Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia will continue to strike Ukraine's energy infrastructure, after successive waves of missile strikes have left swathes of the country without clean water and electricity.
During a ceremony at the Kremlin, Putin described the attacks on Ukraine's vital infrastructure as a response to the October blast that struck a bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula and which Moscow blames on Ukraine.
1:15pm: Ukraine detains couple suspected of spying for Russia in Odesa
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has detained a married couple suspected of spying for Russia in the Black Sea city of Odesa, one of Ukraine's largest ports.
An SBU statement did not name the couple but accused them of collecting intelligence for Russia on locations for possible military deployments and the movement of air defence units.
It said the couple were believed to be Russian military intelligence officers who had planned to create a network of agents in southern Ukraine.
SBU officers found mobile phones and computer equipment with evidence of "hidden correspondence with the aggressor", it said. "The SBU detained both spies when they attempted to transfer classified information to Russia."
11:50am: Russia says goal of Zaporizhzhia safety zone is to 'stop Ukraine shelling'
The Russian Foreign Ministry says the main goal of a proposed safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is to "stop Ukraine shelling".
Both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant, Europe's biggest nuclear power station, risking causing a nuclear accident.
The plant has come under repeated shelling since Russia seized it shortly after launching its invasion in February, prompting the IAEA nuclear safety watchdog to call for a demilitarised safety zone around the plant.
10:55am: Kremlin says 'risk' of Ukrainian attacks in Crimea
The Kremlin has acknowledged its forces are vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks on the Crimean peninsula after the Russian military downed a drone near its largest city.
"There are certainly risks because the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organising terrorist attacks. But, on the other hand, information we get indicates that effective countermeasures are being taken," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russia earlier said it had shot down a drone over the Black Sea near Sevastopol - the largest city in Crimea that hosts a key Russian naval base.
Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and has used the peninsula as one of its lauching pads for its latest invasion of Ukraine. In return, its forces there have been regularly attacked by drones.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was targeted last month by a "massive" drone attack that Moscow blamed on Ukraine.
9:35am: Germany's Scholz wants air defence shield in next five years
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hopes to develop a missile defence shield in the next five years, he said in an interview with the Funke Media Group and French newspaper Ouest-France.
"Right now, the government is talking to the manufacturers of the various systems to get ready for concrete decisions," Scholz said.
The German leader also reiterated his goal of boosting defence spending to meet the 2%-of-GDP target set for NATO allies, including with the expansion of air defence for a so-called Sky Shield with other NATO states.
Germany and more than a dozen NATO partners are aiming to jointly procure air defence systems that protect allied territory from missiles.
Among the options being considered are Israel's Arrow 3 system, the US Patriot and German IRIS-T units.
8:45am: Ukrainians without electricity, clean water as Russia pounds power grid
Successive waves of Russian missile strikes have left Ukrainian cities without electricity or clean water as freezing temperatures kick in. FRANCE 24's chief foreign editor Rob Parsons reports from Mykolaiv in the country's south.
7:15am: Russian troops take part in tactical drills in Belarus
Russia says its troops are taking part in tactical exercises in Belarus, amid fears that Moscow is pressing its ally to get more involved in the Ukraine war.
Belarus has said it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but President Alexander Lukashenko has in the past ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, citing threats from Kyiv and the West.
In a statement, Russia's defence ministry said, "Servicemen of the Western Military District ... continue intensive combat training on the ranges of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus."
Video clips posted by the ministry showed Russian soldiers in snow gear training near tanks in a winter landscape, firing weapons including artillery.
1:30am: Scholz says risk of Russia using nuclear weapons has diminished, for now
The risk of Russian President Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons as part of his war in Ukraine has decreased in response to international pressure, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview published on Thursday.
The war was continuing with "undiminished brutality" though, for now, one thing had changed, Scholz told Funke media in an interview to mark his first year in office.
"Russia has stopped threatening to use nuclear weapons. As a reaction to the international community marking a red line."
Despite deep divisions, it was important that dialogue with the Kremlin continued, Germany's leader added.
10:34pm: Russians may want talks only for time to get new recruits trained, says Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it is not a good idea to engage with the Russian's overtures towards negotiations and this chimes with what the Ukrainians are saying. Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24's correspondent in Kyiv, reports.
9:00pm: US slams 'loose talk' on nuclear weapons after Putin comments
The United States on Thursday denounced "loose talk" on nuclear weapons after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would only use an atomic weapon in response to an enemy strike.
Declining to respond directly to Putin, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, "We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)