Wednesday Briefing: Hundreds of Ukrainian Soldiers Are Missing

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops may have been captured by Russia, or disappeared, during Ukraine’s chaotic retreat from the eastern city of Avdiivka. The loss could deal a blow to Ukraine’s already weakening morale.

Russia’s capture of the small city was seen as a symbolic loss for Ukraine: Avdiivka had become an emotional center of the fight. But the U.S. had said that it was not a significant strategic setback.

The capture of hundreds of soldiers could change that. Two soldiers with knowledge of the retreat estimated that 850 to 1,000 soldiers appear to have been captured or are unaccounted for, a range that Western officials said seemed accurate. Unverified videos posted to social media also showed Russian forces executing Ukrainian troops in and around the city.

Ukraine already needed more troops, and it cannot afford to lose experienced fighters. The country also wants to mobilize 500,000 more people, an effort that was already meeting political resistance and is stalled in Parliament. The capture of hundreds of soldiers could complicate recruitment efforts, and military officials have tried to downplay both the number and significance of the missing soldiers.

Analysis: Some Ukrainian soldiers and Western officials said the withdrawal was ill-planned and began too late. Those failures were directly responsible for missing soldiers, they say.

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been in a British prison for nearly five years, fighting a U.S. extradition order. A hearing in London that began yesterday and is scheduled to continue today may be his last chance to stay in Britain.

Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, says that his health has declined in prison, and his lawyers say he would face espionage charges in the U.S. that could amount to a 175-year prison sentence. Lawyers for the U.S. have said that he was more likely to be sentenced to four to six years.

Background: The charges date to events in 2010, when WikiLeaks published documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, that exposed hidden diplomatic dealings and included revelations about civilian deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the third time, the U.S. used its veto on the U.N. Security Council to kill a resolution that demanded an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. Algeria had put the resolution forward, and diplomats and U.N. officials have said that a cease-fire is necessary for Gaza to get the aid that it needs.

But in a shift, the U.S. has drafted an alternative resolution, which is still in the early stages of negotiations. It calls for a temporary halt in fighting “as soon as practicable” — and for the release of hostages. It also states that Israel’s army must not carry out an offensive in Rafah, in southern Gaza, under the current conditions.

Reasoning: The U.S. said the resolution would jeopardize its negotiation efforts to broker a deal to release hostages in exchange for a temporary cease-fire. Those negotiations have stumbled.

Other developments:

In 1997, Final Fantasy VII shocked players with a plot twist: A key character, Aerith, was killed. It was an inconceivable notion when games were known for giving playable characters extra lives. As Aerith died, so did a narrative trope that had restricted the medium’s dramatic potential.

Now, the game’s creator is returning to that pivotal moment. Final Fantasy VII is being remade. Its second installment, Rebirth, will be released on Feb. 29. It is expected to end with Aerith’s climactic death — or, perhaps, some speculate, her rescue. Fans are desperate to find out.