Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday in its intelligence update on Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been “presented with plans to expand the Russian military by around 30% to 1.5 million personnel.”
The ministry said the proposal was made Wednesday and that “Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shigou explained that the expansion would involve at least two brigades in north-western Russia growing to divisional strength.”
The defense minister justified the move by citing “the supposed threat from Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO.”
“This constitutes one of the first insights into how Russia aspires to adapt its forces to the long-term strategic challenges resulting from its invasion of Ukraine,” the update said. "It remains unclear how Russia will find the recruits to complete such an expansion at a time when its forces are under unprecedented pressure in Ukraine.”
In his nightly video address Thursday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his brief wartime trip to the United States delivered “good results.”
"We are returning from Washington with good results, with things that will really help," Zelenskyy said on the video posted to his Telegram account. He also thanked U.S. President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress for supporting Ukraine's fight against Russia, which invaded the country nearly 10 months ago.
Zelenskyy visited the United States on Wednesday, meeting privately with Biden and later addressing a joint session of Congress.
During his visit, Biden announced a new $1.8 billion military aid package for Ukraine that included a Patriot missile battery, one of the most powerful such weapons to be delivered to Kyiv yet.
In addition, the U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a $1.7 trillion spending bill, of which Ukraine could receive $44.9 billion in additional aid. The bill now goes to the House.
Visit sends message
In Western Europe, his visit was seen as symbolic, a message to the world that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine intensely in its fight for survival.
Observers in the region were pleased to hear Biden point to the need to “maintain NATO unity” when it came to arms supplies.
“This strongly suggests that it is not the U.S., but other influential NATO states, that are not convinced of the need to support Ukraine even more intensively,” Polish historian Lukasz Adamski of the Mieroszewski Center in Warsaw told VOA.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Zelenskyy's trip only fueled the conflict.
"They say they may send Patriot there, fine, we will crack the Patriot, too," Putin told reporters. He said the delivery of the battery "only drags out the conflict."
In Ukraine, a country withstanding Russian aggression for more than 300 days, Zelenskyy's Washington visit symbolizes the unbreakable relationship between two countries honed by the war.
It was very important for Ukrainians and Zelenskyy to convey the appreciation of the Ukrainian people for the unwavering support the U.S. showed to Ukraine during these difficult times, Ukrainian Mykola Davydiuk, a political analyst and director at Think Tank Politics, told VOA.
Illia Shvachko, 32, a computer specialist in Kyiv, told The Associated Press, "It's an historical visit, the first one since the war began. ... Getting weapons helps."
On his return from Washington, Zelenskyy stopped in Rzeszow, Poland, on Thursday and met with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Duda said on Twitter that the two leaders had discussed “strategic plans for actions and cooperation in the upcoming 2023.”
Zelenskyy said he told Duda “about what I heard in the United States, about our strategic vision for the next year."
Despite Putin’s assessment that the U.S. delivery of a Patriot missile battery would extend the conflict, he said Russia was ready for talks with Ukraine on ending the conflict.
"One way or another, all armed conflicts end with talks," Putin said. "The sooner this understanding comes to those who oppose us, the better. We never rejected the talks.
"We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner, the better, of course,” he added.
The White House quickly countered Putin’s comments.
John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said Putin had "shown absolutely zero indication that he's willing to negotiate" an end to the war that began with Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
"Everything he [Putin] is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people [and] escalate the war," Kirby told reporters, according to Reuters.
Shipment from North Korea
Also Thursday, Kirby said U.S. intelligence officers had determined that North Korea completed an initial shipment of arms, including rockets and missiles, to a private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, last month. The action was seen as a sign of the group's expanding role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The British government also condemned the shipment.
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said no effort had been made for North Korea to supply weapons to Russia and dismissed the talk as "gossip and speculation,” Reuters reported.
The Russian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. North Korea's foreign ministry denied the reports, calling them groundless.
Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report. Some material for this article came from The Associated Press and Reuters.