expansion looms, the fighting in Ukraine continues, with Kyiv’s forces making gains in Kharkiv. Russian troops have been pushed further back north of the city, closer to the countries’ border, while Ukraine has reclaimed control of villages near the area, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday. Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” the Institute for the Study of War said Friday, adding that the Kremlin has “likely decided to withdraw fully” from its positions around the city amid spirited Ukrainian counterattacks and limited Russian reinforcements.

Sweden’s parliament will meet Monday to debate joining NATO, following the Finnish leadership’s recommendation for membership this week. But Turkey emerged as a potential roadblock to the bloc’s expansion after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled skepticism Friday about the Nordic nations’ inclusion. Washington is seeking clarifications on the position of the Turkish leader, who has a long track record of using NATO’s consensus-driven policymaking to extract concessions favorable to Ankara.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a phone call Friday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, urging Moscow to commit to an immediate cease-fire and maintain communications with Washington. The call was the first contact between the senior defense chiefs since before the war began.

Britain announced a new wave of sanctions Friday, targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intimate circle of family and childhood friends, including his ex-wife, his first cousins and a woman widely identified as his girlfriend, the former gymnast Alina Kabaeva.

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British officials said the 12 people in the latest tranche of sanctions were not brand-name, jet-setting oligarchs who own soccer teams or vast oil and gas positions but trusted fixers, relatives and childhood friends who help the Russian leader hide and spend his vast wealth.

Britain is the first country to impose sanctions on the 39-year-old Kabaeva, an Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics and past cover model for the Russian edition of Vogue magazine. Putin is 69 years old.

Kabaeva rose to become chair of the board of the National Media Group, reportedly the largest private Russian media company and an outlet for pro-war propaganda, officials said.

“She is alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin, and previously sat as a Deputy in the Duma for Putin’s United Russia,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.

The British officials who briefed reporters said these friends and family members were not especially skilled at their jobs but “engineered into positions” to help Putin, suggesting they were well-paid helpers “who lurk in the shadows.”

The Kremlin has long denied a romantic relationship between Putin and Kabaeva. A Russian newspaper that published a report in 2008 linking the two was mysteriously shut down soon after, although various reports have suggested that she is the mother of several of his children.

Kabaeva appears to have ended her athletic career around the time she was romantically linked with Putin. She later became a lawmaker with Putin’s ruling United Russia party and was one of six torch bearers during the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

According to an April report by the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration debated placing sanctions on Kabaeva but at the “last minute” decided against it, concerned that such a move would further escalate tensions between Russia and the United States.

Putin has not acknowledged a relationship with Kabaeva, but British officials said measures have been taken since the start of the Ukraine war to keep her out of the public eye, such as removing her name from Russian business websites.

The British sanctions list hit close to home for Putin. It includes Kabaeva’s grandmother, who the British government says owns a luxury apartment in Moscow, and the Russian president’s ex-wife, Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, former first lady of the Russian Federation.

Also included on the list are Igor Putin, the president’s first cousin; Mikhail Putin, a relative; and Roman Putin, a first cousin once removed.

Earlier, Britain and the United States issued sanctions on Putin’s daughters, Maria Vorontsova, 36, and Katerina Tikhonova, 35. They are his children with Ocheretnaya.

The British government described the individuals as “enablers.”

“We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Friday in a statement.

Britain is leading the sanctions campaign, having targeted more than 1,000 individuals and 100 entities, including oligarchs worth $142 billion. U.K. officials said “tens of billions” of pounds in assets have been frozen in Britain.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday recommended its citizens refrain from traveling to the United Kingdom, warning visitors of the “extremely unfriendly course” that Britain has taken and saying it was best not to go, “to avoid financial losses and other possible problems.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s final briefing with reporters went off the rails Friday after one reporter repeatedly shouted a question about fair access in the room.

As Psaki began to take questions — after fighting back tears as she thanked members of the administration and the press corps — Simon Ateba, the chief White House correspondent for Today News Africa, was heard yelling from the back of the press briefing room.

“Why don’t you take questions from across the room?” Ateba asked as Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller attempted to get things started with a query about the ongoing baby formula shortage. 

“Why don’t you take questions from across the room? Because that’s not what you’ve done for the past 15 months,” Ateba shouted again. 

Jen Psaki fought back tears as she thanked members of the administration and the press corps.

Psaki was not initially fazed by Ateba’s lack of decorum. However, the reporter shouted over his colleagues again minutes later.

“Jen, can I ask you a question from the back?” he was heard saying. “Jen, can I ask you a question from the back?” 

As Ateba continued to speak over reporters in the front row who attempted to question Psaki, NPR’s Tamara Keith turned around and urged him to desist.

Simon Ateba is the chief White House correspondent for Today News Africa.
Simon Ateba/Twitter

“Simon, please, stop,” she said. 

Ateba did not oblige and continued to shout over other reporters in the room, until Psaki finally turned to him to say, “Simon, if you can respect your colleagues and other media and reporters in here, that would be greatly appreciated.”

Psaki has been criticized in the past for strictly sticking to answering questions from reporters in the first few rows of the briefing room, often missing out on questions from outlets such as The Post, the Washington Examiner, Al Jazeera and other foreign media.

After the raucous protest, Peter Alexander of NBC News said he would voluntarily limit himself to two questions to allow more colleagues to have a turn. Front-row journalists routinely help themselves to a half-dozen queries, outraging fellow reporters who can go weeks or months without being called on.

Historically, White House reporters have adhered to an informal norm of limiting exchanges to two

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