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KYIV, Ukraine -- Russian troops are withdrawing from around Ukraine's second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow's forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country's eastern industrial heartland.

Ukraine's general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to "deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.


Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was "entering a new - long-term - phase of the war."

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainians were doing their "maximum" to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.

"No one today can predict how long this war will last," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late Friday.

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ABC News' Ian Pannell reports from the frontline with the latest news on the war in Ukraine.

In a show of support, a U.S. Senate delegation led by Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv. A video posted on Zelenskyy's Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas greeting him.

After Russian forces failed to capture Kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukrainian troops have battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Russia's offensive aims to encircle Ukraine's most experienced and best-equipped troops, who are based in the east, and to seize parts of the Donbas that remain in Ukraine's control.

Getting a full picture of the direction the fighting in the east is taking has been difficult because airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around. But the battle appears to be a back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side.

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Russian authorities have extended Brittney Griner's detention for another 30 days. They have also denied a request for house arrest.

Russia has captured some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, a city with a prewar population of around 55,000.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine's forces had also made progress in the east, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day.

Kharkiv, which is not far from the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key Russian military objective earlier in the the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major Ukrainian cities.

Ukraise "appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv." the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. "Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv."

Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.

He said Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been under effective Russian control since at least the beginning of April.

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia's advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.

"The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided - there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers," he said.

However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river - the largest in eastern Ukraine - in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said, in another sign of Moscow's struggle to salvage a war gone awry.

Britain's Defense Ministry said Russia lost "significant armored maneuver elements" of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of "the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine."

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that Ukrainians were doing everything they could to drive out the Russians, but "no one today can predict how long this war will last."

"This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum," he said. "This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world."

The Ukrainian leader warned that the war causing a food crisis around the world as a Russian blockade stops Ukrainian grain from leaving port.

The Group of Seven leading economies echoed that warning, saying Saturday that "Russia's war of aggression has generated one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens those most vulnerable across the globe."

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war in Ukraine aiming to thwart NATO's expansion in Eastern Europe. But the invasion of Ukraine has other countries along Russia's flank worried they could be next.

This week, the president and prime minister of Finland said they favored their country seeking NATO membership. Officials in Sweden are expected to announce a decision Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinist that there are no threats to Finland's security and joining NATO would be an "error" that would "negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations."

The Kremlin said the two leaders had a "frank exchange of views" in a phone call on Saturday.

Niinist said the discussion "was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important."

Russia's response to the moves by Finland and Sweden has so far been muted, though Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Saturday that their accession to NATO would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, "turning it into an arena of military competition."

The Nordic nations' potential bids were thrown into question Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is "not of a favorable opinion" toward the idea.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.

In other developments:

- Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel plant in the ruined southern port of Mariupol faced continued Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Ukraine's deputy prime minister said Ukrainian authorities are negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops from the steelworks. Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia had not agreed to the evacuation of all wounded fighters at the plant, who number in the hundreds.

-The deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, Anna Kuznetsova, visited Kherson, a region bordering the Black Sea that has been held by Russia since the early days of the war. Russia has installed a pro-Moscow regional administration, and Britain's defense ministry said Russia could stage a local referendum on joining Russia, with the results likely manipulated to show majority support for breaking away from Ukraine.

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Investors withdraw over $7 billion from tether, raising fresh fears about stablecoin's backing

Tether has faced repeated calls for a full audit of its reserves.Justin Tallis | AFP via Getty Images

Investors have withdrawn more than $7 billion from tether since it briefly dropped from its dollar peg, raising fresh questions about the reserves underpinning the world's largest stablecoin.

Tether's circulating supply has slipped from about $83 billion a week ago to less than $76 billion on Tuesday, according to data from CoinGecko.

The so-called stablecoin is meant to always be worth $1. But on Thursday, its price slipped as low as 95 cents amid panic over the collapse of a rival token called terraUSD.

Most stablecoins are backed by fiat reserves, the idea being that they have enough collateral in case users decide to withdraw their funds. But a new breed of "algorithmic" stablecoins like TerraUSD, or UST, have attempted to base their dollar peg on code. That's been put to the test lately as investors have soured on cryptocurrencies.

Previously, Tether claimed all its tokens were backed one-to-one by dollars stored in a bank. However, after a settlement with the New York attorney general, the company revealed it relied on a range of other assets — including commercial paper, a form of short-term, unsecured debt issued by companies — to support its token.

The situation has once again placed the subject of the reserves behind tether under the spotlight. When Tether last disclosed its reserve breakdown, cash made up around $4.2 billion of its assets. The vast majority — $34.5 billion — consisted of unidentified Treasury bills, while $24.2 billion of its holdings was in commercial paper.

These "attestations" produced by Tether each quarter are signed off by MHA Cayman, a Cayman Islands-based firm which has only three employees, according to its LinkedIn profile.

Tether has faced repeated calls for a full audit of its reserves. In July 2021, the company told CNBC it would produce one in a matter of "months." It has still not done so.

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Tether was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC for this article.

The destabilization of tokens which have the sole purpose of maintaining a stable price has rattled regulators on either side of the Atlantic. Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of the risks posed to financial stability if stablecoins are left to grow unfettered by regulation, and urged lawmakers to approve regulation of the sector by the end of 2022.

In Europe, Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau said the turmoil in crypto markets recently should be taken as a "wake-up call" for global regulators. Cryptocurrencies could disrupt the financial system if left unregulated, Villeroy said — particularly stablecoins, which he added were "somewhat misnamed."

Meanwhile, European Central Bank Executive Board Member Fabio Panetta said stablecoins like tether are "vulnerable to runs," referring to "bank runs" where clients flee a financial institution en masse. The European Union is planning to bring stablecoins under strict regulatory oversight with new rules known as the Markets in Crypto-assets Regulation, or MiCA for short.

Frances Coppola, an independent economist, explained it's crypto exchanges — not retail investors — that are pulling billions of dollars out of Tether in wholesale transactions. To redeem tethers for dollars on Tether, clients must make a minimum withdrawal of $100,000, according to the company's website.

"Its customers really are the exchanges," Coppola said. "Then the exchanges sell tokens to traders, dabblers and small investors."

Tether is a crucial part of the crypto market, facilitating billions of dollars worth of trades every day. Investors often park their cash with the token in times of heightened volatility in cryptocurrencies.

Monsur Hussain, head of financial institutions research at Fitch Ratings, said Tether would have "few difficulties" in selling down its Treasury holdings.

Nevertheless, anxiety surrounding tether appears to have boosted demand for rival tokens like Circle's USDC and Binance's BUSD, whose respective market values have increased around 8% and 4% in the past week. Experts said that's because these tokens are deemed "safer" than tether.

While not yet large enough to cause disruption in U.S. money markets, Tether could eventually reach a size where its owning of U.S. Treasurys becomes "really scary," Carol Alexander, a professor of finance at Sussex University, said.

"Suppose you go down the line and, instead of $80 billion, we've got $200 billion, and most of that is in liquid U.S. government securities," she said. "Then a crash in tether would have a substantial impact on U.S. money markets and would just tip the whole world into recession."


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