Saturday, May 18, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 20

Russian forces are pressing ahead with their military operation in Ukraine to counter what they call a “threat” to their national security from the pro-West Ukrainian government. Kiev and Russia’s Western adversaries call the operations an “invasion”. The situation is fluid in Ukraine right now with both sides claiming victories on the battlefield. Iran Front Page brings you the latest developments on the ground live as they unfold in Ukraine.

Ukraine tells IAEA Russia preventing it from answering Chernobyl questions

The Ukrainian nuclear regulator has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it is unable to provide information on radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl due to Russian control of the site.

“The regulator said for the first time today that information it received regarding Chornobyl was ‘controlled by the Russian military forces’ and therefore it could not ‘always provide detailed answers to all’ of the IAEA’s questions,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that was also the case at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Zelensky says NATO’s Article 5 “has never been as weak as it is now”

In an address on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his call to close Ukrainian airspace after a night of air alarms heard “almost all over” the country.

“Each of the more than 800 Russian missiles that have hit our country is an answer to a long-standing question about NATO — whether the doors of the alliance are really open for Ukraine,” Zelensky said while speaking from his office Tuesday afternoon.

“If they were open, if it was honest, we would not have to convince the alliance for 20 days to close the skies over Ukraine, to close from the death being brought by the Russian Air Force. But …they don’t hear or don’t want to hear us yet,” he added.

He went on to call out NATO’s Article 5, the principle of collective defense, “weak” as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

“Some states of alliance have intimidated themselves, saying that they can’t answer. That they cannot collide with Russian missiles and planes in the Ukrainian sky. Because this, they say, will lead to escalation, will lead to the Third World War. … And what will they say if Russia goes further to Europe, attacking other countries? I am sure the same thing they say to Ukraine. Article 5 of the NATO treaty has never been as weak as it is now. This is just our opinion,” he stated.

UN: World must not forget Afghanistan because of Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine must not make the world forget the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, brought about by the Taliban’s takeover last year, the UN refugee chief has said.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, stated “The whole attention of the world at the moment is focused on Ukraine.

But my message coming here is, don’t forget the other situations, where attention and resources are needed and Afghanistan is one of them.

“The risks of distraction are very high, very high … Humanitarian assistance has to flow no matter how many other crises compete with Afghanistan around the world,” he added.

Biden will travel to NATO next week for extraordinary summit

US President Joe Biden will travel to NATO’s headquarters in Brussels next week for an extraordinary summit of the alliance, the US mission to NATO wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has convened an extraordinary summit for March 24 in Brussels over the Ukraine war.

On Twitter, Stoltenberg said leaders will “address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO’s deterrence & defence.”

He added at this “critical time, North America & Europe must continue to stand together.”

Russia blacklists 313 Canadians, including PM, defense, foreign ministers

In response to Canada’s sanctions, Russia has blacklisted 313 Canadian nationals, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign and Defense Ministers, Melanie Joly and Anita Anand, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday.

In response to the new sanctions hastily imposed by official Ottawa, which is apparently competing with Washington in Russophobic rage, and covering Russia’s top officials and practically all lawmakers, from March 15 Russia supplements its list of persons banned from entering the country with [Canadian] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign and Defense Ministers, Melanie Joly and Anita Anand. The blacklist also includes most of the lawmakers from the Canadian parliament’s House of Commons and aggressive pro-Bandera elements.

The full list of Canadian nationals covered by the sanctions has 313 names.

Deputy mayor of Mariupol confirms hospital hostage situation

Mariupol’s deputy mayor Sergei Orlov has confirmed that Russian troops have taken staff and patients of Mariupol hospital as hostages.

We received information that the Russian army captured our biggest hospital… and they’re using our patients and doctors like hostages.

“We can confirm this information and also the governor of Donetsk region has confirmed this confirmation. We received information that there are 400 people there,” he stated.

Russia unveils sanctions response plan

The Russian government has prepared a list of measures aimed at tackling the impact of sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Tuesday.

The proposal includes more than 100 initiatives and measures, with the total amount of funding for their implementation estimated at about 1 trillion rubles ($9 billion).

“Under the instructions of [Russian President Vladimir Putin], a whole range of measures has been prepared, many of them are included in the draft priority action plan. This is a very flexible plan, and it will be constantly updated and issued in stages depending on the situation,” Mishustin stated.

According to the official, the initiative includes state support for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as systemic and state procurement companies.

Authorities plan to focus support for firms working in agriculture, tourism, culture, science, medicine, software development, catering, food production, furniture, clothing, and trade.

They also plan to offer Russia’s partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) the opportunity to raise the limit for duty-free import of goods within the framework of e-commerce. This would allow the maximum possible access to necessary resources and goods, Mishustin said, stressing that Ukraine-related sanctions would not hinder cooperation and integration within the union.

According to the prime minister, the draft plan is to be approved at the upcoming government meeting, and some of the measures will be introduced by the end of March.

Biden expected to join EU summit next week

Joe Biden is expected to join a summit of the EU’s 27 leaders on March 24 to discuss the war in Ukraine, an EU official announced.

The US president will “in all likelihood” travel to Brussels for the talks.

Russia officially withdraws from Council of Europe

Russia has formally quit the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg, preempting possible expulsion over its invasion of Ukraine.

Pyotr Tolstoy, head of the Russian delegation at the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, handed a letter from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Council’s secretary general announcing Moscow’s decision.

US CENTCOM general: “Small groups” are “trying” to make their way to Ukraine from Syria to help Russians

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, told US lawmakers on Tuesday that “very small groups of people” are “trying” to make their way to Ukraine from Syria to fight alongside Russian forces as foreign fighters.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the US has seen evidence that Russia is trying to recruit foreign fighters from the Middle East to fight alongside their forces in Ukraine previously.

Russian court fines, releases TV protester

Russian editor Marina Ovsyannikova, who protested Moscow’s military action in Ukraine during a prime-time news broadcast on state TV, was fined and released following a court hearing.

A judge with Moscow’s Ostankinsky district court ordered the state TV employee to pay a fine of 30,000 rubles ($280, 247 euros) after she barged onto the set of Russia’s most-watched evening news broadcast holding a poster reading “No War”.

Fox News says cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski killed in Ukraine

Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski has been killed outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the news company announced in a statement to its employees on Tuesday.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we share the news this morning regarding our beloved cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski,” the statement said.

“Pierre was killed in Horenka, outside of Kiev, Ukraine. Pierre was with Benjamin Hall yesterday newsgathering when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire,” the statement added.

Zelensky reiterates global call to close airspace & implement sanctions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his global call to close the airspace over Ukraine and for Canada and global allies to increase their efforts of implementing sanctions.

“I know you support Ukraine. We’ve been friends with you … but also I would like you to understand and I would like you to feel this, what we feel every day. We want to live and we want to be victorious. We want to prevail for the sake of life,” Zelensky said in an address via video to Canada’s parliament.

Can you imagine when you called your friends, your friendly nation, and you ask, ‘Please close the sky, close the airspace, please stop the bombing.’ How many more missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this happen? And they … express their deep concerns about the situation. When we talked with our partners, they said, ‘Please, hold on, hold on a little longer.’

Zelensky also added he has not heard a clear answer on becoming a NATO member.

“It’s dire straits, but it also allowed us to see who our real friends are over the last 20 days and as well, eight previous years,” he said.

“You’ve offered your help, your assistance, at our earliest request, you supply us with the military assistance, with humanitarian assistance, you imposed severe sanctions, serious sanctions. At the same time, we see that unfortunately, they did not bring the end to the war,” he added.

Zelensky noted “you all need to do more to stop Russia, to protect Ukraine and by doing that, to protect Europe from Russian threat.”

NATO chief expresses concerns over possible Moscow “false flag” operation in Ukraine

NATO is concerned that Russia might use chemical weapons in a “false flag” operation in Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated on Tuesday.

Moscow’s “absurd” claims about biological labs and chemical weapon is part of a “long list of lies,” which causes worry about the possibility of such an attack, the NATO chief warned.

“They claimed they did not plan to invade Ukraine but they did. They claimed that they were withdrawing their troops, but then sent in even more. They claim to be protecting civilians, but they are killing civilians,” he said while speaking at a press conference in Brussels, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal” invasion of Ukraine is “causing death and destruction every day.”

“It has shocked the world and shaken the international order,” he added.

Stoltenberg noted the alliance is “very closely monitoring Ukraine’s airspace and the border areas,” following recent incidents in Ukraine.

There is “always a risk for incidents and accidents,” when there is fighting going on close to NATO borders, he warned.

NATO, he stressed, would make “every effort to prevent such incidents and accidents and if they happen to make sure that they don’t spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations.”

NATO defense ministers will hold a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

US announces sanctions on 11 Russian military leaders

The Joe Biden administration targeted 11 Russian military leaders – some of whom have been involved in suppressing Russian protesters and dissent in occupied areas of Ukraine — with sanctions on Tuesday, in addition to new sanctions from the Treasury Department, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.

Blinken said that “the Russian government has intensified a crackdown against its own citizens’ freedom of expression, including for members of the press, as well as freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Today in Russia, those who provide factual reporting on the invasion or criticize Putin face criminal charges.”

This action comes as the National Guard of Russia “has cracked down on Russian citizens who have taken to the streets to protest their government’s brutal campaign in Ukraine,” Blinken stated, adding that the list of Russian military officials hit includes Viktor Zolotov, the head of the National Guard.

“In addition, Zolotov’s troops are responsible for suppressing dissent in occupied areas of Ukraine. More broadly, the designation of these 11 senior Russian defense leaders continues our imposition of severe costs on Russia’s Ministry of Defense as it pursues its brutal military invasion of Ukraine, which has led to unnecessary casualties and suffering, including the deaths of children,” Blinken continued.

“The world has been transfixed as Russia has perpetrated a premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine. Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine has resulted in widespread human suffering and casualties, including the deaths of innocent civilians, including children. Today, the Department of State is continuing to impose severe costs on Russian military leaders,” according to the State Department.

The State Department also announced new visa restrictions on 38 current and former Russian government officials believed to be involved in suppressing dissent in Russia and abroad; new sanctions on two of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) officers; visa restrictions on six individuals involved in attacks on Chechen dissidents living in Europe; and visa restrictions on 25 individuals responsible for undermining democracy in Belarus.

Russia sanctions Biden, Blinken & Austin

Russia on Tuesday sanctioned US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and ten other administration officials and political figures.

Moscow has announced that the sanctions are a reciprocal measure, imposed after Washington blacklisted top Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin.

The latest additions to Russia’s “stop list” were announced by the Kremlin on Tuesday, and were described as a “counter reaction” to the “extremely Russophobic course taken by the current US administration.”

Appearing at the top of the 13-name list is Biden, followed by Blinken and Austin. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, CIA Director William Burns, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki are also named. Further down the list, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Biden’s son Hunter – whose dealings with a Ukrainian energy firm have previously been questioned and criticized – are also included.

Pentagon: New US defense package for Ukraine includes anti-air & anti-armor capability

The new US defense package for Ukraine will include anti-air and anti-armor capabilities, tactical gear, small arms ammunition, medical supplies and intelligence support, Defense Department spokesperson Christopher Sherwood said on Tuesday.

“The $6.5 billion budget includes operations mission support, the deployment of personnel, and intelligence support in the US European Command area of responsibility,” Sherwood stated.

Of the $6.5 billion, $3.5 billion is for replenishment of US stocks for equipment sent to Ukraine through drawdown.

Sherwood added although the types and quantities of specific equipment to Ukraine may vary, the Defense Department would consider anti-air capability, anti-armor capability, small arms and ammunition, tactical gear, meals-ready-to-eat and medical supplies.

Ukraine says seven bodies found in rubble of school hit on Sunday

Seven bodies have been found in the rubble of a school building in Mykolayiv that was hit in a Russian air strike on Sunday morning, the Ukrainian emergency services have said.

Three wounded people were also pulled out of the rubble, the SES added.

Rescue and recovery work at the school site is now finished.

Canada imposes new sanctions in response to Russian invasion of Ukraine

Canada is imposing new sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including restrictions on 15 Russian officials who enabled and supported President Vladimir Putin’s choice to invade the country, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly announced in a statement Tuesday.

The new measures seek to apply additional pressure on Putin to reverse course and align with measures taken by Canada’s international partners. According to Global Affairs Canada, the sanctions demonstrate a global commitment to impose sweeping economic measures on the Russian leadership to weaken its ability to wage war on Ukraine.

“Canada will not relent in its support of Ukraine and its people. President Putin made the choice to [further] his illegal and unjustifiable invasion, and he can also make the choice to end it by immediately ending the senseless violence and withdrawing his forces. Canada will not hesitate to take further action should the Russian leadership fail to change course,” Joly said in the release.

Borrell says Ukraine’s accession to EU will take time as other candidates waited for long

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated on Tuesday that Ukraine’s request to become a part of the European Union will “take its time and pace” as there are many other countries with candidate status which made a significant progress in becoming member countries.

“Ukraine has presented a demand to be considered a candidate country as others, as Moldavia, as Georgia. These demands will take their pace, their time, their procedures, but there are other countries who have been waiting for long, who have been fulfilling all its commitments, all the requirements, and now it’s time, and I hope when there is a will, there is a way, that these events will catalyse a quick answer,” Borrell told a joint press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

2,000 cars leave Mariupol via humanitarian convoy

About 2,000 cars have been able to leave the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol and a further 2,000 are waiting to leave, according to local authorities.

Ukraine is facing new problems trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has stated.

Vereshchuk said a convoy with supplies for Mariupol was stuck at nearby Berdyansk and accused Russia of lying about fulfilling agreements to help trapped civilians. Convoys of private cars were not sufficient to evacuate people from Mariupol and buses needed to be let through, she added.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol are being “suffocated” with “no aid”, the Red Cross has warned.

PM’s spokesman: UK to ask Saudi Arabia to condemn Russia

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will ask Saudi Arabia to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in talks later this week, Johnson’s spokesman has said.

Asked if Johnson will ask Saudi Arabia to condemn Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the spokesman stated “Absolutely”.

“We certainly want to broaden the coalition against Putin’s actions,” the spokesman told reporters.

Mayor: Death toll from air strikes on Kyiv rises to four

Four people have been confirmed killed after air strikes hit Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

“Rescuers are still extinguishing the flames from early morning,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.

UK says latest sanctions hit wealthy Russians worth 100 billion pounds

The UK’s latest round of sanctions has included elites with a net worth of 100 billion pounds ($130.63bn), and included Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, the foreign office has said.

“We are going further and faster than ever in hitting those closest to Putin – from major oligarchs, to his prime minister, and the propagandists who peddle his lies and disinformation,” Foreign Minister Liz Truss announced in a statement.

Chancellor: German economy threatened by war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine, paired with the sanctions against Russia, pose a threat to the German economy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a joint press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II.

“We must understand very well that this Ukraine war also brings challenges for us regarding economic consequences of the sanctions,” Scholz stated on Tuesday in Berlin.

Some countries are expressing concerns about food security because of delivery shortfalls from Russia and Ukraine, Scholz continued.

“We have to make sure that our economy goes well through these difficult times,” he added.

Germany has the largest economy in Europe.

UK announces 350 new sanctions listings on Russia

Sanctions have been announced against a further 350 Russian individuals and entities in measures designed to hit the Kremlin following the invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated he welcomed Western sanctions but they “are not enough” to end the Russian aggression, calling for a full trade embargo.

Fears mount over ‘missing’ Russian anti-war TV protester

The United Nations and human rights organisations have warned Russia against punishing a Russian journalist who appeared on state TV brandishing an anti-war sign.

In an act of dissent on Monday, Marina Ovsyannikova held up a poster behind the studio presenter of Russia’s state TV Channel One and interrupted a live news bulletin by shouting slogans denouncing Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The phrases “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you” were written on the sign.

Shortly after, she was arrested and taken to a Moscow police station. Her current whereabouts are unknown.

Analysts see 39 percent decline in Ukraine 2022 spring grain sowing area

The area sown with Ukraine’s 2022 spring grain crops could fall 39 percent to 4.7 million hectares due to Russia’s military invasion, the APK-Inform agriculture consultancy has said.

The country, which harvested a record 86 million tonnes of grain in 2021, sowed 7.7 million hectares of spring grains last year.

“After the invasion of Russian troops into the territory of Ukraine and as a result of ongoing and further active hostilities in many key regions, there is no physical opportunity to start sowing,” APK-Inform added.

600 residence buildings in Kharkiv destroyed

One person was killed and another seriously injured after multiple strikes hit the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Monday, Oleh Syniehubov, the head of Kharkiv regional administration, said Tuesday.

Syniehubov added there were 65 instances of shelling against the city on Monday alone. He said fighting was going on in Izium, Balaklia and Dergachi, three towns in the region of Kharkiv.

600 residential buildings in the city had been destroyed in Russian attacks since the start of the war, Kharkiv’s mayor Ihor Terekhov said, adding that the houses cannot be repaired.

“People actually lost their homes,” he said, adding, “Fifty schools and a number of medical institutions, including maternity hospitals, were also bombed in Kharkiv.”

Elsewhere, Volodymyr Matsokin, the deputy mayor of Izium, said his city has been “under siege for two weeks, without water, without electricity, heat, food, medicine, communication.”

“The situation is no better than in Mariupol. We have received information that those who survived the shelling are dying of disease and lack of medicine. There is no one to bury the dead,” he continued, adding the city urgently needs humanitarian aid.

Russia registering 40,000 Syrian fighters to bolster Ukraine invasion

Russia has drawn up lists of 40,000 fighters from the Syrian army and militia ranks to be put on standby for deployment in Ukraine, a war monitor reported.

The Kremlin announced last week that volunteers, including from Syria, were welcome to fight alongside the Russian army in Ukraine.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Russian officers, in coordination with the Syrian military and allied militia, had set up registration offices in regime-held areas.

“More than 40,000 Syrians have registered to fight alongside Russia in Ukraine so far,” stated Rami Abdel Rahman who heads the UK-based monitor, which has a wide network of sources in Syria.

Help yourself by helping us, Zelensky tells northern European leaders

Europe must protect its own security by helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a meeting of Joint Expeditionary Force leaders in London via video link, urging them to send more weapons.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting a summit of Nordic and Baltic leaders to discuss European defence and security.

“We all are the targets of Russia and everything will go against Europe if Ukraine won’t stand so I would like to ask you to help yourself by helping us,” Zelensky told the leaders.

“You know the kind of weapon we need … without your support it would be very difficult I’m very grateful but I want to say that we need more … I do hope that you will be able to enhance that scope and you will see how this will protect your security, your safety,” he noted.

Beijing urges Washington to leave China out of US-Russia disagreements

Beijing calls on Washington to avoid damaging China’s interests when trying to settle its relations with Russia, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated on Tuesday.

On Monday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price raised concerns over alleged China’s attempts to use the Ukrainian crisis “to advance Beijing’s long-term interest in its competition with the United States” and warned Beijing that any support extended to Russia, including “helping to avert sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, “would have implications not only for China’s relations with the United States, but for “its relationships around the world.”

“The Chinese side has repeatedly expressed its position regarding sanctions. Beijing discourages the use of sanctions to settle problems and even more opposes unilateral sanctions that lack international legal grounds,” Zhao said when asked if China feared that the US would impose sanctions on Beijing because of its support for Moscow amid the situation in Ukraine.

The practice has proved that sanctions not only fail to solve existing problems, but also create new ones, and hinder the process of a political settlement, he added.

We call on the US not to harm China’s legitimate rights and interests when handling its relations with Russia.

China will continue to pursue normal trade and economic cooperation with Russia based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, he stressed.

Report: US looking to scrounge up soviet S-300s to deliver to Ukraine

The US State Department is ‘working to identify’ which countries have access to Soviet-made S-300 air defence system and brainstorming how they can be sent to Ukraine, sources said to be familiar with the matter have told CNN.

Sources further indicated that Washington was not sure at the moment where they would get the missiles used by the S-300.

The Joe Biden administration has faced requests from Congress to transfer a variety of heavy Soviet-built military equipment to Ukraine, including the aforementioned S-300s, as well as MiG-29 jet fighters.

Deputy FM: US trying to destroy relationship with Russia

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that the US was trying to destroy relations with Russia. He added that Russia hopes that the US will understand that it is necessary to continue discussing strategic stability issues with Moscow.

Russia not going to curtail contacts with the US; contacts continue, according to Ryabkov.

Contacts have not been interrupted, and we are not initiating the curtailment of contacts with the United States. We understand the importance of discussing the topics that exist. But I would like to note that the initiatives to terminate the dialogue in a number of important areas have recently been implemented precisely from the American side.

“This is their choice. I think that after some time in Washington, the realisation will come that, for example, strategic stability needs to be discussed. This is an issue that needs to be worked out, the subject is very complicated, and under the influence of the political situation, interrupting this business is about the same thing as declaring a ban on civil aviation flights. That is, people fell into hysterics, lost their self-control – and now they are taking such steps,” Ryabkov added.

Russia and the United States hold diametrically opposed positions on Ukraine, Sergei Ryabkov said.

“We have a diametrically opposed approach to what is happening in Ukraine. Everything that is happening now is largely a consequence of the policy that Washington has been pursuing for many years, which deliberately turned Ukraine into “anti-Russia”, deliberately deprived the Kiev authorities of the possibility of earlier stages to do at least something to implement the Minsk agreements,” Ryabkov told reporters.

Zelensky expresses frustration with NATO over no-fly zone refusal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his frustration with NATO over the refusal to implement a no-fly zone as he addressed European leaders in London.

In a video call to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and representatives from the Joint Expedition Force countries gathered in Lancaster House, Zelensky said NATO had been “hypnotised” by Russia.

He added President Vladimir Putin’s invasion had undermined the European security infrastructure.

NATO was “the strongest alliance in the world” but “some of the members of this alliance are hypnotised by Russian aggression”.

We hear a lot of conversations about the third world war, that allegedly it could start if NATO will close the Ukrainian sky for Russian missiles and planes and therefore the humanitarian no-fly zone was not yet established.

“That allows the Russian army to bombard peaceful cities and blow up housing blocks and hospitals and schools. Four multi-storey buildings in Kyiv in the early morning were bombarded, dozens of dead,” he continued.

Zelensky stated it must be admitted that Ukraine will not be joining NATO.

“For years we have heard about allegedly open doors, but we have also heard that we cannot enter there, this is true, we must admit this,” he stressed.

Around 350,000 people still trapped in Mariupol

Around 350,000 people are still trapped in Mariupol, the city in southeastern Ukraine that has been besieged by Russian troops since March 1, Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the Mariupol mayor, stated on Ukrainian television Monday.

Considering there are 540,000 residents and around 150,000 people evacuated in the first three days when it was still safe to do so, we estimate around 350,000 people to be stuck in Mariupol.

Multiple official attempts to establish safe corridors and evacuate civilians from Mariupol have failed in recent days. A large convoy of humanitarian aid that was meant to arrive on Sunday has still not reached the city as of Monday, according to officials.

“Most of the people are staying in the basements and shelters in inhumane conditions. With no food, no water, no electricity, no heating,” he said, adding that people were melting snow and dismantling the heating system to get water to drink.

Speaking about civilian casualties, Andriushchenko said the numbers obtained from the police and compiled by medical facilities were likely inaccurate. He added that, as of Sunday, 1,800 people were confirmed to have been killed.

Speaking on Monday, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, claimed that the Russian bombardment of Mariupol has caused more than 2,500 deaths.

Red Cross hopes to evacuate civilians from besieged Sumy

The Red Cross is hoping to organise the evacuation of two convoys of some 30 buses with civilians out of the besieged northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy and their passage to a safe area.

Ewan Watson, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told a UN briefing in Geneva that the operation would be carried out with the Ukrainian Red Cross but was not underway yet.

He noted there had been delays with similar evacuations from Mariupol, where he said people are “essentially being suffocated in this city now with no aid’.

UN: Over three million refugees flee Ukraine war

More than three million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, according to the United Nations.

“We have now reached the three-million mark in terms of movement of people out of Ukraine,” Paul Dillon, spokesman for the UN’s International Organization for Migration, told reporters in Geneva.

Zelensky says world sees Russian military has “responsibility for war crimes”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky stated the world sees what Russia is doing in Ukrainian cities and its military has “responsibility for war crimes.”

“Responsibility for war crimes of the Russian military is inevitable,” Zelensky said during a video address on Telegram early Tuesday.

“Responsibility for a deliberate humanitarian catastrophe in Ukrainian cities is inevitable,” he added.

Russia, he noted, will have to answer for disrupting evacuation corridors and for its actions in “Mariupol. Kharkiv. Chernihiv. Sumy. Okhtyrka. Hostomel. Irpin. In all our cities.”

Zelensky said Ukraine is working with “partners” on new restrictions that will be applied against the Russian state.

“Everyone who is responsible for the war. Everyone who is responsible for the destruction of democracy. Everyone who is responsible for repression against people. Everyone will get an answer. The answer of the world. And this is just the beginning,” he added.

UK to ban exports of luxury goods to Russia, impose new import tariffs

The UK has said it would ban the export of luxury goods to Russia and impose new tariffs on 900 million pounds ($1.2bn) worth of Russian imports.

“Our new tariffs will further isolate the Russian economy from global trade, ensuring it does not benefit from the rules-based international system it does not respect,” Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced in a statement.

UN: One child becoming a refugee every minute in Ukraine

Some 1.4 million children have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, meaning one child a minute has become a refugee, the UN has announced.

“On average, every day over the last 20 days in Ukraine, more than 70,000 children have become refugees, … essentially one child becoming a refugee every minute since the conflict started,” James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told reporters in Geneva.

Russian troops seize base of Ukrainian nationalists, foreign mercenaries

Russian airborne troops have captured a base of Ukrainian nationalists and foreign mercenaries near the Guta-Mezhigorskaya settlement, seizing ten Javelin missiles and other weapons, Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters on Tuesday.

Kyiv mayor announces 35-hour curfew

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has announced a 35-hour curfew in the capital from Tuesday evening until Thursday morning.

Lawyer: TV producer facing up to 10 years in jail

Marina Ovsyannikova, a producer of the Kremlin-controlled Channel One television network who interrupted a live broadcast Monday night with an anti-war banner, is facing up to 10 years in jail, a Russian lawyer has stated.

Ivan Zhdanov, a Moscow-based attorney who works for Alexey Navalny’s Fund to Fight Corruption, tweeted Tuesday that Ovsyannikova may face charges of creating “a false report about an act of terrorism”.

Missile attacks destroy runway & damage terminal building of Dnipro airport

Two missile strikes destroyed the runway and damaged the terminal building of the Dnipro airport in central Ukraine, noted Valentin Reznichenko, the head of the regional administration.

Military analysts have described the city as a strategic target for Russian forces.

Russian forces have been pushed back slightly from Mykolayiv city

The governor of Ukraine’s southern region of Mykolayiv has said the security situation is calmer in the area because Russian forces had been pushed back slightly from the regional capital, which they have been trying to seize.

In an interview on national television, Governor Vitaliy Kim stated Russian troops continued to fire at the city of Mykolayiv and that 80 people were wounded on Monday, including two children.

You can be 99 percent sure that Mykolayiv region will continue to hold back the advance of the Russian troops. There is the Bug River, which they need to force their way across in order to advance.

“We will not give up the bridges to the invaders,” he added.

Ukraine says 9 humanitarian corridors approved

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced that nine humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of citizens had been approved for Tuesday.

“Humanitarian Corridor Plans: Nine humanitarian corridors have been agreed for today. The Donetsk region: a humanitarian cargo will leave the city of Berdyansk for the city of Mariupol, which will bring tens of tonnes of water, medicines, food to people who are looking forward to it in Mariupol. On the way back, it will take women, children and everyone who needs it from Mariupol to Zaporozhie,” Vereshchuk said in a video address.

Humanitarian corridors will also operate from a number of settlements from the Kiev region to Poltava, and from the Kharkov region, the official added.

Ukraine claims over 13,500 Russian servicemen killed

Ukraine claims to have killed “more than 13,500” Russian servicemen since the invasion began on February 24.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces claimed that 404 Russian tanks, 1,279 armoured vehicles, 81 planes and 95 helicopters have been “destroyed”.

Russian shelling kills four people in Rubizhne

Russian shelling has killed four people and destroyed a boarding school for disabled children, a hospital and three schools in the town of Rubizhne in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the southeastern Donetsk region, the Hromadske television network has reported.

EU adopts fourth set of sanctions against Russia

The EU has adopted the fourth round of sanctions against Russia, banning the export of luxury goods and import of steel products, as well as targeting new oligarchs.

The EU imposed a new set of sanctions against Russia “in response to its brutal aggression against Ukraine and its people,” the European Commission announced in a statement welcoming the decision of EU member states.

“These sanctions will further contribute to ramping up economic pressure on the Kremlin and cripple its ability to finance its invasion of Ukraine,” the statement reads.

European finance ministers have formally approved a fourth package of sanctions targeting more than 600 Russian nationals, in what French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called a “historical decision.”

It is the “fastest, strongest package of sanctions ever adopted by the European Union in its history,” the ministers said.

The names of the Russian individuals and entities included in the new round of sanctions were not disclosed.

“You will have a new ban on some exportation like luxury goods and we will withdraw to the Russian state, the most favored nation clause within the World Trade Organization, which will allow us — all the 27 member states — to increase the level of trade tariffs on all Russian goods,” Maire added.

The sanctions were expanded to include, “key oligarchs, lobbyist and propagandists pushing the Kremlin’s narrative on the situation in Ukraine as well as key companies in the aviation, military and dual use, shipbuilding and machine building sectors,” the European Council announced.

When asked if there would be further sanctions, Maire noted: “I can confirm to you what (French President) Emmanuel Macron said last week, all options remain on the table.”

British PM says west must end Russian energy ‘addiction’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Tuesday for the West to end its “addiction” to Russian energy, which he says allows President Vladimir Putin to “blackmail” the world.

Western leaders made a “terrible mistake” when they let Putin “get away” with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and became more dependent on Russian energy, Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

As a result, “when he (Putin) finally came to launch his vicious war in Ukraine, he knew the world would find it very hard to punish him”, Johnson added.

The world cannot be subject to this continuous blackmail.

Britain is set to freeze the assets of dozens more oligarchs and businesses linked to Vladimir Putin after passing new laws to crackdown on foreign dirty money.

Reports suggest the government could use the powers granted in the Economic Crime Bill to sanction more than one hundred Russian oligarchs and organisations.

Hungary says energy supply is “red line” in terms of EU sanctions on Russia

The latest package of EU sanctions against Russia do not affect Hungary’s energy supplies and oil and gas group MOL can also continue crude production in the BaiTex field in Russia, Hungary’s foreign minister has said.

In a Facebook video, Peter Szijjarto stated it was important for the Hungarian government to maintain European unity on sanctions but “we have a red line which is the security of Hungarian energy supply”.

Polish, Czech & Slovenian PMs to meet Zelensky in Kyiv today

Leaders from three European countries will travel to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal on Tuesday, according to the Polish government.

In a statement, the Polish Prime Minister’s office said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša would visit the Ukrainian capital as representatives of the European Council.

The visit is organized in consultation with the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

“The purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. The aim of this visit is also to present a broad package of support for Ukraine and Ukrainians,” it added.

Authorities in Lviv warn ‘no safe location’

Authorities in the western city of Lviv say they are preparing for the worst.

“Today, we completely don’t have any safety location or region in our country,” Andriy Moskalenko, deputy mayor of Lviv, told Al Jazeera.

“They can do everything,” he said, referring to attacks by Russian troops in cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol.

“They bombed children’s hospitals,” he added.

China says it wants to avoid US sanctions over Russia’s war

China wants to avoid being impacted by US sanctions over Russia’s war, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, in one of Beijing’s most explicit statements yet on American penalties that are contributing to a historic market selloff.

“China is not a party to the crisis, nor does it want the sanctions to affect China,” Wang stated in a phone call with Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares to discuss the war in Ukraine.

China has the right to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.

Ukraine prosecutor opens criminal case against Russian official, military commanders

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova said she opened a criminal case against Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Aerospace Forces Commander Sergey Surovikin and Head of the Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Forces Igor Kirillov.

“We now have 65 Russian officials and military leaders as suspects in this case,” she added.

A court in Ukraine on Monday ordered an arrest in absentia of Russian television host Vladimir Solovyov. Venediktova earlier stated arrests in absentia were also ordered for Nikolay Baskov, Nikita Mikhalkov, Oleg Gazmanov and Tina Kandelaki.

US not ruling out training Ukrainian troops in third countries

White House press secretary Jen Psaki hasn’t denied the possibility of US military experts training Ukrainian fighters in European countries bordering Ukraine.

The White House spokeswoman also noted that American trainers, who had been “on the ground for a period of time” previously, have been “pulled back” for now.

Two killed in residential strike on Kyiv

Strikes on residential areas in Kyiv killed at least two people early on Tuesday, emergency services announced, as Russian troops intensified their attacks on the Ukrainian capital.

Two bodies were pulled from the rubble after a strike on a 16-storey building in the Sviatoshynsky district, the emergency service said in a Facebook post, adding that 27 people had been rescued from the site.

MoD: Russian armed forces take full control of Kherson Region

The Russian armed forces have taken full control of the entire territory of Kherson region during the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, the Russian Defence Ministry announced on Tuesday.

The Russian Armed Forces will take measures against Ukrainian defense sector companies used by nationalists to repair weapons in response to the strike against Donetsk, official spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry General-Major Igor Konashenkov told reporters.

The defence ministry has urged Ukrainians working in these companies and residents of nearby houses to leave potentially dangerous zones.

Russians urged not to start panic buying

Russia announced on Tuesday there was no risk of a food shortage on the domestic market and cautioned consumers against rushing out to stock up on staples after the West slapped sanctions.

“There are no conditions for risks of a shortage or for a reduction in product range,” Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko said.

“It is not worth driving up artificial demand with purchases for the future. We will reorient the market and establish mutually profitable trade, expand our partnership network with friendly countries,” Abramchenko added.

Russia has already taken steps to safeguard its food market in light of Western sanctions.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Monday signed an order banning the export of white and raw sugar until August 31, and banning wheat, rye, barley and maize exports to neighbouring Eurasian Economic Union states until June 30.

Death toll from Monday’s strike in Rivne rises to 19

Vitaliy Koval, the governor of the northern region of Rivne, has claimed the death toll from a Russian air strike on a television tower in his region on Monday has risen to at least 19.

Three British former special forces officers ‘killed in air strike near Polish border’

The UK Foreign Office is urgently investigating reports that three British former special forces officers were killed in the Russian air strike at the Yavoriv base near the Polish border on Sunday.

Officials are understood to be liaising with Ukrainian authorities and international partners to establish further information.

According to the Daily Mirror, the three men killed by the cruise missile attack were not part of the foreign fighters unit that was being trained at the base, which is only six miles from the Polish border.

Their identities have not been revealed and it is not known which branch of special forces the men had served in.

Military experts stated the attack on Yavoriv – which left at least 35 people dead – was an attempt by Russia to warn off foreign fighters and halt the flow of military equipment from the West into Ukraine.

Two residential buildings hit by shelling in Kyiv

Two buildings in residential areas of Kyiv were hit by separate strikes early Tuesday morning, according to Ukrainian emergency services.

A private home in Osokorky — a district east of the city center — was hit by shelling just before 6 a.m. local time Tuesday, the emergency services announced in a statement.

A fire broke out in the two-story building but was put out shortly afterwards. No casualties were reported.

Shortly after the strike in Osokorky, a 10-story apartment building in Podil — north of the city center — was hit in another strike, causing a fire in the first five floors of the building.

One person was taken to hospital, according to the emergency services.

US announces sanctions against 11 Russian defense officials

US Department of State announced the imposition of sanctions again 11 high-ranking representatives of the Russian forces and military-industrial complex Monday, including Russian National Guard head Viktor Zolotov, head of Russian Federal Service on military-technical cooperation Dmitry Shugayev, Rosoboronexport CEO Alexander Mikheyev and eight Russian Deputy Defense Ministers.

“The world has watched in horror as Russia has perpetrated a premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine. Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine. […]Today, the Department of State is continuing to impose severe costs on Russian defense leaders,” the Department of State said in its statement.

“The following 11 individuals are being designated pursuant to E.O. 14024 Section 1(a)(i), as persons who operate or have operated in the defense and related materiel sector of the Russian Federation economy,” the statement added.

The sanctions are being imposed, inter alia, against Russian Deputy Ministers of Defense Alexey Krivoruchko, Timur Ivanov, Yunus-Bek Evkurov, Dmitry Bulgakov, Yury Sadovenko, Nikolay Pankov, Ruslan Tsalikov and Gennady Zhidko.

The inclusion to the sanctions list means freezing of all assets in the US and ban for US citizens or companies for having business with people on the list, the statement notes.

Moscow: Biolabs in Ukraine pose threat to all Europe, not just Russia

Biolaboratories in Ukraine pose a danger not only to Russia but to the whole of Europe, Aleksey Polishchuk, the head of the Russian foreign ministry’s second CIS department, told Sputnik.

“As for biolaboratories on Ukraine’s territory, they pose a danger not only to Russia but to the whole of Europe. Conducting Russia’s special operation in Ukraine is aimed, among other things, at stopping this threat,” Polishchuk said.

Purpose of Russia’s operation in Ukraine is, among other things, to stop the threat posed by biolaboratories, Polishchuk continued.

The Russian diplomat added that Moscow was forced to recognise the Donbass republics’ independence, but the decision on their possible return to Ukraine is up to LPR and DPR residents.

Report: US tells allies China is open to providing Russia with military support

The Financial Times reports the US has told its allies that China has signalled a willingness to provide military assistance after Russia requested equipment including surface-to-air missiles.

The British daily cited officials familiar with the content of US diplomatic cables.

UK: Russia ‘possibly planning to use chemical or biological weapons’

The British Ministry of Defence claims Russia could be planning to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine in a “false-flag operation”.

In its latest intelligence update, the ministry announced “such an operation could take the form of a faked attack, a staged ‘discovery’ of agents or munitions or fabricated evidence of alleged Ukrainian planning to use such weapons”.

US expresses ‘deep concerns’ over Russia-China ‘alignment’

The US expressed concern about “alignment” between Russia and China, following a meeting between senior US and Chinese officials in a Rome hotel where they discussed the war in Ukraine and other security issues for around seven hours.

Jake Sullivan, the US’s National Security Adviser, and Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party’s chief diplomat, met in Rome for what the White House described as a “substantial” session.

The White House said the two officials “underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China”.

A senior US official told reporters, on condition of anonymity, “We do have deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia”.

They added that the meeting was a “very candid conversation”.

Bloomberg reported Monday citing unnamed sources, Sullivan is looking for an opportunity to have a phone call with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev.

China tells US it regrets war in Ukraine but rejects “smear” over its position

China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, told Washington Beijing regrets the war in Ukraine but will not stand for any attempts to “smear” China over its position, according to a readout from the Chinese side.

Yang met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Rome Monday amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The US has information suggesting China has expressed some openness to providing Russia with requested military and financial assistance as part of its war on Ukraine, a Western official and a US diplomat told CNN.

China has dismissed that as US “disinformation.”

“China always calls for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and abides by the United Nations Charter and principles,” Yang told Sullivan, adding that Beijing will continue to promote peace talks and has provided “emergency humanitarian aid” to Ukraine.

Yang also said it is important to “straighten out the historical context of the Ukraine issue, get to the bottom of the problem’s origin, and respond to the legitimate concerns of all parties.”

Ukraine president asks Russian soldiers: “Why should you die?”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke directly to Russian soldiers in a video message uploaded to Telegram early Tuesday morning local time.

“Russian conscripts! Listen to me very carefully. Russian officers! You’ve already understood everything. You will not take anything from Ukraine. You will take lives. There are a lot of you. But your life will also be taken,” the president said.

But why should you die? What for? I know that you want to survive.

Zelensky added Ukraine is hearing Russian soldier’s conversations in intercepts.

“We hear what you really think about this senseless war, about this disgrace, and about your state. Your conversations with each other. Your calls home to your family. We hear it all. We draw conclusions. We know who you are,” he stated.

The Ukrainian President also offered Russian soldiers what he said was, “a choice” and “a chance.”

“On behalf of the Ukrainian people, I give you a chance. Chance to survive. If you surrender to our forces, we will treat you the way people are supposed to be treated. As people, decently. In a way, you were not treated in your army. And in a way, your army does not treat ours. Choose!” Zelensky noted.

Report: Russia requests food assistance & other forms of aid from China during war in Ukraine

Russia has requested both military and financial assistance from China amid the conflict in Ukraine.

Among the assistance Russia requested was pre-packaged, non-perishable military food kits, known in the US as “meal, ready-to-eat,” or MREs, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The request underscores the basic logistical challenges that military analysts and officials say have stymied Russian progress in Ukraine — and raises questions about the fundamental readiness of the Russian military.

Forward-deployed units have routinely outstripped their supply convoys and open source reports have shown Russian troops breaking into grocery stores in search of food as the invasion has progressed.

One of the sources suggested that food might be a request that China would be willing to meet, because it stops short of lethal assistance that would be seen as provocative by the west.

The US has information suggesting China has expressed some openness to providing Russia with requested military and financial assistance as part of its war on Ukraine, a Western official and a US diplomat told CNN, and is conveying what it knows to its NATO allies.

It is not yet clear whether China intends to provide Russia with that assistance, US officials familiar with the intelligence tell CNN. But during an intense, seven-hour meeting in Rome, a top aide to US President Joe Biden warned his Chinese counterpart of “potential implications and consequences” for China should support for Russia be forthcoming, a senior administration official stated.

Amir Abdollahian to Ukraine FM: Islamic Republic against war

Iran’s foreign minister has told his Ukrainian counterpart that the Islamic Republic favors peaceful solution to disputes through diplomatic talks.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian, in a phone conversation with Dmytry Kuleba, outlined the Islamic Republic of Iran’s stance which is based on opposition to war. (READ MORE)

Multiple explosions heard in central Kyiv

News outlets and journalists in Kyiv are reporting several loud explosions in the Ukrainian capital.

Kyiv Independent, a local news outlet, says “heavy explosions” were heard in the city early in the morning, while a foreign journalist there said he woke up to “several huge explosions in central Kyiv”.

Report: Russia asked China for ‘five types of military equipment’

The Financial Times reported the US has told its allies that Russia asked China for five types of military equipment.

The British newspaper cited officials familiar with the content of the US diplomatic cables.

It said the US claims the Russian request included surface-to-air missiles, drones, intelligence-related equipment, armoured vehicles, and vehicles used for logistics and support.

Russia denies making any such request.

China has also denied claims by US officials that Russia had sought military assistance in Ukraine and accused Washington of spreading “malicious disinformation” that risked escalating the conflict.

“The US has repeatedly spread malicious disinformation against China on the Ukraine issue,” the Chinese embassy in London told Reuters in a statement.

“China has been playing a constructive role in promoting peace talks,” it added.

“The top priority now is to ease the situation, instead of adding fuel to the fire, and work for diplomatic settlement rather than further escalate the situation,” it continued.

Ukraine official: War could be over by May

An adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff says the war in Ukraine is likely to be over by early May when Russia runs out of resources to attack its neighbour.

“I think that no later than in May, early May, we should have a peace agreement, maybe much earlier, we will see, I am talking about the latest possible dates,” Oleksiy Arestovich stated in a video published by several Ukrainian media.

“We are at a fork in the road now: there will either be a peace deal struck very quickly, within a week or two, with troop withdrawal and everything, or there will be an attempt to scrape together some, say, Syrians for a round two and, when we grind them too, an agreement by mid-April or late April,” he added.

A “completely crazy” scenario could also involve Russia sending fresh conscripts after a month of training, he continued.

Japan freezes assets of 17 Russians

Japan has decided to freeze the assets of an additional 17 Russians, including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and family members of banker Yuri Kovalchuk, who is a close confidant of the Russian president.

The other 11 people subject to asset freezes are members of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma.

Altogether, Japan has now sanctioned 61 Russian individuals over Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

White House: US not currently discussing importing oil from Venezuela

The White House has announced the US is not currently discussing importing oil from Venezuela, dampening speculation that Washington could look to Caracas for help amid concerns over global energy supplies due to the war in Ukraine.

“It’s not an active conversation at this time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

US President Joe Biden is looking for ways to relieve pressure on oil prices due to the conflict, after his administration last week announced a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas. Europe is also working to become less reliant on supplies from Moscow.

Upcoming NATO meeting expected to focus on defense of eastern Europe

This week’s meeting of NATO defense ministers is expected to focus on the alliance’s next steps to beef up its defensive presence in eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine according to NATO and US officials.

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