Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 28

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.

US sets some red lines for China over support for Russia

United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan has laid out some broad guidelines about the types of Chinese support for Russia that would warrant a response from the United States, after warning Beijing last week of potential dire consequences.

Sullivan said US sanctions enforcement will look closely at whether China facilitates settlement of Russian payments or attempts to counter export controls passed since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The US is looking out for companies that are “attempting to backfill in response to the export controls that we have imposed,” Sullivan stated.

If Chinese companies or others “choose to backfill”, the US has tools to ensure that can’t happen, he added.

In terms of payments, Sullivan noted, the US and its G7 allies are looking for and will respond to “systematic efforts, industrial-scale efforts to try to reorient the settlement of financial payments and so forth”.


US to announce Russia-related sanctions on Thursday

Washington will announce a package of Russia-related sanctions on political figures and oligarchs on Thursday while US President Joe Biden meets with NATO leaders on Ukraine, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan has said.

Sullivan, speaking to reporters as Biden headed to Brussels for the NATO summit, stated G-7 leaders will also agree on Thursday to coordinate on sanctions enforcement and plan to issue a statement.

He also added officials will have more to say on Friday about European energy issues.


US government formally declares Russian military has committed war crimes in Ukraine

The US government has formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday.

The official US declaration that Moscow has committed the violations of the laws of conflict come after Blinken, President Joe Biden and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman all stated it was their personal opinion that war crimes have taken place.

“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Blinken added.

“Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources,” he said.

“As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” Blinken continued.

“The US government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information we gather with allies, partners, and international institutions and organizations, as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions,” he added.


EU leaders may discuss Moscow’s demand for gas payments in roubles

European Union leaders may discuss Russia’s demand that “unfriendly” countries pay in roubles for Russian gas sales at a two-day summit in Brussels starting on Thursday, a senior EU official has said.

“This can be discussed,” the official stated, adding that leaders may assess whether Moscow’s request would threaten the effectiveness of EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.


WHO reports 64 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine

The World Health Organization has confirmed 64 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine so far, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

“WHO has now verified 64 attacks on health care since the start of the war, and we are in the process of verifying further attacks,” Tedros stated in a media briefing.

“Attacks on health must stop. Health systems, facilities, and health workers are not and should not, [ever] be a target,” he added.

Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, shared statistics from the International Organization of Migration on the vulnerabilities of the millions of people who have been internally displaced in Ukraine, including that 32% of displaced households include someone who is chronically ill and nearly 20% include someone who is disabled.

Situations like those in Ukraine, Ryan said, frequently lead to conditions where even accessing health facilities “becomes a life-threatening experience.”

“This is dehumanizing at a level that is very hard to explain. It is very hard to understand. It is very hard to even imagine what people are going through in this situation,” he added.

“We have reached maybe for once in my lifetime an appropriate level of horror of what’s happening in Ukraine and particularly what’s happening in Mariupol. And I hope that is the new level of horror we will express in all of these situations around the world from now on,” he continued.

Speaking on the difficulty of working in Ukraine and other regions in crisis including Ethiopia, Ryan said “basic” principles around aid are being forgotten.

“It shouldn’t be upon the humanitarian community to have to constantly renegotiate and negotiate and then have bureaucratic blocks and stop, start, stop, start,” he added.

“This is not the way it is supposed to be. We are forgetting the basic principles of humanitarian law, when we end up in these interminable discussions about getting the most simple and basic of access to populations who desperately, desperately need us,” he noted.


UK tells Ukraine it will work with partners to increase defensive lethal aid

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends to use a meeting of G7 and NATO leaders on Thursday to work with partners to “substantively increase defensive lethal aid to Ukraine”, the prime minister’s office has said following a call with the Ukrainian president.

“Leaders would look to address Ukraine’s requests and ensure President [Volodymyr] Zelensky is in the strongest possible position in ongoing peace talks,” the spokesperson for Johnson’s office added.

Zelensky has stated he had spoken with Johnson, who had assured his support for Ukraine ahead of NATO, G7 and EU summits.

“Received assurances of his [Johnson’s] support on the eve of tomorrow’s important meetings. Discussed the course of hostilities and defense assistance to Ukraine,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels is expected to unlock additional aid for Kyiv including equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.


Trudeau insists western states must continue sending lethal weapons to Ukraine to counter Russia

“We must all continue to send military equipment and lethal aid to help Ukrainians in their heroic defense, not just of their lands, but of all of the principles that defend ours. And we must continue to impose unprecedented sanctions on [Vladimir] Putin and his enablers in Russia and Belarus, increasing the pressure as much as we can,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his address to the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Trudeau called on the European countries to collectively step up to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine, which includes future plans to rebuild the Eastern European country.


UN: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may spark food crisis in Middle East and North Africa

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may spark a food crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, as countries reliant on Ukrainian and Russian wheat imports encounter shortages, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday.

“Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing, supply chains are being disrupted,” Guterres stated during a meeting of the UN Security Council.

“All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest, and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe,” he added.

Guterres cited Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as nations that import at least half of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has already caused a rise in wheat prices, adding to inflation in food prices. Wheat futures at the beginning of March were at their highest level since 2008.

Russia and Ukraine together comprise 14% of all global wheat production and 29% of all wheat exports.


Ukrainians ‘push back Russian troops in many areas around Kyiv’

Ukrainian forces have pushed back Russian troops in several areas around Kyiv, the city’s mayor said, as he vowed to retain control of the capital.

Vitali Klitschko stated battles were ongoing on the northern and eastern outskirts of Kyiv, with Ukrainian soldiers already securing “the small city of Makariv and almost all of Irpin”.

Klitschko noted the “target of aggressors is the capital of Ukraine… because the city is the heart of the country” but vowed to keep fighting.

Speaking at a news conference, he added: “We would rather die than kneel in front of the Russians or surrender to the invaders. We are ready to fight for each building, every street, every part of our city”.

There have been reports of fierce exchanges of artillery fire taking place in Irpin and Lyutizh, with considerable activity behind the front lines in Irpin.


Ukraine claims it has significant evidence of Russian war crimes

Ukraine’s government has thousands of pieces of evidence detailing Russian war crimes, the country’s Prosecutor General has claimed.

Iryna Venediktova stated civilians had sent her office “close to 5,000” photos and videos, showing how invading soldiers had violated “basic norms and principles of international humanitarian law”.

“Today, each of us is an invaluable source of information, tomorrow we will become a multimillion team of prosecutors,” she wrote on Twitter.

It follows allegations that the Russian military has deliberately targeted non-combatants to break down civilian morale.

According to the Prosecutor General’s website, collected evidence will be used to prosecute war criminals under Ukrainian law and through the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

The ICC began collecting evidence of war crimes in Ukraine earlier this month, following calls from 39 countries.


Officials say NATO alliance is “absolutely at risk” because of Putin’s war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has put the NATO alliance and its member nations “absolutely at risk,” a Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) official told reporters on Wednesday, a month into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The official called Putin “reckless” and said he and his inner circle “don’t care about human life.”

“From Russia, we realize that Putin and his close circle, they are absolutely reckless people. They don’t care about human life. They lie publicly to conceal their military operations. Putin has totally changed his speech toward the West, and he has a deep hatred of our societies, of our values, so we really assess that he is dangerous, and that the alliance is absolutely at risk,” the official added.

SHAPE is the headquarters of the NATO alliance military operations in Europe. It is located in Brussels, Belgium. Two SHAPE officials briefed reporters on the NATO military posture and how they are responding to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The briefing comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels to meet with NATO allied countries’ leaders as the Ukraine crisis continues.

The war has created a “new reality” for NATO allies, another SHAPE official stated, echoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s words at a news conference earlier Wednesday.

“You just listened to the SecGen’s presser, and he said it’s a new reality and we must reset our defense and our deterrence posture,” the second SHAPE official said, adding, “This is a permanent and profound change in the European security environment, and SecGen has said the same thing.”

The officials noted it is too early to predict how NATO will permanently shift its military force posture across Europe because of Putin’s actions, but they spoke to how the posture has changed so far to reinforce the eastern flank, where NATO allied countries border Ukraine, and to ensure they are prepared for any scenario the war in Ukraine might cause for NATO countries.

Because the NATO Response Force was activated for the first time in NATO’s history, “40,000 troops” in NATO allied countries along the eastern flank are now working for the “collective security, collective defense,” of all NATO countries, not just for their own nations. There are eight battle groups, one in each eastern flank country, that are part of this NATO Response Force activation, the second SHAPE official said.

This is a “tenfold increase” in what was there before the invasion of Ukraine, the official added.

“In the land domain, in land forces, there are now 40,000 troops in those eight battle groups, which are on the one in each country along the eastern flank, that is a tenfold increase on what was there prior to the invasion by Russia,” the second SHAPE official said.

In the air, there are an “additional 100 plus airplanes,” the official added.

“We always do what we call air policing,” the official said, but now after the invasion started, they have eight aircraft flying to give the alliance “24/7 airborne presence on the eastern flank.”

In the waters around NATO allied countries, the alliance has “25 ships at any given time that are patrolling the waters providing 360 degree deterrence,” the official continued.

“In addition to that, there’s normally about 150 ships from NATO nations additionally that are also cruising the waters and can flex back and forth under NATO command and control,” the official added.

While it is too soon to tell what the permanent changes to NATO military force posture will be because of Putin’s invasion, the official said the current force posture “at a minimum” is a good “starting point” of what things could look like long-term.

“We are preparing for the worst but doing everything that we can so that the worst does not happen,” the first official stated.


DM Sergei Shoigu’s disappearance reported in Russia

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has not appeared in public since March 11, Russian media has reported.

Until March 11, Shoigu was described as being “very active” in the media.


Sweden to provide Ukraine with 5000 more anti-tank weapons

Sweden will provide Ukraine with an additional 5,000 anti-tank weapons, the Swedish defence minister told the country’s TT news agency.

Sweden has already sent 5,000 anti-tank weapons, along with other military materiel to Ukraine.


Ukraine claims hackers are targeting refugee charities

Hackers are targeting European refugee charities who are helping people flee the war, a Ukrainian cyber security official claimed on Wednesday.

Victor Zhora, the deputy chief of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, said: “We suppose that this is another proof of the spread of cyber war to NATO countries”.

His comments follow a report published earlier this month that alleged that hackers were trying to disrupt European government personnel involved in managing the mass exodus of refugees from Ukraine.


Report: NATO estimates 7,000-15,000 Russian troops killed in Ukraine

NATO estimates that between 7,000-15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in a month of fighting in Ukraine, a senior official within the alliance has told The Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity.

The official said the estimate was based on information from Ukrainian officials, releases from Russia – intentional or not – and intelligence gathered from open sources.

Ukraine says more than 15,000 Russian troops have been killed since Russia launched its invasion. Moscow’s only official toll so far – released on March 2 – put the number of its forces killed at 498.

Russian mass-market Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on Tuesday accused hackers of planting fake news on its website after a report briefly appeared there saying nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine. The article was deleted within a few minutes of being published.


Kremlin veteran quits over Ukraine war and leaves Russia

A veteran aide of President Vladimir Putin has resigned over the Ukraine war and left Russia with no intention to return, two sources stated on Wednesday, the first senior official to break with the Kremlin since Putin launched his invasion a month ago.

The Kremlin confirmed that the aide, Anatoly Chubais, had resigned of his own accord.

Chubais was one of the principal architects of Boris Yeltsin’s economic reforms of the 1990s and was Putin’s boss in the future president’s first Kremlin job. He later ran big state businesses under Putin and held political jobs, lately serving as Kremlin special envoy to international organisations.


Zelensky urges French firms to ‘stop sponsoring the Russian war machine’

French companies including carmaker Renault and retailer Auchan must leave the Russian market, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told French lawmakers.

“Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin must stop being sponsors of the Russian war machine, stop financing the murder of children and women, of rape,” he said in an address to France’s parliament delivered via video link.

“French companies must leave the Russian market,” he added.

At Zelensky’s request, the MPs also observed a minute of silence in tribute to the victims of the war in Ukraine.


G7 health ministers condemn attacks on health facilities in Ukraine

In a joint statement with G7 health ministers, US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on health facilities and health workers in Ukraine.

“Intentionally directing attacks at civilians and civilian infrastructure, including health care facilities and workers, violates International Humanitarian Law. Health must remain a priority, with health workers being protected so they can provide emergency care to save lives, and with health systems and facilities being protected so that they remain accessible to all who need them,” the health ministers announced in the statement.

The ministers warned that Ukraine’s health care system is under “significant strain” and said they are concerned about aid organizations being able to deliver medical aid to those in need.

At least 12 people have been killed and 34 people have been injured in at least 43 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated last week.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Liashko noted medical workers in his country should be wearing body armor. Liashko added six medics had been killed by Russian forces and 58 ambulances had been fired upon since the start of the war.


UN’s labour agency suspends cooperation with Russia

The UN’s International Labour Organization has announced it will halt all technical cooperation with Russia until it stops its war in Ukraine, further isolating Moscow on the world stage.


Germany says further Strela missiles en route to Ukraine

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said that after delays in deliveries, further supplies of Strela missiles were on the way to Ukraine.

“I can clearly say that further Strela deliveries are on the way,” Baerbock told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, citing the missiles which had historically been in the inventories of the former Communist East German army.

“We are one of the biggest weapons suppliers in this situation, it doesn’t make us proud but it’s what we must do to help Ukraine,” she added.


Head of Russian delegation in Vienna: Europeans trying to disregard issue of biological laboratories in Ukraine

European politicians are making attempts to disregard the issue of biological laboratories in Ukraine, Konstantin Gavrilov, the head of the Russian delegation at the military security and arms control talks in Vienna, said on Wednesday.

“They are trying to silence this topic in every possible way. They interrupt us, they don’t let us talk, they say it’s a fake, and there is no place on the forum for spreading such disinformation. That is, I did not notice any desire to discuss anything among Europeans or anyone,” the diplomat told the Rossiya 24 broadcaster.


Ukrainian ambassador urges UN to vote in support of resolution calling for cessation of hostilities

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya called on the General Assembly to vote in support of a resolution that calls in part for an immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation.

The resolution, which is non-binding, has been co-signed by nearly eight dozen other member countries, including the US.

The resolution also deplores the dire humanitarian consequences since Russia’s invasion and reaffirms the commitment to the sovereignty of Ukraine and its internationally recognized borders.

Tomorrow marks a month since the invasion, Kyslytsya said, one month since the lives of Ukrainians were split in “two parts” — a peaceful past and now one full of “war, suffering, death and destruction.”

“Thousands” of Ukrainians are dead, he told the General Assembly at a continuation of the UN emergency meeting, and “they died because of Russia decided to attack — attack Ukraine, attack peace, attack all of us.”

At least 902 civilians have been killed and 1,459 injured since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced Sunday.

“In a nutshell, it has already reached the level of humanitarian disaster,” he added.

He described citizens “starving to death” and “killed in their attempt to flee” and cities “razed to the ground,” with neighboring countries at their limits in trying to support new refugees.

He stated aligning with the resolution “will send a powerful message aimed on contributing to a breakthrough in humanitarian action on the ground.”

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations urged member countries in the General Assembly to block the Ukrainian-introduced humanitarian resolution that he said was submitted “against the backdrop of anti-Russian efforts or our western colleagues.”

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia will separately re-introduce a Russian-backed humanitarian based resolution in the Security Council for a vote.

“If our western colleagues at the security council were really concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground, then they have an opportunity to show this and vote for our humanitarian draft resolution at the security council,” he added during his speech.

The adoption of West’s draft UNGA resolution on Ukraine would hurdle peace efforts and embolden Kiev’s negotiators, Nebenzia stated.

“Let me be clear that this scenario will make a resolution to the situation in Ukraine more difficult because it will more likely embolden Ukrainian negotiators and nudge them into maintaining the current unrealistic position, which is not related to the situation on the ground, nor to the need to tackle the root causes [of the conflict],” Nebenzia noted during an emergency session of the UN General Assembly.

Russia began its military operation in Ukraine only after exhausting all attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully, Nebenzia added.

“We took this extremely difficult step [to start a special military operation in Ukraine] after having exhausted all peaceful and diplomatic means of resolving the conflict in Donbass. Only after Kiev unambiguously and on many occasions reaffirmed that it did not intend to fulfill the Minsk agreements as approved by the Security Council resolutions,” Nebenzia continued.


NATO: Use of chemical weapons by Russia would “totally change nature of conflict”

Any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be flat-out unacceptable and “totally change the nature of the conflict” in Ukraine, NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels Thursday, the NATO chief warned that the use of chemical weapons would be a “blatant violation of international law and of far reaching consequences.”

Stoltenberg accused China of providing political support and of “spreading blatant lies and disinformation” and stated Beijing’s role in the invasion would be addressed at the summit.

He noted that China has questioned the right of independent nations to choose their own path, adding that the alliance is concerned that China could provide “material support for the Russian invasion.”

“We call on China to condemn the invasion and to engage in diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful way to end this war as soon as possible and not to provide material support [to Russia],” Stoltenberg stressed.

Stoltenberg demanded that Belarus must also end its “complicity in Vladimir Putin’s invasion,” and warned decisions taken at the summit tomorrow will have “far reaching implications.”

NATO membership for Ukraine not on the agenda, Stoltenberg said.

NATO leaders are set to agree extra support for Ukraine to deal with chemical and nuclear threats as it battles Russia, Stoltenberg stressed.

NATO nations’ leaders will agree at a summit on Thursday to agree on bolstering forces on the alliance’s eastern flank, with the deployment of four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, he added.


Moscow: Sanctions on Russian oil & gas will hammer global market

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Wednesday global energy markets would collapse if sanctions were imposed on oil and gas from Russia, a major exporter of hydrocarbons.

The European Union, which relies heavily on Russian energy, has been considering expanding sanctions on Moscow imposed over the Ukraine crisis to include hydrocarbons. EU foreign ministers disagreed on Monday about whether to proceed. The United States and Britain, both far less reliant on Russian fuel, have taken steps to ban Russian oil imports.

“Russia is the largest supplier, the share of Russian energy resources on global markets stands at around 40%. Obviously, oil and gas markets would collapse without Russian hydrocarbons in the event that sanctions were imposed,” Novak stated.

He told Russia’s lower house of parliament that there was a shortage of crude in global markets of about 1 million barrels per day (bpd).

The EU, which launched a new wave of sanctions last week, has banned investments in Russia’s energy sector.

Novak stated Europe could face a shortage of diesel, with inventories now at the lowest since 2008.

He also added a ban on the Russia-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany showed a failure to understand the energy market balance and would fuel inflation.


Mayor claims Kyiv suburb Irpin now 80% under Ukrainian control

Oleksandr Markushyn, mayor of the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, said the Ukrainian armed forces, territorial defense and police “have 80% of our city under control.”

Speaking on Ukrainian television, Markushyn stated, “Our city is being constantly shelled by GRAD systems. Very massively. They are pounding the residential area, multi-story buildings.”

Despite mass evacuations in recent weeks, Markushyn, who said his own house had been destroyed on Wednesday, estimated that up to 6,000 people are still in Irpin and that small groups are being evacuated each day.

“Around 4,000 people do not want to leave the city at all. We help them with food and medical supplies,” he added.

The national police on Wednesday announced they are resuming work in Irpin, much of which was occupied by Russian forces. It was another possible sign that Ukrainian security forces are regaining territory around the capital of Kyiv.

Irpin, a suburb located to the northwest of Kyiv, has seen weeks of fierce fighting and heavy shelling since Russia’s invasion was launched nearly four weeks ago.


Moscow Stock Exchange will partially resume trading Thursday after being closed for nearly a month

The Moscow Stock Exchange will partially reopen for trading in Russian stocks on Thursday, Russia’s Central Bank announced.

The Central Bank of Russia said trading in 33 stocks will resume on March 24 between 9:50 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time.

The Russian equities allowed to resume trading include big companies such as Gazprom, Lukoil, VTB Bank, Sberbank, Rusal and Rosneft.

The central bank noted there will be a ban applied on short shelling for these shares.

“The working hours of the Moscow Exchange for the following days will be announced later on the official website of the Bank of Russia,” it added.

The stock exchange has been closed for almost a month following a big sell-off due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Trading has been suspended since Feb. 28.


Putin orders Ruble payments for energy

Moscow will now accept payment for gas exports to “unfriendly countries” in rubles only, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with the government on Wednesday.

The president explained that Russia plans to abandon all “compromised” currencies in payment settlements.

He added that illegitimate decisions by a number of Western countries to freeze Russia’s assets destroyed all confidence in their currencies.

“I have decided to implement in the shortest possible time a set of measures to change the payments for – yes let’s start with this – for our natural gas supplied to the so-called unfriendly countries in Russian rubles, that is to stop using all compromised currencies for transactions,” the Russian president stated.

“It doesn’t make sense to deliver our goods to the EU and the US and get paid in dollars and euros,” he noted.

Putin gave the Central Bank and the government a week to determine the procedure for operations for buying rubles on the domestic market for importers of Russian gas.

The president stated that Russia will continue to supply gas in accordance with the volumes and pricing principles of the contracts. Only the currency of payment will change.


First deliveries of $800 million in new US military aid have been delivered to Ukraine

The first deliveries of the $800 million in new military aid that US President Joe Biden is sending to Ukraine have started to arrive in country, an administration official tells CNN.

Biden announced the new package last week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an impassioned plea to Congress for more help.

The US will continue to move the rest of the $800 million into Ukraine as quickly as possible, the official said, given it includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and 100 armed drones, among other assistance. Both are seen as critical to Ukraine’s defense.

The US has nearly completed the delivery of most of the $200 million package Biden announced on March 12, including all of the Stinger anti-air systems and most of the Javelin anti-armor missiles. The remaining equipment from that package is expected to be delivered shortly, the official added, though they declined to offer an exact timeline.


Biden says chemical warfare in Ukraine is a “real threat”

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday there is a “real threat” that Russia might use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

“I think it’s a real threat,” Biden stated before departing for Europe, when asked whether he is concerned with the threat of chemical warfare at the moment.

A senior Pentagon official told reporters on Tuesday that the United States sees no indication that there is an imminent risk of Russia using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov at the same day criticized Washington’s claims that Russia might use chemical and biological weapons. The diplomat noted that the US has not yet destroyed its own stockpiles of chemical weapons, and accused the latter of artificially delaying the process. He stressed that Russia’s entire arsenal of chemical weapons was completely destroyed under the strictest international control back in 2017.


France freezes $800 million in Russian oligarchs’ assets

French authorities have frozen $800 million in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs as part of sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told journalists Wednesday.

“These sanctions are being felt in Russia where the economy is teetering, The ruble is collapsing, the stock exchange is in large part still closed and the central bank is strongly impacted,” he stated.

“There will be no taboo if we need to go further,” Attal said about any additional sanctions.

The European Union’s latest round of sanctions in early March against Russia included measures targeting 160 oligarchs and Russian politicians.


Russia: Ukraine’s hacker ‘IT army’ to become ‘cyber ISIS’

A claimed army of 300,000 pro-Ukrainian cyber fighters is not unlike terrorist groups in Syria that the US encouraged to fight against the government in Damascus, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has warned.

In the end, this ‘cyber ISIS’ will hurt Western nations, she predicted on Wednesday.

The grim warning was referring to a project announced earlier this month by Ukraine’s Digital Minister Aleksander Bornyakov. Introducing the entity, the official described it as the “world’s first IT army,” which will include Ukrainians and specialists from other nations.

In a radio interview last week, he was more forthcoming about the goals of the operation. He claimed it already included “almost 300,000 people” and said the objectives were to “disrupt the work of [Russian] digital resources” and “fight propaganda” by delivering Kiev’s messages about hostilities in Ukraine to Russian citizens.

Bornyakov claimed credit for a range of cyberattacks, from simply defacing web pages to fully disrupting Russian servers. He called those operations retaliation for Russia “attacking us constantly for eight years”.

Zakharova compared the ‘IT army’ with Kiev’s creation of ‘legions’ of foreign fighters, with the difference being that hackers don’t have to risk their lives by coming to Ukraine. But their attacks are far from being harmless, including to Western nations, she added.

The Russian diplomat claimed that the hackers were responsible for the recent attack on the German subsidiary of the Russian oil company Rosneft. The Anonymous hackers claimed they stole 20TB of data from the firm earlier this month. The company had to take its systems offline because of the hack. Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) is investigating the incident.

Rosneft pipelines and refineries were not affected, but the attack “created significant risks” for its operations in Germany, Zakharova claimed.

That includes the work of the refinery in Schwedt, a major supplier of fuel in eastern Germany, she stated.

“For some reason, German authorities temporarily forgot about the noble mission of the attackers and had the law enforcement actively look for them,” she remarked.

The case exemplifies how Ukraine’s cyberwarfare may have unforeseen consequences for the very nations that support Kiev’s fight against Russia, she added.

“Liberal democracies put their stakes on dark forces, be it the Nazis in Ukraine or radical Islamists in the Middle East, and then get targeted themselves,” she said.

It’s unlikely that members of Ukraine’s ‘IT army’ “would disband on their own accord and stop their activities, which are criminal in nature.”

“This is how you create a cyber ISIS,” she concluded, referring to the notorious terrorist group, which took over vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014.


Russian forces destroy key bridge in Chernihiv

Russian forces have bombed and destroyed a key bridge in the encircled city of Chernihiv, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus has claimed.

The destroyed bridge had been used for evacuating civilians and delivering humanitarian aid. It crossed the Desna River and connected the city to Kyiv.

But Chaus pledged its destruction would not prevent aid from reaching Chernihiv.

“We will provide the city with food and everything needed,” he said in a message posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Local authorities in the city warned on Tuesday that it has no water or electricity, and called the situation there a humanitarian disaster.


Poland expels 45 Russian diplomats over alleged espionage

Poland’s interior minister says Warsaw has expelled 45 Russian diplomats suspected of spying against the country.

“Poland has expelled 45 Russian spies pretending to be diplomats,” Mariusz Kaminski tweeted, adding, “We are dismantling the Russian special services network in our country.”

Russian ambassador to Poland Sergey Andreyev confirmed the expulsions, telling reporters that the individuals concerned had been given five days to leave Poland.

“There are no grounds for these kinds of accusations,” he stated, noting that Russia reserved the right to take retaliatory measures.


Belarus tells some Ukrainian diplomats to leave

Belarus has told some Ukrainian diplomats to leave the country and is closing its neighbour’s consulate in the city of Brest, according to a report by the country’s state news agency, Belta.

On Tuesday the Belarusian security service, the KGB, accused eight Ukrainian diplomats of espionage.

Russia has used Belarusian territory as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine.


European Council president: Putin must be defeated

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to address the European Council at a summit this week, European Council President Charles Michel told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Michel confirmed that “we have proposed to him to address the summit.”

He added that the European Council was the first assembly Zelensky addressed after the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.

During a sit-down interview in Brussels, Michel told Amanpour: “We must make sure that [President Vladimir] Putin will be defeated. It must be the common goal.”

“This is a question of security, for the future of Europe and for the future of the world,” he added.

Michel said he has spoken with Zelensky and the Russian president multiple times since Russia invaded Ukraine, hoping to help them reach “a ceasefire and to make possible a sincere track in order to negotiate.”

“It’s extremely difficult, because we are not certain that the Russian government is sincere,” he added, saying, “We are not naïve – we think that they are trying to attack military in order to strengthen their positions in the negotiation talks.”

“But on the other hand, we must change the balance of power in order to give to President Zelensky a better position in those direct talks with Russia,” Michel stated.

The European Council meeting is scheduled to run from March 24-25, with Ukraine as the main topic on the agenda. US President Joe Biden is confirmed to attend Thursday to discuss Ukraine and transatlantic cooperation.

Michel also discussed sanctions, saying the European Union “must be intelligent” on sanctions against Russia.

“We have decided unprecedented sanctions” against Russia, he noted, adding “we are targeting oligarchs, we are targeting the economic sectors in Russia.”

However, “we do not have exactly the same situation in Europe and in the United States,” the European Council President acknowledged.

“The oil or the gas sector, for instance. We are much more dependent in Europe in comparison with the situation in the United States,” he continued.

“It’s why we must be intelligent. The goal is to target Russia, the goal is to be painful against Russia. The goal is not to be painful for ourselves,” he said.

When pressed on Europe’s reliance on Russia for its energy supplies, Michel conceded that “we are too much dependent on Russian gas.” However, he added this was not a recent realization, pointing to the 2020 European Green Deal as one long term solution to over-reliance on Russia.


Ukraine says ‘significant difficulties’ in Russia talks

Kyiv announced Wednesday that talks with Russia to end nearly one month of fighting were encountering “significant difficulties” after Moscow accused the United States of hindering peace efforts.

“The negotiations are continuing online. They are proceeding with significant difficulties because the Ukrainian side has clear and principled positions,” Ukraine’s lead negotiator Mykhaylo Podolyak told reporters in written comments.

His comments came after Moscow earlier accused Kyiv of shifting its negotiating position, claiming the United States was working to keep Russia and Ukraine “in a state of military action as long as possible”.

Ongoing talks between the two sides have failed to produce any breakthroughs despite earlier hopes that a document might be signed, following announcements from both sides.

Reports have suggested Moscow’s requests may include Kyiv committing to not seeking NATO membership, undertaking a disarmament process, ceding territory in eastern Ukraine and recognising the Crimean Peninsula as formally part of its neighbour.


Ukrainian presidential adviser: ‘Active phase’ of invasion will break down by April

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said he expects the active phase of the Russian invasion to be over by the end of April, claiming the Russian advance has already stalled in many areas.

Speaking on Ukrainian television, Arestovych added Russia had already lost 40 percent of its attacking forces, and also played down the prospect of Russia waging nuclear war.


Zelensky asks Japan to boost sanctions pressure on Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Japan on Wednesday to step up sanctions pressure on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, by introducing a trade embargo on Russian goods.

Japan’s sanctions on 76 individuals, seven banks and 12 other bodies in Russia cover defence officials and state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport. It has also said it will revoke Russia’s trade status of most favoured nation.

Speaking by video link to parliament in Tokyo in an unprecedented gesture accorded to a foreign leader, Zelensky thanked Japan for leading the way among Asian nations in condemning Russia’s invasion and launching sanctions.

“Responsible states unite to protect peace,” Zelensky stated, adding, “I am grateful to your state for its principled position at such a historical moment, for real assistance to Ukraine.

“You were the first in Asia who really began to put pressure on Russia to restore peace, who supported sanctions against Russia, and I urge you to keep doing this,” he continued.


EU to share satellite intelligence with Ukraine

The EU has approved an agreement with Ukraine under which they will be able to provide classified information to Kiev, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources. It said satellite images are one example of what would be shared.

The agreement will last for a year and could be renewed as necessary, the news agency added. EU ambassadors were informed about it during a meeting on Tuesday, according to the report.

It is not clear if the deal would only cover EU members’ own intelligence or allow them to relay information received from third parties like the US.


Putin ally warns of nuclear dystopia due to United States

One of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies warned the United States on Wednesday that the world could spiral towards a nuclear dystopia if Washington pressed on with what the Kremlin casts as a long-term plot to destroy Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev, who was president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said the United States had conspired to destroy Russia as part of an “primitive game” since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

“It means Russia must be humiliated, limited, shattered, divided and destroyed,” Mr Medvedev, 56, stated in a 550-word statement.

The views of Medvedev, once considered to be one of the least hawkish members of Putin’s circle, gives an insight into the thinking within the Kremlin as Moscow faces in the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Medvedev added the Kremlin would never allow the destruction of Russia, but warned Washington that if it did achieve what he characterised as its destructive aims then the world could face a dystopian crisis that would end in a “big nuclear explosion”.


Kremlin: Russian military to provide information on losses in Ukraine when sees fit

The Russian Defence Ministry will update the information on the losses of military personnel during a special operation in Ukraine when “deems it necessary”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on Wednesday.

“Indeed, information was provided once by the Ministry of Defence, but, as we have already said, this prerogative belongs entirely to them, that is, to our military. When they deem it necessary, they will provide additional information,” Peskov told reporters.


Germany: Europe cannot end Russia energy dependence overnight

Europe will end its energy dependence on Russia but to do so from one day to the next would plunge it into a recession, risking hundreds of thousands of jobs and entire industrial sectors, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday.

In a budget speech to parliament, Scholz struck a more cautious tone on reducing Germany’s energy dependence on Russia than some of his ministers, who have left open the possibility of energy sanctions – if only in theory at this stage.

“Yes, we will end this dependency – as soon as possible. But to do this from one day to the next would mean plunging our country and the whole of Europe into a recession,” Scholz told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

“Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be in danger. Whole branches of industry would be on the brink,” he stated, adding, “Sanctions should not hurt European states harder than the Russian leadership.”


China says Russia is ‘important’ G20 member

Beijing on Wednesday described Russia as an “important member” of the G20 after Washington raised the prospect of excluding Moscow from the group.

China has provided a level of diplomatic protection to Russia, which is increasingly isolated over its invasion of Ukraine, with its economy tied up by sanctions.

“The G20 is the main forum for international economic cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

“Russia is an important member, and no member has the right to expel another country,” he added.

Leaders of the two countries declared a relationship of “no limits” following a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing for the Winter Olympics.


Envoy: Ukraine needs more anti-talk weapons

Ukraine needs more long-range anti-tank weapons, the country’s ambassador to the UK has said.

Vadym Prystaiko told Sky News that the Ukrainian army are running out of weaponry.

He stated: “We didn’t have enough in the first place. So, we’re running out of weaponry. That’s what we’ll be seeing in the week to come.

“Tomorrow, President Volodymyr Zelensky will talk to NATO, the whole of NATO, and we will see how can we replenish our stocks and what we can have that has a much longer range and is stronger than ever,” he added.


Four injured in Russian strikes on Kyiv

Four people were injured and buildings damaged in Russian strikes on a residential area of the Ukrainian capital, officials claimed Wednesday, nearly a month into Moscow’s invasion.

The strikes hit a western district of Kyiv, about five kilometres (three miles) from the frontline where advancing Russian troops were slowing, AFP journalists reported.

Artillery strikes left one building completely destroyed and several surrounding buildings were pockmarked with shrapnel and had their windows blown out.

“The enemy fired on Kyiv again – buildings in Sviatoshynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi districts were damaged,” city officials announced in a statement on Telegram.


Kremlin accuses US of pressuring other countries over Russia’s G20 membership

The Kremlin on Wednesday accused the United States of putting pressure on other countries regarding Russia’s membership in the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies, but said some powers were sticking to their sovereign points of view.

The United States and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the G20, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.


Moscow: NATO peacekeepers in Ukraine could lead to ‘direct clash’ with alliance

Russia’s foreign minister has warned NATO against sending peacekeepers to Ukraine, saying it could lead to a direct confrontation between Russia and the transatlantic military alliance.

Poland announced last week that it would formally submit a proposal for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at a NATO summit set to take place on Thursday.

“I hope they understand what they are talking about,” Sergey Lavrov told staff and students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

“This will be the direct clash between the Russian and NATO armed forces that everyone has not only tried to avoid but said should not take place in principle,” he added.

The deployment of a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would be “very reckless” and “extremely dangerous,” according to Moscow.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday: “Any possible contact between our military and NATO military can lead to quite understandable consequences that are difficult to repair.”


Poland considers expelling 45 Russian diplomats

Poland’s special services asked the foreign ministry on Wednesday to expel 45 Russian diplomats, some of whom it suspects of working for Russian intelligence under the cover of diplomatic assignments, spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn said.

“The Internal Security Agency has identified 45 people – officers of Russian secret services and persons associated with them who had diplomatic status in Poland,” Zaryn told journalists.

“The list was forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it includes officers of the special services of the Russian Federation and people cooperating with them… people who conducted intelligence activities against Poland, but also against our allies,” he added.

A Polish government spokesman said the Russian ambassador to Warsaw had been summoned to the foreign ministry and decisions on further steps would be announced after the meeting.

Russia’s envoy to Poland noted on Wednesday that there is no basis for the accusations made against 45 Russian officials who are set to be expelled from Poland.

“They will have to go. This is a sovereign decision by the Polish side and they have the right to their own decision,” Ambassador Sergey Andreev told journalists outside of the foreign ministry after he was summoned there.


Scholz: Putin’s offensive in Ukraine ‘stuck’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has stalled despite the daily assaults inflicted by his troops, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday, urging Moscow to “immediately” stop the fighting.

“Putin’s offensive is stuck despite all the destruction that it is bringing day after day,” Mr Scholz stated in a speech to the German parliament.

Unprecedented sanctions imposed by Western partners are working and will only bring further damage to Russia’s economy, warned the German leader.

“But that is just the beginning, many of the toughest consequences will only been seen in the coming weeks,” he noted, warning that “we are constantly creating sanctions.”

He added that Putin “must hear the truth” that not only is the war destroying Ukraine, “but also Russia’s future”.


Russian FM: Talks with Ukraine are ‘difficult’

Talks with Ukraine are ‘difficult’, Russian’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has claimed, as he accused Kyiv of constantly changing its position.

“When, in the midst of Russia’s special military operation the Ukrainian leadership proposed negotiations, we agreed, and the president immediately gave the order. Negotiations began but have been difficult because the Ukrainian side, although it seems to have expressed understanding of the things that should be agreed during talks, is constantly changing its position, rejecting its own proposals,” Lavrov stated.

The current Russophobia in the West is a verdict on Western civilization, Lavrov said.

Speaking about the priorities of Russian foreign policy in view of the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, Lavrov noted that the prompt conclusion of Russia-Ukraine negotiations is not beneficial for the United States.

According to him, Washington wants hostilities between Russia and Ukraine to continue as long as possible.

Commenting on the unprecedented sanctions imposed by the West on Russia after the beginning of the operation in Ukraine, Lavrov stated these restrictions are aimed at removing Russia as an obstacle to a unipolar world.

“This all is about removing the obstacle in the form of Russia on the way to building a unipolar world… This is not about Ukraine, this is about a world order in which the United States wants to be the sole sovereign and dominate,” the foreign minister added.

Adviser: Zelensky to speak with Xi ‘very soon’

Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, told a virtual briefing he hoped the Ukrainian leader would speak with China’s President Xi Jinping “very soon,” as Beijing mulls support for Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country.

Yermak told the event—hosted by the British Chatham House think tank—that Kyiv wants China to do more to help end the fighting, which has so far raged for 27 days and is believed to have killed tens of thousands of people.

“China is the largest trade partner of Ukraine, and China is a most influential player in the global arena,” Yermak stated.

“There are a lot of rumors about Russia wanting China to support it militarily, economically, diplomatically, in different ways. But so far, we’ve seen China’s neutral position,” Yermak added.


Russian MoD: 97 Ukrainian military facilities destroyed

The Russian armed forces have destroyed 97 military facilities of Ukraine, including two Tochka-U missile systems, over the past day, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated on Wednesday.

“Over the [past] day, operational-tactical and army aviation, as well as missile forces, hit 97 military facilities of Ukraine. Among them, there are two launchers and a transport-loading vehicle of the Tochka-U tactical missile system in an industrial area on the northern outskirts of Kiev,” Konashenkov told reporters.

The Russian armed forces also destroyed eight anti-aircraft missile systems, including six Buk-M1s, one S-300 and one combat vehicle of the Osa air defence system, 10 command posts, eight field artillery guns, three artillery reconnaissance stations manufactured by NATO countries.

Over the given period, a Ukrainian Su-24 front-line bomber, as well as 16 drones, including three Bayraktars, were downed by the Russian military.

“On the evening of March 22, high-precision long-range sea-based weapons attacked an arsenal in the settlement of Orzhiv, 14 kilometers northwest of the city of Rivne,” Konashenkov said, noting that a large arsenal with weapons and military equipment of the Ukrainian troops, including those received from Western countries, was destroyed.

In total, since the beginning of the special military operation, the Russian army destroyed 184 aircraft and helicopters, 246 unmanned aerial vehicles, 189 anti-aircraft missile systems, 1,558 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 156 multiple launch rocket systems, 624 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 1,354 units of special military vehicles, the spokesman added.


Local ceasefire agreed for civilians to flee Luhansk

A temporary ceasefire was expected to come into force at 9 a.m. local time Wednesday to allow civilians to flee the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, according to local Ukrainian administrator Governor Serhiy Gaidai on social media.

The post detailed gathering places where civilians could arrive before getting on trains taking them away from Luhansk, which sits in the disputed Donbas region.

“Attention!! A humanitarian corridor has been agreed: residents of Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, Hirska Community (specifically, Nizhne) will be evacuated today,” Gadai wrote.


Rouble hovers near 104 vs dollar as OFZ trading continues

The Russian rouble eased marginally on Wednesday, hovering near 104 to the dollar in Moscow as OFZ bond trading continued and after Russia appeared to have averted default by making a coupon payment on a sovereign bond in US dollars.

Russia had been due to make a $66 million payment to bondholders on Monday on a sovereign bond maturing in 2029. A bondholder said the payment had been received.

But Russia’s National Settlement Depository announced on Wednesday that Russian holders of Russian corporate Eurobonds might experience delays in receiving payments settled via international settlement agents.


Chernihiv mayor: Forty people are buried daily

The mayor of the besieged northern city of Chernihiv has told local media Russian servicemen deliberately targets civilians, hospitals and schools, adding that foreign forces almost encircled the city and their shelling destroyed power and water supply.

As a result, “about 40 people are buried daily,” Vladislav Atroshenko told the Censor.net publication.

“Before the war, we usually buried eight,” he stated.

He also reportedly said that only a handful of volunteers manages to get to the city via little-known roads in swampy areas with medical drugs for hundreds of wounded Ukrainian servicemen in city hospitals.


Zelensky’s adviser urges sanctions on Russia

Oleg Ustenko, economic adviser to Volodomy Zelensky, has said Russia’s frozen assets and Central Bank reserves, according to Ukraine’s foreign allies, reaches an estimated worth of $300bn.

Ustenko told Al Jazeera that the assets can be used for the construction of Ukraine, adding: “However, this is not enough, as every new day of war increases the price we need for reconstruction.”

“Our priority right now is to allocate the frozen Russian assets – meant for war – for reconstruction instead,” the adviser added.

He also stated: “We strongly believe that our allies in Europe and the US should impose many harsh sanctions on Russia. This is not just related to the economic gains and benefits and it does not just mean that we no longer have trade exchanges like before, but it also should mean that the current status must change. And this is a civil side of things that they must adhere to.”


Two children, one adult killed by shelling in Luhansk

Russian shelling hit an apartment building in the town of Rubizhne in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the southeastern Luhansk region, according to a Ukrainian official.

Two children and one adult were killed as a result, regional defence head Serhiy Haidai wrote on Facebook.

“The shell exploded on the fifth floor. Rescuers found people three killed, including two children,” he said, adding that shelling also caused multiple fires at a textile factory, a college and several apartments.


Russia: Pentagon apparently forgot how US bombed Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya

The US Department of Defense has apparently forgotten how the US and its allies bombed Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said, commenting on Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby’s remarks about alleged Russian ‘military crimes’ in Ukraine.

“There is a feeling that the Pentagon seems to have forgotten how, quite recently, the US and its NATO allies bombed cities in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya. Outrageous crimes committed by US servicemen and mercenaries in Afghanistan and Syria also seem to have escaped Washington’s memory,” he added.

Supplying Kiev with weapons and foreign mercenaries is reckless and dangerous, as it could endanger not only Europe, but the entire world, he warned.


Putin plans to attend G20 summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to attend a G20 summit being hosted by Indonesia later this year, Russia’s ambassador in Jakarta stated on Wednesday, following calls by some members for the country to be barred from the group.

“Not only G20, many organisations are trying to expel Russia….the reaction of the West is absolutely disproportional,” ambassador Lyudmila Vorobieva told a news conference on Wednesday.

The United States and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the Group of Twenty (G20) grouping of major economies following its invasion of Ukraine, sources involved in the discussions told Reuters.


US senators to discuss freezing Russian gold with Treasury Secretary

A bipartisan group of senators is working with the Treasury Department to try to lock down Russia’s roughly $132 billion in gold reserves after its invasion of Ukraine.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet this week with Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to discuss the legislation, people familiar with the plans told Axios.


Russian forces accused of destroying Chernobyl laboratory

Authorities in Ukraine have accused Russian forces of “looting and destroying” a new laboratory at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that among other things works to improve management of radioactive waste.

The state agency responsible for the Chernobyl exclusion zone claimed the laboratory contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world”.

Radionuclides are unstable atoms of chemical elements that release radiation.


UK: Russia may employ ‘increasingly violent measures’ to suppress occupied towns

The British Ministry of Defence says civilian populations in Russian-occupied cities in Ukrainian are continuing to protest against Russian control, suggesting that Moscow’s efforts to subdue residents through propaganda “have so far failed”.

“Russia will probably respond to these failures by employing increasingly violent and coercive measures in an attempt to suppress the Ukrainian population,” it warned.


US: Russian combat power declining in Ukraine

A US defence official has told reporters that Russia’s combat power has declined below 90 percent of its pre-invasion levels for the first time since its assault on Ukraine began.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not provide evidence.

His assessment suggests heavy losses of weaponry and growing casualties on the Russian side.

The US had estimated that Russia assembled at least 150,000 troops around Ukraine before the February 24 invasion, along with enough aircraft, artillery, tanks and other firepower for its full-scale attack.


Russian forces accused of seizing relief workers in Mariupol convoy

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk claims Russian forces have taken captive 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers who were heading to Mariupol to evacuate civilians.

The convoy was following an “agreed route” near the town of Mangush, close to Mariupol, she said.

“This is an agreed corridor, we have agreed it with the Red Cross, and now people are being held hostage. It is reported that the vehicles will be taken away, and people may or may not be let free,” she added.


Report: Russia’s G20 membership under fire

The Reuters news agency says the US and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the Group of Twenty (G20) following its invasion of Ukraine.

The agency cited sources involved in the discussions.

“There have been discussions about whether it’s appropriate for Russia to be part of the G20,” Reuters quoted a senior G7 source as saying.

“If Russia remains a member, it will become a less useful organization,” the source added.


Ukraine claims ‘large numbers’ of Belarusian troops refusing to join Russian invasion

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence claims the possibility exists that Belarus’s army may join the Russian invasion, but its intelligence indicates that “a large number of personnel and some commanders are refusing to participate” in the war.

In a Telegram post, the ministry said Russian forces – due to a lack of success in their ground offensive – are now aiming for the “total destruction of critical infrastructure” in Ukraine.

It added that 100 Russian personnel were killed on Tuesday.


Ukraine says Russian pilots will be held responsible for killing civilians

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said sooner or later Russian pilots will be held responsible for killing civilians.

“I would like to repeat this again to all Russian pilots, they are not thinking about the orders they are fulfilling. Because killing civilians is a crime. And you will be responsible for this whether it is today or tomorrow, this is inevitable,” he stated

“Especially we are talking about a bomber plane over Mariupol, and that will happen to everyone who is killing our civilians, in our peaceful land,” he added.


Biden expected to announce sanctions on members of Russia’s Duma

US President Joe Biden plans to slap sanctions this week on hundreds of Russians serving in the country’s lower legislative body, an official familiar with the announcement stated.

The move is expected to kick off a slew of new steps to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine.

Biden is expected to unveil the new sanctions on members of the Duma while in Europe for a series of snap summits this week. The US had already sanctioned some members of the body, but this week’s announcement will expand the list.

Earlier, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan previewed sweeping sanctions enacted together with US allies that are set to be announced Thursday.

He noted the steps would ensure individuals aren’t able to evade sanctions already imposed by the West.


EU Commission President: Consequences of Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine span well beyond Europe”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “aggression against Ukraine” has consequences well beyond Europe, European Union President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Speaking at the European Humanitarian Forum, Von der Leyen further called out Russia noting, “As humanitarian needs are already at an all-time high, the Kremlin-made war threatens food security across the world.”

Von der Leyen added the EU would contribute €2.5 billion to address world food shortages.

“The EU, the world’s largest humanitarian donor, is further stepping up its support with €2.5 billion until 2024 to help regions most affected by food insecurity and special measures to increase European food production,” she stated.


Ukrainian president says “difficult negotiations” continue with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has provided an update on talks with Russia.

“We continue working on different levels to make sure that Russia is convinced that this atrocious war has to be stopped. We continue our difficult negotiations. This is challenging. Sometimes scandalous,” he said.

Zelensky also stated, “I am grateful to all of the international intermediators who work with us and bring the true picture to Russia and convince them to see the reality of combat actions. And that the world is not going to stop the truth, our truth.”

“We will fight until the end bravely and openly,” he added


Kremlin: Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its existence were threatened

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told CNN in an interview that Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its very existence were threatened.

“We have a concept of domestic security and it’s public, you can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So if it is an existential threat for our country, then it [the nuclear arsenal] can be used in accordance with our concept,” he stated.

Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine proceeds in accordance with previously set goals and plans, Peskov said.

“It [the special operation] is going on strictly in accordance with the plans and with purposes that were established beforehand,” he continued, adding that from the very beginning, no one was expecting it to take “a couple of days.”

Peskov added that the operation in Ukraine was “a serious operation with serious purposes.”

In his words, the operation’s goals have not been achieved yet.

“Not yet, we are speaking about a special military operation that is going on,” the Kremlin spokesman said.


Rockets destroy rail station, kill one person in Dnipro region

Rocket strikes have destroyed a railway station in Ukraine’s central-eastern Dnipro region, killing one person and damaging rails enough to prevent train passage indefinitely, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko has claimed.

The rockets hit a station of the town of Pavlohrad about 60 kilometres east of the regional capital Dnipro.


WFP says ‘it’s going to be hell on earth’ if food production in Ukraine fails to resume

World Food Program director has told Al Jazeera that ending the war in Ukraine is key to avoiding a global food supply shortage, which would have catastrophic repercussions around the world.

“If we don’t act now, strategically and quickly, it’s going to be hell on earth,” David Beasley said in Brussels.

Beasley added that, before the Russian invasion, the UN agency was already cutting 8 million people to 50 percent rations in Yemen, Niger, Chad and other countries due to rising costs.

“Now we’ll have a supply issue because Ukraine and Russia produce between 20 and 30 percent of all the grain in the world,” he continued.


Zelensky to take part virtually in NATO summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will take part virtually in a NATO summit on Thursday to discuss the war with Russia, but exact details are still being worked out, Interfax Ukraine cited a presidential spokesman as saying.

The spokesperson, Sergii Nykyforov, added Zelensky will make a video address to the meeting and might take part in the full discussion.


Russia: No one thought Ukraine ‘operation’ would take a couple of days

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has stated no one had ever thought the “special military operation” in Ukraine would take just a couple of days, the Tass news agency reported.

Peskov also reiterated Moscow’s assertion the campaign was going to plan.


France’s TotalEnergies to quit Russian oil supply contracts

French oil major TotalEnergies has said it will not renew its Russian gas oil and crude oil supply contracts for its German refinery, adding that it would instead source crude via Poland and gas oil from Saudi Arabia.

The firm, which owns stakes in several Russian projects, had come under criticism after it stopped short of joining rivals Shell and BP in planning to divest oil and gas assets in Russia.


Kyiv says Russian attacks in east Ukraine kill at least 12

At least 12 people have been killed in strikes across eastern Ukraine, an official in Kyiv has said.

“In the Donetsk region, Avdiivka was fired on by artillery and aircraft, the city was razed to the ground. Five civilians were killed and 19 were injured,” Ukraine’s ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, announced in a statement, adding that the attack occurred late on Monday.

Another Russian attack left two dead and three wounded in Lysychansk. In the Kharkiv region, a Russian tank targeted a civilian-marked car, killing three adults and a child.

In Severodonetsk, one person was killed and around a dozen were wounded in an attack in front of a store, Denisova stated.


France says there is no agreement in sight for a ceasefire in Ukraine

There is no agreement in sight for a ceasefire in Ukraine, the Élysée Palace said in a statement after French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts separately on Tuesday.

“For the time being there is no agreement, but the President [Macron] remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts,” the statement read.

“There is no other way out than a ceasefire and good faith negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” it added.

The call between Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin lasted for one hour, according to the Élysée Palace.

Since the war first broke out on February 24, Macron has been keeping a line of communication open with both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Including the calls today, Macron has spoken with Putin eight times and with Zelensky 17 times since the beginning of Russia’s invasion last month, according to CNN’s calculation.


German chancellor: Sanctions on Russian energy imports must be “manageable” for European countries

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Western sanctions on Russia are showing “effects, which will only get more dramatic every day.” However, the chancellor stressed that cutting off energy supplies from Russia must be “manageable” for European countries.

The Ukraine war “could be a longer dispute and therefore we must cope together,” Scholz stated, speaking at a press conference alongside European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

Scholz added Germany’s stance on European Union-wide ban on Russian energy imports has not changed.

“This also applies to many other [European] countries who are even more dependent on [Russian] coal, oil and gas, even more than Germany,” he continued.

“We decided to make us independent as quickly as possible from gas and oil imports from Russia,” the German leader said, adding that some “very intensive construction work and contracts” are necessary to make Germany less dependent on Russian energy.

Metsola said, “Europe must become completely independent from [Russian energy].”

“We must buy our energy from friends, not enemies, because at the end we are paying for this war every day,” she added.

“It is time to take a lead. We are not only talking about the green agenda, considering it from the environmental perspective, a climate perspective, but we are also seeing it from a perspective of security,” Metsola continued.


Pentagon: US has “seen indications” Ukrainians are “going a bit more on the offense”

The US has “seen indications that the Ukrainians are going a bit more on the offense now,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

In the south near Kherson, Ukrainians have “tried to regain territory,” Kirby added.

“They have been defending very smartly, very nimbly, very creatively, in places that they believe are the right places to defend, and we have seen them now, in places particularly in the south near Kherson, they have tried to regain territory,” Kirby stated.

The airspace over Ukraine remains “contested,” as the Russian invasion of the country is in its fourth week of conflict, Kirby said.

The airspace is contested partially because “the Ukrainians are making it that way.”

Ukrainians still have fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, Kirby stated, adding Russian forces are dominant in some areas of the airspace.

The Pentagon has also claimed Russian forces “have struggled with logistics and sustainment”.

“We think they’re having command and control problems,” Kirby claimed.


FBI says hackers scanned networks of US energy firms ahead of Biden’s Russia cyberattack warning

Hackers associated with Russian internet addresses have been scanning the networks of five US energy companies in a possible prelude to hacking attempts, the FBI announced in a March 18 advisory to US businesses obtained by CNN.

The FBI issued the notice days before US President Joe Biden publicly warned that Kremlin-linked hackers could target US organizations as the Russian military continues to suffer heavy losses in Ukraine and as Western sanctions on the Kremlin begin to bite.


Biden to impose new Russia sanctions

US President Biden will impose new sanctions on Russia during an upcoming trip to Europe, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said.

“He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement,” Sullivan told reporters.

The top aide also added Biden will announce “joint action” to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

The US president banned Russian oil and gas imports in the United States earlier this month.


US: Russia ‘failed’ to achieve objectives in Ukraine

Russia has failed to achieve its goals in Ukraine, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said, stressing that Moscow will “never take the country away from the Ukrainian people”.

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser told reporters at the White House that Russia had set three “basic” objectives for itself when it started the invasion: subjugating Ukraine, enhancing Moscow’s power and prestige, and dividing the West.

“Russia has thus far manifestly failed to accomplish all three objectives. In fact, it has thus far achieved the opposite,” the top aide added.

Still, Sullivan predicted that violence will get worse in the coming days, warning that the war will not end easily.


US has not seen China provide weapons to Russia since Xi-Biden call

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration has not seen China provide military equipment to Russia since President Joe Biden spoke with China’s President Xi Jinping last Friday.

“I can’t make predictions going forward. What I can tell you is we have not seen since those meetings or since the President’s conversation with Xi, the provision of military equipment by China to Russia, but of course, this is something we are monitoring closely,” Sullivan told reporters Tuesday.

He continued: “We will continue to monitor it. And the President made clear to President Xi the implications and consequences of any such provision of equipment and they very well understand.”


Regional governor says fighting raging in Mariupol

Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting in the city of Mariupol, a regional governor in Ukraine has stated.

Speaking on national television, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko accused Russian troops of firing indiscriminately at residential areas and Ukrainian military targets. Russia has denied targeting civilians.

Ukraine’s president has also stated the city of Mariupol has been razed to the ground in weeks of Russian bombardment.

Ukraine’s president has accused Russian forces attacking Mariupol of thwarting attempts to evacuate civilians from the port city.

“As of today, there are about 100,000 people in the city in inhuman conditions, completely blockaded, without food, without water, without medicines, subject to constant shelling, constant bombardment,” Volodymyr Zelensky noted.

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