Saturday, February 24, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 29

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.

NATO issues warning to China

NATO members have called on China to “abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort” in Ukraine, on Thursday.

The US-led military bloc also warned Beijing against trying to help Moscow circumvent Western sanctions.

Following an extraordinary summit in Brussels, devoted to Russia’s military offensive against the former Soviet state, NATO issued a statement, which, on top of sharp criticism of Moscow, contained warnings to Beijing as well.

“We call on all states, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” the document reads, “to abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort in any way, and to refrain from any action that helps Russia circumvent sanctions.” NATO’s statement goes on to express concern over “recent public comments by PRC officials,” urging “China to cease amplifying the Kremlin’s false narratives, in particular on the war and on NATO.”

The Kremlin’s military campaign in Ukraine poses the “gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades,” NATO leaders argued. The statement calls on President Vladimir Putin to “immediately stop this war and withdraw military forces from Ukraine,” as well as “to allow rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians.”

In its statement, NATO accused Russian forces of staging “devastating attacks on civilians, including women, children,” – something Moscow has strongly denied.

The military alliance also warned those “responsible for violations of humanitarian and international law, including war crimes” that they would be held accountable.

Moreover, NATO leaders made a pledge to “counter Russia’s lies about its attack on Ukraine and expose fabricated narratives.”

Biden: China understands economic consequences of aiding Russia in war

US President Joe Biden said he believes China understands the potentially dire economic consequences that would ensue should the country provide assistance to Russia in its war in Ukraine.

Biden stated he had a “very straightforward conversation” with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week on the topic.

He added he “made no threats,” but did make clear that Xi “understood the consequences of him helping Russia.”

He noted he pointed out the consequences of Russia’s behavior, and pointed out that China had sought to develop stronger economic ties with the west.

He stated he told Xi “he’d be putting himself at significant jeopardy in those aims, if, in fact, he were to move forward.”

“I think that China understands that its economic future is much more closely tied to the west than it is to Russia. And so I am hopeful that he does not get engaged,” Biden continued.

He warned that the US would respond if Russian President Vladimir Putin used weapons of mass destruction, but that the response would depend on the situation.

Biden said Putin had indicated to him in their early conversations that he believed the NATO alliance would not remain united.

“Putin was banking on NATO being split. My early conversation with him in December and early January — was clear to me he didn’t think that we could sustain this cohesion,” Biden told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday.

“NATO has never been more united than it is today. Putin is getting exactly the opposite what he intended to have, as a consequence of going into Ukraine,” he added.

Biden said he believes Russia should be removed from the Group of 20 (G-20), which consists of the world’s largest economies.

Biden stated the topic of expelling Russia came up during meetings with NATO and European allies in Brussels.

The president added he raised the possibility that if Indonesia, which is hosting this year’s G-20 gathering, or other member nations don’t agree with removing Russia, Ukraine should be able to attend the meetings and observe.

G7 leaders warn Russia against use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons

In a joint statement Thursday, the leaders of the G7 warned Russia against using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the invasion of Ukraine.

“We warn against any threat of the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or related materials,” the leaders wrote after meeting in Brussels.

They also denounced Russia’s attempts at disinformation suggesting Ukraine was preparing to use a chemical or nuclear weapon.

“We categorically denounce Russia’s malicious and completely unfounded disinformation campaign against Ukraine, a state in full compliance with international non-proliferation agreements. We express concern about other countries and actors that have amplified Russia’s disinformation campaign,” the leaders wrote.

G7 leaders

Without mentioning China specifically, the leaders alluded to Beijing’s consideration of providing Russia military or financial assistance.

“We will continue to cooperate closely, including by engaging other governments on adopting similar restrictive measures to those already imposed by G7 members and on refraining from evasion, circumvention and backfilling that seek to undercut or mitigate the effects of our sanctions,” the leaders added.

The G7 said, “We are concerned by the escalating and reinforced repression against the Russian people and the increasingly hostile rhetoric of the Russian leadership, including against ordinary citizens.”

And without taking an explicit stance on Russia’s participation in the G20, the leaders stated that “international organisations and multilateral fora should no longer conduct their activities with Russia in a business as usual manner.”

UN General Assembly votes to call for Russia to stop its war in Ukraine and for more civilian protection

The United Nations General Assembly has again delivered a resounding diplomatic blow to Russia, with an overwhelming vote calling for Russia to stop its war on Ukraine, plus more protection of civilians.

There were 140 countries in favor, five opposed and 38 abstentions on a resolution sponsored by the United States and nearly two dozen other countries.

A few weeks ago, 141 countries backed a resolution deploring Russia’s invasion.

While non-binding, General Assembly resolutions do carry political weight.

Pope says increasing military budgets and imposing sanctions is not a solution to war

Pope Francis has issued strong criticism against countries for increasing military spending as Russia’s onslaught of Ukraine continues, branding it “madness.”

Speaking on Thursday to an audience with the Italian Women’s Center in Rome, the Pope blamed the “shameful” war in Ukraine on the “old logic of power that still dominates the so-called geopolitics.”

He dismissed sanctions and weapons as a solution to the conflict and said the world should redesign its way of governing so that it is not subject to “economic-technocratic-military power.”

“It is now clear that good politics cannot come from the culture of power understood as domination and oppression, but only from a culture of care, care for the person and their dignity and care for our common home,” he said.

“The real answer … is not other weapons, other sanctions, other political-military alliances, but another approach, a different way of governing the now globalized world — not showing the teeth, as now — one way different than set international relations. The model of treatment is already in place, thank God, but unfortunately it is still subject to that of the economic-technocratic-military power,” the Pope added.

Ukraine and Russia carry out first prisoner exchange

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged 10 prisoners of war each for the first time since Moscow began its invasion on February 24.

“Today, by the order of President Zelensky, the first full exchange of military prisoners  took place. In exchange for 10 captive occupiers, we pulled out 10 of our soldier,” Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk said.

Vereschuk added that Ukraine sent home 11 civilian sailors saved from a drowning ship near the Black Sea port of Odesa.

In return, Ukraine got back 19 civilian sailors taken prisoner near the Black Sea island of Zmiiny, she stated.

Johnson: Putin must fail

“We stand with the people of Kyiv, Mariupol, Lviv and Donetsk,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin “must fail and he will fail.”

Johnson stated that he will not ask the Royal Air Force (RAF) to take down Russian fast jets and that there will not be a no fly zone, despite Ukrainian pleas.

The United Kingdom will not supply planes and jets to Ukraine, Johnson said, as he seeks to avoid escalating the war even further.

“We are looking at what we can do to help. But logistically it looks very difficult both with armour and with jets,” he added.

Johnson said the UK and allies would “ramp up lethal aid to Ukraine”.

He added Western leaders felt “agony” in their inability to do more to help Ukraine “given the constraints we face”.

“We’ve got to be clear about that. Nor is there a country that is willing to enforce a no-fly zone. That is not something any country here is contemplating. What we are doing is steadily racheting up the movement of lethal but defensive weaponry to Ukraine,” Johnson noted.

Putin’s “barbaric” invasion of Ukraine has galvanised the international community into collective action, the PM continued.

Macron: West ready to impose new sanctions on Russia when necessary

French President Emmanuel Macron has said Western powers are ready to ramp up sanctions against Russia if necessary, in a bid to force a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“These sanctions have an impact and are tangible and we must continue them for their dissuasive effect,” he told a news conference after a NATO and G7 leaders summit.

Macron added that he believed China still wanted to do everything to stop the war in Ukraine and avoid doing anything that could escalate the situation.

Scholz warns Moscow not to use chemical weapons in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned Russia against using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

“Should Russia be preparing a false-flag operation in order to use such [chemical and biological] weapons [in Ukraine], this would be in violation of all rules, agreements and conventions,” he told journalists in Brussels.

“It is our concern not only to point this out but also to warn in the conversations we have: Don’t do it,” he stated.

Ukraine claims Russia is deploying weapons to neighboring Belarus

Ukraine’s Armed Forces say Russia is transferring weapons and other military equipment to Belarus. It says the deployments are part of renewed Russian plans to mount an offensive aimed at encircling the capital of Kyiv.

Russian forces are also building-up equipment supplies in Crimea, the Ukrainian army added in a statement Thursday afternoon.

In an upbeat assessment of Ukraine’s success in withstanding Russia’s invading forces thus far, the statement went on: “The Russian military leadership is beginning to realize that the available forces and means are not enough to maintain the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and conduct defense operations.”

Moscow: Rejection of Russian energy will unbalance global energy system

Rejection of resources from Russia will unbalance the global energy system, Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, said on Thursday, adding that recent events are dangerous for the whole world.

“The current situation has a negative impact on the energy markets and it is the fault of the United States. And experts understand this very well and understand that the rejection of Russian energy carriers will unbalance the global energy system and harm the initiators of restrictions and consumers. It was not Russia that initiated the confrontation in the energy sector,” Zakharova told a briefing.

US Treasury: G7, EU announce initiative to share information, coordinate on evasion of Russian sanctions

The leaders of G7 and EU nations have rolled out an initiative to share data and coordinate on evasion of anti-Russia sanctions, the US Treasury announced on Thursday.

“Establishment of an initiative focused on sanctions evasions. G7 leaders and the European Union today announced an initiative to share information about and coordinate responses related to evasive measures intended to undercut the effectiveness and impact of our joint sanctions actions,” the Treasury said.

“Together, we will not allow sanctions evasion or backfilling. As part of this effort, we will also engage other governments on adopting sanctions similar to those already imposed by the G7 and other partners,” it added.

US announces new wave of Russia sanctions

The US has imposed a new wave of sanctions on Russia, targeting dozens of defence companies and hundreds of members of Russia’s parliament as Washington ramps up pressure on Moscow.

The measures target individuals and entities that “fuel [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war machine,” the White House announced in a statement, including Herman Gref, the chief executive of Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank.

The Treasury Department also issued guidance on its website warning that gold-related transactions involving Russia may be sanctionable by US authorities in a move aimed at stopping Russia from evading sanctions.

Ukraine claims Russian forces pushed back in some areas around Kyiv

A spokesman for Ukraine’s defence ministry has claimed its troops have pushed back Russian forces from some areas around Kyiv but warned Moscow retains hope of surrounding and seizing the Ukrainian capital.

“In some sectors the enemy was driven back by more than 70km (44 miles), in some sectors the enemy is at a distance of 35km (21 miles),” Oleksander Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing.

Without citing evidence, Motuzyanyk also claimed that the Kremlin had been sending additional military equipment to Belarus to reinforce its troops attacking Kyiv.

India snubs US call to isolate Moscow

India’s largest oil and gas company, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), bought three million barrels of Urals crude oil from Russia on Wednesday, the Deccan Herald newspaper reported citing trade sources.

According to the publication, the oil was purchased through European trader Vitol at an undisclosed discount.

This is the second time the Indian company has bought oil from Russia since Western sanctions were imposed on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

Despite repeated calls for India to join in isolating Russia, New Delhi has been reluctant to cut ties with Moscow and even deemed the current situation an opportunity to broaden cooperation. Talks are currently being held regarding mechanisms to switch to Russian rubles and Indian rupees in a mutual trade to avoid using the euro and dollar.

NATO leaders agree to bolster eastern defences

Leaders of the US-led transatlantic military alliance have agreed to bolster defences along its eastern flank.

“In response to Russia’s actions, we have activated NATO’s defence plans, deployed elements of the NATO Response Force, and placed 40,000 troops on our eastern flank,” they announced in a joint statement following the emergency summit in Brussels.

“We are also establishing four additional multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. We are taking all measures and decisions to ensure the security and defence of all Allies across all domains and with a 360-degree approach,” they added.

The statement said the alliance’s measures “remain preventive, proportionate, and non-escalatory”.

China dismisses reports alleging ‘prior knowledge’ of invasion

China’s defence ministry has dismissed claims that Beijing had “prior knowledge” of Russia’s invasion, denouncing such assertions as a smear.

The ministry’s remarks came in response to foreign media reports that alleged China ignored warnings by the US that Russia would attack Ukraine.

China strongly disagrees and opposes these claims, which the US made to “shirk responsibility and smear China”, the ministry announced in a statement.

Russian attacks kill six in Kharkiv

Russian attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv have killed at least six civilians and wounded more than a dozen others, the region’s governor has said.

“The Russians fired long-range weapons at a Nova Poshta office, near where Kharkiv residents were receiving aid,” Oleg Sinegubov wrote on social media, citing a local postal delivery service.

“Preliminary information suggests six civilians were killed and 15 others were injured and hospitalised,” he added.

NATO will reinforce chemical, biological and nuclear defenses in response to Russia

NATO will reinforce its chemical, biological and nuclear defense systems on fears Russia is planning to use such weapons against the people of Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

“Our top military commander General Walters has activated NATO’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements, and allies are deploying additional chemical and biological and nuclear defenses to reinforce our existing and new backing groups,” he told reporters in Brussels following an extraordinary meeting of heads of state and government.

The concerns stem from “absolutely false” Russian “rhetoric” that the United States, NATO allies and Ukraine are preparing to use biological weapons, Stoltenberg added.

“We’ve seen before that this way of accusing others is actually a way to try to create a pretext to do the same themselves,” he continued.

Biden on NATO summit: “NATO is as strong & united as it has ever been”

US President Joe Biden in a statement said that the NATO alliance remains “as strong and united as it has ever been” and vowed continued support for Ukraine following Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels.

“NATO leaders met today on the one-month anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine to reiterate our strong support for the Ukrainian people, our determination to hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and our commitment to strengthening the NATO Alliance,” Biden added.

Biden noted that the leaders were able to hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky via videoconference and noted in the statement that NATO and the United States will “continue to support him and his government with significant, and increasing, amounts of security assistance to fight Russian aggression and uphold their right to self-defense.”

Official: Washington still opposes providing fighter jets to Ukraine

The United States is still opposed to providing fighter jets to Ukraine after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made another appeal to NATO leaders on Thursday.

A senior US official tells CNN the US position has not changed on the matter.

During a video address on Thursday, Zelensky asked NATO for “one percent of all your planes,” later adding, “you have thousands of fighter jets, but we have not been given one yet.”

Previously, US officials stated they opposed providing fighter jets to Ukraine because it could be viewed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as an escalatory step.

UN says more than 1,000 civilians killed in Ukraine

The UN’s human rights office (OHCHR) announced it has confirmed at least 1,035 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and 1,650 others wounded since Russia started its offensive.

The death toll includes 90 children, OHCHR said in a statement, adding that the true figures were believed to be considerably higher due to delays in reporting from areas with intense hostilities, including the besieged, southeastern port city of Mariupol.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” it noted.

Mariupol authorities say 15,000 people ‘illegally deported’ to Russia

Authorities in Mariupol claim about 15,000 civilians have been illegally deported to Russia since Moscow’s forces seized parts of the city.

“Residents of the Left Bank district are beginning to be deported en masse to Russia. In total, about 15,000 Mariupol residents have been subjected to illegal deportation,” Mariupol’s city council announced in a statement.

It claimed there was also evidence that Russian forces are seizing Ukrainians’ passports and other identity documents as they are deported.

Kyiv and Moscow have repeatedly traded blame for the consistent failure to agree on arrangements to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, control of which would help Russia secure a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

US will announce sanctions on over 300 members of the Russian Duma

The United States on Thursday will announce new sanctions against over 300 members of the Russian Duma and more than 40 Russian defense companies, a senior administration official told reporters.

The official added that the EU and G7 will also announce a new sanctions evasion initiative that’s “designed to prevent circumvention or backfilling” of sanctions.

Asked by CNN’s Phil Mattingly for examples of the sanctions evasion initiative, a senior administration official said, in part, it will blunt the Central Bank of Russia’s ability to deploy international reserves by making clear that any transaction involving gold is prohibited — which prevents the ruble from being propped up.

“The overall message here is we have taken historic steps in imposing costs on Russia, now let’s make sure we are fully aligned and getting the maximum impact from the measures we have implemented,” the official stated.

Asked about the expected joint energy strategy that is expected to be announced Friday, administration officials wouldn’t go into detail but noted “it’s something we’ve been working on for some time and I think it’s going to be a meaningful step forward in terms of accelerating Europe’s diversification away from Russian gas.”

Energy minister: Qatar will stand “in solidarity” with Europe by continuing supplying gas

Qatar will stand “in solidarity with Europe” and will not divert gas contracts to other customers, even if it means losing on possible financial gains, Qatari Energy Minister Saad Al Kaabi told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

The energy-rich Persian Gulf monarchy supplies some European countries with gas in the form of divertible contracts, which means they are able to divert supply across to other customers.

“We’re not going to divert [contracts] and will keep them in Europe, even if there is financial gain for us to divert away, we would not do that,” Al Kaabi said.

“That’s in solidarity with what’s going on in Europe,” he added.

Still, the minister rejected imposing sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, saying “energy should stay out of politics” and reiterated that completely stopping Russian gas supply to Europe is “not practically possible.”

The minister also added that his nation is not “choosing sides” in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

US & allies aiming to provide anti-ship missiles to Kyiv

The United States and its allies are working on supporting Ukraine with anti-ship missiles, a senior US administration official said on Thursday.

“We have started consulting with allies on providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine,” the official stated on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels.

“There may be some technical challenges with making that happen but that is something that we are consulting with allies and starting to work on,” the official added.

US President Joe Biden told the closed-door session he was in favour of sending more troops to NATO’s eastern flank, the official noted.

Kremlin says UK’s PM is most active ‘anti-Russian’ leader

The Kremlin has labelled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the most active “anti-Russian” world leader and warned that London’s approach to Moscow will lead to a “foreign policy dead end”.

“As for Mr Johnson, we see him as the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“It will lead to a foreign policy dead end,” he added.

Moscow: West seeks to politicize Ukraine’s humanitarian issues within UN

Western countries are making every effort to politicize humanitarian issues facing Ukraine on the United Nations platform, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a meeting with President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer in Moscow on Thursday.

“We can see that our Western colleagues are making every effort within the United Nations in order to politicize humanitarian issues and turn them against Russia. Another proof of that emerged yesterday during a vote on a resolution submitted by Russia, which – if passed – could have helped solve many problems on the ground, including those that the ICRC team is facing in Ukraine,” Lavrov pointed out.

“We are interested in solving the problems that are piling up in Ukraine, as well as in removing artificial obstacles preventing the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid,” the Russian top diplomat added.

Ukraine: A “responsible” Europe will ignore Putin’s “humiliating demands” on gas

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister has urged Europe to ignore Russia’s insistence that payment for future deliveries of Russian gas will need to be made in rubles.

The announcement from Moscow is seen as an attempt to get European countries to prop up Russia’s currency, the value of which has fallen significantly since the start of the war.

It is also a reminder of the importance of Russia’s energy supplies as a bargaining chip in relations between the Kremlin and the West.

“If any EU country bows to Vladimir Putin’s humiliating demands to pay for oil and gas in rubles, it will be like helping Ukraine with one hand and helping Russians kill Ukrainians with the other,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet.

“I urge relevant countries to make a wise and responsible choice,” he added.

The West has imposed heavy sanctions on Russia since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine a month ago. However, Europe depends heavily on Russian gas for heating and power generation and the European Union is split on whether to sanction Russia’s energy sector.

Putin’s message was clear: If you want our gas, buy our currency. It remained unclear whether Russia has the power to unilaterally change existing contracts agreed upon in euros.

France promises funding to International Criminal Court to investigate crimes in Ukraine

The French Foreign Ministry has promised 500,000 euros ($548,715) of financing to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to support the investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

France will also be providing magistrates, investigators and experts, “to make sure the prosecutor can lead his investigation in the best possible conditions,” according to the statement.

The statement added that French Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti will be encouraging other states to increase their support to the ICC in a meeting of justice ministers in The Hague on Thursday.

The ICC opened an investigation on March 2 into alleged crimes committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine since 21 November 2013, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kyiv to protest former President Viktor Yanukovych’s U-turn over a trade pact with the European Union that had been years in the making.

The US government on Wednesday formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

“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,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

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

China rejects disinformation claims in war of words over Ukraine

Beijing has accused the NATO chief of “spreading disinformation” with claims that China has backed Russia’s war against Ukraine, as the alliance ramps up pressure on the country at an urgent summit.

China has refused to condemn close ally Russia over the bloody invasion of Ukraine and lagged behind many other countries in providing humanitarian aid to the war-stricken country.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday accused China of giving political backing to Russia as it invades Ukraine by “spreading blatant lies”, saying it must “live up to its responsibilities” and call for a war end.

But Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated that “accusing China of spreading false information about Ukraine is itself spreading disinformation” and that China’s position is “consistent with the wishes of most countries”.

“We have always maintained that Ukraine should become a bridge between the East and West, rather than be in the frontline in a game between great powers,” he added.

However, the spokesman still repeated Moscow’s claims about secret American biological warfare labs in the country, despite rebuttals from independent scientists.

Zelensky claims Russia using phosphorus bombs in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of deploying phosphorus weapons in his country and urged NATO to provide military support.

“This morning, by the way, phosphorus bombs were used. Russian phosphorus bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again,” Zelensky said during a video address on Thursday to the military alliance.

He also urged NATO leaders, at an emergency summit in Brussels, to provide Kyiv with unrestricted military aid.

“To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance without restrictions. In the same way that Russia is using its full arsenal without restrictions against us,” the president added.

“You can give us 1% of all your planes. 1% of your tanks. One percent!” he said, adding, “The Alliance can once more prevent the death of Ukrainians from Russian strikes, from Russian occupation, by giving us all the weapons we need.”

Zelensky warned Russia would next target alliance members in eastern Europe including Poland.

Russia “wants to go further. Against eastern members of NATO. The Baltic states. Poland for sure,” he said, adding, “But NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people.”

Kremlin dodges questions on DM amid reports of health problems

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday dodged CNN questions about the health of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has not been seen in public in nearly a week, if not more.

“The Defense Minister has a lot on his plate at the moment,” Peskov said when CNN asked about Shoigu’s absence.

“The special military operation is going on. Naturally, now is not exactly the time for media activity, this is quite understandable,” he added.

When asked by CNN if he could disprove a report by the independent investigative Russian outlet Agentnstvo citing anonymous sources in the ministry as saying Shoigu has health problems, Peskov refused to do so.

“I can’t. You shouldn’t listen to the Agenstvo media outlet. Please address [these questions to] the Ministry of Defense,” he stated.

Shoigu appeared in a Channel One broadcast on March 18, which the Russian outlet said was from that day, but Russian journalists have speculated that the event being broadcast was from March 11.

Switzerland reports more than $6bn worth of sanctioned Russian assets

The Swiss government has so far received reports of 5.75 billion Swiss francs ($6.17bn) worth of Russian assets in Switzerland covered by sanctions, and the number is likely to rise significantly, according to an official.

The assets included a number of properties in resorts, Erwin Bollinger told a news conference.

Russia: Most NATO states have hysterical & inadequate understanding of Ukraine

At the regular press briefing in Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Pesko stated that moves to expel US diplomats from Russia was a forced measure, after last month the US expelled 12 Russians from the country’s UN mission in New York over national security concerns.

The United States Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday received a list of its diplomats that were declared “persona non grata”.

Peskov also noted that most NATO member states suffer from a hysterical and inadequate understanding of what is going on in Ukraine.

Zelensky: Ukraine ‘deserves to be fully-fledged member of EU’

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has addressed the Swedish parliament, and told them that Ukraine deserves to be a full member of the European Union.

He told lawmakers via videolink, “We are not fighting just for the people of Ukraine, but for Europe’s security and we have shown that we deserve to be a fully-fledged member of the EU.”

Zelensky will also address the emergency NATO meeting in Brussels via video.

World leaders gather for emergency NATO summit in Brussels

World leaders gather for emergency Nato summit in Brussels

Rouble rallies as stock market trade restarts in Russia after hiatus

The rouble has extended its recovery amid a partial restart in trading on Russia’s stock market after a month-long hiatus that saw the majority of options rise.

The moves came after the Russian currency sank to a record low and the central bank ordered the suspension of most trade after foreign powers imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow.

As of 09:08 GMT, the rouble had firmed 1.6 percent to 95.61 to the US dollar, extending overnight gains driven by Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia would start selling its gas to “unfriendly” countries in roubles.

Russia’s stocks continued to rise sharply on Thursday as the Moscow Exchange reopened for limited trading this week, after suspending most of its transactions on February 28.

The ruble-based MOEX benchmark went up more than 11% to 2,743 points. The dollar-denominated RTS index of leading Russian stocks was down slightly, to 888.59 points.

The Moscow Exchange resumed trading in 33 Russian equities, including shares of Gazprom, Sberbank, Aeroflot, and other domestic firms. Oil majors Rosneft and Lukoil were both up by 20% and 16%, respectively. Aluminum company Rusal rose more than 14%, while Norilsk Nickel jumped more than 22%.

Short-selling on stocks will be banned, the central bank announced earlier. Foreign investors will not be able to sell stocks or OFZ ruble bonds until April 1.

The MOEX nosedived on February 24, when Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine. On February 28, trading was suspended until further notice as Western sanctions targeting Russia’s financial system threw stock markets into turmoil.

Ukraine negotiating security guarantees with US, UK, Germany, France & Turkey

Ukraine is negotiating security guarantees with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Turkey, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with the Spanish El Pais newspaper.

The diplomat stated that Kiev is in talks with the countries in question over their possible participation in that security model, adding that they welcomed the idea.

This is the only issue that Ukraine discusses with these countries, while the rest is part of the negotiations between Moscow and Kiev, the minister added.

UK announces new Russia sanctions

The United Kingdom’s government says it has imposed new sanctions on 65 more Russian individuals and organisations, including “banks, defence companies and oligarchs”.

It added the moves were aimed at “cutting off vital industries fuelling Vladimir Putin’s war machine”.

Eugene Shvidler, an oligarch said to have “close business links” to Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, and Polina Kovaleva, the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are among the individuals targeted.

“These oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs are complicit in the murder of innocent civilians and it is right that they pay the price,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement, adding there will be “no let-up” in the pressure on Putin and the Russian economy while Moscow’s offensive continues.

Ukraine wants SWIFT to cut off Russia’s central bank

The National Bank of Ukraine has asked global financial messaging system SWIFT to disconnect Russia’s central bank, effectively cutting off the regulator’s ability to conduct international transactions.

“The National Bank of Ukraine appealed to the leadership of the international SWIFT system with a call to disconnect the Central Bank of Russia from the financial messaging system. This will strengthen the international financial isolation of Russia and become an effective tool for maximum counteraction to Russian aggression in the financial sector,” the statement reads, as cited by RIA Novosti.

After the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, the US and its allies began restricting and banning Russia’s largest banks and state-owned companies, and froze around $300 billion in Russia’s forex reserves. While the EU banned operations to manage reserves and assets of the Bank of Russia, European countries are still allowed to carry out transactions with the regulator in cases of urgent need.

Earlier this month, the EU disconnected seven Russian banks from SWIFT. The list includes VTB, Rossiya, Otkritie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, Sovcombank, and VEB.RF.

Turkish official views idea of Ankara sending S-400 systems to Ukraine as unrealistic

The idea of Ankara sending its Russian-made S-400 missile systems to Ukraine is unrealistic, Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said in a letter to the Wall Street Journal.

According to him, the idea is “quite unrealistic.”

The Pentagon earlier confirmed that the United States was in talks with Turkey on sending the S-400 systems to Kiev in exchange for reinstating Ankara in the F-35 program and lifting sanctions.

Report: Turkish exports to Russia halved, exports to Ukraine near zero

Turkish exports to Russia have halved, while exports to Ukraine are near zero, the Reuters news agency has quoted a Turkish Central Bank official as saying.

The remarks by the bank’s research and monetary policy general manager, Orhun Sevinc, were made during a call with investors and economists, according to participants cited by Reuters.

NATO member Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea. It has close ties with both countries and has attempted to mediate between the two.

Russia’s Gazprom still exporting gas to Europe via Ukraine

Russian energy giant Gazprom says it is still supplying natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

The company added requests stood at 104 million cubic metres for March 24, down from 106.5 million cubic metres the previous day.

Half of all Ukrainian kids have been displaced since Russian invasion began

One in every two Ukrainian children has been displaced since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24, according to the UN Children’s Fund.

“It’s mind-boggling,” UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told CNN.

“Since the start of the war a month ago, out of every boy and girl in the country, one out of two now has had to flee their homes,” he added.

“It’s a situation we’ve not seen before, not in living memory, and it’s almost impossible to deal with,” Elder said.

Elder said UNICEF is trying to get blankets, water purification tablets, generators, medical supplies and obstetric kits for mothers giving birth into the country.

“Unless the war stops, unless the indiscriminate attacks stop, we’re going to see more children wrenched from their homes and the bombardments,” he added.

EU top diplomat says Russia has no interest in negotiating ceasefire for now

The Russian government has no interest in negotiating a ceasefire in Ukraine for now as its army has not reached its military goals, EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell has said.

“Right now, Russia doesn’t want to sit and negotiate anything: what it wants is to occupy the ground,” Borrell stated in an interview with Spanish TVE channel.

“It wants to surround the coast to the border with Moldova and isolate Ukraine from the sea. It wants to negotiate in earnest only when it has secured a position of strength,” he continued.

The EU and its allies will keep on delivering military aid to the Ukrainian army, Borrell added.

Ukraine’s General Staff: Russia lost 15,800 soldiers, 530 tanks and 108 planes

In the month since Moscow invaded Ukraine, it has lost some 15,800 servicemen, Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces has claimed.

Russians also lost 530 tanks, 1,597 armoured vehicles, 108 planes, 124 helicopters and 50 drones, it said in a Facebook post.

It added that the data is being updated and cannot be verified because of the intense hostilities.

EU says assessing scenarios of potential Russian gas halt next winter

The European Union is assessing a scenarios including a full halt to Russian gas supplies next winter, as part of its contingency planning for supply shocks, European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis has stated.

“We are reassessing scenarios for partial and full disruption of gas laws from Russia next winter to help member states revise their gas supply contingency plans,” Dombrovskis told the European Parliament.

West to warn Putin in trio of summits

Western nations will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country will pay “ruinous” costs for invading Ukraine, during an unprecedented one-day trio of NATO, G7 and EU summits that will be attended by President Joe Biden.

The hectic day of summitry to maintain Western unity will kick off at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where the transatlantic defence alliance’s leaders will agree to ramp up military forces on Europe’s eastern flank.

Alarmed by the prospect that Russia might escalate the war, the 30 nations of NATO will also agree to send Kyiv equipment to defend against biological, chemical and nuclear attacks.

NATO: Putin made ‘big mistake’ invading Ukraine

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has accused President Vladimir Putin of making a “big mistake” by invading Ukraine, as leaders gathered to discuss overhauling the alliance’s eastern defences.

“President Putin has made a big mistake and that is to launch a war against an independent sovereign nation. He has underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces,” Stoltenberg said ahead of the start of a summit in Brussels.

Stoltenberg added the leaders of the US-led military alliance would “address the need for a reset of our deterrence and defence in the longer term”, starting with agreeing new deployments to eastern members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Russian forces take full control of Izyum city in Kharkov region

Russian troops have taken full control of Izyum city of Kharkiv province, Moscow claimed on Thursday.

However, Ukraine denied the claim with Lyudmyla Dolhonovska, an adviser to Ukraine Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, telling CNN that the battle for Izyum is “still going on.”

The Russian armed forces have destroyed 60 Ukrainian military facilities over the past day, including two command posts, two multiple launch rocket systems, four ammunition depots, 47 areas of accumulation of weapons and military equipment of the Ukrainian armed forces, the MoD announced.

New facts of the involvement of the US Department of Defense in the development of biological weapons components in Ukraine have been revealed, spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry Igor Konashenkov told reporters on Thursday.

The Russian Ministry of Defence continues to study documents received from employees of Ukrainian biological laboratories about the secret military biological activities of the United States in Ukraine.

He also stated that in the near future the Russian Ministry of Defence would present original documents demonstrating that the biological project “UP2” was developed and approved in the Pentagon.

The Russian Defence Ministry stressed that the Pentagon’s project in Ukraine was aimed at obtaining new strains of anthrax.

FM: Australia not ruling out expulsion of Russian diplomats

While Australia understands the importance of diplomatic contacts with Russia, it does not rule out the expulsion of Russian diplomats in the wake of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday.

“The option of expelling diplomats is something is available to government, but at the same time it is potentially useful to have direct lines of communication with, in this case, the Russian government, but that does not mean the government has excluded the option,” Payne stated in an interview with ABC Radio.

The minister observed that other countries have asked Russian diplomatic staff to leave, but “not in every case their ambassador,” adding that Australia’s government is working with partners to “determine the best approach in these circumstances.”

Payne also added she is “not going to speculate on Australia’s approach”.

Ukraine claims Russian ship destroyed in Berdiansk

A Russian ship has been destroyed and burned down in the Azov Sea port of Berdiansk, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has claimed.

The ship, Orsk, is a beachable landing support ship for transporting paratroopers. The Perepichka news Telegram channel reported earlier Thursday that loud explosions were heard in Berdiansk.

The town of 100,000 was taken over by Russian forces on February 27, three days after the invasion began.

Berdiansk was crucial for shipment of grain, vegetable oil and steel from Ukraine until Russia blockaded the Sea of Azov for Ukrainian and international vessels.

Aid group warns Ukraine sees fastest displacement crisis since WWII

More than 2 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed into Poland since Russian forces invaded Ukraine a month ago.

It’s “the fastest displacement crisis we’ve seen since the Second World War,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement Thursday.

The IRC added Poland has “acted quickly” to legalize the stay of Ukrainians and to provide access to social services like healthcare, education, and financial assistance.

“However, to receive most benefits, registration for a Polish ID number is required. Even with the swift registration process established by the Polish government, it will be a long process to register the over one million people who are expected to stay on in Poland,” stated Heather Macey, IRC Team Lead in Poland.

IRC, a major US humanitarian group, has urged authorities in countries neighboring Ukraine to “make full use of the help offered by the EU Asylum Agency, EU funding, and other EU countries to make sure that refugees are supported in an equitable and sustainable way across the continent.”

WH calls Russia stock market reopening a “charade”

The White House said Russia’s planned partial reopening of its stock exchange amounts to a “Potemkin market opening” that will obscure the dire effects of Western economic sanctions.

(The original term “Potemkin Village” derives from a story dating back to 18th-century Russia, suggesting that an artificial place can be built to disguise or conceal the true — and often less desirable — identity of the original.)

“What we’re seeing is a charade,” deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh wrote in a statement.

“After keeping its markets closed for nearly a month, Russia announced it will only allow 15% of listed shares to trade, foreigners are prohibited from selling their shares, and short selling in general has been banned. Meanwhile, Russia has made clear they are going to pour government resources into artificially propping up the shares of companies that are trading,” he added.

Singh stated it was “not a real market and not a sustainable model — which only underscores Russia’s isolation from the global financial system.”

IAEA ‘gravely concerned’ about safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is “gravely concerned” about the “safety and security of [Ukraine’s] nuclear facilities.”

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the IAEA’s director general, said “the need to prevent a nuclear accident becomes more pressing with each day that passes” and urged authorities to allow the group’s experts and equipment to assess Ukraine’s nuclear reactors.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, several of which are now under Russian control – including Chernobyl.

Grossi added that the IAEA is hoping to send experts into Ukraine to “ensure the safety and security of its nuclear facilities and prevent the risk of a severe accident that could threaten both people and the environment”.

Zelensky tells Russians: “Save your sons from war”

In a video message posted to Facebook, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Russians and told them, “save your sons from the war.”

Zelensky said Ukraine had never threatened the security of Russia, adding that Russian propagandists “lie about the war, which is paid for by your taxes.”

Ukrainians, he said, are doing everything they can to bring peace back to their land.

“Not to yours — to our land. To our people. We are doing everything to end this war. And when we succeed, it will certainly happen, you will be sure of at least one thing: your children will no longer be sent to die on our land, on our territory,” he added.

The Ukrainian president stated Russia’s original plan “already failed” in the first two days of the invasion but Russia is still “getting manpower from everywhere.”

“Equipment. Air bombs, missiles. Looking for mercenaries around the world. Any scum capable of shooting at civilians,” Zelensky continued.

“Russian troops destroy our cities. Kill civilians indiscriminately. Rape women. Abduct children. Shoot at refugees. Capture humanitarian convoys. They are engaged in looting. They burn museums, blow up schools and hospitals. The target for them is universities, residential neighborhoods … Anything! Russian troops do not know the limits of evil,” he noted.

Zelensky referred to three upcoming meetings with world leaders — the NATO Summit, EU Summit and G7 Summit — and said politicians need to support freedom for Ukraine.

“At these three summits we will see who is a friend, who is a partner, and who betrayed us for money,” he added.

The president repeated his requests for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying the Ukrainian sky has not been made safe from Russian bombs and Kyiv has not received aircraft, modern anti-missile weapons or tanks.

UN to vote on blaming Russia for humanitarian crisis

The UN General Assembly is voting Thursday on a resolution backed by over 90 countries that blames Russia for the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and demands an immediate halt to hostilities, especially attacks on civilians and their homes, schools and hospitals.

Moscow has denounced the resolution as “anti-Russian” and accuses its supporters of not really being concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground, stressing they want to politicise aid.

The vote follows the Security Council’s overwhelming defeat on Wednesday of a Russian resolution that would have acknowledged Ukraine’s growing humanitarian needs – but without mentioning Russia’s invasion that has left millions of Ukrainians in desperate need of food, water and shelter.

Johnson: ‘Putin is already failing in Ukraine’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK cannot stand idly by while “Russia grinds Ukraine’s towns and cities into dust.”

It comes as the prime minister is set to announce a major new package of support for Ukraine on Thursday.

“Vladimir Putin is already failing in Ukraine,” he stated, adding, “The Ukrainian people have shown themselves to be extraordinarily brave and tenacious in defending their homeland, in the face of an unprovoked onslaught.”

“But we cannot and will not stand by while Russia grinds Ukraine’s towns and cities into dust,” he continued, noting, “The United Kingdom will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine.”

One month into the invasion, the international community faces a choice, Johnson said.

“We can keep the flame of freedom alive in Ukraine, or risk it being snuffed out across Europe and the world,” the PM added.

The West could go after Putin’s gold, Johnson has suggested as he ratcheted up the rhetoric ahead of a crunch summit of NATO leaders.

The PM admitted “we need to do more”, saying the Russian president had “already crossed a threshold of barbarism in the way he’s behaving”.

“People talk about new red lines for chemical, biological, tactical nuclear weapons or whatever,” he told LBC radio, exactly one month on from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“For me, the red line already has been crossed. He’s bombing, indiscriminately, civilian centres. He’s causing huge numbers of casualties in wholly innocent populations. We need to do more. And so we need to do more economically, can we do more to stop him using his gold reserves for instance, in addition to his cash reserves?” he added.

US shipment of weapons for Ukraine will be sent in coming days

The first shipments of weapons for Ukraine from the US will be sent in the next day or two, a senior US defence official told Reuters.

The shipments are part of an aid package that was pledged by American politicians in response to the war in Ukraine.

The weapons are expected to reach Ukraine quickly once shipped, though the official refused to confirm which weapons would be delivered.

The official added that weapons already used by Ukrainian soldiers would be prioritised for delivery.

Putin blocked Russia’s central bank chief from quitting over Ukraine war

The head of Russia’s central bank reportedly wanted to resign from her post within the last several weeks – only for Russian President Vladimir Putin to refuse her request and force her to remain as Western nations implemented crippling economic sanctions.

Elvira Nabiullina, who has worked closely with Putin to shape Russia’s economic policy for more than two decades, tried to quit shortly after the Kremlin ordered its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

But Putin blocked the move and Nabiullina was nominated last week for another five-year term leading Russia’s central bank.

While Nabiullina’s current views on the war are unclear, the sanctions imposed by the US and other countries have crippled the Russian economy, caused the ruble’s value to crater and put Russia at risk of defaulting on its debt.

Mayor: At least 264 civilians killed in Kyiv since beginning of Russian invasion

At least 264 civilians, including four children, have died in the Ukrainian capital since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko.

More than 300 people have been hospitalized due to injuries and more than 80 buildings have been destroyed, Klitschko stated.

“The target of aggressors is the capital of Ukraine,” the mayor said in a video on his YouTube channel Wednesday.

The bombardment of Ukraine by Russian forces began one month ago.

Before the war, about 3 million people lived in Kyiv but the population has now dwindled to about half that because of how many people have fled, Klitschko added.

“We need support right now in this very difficult time,” he said, adding, “Everybody’s surprised how tough Ukrainian army, how tough Ukrainian soldiers (are) because we stand in front one of the strongest armies in the world: the Russian army.”

Klitschko said Ukrainians are “so tough” because, unlike Russian soldiers, they are fighting to defend their children, their families, their city and their future.

Russia, he added, wants to rebuild its empire but Ukraine wants “to be part of the European family as a democratic, modern European country of Ukraine.”

Zelensky calls for worldwide demonstrations supporting Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling for worldwide demonstrations in support of Ukraine as the Russian invasion reaches the one-month mark.

The Ukrainian president made the remarks in a speech posted to Facebook Wednesday evening, with the goal of seeing demonstrations begin Thursday.

“It breaks my heart, hearts of all Ukrainians and every free person on the planet. That’s why I asked you to stand against the war starting from March 24, exactly one month after the Russian invasion. From this day and after that, show your standing, come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine,” Zelensky pleaded.

Zelensky said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a war against freedom and that Russia aims to defeat the freedom of all of Europe and the world.

“To support freedom, to support life. Come to your squares, your streets, make yourselves visible and heard. Say that people matter, freedom matters, peace matters, Ukraine matters,” Zelensky added.

Zelensky urged the world to unite against Russia’s invasion, stating, “the war of Russia is not only the war against Ukraine, its meaning is much wider.”

US: Russian troops setting up ‘defensive positions’ outside Kyiv

A senior US defence official says Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions between 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) outside Kyiv, as they continue to make little to no progress moving toward the city center.

“They’re basically digging in and they are establishing defensive positions,” stated the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“So it’s not that they’re not advancing. They’re actually not trying to advance right now,” the official added.

In some cases east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have been able to push Russian soldiers further away, the official continued, claiming that Russian forces who had been 20-30 kilometers (12-19 miles) away to the east and northeast are now about 55 kilometers (34 miles) away.

The official noted that, instead, Russian troops are exerting more energy and effort in the eastern Donbas region, specifically in Luhansk and Donetsk.

Zelensky calls for ‘effective and unrestricted aid’ from NATO

Ukraine’s president has called on NATO to provide “effective and unrestricted” support to his country, including any weapons it needs to fend off the Russian invasion.

Speaking on the eve of NATO and G7 summits in Brussels, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine is “expecting serious steps” from the West and its allies.

“We ask that [NATO] declare that it will fully assist Ukraine to win this war, clear our territory of the invaders and restore peace in Ukraine,” he noted, appealing to the Western countries to stay united in the face of Russia’s efforts to “lobby its interests”.

“We will see who is a friend, who is a partner and who has sold out and betrayed us,” he stated in an emotional speech.

“Together we should not allow Russia to break anyone in NATO, the EU or G-7, to break them and drag them to the side of war,” the president added.

Zelensky noted that Ukrainian skies are still not closed to Russian aircraft and missiles and that Ukraine hasn’t received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested.

He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.

“It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth,” he added.

“We have lasted six times longer than the enemy had planned … but the Russian troops are destroying our cities, killing civilians indiscriminately, raping women, kidnapping children, shooting refugees, capturing aid columns and looting,” the Ukraine’s president continued.

Huge fire blazing in Sumy region

Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, the governor of Sumy region, says emergency workers have not been able to access the site of a huge fire that broke out in the city of Trostianets on Tuesday.

“For the third day in a row, Trostianets remains the hottest spot, fierce battles are going on,” he stated in a video address.

“Due to the shelling and the fighting, it is impossible for firefighters to get there to extinguish the fire,” he added.

Report: US making contingency plans in case Russia uses chemical or nuclear weapons

The New York Times reported that the White House has assembled a group of national security officials to draw up plans for how the US and its allies should respond if President Vladimir Putin orders the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Known as the Tiger Team, the group is also looking at responses if the Russian president reaches into NATO territory to attack convoys bringing weapons and aid to Ukraine, the NYT reported, citing several officials involved in the process.

Report: Russian military leaders rejecting outreach from US counterparts

Top US defense officials have received no response to outreach to their Russian counterparts since the start of the war in Ukraine, The Washington Post reported.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stated Wednesday that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov “have so far declined to engage” in phone calls with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Russian-drafted proposal on Ukraine aid fails at UN Security Council

A Russian-drafted UN Security Council proposal calling for humanitarian aid access in Ukraine has been defeated with two “yes” votes and 13 abstentions.

Only Russia and China voted in favour of the draft resolution. The United States and its Allies had voiced opposition to the measure because it does not assign blame for the crisis.

24 bodies recovered from rubble of Kharkiv building

Rescue workers have now recovered bodies of 24 people from the rubble of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, which was shelled on March 1, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.

Rescuers are continuing to clear the debris, a spokesman for the emergency service told local media.

Russian journalist killed in Ukraine

Oksana Baulina, a Russian reporter working for an independent Russian news outlet, has been killed while filming in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

The Insider, Baulina’s employer, said the journalist died “under fire in Kyiv”.

“She was filming the destruction after Russian troops shelled the Podil district of the capital,” it added.

US envoy: Russia ‘does not care’ about humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has slammed Russia for introducing a humanitarian resolution on Ukraine, which was defeated at the Security Council.

“Russia does not care about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions or the millions of lives and dreams the war has shattered,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

“If they cared, they would stop fighting. Russia is the aggressor, the attacker, the invader, the sole party in Ukraine engaged in a campaign of brutality against the people of Ukraine,” she added.

UK: Ukraine carrying out ‘successful counter attacks’ near Kyiv

The British Ministry of Defence says Ukrainian forces are carrying out successful counter attacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.

“There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces are now able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin,” the ministry announced in its latest intelligence update.

It added that these counter attacks will likely “disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganise and resume their own offensive towards Kyiv”.

Russia to expel a number of American diplomats

Russia has told Washington it would throw out a number of American diplomats in response to a move by the United States to expel Russian staff from the permanent Untied Nations mission, according to the Interfax news agency.

The agency also cited the foreign ministry as telling the US that any hostile actions against Russia would provoke a decisive response.

UK to send Ukraine thousands more missiles

The United Kingdom is giving Ukraine 6,000 more missiles, including anti-tank and high-explosive weaponry, as well as 25 million pounds ($33m) to help Kyiv pay its military and police forces.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated the UK “will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine, strengthening their defenses as they turn the tide in this fight”.

The UK has already sent more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

The United Kingdom is set to announce a “major new military support package” for Ukraine at Thursday’s NATO and the G7 leaders’ meetings.

The support package will include 6,000 missiles, consisting of anti-tank and high explosive weapons, and £25 million (33 million $USD) in financial backing for the Ukrainian military, according to a Downing Street press release on Wednesday.

“This more than doubles the defensive lethal aid provided to date to more than 10,000 missiles, and comes on top of the £400 million (528 million $USD) the UK has committed in humanitarian and economic aid for the crisis,” the release read.

Germany to send 2,000 more anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

Germany will send 2,000 additional anti-tank weapons to Ukraine to help it repel the Russian invasion, a parliamentary source tells AFP.

The Ukrainian forces have already received 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger-type surface-to-air missile launchers from the Bundeswehr, the German army.

Germany has also provided around 500 Strela surface-to-air missiles out of 2,700 promised.

The parliamentary source, who wished to remain anonymous, says the 2,000 additional anti-tank weapons will be sent to Ukraine, confirming information circulating in the German media.

Germany had been reluctant to send weapons to Ukraine as Russian troops massed at its border last year. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz changed that policy following the start of the Russian invasion last month.

Russia’s communications regulator has blocked Google News

Russia’s communications regulator has blocked Alphabet’s Google News, accusing it of allowing access to what it calls fake material about the country’s military operation in Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported.

Nearly 1,000 residential buildings have been destroyed in Kharkiv

About 1,000 residential buildings have been destroyed in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Mayor Ihor Terehov claimed.

The city, which is regarded as a key target for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invading forces and has sustained weeks of heavy assault, sits just 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) from the Russian border.

Terehov revealed the extent of the damage done, reporting a total of 1,143 buildings destroyed by Russian fire, of which 998 were residential buildings.

Secretary-General: NATO won’t send troops to Ukraine

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization won’t send troops to Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels, commenting on a proposal by Poland for the alliance to send peacekeeping troops there.

“NATO is not part of the conflict <…> it provides support to Ukraine but isn’t part of the conflict,” he said, adding, “NATO will not send the troops into Ukraine.”

“It is extremely important to provide support to Ukraine,” he continued, noting, “But at the same time, it is also extremely important to prevent this conflict becoming a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”

In addition, the secretary-general stated NATO continues to rule out the prospect of establishing a no-fly area over Ukraine because that would mean a war with Russia.

The establishment of a no-fly zone would mean NATO having to “be ready to shoot down Russian planes,” Stoltenberg continued.

Biden urges governors to shore up defenses in face of potential Russian hacking threat

President Joe Biden has asked the governors of all 50 US states and the mayor of the District of Columbia to bolster the cybersecurity of state computer systems and critical infrastructure in the face of potential Russian hacking threats.

“[T]here are things that only you as governor can do to secure your state’s computer systems, your critical infrastructure, your citizens, and through those efforts, our Nation,” Biden wrote in a March 18 letter to the governors and mayor reviewed by CNN.

Biden reiterated in the letter that “we must prepare for any contingency, including cyber attacks on our homeland” from Russia.

Renault suspends business in Russia

French car manufacturer Renault has announced that it is suspending production in its Moscow factory, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused it of “sponsoring murder” by continuing to operate in the country.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, the company said: “Renault Group activities in its manufacturing plant in Moscow are suspended as of today.

“Regarding its stake in AVTOVAZ, Renault Group is assessing the available options, taking into account the current environment, while acting responsibly towards its 45,000 employees in Russia,” it added.

“Renault Group reminds that it already implements the necessary measures to comply with international sanctions,” it continued.

While addressing the French parliament via video link, Zelensky stated companies like Renault who continued to operate in Russia were “financing the murder of children and women”.

Russia bans Google in retaliation for ad block

Russia has blocked access to Google News in retaliation for the company’s earlier announcement that they would ban ad payments to websites and YouTube videos that dismiss or condone the war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin accused Google of spreading false information about the conflict, with the request for the ban coming at the request of Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office, according to the Interfax news agency.

The office announced the search engine “provided access to numerous publications and materials containing unreliable socially significant information about the course of a special military operation on the territory of Ukraine”.

Google joins multiple English language websites, including Facebook and Instagram, in being blocked in Russia, as the government seeks to clamp down on dissidence.

Russia labels US cyber attack warnings ‘absurd’

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov has criticised US claims that Russia is planning to carry out cyber attacks on the country in response to Western sanctions.

“These accusations against us are absurd,” he said in a statement.

President Joe Biden stated on Monday that American businesses should immediately strengthen their cyber defences due to the risk of Russian attacks.

Syromolotov called the warning a “new outburst of Russophobia against the backdrop of the situation in Ukraine”.

US & European officials held “intense back and forth” on Russian energy dependence

US and European officials have held an “intense back and forth” on reducing dependence on Russian energy in the lead-up to emergency summits in Brussels this week, the White House said.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated the matter would be a “substantial topic of conversation” among US President Joe Biden and other leaders at G7 and EU summits Thursday, and was a “major priority” for them.

Sullivan added leaders have weighed a “practical roadmap” for ending European dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, and that Biden would have more to say on the matter on Friday.

He noted the US would look to increase supplies of liquified natural gas in Europe in the short-term, though did not spell out specifics of a plan.

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