Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 36

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. Clashes are ongoing in various locations of Ukraine, while the Russian military keeps up its airstrikes. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict during round-the-clock negotiations. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Not clear if Russian convoy to Kyiv exists anymore: Pentagon

The Pentagon has announced it was not clear that Russia’s convoy of military vehicles to Kyiv, which once stretched some 60 kilometres, even exists anymore after failing to accomplish its mission.

“I don’t even know if it still exists at this point… They never really accomplished their mission,” stated Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby.

Ukrainian state operator says most Russian forces have left Chernobyl plant

Ukraine’s state nuclear operator says many of the Russian forces who had been occupying the Chernobyl nuclear plant have left the facility and are heading for the Belarusian border, leaving just a few on the site of the defunct plant.

“The occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the exclusion zone, have set off in two columns towards the Ukrainian border,” Energoatom said in a statement.

It added Russian forces had also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where many of the workers who service the Chernobyl facility live.

Russia: US views other countries as testing range for bioweapons

The United States views developing countries as a testing range for biological weapons components and medications, Chief of Russia’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops Igor Kirillov said on Thursday.

“Disregard for Ukrainian citizens is a good illustration of the United States’ rather pragmatic approach to organizing military biological research. Developing countries are viewed as a testing range for biological weapons components and medications,” he emphasized.

According to Kirillov, corresponding documents make it clear that the United States and Ukraine actually violated their obligations under Article 4 of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 dated April 28, 2004.

“We will continue to analyze the documentary evidence of violations of international agreements on the non-proliferation of biological weapons, committed by the US administration and the Kiev regime, and will keep you informed,” Kirillov added.

US says Russia’s demand of roubles for gas is sign of ‘desperation’

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has stated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that foreign buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles is a sign of economic and financial “desperation” caused by Western sanctions.

European nations, some of which rely heavily on Russian gas, have rejected the demand.

Kremlin: US doesn’t understand how Russia works

The Kremlin said on Thursday that claims of President Vladimir Putin being misled by his own military only prove how little the US really knows about Russia.

The response came after the White House and the Pentagon suggested that officials were afraid to speak the truth to Putin about the performance of the Russian Army in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters he was dismayed by claims that advisers have misled the president.

“As it turns out, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have the real information of what is going on in the Kremlin. They simply don’t understand President Putin, don’t understand the decision-making mechanism, and don’t understand the work we do,” he added.

According to the spokesperson: “It’s not only regrettable, but also raises concerns because such lack of understanding leads to wrong, rash decisions with bad consequences.”

No member states have signalled gas supply emergencies: EU Commission

Germany and Austria both implemented the “early warning phase” of their emergency plans as “precautionary steps,” a European Commission spokesperson has said.

No EU country has yet signalled it is facing a supply emergency, the spokesperson added.

The “early warning” alert enhances a country’s monitoring of supply, requiring companies involved in the gas market to share information with authorities on a daily basis.

Russia’s Gazprombank to set up payments for gas in roubles

Russia’s Gazprombank has announced it would provide conditions to allow convenient payments for Russian gas in roubles.

Gazprombank told Tass news agency it has the right technology and experience to quickly fulfil a state order to switch to roubles for gas payments which President Vladimir Putin signed earlier in the day.

Biden says Putin may have put some advisors ‘under house arrest’

US President Joe Biden has said Russian President Vladimir Putin may be “isolated” and could have placed some of his advisors under “house arrest.”

“He seems to be self-isolating and there’s some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers. But I don’t want to put too much stock in that at this time because we don’t have that much hard evidence,” he stated.

In his first public remarks on Western assessments about Kremlin tensions over the war in Ukraine, Biden noted “there is no clear evidence that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is pulling all of his forces out of Kyiv.”

“I’m a little skeptical. It’s an open question whether he’s actually pulling back,” he continued, adding that more troops appeared to have been sent to the Donbas area.

Russian forces bombarded areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv on Wednesday, after pledging to scale back operations in those zones to promote trust between the two sides.

Russia cannot be constructive partner at G20 table: Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Russia cannot be a constructive partner in the G20, which is composed by most of the world’s largest economies, because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Trudeau stated G20 leaders were having conversations about Russia’s presence in the G20 because the Ukraine invasion has “upended economic growth for everyone around the world and can’t possibly be a constructive partner.”

Biden announces release 1 million barrels of oil to control energy prices

The US president has ordered the release of 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve for six months, in a bid to control energy prices that have spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The bottom line is if we want lower gas prices we need to have more oil supply right now,” Joe Biden stated, adding, “This is a moment of consequence and peril for the world, and pain at the pump for American families.”

He also invoked the Defense Production Act to encourage the mining of critical minerals for batteries in electric vehicles as part of a broader push to shift toward cleaner energy sources.

The US president warned the oil industry not “to sit on record profits” during the current price surge, adding that he wanted “to lay a new foundation for true and lasting American energy independence.”

Russia trades accusations with Ukraine on drifting Black Sea mines

Russia has accused Ukraine of laying hundreds of mines near its coast and said some were drifting into open waters in the Black Sea, a day after Kyiv said Moscow was responsible for planting mines.

Russia announced Ukraine had “created a direct mine threat to transport and cargo ships of all Black Sea countries”.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Russia was planting naval mines in the Black Sea as “uncontrolled drifting ammunition”, turning them “into a de facto weapon of indiscriminate action”.

Britain, allies to send more military aid to Ukraine

Britain and its allies have agreed to send additional lethal weapons to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia’s invasion, British defence minister Ben Wallace has said.

“There’ll be more lethal aid going into Ukraine as a result of today. A number of countries have come forward either with new ideas or indeed more pledges of money,” Wallace told reporters.

He added this included longer range artillery, ammunition, and more anti-aircraft weapons.

US imposes more sanctions on Russia

The US Department of the Treasury has added 13 individuals and 21 new companies to its list of Specially Designated Nationals to be sanctioned under the Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to a notice posted to its website on Thursday.

The new companies have been added for allegedly falling under the umbrella of the Russian Federation’s aerospace, electronics, and maritime sectors.

Individuals involved in those sectors have been subject to sanctions since last April, and the latest round allows for sanctions to be placed on any individual or entity “determined to operate or have operated in any of those sectors.”

“Today’s sanctions are a part of the Administration’s comprehensive response to Russia’s to restrict their access to resources, sectors of their economy that are essential to supplying and financing the continued invasion of Ukraine,” according to the Treasury’s press release.

Most of the sanctioned individuals are Russian citizens linked to the companies that are being added to the list. One of the designated entities is the Vector Scientific Research Institute, which produces software and communications technology equipment, having been founded over a century ago as Russia’s oldest radio engineering operation. The new restrictions also target the Molecular Electronics Research Institute, which is part of Russia’s largest scientific and technological research conglomerate, focused on micro- and nano-electronics as well as the development and manufacture of semiconductors. Serniya is a major engineering and equipment manufacturer that specializes in research and development across Russia’s high-tech industries. Photon Pro is an aerospace and engineering company focused on developing telemetry and digital control systems, telecoms, data transfer, and other electronics research and development areas. The fresh sanctions list also includes Joint Stock Company Mikron, Russia’s largest chipmaker and biggest manufacturer and exporter of microelectronics.

Two subsidiaries of Ozon Bank were successfully able to have themselves removed from the Specially Designated Nationals list after making the argument that its inclusion as an entity related to the sanctioned entity Sovcombank Open Joint Stock Company was no longer relevant, given that Ozon had bought out its share of the company. Ozon is a major e-commerce platform offering a wide range of categories of retail goods for sale and delivery, similar to It also trades in the US under the symbol OZON.

Germany, UK reject Putin’s roubles for gas demand

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner has said Berlin will continue paying for energy imports from Russia in euros, adding it would look into the technical details linked to Moscow’s latest decree requiring to pay for gas in roubles.

Lindner stated there could be “no political blackmail” linked to the question of gas imports.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted the government was monitoring the implications for the European market of President Vladimir Putin’s demand.

Asked if there were any circumstances in which Britain would pay in roubles for Russian gas, the spokesman told reporters “that is not something we will be looking to do.”

Russia to expand ban of EU leadership after sanctions

Russia has said it will expand the list of EU figures banned from entering the country following Western sanctions over Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine.

“The restrictions apply to the top leadership of the European Union including a number of European commissioners and heads of EU military structures as well as the vast majority of members of the European Parliament promoting anti-Russian policies,” the foreign ministry announced in a statement.

Russia has been hit with a barrage of sanctions targeting its economy, as well as travel bans and asset freezes on government figures, including President Vladimir Putin.

Putin: Existing contracts on Russian gas will be frozen in case of failure to pay in Rubles

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree regulating gas trade with designated ‘unfriendly’ states, saying countries wishing to do business with Moscow must open bank accounts in Russian banks, and clarifying that existing contracts will be frozen unless ruble payments are made.

“We are offering contractors from these countries a clear and transparent scheme. To purchase Russian natural gas, they must open ruble accounts in Russian banks. It is from these accounts that payments for gas supplied starting tomorrow, 1 April, will be paid,” Putin stated, speaking at a meeting on aviation industry matters on Thursday.

Putin stressed that Russia would continue to meet its obligations in supplying gas at volumes and at prices set under existing contracts. However, the need to pay in Russian currency is not up for negotiation, according to the president.

“No one sells anything for free, and we too will not engage in charity. That is, existing contracts [not paid for in rubles] will be stopped,” he continued.

“If such payments [in rubles] are not made, we will consider this a default on obligations by buyers. With all the ensuing consequences,” Putin added.

Ukraine: Russian forces ‘regrouping’ ahead of new Donbas offensive

Russia is “regrouping” its forces in Ukraine to intensify its offensive in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces has said.

“The main efforts of the enemy are focused on maintaining the occupied borders, preparing for the resumption of offensive operations in certain areas and establishing full control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” the department added.

Lavrov: NATO bases in Central Asia ‘unacceptable’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday that any NATO military presence in Central Asia will undermine the security of the Russian-led bloc in the region.

The minister made his comment at an Afghanistan-themed summit in Tunxi, China.

“We believe it’s unacceptable to have any US and NATO military infrastructure, or their Afghan helpers, on the territory of neighboring states, especially in Central Asia,” Lavrov stated, adding that “such designs go against the security interests of our countries.”

He noted that the existence of Western military sites would contradict the interests of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led regional bloc.

The Russian official also called for “extreme caution” regarding the settlement of Afghan refugees in states bordering Afghanistan. He argued countries should consider “high risks” for their own security and the region as a whole.

NATO: Russian troops “are not withdrawing but repositioning”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that he expects additional offensive Russian actions that will be “bringing even more suffering.”

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels for the secretary general’s 2021 Annual Report, Stoltenberg stated that according to intelligence, “Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities.”

“We can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering,” Stoltenberg continued.

“We have heard the recent statements that Russia will scale down military operations around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine,” Stoltenberg stated, noting, “But Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions, so we can only judge Russia on its actions, not on its words.”

He called on Russia to “end this senseless war, withdraw all its troops and engage in talks in good faith.”

Zelensky adviser: Russia has destroyed most of Ukraine’s defence industry

Russia has “practically destroyed” almost all of Ukraine’s defence industry, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych made the remarks in a video address during which he also welcomed the terms of a proposed peace deal as a win for Kyiv.

He stated that under a peace agreement discussed with Russia during talks earlier this week, Ukraine would be protected from future threats by international security guarantees that Russia would not be able to veto.

“This is an ideal agreement that improves our position several times over in a fundamental way,” Arestovych added.

Erdogan: Turkey will not join sanctions against Russia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Ankara is not going to join the sanctions imposed against Russia by the United States and the EU over the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

The Turkish head of state declared that his country “will not participate in sanctions against Russia”, and that he already explained why.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has also stated Ankara has secured uninterrupted gas supply from Russia by not joining sanctions against it and continues to buy 40% of its gas needs from the country.

“After the start of the war, I wondered about Turkey’s need for Russian gas. Before the war it was about 50% and now about 40%,” Cavusoglu said in an interview with Turkish channel A Haber.

According to the minister, Russia continues gas transit to Turkey without disruptions.

“There are no issues. We did not join the sanctions, and this would be wrong, given our mediating role,” Cavusoglu added.

Russia: Ukraine threatens to sink any foreign ship trying to leave its ports

Kiev is barring foreign ships blocked in Ukrainian ports from leaving, threatening to immediately sink them, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s claims that Russia has blocked about 100 foreign ships in Ukrainian ports is a lie, Konashenkov stated, adding that the Kiev authorities have forcibly detained 68 ships from different countries in the ports of four cities.

Every day, Russia opens a safe corridor for the exit of these vessels from the territorial waters of Ukraine to the south-west, but their crews told Russian military that the ships are banned from leaving the Ukrainian ports “under the threat of immediate sinking,” Konashenkov added.

The Ukrainian Navy placed 420 anchor mines in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea from 25 February to 4 March, Konashenkov continued, denying claims by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia was allegedly mining the Black Sea.

As a result of a storm in the Black Sea and due to unsatisfactory technical condition, cables with bottom anchors broke at about 10 Ukrainian mines.

“Since then, under the influence of wind and surface currents, Ukrainian mines have been drifting freely in the western part of the Black Sea in the southerly direction,” Konashenkov stated, noting that no one can know where the remaining Ukrainian mines are drifting today.

Ukrainian official: At least 148 children killed amid Russia’s offensive

At least 148 children have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion five weeks ago, the country’s human rights ombudswoman has claimed.

At least 232 other children have been wounded amid Moscow’s onslaught, Lyudmila Denisova said on Facebook.

She added that the actual number of casualties is not possible to verify due to ongoing hostilities in various parts of Ukraine.

Suspension from world soccer is “unfair”: Russian Football Union

Alexey Sorokin, a member of the Russian Football Union delegation, criticized Russia’s suspension from world soccer on Thursday at the FIFA 72nd Congress in Doha, Qatar, and said it was unfair.

Speaking to journalists before the start of the congress, the former FIFA Council member stated he found it “strange” that the Russian team is not allowed to play international events.

Russia is currently suspended from club and international football by UEFA and FIFA “until further notice” as a result of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, pending the outcome of a Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal.

“We feel that our football players, football lovers have been unfairly treated; they have nothing to do with this,” noted Sorokin, a day before Friday’s 2022 World Cup draw.

Earlier this month, the Russian Football Union declared interest in hosting the European Championship in either 2028 or 2032 — despite the country’s football ban.

Putin said that it’s not the right time for ceasefire in Ukraine: Italian PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that conditions were not yet in place for a ceasefire in Ukraine, Draghi told a news conference on Thursday when asked about a telephone call with Putin the previous day.

Draghi also stated that Putin told him that current gas contracts remained in force and that European firms will continue to pay in euros and dollars, rather than in roubles.

“What I understood, but I may be wrong, is that the conversion of the payment … is an internal matter of the Russian Federation,” Draghi added.

Asked about increased defence spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Draghi said Italy will reach the NATO goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2028, adding that this was not in dispute among members of his coalition.

However, Draghi added that the government’s upcoming economic forecasting document would not spell out a specific increase in defence spending.

UK unveils new sanctions on ‘shameless’ Putin ‘propagandists’

The United Kingdom has announced a new wave of sanctions against “Russian propagandists and state media”.

The measures are aimed at 14 individuals and entities – including TV presenter Sergey Brilev and Kremlin-funded TV-Novosti, which owns the Russia Today news channel – and follow several previous rounds of sanctions over Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine.

“Britain has helped lead the world in exposing Kremlin disinformation, and this latest batch of sanctions hits the shameless propagandists who push out Putin’s fake news and narratives,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced in a statement.

“We will keep on going with more sanctions to ramp up the pressure on Russia and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine. Nothing and no one is off the table,” she added.

At least 20 dead in Russian strike on regional administrative building in Mykolaiv: Ukrainian officials

At least 20 people were killed and 33 injured in a Russian strike on the office of the regional military governor of Ukraine’s southwestern Mykolaiv region on Tuesday, Ukraine’s State Emergency Services said in updated figures released Thursday.

The Russian strike demolished half of the building, according to Gov. Vitalii Kim.

Chernihiv mayor says Russian attacks have increased despite Moscow saying it would reduce assault on city

The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv said that Russian attacks on his city are actually increasing, despite Russia’s pledge that it would “drastically reduce” its military assault on Kyiv and Chernihiv.

“Since the promises made by the Russian delegation about reducing the intensity of strikes in Kyiv and Chernihiv, we have actually been observing an increase in intensity of shelling and mortar attacks. And over the past 24 hours … our hospitals have received 20 injured people, and this is both military and civilians,” Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko told CNN’s John Berman via a translator during an interview from a hospital.

Patients are in the hallway of the hospital because it is currently the safest place, away from windows, he stated. While Russian troops are moving back toward the border, artillery strikes and mortar attacks are increasing, he noted, and officials overnight saw multiple Russian planes cross into Ukrainian airspace toward Chernihiv.

“The Russians are using mortars — which is like a very old, very old weapon — and it is not a precision weapon, and they’re shooting mortar shells at us, four or five kilometers away from the city … and also flying aircrafts and dropping bombs from a low height, so aiming deliberately at the destruction of civilian populations and residential neighborhoods,” he added.

Two killed in rocket attack on military unit, fuel depot in Dnipro: Governor

Russian rockets have struck a military facility in Ukraine’s central-eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, killing two people and destroying the site’s administrative building and fuel depot, according to the region’s governor.

Valentyn Reznychenko said in a post on Telegram that five people were also wounded in the attack.

One civilian killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv region: Governor

At least one civilian has been killed by intense Russian shelling in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, its governor has stated.

Oleg Sinegubov said in a post on Telegram that Moscow’s troops had fired “en masse” on the city of Derhachi, which sits about 16km (10 miles) to the northwest of the city of Kharkiv.

“One person was killed and three were injured,” he continued, adding “one of the buildings of the City Council was destroyed … [and] many houses were damaged.”

Zelensky urges Dutch parliament to stop all trade with Russia

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, has asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.

“Stronger sanctions are needed so that Russia doesn’t have a chance to pursue this war further in Europe,” he told lawmakers via video link.

“Stop all trade with Russia,” he continued.

Economy minister: Germany will be poorer due to Ukraine war, but it’s a small price to pay

The German economy minister has warned that his country — Europe’s largest economy –will take a hit following the war in Ukraine.

Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ZDF: “We will be poorer.”

“It is not possible that this ends without costs for the German society, it is unthinkable. I believe that we are ready to pay this price which is small enough compared to the sufferings in Ukraine,” he added.

We are a war party, an economic war party, Habeck stated.

“And we are paying [a] high price, a price that is not comparable to the price that Ukrainians are paying. They are dying, they are being displaced, they are being shelled, we have a high inflation,” he continued.

UK’s Truss to visit India on same day as Russia’s Lavrov

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will visit India on Thursday as part of a “wider diplomatic push” on the war in Ukraine, her office says. Her trip coincides with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov being in India.

India has frustrated Western allies by refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and by buying Russian commodities at a discount.

The UK foreign ministry announced Truss will underline the “importance of democracies working together to deter aggressors”, adding that she wanted a closer relationship with India to boost security and jobs in both countries.

Ukraine: Children wounded as Russia uses phosphorus bombs

Eleven people including four children were wounded after Russian forces used banned phosphorus bombs in the Ukraine-controlled area of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirilenko, head of the regional defence, wrote on Facebook.

“I am urging everyone who finds themselves on the frontline, who are dependent on the availability of certain medical drugs, on medical care, to take this chance and leave,” he added.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of using phosphorus bombs, a charge Moscow denies.

Heavy shelling continues in Ukraine’s east

Ukrainian military governors in the country’s east reported heavy shelling Thursday amid an apparent shift by the Russian military to redirect military efforts to the Donbas region.

“We clearly feel that the transfer of [military] technology in our direction is beginning now,” said Serhiy Haidai, head of Luhansk region military administration, in televised remarks.

“And as the equipment and personnel are being turned over, our enemies are simply firing more densely, powerfully. Everything is already involved here: aircraft, artillery, heavy-caliber weapons, mortars — all settlements are being shelled,” he added.

Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine have claimed they control almost all of the Luhansk region and more than half of the Donetsk region after Moscow made these territories its primary military goal.

Suez Canal chairman: Ukraine crisis has raised shipping transit fees

The war in Ukraine has led to an increase in shipping transit fees, Osama Rabie, the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, has told Egyptian broadcaster Asharq news.

The Suez Canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Moscow would not refuse Lavrov-Kuleba meeting

Moscow would not refuse a meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba but any talks between them would need to be substantive, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency has reported the country’s foreign ministry as saying.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier on Thursday that Ankara was working to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers for further talks after hosting peace negotiations in Istanbul this week.

Cavusoglu added the meeting could happen within two weeks.

Gazprom studies options for halting gas supplies to Europe

Russian energy giant Gazprom is looking at options for halting gas supplies to “unfriendly” countries, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will soon require “unfriendly” countries to pay for fuel in roubles, raising alarm about a possible gas supply crunch in Europe.

Putin has ordered the Russian central bank and Gazprom to prepare the payment scheme by March 31 amid Western sanctions against Russia.

Countries in the European Union, where Gazprom accounts for about 40 per cent of gas supplies, have stated their refusal to pay for Russian gas in roubles.

“Gazprom … is indeed working on an option of a complete stoppage of gas supplies to ‘unfriendly countries’ and is evaluating the consequences of such measures,” the daily wrote.

Lithuania’s president: Europe must stop buying Russian oil and gas

Europe must stop buying oil and gas from Russia and should apply new sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nauseda said Thursday.

“Europe must stop buying Russian gas and oil, because the Kremlin regime uses this money to finance destruction of Ukrainian cities and attacks on peaceful civilians,” Nauseda told a joint news conference with the Danish prime minister.

“The fifth sanction package must deliver a maximum blow to the Kremlin regime,” he added.

Oil prices dive as US considers record reserves release

Oil prices plunged on Thursday on news that the United States was considering the release of up to 180 million barrels from its strategic petroleum reserve, the largest in the near 50-year history of the SPR.

Brent crude futures for May fell $4.11, or 3.6%, to $109.34 a barrel by 0637 GMT. The May contract expires on Thursday and the most actively traded June futures were down $4.36 at $107.08, having earlier slid by more than $6.

US West Texas Intermediate futures for May delivery fell $5.33, or 4.9%, to $102.49 a barrel after touching a low of $100.85.

US President Joe Biden will give remarks later on Thursday regarding his administration’s actions aimed at lowering gasoline prices that have risen to record highs since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

International Energy Agency (IEA) member countries are due to meet on Friday to decide on a collective oil release, a spokesperson for New Zealand’s energy minister stated on Thursday.

Turkey: Russia, Ukraine FMs could meet within two weeks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba could meet within two weeks for talks, Turkey announced Thursday after hosting negotiators from both sides earlier this week.

“There could be a higher-level meeting, at least at the level of foreign ministers, within about a week or two weeks,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a televised interview.

Ukraine: Russian forces show signs of regrouping in Belarus

Russian forces may be regrouping in Belarus, the Ukrainian General Staff announced in a statement Thursday.

The movement of Russian military equipment had been observed in Belarus, “probably for regrouping units, as well as creating a reserve to replenish losses in manpower, weapons and equipment of groups operating in Ukraine,” the statement said.

Ukrainian forces had noted “frequent cases” of mines being laid in areas recently retaken by Russian forces in the Kyiv region, the statement added.

Zelensky urges new sanctions against Russia in address to Australian parliament

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for further sanctions on Russia during a virtual address to the Australian parliament on Thursday.

“The distance between our country is big,” said Zelensky, “but there is no such thing as distance to Russians’ brutality to our Ukrainian land.”

Zelensky warned of great implications to global security if Russia isn’t stopped and also spoke about what will come after the war, calling on nations and companies to invest in the restoration of Ukraine.

Zelensky specifically spoke about the development of ports and cities on the Black Sea and rebuilding the naval sector.

Australia has imposed sanctions on more than 500 Russian individuals and entities, including oligarchs with close connections to President Vladimir Putin as well as Russia’s finance ministry.

Australia has provided military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and also announced a ban on exports of alumina and aluminum ore to Russia. Russia relies on Australia for nearly 20% of its alumina needs, according to the Australian government.

Australia increases tariffs on all Russian and Belarusian imports

Australia will apply an additional tariff of 35% on all imports from Russia and Belarus, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced in a press release Thursday.

“Australia will issue a formal notification withdrawing entitlement to the Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) tariff treatment and applying an additional tariff of 35 per cent to all imports from Russia and Belarus,” the press release said, adding that Australia would be joining “other like-minded” countries by doing so.

Reiterating Australia’s support for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Australia will “work closely with (its) partners to ensure Russia is held to account for its actions,” according to the release.

The statement coincided with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s virtual address to the Australian parliament on Thursday.

Moscow: Some countries use alleged threat of Russian hackers for political purposes

Those countries, which are indulging in making statements on the alleged threat of Russian hackers, are simply not interested in actual cooperation in this sphere, a high-ranking Russian foreign ministry official stated at a meeting of the United Nations working group on security and use of information and communications technologies.

“We think it strange that those who are accusing our country of staging attacks use the existing cooperation channels very rarely. Our National Coordination Center for Computer Incidents sees it as its key task to carry out joint activities with foreign partners on preventing illegal activities with the use of information and communications technologies,” said Vladimir Shin, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry’s international information security department.

“So, our conclusion is that those countries which accuse Russia of all deadly sins but are reluctant to use official channels are simply not interested in actual cooperation and only use the alleged threat of Russian hackers for political purposes,” he noted.

According to the Russian diplomat, the two days of the working group’s session saw drastic attempts to picture a concrete state as a violator of the rules of conduct and norms of international law with no grounds for that.

He stressed that it is high time to look at the problem of the evidence one state is to provide to accuse another state of illegal activities.

“Concrete, internationally-agreed answers to these questions will help settle possible inter-state contradictions and conflicts by peaceful diplomatic means,” he added.

Russia sanctions threaten to chip away at dollar dominance: IMF

Financial sanctions imposed on Russia threaten to gradually dilute the dominance of the US dollar and could result in a more fragmented international monetary system, a top official at the International Monetary Fund has said.

“The dollar would remain the major global currency even in that landscape, but fragmentation at a smaller level is certainly quite possible,” Gita Gopinath, IMF’s first deputy managing director, told the Financial Times, adding that some countries are already renegotiating the currency in which they get paid for trade.

She stated the war will also spur the adoption of digital finance, from cryptocurrencies to stablecoins and central bank digital currencies.

Bank: War will hammer Russia, Ukraine economies this year

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced that Russia’s economy will contract by 10 percent this year while Ukraine’s gross domestic product could shrink by as much as 20 percent.

Before the Russian invasion, the bank had predicted that the Russian economy would expand by 3 percent and that Ukrainian GDP would grow by 3.5 percent this year.

UK intelligence chief says Russian soldiers are low on morale and refusing to carry out orders

The head of British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said President Vladimir Putin has massively misjudged the situation in Ukraine and that some Russian soldiers have refused to carry out orders.

Speaking during a trip to Canberra on Thursday at the Australian National University, Sir Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, the UK’s Intelligence, Cyber and Security Agency stated, “it increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people.”

Fleming added Putin over-estimated the abilities of the Russian military to secure a quick victory.

“We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” he said without specifying when or where this took place.

“Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” he added.

Fleming also noted the National Cyber Security Center has seen “sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems” and has seen indicators suggesting Russia’s cyber actors are looking for targets in countries that oppose the Kremlin’s actions. He also said it is “clear” that Russia is using mercenaries and foreign fighters to support its forces — including the Wagner group.

“The group works as a shadow branch of the Russian military, providing implausible deniability for riskier operations,” Fleming stated, adding that Wagner is now prepared to send large number of personnel into Ukraine to fight on the Russian side.

“They are looking at relocating forces from other conflicts and recruiting new fighters to bolster numbers,” he said, “These soldiers are likely to be used as cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses.”

On the role of China, Fleming noted there are risks for Russia and China associated with the two countries aligning too closely on the Ukraine conflict.

“Russia understands that long term, China will become increasingly strong militarily and economically. Some of their interests conflict; Russia could be squeezed out of the equation,” he said.

Medvedev: West failing to ‘bind Russia’

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Western efforts to bind Russia have failed as Moscow was ready for sanctions.

“Of course, there are real difficulties Russia has to cope with, as we are … isolated from global value-added chains … facing growing unemployment and being sent into an economic turmoil,” he was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.

He said, however, that “efforts to bound Russia fail as we were ready”, citing Moscow’s decision to call for payments in roubles for its gas exports

Zelensky says negotiations with Russia are “only words”

Negotiations with Russia are ongoing but are “only words”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to social media on Wednesday night.

“Yes we have negotiations process but they’re only words, without anything concrete,” Zelensky stated.

Zelensky added the “alleged pullback” of Russian troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv is not a retreat but a result of the work of the Ukrainian military.

“There are other words about alleged pullback of Russian troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv, and reduction of activities of the occupiers in these territories. This is not a retreat, this is the result of the work of our defenders, who pushed them back,” he said.

He went on to say that Russian troops are concentrating in the Donbas region for new attacks, saying Ukrainians are “ready for this.”

“We will not give anything away and we will fight for every meter of our land,” he continued.

He urged the public not to criticize the performance of the Ukrainian armed forces, saying, “If someone thinks that he or she can teach our military how to fight, and how to stand up to the enemy, the best way to do it is to go to the battlefield on your own, not from a couch at home or from a safe place you escaped to — but from real battle grounds and show your abilities to fight. If you’re not ready to do that, don’t even start to teach our defenders how to do their job.”

The Ukrainian president added he had an hour-long call with US President Joe Biden and thanked him for the additional $500 million in aid for Ukraine.

According to the White House, Biden and Zelensky “discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country.”

Zelensky said the support of the US is crucial for Ukraine, adding, “If we want to fight for freedom together – then we ask our partners to help and if we are really fighting for freedom and protection for democracy ourselves, we have all rights to demand help in this crucial difficult moment. We need tanks, warplanes, artillery… Freedom has to be armed no worse than tyranny.”

US planning to tap oil reserve to control gas prices

US President Joe Biden is preparing to order the release of up to 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve, according to AP.

Citing two people familiar with the decision, the agency added the move is part of a bid to control energy prices that have spiked as the US and allies have imposed steep sanctions on Russia.

The announcement could come as soon as Thursday when Biden is planning to deliver remarks on his administration’s plans to combat rising gas prices.

Report: EU agrees with US assessment on Putin’s advisers

A senior European diplomat has told Reuters that a US assessment of Vladimir Putin’s advisers misleading him about the Ukraine war is in line with European thinking.

“Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’,” the diplomat said.

Reuters also cited two European diplomats saying Russian conscripts were told they were taking part in military exercises but had to sign for extended duty before the invasion.

“They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” one of the diplomats told the news agency.

Missile attack reported on Dnipro fuel depot

Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of launching a missile attack on a fuel depot near Dnipro.

“A rocket hit an oil depot in Dnipro,” Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said, adding, “[It hit] one of the plants in Novomoskovsk.”

No casualties have been reported yet.

Pentagon: Putin hasn’t been “fully informed” by his Ministry of Defense “at every turn” of Ukraine invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin has “not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense at every turn” throughout the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Kirby did not offer any details that led to this assessment.

Kirby added the US does not have “access to every bit of information that” Putin has been given or “every conversation that he’s had,” but he said he concurs with the “basic finding” of press reporting that Putin has not been fully informed by his Defense Ministry of the situation in Ukraine.

CNN reported earlier Wednesday that a US official stated Washington believes that Putin is being “misinformed” by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the effect of sanctions on Russia’s economy.

“I’ve seen these press reports attributed to a US official, and we would concur with the basic finding, but we are not going to get any more specific than that,” Kirby continued.

Half of Ukrainian city Irpin destroyed

Half of the Ukrainian city of Irpin has been destroyed, according to Oleksandr Markushin, the city’s mayor.

Markushin revealed the assessment during a press conference on Wednesday, saying “We can see 50% of the city and the critical infrastructure has been destroyed and the rubble has not been cleared yet.”

Russian forces had attacked the city of Irpin in recent days, but the city is now under full Ukrainian control as Ukrainian forces fought back, according to the mayor in a separate CNN interview earlier Wednesday.

The mayor added that despite the fighting, many individuals still remain in the city.

“Of the restored water and energy supply, this has not yet happened and it is too dangerous because the city is constantly shelled,” Markushin also shared.

WHO: Attacks on health care are part of Russian strategy, with Ukrainian civilians used as “chess pieces”

There have been 82 attacks on health care in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, according to World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Since the beginning of the Russian Federation’s invasion, there have been 82 attacks on health care, resulting in at least 72 deaths and 43 injuries, including patients and health workers,” he said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

“Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law and must stop immediately,” he added.

Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said there’s a “world of difference” between health access issues during conflict as compared to conflict actively targeting health care.

“It’s a very big difference between that situation and a situation in which access is being actively denied to a population, where the actual cutting off of people is part of the tactics. It’s part of the military strategy,” he continued.

“This is not people caught up in the fog of war. It’s not people just caught up in the conflict. It is people being directly targeted, directly denied, and directly used as strategic implements, as chess pieces on a horrific, murderous board that they have no right, or no need to be on,” he added.

Russia announces Mariupol ceasefire to evacuate civilians

The Russian defence ministry has announced a ceasefire starting Thursday morning in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol to allow civilians to be evacuated.

Russian forces start to withdraw from Chernobyl nuclear site: Pentagon

Russian forces have begun to pull out of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power site after seizing control of the facility on February 24, a senior US defence official has said.

“They are beginning to reposition some of their troops, leaving, walking away from the Chernobyl facility and moving into Belarus,” the official was quoted by AFP as saying.

Russian hackers targeted NATO, eastern European militaries: Google

Russian hackers have recently attempted to penetrate the networks of NATO and the militaries of some eastern European countries, Google’s Threat Analysis Group has said in a report.

The attack was launched by a Russian-based group called Coldriver, or Callisto, and used what Google described as “credential phishing campaigns”.

“These campaigns were sent using newly created Gmail accounts to non-Google accounts, so the success rate of these campaigns is unknown,” the report added.

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