Monday, May 20, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 37

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:

Companies with euro gas contracts should not meet Russia’s rouble demand: EU

European companies whose gas supply contracts with Russia stipulate payment in euros or dollars should not accede to Russia’s demand for payment in roubles, the European Commission has said.

“Agreed contracts must be respected. 97 percent of the relevant contracts explicitly stipulate payment in euros or dollars. Companies with such contracts should not accede to Russian demands,” a European Commission spokesperson stated.

Ukraine recaptures town of Bucha near Kyiv

Ukraine has recaptured the town of Bucha near the capital of Kyiv, according to Bucha’s Mayor Anatolii Fedoruk.

“Today on March 31, our town has been liberated from the Russian orcs, the Russian occupiers by our Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Fedoruk said in a video in front of Bucha’s city hall that was published on Friday.

A number of Ukrainian officials have been referring to Russian forces as “orcs” — the evil, monstrous army in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

“This day constitutes a day of joy and victory of our Armed Forces of Ukraine. And we expect such victories throughout all of Ukraine,” Fedoruk added.

Chernobyl director: Impossible to determine level of radiation exposure of Russian troops

The director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant said it was impossible to determine the degree of radiation Russian troops were exposed to while occupying the territory.

In a statement on the Telegram channel of Energoatom, the state-owned operator of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, Chernobyl director Valery Seida stated, “On the territory of the station itself, the occupiers did not dig anything, but the thick dust raised by passing vehicles and the radiation particles in it may have entered the body of rashists [racist-fascists, a Ukrainian slur for Russian troops] through the lungs.”

It was unclear what Russian troops were doing in the so-called “Red Forest,” a contaminated area, and it is possible they could have received significant radiation exposure when digging or entrenching there, according to the statement.

“At the same time, all the staff who were at the station during this period did not receive radiation, because people worked, albeit under great pressure, on a regular basis,” Seida added.

Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, fell into the hands of Russian troops in the first week of the war in Ukraine. Energoatom said Thursday that Russian forces had withdrawn from the plant and its territory.

Attack on a nuclear reactor is “not a probable scenario” in Russia-Ukraine conflict: IAEA chief

Beginning next week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will start assisting Ukraine in preserving the safety of nuclear installations, including Chernobyl, Director-General of IAEA Rafael Grossi told CNN.

Returning from a trip to Ukraine and Russia, where he visited the closest nuclear reactors to the war zone, Grossi said the operations continue in a “satisfactory way.”

An attack on a nuclear reactor is “not a probable scenario,” and “nuclear facilities have not been targeted,” he stated Friday.

The Director-General noted there was an occurrence in sight of a nuclear reactor, which was “quite concerning,” adding it was an exchange of fire, probably shelling, that targeted an administrative building.

“Any attack on a nuclear facility is against international law. I think everybody including Russia is very clear about it. And trust or no trust is something that is, of course, objective. We are going to be [doing] everything possible to prevent that occurrence,” he continued.

On the reports of Russian troops being exposed to radiation at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Grossi said the agency has contacted its Russian counterparts for more information.

“In general terms, I would say that the radiation levels around the Chernobyl site are low. At the beginning when the Russian troops occupied the site because of the movement of heavy armored vehicles approaching the site, some areas, the moving of the ground released some radiation there, and there was a slight increase in the levels,” he stated.

“It is probably that the same thing happened when the same vehicles or similar ones were on their way out, that there was dust in the air that contained some radiation that was lying on the ground,” he added.

Xi: China deeply regrets situation in Ukraine has reached current state

Beijing profoundly regrets that the situation in Ukraine has reached the current state, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday.

Earlier in the day, the 23rd summit between the European Union and China was held via videoconference. The EU was represented by President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von Der Leyen, while on the Chinese part President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang participated.

“China finds it deeply regrettable that the situation in Ukraine has come to where it is today,” Xi was quoted as saying by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China’s stance on the Ukrainian issue has always been “consistent and clear-cut,” with Beijing always standing at the side of peace, making its decisions independently “based on the merits of each matter,” Xi added.

“China calls for upholding international law and universally recognized norms governing international relations, acts in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and advocates the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” the president continued.

Beijing though backs the EU efforts to bring about a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis, “encouraging peace talks in its own way.”

“Peace talks are the only viable way to prevent an escalation of tensions. The international community should keep creating favorable conditions and environment for the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine and make room for political settlement, rather than add fuel to the fire and heighten tensions,” Xi stressed.

Meanwhile, China stands ready to work closely with the EU to avert the humanitarian turmoil in Ukraine, while joint Chinese-EU efforts are required for sustaining the global economy and prevent the Ukrainian crisis going beyond its borders, Xi said.

“China and the EU need to commit themselves to keeping the situation under control, preventing spillover of the crisis, and, most importantly, keeping the system, rules and foundation of the world economy stable, in order to bolster public confidence. The two sides may carry out coordination and cooperation in this regard,” Xi added.

International Red Cross team was unable to reach Mariupol and will try again tomorrow

An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team traveling to Mariupol said that they were unable to reach the besieged city to help facilitate the safe passage of civilians.

The update comes Friday via a statement, as nine ICRC team members — traveling in three vehicles — had to return to Zaporizhzhia due to conditions that “made it impossible to proceed” to Mariupol.

The team is planning on trying to make the trip to the besieged city again on Saturday.

“For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the ICRC said.

The ICRC says it acts as a “neutral intermediary” with plans “to accompany the convoy out from Mariupol to another city in Ukraine.”

“Our presence will put a humanitarian marker on this planned movement of people, giving the convoy additional protection and reminding all sides of the civilian, humanitarian nature of the operation,” it added.

Blinken, Truss discuss additional actions in response to invasion

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Minister Liz Truss discussed additional possible actions to ratchet up their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US State Department has said.

The two also discussed the upcoming NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, the State Department added.

Germany: “it’s in Putin’s hands” to end war

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told CNN that the responsibility for ending the war in Ukraine lays firmly at the feet of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s in Putin’s hands. He’s the one who started the war without any reason. It is now his responsibility to end the war,” Baerbock told CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.

“The brutal reality is that Putin himself has chosen … to fight a war against civilians and to fight a war against the European peace order,” she said.

Baerbock added that Germany is offering increased military assistance to the Ukrainian government as “we are in situation where NATO is standing there in solidarity with Ukraine and on the other hand, there is Russia which has made clear that there is no red lines for themselves.”

Russia won’t immediately cut off gas supplies under new decree requiring payments in rubles: Kremlin

Russia says it won’t start cutting gas supply to “unfriendly countries” immediately under a new decree requiring payment to be made in rubles from April 1.

“Yesterday, I received many questions about whether this means that if there is no confirmation in rubles, would it mean that gas supplies will be cut off from April 1? No, it doesn’t, and it doesn’t follow the decree,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated Friday.

Peskov added that payments for deliveries made today are not due until the end of April or beginning of May.

“But once again, I repeat that for the nuances, it is better to contact Gazprom,” Peskov continued.

According to the new decree published yesterday, Gazprombank would open accounts in the name of Western gas buyers, convert their euros or dollars and then deposit the rubles into another account which would then be used to pay Gazprom.

The EU’s Economics Commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, told CNN’s Richard Quest on Thursday that this “is an attempt to circumvent European sanctions and to blackmail the European Union.”

Responding to a question, Peskov told reporters Friday that the decision to sell gas for rubles could be reversed in the future but for now the ruble is Russia’s preferred option.

“Absolutely. If other conditions come up. In this case, there is nothing concrete reinforced, but in the current conditions, the ruble is a more preferable and reliable option for us,” he stated.

Russian bombardment of Mariupol has caused $10bn worth of damage: Local authorities

Russia’s bombardment of Mariupol has caused at least $10bn in damage to infrastructure there, according to a preliminary estimate by local authorities.

“Every crime, every murder and act of destruction committed by the aggressor must be recorded and passed on to the International Court [of Justice],” the city council quoted Mayor Vadym Boichenko as saying.

The council added that a special committee of councillors would be responsible for recording such acts.

Kyiv offers no direct comment on fuel depot accusation

Ukraine’s defence ministry has declined to comment directly on Russian allegations that its forces struck a fuel depot in Belgorod.

“I will not confirm or deny these allegations,” Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a ministry spokesman, told a news briefing.

“Ukraine is currently conducting a defensive operation against Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine, and this does not mean that Ukraine is responsible for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory,” he added.

Ukraine’s foreign minister has also stated he “can neither confirm nor reject” whether Ukrainian forces were involved in the alleged attack in Belgorod because he is not privy to all military information.

Speaking at a news briefing in Poland, Dmytro Kuleba also said Ukraine was waiting for Russia’s formal response to Kyiv’s proposals laid out at peace talks in Turkey earlier this week.

He added that foreign powers were not pushing Ukraine to compromise in the negotiations with Moscow.

Ukraine’s top security official has also denied accusations by Russia that Ukraine was behind an attack on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod.

Speaking on national television, Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov stated, “For some reason they say that we did it, but according to our information this does not correspond to reality.”

Russia’s defence ministry has said two Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters were responsible for an attack on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, but it added that the facility did not supply fuel to the military.

In its statement, the ministry added the two helicopters attacked after crossing the border at an extremely low altitude.

EU pressures China over its stance on Russia’s war

EU and Chinese leaders have met for their first summit in two years with Brussels pressing Beijing for assurances that it will neither supply Russia with arms nor help Moscow circumvent Western sanctions.

President of the European Council Charles Michel said China “cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violations of international law” after a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.

The EU and China agreed that “this war is threatening global security and the world economy,” Michel added.

The European Union would welcome positive steps by China to help end the war between Russia and Ukraine, Michel also told reporters in Brussels on Friday.

“We will remain vigilant to any attempt to help Russia financially or militarily” and circumvent the sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Michel stated, “but any move on China to help end the war will be welcomed.”

“We had the chance to explain the EU’s position, to call on China to act, to commit to participating actively in all efforts which are being made to restore peace and stability,” he added.

The head of the European Commission has also warned Beijing its reputation will be tarnished if it doesn’t put pressure on Russia to end the war and helps Moscow sidestep Western sanctions.

“A prolongation of the war and more disruption to the world economy is in no-one’s interest,” Ursula von der Leyen tweeted after the virtual summit.

“There must be respect for international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she added, before saying China had a “special responsibility” as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has told European Union leaders that Beijing is pushing for peace talks on Ukraine in “its own way”, according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV.

Li reiterated that China advocates for the safeguarding of international law and international norms, including the territorial integrity of all countries, CCTV reported.

Kyiv mayor says ‘huge’ battles being fought near capital

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has said “huge” battles are being fought to the north and east of Ukraine’s capital and warned people against returning to the city amid the fighting.

“The risk of dying [in Kyiv] is pretty high, and that’s why my advice to anyone who wants to come back is: Please, take a little bit more time,” Klitschko added.

Kyiv’s regional governor stated earlier on Friday that Russian forces were pulling back in some areas around the capital but strengthening their positions in others.

Kremlin says alleged Ukrainian attack on depot harms talks

The Kremlin has announced the alleged Ukrainian strike on a fuel depot in Belgorod has created uncomfortable conditions for continued talks with Kyiv over ending the war.

“Of course, this is not something that can be perceived as creating conditions comfortable for the continuation of negotiations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

He added that authorities were working to reorganise the fuel supply chain and avoid disruption of energy supplies in the city.

A Russian official said earlier on Friday that two Ukrainian military helicopters had attacked a fuel depot there, making the first accusation of a Ukrainian air raid on Russian soil since Moscow sent its troops into Ukraine more than a month ago.

UNESCO warns Ukraine’s cultural heritage at risk

Dozens of churches, historical sites and museums have been damaged by the war in Ukraine, the UN’s cultural  agency (UNESCO) has said.

“We are very concerned about both the situation at the humanitarian and [cultural] heritage levels. Humanity’s heritage is in danger [in Ukraine],” Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, told a news conference.

UNESCO’s first preliminary list of totally or partially damaged sites featured 29 religious sites, 16 historical buildings, four museums and four monuments, it added.

Death toll rises to 28 from strike on regional HQ in Mykolaiv

Twenty-eight people have been confirmed killed as a result of Tuesday’s rocket strike on the regional administration building in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv, Vitaliy Kim, the region’s governor, has announced.

The nine-storey building was left with a gaping hole after being struck by Russian forces.

Germany greenlights sale of infantry fighting vehicles to Kyiv

Germany’s defence ministry has approved the delivery to Ukraine of several dozen infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) that originally belonged to the former communist East Germany, according to a media report.

The 58 PbV-501 vehicles are armed with cannons and machine guns, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

It added that Berlin had passed the IFVs on to Sweden at the end of the 1990s, which later sold them to a Czech company that now aims to sell them to Kyiv.

Countries aiming to pass on German weapons exports need to apply for approval in Berlin first.

IAEA chief to head Chernobyl mission ‘as soon as possible’

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has said he will lead a mission to Ukraine’s defunct Chernobyl plant as soon as possible after Kyiv said Russian troops had left the site.

“It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to Ukraine,” Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tweeted.

Grossi has this week been on his first visit to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.

Erdogan says he will urge Putin to take steps on Donbas, Crimea with Zelensky

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will tell his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call later on Friday that he and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy need to take a step to address issues over Ukraine’s Donbas region and Crimea.

Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, Erdogan stated he will hold the phone call with Putin at 13:00 GMT and renew an offer to host the Russian and Ukrainian leaders for talks.

He added Zelenskyy was warm towards the idea after speaking with Erdogan in a call on Thursday.

Erdogan stated that he expects that the date of the proposed meeting between leaders of Ukraine and Russia will be determined after his phone conversation with Putin.

“We declared our readiness to organize such a meeting in Istanbul, especially in the context of steps on Crimea and Donbass. Zelensky holds a positive opinion. Putin also spoke positively earlier. Based on the results of today’s conversation, the date of the meeting will be determined by the parties themselves,” Erdogan told Anadolu Agency.

Moscow: Progress made in talks with Kiev

Russia’s foreign minister has said that some progress had been made at talks with Ukraine earlier this week, adding Moscow is preparing its response to Ukrainian proposals put forward at the discussions in Istanbul.

Speaking at a briefing after talks with his Indian counterparts, Lavrov stated that negotiations with Kyiv needed to continue but noted it had shown “much more understanding” of the situation in Crimea and Donbas and the necessity of its neutral status.

Governor: Russia withdrawing some troops from Kyiv region

Russia is continuing to withdraw some of its forces from around Ukraine’s northern Kyiv region and they are heading towards Belarus, its governor has said.

“We are observing the movement of joint [Russian] vehicle columns of various quantities,” Oleksandr Pavlyuk said in a post on Telegram.

He added Russian forces had left the town of Hostomel, which is next to a strategically important airfield, but warned they were digging in nearby, in the town of Bucha.

Ukraine says some Russian troops still in Chernobyl ‘exclusion zone’

Some Russian troops are still in the “exclusion zone” around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power station, the head of the Ukrainian agency in charge of the area has said.

Yevhen Kramarenko confirmed on national television that the troops who had occupied the power station after Moscow launched its invasion last month had left the plant itself.

But he added that some troops had been seen in the “exclusion zone” outside the territory of the decommissioned power station.

The area was established around the plant soon after a reactor there exploded in the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986.

Russia’s FM thanks India for taking the Ukraine situation “in its entirety of facts”

Speaking on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov thanked India for “taking this situation in its entirety of facts” during a meeting with Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar.

“We appreciate that India is taking this situation in its entirety of facts, not just in a one-sided way,” Lavrov said at the conference in New Delhi on Friday.

“Our Western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine, you know our position, we do not hide anything,” Lavrov added.

“Friendship is the keyword to describe the history of our relations and our relations were very sustainable during many difficult times in the past … We are certainly interested in having the world order balanced,” Lavrov stated.

S. Jaishankar said the meeting was taking place “in a difficult international environment,” adding that India “has always been in favor of resolving differences and disputes through dialogue and diplomacy.”

Lavrov noted economic matters and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic would also be on the agenda.

China adheres to independent position on Ukrainian crisis

Beijing maintains an independent stance on the Ukrainian crisis, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated on Friday, commenting on reports about planned pressure from EU politicians on China during the EU-China summit later in the day.

“As for Ukraine, China pursues an independent peaceful foreign policy and makes its own decisions based on the merits of the case,” Zhao told a briefing.

The European Parliament called on Thursday for holding China accountable for any support rendered to Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.

The international society needs to thoroughly study and come up with an unbiased evaluation of information provided by Russia about US biological laboratories in Ukraine, Zhao stated.

The spokesperson noted that the Unites States still has not come up with a “constructive response to Russia’s statements.”

“We will welcome a just, unbiased and professional evaluation on behalf of the international society of the documents provided by Russia based on the mechanisms of the United Nations and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction,” he continued.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland announced early last month that Ukraine had facilities where biological research was being conducted and Washington was working to not let them fall into the hands of Russian forces.

Igor Kirillov, who heads the Russian army’s radiation, chemical and biological protection force, reported in March that a network of over 30 biological labs was formed on Ukrainian soil under the direction of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). According to him, on February 24, they were all instructed by the Ukrainian Health Ministry to completely destroy biological agents located in the laboratories.

Ukraine general prosecutor says 153 children killed by Russian attacks

The Russian invasion has killed 153 and wounded 245 children in Ukraine after more than a month of hostilities, according to the office of Ukraine’s general prosecutor.

Most of the killings took place in the Kyiv region (73), in the southeastern region of Donetsk (65) and the eastern region of Kharkiv (46).

The death toll is expected to rise significantly as many victims in besieged cities of Mariupol and Chernihiv are unaccounted for.

About a half of children in Ukraine have been uprooted by the conflict, UNICEF announced in late March. At least 1.8 million crossed into other countries, and 2.5 million others have been internally displaced.

Governor claims Russian troops withdrawing from northern Ukrainian region

Russian forces are withdrawing from the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine but have not yet left entirely, the local governor said in a video address on Friday.

“Air and missile strikes are (still) possible in the region, nobody is ruling this out,” Governor Viacheslav Chaus stated, adding that Ukrainian forces were entering and securing settlements previously held by Russian troops.

Chaus noted it was still too early for Ukrainian forces in the Chernihiv region to let their guard down as Russian troops “are still on our land.”

Russia claimed on Tuesday it would scale down operations in the Chernihiv and Kiev regions.

Ukraine unable to get supplies to Mariupol, civilians unable to leave

An aide to the mayor of Mariupol has said the besieged southern Ukrainian city remained closed for anyone trying to enter and was “very dangerous” for anyone trying to leave.

Petro Andryushchenko stated Russian forces had since Thursday been preventing even the smallest amount of humanitarian supplies reaching trapped residents, making clear a planned “humanitarian corridor” had not been opened.

“In addition, since yesterday the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian aid – even in small quantities – into the city,” he added.

Head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev has claimed Russia opened an additional humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians and foreign nationals from Mariupol to Zaporozhye on March 31 but the Ukrainian Armed Forces and nationalist battalions shelled the route, disrupting the humanitarian operation.

Ukraine says death toll from Mykolaiv attack reaches 24

The number of casualties from a Russian attack on the regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv has risen to 24 people, the country’s State Emergency Service have announced.

The strike left a gaping hole in the building, and rescuers worked non-stop looking for bodies and survivors in the debris, it wrote on Telegram.

the regional governor claimed that Russian forces waited until dozens of employees showed up for work on Tuesday before targeting the nine-story building.

Russia warns agriculture supplies could be limited to ‘friends’

One of President Vladimir Putin’s allies has warned that Russia, a major global wheat exporter, could limit supplies of agriculture products to “friendly” countries only, amid Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s security council, said he would like to outline “some simple but important points about food security in Russia,” given the sanctions imposed.

Most of them have been part of the country’s agricultural policy for years.

“We will only be supplying food and agriculture products to our friends,” Medvedev stated on social media, adding, “Fortunately we have plenty of them, and they are not in Europe or North America at all.”

Ukrainian forces say repelled seven Russian attacks

Some Russian forces are retreating from areas around Kyiv towards Belarus, despite the Russian assault on the southeastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk intensifying, Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces has announced.

The Russians are trudging towards the Belarusian border taking away stolen civilian vehicles and looted property, it said on Facebook.

It added that seven Russian attacks were repelled in Donetsk and Luhansk overnight, with Ukrainian forces destroying three tanks, two armoured vehicles and one drone.

Russia’s Gazprom says gas exports to Europe via Ukraine continue

Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom has said it was continuing to supply natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

The company added requests stood at 108.4 million cubic metres (mcm) for April 1, down from 109.5 mcm a day earlier.

Ukraine: Russia is “trying to concentrate” missile systems in Belarus

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister stated Russia is “trying to concentrate” missile systems in southeastern Belarus for potential use against Ukraine.

The assessment comes despite Russia’s recent claims of a de-escalation around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

“The enemy is not abandoning its plans to completely capture the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said, adding, “He is also encroaching on the Kharkiv region and trying to strengthen his position, to regroup troops.”

Ukrainian forces are seeing Russian missile systems being sent near Gomel city in Belarus, Maliar said.

“The enemy is trying to concentrate them there, apparently due to plans to launch missile strikes or use them as a tool for blackmail and intimidation. Therefore, the territory of Belarus continues to be actively used by Russia to carry out aggression,” she added.

Asked if she expected to see continued missile strikes on Ukrainian territory, Maliar stated, “We have to be ready for this. The war continues. And it should be said that the enemy is not slowing down. Rocket attacks, their intensity is all the same as it was, sometimes even increasing.”

NATO’s chief warned that Russian forces are not withdrawing, but are repositioning as they maintain pressure on Kyiv and other cities. Ukrainian and US officials have also said Russians may be regrouping in Belarus.

Ukraine claims Russian forces took 14 tons of humanitarian aid

Russian forces on Thursday confiscated 14 tons of humanitarian aid from buses bound for Melitopol in southern Ukraine, according to Iryna Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories.

Vereshchuk said the food and medication was loaded on 12 buses.

“This is the price for the agreed corridors and for the Red Cross’ guarantees that the corridors will be provided and working,” Vereshchuk continued, adding, “We are negotiating for the buses to be returned and for the Melitopol residents tomorrow to evacuate using these buses.”

Vereshchuk said 1,458 people reached Zaporizhzhia in their own cars on Thursday, with 631 of them escaping the besieged city of Mariupol and 827 coming from Berdiansk, Enerhodar, Melitopol, Polohy, Huliapole and Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Russian forces also blocked 45 buses going to Berdiansk on Thursday en route to Mariupol, she added.

Russia will reopen the evacuation corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday at the request of French and German leaders, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Thursday.

PM: Australia will send armored vehicles to Ukraine after Zelensky’s request

Australia will send locally produced armored vehicles to Ukraine after a request from President Volodymyr Zelensky, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

Morrison did not say when or how many vehicles — known as Bushmasters — would be sent to Ukraine.

“We’re not just sending our prayers, we’re sending our guns, we’re sending our munitions, we’re sending our humanitarian aid, we’re sending all of this and body armor,” Morrison stated.

“We’re going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters as well. And we’re flying them over there on our C-17s,” he added.

Zelensky appealed for the armored vehicles while speaking to Australia’s parliament via video link on Thursday, saying “we have to keep those who are fighting against this evil armed.”

“You have very good armed personnel vehicle, Bushmaster, that could help Ukraine substantially, and other pieces of equipment that could strengthen our position in terms of armament,” Zelensky stated, adding, “If you have an opportunity to share this with us we would be very grateful.”

Zelensky also called for further sanctions on Russia.

Australia has previously 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.

Russian foreign ministry: Moscow will not leave hostile EU actions unanswered

The EU sanctions against Russia are negatively affecting lives of Europeans, and Moscow hopes that Brussels will understand that the confrontation with in bilateral relations is not in its interests, Director of the Department of European Cooperation of the Russian Foreign Ministry Nikolay Kobrinets told Sputnik.

“The EU actions will not be left without response. Hopefully, the EU countries will understand that the confrontation is not in its interests. Brussels’ irresponsible sanctions are already negatively affecting the everyday lives of ordinary Europeans,” Kobrinets said.

Furthermore, the diplomat rhetorically asked whether the European nations were “ready to pay from their own pockets for further killings of civilians in Ukraine,” thus turning Europe from a “region of cooperation and stability” into a zone of conflict.

“I don’t think so,” he added.

Report: UK opposing immediate Ukrainian-Russian ceasefire

The United Kingdom wants Ukraine not to sign a ceasefire agreement with Russia too soon to deteriorate the latter’s military position and thus weaken its negotiating stance, media reported.

According to The Times newspaper, the United Kingdom is concerned that the United States, Germany and France are “over-eager” to secure a peace deal as soon as possible. London believes that the deal should be reached when Kiev will have a stronger position.

“We think Ukraine needs to be in the strongest possible position militarily before those talks can take place,” a government source told the daily, adding that such a scenario could result in more Russian concessions on territory, sanctions and even the legal persecution of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

France: Ukraine’s accession to EU can only be discussed after conflict

Discussions regarding Ukraine’s accession to the EU can only be held after the Ukrainian conflict is over, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview for Le Figaro.

“During the summit in Versailles, the leaders of the 27 states made it clear that Ukraine’s fate is tied to Europe,” Le Drian stated, adding, “After the conflict is over, the world will no longer be the same, as will Ukraine. It is then when we should talk about it.”

Previously, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky urged the EU to admit Ukraine to the union. On March 1, Presidential Office head Andrey Yermak stated that the EU received Ukraine’s membership application, registered it and put it for reviewing.

On March 10, French President Emmanuel Macron noted at the sidelines of the summit in Versailles, that he does not consider it possible to review Ukraine’s accession application amid the armed conflict.

Le Drian called for intensified military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine, while talking to reporters in Tallinn, Estonia.

“Russia must not hope to win,” Le Drian said, adding, “The stakes for us are strategic.”

“We have a very clear objective, to not give up anything and to intensify our efforts until a total ceasefire across the whole of Ukraine’s territory and real negotiations,” he continued.

US warns India not to help Russia undermine dollar

A top US national security official has called on India to scale back its economic and military ties with Russia, warning of “consequences” for any nation that helps Moscow avoid the recent wave of Western sanctions.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Indian officials, Washington’s deputy national security adviser for international economics, Daleep Singh, urged New Delhi not to boost Russian energy imports, and to avoid any moves that might “undermine” the US dollar.

“What we would not like to see is a rapid acceleration of India’s imports from Russia as it relates to energy or any other any other exports that are currently being prohibited by the US,” he said, adding that the United States is “very keen for all countries, especially our allies and partners, not to create mechanisms that prop up the ruble and that attempt to undermine the dollar-based financial system.”

While condemning Russia’s “needless war” on Ukraine, Singh stated his visit to India was “in a spirit of friendship to explain the mechanisms of our sanctions,” but nonetheless warned that there would be “consequences [for] countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill” those penalties.

Asked what those consequences could entail, the adviser declined to elaborate, noting that was part of “private discussions that I’m not going to share publicly.”

Singh’s remarks followed reports that Moscow and New Delhi are currently working out a rupee-ruble payment system, which would allow the two nations to conduct bilateral trade in each others’ currencies. India also recently agreed to buy a quantity of Russian crude oil at a discount, an unpopular decision with the US and some allies, who have embarked on a punitive sanctions campaign designed to isolate Russia’s economy and wreck the ruble.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also visited the Indian capital on Thursday, coinciding with official meetings with Singh as well as UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Zelensky removes two top Ukrainian generals

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he removed two top Ukrainian generals, calling them “antiheroes”.

“Today another decision was made regarding antiheroes. Now I do not have time to deal with all the traitors. But gradually they will all be punished,” he stated.

The generals — former chief of the Main Department of Internal Security of the Security Service of Ukraine, Naumov Andriy Olehovych, and the former head of the Office of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Kherson region, Kryvoruchko Serhiy Oleksandrovych — have been stripped of their rank.

“Those servicemen among senior officers who have not decided where their homeland is, who violate the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people as regards (to) the protection of our state, its freedom and independence, will inevitably be deprived of senior military ranks. Random generals don’t belong here!” Zelensky added.

Russia presents new evidence on Ukraine biolabs

The Russian military has presented documents showing Ukraine’s interest in using drones to deliver weaponized pathogens developed in US-funded biolabs. Names of US officials involved in the biolabs projects, and the role the current US president’s son played in the program, were also made public during the special briefing on Thursday.

One of the key pieces of evidence was a letter from the Ukrainian company Motor Sich to the  Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar Makina – makers of the Bayraktar TB2 and Akinci UAVs – dated December 15, 2021. The Ukrainians specifically asked if the drones could carry 20 liters of aerosolized payload to a range of 300 kilometers – putting them in range of a dozen major Russian cities and almost all of Belarus.

Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Forces, claimed that Hunter Biden – son of the current US President Joe Biden – played “an important role in creating a financial opportunity to work with pathogens on the territory of Ukraine,” pointing to several emails between him and executives of Metabiota and Black and Veatch.

Zelensky: Russia preparing ‘powerful strikes’ in Donbas

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy has said Russian troops are planning “powerful strikes” in the eastern Donbas region.

“In Donbas, in Mariupol and in Kharkiv’s direction, Russian forces are amassing resources for powerful strikes. We will defend, we will do everything possible to stop the occupiers and clear our territory from their evil and senseless crimes,” he added.

Zelenskyy has stated the situation in the country’s south and the Donbas region remained extremely difficult and reiterated that Russia was building up forces near the besieged city of Mariupol.

“There will be battles ahead. We still need to go down a very difficult path to get everything we want,” he continued.

Russian forces took Ukrainian troops as hostages from Chernobyl: Kyiv

Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom claims Russian forces have taken Ukrainian troops as hostages with them as they left the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

“As they ran away from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the Russian occupiers took members of the National Guard, whom they had held hostage since February 24, with them,” Energoatom announced in a statement on Telegram, citing plant workers.

It was unclear how many Ukrainian servicemen had been taken away.

UK says Ukraine has retaken villages of Sloboda & Lukashivka

British military intelligence has said Ukrainian forces retook the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka to the south of Chernihiv and located along main supply routes between the city and Kyiv.

“Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counter attacks to the east and north east of Kyiv,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

Chernihiv and Kyiv have been subjected to continued air and missile strikes despite Russian claims of reducing activity in these areas, the ministry added.

The UK Ministry of Defence has announced Russia is redeploying forces from Georgia to help with its war in Ukraine, a move it said highlights Moscow’s “unexpected losses” in the invasion.

“Between 1,200 and 2,000 of these Russian troops are being reorganised into 3x Battalion Tactical Groups,” the defence ministry said in a Twitter post.

“It is highly unlikely that Russia planned to generate reinforcements in this manner and it is indicative of the unexpected losses it has sustained during the invasion,” it added.

European Union economy commissioner: “We will not be blackmailed by Moscow”

Paolo Gentiloni, the EU commissioner for economy, says the European Union “will not be blackmailed by Moscow” after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to “unfriendly countries” unless they pay in rubles.

Gentiloni told CNN’s Richard Quest that existing contracts do not include an obligation to pay in rubles and that they must be respected.

“It is an attempt to circumvent European sanctions and to blackmail the European Union,” he added.

US State Department: We’ve seen reports of Americans being detained by Russian military in Ukraine

The US State Department has “seen reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine, and when evacuating through … Russian occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing Thursday.

“In terms of Ukraine, there have been Americans who have been detained who have since been released,” Price stated.

“In terms of Russia, we’ve spoken of a few of these cases, we’re just not going to put a number on it,” he added.

French military intel chief told to step down partly for “failing to anticipate” Ukraine invasion

The chief of French military intelligence, Gen. Eric Vidaud, was told to step down from his post partly for “failing to anticipate” the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a military source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The source added that Ukraine was not the “only reason” for his departure but that “an internal reorganization of the Directorate of Military Intelligence” was also behind the decision.

Asked what went wrong with Vidaud’s assessment in Ukraine, the source referred to comments made by the Chief of Staff Gen. Thierry Burkhard to the French newspaper Le Monde on March 6 where he recognized shortcomings in the French intelligence assessment of the situation on the ground.

“The Americans said the Russians were going to invade and they were right,” said Burkhard to the French daily, while “our services rather thought that the invasion of Ukraine would have a huge cost and that the Russians had other options.”

According to the AFP news agency, Alexandre Papaemmanuel, an intelligence expert and professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, said France was aware that its own intelligence had failed on this occasion. But Papaemmanuel said that Vidaud’s Directorate of Military Intelligence isn’t the only branch of the security services to take the blame.

Le Monde reported that other entities, such as the powerful foreign intelligence service the General Directorate for External Security, had sidelined the DRM. And a military source told AFP that the DRM’s main role was to provide intelligence on operations, not on intentions.

Its services had concluded that Russia “had the means to invade Ukraine and what happened showed that it was right,” the source added.

Italy and Germany say they agree on importance of sanctions against Russia

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed on a phone call about the importance of keeping up sanctions against Russia, which are “proving very effective”, Draghi’s office has announced.

The phone call between the two leaders comes after Putin threatened to halt contracts supplying Europe with a third of its gas unless they are paid in Russian currency.

US military aid already arriving in Ukraine: Pentagon

An initial half-dozen shipments of US weapons and other security assistance have reached Ukraine as part of the $800m package of aid that Biden approved on March 16, the Department of Defense has announced.

Spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that the shipments included Javelin anti-tank weapons, Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, body armour, medical supplies and other material.

Kirby added the $800m in assistance is likely to be fully delivered within about two weeks. It also includes Mi-17 helicopters, small arms, ammunition, vehicles, secure communications systems, and satellite imagery and analysis capability.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has decided to extend the deployment of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman strike group in the Mediterranean Sea through the summer to bolster support for NATO’s eastern flank amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Kirby said.

“He [Austin] has decided that he’s going to keep the 82nd [Airborne Division] there for a while longer, and he has decided that the that the Harry S. Truman and her strike group will stay in the Med [Mediterranean] for a while longer,” he added.

The Harry S. Truman carrier strike group was deployed from the United States in December and came under NATO command in the Mediterranean Sea in January – the first such development since the end of the Cold War. The carrier strike group participates in the NATO-led Neptune Strike 2022 exercise in the Mediterranean.

White House: Biden Currently Has No Plans to Talk With Putin

US President Joe Biden has no plans at present to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield said during a press briefing on Thursday.

“Not currently,” Bedingfield stated when asked whether any plans exist for the two leaders to speak.

“We’ve been very clear that any re-engagement of diplomacy at that level would require significant demonstration from the Russians of serious de-escalation and we have not seen that,” Bedingfield added.

US to add more entities in Russia, Belarus to sanctions list

The US Department of Commerce will impose further sanctions in the coming days targeting Russia’s defence, aerospace and maritime sectors, adding 120 entities from Russia and Belarus to its blacklist, according to the White House.

That will bring the number of Russian and Belarusian parties added to the list to more than 200 since the invasion of Ukraine began, spokesperson Kate Bedingfield told a news conference.

Governor accuses Ukraine of targeting Russian city

A regional governor has accused Ukraine of attacking a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, which lies across the border to the north of Kharkiv.

The official, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said two Ukrainian helicopters carried out the attack, which started a fire at the facility.

Two people had been hurt, he added.

Russia sanctions EU leadership

Top EU leadership has been banned from entering Russia in response to the bloc’s “unfriendly actions,” which, as the Russian Foreign Ministry claims, are “driving the relationship with Russia into a deadlock.”

In a lengthy statement, issued on Thursday, the ministry said that the EU sanctions policy, which has been introduced in response to Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, “oversteps all limits.” The intention of the EU, the statement says, is clear: “To force Russia to renounce its vital interests.”

“The EU’s actions are not only driving the relationship with Russia into a deadlock, but are similarly jeopardizing the wellbeing and security of its own citizens, as well as the stability of the global financial and economic system,” the ministry added.

Therefore, Russia, on the basis of reciprocity, “is significantly expanding the list of representatives of EU Member States and institutions who will be denied entry to the Russian Federation.”

The ministry specified that the restrictions would apply to the “top leadership of the EU, a number of European commissioners and heads of EU military bodies, as well as the overwhelming majority of members of the European Parliament that have advanced anti-Russian policies.”

The blacklist also includes government and parliament members of some EU member states, as well as public and media figures who are, from Moscow’s point of view, “personally responsible for promoting illegal anti-Russian sanctions, inflaming Russophobic sentiments, and infringing on the rights and freedoms of Russian-speakers.”

The relevant note has been handed to the Delegation of the European Union in Moscow, according to the ministry.

It concluded the statement by reaffirming that “any further unfriendly action by the EU and its Member States will inevitably be met with a forceful response.”

Russian Ambassador to US hits back at sanctions targeting technology sector

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov decried US sanctions targeting the Russian technology sector as “illegal” on Thursday, after the US Treasury Department announced the move as part of a crackdown on sanctions evasion by Russia.

In response to a question on Facebook, Antonov wrote the Biden administration was showing its “uncompromising attitude” as it expanded its “illegal sanction lists.”

“We are talking about purposeful attempts to limit the technological development of our country,” Antonov said.

The US Treasury Department announced on Thursday it was sanctioning “21 entities and 13 individuals as part of its crackdown on the Kremlin’s sanctions evasion networks and technology companies, which are instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine.”

The agency has also determined “that sanctions apply to the aerospace, marine, and electronics sectors of the Russian Federation,” meaning that the US can “impose sanctions on any individual or entity determined to operate or have operated in any of those sectors.”

The US and its allies have imposed a raft of sanctions on Russian officials and entities since Moscow launched its attack on Ukraine.

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