Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 49

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. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Biden unveils $800 million security package for Ukraine in call with Zelensky

US President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart Wednesday Washington was sending an additional $800 million worth of weapons, ammunition and other security assistance.

“The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect. As Russia prepares to intensify its attack in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself,” Biden said in a statement.

The package will include both new types of weapons and the types of equipment the US has been providing to Ukraine for weeks.

The new equipment includes “artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armored personnel carriers,” the statement from Biden read.

“I have also approved the transfer of additional helicopters,” he wrote.

The $800 million shipment brings to more than $3 billion the total amount of military assistance the US has provided to Ukraine.

“The steady supply of weapons the United States and its Allies and partners have provided to Ukraine has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion. It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his initial war aims to conquer and control Ukraine. We cannot rest now,” Biden added.

The US President stated he assured Volodymyr Zelensky that the “American people will continue to stand with the brave Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom.”

MoD: Russian forces will hit ‘decision-making centres’ in Ukraine if attacks against Russia continue

Russia’s Defence Ministry has warned that Russian armed forces will launch strikes on Ukrainian “decision-making centres”, including Kiev, if Ukraine doesn’t stop trying to hit objects on Russian territory.

The ministry added that, so far, Moscow had avoided hitting these centres, but this policy might change.

WHO director urges Russia to work for peace “for sake of humanity”

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday urged Russia to work for peace “for the sake of humanity.”

“Tomorrow marks 50 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. In that time, 4.6 million refugees have left the country. Thousands of civilians have died, including children. There have been 119 verified attacks on health care. Health services continue to be severely disrupted, particularly in the east of the country,” Tedros said, during a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

“For the sake of humanity, I urge Russia to come back to the table and to work for peace,” he added.

Until then, evacuation corridors need to be established so that civilians can move to safety and medical supplies, food and water can be delivered, he stated.

WHO has verified nearly 120 attacks on health care since the invasion of Ukraine began.

Tedros also noted that WHO has received almost 53% of its funding requirement for Ukraine for the first three months. He thanked countries and organizations for both timely contributions and for committing to additional support. However, additional resources will be needed to cover long-term needs, he continued.

Defense official: US military looking at options to train Ukrainians on Switchblade drones & other systems

The Pentagon is examining options for how it can train more Ukrainian forces to use Switchblade drones that the US is providing to the Ukrainian military, according to a senior defense official.

Future trainings might occur with the US troops who have deployed to bolster NATO’s eastern flank over the past several months amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the official told reporters Wednesday.

The Pentagon was looking at “a range of options” for training Ukraine on the Switchblade drones and other weapons systems, the official said, on top of the trainings that occurred with Ukrainians who already were in the United States for previously scheduled engagements.

One option would be the troops that are on NATO’s eastern flank, the official stated, adding that no decisions had been made yet.

“We have absolutely added to our ability in these eastern flank countries,” the official said, adding, “Soldiers with various sets of capabilities and various professional skills, whether it’s artillery, long-range missiles, air defense, infantry, armor — you name it. And so if there’s a need for additional training to be done on any systems that are provided to Ukraine, we will look at a range of options for how that training would have to be delivered.”

Additionally, the official said that the US continues to see “significant morale issues” anecdotally among Russian forces, a senior US defense official said Wednesday.

The official added that the US has recent evidence that Russian troops “have been disillusioned by this war, weren’t properly informed, weren’t properly trained, weren’t ready, not just physically, but weren’t ready mentally for what they were about to do.”

UN chief says humanitarian truce not possible at moment

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine does not seem possible at the moment.

Guterres sent UN aid chief Martin Griffiths to Russia and Ukraine recently to see if a humanitarian truce could be agreed.

IMF, World Bank, WFP and WTO urge coordinated action on food security

The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations World Food Program and World Trade Organisation have called for urgent, coordinated action on food security, and urged countries to avoid export bans on food or fertiliser.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the four institutions warned that the war in Ukraine was adding to existing pressures from the COVID-19 crisis, climate change and increased fragility and conflict, threatening millions of people worldwide.

Sharply higher prices for staples and supply shortages were fueling pressure on households, they said. The threat is greatest to the poorest countries, but vulnerability was also increasing rapidly in middle-income countries, which host the majority of the world’s poor.

Officials: Biden’s “genocide” declaration not expected to trigger immediate changes to US policy

US President Joe Biden’s declaration that the atrocities now underway in Ukraine are a “genocide” is not expected to trigger any immediate changes to US policy toward the conflict, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

Biden made clear in Iowa he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine, but said he would “let the lawyers decide” to use that designation internationally.

That was a signal the US is not making a formal declaration of genocide in Ukraine, the officials stated.

The US has only made eight formal determinations of genocide, most recently labeling Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya minority a genocide. Doing so would trigger legal obligation under the United Nations Genocide Convention, which would require countries to intervene to prevent the genocide from advancing.

Already, Biden’s use of the word genocide has drawn some blowback from a key US ally.

“I want to continue to try, as much as I can, to stop this war and rebuild peace. I am not sure that an escalation of rhetoric serves that cause,” French President Emmanuel Macron noted Wednesday.

The Kremlin responded Wednesday to Biden describing the invasion of Ukraine as “genocide,” calling it “unacceptable.”

“We consider such attempts to distort the situation unacceptable,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters during his regular conference call with journalists.

“Moreover, this is hardly acceptable for the United States, a country that has committed well-known deeds in modern and recent history,” added Peskov, referring to US-led military activity overseas.

This reiterates the Kremlin’s chosen rhetoric tactic of “whataboutism” when it comes to the US accusations. Commenting on Biden calling Putin a “war criminal” in March, Peskov noted that the president of a country that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki doesn’t have the right to make such statements.

Russia could relaunch offensive to “conquer” Donbas region in days: French military spokesperson

The Russian military is potentially preparing for a “large-scale offensive” in the east of Ukraine in the coming days, French military spokesperson Col. Pascal Lanni said on Wednesday.

“Within the next few days, 10 days or so maybe, Russia could relaunch its efforts with a large-scale offensive in the east and south to conquer the Donetsk and Luhansk regions […] or even to push as far as the Dnipro [river] if its capacities allow it,” Lanni told journalists.

The spokesperson added that the Russian forces were carrying out air strikes and bombings in Ukraine not only “to weaken the coherence of the Ukrainian defense system, but also to disrupt Ukrainian logistical movements and capacity,” which explained the “total destruction” of Dnipro’s airport by Russian troops.

He also noted that there were “no significant advances at this stage in terms of territorial gains for the Russian forces on the eastern front.”

More bodies were found, some tortured, after Russians retreated from northeast Ukraine: Officials

In the days since Russian forces left the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine, authorities say a growing number of bodies have been discovered.

“There are more than 100 dead among the civilians in the Sumy region. Unfortunately, this number is growing every day,” Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, head of Sumy regional military administration, said in a briefing Wednesday.

“A lot of people found dead with their hands tied with the signs of tortures, shot in the head,” he added.

Zhyvytskyi alleged that “there are people who are held captive and there are daily negotiations for them to be exchanged or set free. A lot of people whose fate remains unknown as of today.”

Sumy saw widespread damage in the early days of the Russian invasion, with several confrontations between civilians and Russian soldiers in the region. This week, the Ukrainian cabinet allotted about $8 million to the Sumy region to begin the task of repairing housing, roads and utilities.

Italy will not veto sanctions on Russian energy, but wants EU ceiling on gas prices

Italy will continue its efforts to lower its dependency on Russian oil and gas as a response to the invasion of Ukraine despite concerns about rising fuel costs, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has told CNN.

“The cost of energy is our first worry at the moment,” but Italy “is not going to put up any veto to these sanctions that affects energy,” Di Maio said Wednesday.

“There are businesses, for example, that are paying 400% more for electric energy. At this moment in time, we have to stop that speculation which is happening by putting a ceiling on energy prices,” Di Maio told CNN.

“We are trying to get that through the EU and if we can do that through the European energy stock exchange, we will be able to at least stabilize the increase in prices for families. We are going to certainly put that forward before the next European Council,” he added.

Di Maio’s comments come after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced Monday that an initial deal had been struck to increase energy imports from Algeria after a meeting with the country’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algeria.

About 180,000 people waiting to be evacuated from Mariupol: Mayor

Up to 180,000 people are waiting to be evacuated from in and around the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Wednesday.

This comes as no evacuation corridors were operating Wednesday due to Russian forces blocking evacuation buses, Deputy Ukrainian Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced earlier.

A total of 150,000 people have been evacuated from Mariupol so far, Boychenko added, speaking during an online media briefing.

The strategic port city is one of Russia’s main targets and has been destroyed by constant shelling throughout the war.

European Union approves further military aid to Ukraine, taking total to $1.63 billion

The European Union on Wednesday approved a further $543 million in military aid for Ukraine. In total, the EU has allocated $1.63 billion of aid to help the country defend itself against Russian forces.

The new package would finance the provision of equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which includes “personal protective equipment, first aid kits and fuel, as well as military equipment designed to deliver lethal force for defensive purposes,” the European Council announced in a statement.

“As Russia prepares for an offensive on the east of Ukraine, it is crucial that we continue and step up our military support to Ukraine to defend its territory and population and prevent further suffering,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, stated.

Austria’s Chancellor says he visited Putin to look him in the eyes and confront him

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday he decided to go to Moscow to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin with what he saw in Ukraine.

“I made the decision to go to Moscow, to look in President Putin’s eyes and confront him with what I saw,” the chancellor said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson.

When asked about Putin’s mindset during the meeting, Nehammer said Putin was “very tough” and “clear” in his messages.

“In his point of view, he has to defend the Russian Federation, the Russians living in eastern Ukraine,” he added.

The Austrian chancellor went on to say that “it’s not easy for Putin to talk about war crimes,” adding that he confronted Putin about war crimes and told him “it’s necessary to have international justice, the United Nations there.”

Asked whether Putin accepted there are war crimes bring committed, Nehammer responded, “Well, you know, it’s President Putin. In this position, he was not clear.”

Nehammer said that cutting off Russian gas right now is “not possible” and that the European Union must look at sanctions that hurt Russia more than the European Union.

“Austria is not alone with this argument against the gas embargo,” he stated, citing Germany and Hungary’s positions.

“And on the other side, Austria stands strong with the other EU member states with the sanctions against the Russian Federation. But sanctions must hurt Russia more than the European Union,” Nehammer added.

Kremlin slams Biden’s ‘genocide’ comments

The Kremlin has slammed Joe Biden’s description of Russia’s actions in Ukraine as “genocide”, accusing the US president of an “unacceptable… effort to distort the situation.”

“This is hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Biden stated on Tuesday that Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine amounted to “genocide” in his view. It was the first time he had used the word to describe events in Ukraine.

Russia accuses Ukraine of ‘dragging out’ talks

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry has accused Kyiv of “dragging out” talks with Moscow over ending the war.

Speaking at her weekly briefing, Maria Zakharova noted that discussions between the two sides were continuing in an online format.

Talks about ending Russia’s nearly two-month assault on Ukraine have continued since early in the fighting but offered no concrete results as of yet.

Zelensky warns war will become an ‘endless bloodbath’ unless Kyiv gets more weapons

President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Ukraine’s allies to supply it with additional weaponry, warning the war “will become an endless bloodbath spreading misery, suffering, and destruction” unless they do so.

“Nobody will stop Russia except Ukraine with heavy weapons,” the Ukrainian president said in a video address, calling for heavy artillery, armoured vehicles, air defence systems and combat aircraft, in particular.

“Western countries have everything to make it happen. The final victory over the tyranny and the number of people saved depends on them,” he added.

Zelensky also warned Russia still has the capacity to attack other states, claiming “Poland, Moldova, Romania, and the Baltic states will become the next targets if the freedom of Ukraine falls.”

Kiev using fakes about Russian military to divert attention from its crimes: Moscow

Kiev uses fakes involving the Russian military to divert attention from its crimes, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.

She warned that Ukrainian authorities were preparing fresh provocations and urged the West not to yield to them.

In the meantime, the Russian and Ukrainian sides continue the peace talks in a virtual format.

Nordic leaders betraying their national interests: Russia

Russia has criticized accusations that it poses a threat to Sweden and Finland amid their sudden drive to join NATO. Leaders in the Nordic states have recently expressed a desire to enter the US-led military bloc following Moscow’s military attack on Ukraine.

“These claims [over an alleged Russian threat] are unintelligent. They are not based on facts. They are in the realm of propaganda and provocations. They go against the national interests of those countries,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Radio Sputnik on Wednesday.

“I believe it would be wrong to consider these statements as an independent opinion,” she added.

Ukraine explains decision to turn down German president

Ukraine would welcome any foreign “high-ranking official” as long as they come with “specific offers related to either economic or military support,” an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky has told Die Welt newspaper, explaining Kiev’s decision to turn down a visit by the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“Any visits that take place nowadays end up with a [specific] result,” the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s administration, Igor Zhovkva, told the German outlet, adding that Kiev would very much like to see “any high-ranking politicians” coming to Ukraine “bringing” such “results” with them.

He then went on to say that, in Germany’s case, it could put an “embargo on [Russian] oil” or provide “guarantees” for Ukraine’s accession to the EU or “heavy equipment” supplies.

The presidential aide also hinted that Berlin may not be as steadfast in its support for Ukraine as Kiev would like. All nations that are “friendly” to Ukraine “demonstrate a similar attitude to Russia and the Russian leadership,” Zhovkva said, adding that they do not “make any exceptions for the energy sector, banking sector or certain members of [the Russian] political establishment.”

The Kiev official has also claimed that “most Germans, up to 70% [of the population], want to see Ukraine in the EU right now” but Berlin is still “hesitant to support Ukraine’s accelerated accession” to the bloc. At the same time, he noted that Kiev would welcome German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at any time.

Germany to continue providing weapons to Ukraine: Chancellor

Berlin will continue to provide weapons to Ukraine, but in coordination with partners, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with the RBB broadcaster on Wednesday.

According to him, Berlin and Kiev have made up a list of “correct and reasonable weapons.”

“Germany took an important step when it decided to provide weapons [to Ukraine]. We have been and will continue providing [weapons],” Scholz said.

“One thing is for sure: we won’t take any unilateral steps. Germany won’t act in a manner different from that of other countries,” the chancellor noted, adding that close discussions of weapons supplies with allies were underway.

When speaking about “correct and reasonable weapons,” Scholz explained that it was about weapons that would not require the deployment of German troops to Ukraine. The German chancellor was also confident that there was a need to make sure that “NATO countries and Germany don’t become a warring party” in Ukraine.

On February 26, the German government approved weapons supplies to Ukraine. Berlin decided to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger man-portable air defense systems to the Kiev authorities. On March 23, Germany’s DPA news agency reported, citing sources, that Berlin planned to provide Ukraine with 2,000 hand-held grenade launchers. On March 25, news came that 1,500 Strela missile launchers, 100 MG3 machine guns and eight mln firearms cartridges had been delivered to Ukraine from Germany.

Switzerland adopts fifth package of sanctions against Russia, Belarus

The Federal Council (government) of Switzerland announced on its website on Wednesday that it decided to impose further sanctions against Russia and Belarus, similar to the EU restrictions adopted last week.

The Swiss authorities recalled that the EU imposed a ban on the participation of Russian companies in public procurement, new financial sanctions, particularly with regard to trusts, and a ban on financial support for Russian public institutions.

“Furthermore, the EU has imposed a ban on Russian and Belarusian road transport undertakings preventing them from transporting goods by road within the EU, and a ban on access to EU ports for Russian vessels,” the Federal Council said.

“On 13 April, the Federal Council took the decision to adopt these new EU measures against Russia and Belarus with the exception of the transport bans, the adoption of which is not necessary for Switzerland due to its geographic location,” according to the statement.

Switzerland has no access to the sea and therefore relies in supply, in particular, on motor transport companies.

Also 200 individuals from Russia and Belarus were subject to financial sanctions and travel restrictions.

On April 7, the ambassadors of the European Union countries approved the fifth package of sanctions against Russia, which, in particular, provides for restrictions on individuals and financial institutions, and also imposes a ban on the import of coal from Russia and the supply of high-tech goods. Ships registered under the Russian flag are not allowed to enter the EU ports. In addition, restrictions have affected Russian and Belarusian road transport operators – they are now not allowed to carry out transportation across the territory of the European Union, including in transit. The exception is made only for transportation of medical and food products.

Despite its neutral status Switzerland supported the EU sanctions against Moscow, announced in connection with the special military operation in Ukraine.

On March 7, the Russian government approved a list of foreign states and territories committing unfriendly actions against Russia, its companies and citizens. Switzerland is included in this list.

Kremlin: Nothing can be reported about results of talks with Ukraine yet

There is nothing to report about the results of the talks with Ukraine yet, but intense work is in full swing, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“The statements are made as soon as information comes in and as soon as the reasons for making public certain results appear. There is nothing to say at the moment,” he added.

“[Russian presidential aide and head of the Russian delegation Vladimir] Medinsky is still working very, very hard,” he said.

There are currently no high and highest-level contacts between Moscow and Washington, Peskov told reporters.

“There are no contacts at this point,” he stated.

When commenting on US President Joe Biden’s remark that described Russia’s activities in Ukraine as “genocide,” Peskov noted: “We strongly disagree with that. We believe that attempts to distort the situation in such a way are unacceptable.”

“Moreover, it’s hardly appropriate for the president of the United States, a country whose actions in recent history are well-known,” the Russian presidential spokesman added.

Iran embassy rejects Guardian’s report about arms supplies to Russia

Iran’s Embassy in London has strongly rejected a report by the British daily The Guardian that claims Russia is using weapons in Ukraine that are smuggled by Iran.

On Bucha visit, ICC chief prosecutor says Ukraine is a ‘crime scene’

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has called Ukraine a “crime scene” during a visit to the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, where Ukraine alleges Russian forces killed hundreds of civilians.

“We’re here because we have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are being committed,” Karim Khan told reporters, adding the ICC needed to “pierce the fog of war to get to the truth”.

“We have to keep an open mind and we have to follow the evidence,” he continued, stating, “The law needs to be mobilised and sent into battle to protect civilians”.

Moscow has repeatedly denied that its troops killed civilians in Bucha, dismissing Kyiv’s allegations as “propaganda”.

No information on Ukrainian biolabs from US yet: Russia

The United States has not yet responded to calls to provide information on its activities in biological laboratories set up in Ukraine, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in an interview with TASS.

“The UN Security Council meetings that took place at Russia’s request on March 11 and 18, as well as the April 6 informal Arria Formula meeting, made it clear that the US and its allies cannot give any substantive answers to our questions. There has also been no reaction to our calls to provide all information on US military and biological activities in laboratories in Ukraine and other facilities beyond their borders,” the senior diplomat pointed out.

“We don’t rule out the possibility of activating mechanisms under Articles 5 and 6 of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which require states parties to hold consultations with each other on resolving any issues related to the convention’s goals and the implementation of its provisions, as well as to cooperate in any investigations into possible violations of the convention,” Ryabkov added.

Washington has learned that the expulsion of Russian diplomats will inevitably be retaliated based on the principle of reciprocity, he stated. The diplomat noted that the expulsions of Russian diplomats had become the US favorite way of “punishing” Moscow.

Moscow remains among high-tech front-runners. Washington’s pressure may impede Russia’s development, but it is unable to stop it, Ryabkov stressed.

“Sanctions will give a powerful boost to Russia’s own industry and create favorable conditions for our agriculture to achieve further growth and eventually achieve a level of food self-sufficiency. Russia remains in the group of high-and cutting-edge technology front-runners. Our development can be hindered, but stopping it is beyond Washington’s powers,” he said.

Ryabkov added he was far from saying that Russia would lock itself away to sever contacts with the rest of the world.

He noted attempts by the US and other Western countries to slow Russia’s special operation in Ukraine will be curbed.

Ryabkov also said Russia will regard US and NATO vehicles that transport weapons in Ukraine as legitimate military targets.

“We are warning that US-NATO vehicles with weapons that move across the Ukrainian territory will be viewed by us as legitimate military targets,” he added.

The West is shutting off opportunities for investments in Russian securities in an attempt to provoke the default in Russia, Ryabkov told TASS.

“I would like to remind that any investments in Russian government securities were banned earlier. Blocking of channels for US and Western investments is viewed exactly as a tool called to provoke the default,” Ryabkov added.

“Further to, simply stated, the raider capture of a portion of Russian currency reserves in US banks by the US, they also attempt to instruct us to make sovereign debt repayments from export revenues, openly indicating to goal to deplete our currency reserves,” the deputy FM said.

Washington “is coining anti-Russian restrictions with perseverance” and the number of sanction waves rose beyond one hundred long time ago, Ryabkov added.

OSCE report documents ‘humanitarian law violations’ by Russian troops

An initial report by a mission of experts set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) has documented “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations” by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The 110-page report, presented at a meeting of the OSCE’s permanent council, said that if Moscow had respected its international obligations “the number of civilians killed or injured would have remained much lower”.

The three experts who wrote the report, which included information from NGOs on the ground, said given the timeline and scope of their mission it was not possible to identify war crimes.

The mission was set up following a request by Ukraine on March 3. It covered the period from the beginning of the invasion on February 24 until April 1, before images of civilian killings emerged as Russian troops withdrew from northern Ukraine.

Nearly 100 heritage sites damaged by war: UNESCO

Nearly 100 cultural and religious sites in Ukraine have sustained damage since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, a representative for the United Nation’s cultural agency (UNESCO) has stated.

“The mark of 100 damaged or totally destroyed sites will be reached on Thursday or Friday – this morning we are at 98 sites and monuments listed in eight regions of the country,” Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of world heritage at UNESCO, told the AFP news agency.

Assomo noted the figure included a range of sites, including some from the early medieval era to others seen as landmarks of early Soviet architecture.

“Some of these sites and monuments will take time to rebuild and others probably cannot be rebuilt at all,” he added.

Britain adds 206 new listings under Russia sanctions regime

President of the Russian oil producer Lukoil Vagit Alekperov, Board Chairman of Sistema Holding Vladimir Evtushenkov and ex-President of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin were added to the updated sanction list posted on the website of the UK government on Wednesday.

The updated version of the document now contains 206 more individuals from Russia, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Since the start of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, over 1,400 individuals and businesses were hit by UK sanctions.

Dnipro official claims 1,500 killed Russian soldiers in city morgues

An official in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, which has largely escaped fighting with invading forces, said Wednesday that the remains of more than 1,500 Russian soldiers were being kept in its morgues.

“Now there are more than 1,500 dead Russian soldiers in the morgues of Dnipro that no one wants to retrieve,” Dnipro deputy mayor Mikhail Lysenko told reporters, adding he hoped “Russian mothers will be able to come and pick up their sons”.

UN records 1,892 civilian deaths in Ukraine since beginning of war

At least 1,892 civilians have been killed and 2,558 injured since the war in Ukraine started in February, according to the United Nations.

The number of recorded deaths includes 478 men, 308 women, 30 girls, and 52 boys, as well as 71 children and 953 adults whose sex is yet unknown, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement.

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

Pentagon to meet largest US arms makers over Ukraine: Report

The Pentagon is set to host a meeting with eight of the largest defence contractors in the United States, as Washington aims to up military assistance to Ukraine, according to multiple reports.

EU is trying to contain spread of conflict around Ukraine: Borrell

The European Union is not contributing to the spread of the conflict around Ukraine, but is trying to contain it, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said in an interview published on Wednesday in the El Mundo newspaper.

“We are not promoting war, we are not contributing to the spread of war,” he stated, “We are trying to contain it, both in its spatial dimension, so that it does not affect other countries, and in its vertical dimension, so that more lethal weapons are not used.”

“We are making great diplomatic efforts,” the head of EU diplomacy assured, “We must try to end the war as soon as possible, but we care how it ends. And it will always end with negotiations.”

“We are helping Ukraine militarily,” Borrell recalled, “If European leaders say that Ukraine is defending European values, and they are fighting a war that protects us, to do otherwise would be hypocritical. <…> We need to come up with unified responses, there has to be solidarity. The most affected [EU countries] will have to be compensated so that they participate.”

Moscow slams statements about Russia ‘threatening’ Sweden, Finland as propaganda

Statements about the alleged “Russian threat” to Sweden and Finland are propaganda and provocation and serve the interests of the US-led collective NATO, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“These statements are unintelligent. They are not based on facts, they are in line with propaganda and provocation. They do not meet the interests of the peoples of these countries and ensure and serve the interests of the collective NATO led by the United States,” the diplomat stated on the air of the Sputnik radio on Wednesday, commenting on Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde’s words about the unacceptability of “Russia threatening Sweden and Finland in any way.”

In this connection, Zakharova pointed out that it is wrong to consider such statements “as an individual, independent opinion.”

Zelensky claims Russian forces using phosphorous bombs

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian forces of using phosphorous bombs in Ukraine.

In an address to Estonia’s parliament, the Ukrainian president stated Moscow was using “terror tactics” against civilians. He did not provide evidence for his claim about the use of phosphorous munitions.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of using such bombs, a charge Moscow denies. International law bans their use in areas where they may endanger civilians.

Zelenskyy also accused Russia of forcibly deporting Ukrainians and called for further sanctions on Moscow, arguing such measures were the only way to force Putin to agree to a peace deal.

Putin says Russia can redirect energy exports away from West

Russia can easily redirect exports of its vast energy resources away from the West to countries that really need them while increasing domestic consumption of oil, gas and coal, President Vladimir Putin has said.

Speaking at a meeting with officials to discuss development in the Russian Arctic, he stated Moscow had suffered from an absence of cooperation amid sweeping Western sanctions imposed on the Kremlin but claimed the situation had also created new possibilities.

Some Western nations moves to reject cooperation with Moscow and especially shun some of Russia’s energy resources have already harmed millions of Europeans, and affected the United States as well, Putin noted.

“The refusal of normal cooperation, especially part of Russian energy resources by some Westerns states, has already impacted millions of Europeans and triggered a real energy crisis, [in addition, it] is also affecting the United States. Prices are rising everywhere, inflation is sky-high, and for these countries it is unprecedented,” Putin pointed out.

US warns it ‘will not be indifferent’ to those who undermine Russia sanctions

Countries that are seeking advantage by failing to condemn Russia’s “heinous war” against Ukraine are being short-sighted and will face consequences if they undermine Western sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said.

The United States and its partners “will not be indifferent” to actions that undermine the sweeping measures they have imposed on Moscow over the invasion, she warned in wide-ranging remarks prepared for an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank.

Yellen added the war had redrawn the world economic outlook and the Biden administration was resolute in its commitment to “to push Russia further towards economic, financial, and strategic isolation” over its “horrific conduct” and alleged violations of international law.

Macron rejects use of the term “genocide” to describe Russian atrocities in Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron refused to describe Russian actions in Ukraine as “genocide” in a television interview with public broadcaster France 2.

Asked whether he, like US President Joe Biden, would use the term “genocide” for the killing of Ukrainians by the Russian military, Macron said: “I would be careful with such terms today because these two peoples [Russians and Ukrainians] are brothers.”

“I want to continue to try, as much as I can, to stop this war and rebuild peace. I am not sure that an escalation of rhetoric serves that cause,” he added.

“What we can say for sure is that the situation is unacceptable and that these are war crimes. We are living through war crimes that are unprecedented on our soil — our European soil,” Macron continued.

The French President, who is currently running for re-election, also noted France’s cooperation with Ukraine to investigate the alleged war crimes.

“Russia has unilaterally started an extremely brutal war, it has now been established that the Russian army has committed war crimes and we must now find those who are responsible,” Macron stated.

Finland to make decision on NATO membership in coming weeks

Finland will make a decision about whether to apply to join the 30-member Nato alliance in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters in Stockholm on Wednesday.

“There are different perspectives to apply (for) Nato membership or not to apply and we have to analyze these very carefully,” Marin told reporters in a joint news conference with her Swedish counterpart.

“But I think our process will be quite fast, it will happen in weeks,” she added.

Swedish PM reportedly poised to apply for NATO membership in June

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is planning to file an application for her country to join NATO in June of this year, local newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, has reported citing sources in Andersson’s Social Democratic Party.

More specifically, the daily believes that the application will be handed over by Andersson on 29 or 30 June during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain.

The decision was made by the Social Democratic Party, the paper added.

Earlier, another local media outlet, Aftonbladet, said that the party would hold a special meeting of its members on 24 May to discuss the idea of joining NATO.

Seven killed by shelling in Kharkiv: Regional governor

At least seven people have been killed and 22 others wounded by Russian shelling in Ukraine’s northeastern region of Kharkiv over the past 24 hours, its governor has claimed.

In an online post, Oleh Synegubov stated a two-year-old boy was among those killed in the 53 artillery or rocket strikes that he alleged Russian forces had carried out in the past day.

Ukraine says ‘no information’ on surrender of marines in Mariupol

Ukrainian defence ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk has stated he had no information about the surrender of a Ukrainian marine brigade in Mariupol that was earlier reported by Russia’s defence ministry.

“I don’t have information,” Motuzyanyk said in a message in reply to a request for comment after Russia’s defence ministry claimed 1,026 soldiers in Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade had surrendered in the besieged southern port city.

Ukraine deputy PM says not possible to open humanitarian corridors

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said it was not possible to open any humanitarian corridors, and she accused occupying Russian forces of violating a ceasefire and blocking buses evacuating civilians.

Vereshchuk added in a statement on the Telegram messaging app that authorities would work to reopen the humanitarian corridors as soon as possible.

German lawmakers call for EU ban on Russian oil after Ukraine visit

The European Union should impose an embargo on Russian oil as soon as possible, the chairmen of three German parliamentarian committees has said after a visit to Ukraine.

German Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael Roth stated cutting Russian oil would be a very important signal because it would affect Russia’s main source of income.

With mounting civilian deaths in Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is under pressure to wean itself off Russian gas and oil, as critics say the revenue provides Moscow with vital funds to wage war.

The EU is drafting proposals for an oil embargo on Russia although there is no agreement among member states on banning Russian crude. EU diplomats say Germany is not actively supporting an immediate embargo on Russian oil.

Russia claims Ukrainian diplomatic missions recruiting mercenaries to fight in conflict

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov has claimed that Ukrainian diplomatic missions are engaged in recruiting mercenaries to fight against Russian forces amid Moscow’s ongoing special operation in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, he stressed that the situation has been “aggravated by the influx of foreign mercenaries from the countries of Europe and the Middle East” into Ukraine. According to him, in violation of international law, the mercenaries “are recruited, among other things, by Ukrainian diplomatic missions”.

The statement comes after Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters last month that up to 180 foreign mercenaries had been killed in high-precision strikes carried out by Russian forces against Ukrainian training centres located at the Yavorovsky military compound and near the settlement of Starichi.

Earlier in March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that 16,000 foreign mercenaries are going to fight for Ukraine.

Syromolotov has also said Moscow considers the threat of chemical terrorism by Ukrainian nationalists and military to be very real.

“We consider very real the threat of chemical terrorism by fascist nationalists, operating under the patronage of the current Kiev regime, and units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine under their control,” Syromolotov stated.

“The high probability of such a scenario implementation is conditioned by multiple chemical provocations organized by armed extremist groups controlled by the United States and its NATO allies during the Syrian conflict,” he added.

Ukraine says risk of Russia using chemical weapons remains high

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Wednesday there was a high risk of Russia using chemical weapons against her country, echoing warnings by President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier in the week.

On Tuesday, Malyar stated authorities were checking unverified reports that Russia may have already used chemical weapons while besieging the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and that there was a theory that phosphorous munitions had been used.

Russia has previously called US talk of Moscow using chemical weapons a tactic to divert attention away from awkward questions for Washington and accused Ukraine of preparing to use them.

Russia claims 1,026 Ukrainian marines surrendered in Mariupol

Russia’s Defence Ministry has claimed that 1,026 soldiers of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade surrendered in the city of Mariupol, the TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.

The mayor of the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, stated on Wednesday in televised remarks that more than 100,000 people remained in the city awaiting evacuation.

Nearly 200 children killed since Russian invasion began: Ukrainian officials

Some 191 children have been killed and 349 others injured in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Ukrainian prosecutors claimed in a news release on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office said several children have died in recent days due to shelling in northeastern and southern Ukraine

The burnt bodies of a 16-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy had been found in the villages of Borodianka, northwest of Kyiv, and Korolivka, in western Ukraine, the statement added.

Children are also among the casualties from shelling in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, according to the statement. A 15-year-old girl was also seriously injured when a munition hit a residential building in the southern Kherson region.

Satellite images show Russian forces deploying in eastern Ukraine

Satellite images captured by Maxar Technologies show Russian forces redeploying and moving into eastern Ukraine.

A number of military deployments were observed along a major highway and the corridor that leads from the towns of Soloti and Valuyki in western Russia’s Belgorod region, toward the Ukraine border.

The deployments consist of dozens of armored vehicles, troops with tents and support equipment, the images appear to show. They can be seen in the satellite images in fields and farms west of Soloti and near the Russian towns of Dubrovka, Biriuch and Leonovka, which is about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the Ukraine border.

Across the border in eastern Ukraine, several convoys of military equipment were seen along a highway near Vilkhuvatka. Additional military convoys were also seen on Monday in and near the Donbas region near the Ukrainian towns of Bilokurakyne and Kyslikva, according to Maxar.

Together, the convoys contain more than 200 vehicles and include tanks, armored personnel carriers, towed artillery and support equipment, Maxar added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that Russia would launch full-scale combat actions in the east, but stated: “We are ready.” It comes as Russian troops pour into Ukraine, with a large column of military vehicles also seen heading in the direction of Donbas.

Russia’s new commander an attempt to regain control: UK defence

Russia’s ability to coordinate its military in Ukraine has been hampered to date, and appointing General Alexander Dvornikov “represents an attempt to centralise command and control,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence says in its latest intelligence brief.

“Dvornikov’s selection further demonstrates how determined Ukrainian resistance and ineffective pre-war planning have forced Russia to reassess its operations,” the brief adds, noting Russia’s renewed focus in the east of Ukraine.

One dead, two injured in Babai, Kharviv region

Russian troops fired on the village of Babai, in the Kharkiv region, killing a 37-year old man, according to the press service of the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office.

Two more people were injured and a number of houses damaged and destroyed,” the statement said.

Russia sceptical pro-Kremlin tycoon detained by Ukraine

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said it is too early for him to tell whether the footage of pro-Kremlin oligarch, Victor Medvedchuk, being detained by Ukraine is authentic.

“The Ukrainian side stoops to the most intricate ways of producing fake news,” Peskov told Russia’s state-sponsored TASS news agency.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy published a photo of Medvedchuk in handcuffs after what he said was an operation by security forces. Zelenskyy then offered to exchange him for Ukrainians held hostage by Russia.

Presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in Ukraine

The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have arrived in Ukraine, and are on their way to Kyiv to meet with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Polish Press Agency has reported.

Andrzej Duda, Gitanas Nausėda, Egils Levits and Alar Karis are reportedly there in a show of support.

Over 3,000 criminal proceedings against Russian troops in Kyiv region

Ukraine has opened more than 3,000 criminal proceedings against Russian troops in the Kyiv region since the Russian invasion started, Ukraine’s national news agency reports, citing a statement made by the head of the Kyiv regional police Andrii Niebytov.

This includes 1,463 cases of violating the laws and customs of war.

“The number of the civilian bodies found and examined in Kyiv region has already exceeded 720. Meanwhile, 200 more people are reported as missing,” Niebytov added.

US claims about alleged use of chemical weapons by Russia baseless: Embassy

The Russian embassy in Washington dismissed as baseless US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price’s claims about the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

“We took note of the provocative statements made by Press Secretary of the U.S. Department of State Ned Price at a briefing on April 12 that our country could possibly use chemical weapons in the light of the alleged failures of the special military operation in Ukraine,” the embassy said in a statement.

“Ned Price once again distinguished himself by his idle talk, not substantiated by a single piece of evidence,” it added.

The diplomats noted that the Russian armed forces “do not and cannot have any chemical warfare agents” at their disposal, because Russia eliminated all chemical weapons stockpiles back in 2017.

“The information confirmed by the Russian Defence Ministry on the preparation of provocations by Ukrainian radicals with the use of chemicals is disturbing. We also have questions about the origin of these substances,” the statement says.

“We call on Washington to stop spreading disinformation. Instead, colleagues should have intensified the process of chemical demilitarization of their country. The United States remains the only state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention that has not fulfilled the international commitments it made,” the statement reads.

“The American arsenal of weapons of this type poses a real threat to humanity,” it adds.

Price told reporters on Tuesday that “Russia may seek to resort to chemical weapons” during its special military operation in Ukraine. He claimed, among other things that “Russia’s forces may use a variety of riot-control agents, and that includes tear gas mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms.”

Russian Defense Ministry’s official spokesman, Major Gen. Igor Konashenkov said earlier that Ukraine’s security service SBU was staging a provocation with the use of toxic substances against civilians. He added that the Russian armed forces, engaged in the special military operation in Ukraine, have no chemical weapons at their disposal.

Pentagon mulls delivery of Mi-17 helicopters, Humvee vehicles to Ukraine

The US Department of Defense is looking into the possibility of supplying Mi-17 helicopters and Humvee utility vehicles to Ukraine as part of its new military aid delivery to the country, the Washington Post reported citing US administration sources.

The officials confirmed an earlier report by Reuters, saying that the new delivery is estimated at $750 million. The report says that the final decision about the contents of the shipment is yet to be made.

Preliminary plans mention howitzers, unmanned aerial vehicles and hazmat suits.

The White House announced in early April that since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine it had already provided security aid to the Kiev government worth $1.7 billion.

A US Department of Defense official has also stated Washington has delivered ‘a significant amount’ of Switchblade loitering munitions to Ukraine.

Earlier, the Pentagon announced its plans to deliver 100 Switchblades to Ukraine as part of its military aid to Kiev.

“A significant amount of the first 100 we know are in Ukraine. But it’s not all 100,” the official told reporters, adding, “They’ve gotten a significant number and it won’t take long before the rest of them are in the country.”

The official also confirmed that the delivery of US military aid worth $800 million was almost completed.

Kremlin: Lukashenko apparently gave Putin new files on staged events in Bucha

During talks at the Vostochny space center in Russia’s Far East earlier in the day, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko apparently handed over additional documents regarding the staged events in Bucha to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Our military explained, in a methodical and well-argued way, that those [events] were impossible, that they were staged. Apparently, Alexander Grigoryevich handed over additional evidence proving that it was a setup,” he said.

“The documents will be examined by special services,” Peskov added.

Putin has dismissed accusations that Russian troops were responsible for killing civilians in the Kiev suburb of Bucha, labeling the case as fake. The president made the remarks during a joint press conference with Lukashenko on Tuesday.

“I’ve been talking to colleagues from Western countries, often, up until now. And when they say ‘Bucha’ to me, I ask them: ‘Have you ever been to Raqqa? Have you seen how this Syrian city was completely flattened by American aviation?’ Corpses have been laying there decomposing in ruins for months. And nobody cared about that,” Putin said, adding that mass-killings of civilians by the West in Afghanistan had been met with the same silence.

“There was no such silence when they staged provocations in Syria, when they imagined the use of chemical weapons by the Bashar Assad government. Then it turned out that it was a fake, the same fake is in Bucha,” he said.

The Russian president also added that the country’s intelligence services have already received materials proving that the Bucha mass killing, largely branded as a ‘massacre’, was staged, from their Belarusian counterparts. Putin, however, did not elaborate on the materials he mentioned.

‘World must respond now’: Zelensky on reports Russia used chemical weapons

President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on the world to respond “preventively” to unconfirmed reports Russia used chemical weapons in Mariupol.

“Obviously it is impossible to conduct a full investigation and full analysis in the besieged city,” he said in his night-time address.

But he added that given “Russian propagandists” repeated threats to use chemical weapons in Mariupol and the Russian army’s repeated use of phosphorus munitions in Ukraine, “the world must respond now. Respond preventively”.

“Because after the use of weapons of mass destruction, any response will not change anything. And it will only look like a humiliation for the democratic world,” he noted.

Price of oil may rise to $150 per barrel with EU ban: Russian energy minister

The price of oil may rise to $150 a barrel if the European Union were to ban Russian oil imports, Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency reports, citing the country’s energy minister Nikolay Shulginov.

“The cost of oil in the range of $80-150 per barrel is in principle possible… but our task is to ensure the functioning of the oil industry,” Shulginov said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper.

The minister also added Russia is ready to supply oil to “friendly countries at any cost”.

The United States has banned oil and gas imports from Russia but the EU is still debating how to bring limits on oil imports into its next set of economic measures against Russia.

France has frozen more than $25 billion worth of Russian assets: Finance Ministry

France’s Finance Ministry published a detailed list of Russian assets worth 23.7 billion euros — or $25.6 billion USD — which it has frozen since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Assets belonging to the Russian Central Bank, which the ministry says are worth 22.8 billion euros, make up the bulk of the frozen assets.

The list of assets also includes 33 real estate properties with a combined acquisition value of 573.6 million euros, including a number of addresses in Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera, and 178 billion euros in frozen banking assets were also listed, along with three yachts worth more than 125 billion euros, six helicopters worth more than 60 million euros, and three works of art worth 7 million euros.

Arbitrary killings, forced disappearances in Crimea: Human rights report

An annual human rights report released by the US cites “credible reports” of significant human rights issues in Crimea.

These include “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led ‘authorities’ – including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia.”

US to announce $750m more in weapons for Ukraine: Officials

The Joe Biden administration is expected to announce another $750m in military assistance for Ukraine for its fight against Russian forces, two US officials familiar with the matter told the Reuters new agency.

The equipment would be funded using Presidential Drawdown Authority, or PDA, in which the president can authorize the transfer of articles and services from US stocks without congressional approval in response to an emergency.

One of the officials announced final determinations were still being made about the mix of equipment.

Russian statesman says unconfirmed biowarfare labs in Ukraine ‘unacceptable’

Russia’s Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, has reiterated claims that the United States funded biological laboratories in Ukraine to develop biological weapons.

“These laboratories were not set up to pursue methods of eliminating dangerous diseases”, the former Russian president said in a video posted on his Telegram channel.

“The work that was done there involved investigating pathological organisms that carry a threat to all of humanity,” he added, stating Russia considers such activity “unacceptable”.

In late March, Russia’s parliament set up a working group to investigate “the activities of biological laboratories in Ukraine”. Independent scientists, Ukrainian leaders, and officials at the White House and Pentagon have denied Russia’s claims.

OPCW says it is monitoring the Ukraine situation

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is concerned by the recent unconfirmed report of chemical weapons use in Mariupol, according to a spokesperson.

“The … OPCW is monitoring closely the situation in Ukraine,” the spokesperson stated quoted by the Reuters news agency.

Biden says Russia is committing ‘genocide’

US President Joe Biden has accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of committing “genocide” in Ukraine.

“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank – none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away,” the US president said at an event in Iowa on rising gas prices in the US.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised Biden’s remarks that Russia committed genocide in Ukraine.

“True words of a true leader. Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil,” Ukraine’s President wrote on Twitter.

Biden had previously described Putin as a “war criminal“, drawing rebuke from Moscow, but this is the first time he has used the word “genocide” to describe events in Ukraine.

Russia facing biggest fall in GDP since the years after Soviet Union fell

Russia’s economy is on track to contract by more than 10 per cent in 2022, the biggest fall in gross domestic product since the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin confirmed.

Russia is facing soaring inflation and capital flight while grappling with a possible debt default after the West imposed crippling sanctions to punish President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A source close to the Russian government who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters news agency that the economy ministry projects a GDP contraction of between 10 and 15 per cent this year.

A contraction of 10% would amount to the biggest decline in gross domestic product since 1994, according to World Bank and International Monetary Fund data.

US ‘cannot confirm’ use of chemical weapons

The US was “not in a position to confirm” recent reports of chemical weapons use in Ukraine but was working to determine what happened, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

Ukraine announced earlier it was checking unverified information that Russian forces may have used chemical weapons while besieging the city of Mariupol.

“We’re in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually has happened,” the top US diplomat told reporters.

“We had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians, as part of the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol,” he added.

The US Defense Department cannot confirm the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol, a spokesman admitted on Tuesday. The claims were initially made on encrypted messaging app Telegram by the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, part of the Ukrainian National Guard.

“We are aware of social media reports which claim Russian forces deployed a potential chemical munition in Mariupol, Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, adding that “we cannot confirm [the reports] at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

“These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot-control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” he continued.

Top US intelligence official says US still watching in case Russia intelligence disclosures “burned” sources

The intelligence community continues to monitor whether its disclosures of previously-classified information surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine have compromised any of its closely-guarded “sources and methods,” the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, stated.

“We are cautious, but continue to look to see whether or not we made the right calculation in doing that, because it’s a long term thing to see whether or not you actually burn your sources and methods through disclosures,” Haines said during public remarks at the Meridian International Center.

The intelligence community “took a little bit of additional risk than I think we might otherwise take” in releasing information related to Russia’s planning for the invasion, Haines added, but “we all agreed to it and achieved consensus” within the intelligence community.

Her remarks provide a rare window into the closely-guarded deliberations within the Joe Biden administration and the intelligence community around a series of remarkable intelligence disclosures made over the past four months.

Since December, the Biden administration has released a series of previously classified intelligence revealing Russian moves as Moscow massed troops on the Ukrainian border.

US aims to force Russia to shift money away from war: Official

The United States and its allies are pushing ahead with sanctions aimed at forcing Putin to spend Russia’s money propping up its economy rather than sustaining its “war machine”, according to a top US Treasury Department official.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told The Associated Press news agency that the goal is to make Russia “less able to project power in the future”.

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