Thursday, February 29, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 57

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:

Zelensky urges world to send more heavy weapons

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated his war-ravaged country needed more heavy weapons to defend itself from Russia’s invasion that threatened its very survival, and asked Western nations to impose further sanctions.

Speaking in a video address to the Portuguese parliament, he accused the Russian army of committing many atrocities in Ukraine, including in the port city of Mariupol, and asked Portugal to support a global embargo on Russian oil.

US Treasury secretary urges hold-out nations to condemn Russia, abide by sanctions

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged countries that have not yet condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to do so and to avoid violating sanctions imposed on Russia.

Yellen said she and other finance ministers walked out of a closed-door G20 meeting with Russia on Wednesday because “it simply cannot be business as usual for Russia in terms of its participation in our global forums” where countries meet to address common challenges.

The treasury secretary departed along with European and other Western officials who were participating in the meeting, according to a person familiar with the session.

“I think participation in those forums requires a commitment on the part of countries to obey the fundamental norms and values underlying international cooperation,” Yellen stated Thursday, adding, “My decision, along with that of others to leave when the Russian finance minister began to speak, was to make clear that Russia’s behavior … is so offensive to international norms that we’re not willing to allow Russia to participate or to listen to what the Russians have to say.”

Satellite images show mass grave near Mariupol: Maxar

Satellite imagery from near the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol shows a mass grave site that has expanded in recent weeks to contain more than 200 new graves, a private US company has announced.

Maxar Technologies said a review of images from mid-March through mid-April indicates the expansion began between March 23-26. The site lies adjacent to an existing cemetery in the village of Manhush, 20 kilometers west of Mariupol, Maxar added.

Russia sanctions Harris, Price, Kirby, Zuckerberg

Responding to US sanctions against Russian government officials and their family members, Moscow has sanctioned 29 US citizens, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Vice President Kamala Harris. They are banned from entering Russia indefinitely.

The “executives, businessmen, experts and journalists who shape the Russophobic agenda, as well as the spouses of a number of high-ranking officials” are being banned in response to anti-Russian sanctions affecting families of officials, scientists, cultural and business figures, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

In addition to Zuckerberg, Moscow has blacklisted LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, as well as the presidents and CEOs of military industry giants Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, L3 Harris Technologies, Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries and drone-maker AeroVironment have also been sanctioned. The director of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies and the president of the Bank of America were also on the blacklist.

Moscow also sanctioned US politicians and their spouses, starting with Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klein, State Department spokesman Ned Price, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Christopher W. Grady, and the deputy health secretary, listed as “Richard/Rachel Levine.”

Russian sanctions also named Evan Ryan, spouse of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Margaret Goodlander, wife of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Both hold posts in the Biden administration, Ryan as the White House cabinet secretary and Goodlander as an adviser to the Justice Department. Robert Kagan, husband of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, rounds off the sanctioned spouses list.

Bringing up the rear are media personalities the Foreign Ministry accused of “shaping the Russophobic agenda.” These include ABC host George Stephanopoulos, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, CNN analyst Bianna Golodryga, as well as “Meduza” editor Kevin Rothrock, along with two experts from the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center think tanks.

Further sanctions announcements can be expected in the near future as countermeasures against the hostile actions of US authorities, the Russian Foreign Ministry added.

Russia has already sanctioned Blinken, Sullivan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, CIA Director William Burns, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, as well as President Joe Biden himself and his son Hunter. They were put on Moscow’s blacklist in mid-March, in response to US sanctions.

Western official says Russia can still win in Ukraine despite setbacks

Russian President Vladimir Putin could still win in Ukraine despite failing in his pre-war objectives, Western officials have said, adding that Russia had addressed some of the issues that had hindered it earlier on in the invasion.

“Putin has clearly failed in meeting his initial pre-war objectives, but is still in a position to win,” one official stated, on condition of anonymity.

Biden says it’s “questionable” whether Russia controls Mariupol

US President Joe Biden stated Thursday it was “questionable” whether Russian President Vladimir Putin controls Mariupol.

“It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said, adding, “There is no evidence yet that Mariupol is completely fallen.”

Biden also called on Putin to allow humanitarian aid into Ukraine to allow those trapped inside the steel plant to be able to get out.

“That’s what any head of state would do in any circumstance,” Biden continued.

While Biden announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, he said Putin will refocus his invasion of Ukraine on the eastern part of the country.

“Now we have to accelerate that assistance package to help prepare Ukraine for Russia’s offensive that’s going to be more limited in terms of geography but not in terms of brutality,” Biden added.

Biden also reflected on the war so far, and said Putin is still trying to break up Western unity against the war. He added Putin will “never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine.”

“We don’t know how long this war will last but as we approach the two-month mark, here’s what we do know, Putin has failed to achieve his grand ambitions on the battlefield. After weeks of shelling Kyiv — Kyiv still stands. President Zelensky and his democratic-elected government still remain in power,” Biden said.

“And the Ukrainian Armed Forces, joined by many brave Ukrainian civilians, have thwarted Russia’s conquest of the country. They’ve been bolstered from day one by an unstinting supply of weapons, ammunition, armor, intelligence, from the nations of the free world led by us, the United States,” the US President added.

“As Russia continues to grind out the military advances … and the brutality against Ukraine, Putin is banking on us losing interest. That’s been my view, you’ve heard me say this from the beginning, he was counting on NATO, European Union, our allies and Asia, cracking, moving away. He’s betting on Western unity will crack. He’s still betting on that. Once again, we’re going to prove him wrong. We will not lessen our resolve,” he continued.

Russia is failing in Ukraine: Top US official

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has said that Russia was not achieving its goals in its invasion of Ukraine and that Western sanctions were partly the reason for that.

“What we are aiming for here is a strategic failure for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. And I believe that is already happening, that no matter what happens … Ukraine is going to survive,” Sherman told a Friends of Europe think-tank event in Brussels.

She also added whatever the European Union decides on whether to impose oil and gas sanctions on Russia, the United States would aim to avoid higher prices that would help Russia’s finances.

New UK trade sanctions hit caviar and diamonds from Russia

Britain set out further trade sanctions against Russia by expanding the list of products facing import bans and increasing tariffs, the government has announced.

Latest sanctions will include import bans on silver, wood products and high-end goods from Russia including caviar, Britain’s department for international trade said.

They added that tariffs will increase by 35 percentage points on some products from Russia and Belarus, including diamonds and rubber.

US rapidly developed ‘Ghost’ drones for Ukraine: Pentagon

So-called “Ghost” drones that are part of a new $800m US arms package for Ukraine were rapidly developed by the US Air Force for Kyiv and have similar capabilities as armed “Switchblade” drones, the Pentagon has announced.

“This was rapidly developed by the Air Force in response specifically to Ukrainian requirements,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stated.

US bans Russian ships

Washington will follow the lead of the European Union and ban all Russian-affiliated ships from docking at US ports, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday. This applies to all vessels flying the Russian flag, owned, or operated by Russian entities.

“No ship, no ship that sails under the Russian flag, or that is owned or operated by a Russian interest, will be allowed to dock in a US port or access our shores. None,” Biden said on Thursday morning at the White House, after meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister.

The EU banned Russian ships from its ports on April 6. Biden stated the move intends to “deny Russia the benefits of [the] international economic system that they so enjoyed in the past.”

In addition to the port ban, Biden announced a program to let Ukrainians immigrate into the US directly, another $500 million in direct economic aid to Kiev – totaling $1 billion since February – and yet another $800 million in weapons, ammunition and equipment. The new aid will see “dozens of howitzers” and 144,000 rounds of ammunition sent to the Ukrainian military, Biden added.

The US is also sharing “significant timely intelligence” with Kiev and coordinating weapons shipments from allies and partners, “sending them directly to the front lines of freedom,” in Biden’s words.

CEO of Russia’s second biggest oil company resigns weeks after calling for end to war

One of Russia’s richest men has quit as CEO of Lukoil, the country’s second largest oil company.

In a brief statement Thursday, Lukoil said Vagit Alekperov had informed the company “about his decision to resign” as a director and president of the company.

The company did not disclose the reason for Alekperov’s resignation.

The announcement comes just days after he was sanctioned by the United Kingdom and seven weeks after Lukoil broke ranks with President Vladimir Putin and called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In a statement to shareholders, staff and customers on March 3, Lukoil’s board of directors said that it was “calling for the soonest termination of the armed conflict.”

“We express our sincere empathy for all victims, who are affected by this tragedy. We strongly support a lasting ceasefire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy,” the board added.

Lukoil produces more than 2% of the world’s crude oil and employs over 100,000 people.

Russia sanctions 61 Canadian officials, journalists, military experts

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced sanctions against 61 Canadian officials, journalists and military experts for supporting what it called the “Russophobic” stance of the Canadian administration.

The list includes Special Operations Forces Commander Major-General Steve Boivin, Central Bank Governor Tiff Macklem as well as John Tory and Jim Watson, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa.

The ministry said the 61 individuals were barred from entering Russia indefinitely.

Russia continues to add battalion tactical groups in Ukraine: Senior US defense official

Russia continues to bolster their forces inside Ukraine as it refocuses on the east, adding three more battalion tactical groups since yesterday, bringing the total number of Russian battalion tactical groups, or BTGs, in Ukraine to 85, a senior US defense official told reporters on Thursday.

This brings the total number of BTGs added over the past week to 20.

Most of the BTGs being added in Ukraine are “going into the Donbas region,” the official stated.

“Most of them we still assess are going into the Donbas region, but I caution this by saying we don’t know, we don’t know exactly what unit is where on any given day specifically, but that’s where we’re assessing that we’re going,” the official added.

Moscow warns Russia has right to consider US, NATO arms convoys in Ukraine ‘legitimate targets’

Moscow has the right to consider the US and NATO’s arms convoys as “legitimate targets” if they pass through the Ukrainian territory, warns Sergei Koshelev, deputy director of the North America Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“We are increasingly alarmed by the mushrooming statements by the US administration about their intention to continue massive deliveries of weapons and military equipment for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, despite the hopeless situation of their Kiev counterparts. The calculation is clear: to slow down our special operation and inflict maximum damage on the Russian armed forces,” Koshelev said.

The United States and NATO have been pumping Ukraine with loads of weapons, including Switchblade drones, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Howitzer artillery systems, armoured personnel vehicles and more. The Pentagon also announced that Ukrainians will be trained outside of Ukraine on how to use the US-provided weapons. Then, they will return to Ukraine and train more troops.

Over 7.7 million people internally displaced in Ukraine

More than 7.7 million people are internally displaced in Ukraine after being forced to flee their homes due to Russia’s invasion, according to the latest International Organization for Migration report.

According to the third Ukraine Internal Displacement Report, published Thursday, the number of internally displaced people in Ukraine has risen to at least 17.5% – or more than one in six – of Ukraine’s pre-war population.

The latest survey, conducted between April 11 and April 17, found that at least 60% of those internally displaced are women. More than half of IDPs reported a lack of some food products. According to IOM, 28% of families with children under the age of five said they had faced difficulties in getting enough food for their children.

“Women and children, the elderly, and people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected as they all represent a highly vulnerable group of people,” IOM Director General António Vitorino stated.

With more than five million refugees having left Ukraine for neighboring countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a total of at least 12.7 million people have been left displaced since the beginning of the Russian invasion in late February.

Ukraine says ‘urgent’ evacuation needed from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant

Kyiv is calling for a humanitarian corridor to be opened immediately to allow civilians and wounded fighters to be evacuated from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

“Hundreds of civilians, children, injured Ukrainian defenders are trapped in the plant’s shelters. They have almost no food, water, essential medicine. An urgent humanitarian corridor is needed from the Azovstal plant with guarantees people will be safe,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry announced in a statement on social media.

UK announces new sanctions against Putin’s ‘war leaders’

The UK has added 26 new designations to its list of sanctions against Russia, including on military figures who have committed “atrocities” on the frontline in Ukraine.

The move will target those “commanding the front line” to commit “heinous” acts in Ukraine, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Among those on the updated sanctions list are key leaders in the Russian army, including Colonel General Nikolay Bogdanovsky of the Russian army, who holds the position of First Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

Lt Colonel Azatbek Omurbekov, the commanding officer of the unit that occupied the Ukrainian town of Bucha, where there have been reports of war crimes with the death toll reaching almost 350, is subject to a travel ban and asset freeze.

In a statement, British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said the UK is “unyielding” in its support for Ukraine and in holding Vladimir Putin and his regime to account, adding: “Today’s new wave of sanctions hits the generals and defence companies that have blood on their hands.”

Zelensky claims “thousands” trapped in Mariupol, calls Russian siege “a terrorist operation”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that “thousands” of civilians remain blockaded inside Mariupol as he likened the Russian siege of the southeastern port city to a “terrorist operation.”

Ukrainian commanders on the ground have announced Russian forces have not honored agreements to open evacuation corridors or enforce ceasefires and have continued to bombard the city.

Mariupol has been nearly completely destroyed by weeks of Russian bombardment. Tens of thousands of civilians still await evacuation, according to Ukrainian officials.

After numerous failed attempts to establish safe corridors out of Mariupol, four evacuation buses managed to leave the city on Wednesday.

In an interview with French television channel BFMTV, Zelensky stated, “As to our army, the forces of the Russian Federation do not allow us to pass through these occupied 120 kilometers so that we could reach the military unblocking of Mariupol today. It’s true. We can’t do it today. We negotiate and open humanitarian corridors, and some people are leaving. But the thousands I told you about are blocked there, and so far Russia isn’t allowing these people to get out from captivity.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday proclaimed the effort by Russian forces to capture the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol a “success,” but ordered Russian forces to stop short of trying to storm the city’s besieged Azovstal steel factory, which is still held by Ukrainian forces.

Zelensky added, “Local residents, children, the elderly and the military are blocked in the city of Mariupol. It is not more like a war, but a terrorist operation by Russia against Mariupol and the people of this city.”

Situation in Kharkiv “tense” following “massive shelling”

Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv was under heavy shelling overnight, its mayor said on Thursday.

“The situation is stressful, because overnight there was very massive shelling,” Ihor Terekhov stated, adding, “Two markets have been destroyed, firefighters are extinguishing fires there now. There was a direct hit in another residential building.”

Terekhov said that those left homeless by Russian bombardment have been moved to kindergartens, schools and boarding schools, adding that the situation was “tense but under control.”

There are no evacuation planned, he added.

According to Terekhov, around a million people remain in Kharkiv today. He noted that about 30% of the pre-war population had left, primarily elderly people and women with children.

“I am talking to people, they are not going to leave the city. And we do not consider it necessary to leave it today,” he continued.

Ukraine president’s adviser says Russia realised it could not take Mariupol’s Azovstal

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said Russia decided to blockade the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol because it could not take it by force.

“They physically cannot take Azovstal, they have understood this, they have taken huge losses there. Our defenders continue to hold it,” Arestovych stated at a briefing.

It “can also be explained by the fact that they have moved part of their forces [from Mariupol] to the north in order to reinforce the troops attempting to fulfil their main objective… advancing to the administrative boundaries of Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Arestovych added.

Moscow declares all staffers of Baltic countries’ embassies personae non gratae

Russia has declared all employees of the embassies of Baltic countries, among which are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, personae non gratae.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that it had summoned the ambassadors of Latvia and Estonia, along with Lithuania’s charge d’affaires, handing them notes of protest in connection with the “unfriendly actions” of these countries.

The ministry also announced that the consulates of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in St. Petersburg, along with the consulate of Latvia in Pskov, will be closed.

Earlier in the month, the Estonian Foreign Ministry said it will close the Russian consulate general in Narva and the embassy office in Tartu. Latvia, in its turn, has shut down the Russian consulates in Liepaja and Daugavpils, and Lithuania also closed the Klaipeda consulate.

War in Ukraine ‘can end in direct talks’ between Putin, Zelensky: Ukrainian official

A top Ukrainian official said Thursday that the war in Ukraine “can end in direct talks” between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Head of the Office of President of Ukraine, stated that while talks were possible, he was waiting to assess how Russia’s military offensive in the east of the country progresses in the coming days

This is what the team of lawyers, consultants and the negotiating group from the Ukrainian side are working on today,” he continued, adding, “Accordingly, we hope that the positions of President Volodymyr Zelensky will be extremely strong in these talks.”

Russia has shifted forces to Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in what both Kyiv and Moscow have described as a major battle for control of eastern Ukraine.

“They have enough resources, enough missiles, they unfortunately continue to bomb our cities. They still have manpower and equipment that they do not mind having destroyed in our fields. Therefore let’s wait for a while, and then we will be able to judge the positions of the parties, first of all of the President of Ukraine, at future bilateral meetings,” he said.

Podolyak added that he believed it would become more clear how the situation may develop in the next week or week and a half.

Kyiv police find mass graves with civilians

The Kyiv regional police has claimed two mass graves with nine bodies were found on Wednesday in the city of Borodyanka, northwest of the Ukrainian capital.

The head of the Kyiv regional police, Andriy Nebytov, said Thursday two women and a teenager were among the “civilians killed by the Russian occupants.”

“I want to stress that these people are civilians. The Russian military deliberately shot civilians that didn’t put up any resistance and didn’t pose any threat,” Nebytov stated, adding that some of the victims were apparently tortured.

All of the bodies were transported to the morgues of the Kyiv region for further forensic study.

Italy should cut off Russian gas ‘soon’

Italy is obliged to stop buying Russian gas “soon for ethical reasons,” as the payments are funding the Ukraine war, the country’s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani stated in an interview with La Stampa newspaper.

The minister is currently on a two-day trip to Angola and Congo Republic seeking energy deals to reduce Italy’s dependency on Russia, which provides about 45 percent of its gas.

Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol says it destroyed Russian armed vehicles

Ukrainian fighters say they have destroyed three Russian tanks and three more armed vehicles in Mariupol, which Moscow claims to have “liberated.”

Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion stated in a brief report on Telegram that the vehicles were destroyed “despite the ongoing situation.”

Hundreds of Azov fighters have been holed up in the sprawling underground labyrinth and Soviet-era bomb shelters below the giant Azovstal steel plant.

Two dozen Syrian and Libyan ‘mercenaries’ killed in Ukraine: Official

Syrian and Libyan mercenaries were killed in southeastern Ukraine, a top security official reportedly has claimed.

A military unit was “completely destroyed” in the town of Popasna in the southeastern Luhansk region, Ukraine’s National Security Council secretary Oleksiy Danylov told the NV online magazine.

The detachment “was small – about 20-25 people,” he was quoted as saying.

He estimated that between 300 and 500 Syrians and Libyans hired by Russia could be fighting in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Moscow is concentrating its offensive.

Russia plans to ‘forcibly mobilise Kherson locals for war’: Ukrainian military

The Ukrainian military claims Russian forces in the Kherson region plan to forcibly mobilise locals for war with Ukraine.

“The population is terrorised,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces said on Facebook.

It added that Russia also aims to “completely stop humanitarian support” coming into the region.

The military announced Ukrainian forces have repulsed nine Russian attacks in the territory of Luhansk and Donetsk over the past day. They also destroyed one Russian tank, ten armoured personnel vehicles, one artillery system, two units of special engineering equipment, an anti-aircraft missile system and an ammunition depot.

Russia claims Mariupol captured, apart from Azovstal plant

Russian forces have fully captured the key Black Sea port-city of Mariupol, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

However, more than 2,000 Ukrainian “militants” still remain entrenched at the Azovstal steel plant in the city, he added.

More than 1,400 militants have laid down their arms, Shoigu said, adding that over 142,000 civilians have also been evacuated from the city. It has been under siege for weeks.

Russian troops need about three-four days to complete their operation at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Shoigu noted.

Putin has hailed Russia’s “liberation” of Mariupol after Shoigu told him Moscow controlled the Ukrainian port city apart from the Azovstal steel plant. He ordered his forces not to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged city but to block it instead.

Russia likely to intensify attacks in lead up to May 9 celebrations: UK

Russia “likely” wants to show it has had significant successes in Ukraine ahead of their May 9 Victory Day celebrations, the UK defence ministry has said in its latest intelligence briefing.

“This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date”, the briefing said.

It added Russian forces were now advancing from staging areas in the Donbas towards the city of Kramatorsk “which continues to suffer from persistent rocket attacks.”

Russia’s annual Victory Day marks the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Officials in Ukraine and the West see May 9 as a date by which Russian President Vladimir Putin could target progress in the war.

Most Americans think Biden’s Ukraine response not ‘tough enough’

Most Americans think their president has not been “tough enough” in his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even as most approve of steps he is already taking and few want US troops to get involved in the war, the Associated Press has reported.

A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 54 per cent of Americans think Joe Biden has been “not tough enough”, 36 per cent think his approach has been about right, while 8 per cent say he’s been too tough.

Only 32 per cent of Americans say the US should have a major role in the conflict which has fallen from 40 per cent last month, but is remains slightly higher than the 26 per cent who said so in February.

Ukraine claims Russia planning to use Kherson villagers as human shields

The Ukrainian military claimed Russian forces in the Kherson region have been prohibiting residents of the village Zolotaya Balka from trying to evacuate and are intending to use them as as human shields.

“Representatives of the Russian occupation troops held a meeting with the local population where they announced that there would be no more ‘green corridors’, people were forbidden to leave the village,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Facebook.

The villagers were told that if Ukrainian forces started firing on Russia’s army units in the village, Russia’s forces would shell the settlement, the military added.

G-7 finance chiefs commit at least $24 billion to support Ukraine

Finance ministers for the Group of Seven countries pledged over $24 billion in 2022 in support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.

“Against the background of the ongoing brutal Russian aggression, the accompanying suffering of the Ukrainian population, and the continued destruction of the country itself, we are prepared to do more as needed,” the leaders said in a statement after meeting in Washington, D.C.

“International organisations and multilateral fora should no longer conduct their activities with Russia in a business-as-usual manner,” the finance ministers added, noting their regret about Russia’s participation in international forums like “G20, International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this week.”

The country’s economy is suffering amid the war, with the World Bank projecting that its economy will shrink by 45 percent this year. Ukrainian officials say they are operating at a $5 billion monthly deficit.

The finance ministers also offered their “unwavering support for and heartfelt solidarity with the Ukrainian people and government.”

“We continue to stand with Ukraine,” according to their statement.

Top Ukrainian officials ready to head to Mariupol to negotiate evacuation of civilians and soldiers

Two top Ukrainian officials are ready to head to the besieged city of Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians trapped in the city, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment said in a video statement.

The two officials are Ukrainian Parliamentary Majority Leader David Arakhamia and Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the President’s Chief of Staff.

“Yes. Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever,” Podolyak tweeted.

Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol are ready to evacuate with their small arms with the assistance of a third party “to rescue personnel, to evacuate our wounded and take the bodies of the dead and bury them with honors in the territory not controlled by the Russian Federation,” Palamar stated.

Palamar added that the Ukrainian negotiators were ready to negotiate with their Russian opposite numbers, presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky and parliamentarian Leonid Slutsky.

‘Liberated’ cities returning to life: Zelensky

While the war in eastern Ukraine escalates, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said 934 Ukrainian settlements had been liberated and were returning to normal life.

He stated police had resumed work in 435 settlements, local government started working in 431 communities, and humanitarian headquarters were launched in 361 localities.

“We are gradually restoring people’s access to medical and educational services, to social protection bodies. We are restoring road infrastructure, electricity, gas and water supply,” he continued.

But he added mines and shells that hadn’t exploded were still a threat and urged citizens to be careful and not enter territory that had not yet been inspected.

Zelensky said that Russia’s full attack on Ukraine’s east and south is as cruel as it could be to produce even a small victory.

“The situation in the country’s east and south remains maximally cruel,” the Ukrainian leader stated, adding that the battles for Mariupol, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and other cities “will decide the fate of our people and the fate of our freedom”.

Russia: Western arms supplies to Taiwan repeat tactic used in Ukraine

The Western countries’ weapon supplies to Taiwan in fact replicate the tactic employed in Ukraine, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s first Asian department, Georgy Zinoviev, said at a meeting of the State Duma’s group for relations with the Chinese parliament.

“What has been happening in Ukraine methodologically looks very similar to the United States’ policies towards Taiwan, which is receiving heavy arms supplies. We saw the same in Ukraine,” he stated.

“The West’s method is the same – it uses Taiwan against China and Ukraine against Russia. The similarity is striking. Although from the standpoint of international law nuances may differ,” Zinoviev added.

Ukraine lobbying for its pipeline to carry Russian gas to Europe

Ukraine is working to convince Germany and other western allies to shift Russia’s shipments of natural gas from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Ukraine’s pipeline, energy officials have told Reuters.

Germany has already halted Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas project, which finished construction last year and was designed to double its gas shipments, as punishment for Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

Representatives from Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator and gas firm Naftogaz told administration officials and congressional lawmakers in Washington that the plan, which would force Russia to move more of its Europe-bound gas through Ukraine, would make Moscow pay more transit fees.

This could help Ukraine’s wartime defence and deter Russia from damaging Ukraine’s pipelines in the meantime.

Xi repeats China’s opposition to ‘unilateral sanctions’

Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated Beijing’s opposition to unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction.

China has repeatedly criticised western sanctions, including those against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, but has been careful not to provide assistance to Moscow that could lead to sanctions being imposed on Beijing.

During made his comments in a video speech to the annual Boao Forum for Asia gathering on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Russia says Ukraine ‘cynically disrupted’ Azovstal evacuation

Russia has blamed Ukraine for disrupting the evacuation of civilians trapped in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, state newspaper Izvestia has reported.

Ukraine announced the evacuation did not go ahead due to Russian forces not observing the ceasefire. About 1,000 civilians are trapped in the steel plant with Ukrainian fighters who have not met several of Russia’s deadlines for them to surrender.

The head of the National Defence Control Centre, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, told Izvestia daily the Russian military had opened a humanitarian corridor for civilians to exit the plant on April 20 at 2pm local time (11:00 GMT).

“In addition, the Ukrainian military and foreign mercenaries were asked to lay down their arms and voluntarily surrender to the Russian side,” he added.

“We are forced to state that the declared humanitarian operation by the Kyiv authorities was cynically disrupted, no one used the indicated corridor,” Mizintsev told the paper.

Ukraine president on new Russian push, western aid

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the situation in the country’s east and south remain difficult as Russian troops pushed on with renewed attacks.

In a video address to the nation, Zelenskyy stated “the occupiers aren’t abandoning their attempts to score at least some victory by launching a new, large-scale offensive”.

He noted Ukraine’s Western allies had “come to understand our needs better”, adding Ukraine was receiving new shipments of Western weapons.

NATO allies want longer Ukraine war to weaken Russia: Turkey

Turkey has accused some of its NATO allies of wanting the war in Ukraine to last longer in order to weaken Russia.

“There are countries within NATO who want the war to continue,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNN Turk in an interview, adding, “They want Russia to become weaker.”

He did not name any country directly.

US imposes new Russia-related sanctions

The United States on Wednesday unveiled its latest round of sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine, targeting a key commercial bank and “a global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by US-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev.”

In a news release, the US Treasury Department announced it was also targeting “companies operating in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world,” noting it was the first time they have “designated a virtual currency mining company.”

In addition, the State Department is imposing visa restrictions on 635 Russian nationals who are “involved in suppressing dissent in Russia and abroad, who have been involved in activities that threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and who have been involved in human rights abuses in prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas of the Donbas region of Ukraine,” according to the US Treasury.

Three Russian officials will also face visa restrictions “for involvement in gross violations of human rights, and on 17 individuals responsible for undermining democracy in Belarus,” the US Treasury continued.

Blinken: Eventual retreat from Mariupol will reveal ‘far worse’ atrocities

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the eventual retreat of Russian forces from Mariupol would reveal “far worse” atrocities than the “death, destruction and atrocities” left in Bucha.

Speaking from Panama after a meeting to discuss migration issues with 20 other representatives of Latin American countries, Blinken stated the attacks in Mariupol are worse than the previous advances.

“The conditions there, the situation there, as a result of this Russian aggression, are truly horrific,” he added.

Negotiating with Putin like dealing with a crocodile: Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris has compared negotiating with President Vladimir Putin to dealing with a crocodile as he warned Ukraine it will be hard to negotiate a peace deal with a leader who is so unreliable.

“How can you negotiate with a crocodile when it has your leg in its jaws, that is the difficulty that Ukrainians face,” Johnson told reporters on a plane to India for a two-day visit.

“It is very hard to see how the Ukrainians can negotiate with Putin now given his manifest lack of good faith,” he noted.

Macron says Le Pen’s interests tied to Russian leadership

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s interests are tied to Russia’s leadership, President Emmanuel Macron has stated in a television debate with his far-right challenger.

“None of us went to seek financing from a Russian bank, and especially not from one that is close to power in Russia,” said Macron, who will face off against Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election on April 24.

He added other French parties had managed to finance their operations with French loans, not through a bank connected to Russia.

Russia: NATO does everything to extend active phase of special operation in Ukraine

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said NATO member countries are doing everything to extend the active phase of the special operation in Ukraine such as increasing shipments of equipment and weapons.

“Contrary to the statements that hostilities in Ukraine should end as soon as possible, NATO countries are doing everything to delay the active phase of the operation,” Zakharova stated, adding, “What I mean is that they are increasing the supply of military equipment, weapons and ammunition, pushing the Kiev regime to continue aggression against the DPR and LPR and new war crimes by neo-Nazis.”

Zakharova noted Kiev may use helicopters it will get from the US for shelling the Russian territory. The aircraft will be part of the next package of military assistance that the US is giving Ukraine.

“The United States of America on April 13 announced another package of military assistance to Ukraine worth $800 million, or almost one billion,” she said.

“Kiev will receive tens of howitzers, thousands of artillery shells, hundreds of armored personnel carriers and also Russian-manufactured Mi-17 helicopters, which will then be used for shelling peaceful cities in the Donetsk and Lugansk republics and, possibly, Russian territory, as some Ukrainian officials have stated,” she added.

US will be sending more weapons to Ukraine: White House

The US military will be delivering additional military equipment to Ukraine in the coming days, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said.

Five US cargo flights arrived in the region in the last few days and more than half a dozen are scheduled shortly, Psaki told reporters during a media briefing.

“We have been working with Ukrainians and the Ukrainian military to determine exactly the kind of security assistance they need for this stage in the war,” Psaki continued, noting, “That has included an increase – as you’ve seen – in artillery and ammunition.”

The Biden administration will be announcing more weapons transfers soon, she added, without providing more details.

West warns of Russian cyberattacks on critical infrastructure

Western governments have jointly warned about a potential threat of increased malicious cyberactivity by Russia against critical infrastructure.

The cybersecurity agencies of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – which together form the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance – said the war could expose organisations everywhere to cybercrime.

“This activity may occur as a response to the unprecedented economic costs imposed on Russia as well as materiel support provided by the United States and US allies and partners,” the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency announced in a statement on its website.

Russia has added 17 battalion groups in Ukraine in the last week: Senior US defense official

Russian forces have added 17 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine over the past week, with four more BTGs in just the last 24 hours, a senior US defense official said Wednesday night.

Altogether, the US assesses that there are now 82 BTGs inside of Ukraine.

Out of the four BTGs added in the last 24 hours, three of them have “gone into the east” into the Donbas area, the official added.

These BTGs are not all necessarily just infantry soldiers. They are “functionally arranged,” the official said.

“It’s also important to remember that some of these battalion tactical groups, we tend to think of them, and I think we all get used to talking about them as if they’re all infantry or something. They’re not, they’re functionally arranged. Some are infantry, some are artillery, some are armor, mechanized, and so, I don’t know what the mix is here,” the official added.

Moscow: Kiev involved some 7,000 mercenaries from 63 states since start of military operation

Since the beginning of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities have involved about 7,000 foreign mercenaries from 63 countries, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated

“According to open sources alone, since the beginning of the special military operation, the Kiev regime involved about 7,000 foreign mercenaries from 63 states,” she noted.

According to Zakharova, most mercenaries are citizens of Poland, the US, Canada, Romania, the UK and Georgia.

“The number of foreign militants is receding during the combat. Russian Armed Forces have already eliminated about 1,000 mercenaries. About 1,000 more decided against taking part in the hostilities and returned to their previous extremist deployment area,” she continued, adding, “We recommend the remaining approximately 4,800 people to follow the example of their comrades in misfortune and also return back to their countries.”

Russia to end special operation after removing threats due to Ukraine capturing by NATO

Russia’s special military operation will end when threats related to Ukraine’s capturing by NATO are eliminated, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s second CIS department Alexey Polishchuk said in an interview with TASS.

“The special military operation will end when its tasks are fulfilled. Among them are the protection of the peaceful population of Donbass, demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as the elimination of threats to Russia coming from the Ukrainian territory due to its capturing by NATO countries,” the diplomat stated.

The special operation is running as planned, he added.

“All its goals will be reached,” Polishchuk stressed.

Diplomat: Russia handed over draft agreement to Ukraine on April 15, still no response

Moscow handed over draft settlement agreement to Ukraine on April 15, but still has not received any reaction, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“It was said today that a new set of proposals were handed over to the representatives of the Kiev regime, involved in the negotiations process. I would like simply to reveal the date when these positions were handed over by the Russian side. It was Friday. Today is Wednesday. There has been no response up to this day,” she added.

“This should give you an idea of how the Kiev regime’s negotiations team behaves. How the view the negotiations process in principle, and whether it is possible to believe them or not when they speak about their desire to hold negotiations,” she underlined.

“There is no trust in their words. Many things, stated both in public space and at the negotiations table, have been immediately debunked by Kiev, sometimes within an hour or even 15 minutes; Kiev simply crossed out the job that had been done. Once again – everything only in written form and on paper,” Zakharova underscored.

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