Friday, March 1, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 69: Putin orders retaliatory sanctions against West

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:

UN Security Council to hold meeting on Ukraine on 5 May

The UN Security Council will convene on Thursday to discuss Ukraine, according to a provisional program of work of the body in May.

The meeting comes after Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Moscow and Kiev last week to continue efforts on humanitarian issues.

UN humanitarian coordinator: No indications of forced evacuation from Mariupol to Russia

United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Osnat Lurani said on Tuesday that she has seen no indications of forced evacuation of people from Mariupol to Russia.

“I do not sense there was any attempt to try to get them to go to Russia. It did not come up,” Lubrani told reports in a press briefing.

UN humanitarian staff are accompanying people at all times until they leave Ukraine, she added.

Lubrani also confirmed that her colleagues were in contact with those who chose not to leave the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

“They definitely did that on their own will,” she stated.

On Monday, the Donetsk People’s Republic’s territorial defense staff reported that 101 people were evacuated from the territory of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol to Bezymennoye.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported on Sunday that thanks to the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, 80 civilians who were held by Ukrainian extremists were rescued from the territory of Azovstal. Russia has consistently tried to open humanitarian corridors throughout the territories in Ukraine affected by its special operation.

Ukraine invasion threatens to undermine stability throughout world, not just in Europe: Top US general

United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the world is witnessing “the greatest threat to peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world” in decades due to the invasion of Ukraine.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is threatening to undermine not only European peace and stability, but global peace and stability that my parents and generations of Americans fought so hard to defend,” Milley stated.

Milley added the US is “at a very critical and historic geo-strategic inflection point,” where the US military must “maintain readiness and modernize for the future” at the same time.

“If we do not do that, then we are risking security of future generations,” Milley noted.

He told lawmakers the world is becoming “more unstable” during his opening statement at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Defense Budget on Tuesday.

“The potential for significant international conflict between great powers is increasing, not decreasing,” Milley continued.

At least 290 civilian bodies found in Irpin since Russian withdrawal: Mayor

The bodies of 290 civilians have been recovered in the town of Irpin, outside of Kyiv, since the withdrawal of Russian forces, Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushin claimed.

In a statement on Facebook, Markushin said 185 of the dead have been identified, the majority of whom were men. The cause of death was “shrapnel and gunshot wounds.”

According to Markushin, at least five of the dead suffered brain injuries and starvation. Five residents were shot dead in the yard of a high-rise building and at the premises of a children’s development center.

Russian forces deport almost 40,000 people from Mariupol to Russia: Ukrainian official

Russian forces deported almost 40,000 people from Mariupol to Russia or the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said during a briefing at the Ukraine-Ukrinform media center on Tuesday.

“We have already verified the lists of those who were deported from Mariupol to Russia or the so-called DPR. Almost 40,000 people. Now they have begun to hide these lists. Unfortunately, we are not able to verify everything at the moment, but we are continuing the work,” added Boichenko.

Russian military “takes the local population to the outskirts of Russia, to the Far East, or to Siberia and there they use them for various jobs,” Boichenko said, adding that Mariupol residents are issued a certificate of resettlement and are involved in “humiliating work.”

Macron offers to help lift Russia embargo on Ukraine food exports

French President Emmanuel Macron has told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that he is willing to work with international organisations to help lift the Russian embargo on Ukrainian food exports via the Black Sea.

The Elysee office said Macron was deeply concerned about the situation in Donbas and Mariupol.

“I have called on Russia to live up to its international responsibility as a UN Security Council member by putting an end to this devastating attack,” a statement quoted Macron as saying.

At least 10 killed in Russian strike on east Ukraine factory: Governor

At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a Russian strike on a coke plant in the east Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, the governor of the Donetsk region Pavlo Kyrylenko claimed.

He warned that the number of victims may rise.

Greece poised to replace Russian gas in 20 months: PM

Greece will be able to completely replace Russian gas once its floating terminal for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Alexandroupoli is finished in 20 months, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday.

The Alexandroupoli terminal is scheduled for launch in late 2022-early 2023. Its main suppliers are expected to be companies from the United States, Qatar, and other countries.

“In the next 20 months, Greece will be able to receive significant, very large amounts of LNG. The regasification capabilities will be 5.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year. In other words, this Greek LNG station is capable of fully replacing Russian natural gas not only at the national market but also replacing a significant part of Russian gas supplies in the Balkans,” Mitsotakis stated during the start of construction ceremony, broadcast live on Greek television.

Foreign leaders invited to attend the ceremony included President of the European Council Charles Michel, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski.

Ukrainian prosecutor accuses Russian troops of using rape as a war tactic

Ukraine’s prosecutor general has accused Russian forces of using rape as a tactic of war and described President Vladimir Putin as “the main war criminal of the 21st century”.

Visiting the devastated town of Irpin near Kyiv, Iryna Venediktova said Ukraine was collecting information on allegations of rape, torture and other suspected war crimes by Moscow’s troops.

Asked whether rape was a deliberate Russian strategy in the war, she told a news conference she was “sure” it was a “strategy” intended to scare Ukrainian civilians and force the country to capitulate. She provided no specific details of the rape allegations.

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and rejected allegations that its forces have committed war crimes.

Civilians still trapped in ‘hell’ in Mariupol: Red Cross

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ukraine says that an unknown number of civilians remain trapped in Mariupol and surrounding areas after dozens of evacuees reached Zaporizhzhia.

Putin tells Macron Russia is ready to continue dialogue with Ukraine: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday that despite Kiev’s unpreparedness for serious work Russia remained open to a dialogue, the Kremlin’s press service has said.

“The Russian president explained the fundamental approach to negotiations with the Ukrainian representatives. In particular, he stressed that despite Kiev’s inconsistency and unpreparedness for serious work Russia remained open to a dialogue,” the Kremlin added.

The Kremlin announced Putin told Macron the West must stop supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Putin told Marcon that the EU countries ignore war crimes committed by the Ukrainian forces, the Russian presidential press-service said in a statement.

“It was stressed that the EU member-countries ignore war crimes committed by the Ukrainian forces and massive bombardments of Donbass villages and cities, which kill peaceful civilians,” it added.

Putin told Macron threat to global food security is due to Western sanctions first and foremost.

According to France’s BFM TV channel, the conversation lasted over two hours.

NATO’s actions near Russian borders may have provoked operation in Ukraine: Pope Francis

Pope Francis does not rule out that NATO played a negative role in the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis.

“[Possibly], NATO barking at Russia’s doorstep led to the Kremlin’s reaction. The ire, I don’t know whether it was provoked but was probably facilitated,” he stated in an interview with Corriere della Sera on Tuesday.

“One cannot think that one free country can wage war in another free country,” the Pope said reiterating his thesis on “piecemeal” Third World War.

“I am just stating the reality. Syria, Yemen, Iraq, in Africa there is one war after another. And international interests stand behind all of them,” he explained. “In Ukraine, the conflict was created by others,” the Pope added.

Borrell: EU’s 6th sanctions package against Russia targets banks, oil imports

The European Union is working on the next package of anti-Russia sanctions that aims to “de-swift’ more banks and targets imports of Russian oil, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated on Tuesday.

“Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine affects global security. We are working on the 6th package of sanctions which aims to de-swift more banks, list disinformation actors and tackle oil imports. These measures will be presented to the Council for approva,” Borrell tweeted.

EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson has also said the European Union will announce “additional steps” against Russia later on Tuesday.

“There will be additional steps form our side towards Russia so I came here [to the European Parliament] directly from the Commission where we were discussing our forthcoming steps and you can expect that later today, this will be announced,” Simson told the European Parliament.

The commissioner specified that the bloc’s “sixth package of sanctions” against Russia will be announced.

Russian forces storming Azovstal steel plant

The deputy commander of the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian regiment holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, claims Russian forces have started to storm the facility.

Sviatoslav Palamar told The Associated Press news agency that reports in Ukrainian media that the site – the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in a city otherwise controlled by Moscow’s forces – was being attacked were “true”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mariupol patrol police chief Mykhailo Vershinin was quoted by Ukrainian television as saying that the Russian military “have started to storm the plant in several places.”

The development comes almost two weeks after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s military not to storm the plant, but rather block it off. About 200 civilians remain trapped underground there despite a UN-brokered evacuation that took place on Sunday.

Russia says its forces are firing on Ukrainian troops at Mariupol steelworks

Russian forces are shelling and bombing offensive positions adopted by Ukrainian troops at the sprawling, Soviet-era Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, a spokesman for the country’s defence ministry stated.

Vadim Astafyev said Ukrainian forces and “militants” from the Azov battalion had emerged from the facility’s basements during a ceasefire which had been agreed to allow for civilian evacuations and taken up “firing positions on the territory and in the buildings of the plant”, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Astafyev added Russian army units and fighters from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic were using “artillery and aircraft” to “destroy” the offensive positions.

The steel plant is the last stronghold of Ukrainian fighters resisting Russia’s siege on Mariupol. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv on Moscow’s claims.

Johnson announces $375mn military aid package for Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new military aid package for Ukraine worth 300 million pounds ($375mn), including electronic warfare equipment and a counter-battery radar system.

“I have one message for you today: Ukraine will win, Ukraine will be free,” Johnson said as he announced the support in an address to the Ukrainian parliament via video link.

“The so-called irresistible force of [Vladimir] Putin’s war machine has broken on the immoveable object of Ukrainian patriotism and love of country,” he added.

Scholz: Germany preparing to cut Russian energy supplies, can abandon coal by autumn

Germany has been preparing to reduce its dependence on Russian energy resources since December and can abandon Russian coal by this autumn, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated on Tuesday.

“We are united in our desire to become independent of fossil imports, we also know that this will last differently in individual countries, depending on the extent of dependence. Germany began preparing for such a situation back in December. So we can give up coal in the fall,” Scholz said following a meeting with the prime ministers of Sweden and Finland.

Germany is also making efforts to be able to forego oil imports from Russia, as well as to create the infrastructure in order to be able to import gas from other countries, the chancellor continued, adding that the ultimate goal is Germany’s independence from fossil energy in general.

Azov fighters, Ukrainian forces use ceasefire at Azovstal to get to firing points: Moscow

Fighters of the nationalist Azov battalion and Ukrainian troops took advantage of the ceasefire at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and went to firing positions, Russian defence ministry spokesman Vadim Astafyev stated on Tuesday.

“A ceasefire was declared at the moment when it was necessary to evacuate civilians from the territory of Azovstal. Azov fighters, Ukrainian armed forces that are located on the territory of the plant took advantage of this regime. They came out of the basements, they took up firing positions on the territory and in the buildings of the plant,” Astafyev said in a statement.

Units of the Russian army and the Donetsk People’s Republic forces are currently destroying these firing positions, using artillery and aircraft, the official added.

Nine civilians killed by shelling in Ukraine’s Donetsk region

At least nine civilians were killed by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, the regional governor claimed.

Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram that at least three civilians had been killed during an aerial bombardment of the town of Avdiivka.

Three more were killed by shelling of the city of Vuhledar and three were killed in shelling of the town of Lyman, he added.

The Ukrainian president’s office said earlier on Tuesday that other areas of Donetsk were under constant fire and regional authorities were trying to evacuate civilians from frontline zones.

Report: Emerging gas suppliers expected to replace Russia

The European Union will turn to Africa to replace imports of natural gas from Russia, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Countries in Africa, such as Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola, offer largely untapped potential for liquified natural gas, the media outlet cites a draft EU document it reviewed.

The European Commission is set to announce its plans for energy cooperation with the western African nations and other suppliers later this month as part of efforts to cut its energy reliance on Moscow amid the ongoing military offensive in Ukraine, Bloomberg adds.

The EU pledged to slash Russian gas imports by two-thirds by next year and to eliminate its dependence before 2030.

To achieve that, Europe has to reset its relationships with traditional suppliers and reach out to new emerging ones, the EU document says, as the bloc needs to boost its LNG imports by 50 billion cubic meters a year until 2030 and increase shipments of pipeline gas from countries other than Russia.

To meet its goal, the EU must fully implement its agreement with the US for the delivery of liquified natural gas (LNG), and also extend trade with suppliers such as Egypt, Israel, Azerbaijan and Australia.

The EU’s push to wean itself off Russian gas flow in line with Ukraine-related sanctions led to increased purchases by Europe amid already growing global demand and high LNG prices. Russia has been a major supplier of energy to the EU, meeting roughly 40% of the bloc’s demand for natural gas.

Putin signs decree on new retaliatory sanctions

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has approved new retaliatory economic sanctions in response to the “unfriendly actions of certain foreign states and international organisations,” the Kremlin announced.

According to the decree, Moscow will forbid the export of products and raw materials to people and entities that it has sanctioned.

The decree also prohibits transactions with foreign individuals and companies hit by Russia’s retaliatory sanctions and permits Russian counterparties not to fulfill obligations towards them.

WHO to hold urgent meeting on impact of invasion on healthcare

A spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that its European branch will hold a special meeting next week on the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on health and healthcare.

“There will be a meeting on 10 May on the impact of war on Ukraine health system,” Tarik Jasarevic told reporters at the global health body’s headquarters in Geneva.

Medvedev thinks Zelensky does not need ‘any peace treaty’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky does not need any peaceful settlement, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev asserted.

“Zelensky does not need any peace treaty. For him, peace is the end,” he stated on his Telegram channel.

Medvedev thanks that Zelensky will continue to beg the West for weapons and money and imitate concern for Ukrainians.

“Zelensky in the future will keep begging the West for money and weapons, trying to prove he is still in the game, that he is the hope of the liberal world, that he is the last stronghold of European democracy which a bear in a cotton-padded jacket wants to tear apart,” Medvedev said.

He added that at the same time, Zelensky would “imitate concern for Ukrainians, periodically positioning them as a human shield against the Bandera followers.”

Ukrainian military claims 12 Russian attacks repulsed across eastern regions

The Ukrainian armed forces say they have repulsed 12 Russian attacks over the past day in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

They also claim to have brought down seven attack drones.

In its daily operational update, the General Staff announced there are signs the Russians are taking equipment out of storage to replenish units.

“According to available information, 17 tanks and 60 BMP-1s were taken out of storage in the city of Bohuchar of Voronezh region, between April 27 and May 2, 2022. They were sent to the Ukrainian territories temporarily occupied by Russian troops,” it added.

Warehouses with Bayraktar drones, missiles from US, European countries destroyed in Odessa region: Russian MoD

Russia’s Oniks supersonic cruise missiles have hit a logistics centre in the area of Odessa, through which foreign weapons were delivered, Russian defence ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Tuesday.

“High-precision Onyx missiles struck at a logistics centre at a military airfield in the Odessa area, through which foreign weapons were delivered. Hangars with Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as missile weapons and ammunition received from the United States and European countries, were destroyed,” Konashenkov told reporters.

Russia says it hit logistics centre near Odesa

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have struck a logistics centre located at a military airfield near Ukraine’s southwestern city of Odesa with high-precision missiles.

The ministry announced the facility housed weaponry provided to Kyiv by its Western allies.

“Hangars containing unmanned Bayraktar TB2 drones, as well as missile weapons and ammunition from the US and European countries, were destroyed,” it added in a statement.

Over 200 civilians still in Mariupol steel plant: Mayor

More than 200 civilians are still holed up with fighters in a huge steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city’s mayor has stated.

Vadym Boychenko noted on Tuesday that a total of about 100,000 civilians are still in the southern Ukrainian city that has been occupied by Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said more than 100 civilians have been evacuated from the steel plant.

Pope asked for meeting with Putin

Pope Francis says that he asked for a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to stop the war in Ukraine but has not received a response, Reuters reported.

The pope stated Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban told him when they met in late April that Putin plans to end the invasion of Ukraine on May 9 — Russia’s Victory Day.

The Pope made the comments to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published Tuesday.

“Orban, when I met him, he told me that the Russians have a plan, that everything will be over on May 9th,” Pope Francis continued, adding, “This would also explain the speed of the escalation of these days. Because now it’s not just the Donbas, it’s Crimea, it’s Odesa, it’s taking away the Black Sea port from Ukraine, it’s everything.”

There is not enough will for peace,” the Pope said, adding, “I am pessimistic, but we must make every possible gesture to stop the war.”

Russia pushes in east: Ukraine’s military

Russian forces are trying to take over the key towns of Rubizhne and Popasna in their effort to encircle Ukrainian troops in the southeastern region of Donetsk, Ukraine’s military has announced.

The Russians seek to move towards the towns of Lyman and Slovyansk in the region’s north, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Facebook on Tuesday. Ukraine’s eastern wing of armed forces is concentrated in Slovyansk.

The Russians are also trying to advance in the Iziyum district of neighbouring Kharkiv region, it added, but bad roads and wet soil prevent their progress.

Italy aims for independence from Russian gas by mid-2024

Italy aims to cut off its dependence on Russian gas by the second half of 2024, Italy’s ecological transition minister has said.

“We should be autonomous by the second half of 2024, we could do without importing Russian gas,” Roberto Cingolani stated in an interview with daily La Repubblica.

Putin may soon officially declare war on Ukraine: US and Western officials

Russian President Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine as soon as May 9, a move that would enable the full mobilization of Russia’s reserve forces as invasion efforts continue to falter, US and Western officials believe.

May 9, known as “Victory Day” inside of Russia, commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in 1945.

Western officials have long believed that Putin would leverage the symbolic significance and propaganda value of that day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities – or both.

Officials have begun to hone in on one scenario, which is that Putin formally declares war on Ukraine on May 9. To date, Putin has insisted on referring to the brutal monthslong conflict as a “special military operation,” effectively banning words such as invasion and war.

A formal declaration of war could potentially bolster public support for the invasion. It would also, under Russian law, allow Putin to mobilize reserve forces and draft conscripts, which officials say Russia desperately needs amid a growing manpower shortage. Western and Ukrainian officials have estimated that at least 10,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war since Russia invaded just over two months ago.

Shelling kills three in Donetsk region: Officials

At least three civilians were killed in Russian shelling of the city of Vuhledar in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, the Ukrainian president’s office said.

Some other areas of Donetsk were under constant fire and regional authorities were trying to evacuate civilians from frontline areas, it added, according to Reuters.

Russia unable to translate military ‘numerical strength into decisive advantage’ in Ukraine: UK

Russia has not been able to take advantage, in Ukraine, of its more than decade-long military modernisation programme, the UK’s defence ministry has announced.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry said that Russia’s defence budget roughly doubled between 2005-2018, and from 2008, “this underpinned the expansive military modernisation programme New Look”.

It added that “failures both in strategic planning and operational execution have left” Russia “unable to translate numerical strength into decisive advantage”.

Russia’s military is significantly weaker as a result of its war in Ukraine and “this will have a lasting impact on Russia’s ability to deploy conventional military force,” the ministry continued.

Russian forces pause before assaults on Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia: Think-tank

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks on Monday along any axes of advance and instead shelled Ukrainian positions on the frontlines, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

It added that the Ukrainian artillery strike on Russian command headquarters near Izyum on April 30 likely disrupted Russian operations on the Izyum axis and may hinder Russian offensives from Izyum for the next few days.

But the Institute reported that Russian forces on the southern axis continued to regroup likely in preparation for ground assaults in the direction of Kryvyi Rih, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhia.

There will be civilian evacuations from Mariupol on Tuesday: City council

There will be a civilian evacuation on Tuesday in Mariupol, according to the city council’s Telegram channel.

The agreement, according to the Mariupol City Council, was officially agreed upon with assistance from the United Nations and the Red Cross.

Russia Ukraine War
Images show evacuation efforts from Mariupol steel plant.

On Sunday, more than 100 civilians were evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Sunday evening that for the first time, the vital corridor to evacuate civilians from the plant had started working, paving the way for them to pass through.

This was short-lived, however, as Russian shelling once again intensified and put a halt to further rescue efforts, commander of the 12th brigade of the National Guard Denis Schlegar claimed.

Zelensky: Teenager killed in Russian strike on Odesa, 220 Ukrainian children dead since war began

A Russian missile strike on a dormitory in Odesa killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded a 17-year-old girl, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

For what? What did these children and the dormitory threaten the Russian state with?” Zelensky stated, adding 220 Ukrainian children have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion.

At least 1,570 educational institutions have been destroyed or damaged by shelling, the president continued.

The press service of Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has reported some 220 children have died in the war in Ukraine and 406 have been wounded. Most children were injured in the Donetsk region (139), followed by the regions of Kyiv (115), Kharkiv (95), Chernihiv (68) and Kherson (45), the office wrote on Telegram.

US agrees with Russia that nuclear war could not be won: White House

The United States agrees with Russia that there can be no winners in a nuclear war, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a regular briefing on Monday.

“I would say that the Russians themselves have, over time, including as recently as last year, made clear that no nuclear war – a nuclear war could not be won. We agree with that. And that is important for every country to restate and every elected official to restate around the country here as well,” she said.

Psaki added that US President Joe Biden remains unwilling to send US troops to Ukraine.

“I would note the President’s view, and his position continues to be that we are not putting U.S. troops on the ground to fight this war. And that’s something we will continue to reiterate for Americans,” she said.

She also denied that the situation around Ukraine has turned into an indirect conflict between NATO and Russia.

“<…> It is not a proxy war. This is a war between Russia and Ukraine. NATO is not involved. The United States is not fighting this war. So, I think it’s important and vital for all of us to not repeat the Kremlin talking points on this front,” she added.

The United States supports any decisions by Finland with respect to joining NATO, Psaki said when asked to comment on reports that Helsinki will apply for alliance membership next week.

“We’ve seen some reporting, and I’m not going to speak for them. We of course support the policy of NATO for those who are interested in joining to aspire and meet the qualifications to join, and certainly support any decisions by Finnish leaders and others to… apply,” Psaki told reporters.

Asked about Biden’s general view on NATO enlargement, she noted that Biden supports the alliance’s open door policy. He also supports all those who have aspirations to join the alliance, she added.

US sees no indication that third countries send weapons to Russia: Pentagon

The United States has seen no indication that Russia is receiving weapons from third countries or that Moscow attempted to obtain such assistance, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told briefing on Monday.

“I’ve seen no indication that they [the Russian authorities] have gotten external assistance from a third nation. <…> I just haven’t seen any indication that they’re trying to draw on external sources [to receive weapons] from other governments or other countries,” Kirby said.

“But they had assembled an awful lot of their own organic combat power outside Ukraine before the 24th of February. <…> They still have a lot of that combat power left,” Kirby noted.

Zelensky warns of possibility of World War III

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of the possibility of World War III, during an exclusive interview with the Saudi-based Al Arabiya and Al-Hadath TV channels.

Zelensky said that the war is currently confined to Ukrainian lands and has not moved to Russia, noting that the Ukrainian army does not carry out military operations against Russian territory.

He also added Ukrainian forces are defending their lands and have no desire to occupy Russian areas.

Ukraine finds 1,202 bodies in Kyiv region

Ukraine claims its law enforcement officers have found 1,202 bodies of Ukrainian citizens killed by Russian forces in the Kyiv region, Ukrinform reports.

“Unfortunately, we have horrible finds and record the crimes committed by the Russian army in Kyiv region almost every day. So far, 1,202 bodies of killed civilians have been examined by investigators and handed over to forensic institutions to determine the final cause of death. Of them, 280 people are currently unidentified,” Kyiv region police chief Andriy Nebytov stated during the nationwide telethon.

Air raid sirens activated in Ukraine’s south and east

Air raid sirens have been activated across the south and east of Ukraine over the past hour, including in Kramatorsk district and the regions of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Poltava.

Several residents of the Mykolaiv region reported explosions on social media.

More explosions in Russia’s Belgorod

Moscow’s state news agency RIA has said one of its correspondents heard “a loud bang, similar to the sound of an explosion of medium strength,” in the centre of Belgorod city.

RIA added that several citizens also heard the “clap” and that “immediately after the incident, car alarms went off in the streets”.

The governor of Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, had reported two explosions on Sunday night. But he dispelled notions that “something flew in from the territory of Ukraine”, stating it was likely Russia’s air force was performing “combat tasks as part of its special military operation” in Ukraine.

Progress in negotiations is Russia ending war: Ukraine official

For Kyiv, progress in any negotiations would be for Russia to withdraw its troops and move out of occupied territories, the head of Ukraine’s president’s office has said on CNN.

“For us, the fundamental things we are not ready to compromise on are our independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Andriy Yermak told Fareed Zakaria on Monday night.

He confirmed that the majority of Russian troops are now concentrated in southeastern Ukraine, particularly in the Donbas.

“The whole world also knows what is happening in Mariupol, where there is a catastrophic situation – 90 per cent of the city is destroyed,” he added.

UK to give Ukraine nearly $400 million of military aid

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out a new package of military aid worth £300 million ($374m), to support Ukraine’s continuing defence. The package includes electronic warfare equipment, a counter-battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices, according to a government statement.

“This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come,” Johnson will say in a speech to Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday, as the British embassy reopens in Kyiv.

The United Kingdom will also send in coming weeks heavy lift systems to provide logistical support to isolated forces. More than a dozen new specialised Toyota Landcruisers will be sent to help protect civilian officials in eastern Ukraine and evacuate civilians from front-line areas, following a request from the Ukrainian government.

EU to pass new Russia sanctions at next Foreign Affairs Council meeting: Borrell

The European Union hopes to pass the sixth round of sanctions against Russia at the next meeting of its Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), the bloc’s chief diplomat has said.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the union, is expected to propose the sanctions package this week, including a potential embargo on buying Russian oil.

Josep Borrell, who chairs the FAC meetings, told a news conference in Panama city that he hopes the EU will be able to take “measures to significantly limit these imports” but conceded so far there is no agreement from all the members.

“But I am confident that, at least with regard to oil imports, this agreement will be possible between now and the next council meeting,” he added.

The FAC has meetings scheduled for May 10 and May 16.

Borrell announced the disconnection of even more Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system, although without disclosing details.

“And in the energy sector, we are looking for measures that would significantly affect the import of Russian oil,” he continued.

Nearly 2,000 children taken to Russia from Ukraine: Moscow

More than 11,500 people, including 1,847 children, were transported from Ukraine into Russia on Monday without the participation of Kyiv’s authorities, Russia’s defence ministry has claimed.

That number includes evacuations from Russian-backed breakaway regions of Ukraine, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, which Russia recognised as independent just before launching its invasion.

Russia says the people have been evacuated on their own request, while Ukraine has said Moscow has forcefully deported thousands of people to Russia since the war began.

Since February 24, nearly 200,000 children and 1.1 million people have been evacuated from Ukraine into Russia, the defence ministry added.

Zelensky says Russia forgot World War II lessons

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s suggestion that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins showed that Moscow has forgotten, or never learned, the lessons of World War II.

“I have no words … No one has heard any denial or any justification from Moscow. All we have from there is silence … This means that the Russian leadership has forgotten all the lessons of World War II,” Zelensky, who is Jewish, stated in his nightly video message.

“Or perhaps they have never learned those lessons,” he added.

Biden would ‘love to visit Ukraine’, but no current plans: White House

United States President Joe Biden would “love to visit Ukraine,” but there are no current plans for him to do so, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki has said, after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid a surprise visit to the country over the weekend.

Psaki stated the White House would continue to assess the situation, and underscored the Biden administration’s objective to reopen the US embassy and have US diplomats on site.

“And I know the president would love to visit Ukraine, but no plans [are] in the works at this time,” she added.

Russia plans to ‘annex’ Donetsk, Luhansk regions: US official

Russia is planning imminently to “annex” the two eastern regions of Ukraine battered by its invasion after failing to overthrow the Kyiv government, a senior US official has stated.

“According to the most recent reports, we believe that Russia will try to annex the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ to Russia,” said Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“The reports state that Russia plans to engineer referenda upon joining sometime in mid-May,” he told reporters in Washington.

Teenage boy killed in Russian strike on Odesa: City council

A teenage boy has been killed in a Russian strike on Odesa, the city’s council has announced on social media.

“As a result of a missile strike in Odesa, a residential building which had five people in it at the time of the attack was damaged. A 15-year-old boy died,” Odesa city council said on Telegram.

A girl was hospitalised, it added, but gave no details on the other three people in the building.

German chancellor defends Ukraine policy after being criticised as slow

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected criticism that he has been too hesitant to support Ukraine since Russia began attacking its neighbour.

“I have always decided quickly, together with everyone else, coordinated with the allies,” Scholz told broadcaster ZDF, adding that his strategy was set, namely that Germany acts “prudently and with a clear mind”.

Scholz emphasised that the financial and military assistance provided by Germany and other states had contributed to the successes of the Ukrainian army, which he said is “now able to hold out for so long against such an overpowering opponent”.

The sanctions imposed on Russia will not be lifted until Moscow reaches a peace agreement with Ukraine, Scholz stated, adding that it was for Ukraine to decide what peace it wanted.

Scholz said President Vladimir Putin had miscalculated if he had anticipated that he might be able to gain territory from Ukraine, declare an end to hostilities and see Western countries drop sanctions.

“He didn’t think his entire Ukraine operation through,” Scholz continued, adding, “He didn’t think Ukraine would resist like that. He didn’t think we would support them to hold out for so long… We won’t withdraw the sanctions unless he reaches an agreement with Ukraine, and he won’t get that with a dictated peace.”

Scholz has again appealed to Putin to end his war against Ukraine.

“Stop this war, stop the senseless killing, withdraw your troops from Ukraine,” he said after intergovernmental consultations between India and Germany in Berlin.

“We agree that borders must not be moved by force,” he added.

Ukraine fighter says civilians remain trapped in Mariupol steelworks

A Ukrainian fighter holed up in the city of Mariupol has claimed that up to 200 civilians remain trapped inside bunkers in the Azovstal steelworks after an evacuation operation led by the United Nations to save civilians from the site.

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, 39, a deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, told Reuters that his fighters could hear the voices of people trapped in bunkers of the vast industrial complex.

He added that they were women, children and elderly people, but that the Ukrainian forces there did not have the mechanised equipment needed to dislodge the rubble.

“We were planning to tear up the bunkers, the entrance to which is blocked, but all night into Monday naval artillery and barrel artillery were firing. All day today aviation has been working, dropping bombs,” Palamar stated by Zoom.

UEFA bans Russia from women’s Euros, World Cup qualifying

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has disqualified Russia from the Women’s European Championship in July and from qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

UEFA said it has also banned Russia from bidding to host the men’s Euros in 2028 and 2032, while no Russian clubs will be allowed to compete in European competitions next season.

“Russia will have no affiliated clubs participating in UEFA club competitions in the 2022/23 season,” it announced in a statement.

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