Sunday, April 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 72: Amnesty says Russian forces must face justice for war crimes in Ukraine

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:

EU Commission chief is “confident” new sanctions package will pass

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated Friday she is “confident” the bloc’s sixth package of sanctions against Russia will pass, as deliberations among member states continue into the third day.

“I am confident that we will get this package off the ground,” she said in a speech in Frankfurt, Germany.

 “If it takes one more day, then it takes one more day, but we are moving in the right direction,” she added.

Mobilization of the package has hit some roadblocks this week, with some countries resisting the proposed embargo on Russian oil imports due to their energy dependency, sparking fears they would veto the move unless granted exemption.

Von der Leyen referenced Germany, which at the beginning of the conflict was resistant to an oil embargo, she said, but has since cut down its imports from Russia to 12% from 35%.

“The countries that are now hesitating are not as far along,” she continued, adding, “We are sitting, as I speak, with these countries in Brussels, to work through very pragmatic things, like from where can alternative oil be brought into these countries.”

Amnesty International says investigation reveals “pattern of crimes committed by Russian forces” in Ukraine

Russian forces “must face justice for a series of war crimes” committed in the region northwest of Kyiv, Amnesty International said Friday at a press briefing in the Ukrainian capital following an investigation it conducted in the country.

The investigation, based “on dozens of interviews and extensive review of material evidence,” has documented “unlawful air strikes on Borodyanka, and extrajudicial executions in other towns and villages including Bucha, Andriivka, Zdvyzhivka and Vorzel.”

An Amnesty International delegation spoke with survivors, families of victims and senior Ukrainian officials, the watchdog added.

“The pattern of crimes committed by Russian forces that we have documented includes both unlawful attacks and willful killings of civilians,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement.

“We have met families whose loved ones were killed in horrific attacks, and whose lives have changed forever because of the Russian invasion. We support their demands for justice, and call on the Ukrainian authorities, the International Criminal Court and others to ensure evidence is preserved that could support future war crime prosecutions,” she continued, adding, “It is vital that all those responsible, including up the chain of command, are brought to justice.”

During 12 days of investigations, Amnesty researchers interviewed residents in Bucha, Borodianka, Novyi Korohod, Andriivka, Zdvyzhivka, Vorzel, Makariv and Dmytrivka, and “visited sites of numerous killings,” Amnesty said.

In Borodianka, Amnesty International found that “at least 40 civilians were killed in disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, which devastated an entire neighborhood and left thousands of people homeless.”

In Bucha and several other towns and villages located northwest of Kyiv, Amnesty documented “22 cases of unlawful killings by Russian forces, most of which were apparent extrajudicial executions.”

On March 1 and March 2, a series of Russian air strikes hit eight residential buildings in the town of Borodianka, which were home to more than 600 families, Amnesty added.

“The strikes killed at least 40 residents and destroyed the buildings, as well as dozens of surrounding buildings and houses. Most of the victims were killed in the buildings’ basements, where they had sought shelter. Others died in their apartments,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty called for all those responsible for war crimes to be held criminally responsible for their actions. “Under the doctrine of command responsibility, hierarchal superiors – including commanders and civilian leaders, such as ministers and heads of state – who knew or had reason to know about war crimes committed by their forces, but did not attempt to stop them or punish those responsible, should also be held criminally responsible,” Amnesty added.

Nearly 25 million metric tons of grain unable to leave Ukraine: UN food agency official

The blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, along with infrastructure challenges, are preventing nearly 25 million tonnes of grain from being exported, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official said Friday.

“It’s an almost a grotesque situation we see at the moment in Ukraine,” stated Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s markets and trade division, at a media briefing in Geneva.

“There are nearly 25 million tonnes of grain that could be exported but that cannot leave the country simply because of the lack of infrastructure, the blockade of the ports,” he added.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain-producing countries.

At the same time, in the months of July and August, the new crop will be coming in, Schmidhuber noted, and “despite the war, harvest conditions don’t look that dire.”

But, he continued, “that could really mean that there is not enough storage capacity going forward in Ukraine particularly if there is no ‘wheat corridor’ opening up for exports from Ukraine.”

“No doubt” Russia plans to “stay forever” in Kherson region: Russian official

Russia has come to the Kherson region to “stay forever,” and there should be “no doubt about that,” according to a senior official in Russia’s governing United Russia party, Andrei Turchak.

Russian state media RIA-Novosti reported Turchak made the remarks while on a visit to Kherson, an important Ukrainian region north of Crimea that has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of its invasion of Ukraine.

“There will be no return to the past. We will live together, develop this rich region, rich in historical heritage, rich in the people who live here,” said Turchak, addressing Kherson residents.

He added that the status of the Kherson region will be determined by its residents.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In any case, the status will be determined by the residents,” Turchak stated.

There had been reports that Russia would organize a referendum in the region, but no plans have been announced.

According to Russian state media, Turchak and the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin visited Kherson on Friday and met with the head of the new Russian-appointed administration of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo.

Mariupol authorities claim Russia violates ceasefire during evacuation

Local authorities in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol have accused Russian forces of opening fire on a car on its way to evacuate civilians from a vast steel works, killing a fighter and violating a ceasefire agreement.

Russia did not immediately comment on the Mariupol city council’s statement. Moscow has denied targeting civilians and had offered a ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped in the Azovstal steel plant with Ukrainian fighters.

“During the ceasefire on the territory of the Azovstal plant a car was hit by Russians using an anti-tank guided weapon. This car was moving towards civilians in order to evacuate them from the plant,” Mariupol city council claimed.

Zelensky accuses Russia of trying escape war crime prosecutions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Russia thought it could escape prosecutions for war crimes because of the threat of a nuclear attack.

“They do not believe that they can be made responsible for the war crimes because they have the power of the nuclear state”, Zelenskyy, speaking through a translator, told Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

“This is the 72nd day of the fully-fledged war and we can see no end of it yet and we cannot feel any willingness of the Russian side to end it,” he added.

G7 leaders to discuss new sanctions on Russia on May 8

Heads of state of the Group of Seven countries plan to discuss potential new sanctions on Russia during a video call that will happen on May 8, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing sources.

The sources stated the leaders may both discuss the sanctions and work on them.

It was earlier reported that the US is wrapping up preparations for a conference call for G7 leaders on the situation in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to take part in the call.

US President Joe Biden will meet virtually with President Zelensky and his G7 counterparts on Sunday morning during a meeting of the G7 forum, a National Security Council spokesperson said.

“On Sunday morning, President Biden will participate in a G7 virtual Leaders meeting chaired by German Chancellor Scholz. The Leaders will be joined by President Zelensky of Ukraine,” according to the the NSC spokesperson.

Sanctions will be on the agenda for the meeting.

“They will discuss the latest developments in Russia’s war against Ukraine and its global impacts; showing support for Ukraine and Ukraine’s future; and demonstrating continued G7 unity in our collective response, including by imposing severe costs for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war,” the spokesperson added.

Kremlin: Russia’s operation in Ukraine going on according to plan

Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine is going on according to plan, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday, commenting on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s remark that the operation “has dragged on.”

“The operation is going on according to plan,” Peskov stressed.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated on Thursday that he did not have enough information on Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, but he believed that it had dragged on despite his expectations.

EU ‘fully understands’ members’ constraints over Russian oil embargo

The European Union “fully understands” the constraints some member states have over the commission’s proposal for an embargo on Russian oil since several countries are heavily dependent on Moscow for the energy sources, European Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer said on Friday.

“We fully understand that certain member states are in a very specific situation due to their geography, due to their dependency on Russian pipeline gas and petroleum products, and we had taken these concerns into account in our proposal,” Mamer told reporters at the EC midday briefing.

The EU is trying to address the issue of the heavy dependency of some member countries on the Russian energy supplies, he noted.

“We understand that there are specific situations and constraints on Hungary and some other member states, and we are trying to address them,” Mamer added.

Earlier in the day, a source told Sputnik that EU ambassadors are meeting on Friday to discuss the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, with six member states expressing objections to different aspects of the proposed oil embargo.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced the sixth package of anti-Russia sanctions, including a gradual Russian oil embargo. Some European countries that heavily depend on the Russian oil, such as Hungary and Slovakia, may get an exemption from the embargo.

Ukraine destroys Russian warship in Black Sea

A Russian frigate is burning off the coast of the Odesa region following a Ukrainian attack, a Ukrainian YouTube channel claimed on Friday.

The Burevestnik warship, known by the NATO reporting name Krivak, was hit by a Ukrainian Neptune torpedo near the Zmiinyi Island (Snake Island), the Odesa & Transport channel claimed.

It added that Russian warplanes are circling above the ship, and that Russian vessels from occupied Crimea are moving towards it to rescue the crew.

The island is known for an incident wherein a team of Ukrainian sailors stationed there said the now-famous phrase: “Russian warship, go … yourself!” after Russians urged them to surrender on February 24, the day Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Kremlin: Allegations that Russia steals grain from Ukraine fake news

Reports that Russia allegedly steals grain from Ukraine are fake news, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

“No, we do not have such information; it rather looks like fake news, and it is fake news,” the spokesman stated, commenting on the statement made in the UN that Russia allegedly steals grain from Ukraine, transporting it on trucks.

“I do not know who exactly said this in the UN, but obviously they didn’t bother to check this information,” Peskov believes.

Peskov noted, he knows nothing about sending any delegation from Russia to Mariupol for the Victory Day celebrations on May 9.

“There will certainly be Russians and many more on May 9, but I have no information about any official delegation,” Peskov said at a daily news briefing in response to a question whether Russia was sending an official delegation to Mariupol to celebrate the Victory Day.

The presidential spokesman added that the organization of festivities in the city “is impossible due to obvious reasons.”

NATO chief of staffs to meet on 19 May to discuss situation in Ukraine

“NATO’s highest Military Authority, the Military Committee, will meet in person on 19 May 2022, in Brussels, Belgium. Admiral Rob Bauer, Chair of the Military Committee, will preside over the meeting, which will be attended by the Allied Chiefs of Defence,” the alliance said in a statement.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will join the meeting for the first session “to address the geostrategic context and preparations for the Madrid Summit in June,” the statement added.

“The second session will be dedicated to Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the Chiefs of Defence from NATO Partner Nations Finland, Sweden and Ukraine joining the discussions,” NATO announced.

Borrell: EU envoys have until end of week to reach agreement on Russian oil ban

“The ambassadors are working and … I think they will continue working in order to reach an agreement on the technical level,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told the State of the Union forum in Italy.

“If it does not happen next week after the day of Europe, I will have to call for a meeting of the foreign affairs ministers in order to put on the table what is going on,” he continued.

Lavrov: US-led West’s sanctions cannot break Russian people’s will

No sanctions can break the will of the Russian people, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated at a ceremony of laying flowers to a plaque in memory of the Foreign Ministry’s veterans on Friday.

No sanctions can break the will of the Russian people, Lavrov said at a flower-laying ceremony dedicated to the Foreign Ministry’s veterans on Friday.

According to Lavrov, the world’s future is being defined at the moment as it is being decided whether there will be a multipolar world order, “fully controlled by the United States, which is what Washington wants and what other Western countries have put up with, or the world will be fair and democratic.”

He emphasized that Russia, together “with the vast majority of countries,” called for a fair world order.

“Our efforts aren’t based on speculations such as the rules that the Americans invented and seek to impose on everyone else, but they are based on the Charter of the United Nations, an organization that was established following World War II,” Lavrov added.

The Russian top diplomat noted that “those who don’t accept equality and want to dictate to the world are trying to rewrite” the ideals of justice and the sovereign equality of all countries, enshrined in the document.

Lavrov said racism and discrimination against Russians in Western countries are getting absurd as a propaganda war is waged against Russia and its people.

“You can see what kind of a propaganda war is unleashed against the Russian Federation, against our people, against any Russian who finds himself in this or that European, Western or other country,” the minister added.

“And, of course, in this manifestation of outright racism, this is essentially another form of discrimination, which is now brought to the point of absurdity, brought to such an extent that they begin to instill hatred at the personal level for everything that is connected in one way or another with the Russian Federation. You can see it yourselves,” he continued.

Lavrov said the West is trying to whitewash Nazism and represent Russia as the country that bears the main responsibility for World War II.

“Of course, we must always remember the lessons of history, especially since the West is now trying to tear out these glorious pages of our history and cross out everything that has been done,” he continued, adding, “They are trying not only to equate the victors of Nazism with criminals, but also to put most of the blame for that war on us and in every possible way whitewash Nazism, encourage Nazi manifestations in modern-day Europe.”

“We can see it in the Baltics, we can see it in Ukraine, where neo-Nazism and new manifestations of anti-Semitism simply flourish under the current Kiev regime, with the full connivance of the so-called collective West,” the minister went on to say.

The top Russian diplomat stressed the importance of Victory Day for Russia and its history. “The feat of the Soviet soldier, of course, is immortal,” he said, adding, “I want to emphasize that the employees of our ministry contributed to the common victory, many of them at the cost of their lives.”

“Their names are immortalized on these walls, but let’s not forget about those who made their contribution to the common efforts on the diplomatic front,” the minister noted.

“This is also a very serious part of the result that was achieved by the selfless feat of our people,” he stated.

Russia says talks with Ukraine are stagnant

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are stagnant, Alexey Zaitsev, deputy director of the information and press department at the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

“Russian-Ukrainian talks are in a state of stagnation,” he added.

Zaitsev stated that NATO countries, while advocating for a prompt cessation of hostilities, are doing everything to prevent that.

“The supply of arms to Ukraine, which are valued at billions of dollars, are increasing,” he said, adding, “Washington alone sent military products worth $3.8 billion.”

“Great Britain, France, Canada, Poland and the Baltic countries are actively involved in arms supplies,” Zaitsev continued, adding, “This leads to an extension of hostilities, more destruction of civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties.”

He said statements by Ukrainian politicians about their unwillingness to negotiate with Moscow only confirm the importance of implementing the tasks of demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.

Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine is ruled out as this does not correspond to the goals of its special military operation, Zaitsev said .

“The scenarios of our potential use of nuclear weapons are clearly prescribed in Russian doctrinal documents. They are not applicable to the implementation of the tasks set in the course of the special military operation in Ukraine,” the deputy spokesman stressed.

Any provocations whatsoever can be expected from the West and Ukraine, the Russian diplomat added.

“We have to be ready for any developments in the media space and directly on the ground,” he pointed out.

“Russia firmly abides by the principle that there can be no victors in a nuclear war and it must not be unleashed,” the Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman emphasized.

Russia calls on the European Union to drop its neo-colonial ambitions and stick to a respect-based and equal approach to the Western Balkans nations, Zaitsev stressed.

“EU officials are making such unbinding statements to cheer up the Western Balkan nations, which are growing disappointed over the stalling process of their rapprochement with the European Union,” Zaitsev said, adding, “The most deplorable thing is that Germany and a number of other EU countries, which seem to have forgotten the lessons of history, continue to look upon the Western Balkans as a sphere of their exclusive geopolitical interests and are openly treating them as their backyard. And, at the same time, they are accusing Russia of seeking to establish its zones of influence in Europe.”

China opposes NATO’s provocation of bloc confrontations around globe

China is firmly opposed to NATO provocating bloc confrontations around the world, a Chinese envoy to the United Nations stated during the Security Council briefing on Ukraine.

“Clinging to the anachronistic doctrine of security and keen to provoke bloc confrontations and create tensions in Europe and even the Asia Pacific region and the wider world, such practices as harmful to others as they are deleterious to the perpetrators themselves, and deserve nothing less than China’s firm opposition,” said Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Talking about the lessons from the Ukraine crisis, Zhang noted, “To base one country’s security on the insecurity of other countries is neither reasonable nor operable. NATO’s repeated eastward expansion after the Cold War has not only failed to make Europe any safer, but also sowed the seeds of conflict.”

“Contrary to its claim to be an organization defensive in nature, NATO has wantonly launched wars against sovereign countries, causing colossal casualties and humanitarian disasters,” he added.

On May 7, 1999, NATO fired a number of precision-guided missiles at the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese journalists and injuring more than 20 Chinese diplomats.

“The Chinese people will never forget this barbaric atrocity, and will never allow such history to repeat itself. Now that the Cold War is behind us, NATO should naturally size up the situation and make necessary adjustments,” Zhang stressed.

Zhang noted that the world does not need a new Cold War, and it cannot afford greater turmoil and division.

“China solemnly advocates that in order to solve the practical problems of the security for all humanity and seek long-term solution to world peace, all countries should reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, earnestly uphold the principle of indivisibility of security, forge synergy through consultations, and build together a balanced, effective and sustainable global and regional security architecture,” he continued.

Kherson official claims Russians abusing civilians who want to leave

Civilians trying to leave Russian-occupied Kherson are being harassed and blocked by Russian forces, according to Ukrainian officials.

Yurii Sobolevskyi, the deputy head of Kherson regional Council, told Ukrainian television Friday: “The way out of city has been complicated. There are some cases when people managed to get out, even by a bus, but most people get turned back. All the junctions are blocked.”

Sobolevskyi claimed that “there are cases when they [Russian forces] commit abuses at the check-points: very thorough frisking, forcing men to undress, looking for tattoos.”

Russian soldiers frequently check Ukrainian civilians for what they see as nationalist and neo-Nazi tattoos.

Sobolevskyi said that mobile connections and internet access had been restored so that people in Kherson could communicate with their families in other parts of Ukraine.

He added the Russians were trying to introduce the ruble on an experimental basis in some communities.

The southern city of Kherson was the first Ukrainian city to fall under Russian control, and since then scores of people have been trying to flee. Over the past weeks, harrowing allegations of rape and brutality at the hands of Russian forces have emerged in the Kherson region.

Russians impose taxes, tally land in occupied Zaporizhzhia: Officials

Russian authorities in occupied parts of the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia are forcing locals to re-register their businesses, pay taxes and report the land they farm, defence officials claimed.

Businessmen in the town of Enerhogar, where Europe’s largest nuclear power station is located, who refuse to re-register aren’t allowed to operate, the region’s Ukrainian defense administration said on Telegram.

In the town of Mykhailivka, businessmen are registered and taxed “according to occupiers’ rules”, while in the village of Chernihivka farmers have to report land they own and rent before they are allowed to till it, it added.

Moscow seized chunks of Zaporizhzhia as part of its push to occupy the Russian-speaking regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia says it destroyed ammunition depot, shot down warplanes in Ukraine

Russia has announced its missiles destroyed a large ammunition depot in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, according to its defence ministry.

Moscow also added its air defences shot down two Ukrainian warplanes, an Su-25 and a MiG-29, in the eastern Luhansk region.

Full embargo on Russian oil to be imposed by EU in 9 Months: Economic Commissioner

Ex-Italian PM and European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni told the press that restrictions may be put on Russia due to the special op in Ukraine.

“Our proposal is to reach an embargo, depending on the different petroleum products, within 9 months. Doing it in a shorter time could have consequences on international oil prices that are is against our goals,” he said.

He added that such sanctions would impact Russia more than the EU.

Russia stepping up Azovstal battle ‘likely’ for May 9 success story: UK

Russia’s renewed effort to secure the Azovstal steel plant is “likely linked” to President Vladimir Putin’s desire for a symbolic success in Ukraine, by Moscow’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations, the UK’s defence ministry has claimed.

The ministry’s latest intelligence briefing said Russian forces continued their ground assault on the steel plant for a second day “despite Russian statements claiming they would only seek to seal it off”.

It added Ukrainian resistance in Azovstal had led to significant Russian losses, which will “continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas”.

Ukraine army readying for more powerful battles in Luhansk: Governor

Ukraine’s forces in the Luhansk region are preparing for more powerful offensives from the Russians in the next three to four days, the region’s governor has said.

“They will put all their efforts into breaking through to Severodonetsk or Popasna,” Serhiy Haidai stated on Ukrainian television.

Haidai added the city of Popasna was already destroyed, noting, “Because it is bombed around the clock, shot from all types of weapons.”

The UK’s defence ministry has also warned Russia would try to capture Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk as this would consolidate Moscow’s military control in north-eastern Donbas.

Hungary cannot support new EU Russia sanctions in present form: PM

Hungary cannot support the European Union’s new sanctions package against Russia in its present form, including an embargo on Russian crude oil imports, the prime minister has said.

Viktor Orban told state radio that the European Commission’s current proposal would amount to an “atomic bomb” dropped on the Hungarian economy, adding that Hungary was ready to negotiate if it sees a new proposal that would meet Hungarian interests.

Germany to send Ukraine seven self-propelled howitzers

Germany will deliver seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, on top of five howitzers the Dutch already pledged, Germany’s defence minister has stated.

The training of Ukrainian troops on the artillery weapons can start next week in Germany, Christine Lambrecht told reporters in the Slovak town Sliac where she was supposed to meet her Dutch counterpart later today.

Russia’s embassy in Washington urges US to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons

“Local media continue repeating the [American] administration’s odious accusations that our country is allegedly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention. Journalists, following the officials, also keep asserting without evidence about our remaining arsenals of chemical weapons and plans to use them in Ukraine,” the embassy said on Telegram.

The mission announced that Russia has completely destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2017, and recalled that this fact was confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

“The US, not Russia, is the only member country to the Chemical Weapons Convention that has yet to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical warfare agents. It is known for a fact that Washington has the technical capacity and financial resources to accelerate chemical demilitarization,” the embassy added.

The mission urged the American society to wonder why Washington is delaying the elimination of its stockpiles of chemical weapons, unlike other countries.

Belarus shifts to Russian rubles in trade with Russia: Lukashenko

Belarus and Russia have shifted to Russian rubles in mutual trade payments, including for supplies of Russian energy resources to the country, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with the Associated Press news agency.

“We are trading smoothly in Russian rubles, selling our goods there, receiving Russian rubles and buying gas and oil for Russian rubles. There would be no fortune, but misfortune helped. We purchased energy resources in Russia for dollars early. Now they agree to the Russian ruble,” Lukashenko stated, cited by BelTA news agency.

Lukashenko has called on the West to put an end to the conflict in Ukraine and give up confrontation with Russia.

“I’m saying this to you right now: This conflict needs to be stopped. No one needs it. People are dying. It needs to stop,” he continued, adding, “I know Russia’s position 100%. I can imagine the West’s position. The interests have clashed and you don’t even deny it.”

“I’d like the West to hear. Bad [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, good Putin. Russia’s right or wrong. I repeat: Now is not the time to discuss this question. We need to stop the war now. We’ll figure out things later,” the Belarusian president went on to say.

“Make a conciliatory gesture to ‘bad’ Putin, make it. No one needs war,” Lukashenko added.

Austria rules out ruble payments for Russian gas: FM

Austria has no plans to pay for Russian gas in rubles, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg told Al Jazeera in an interview.

“Our position is clear. We are committed to the already existing agreements [with Russia] and will not pay in rubles, we have no such intention,” Schallenberg addedAn.

In late march, Russian President Vladimir Putin requested moving payments for gas supplies to unfriendly countries to rubles, saying that Moscow would refuse accepting payments on such contracts in discredited currencies, including dollars and euros. He also tasked the government with giving Gazprom an instruction on amending present contracts. On March 31, Putin signed a decree on rules of gas trade with unfriendly countries, which stipulates a new system of contract payment.

Russian diplomat: Moscow has questions about UN rights commissioner’s view of events in Ukraine

Moscow has lots of questions regarding the unilateral assessment of the situation in Ukraine by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya told the UN Security Council.

“Without touching upon what she actually said and the unilateral assessments that she made, to which we have lots of questions, I must remind both our colleagues and the High Commissioner herself that under UNGA resolution 48/141 that stipulated the mandate of the High Commissioner, this UN official bears principal responsibility for United Nations human rights activities under the direction and authority of the Secretary-General within the framework of the overall competence, authority and decisions of the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and HRC,” he noted.

“Their competence does not cover any other issues relating to maintenance of international peace and security or protection of civilians,” he continued.

Speaking before the UN Security Council, Bachelet announced that cases of arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance have taken place on territories controlled by the Russian troops and militia forces supporting them.

The West is already waging a proxy war on Russia, Nebenzya stated.

“We repeatedly raised our security concerns. The West dismissed it, never took it seriously, assured themselves of NATO’s defensive nature, while simultaneously shifting its boundaries close to our borders. Today you already speak of NATO’s global role, including in Asia,” he added.

“We made our proposals regarding global and indivisible security architecture. You waived them off arrogantly. So do not seek to convince us that you never planned to drag Ukraine into NATO. You did. Tomorrow, if not today. We had no illusions about that,” he continued, saying, “The West does not need Ukraine as such. It did and does need it only as an arena of confrontation with Russia. Ukraine should have no illusions either. The West will not help it, except with supplying more weapons and attempting to protract the conflict.”

“And the West is already waging a proxy war on Russia. Hypocrisy of our Western partners keeps surprising us,” Nebenzya added.

The situation in Ukraine allowed the West to launch a series of repressive economic measures against Russia, prepared a while ago, Nebenzya noted.

“You seem to have waited for this moment to spin this flywheel of repression against Russia. If speak of a world war, then beyond any doubt, such war is being waged in the economic area. We are sure that you prepared for it well in advance, because the speed that this flywheel reached does not let this be doubted,” he said.

“Apart from countless sanctions and bans, misappropriation of Russian citizens’ private property (even those of them who have nothing to do with the special military operation), Western states froze Russian accounts worth 300 billion dollars. What international law are you talking about?” he continued.

Russia’s invasion devastated 400 medical sites: Zelensky

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has devastated 400 hospitals and other institutions and left doctors without drugs to tackle cancer or the ability to perform surgery, President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed.

In a video address to a medical charity group, he stated in the areas occupied by Russian forces, the situation was catastrophic.

“This amounts to a complete lack of medication for cancer patients. It means extreme difficulties or a complete lack of insulin for diabetes. It is impossible to carry out surgery. It even means, quite simply, a lack of antibiotics,” he continued.

Zelensky described a “catastrophic” lack of access to medical services and medicine in areas of the country under Russian occupation.

In those areas, he said almost no treatment was available for those suffering from cancer, while insulin for people with diabetes was difficult to find or non-existent. He said antibiotics were in short supply, as well.

Zelensky also added that during the course of the war, the Russian military has already fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine, while 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies.

UN chief urges reintegrating food from Russia & Ukraine into global market

UN chief Antonio Guterres has again called for an end to the war in Ukraine, warning of “limitless” global harm, including to international food supplies.

“The war in Ukraine is senseless in its scope, ruthless in its dimensions and limitless in its potential for global harm. The cycle of destruction, dislocation and disruption must stop. It is time to unite and end this war,” he told the Security Council.

“A meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertiliser production of Russia and Belarus into world markets despite the war. I will do my best to help facilitate the dialogue to help make these reality,” Guterres stated.

UN reports 6,731 civilian casualties in Ukraine

The United Nations’ top human rights official has said the UN has recorded 6,731 civilian casualties in Ukraine since the war began.

“It pains me to say that all our concerns remain valid and the situation keeps deteriorating,” Michelle Bachelet told the Security Council.

Bachelet stated her office is documenting forced disappearances of representatives of local authorities, journalists and civil society activists. She added the office investigated 180 cases, with five of the individuals found dead.

“Grim evidence of torture, ill-treatment and summary executions of prisoners of war committed by both parties to the conflict is surfacing,” she continued.

Russian forces readying Kherson for May 9 celebrations: Official

The chairman of the Kherson Regional Council has said that the Russians occupying the area are making plans for May 9 celebrations.

They are making citizens “study slogans, songs, dances”, Oleksandr Samoylenko told Kyiv news agency Unian.

“But today they even have to import actors from the Crimea or from other regions. Because Kherson actors do not agree to participate in these phantasmagories,” he continued.

Samoylenko also stated that while the situation in the city of Kherson “remains more or less calm”, the same can’t be said for the rest of the region.

“We even have completely blocked villages that are located on the line of demarcation of hostilities, and the inability to bring there even by volunteering some food, medicines, other things,” he added.

Scholz, Biden agree to not recognise Russian territorial gains

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and United States President Joe Biden have agreed in a call that they will not recognise any Russian territorial gains in Ukraine, a German government spokesperson has said.

“They agreed that Ukraine needed to be further substantially and continuously supported in the practice of its legitimate right to self defence,” the spokesperson added.

Japan’s PM announces additional sanctions on Russia

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced additional sanctions on Russia, as he wrapped up his Southeast Asia and Europe tour.

The sanctions include freezing assets of about 140 additional individuals and some Russian banks. Seventy military entities will be added to the export ban to Russia as well as quantum computers and high-tech products, according to the Prime Minister.

“Japan with other G7 nations will not tolerate Russia’s outrage, and Japan stands with Ukraine,” the Prime Minister stated.

Japan’s new sanctions on Russia come after Russia sanctioned 63 Japanese officials, including Kishida himself, on Wednesday.

Most Russian forces left Mariupol: Pentagon

The Pentagon says the majority of Russian forces that had been around the port city of Mariupol have left and headed north, leaving roughly the equivalent of two battalion tactical groups there, or about 2,000 troops.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stated that even as Russian air strikes continue to bombard Mariupol, Moscow’s forces are still making only “plodding” and incremental progress as the main fight presses on in the eastern Donbas region.

He added he has seen no change in Russian behaviour or momentum as May 9 draws near.

UN chief: 500 Mariupol civilians rescued

The UN chief announced that 500 people have now been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant, Mariupol and surrounding areas.

Antonio Guterres said in a tweet that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross operation involved two safe passage convoys.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has hailed the recent evacuations of hundreds of civilians from a besieged steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol as a “glimmer of hope”, calling for more safe passages.

“We’re making some progress; we’re building relations and we’re building experience, which we hope we can then broaden to more such operations,” Griffiths told the Security Council.

Late on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address that more than 150 people from Azovstal and more than 300 people from Mariupol and its suburbs had been evacuated this week.

Evacuations are hoped to continue on Friday.

The spokesperson of the United Nations secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, has also noted it’s not clear how many civilians remain in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Speaking to reporters at a briefing at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday, Dujarric referred to the gathering of information out of the region as “extremely challenging.”

No indications Belarus plans to get involved in Ukraine war: Pentagon

The Pentagon’s press secretary has said there are no indications that Belarus plans to get involved in the war in Ukraine.

Speaking on the drills being conducted by Belarusian armed forces, John Kirby told journalists, “I’ll let them speak to their exercises. But … we’re not tracking indications that they’re planning to or intend to get involved directly in the war in Ukraine.”

Kirby also confirmed the US is not seeing a change in the behaviour of Russian forces or “aggressive momentum” in the lead up to May 9. He added that “the Russians have not made the progress that we believe they expected to make by this point,” in the Donbas.

WHO to consider shutting Europe office in Moscow

World Health Organization states will consider a resolution against Russia next week, including the possible closure of a major regional office in Moscow, a document obtained by Reuters news agency shows.

The draft, prepared largely by EU diplomats and submitted to the WHO’s regional office for Europe this week, follows a request by Ukraine, signed by at least 38 other members including Turkey, France and Germany.

The text refers to a health emergency in Ukraine and is set to condemn Russia’s military actions which it said had resulted in mass casualties, disruptions to health services, increased risks of death from chronic diseases, increased risks of infectious diseases and of radiological and chemical events in Ukraine, the region and beyond.

The resolution, to be considered on Tuesday, calls for a possible suspension of all meetings in Russia, Reuters adds.

Nuclear war ‘should never happen’: Moscow diplomat

Russia’s ambassador to the US has said that NATO is not taking the threat of nuclear war seriously enough and there would be “no winners” if it happened.

In an interview with Newsweek, Anatoly Antonov stated that talk of Russia’s sabre-rattling and threat of using nuclear weapons was “a flurry of blatant misrepresentation of Russian officials’ statements on our country’s nuclear policy”.

“It is our country that in recent years has persistently proposed to American colleagues to affirm that there can be no winners in a nuclear war, thus it should never happen,” Antonov added.

He then noted the “conditions under which the use of nuclear weapons is possible”.

Russia’s doctrine states that nuclear weapons “can be used in response to the use of WMD against Russia and its allies, or in the event of aggression against our country, when the very existence of the state is jeopardised,” Antonov told Newsweek.

Russia does not threaten the United States and its European allies and is doing its best to prevent further escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, he said.

“Our country does not threaten the United States and its European allies, but, on the contrary, is making every effort to prevent the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis,” he continued, adding, “We are compelled to warn of the emerging risks associated with the intervention of NATO states into the Russian special military operation.”

The US administration is refusing to admit that its actions, including anti-Russian sanctions, are provoking a food crisis worldwide, Antonov said.

“The Americans are misinterpreting once again. They refuse to recognize the effects that the miscalculations and systemic errors in the macroeconomic, energy and climate policies of the United States and its allies have had on the situation,” the ambassador stated, commenting on the Department of State’s claims that the Russian special military operation in Ukraine was the main factor that aggravated the global food crisis.

“Accusing us of provoking the looming food crisis is extremely destructive. The colleagues want to make the rest of the world forget how measures, that were intended to put pressure on Russia, directly influenced its opportunities for exporting various goods,” Antonov continued, adding, “This applies primarily to disconnecting some Russian banks from the SWIFT system and the sanctions targeting our transport sector.”.

Russia’s war ‘designed to terrorise and kill’ Ukrainians: UK diplomat

Britain’s ambassador the United Nations has told the Security Council that Russia is deliberately targeting civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian law.

“The truth is, that it’s not just that civilians are dying in Russia’s illegal war of aggression, but that Russia is deliberately waging a war designed to terrorise and kill Ukrainian people,” Barbara Woodward said.

She added that Russia’s propaganda campaign that accompanies this war is “designed to dehumanise and demonise Ukrainians by labelling them as neo-Nazis”.

“This hate speech is extremely dangerous. And, as we near the anniversary of the end of WWII, it disrespects the sacrifices of those Russians, Ukrainians and many other nationalities who fought to end Nazism,” Woodward continued.

‘Just imagine this hell’: Zelensky says of Azovstal

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Russian forces will not stop shelling the Azovstal steel plant but that civilians still need to be rescued.

“Many children are still there. Just imagine this hell!” he stated in a video address.

He added that his team is doing everything to find a solution to save some of the 2,000 fighters believed to be in the plant.

“Heroes who defend Mariupol against the occupiers prevailing in the number of troops. There are different units there. They have many wounded. But they do not give up. They are holding positions,” Zelensky continued.

US denies helping Ukraine sink Russian warship

The Pentagon’s press secretary has dismissed an earlier NBC News report that US intelligence helped Ukraine sink Russia’s Moskva flagship.

”We did not provide Ukraine with specific targeting information for the Moskva. We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out,” several journalists on Twitter quoted John Kirby as having said.

“We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship. The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian naval vessels, as they did in this case,” Kirby reportedly added.

The Pentagon has also denied media reports suggesting it has shared intelligence with Ukraine to specifically target high-ranking Russian military officials.

“The United States provides battlefield intelligence to help Ukraine defend their country,” Kirby said.

“We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military,” he added.

Kirby’s remarks echoed the statements made by the National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson, who also insisted that US intelligence wasn’t provided to the Ukrainian forces “with the intent to kill Russian generals.”

The now-denied US assistance in targeting high-Ranking Russian officials was first reported by the New York Times. The newspaper reported Washington provided Kiev with information on Russia’s mobile military headquarters, citing anonymous American officials. Ukraine then combined the data with its own intelligence, carrying out strikes that purportedly killed an unspecified number of Russian commanding officers.

UN agency appeals to reopen Ukraine ports to ship food

The United Nations’ food aid agency is appealing for Black Sea ports in Ukraine reopen to permit shipping of wheat and corn exports, which many poor nations depend on.

The Rome-based World Food Programme noted in its appeal that 98 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports had moved through those ports before Russia launched its invasion.

The UN agency says the ports in Ukraine’s south, which have suffered heavy shelling, must resume operations “to protect Ukrainian agricultural production and enable exports that are critical to Ukraine’s economy and global food security”.

EU chief says seized Russian assets should be sold

The European Union should confiscate and sell Russian assets it seizes and use the proceeds to rebuild Ukraine, EU chief Charles Michel has said, echoing an idea already floated in the United States.

The EU announced early last month it had frozen 30 billion euros ($31.5bn) in assets linked to blacklisted Russian and Belarusian individuals.

EU countries ‘almost’ have agreement on new sanctions: Top diplomat

European Union countries are “almost there” in agreeing the bloc’s proposed new package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has stated.

“I hope that they will get an agreement. They are almost there. And we need this agreement because we have to push still more our economic and financial pressure on Russia,” Borrell told an event in Italy.

UK sanctions Russian steelmaker Evraz

The British government says it has sanctioned steel manufacturing and mining company Evraz in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The steel manufacturing and mining company operates in sectors of strategic significance to the government of Russia,” the government announced.

“Today’s asset freeze means no UK citizen or company can do business with them,” it added.

Ukrainian official says evacuations from Mariupol will take place on Friday

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says civilians will be evacuated from the besieged port city of Mariupol on Friday at 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT).

Vereshchuk made the announcement in a social media post. She added people would gather at the “Port City” shopping centre but gave no further details.

At least 25 civilians wounded in Kramatorsk as eastern assault continues

The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, claimed at least 25 civilians have been wounded in an overnight Russian strike on the city of Kramatorsk.

The Ukrainian army announced it has retaken control of “several settlements on the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions”.

West slowing, not hindering advance in Ukraine: Kremlin

The Kremlin has accused the West of preventing a “quick” end to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine by supplying weapons and intelligence to the country.

Its spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the West is “incapable of hindering the achievement” of the goals of Russia’s military operation.

“The United States, Britain, NATO as a whole hand over intelligence … to Ukraine’s armed forces on a permanent basis,” Peskov told reporters.

“Coupled with the flow of weapons that these countries are sending to Ukraine, these are all actions that do not contribute to the quick completion of the operation,” he added.

Report: US intelligence helped Ukraine sink Moskva

US intelligence helped Ukraine sink the Russian warship Moskva, NBC News has reported, citing US officials.

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet sank on April 14 after having been struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, the US officials confirmed.

According to the officials, the attack happened after Ukrainian forces asked the Americans about a ship sailing in the Black Sea south of Odesa. The US identified it as the Moskva and helped confirm its location, after which the Ukrainians targeted the ship, the NBC report added.

The officials stated that the US did not know in advance that Ukraine was going to target the Moskva.

Russia made failed attempts to advance in east: Ukraine

The Ukrainian army has said Russian troops made “unsuccessful” attempts to advance in the eastern Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

A Facebook post on the official profile of the Ukrainian General Staff added the Russians also continue to launch missile attacks on transport facilities in order to prevent the movement of humanitarian cargo and military-technical assistance.

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