The latest updates on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that his country will be sending armored Bushmaster vehicles to Ukraine to help in its war against Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically asked for them during a video appeal to Australian lawmakers for more aid.
Zelenskyy addressed the Australian Parliament on Thursday and asked for the Australian-manufactured four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Morrison told reporters the vehicles will be flown over on Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport planes, but he didn’t specify how many Bushmaster vehicles would be sent or when.
“We’re not just sending our prayers, we are sending our guns, we’re sending our munitions, we’re sending our humanitarian aid, we’re sending all of this, our body armor, all of these things and we’re going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters as well,” Morrison said.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he has stripped two generals of their military rank.
Zelenskyy said “something prevented them from determining where their homeland was” and they “violated their military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people.”
According to Zelenskyy, one of the generals had headed internal security at the SBU, the main intelligence agency.
He said the other general had been the SBU head in the Kherson region, the first major city to fall to the Russians.
Zelenskyy didn’t say anything about the fates of the two generals other than them being stripped of their rank.
LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government said Russian forces blocked 45 buses that had been sent to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol, and only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said late Thursday that 12 Ukrainian buses with humanitarian aid left Melitopol for Mariupol, but the Russian forces stopped the buses and seized the 14 tons of food and medicines.
According to Ukrainian officials, tens of thousands of people have made it out of Mariupol in recent weeks along humanitarian corridors, reducing the prewar population of 430,000 to about 100,000 by last week.
Vereshchuk said about 45,000 Mariupol residents have been forcefully deported to Russia and areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
The last Russian troops left the Chornobyl nuclear plant early Friday, according to the Ukrainian government agency responsible for the exclusion zone around the plant.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian troops who dug trenches in the forest were exposed to radiation, but that could not be confirmed.
The Ukrainian nuclear operator company Energoatom said Thursday that Russian troops were headed toward Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
Energoatom said that the Russian military was also preparing to leave Slavutych, a nearby city where power plant workers live.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after Russian troops withdrew from the north and centre of the country, the situation has been heating up in the southeast where Russian forces are building up for new powerful attacks.
In his nighttime video address to the nation Thursday, Zelenskyy said it was heartening for all Ukrainians to see Russian troops retreating from north of Kyiv, from around the northern town of Chernihiv and from Sumy in the northeast.
But he urged Ukrainians not to let up, saying the withdrawal was just a Russian tactic.
“We know their intentions. We know what they are planning and what they are doing,” Zelenskyy said. “We know that they are moving away from those areas where we hit them in order to focus on other, very important areas. There where it may be difficult for us.
“We all want to win,” Zelenskyy added. “But there will be battles ahead. We still have to go through a very difficult path ahead to get everything we are striving for.”
Zelenskyy said he spoke Thursday with European Council President Charles Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while his adviser spoke with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
“We need more support from our partners right now when Russian troops are concentrating additional forces in certain areas,” Zelenskyy said.
The top-ranking Ukrainian Catholic cleric in the United States warned Thursday that religious minorities in the Eastern European country stand to be “crushed” if Moscow gains control, as fighting raged on more than a month after the Russian invasion began.
Archbishop Borys Gudziak said groups at risk include Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox who have broken away from the patriarch of Moscow.
Gudziak also cited reports that Russian forces have damaged two Holocaust memorials and Moscow’s false portrayal of Ukraine as a “Nazi” state although Ukraine overwhelmingly elected a Jewish president in Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“What is at stake for the people of faith is their freedom to practice their faith,” Gudziak said during an online panel discussion on the war, hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.
Gudziak is head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and president of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. He also oversees external relations for the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says an initial half-dozen shipments of weapons and other security assistance have reached Ukraine as part of the US$800 million package of aid that U.S. President Joe Biden approved on March 16.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the shipments included Javelin anti-tank weapons, Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, body armor, medical supplies and other material. He said the 100 Switchblade armed drones that Biden approved as part of the package have not yet been delivered.
Kirby said the $800 million in assistance is likely to be fully delivered within about two weeks. It also includes Mi-17 helicopters, small arms, ammunition, vehicles, secure communications systems, and satellite imagery and analysis capability.
Separately, Kirby said U.S. troops are not training Ukrainian troops in Poland but are acting as liaisons with Ukrainian personnel who cross the border into Poland to take possession of U.S. security assistance. He noted that the standard U.S. military training mission that had existed in Ukraine for years was suspended shortly before Russia invaded.
DOHA, Qatar — A video showing the head of Ukrainian soccer wearing an armored vest on the streets of Kyiv brought the impact of Russia’s war into the FIFA Congress.
Andriy Pavelko used a recorded message to the gathering in Qatar on Thursday to talk about the deaths of footballers even as the sport “has taken a back seat in our country.”
The gathering in Doha featured delegates from Russia, including Alexey Sorokin, the chief executive of Russia’s 2018 World Cup organizing committee.
Russia won’t be in the draw for the World Cup on Friday after being disqualified from playing internationally by FIFA over the war. Ukraine can still qualify but its playoff semifinal against Scotland has been postponed until June with the hope the team will be in a position to return to the field by then.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s ombudsperson says that at least one person has been killed and four others have been wounded in the Russian shelling of a humanitarian convoy.
Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova said those who came under the shelling on Thursday were volunteers accompanying a convoy of buses sent to the northern city of Chernihiv to evacuate residents.
She said that the Russian forces besieging Chernihiv have made it impossible to evacuate civilians from the city that has been cut from food, water and other supplies.
The Russian shelling continued two days after Moscow announced it would scale back military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.
BERLIN — The International Atomic Energy Agency says it has been informed by Ukraine that the Russian forces which were in control of the Chornobyl nuclear plant have “in writing, transferred control” of the facility to Ukrainian personnel.
Ukraine said three convoys of Russian forces have already left the site toward Belarus, while the remaining troops were presumed to be preparing to leave, the agency said Thursday.
The IAEA added that it was in close consultations with Ukrainian authorities on sending a first assistance and support mission to Chornobyl in the next few days.
The agency said it has not been able to confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation while being inside the exclusion zone of the now-closed plant, but is seeking further information in order to provide an independent assessment of the situation.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his offer to host a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders during a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A statement from Erdogan’s office said the Turkish president also told Zelenskyy Thursday that a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators who met in Istanbul earlier this week had given “a meaningful impetus” to efforts to end the fighting.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s delegation laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of nations, including Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with a top Turkish Cypriot official that Erdogan also is expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said there’s “no clear evidence” that Vladimir Putin is scaling back military operations around Kyiv and suggested that the Russian president may have ordered some of his advisers fired or placed under house arrest.
Biden told reporters that “there’s some indication” that Putin has taken those steps against some of his advisers. He added, “But I don’t want to put too much stock in that at this time because we don’t have that much hard evidence.”
The White House on Wednesday released unclassified intelligence findings that Putin is being misinformed by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing.
The president made the comments after formally announcing that the U.S. would release 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve in hopes of easing surging gasoline prices.
Biden also reiterated that his administration remains skeptical that Russia will scale back operations around Kyiv as Moscow announced earlier this week.
Russian forces continued to shell Kyiv suburbs Thursday, two days after the Kremlin announced it would significantly scale back operations near both the capital and the northern city of Chernihiv.
UNITED NATIONS — The UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine says the United Nations and its partners have delivered supplies for thousands of people in the country’s northeast but have been unable to reach some encircled cities in the south.
Osnat Lubrani said Thursday that food rations from the humanitarian organization People in Need and the UN World Food Program will benefit nearly 6,000 people in Sumy and areas including Trostianets and Okhtyrka.
In addition, she said, basic household items including blankets and kettles from the UN refugee agency will support 1,500 people and sanitation kits will help 6,000 people with hygiene and drinking water.
Lubrani said medical supplies and trauma kits from the UN World Health Organization will treat 150 patients needing intensive care for serious injuries while other medical supplies will support 10,000 people for three months.
Shei said the UN-facilitated humanitarian notification system with Ukraine and Russia enabled safe passage for the convoy to Sumy on Thursday “but this is clearly not enough.” Efforts over the past month to reach Mauripol, Kherson and other encircled cities in the south have been unsuccessful because of safety concerns.
BERLIN — The UN nuclear watchdog says its director-general has arrived in Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad for talks with senior Russian officials.
The International Atomic Energy Agency didn’t specify in a tweet whom exactly Rafael Mariano Grossi will meet on Friday or give further details of his agenda.
He arrived in Kaliningrad Thursday following a visit to Ukraine, where he visited a nuclear power plant and conferred with the energy minister and other officials on efforts to ensure the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.
Ukraine has 15 active nuclear reactors at four plants — one of which, at Zaporizhzhia, is under the Russian military’s control.
GENEVA — A team with the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived in a Ukraine-held city where staff are preparing to take civilians out of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol.
Julien Lerisson, deputy director of operations for the ICRC, said Thursday that the team assembling in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, has medicines, food, water, hygiene items and other essentials.
He said the organization has high-level agreement for the mission but is focused on making sure “the order trickles down the chain of command,” allowing the team to enter and leave Mariupol safely.
The Russian military has said it committed to a ceasefire along the route from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian authorities have said 45 buses would be sent to collect citizens and provide resources to those who remain.
Lucile Marbeau, a staff member with the ICRC team hoping to enter Mariupol, said on Thursday: “We’re here because really, we hope to be able to facilitate safe passage for civilians desperately wanting to flee Mariupol.”
LONDON — Britain’s defence minister says Ukraine’s international allies have agreed to send more military equipment, including artillery ammunition and armored vehicles.
U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held a conference call Thursday with defence ministers from more than 35 countries, including the United States, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
Wallace said that as a result “there will be more lethal aid going into Ukraine.” He said that would include “more long-range artillery, ammunition predominantly,” to help counter Russia’s bombardment of Ukraine’s cities.
Wallace said Ukraine was “also looking for armoured vehicles of some types, not tanks necessarily, but certainly protective vehicles.”
He said allies were also “looking to see what more we can do” to help Ukraine defend its coastline.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has sanctioned an employee of a state-affiliated Russian defence firm that developed malicious software that was used to target the energy sector.
The Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh. He was one of four Russians charged in Justice Department indictments unsealed last week that alleged the hacking by Russia of critical infrastructure around the globe, including in the U.S. energy and aviation sectors.
Among the thousands of computers targeted in some 135 countries were of a Saudi petro-chemical plant where the hackers overrode safety controls.
That hack is singled out in a Treasury Department release announcing sanctions against Gladikh and several other employees of the research firm. In total, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced that it was designating 21 entities and 13 individuals, including in the aerospace, marine and electronics sectors.
LVIV, Ukraine — Russian troops were leaving the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and heading towards Ukraine’s border with Belarus, the Ukrainian nuclear operator company said Thursday.
The operator, Energoatom, said that the Russian military was also preparing to leave Slavutych, a nearby city where power plant workers live.
Energoatom also said reports were confirmed that the Russians dug trenches in the Red Forest, the 10-square-kilometre area surrounding the Chornobyl plant within the Exclusion Zone, and received “significant doses of radiation.”
The Russian troops “panicked at the first sign of illness,” which “showed up very quickly,” and began to prepare to leave, the operator said. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.
Energoatom said the Russians have signed a document confirming the handover of the Chornobyl plant and stating that the plant’s administration doesn’t have any complaints about the Russian troops who were “guarding” the facility.
LONDON — The head of Britain’s military says Russian President Vladimir Putin has “already lost” in Ukraine and is weaker than he was before the invasion.
Adm. Tony Radakin at a think-tank seminar Thursday in London said Moscow’s aim to “take the whole of Ukraine” fell apart. He added that the coming weeks “will continue to be very difficult” for Ukraine.
“But in many ways, Putin has already lost,” he said. “Far from being the far-sighted manipulator of events that he would have us believe, Putin has damaged himself through a series of catastrophic misjudgements.”
Radakin also said there was “disquiet” at all levels of Russia’s military about the campaign, from troops who were not told they were invading Ukraine up to senior commanders.
Western officials say Putin’s small inner circle is not giving him the true picture of the war, and his isolation may have contributed to miscalculating the strength of resistance Russian troops would meet.
BERLIN — The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed regret Thursday at Russia’s decision to veto the extension of its observer mission in Ukraine.
The OSCE’s special monitoring mission has been present in Ukraine since 2014, when fighting between Ukrainians and Russia-backed separatists broke out in the country’s eastern regions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who holds the OSCE rotating chair, said the observers had played a “crucial role by providing objective information on the security and humanitarian situation on the ground and relentlessly working to ease the effects of the conflict on the civilian population” in Ukraine for the past eight year.
The Vienna-based body’s secretary general, Helga Maria Schmid, expressed gratitude to the mission’s members, several of whom were wounded or killed over the years.
BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says Europe should impose additional sanctions on Russia to prevent what he described as a “barbaric” war in Ukraine.
Robert Habeck said he discussed what further measures could be taken with his French counterpart during a bilateral meeting in Berlin on Thursday.
“The last package (of sanctions) doesn’t need to be the final one, it should not be the final one,” he told reporters, adding that he and French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire had “identified additional points that could be included in a (sanctions) package.”
Habeck declined to elaborate on what those points might be.
Speaking ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on new rules requiring countries to pay for Russia’s natural gas sales in rubles, Habeck insisted that contracts would be adhered to. These stipulate payment in euros or dollars.
BERLIN — The Austrian and German leaders have underlined their rejection of a halt to Russian energy deliveries at this point.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer noted that several central and eastern European countries depend to one extent or another on Russian gas deliveries.
He and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz argued that existing sanctions already are having a significant effect and said they need time to switch to new providers and renewable energy sources.
Nehammer said that “sanctions only make sense ΓÇª when they hit those they are supposed to hit, and don’t weaken those who carry out sanctions.”ROME — A Kremlin decree says “unfriendly countries” can continue to pay for natural gas in foreign currency through a Russian bank that will convert the money into rubles.
The decree published Thursday by state media came a day after the leaders of Italy and Germany said they received assurances from President Vladimir Putin.
Putin talked tougher, saying Russia will start accepting ruble payments starting Friday for Western countries that imposed sanctions over its conflict with Ukraine. He said contracts will be stopped if buyers don’t sign up to the new conditions, including opening ruble accounts in Russian banks.
European leaders had rejected paying for deliveries in rubles, saying it would undermine sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.
The decree Putin signed and published by state news agency RIA Novosti says a designated bank will open two accounts for each buyer, one in foreign currency and one in rubles. The buyers will pay in foreign currency and authorize the bank to sell that currency for rubles, which are placed in the second account, where the gas is formally purchased.
ROME — Italy’s leader is urging Europe to “cultivate all available land” as a partial remedy to reductions in agricultural imports, especially of Russian grain, due to the war in Ukraine.
Premier Mario Draghi told reporters on Thursday that under existing agricultural practices in the European Union 10% of land is purposely left fallow, but that must now change as European countries search for ways to reduce dependency on farm imports.
It’s not clear whether Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, maize and sunflower oil, might be able to salvage any of this planting season.
Meanwhile, Draghi noted that Western Europe will be looking to food producers like Canada, the United States and Argentina to help make up the shortfall of imports from Ukraine and Russia.
STOCKHOLM — The deputy director of Sweden’s Military Intelligence and Security agency says Russia has made “a strategic miscalculation when invading Ukraine.”
Daniel Olsson said the invasion of Ukraine “has shown that the Russian leadership is ready to take great risks, larger than previously taken.”
The government agency’s analysis suggested a likely “a western containment of Russia,” including reducing trade in Russian energy.
MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says his country has so far received more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees and expects that figure to reach 70,000 “within days.”
Sanchez announced the latest refugee numbers Thursday during a visit to a refugee reception centre in the southeastern city of Alicante, one of four in Spain.
Also Thursday, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said Spain has sent 10 transport aircraft with weapons and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. She didn’t specify how many shipments of each type were sent, but at least two carried arms.
She also said during a visit to the Moron de la Frontera air base in southern Spain that eight Spanish F-18 fighter planes are going to Lithuania to take part in NATO patrols.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian emergency services say the death toll after a Russian missile strike Tuesday on the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 20.
The emergency services said rescuers had now found 19 bodies in the ruins since the strike devastated the government building Tuesday morning. One other person died in hospital.
The regional governor accused Russia of waiting until people arrived for work before striking the building.
Emergency services said they are still working at the scene.
HELSINKI — Greenpeace says its activists from the Nordic countries and Russia have blocked the transfer of Russian oil between two large tankers sailing in northern Denmark.
Greenpeace said swimmers and activists in kayaks and boats from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia placed themselves between two supertankers to block the transfer of 100,000 tonnes of Russian oil in waters in northern Denmark.
The environmental organization called for an embargo of Russian fuels to stop the funding of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. It said in a statement Thursday that “every time Russian oil or gas are purchased, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war chest grows, and so far at least 299 supertankers with fossil fuels have left Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine.”
Despite some countries declaring a ban on the arrival of Russian vessels to their ports, Russian coal, oil and gas is still arriving via ships registered in other countries, Greenpeace said.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says Europe is pushing for a cap on gas prices with Russia because its payments are financing the war in Ukraine.
Draghi told foreign reporters Thursday that the prices that Europe is paying are out of line with the global market.
“We, Germany and Italy, along with other countries that are importers of gas, coal, grains, corn … are financing the war. There is no doubt,” Draghi said. “For this reason, Italy along with other countries are pushing for a cap on the price of gas. There is no substantial reason that the price of gas is so high for Europeans.”
Draghi noted that Russia has no other market for its gas, giving Europe room to maneuver. Asked about the risk that Russia would simply respond by turning off the taps, Draghi said, “no there is no danger.”
BERLIN — The German government says its energy minister has received a Ukrainian delegation that includes the foreign ministry’s special envoy for sanctions policy.
The Economy Ministry gave no details on the substance of the meeting Thursday hosted by Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, who is Germany’s vice chancellor and also responsible for energy.
The Ukrainian delegation included the sanctions envoy, Oleksiy Makeev, and Wladimir Klitschko, the brother of Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. The Klitschko brothers, both former heavyweight boxing champions, are well-known in Germany.
They were joined by Ukrainian lawmaker Halyna Yanchenko.
The German government has resisted calls to halt Russian energy deliveries, though it is working to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels in the longer term.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says the Russian president told him during a 40-minute phone call Wednesday evening that European companies can continue to pay for existing energy contracts in euros and dollars.
Draghi also indicated that Russia’s desire for payments in rubles remained intact, but it may be the case that the currency conversion would take place in Russia. Draghi said he is referring the discussion to experts and that analysis was under way on whether “European companies can continue to pay as foreseen, if this means something for the ongoing sanctions.”
“It is absolutely not simple to change the currency of payments without violating the contracts,” he said.
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia does not appear to be scaling back its military operations in Ukraine but is instead redeploying forces to the eastern Donbas region.
Russia promised during talks in Istanbul on Tuesday that it would de-escalate operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the West were skeptical.
Stoltenberg told reporters Thursday that “Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions,” and must be judged on its actions alone, not the word of its leaders.
“According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region,” he said.
At the same time, he said pressure is being kept up on Kyiv and other cities and “we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering.”
The U.S. says Russia has begun to reposition less than 20% of its troops that had been arrayed around Kyiv. The Pentagon says that most moved north, although some crossed into Belarus where they could be resupplied and sent back into Ukraine.
The Kremlin has expressed “regret” and “concern” over U.S. officials’ reports that the Russian president is being misinformed by advisers about his military’s performance in Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon possess the real information about what is happening in the Kremlin.”
“They simply don’t understand what’s going on in the Kremlin, they don’t understand President Putin, they don’t understand the mechanism of decision-making, they don’t understand the way we work,” Peskov said.
“It is not just regrettable, it elicits concern, because this complete lack of understanding leads to erroneous decisions, tragic decisions that could have very bad consequences,” he added.
U.S. intelligence officials said Putin is being misinformed by advisers about his military’s poor performance in Ukraine, according to the White House. The advisers are scared to tell him the truth, the intel says.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Wednesday the U.S. believes Putin was being misled not only about his military’s performance but also “how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because, again, his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.”
LONDON — Britain has imposed sanctions on more than a dozen Russian media figures and organizations accused of spreading propaganda and disinformation about the war in Ukraine.
The latest group subjected to asset freezes and travel bans includes Rossiya television anchor Sergey Brilev, who previously lived in the U.K., Gazprom-Media chief executive Aleksandr Zharov and Alexey Nikolov, managing director of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT.
Sanctions have also been slapped on media organizations TV-Novosti, which owns RT, and Rossiya Segodnya, which controls the Sputnik news agency.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Thursday’s sanctions would hit “the shameless propagandists who push out Putin’s fake news and narratives.”
The U.K. also said it was sanctioning Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia’s National Defence Command and Control Centre, accusing him of orchestrating atrocities including the siege of Mariupol.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on the spring draft, with 134,500 new conscripts to be added to the Russian army amid the country’s war on Ukraine.
Both Putin and Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu have said that conscripts will not be taking part in the operation in Ukraine. Earlier this month, however, the Russian military admitted that a number of conscripts ended up in Ukraine and were even captured there.
The decree signed on Thursday outlines the draft which will kick off on April 1 and last through July 15.
BERLIN — The International Committee of the Red Cross says its teams are ready to facilitate the evacuation of civilians out of the besieged city of Mariupol.
The Red Cross said “for logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration.”
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine is sending out several dozen buses to collect civilians from Mariupol after Russia’s military said it committed to a localized ceasefire from the city to Ukraine-held Zaporizhzhia from Thursday morning.
“It’s desperately important that this operation takes place. The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it,” the Red Cross said.
AMSTERDAM — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has spoke by video link to the Dutch parliament.
Zelenskyy, who delivered his speech in Ukrainian, called on the Netherlands to be prepared to stop importing Russian energy, to halt trade with Russia and to provide more weapons.
He also addressed Prime Minister Mark Rutte, saying “Our EU membership depends on you.”
Rutte had told Zelenskyy at an EU summit earlier this month that Ukraine’s EU accession can’t be sped up. “There isn’t something like a fast track, a fast procedure,” Rutte said at the March 11 summit in Versailles.
BRUSSELS — European Union antitrust regulators have raided the offices of several companies in Germany involved in the supply, transmission and storage of natural gas amid concern over skyrocketing prices in Europe.
The European Commission, which polices EU competition policy, did not name the companies targeted in the March 29 “surprise inspections.” But anti-trust regulators have been probing the actions of Russian energy giant Gazprom, which has premises in Germany, in the European market. Gazprom could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Commission suspects that the companies “have violated EU competition rules that prohibit abuse of a dominant position” in the market. It says the inspections do not imply that those involved are guilty.
Russia is the biggest exporter of oil, natural gas and coal to the 27-nation EU. About 40% of the bloc’s gas imports come from Russia, much of it piped through Ukraine.
In January, the head of the International Energy Agency blamed Russia for Europe’s natural gas crisis, saying that high prices and low storage levels are largely due to Gazprom withholding supplies.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s top diplomat says Ankara is working to bring the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers together again for talks.
In an interview with Turkey’s A Haber channel, Mevlut Cavusoglu said the meeting could happen within two weeks.
His comments came days after Turkey hosted Ukrainian and Russian negotiators for face-to-face talks in Istanbul. Cavusoglu said decisions taken during the talks to reduce tensions had not fully been put into effect on the ground.
“We do not see these decisions being reflected on the field – for example, the removal of Russian soldiers from some areas,” he said.
Asked about the presence of sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in the negotiations, Cavusoglu said the businessman was engaged in “useful” efforts to end the fighting.
“Abramovich has been sincerely making efforts to end the fighting since the first day of the war,” he said.
During the talks in Istanbul Tuesday, Ukraine set out a detailed framework for a peace deal under which the country would remain neutral but its security would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A Red Cross warehouse in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has been struck amid intense Russian shelling of the area.
Satellite pictures from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press on Thursday show clear damage to the warehouse’s roof along the Kalmius River near its mouth on the Sea of Azov. A red cross had been painted on the top of the warehouse.
At least one hole from suspected shelling could be seen in an image taken March 21. Some four holes in the roof were clearly visible in images taken Wednesday. The red cross had been on the warehouse’s roof from at least late August 2021, according to satellite images.
The International Committee of the Red Cross distributed all the supplies from inside the warehouse earlier in March and no staff have been at the site since March 15, the aid group said in a statement.
The Special Forces Unit “Azov,” a Ukrainian National Guard unit fighting in Mariupol whose members include far-right activists, has accused Russian forces of firing on the building. Russia did not immediately acknowledge the allegation.
CANBERRA, Australia — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed directly to Australian lawmakers for more help in Ukraine’s war against Russia including armoured vehicles and tougher sanctions.
Zelenskyy has been tailoring his message to individual countries through video appeals like the one shown Thursday to legislators in the Australian Parliament. Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation at the start and end of his 16-minute address.
He called for Russian vessels to be banned from international ports. Zelenskyy specifically asked for Australian-manufactured Bushmaster four-wheel drive armored vehicles.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had earlier told Zelenskyy that Australia would provide additional military assistance including tactical decoys, unmanned aerial and unmanned ground systems, rations and medical supplies.
LONDON — Britain’s defence ministry says Russia continues to pound Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, despite Moscow’s claim to have scaled back its offensive around that city and Kyiv.
The Ministry of Defence says “significant Russian shelling and missile strikes have continued.”
It said Thursday that “Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units. Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days.”
The U.K. intelligence update also said heavy fighting continues in the southern port of Mariupol, which has been besieged by Russia for weeks, but that Ukrainian forces remain in control of the centre of the city.
Russia and Ukraine both say they are making efforts to help civilians evacuate westwards out of the besieged port city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian military said it committed to a local ceasefire along the route from Mariupol to the Ukraine-held city of Zaporizhzhia from Thursday morning.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday that Ukraine was sending 45 buses to collect people. She said the International Committee of the Red Cross was acting as an intermediary between the two sides.
Similar evacuation efforts have been planned before and collapsed amid recriminations over fighting along the route. Ukraine accused Russian forces last week of seizing bus drivers and rescue workers headed to Mariupol.
Civilians who have managed to leave the city for Ukraine-held territory have typically done so using private cars, but the number of drivable vehicles left in Mariupol has dwindled and fuel stocks are low.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has recalled Ukraine’s ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco, suggesting they hadn’t done enough to persuade those countries to support Ukraine and punish Russia for the invasion.
“With all due respect, if there won’t be weapons, won’t be sanctions, won’t be restrictions for Russian business, then please look for other work,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation Wednesday. “I am waiting for concrete results in the coming days from the work of our representatives in Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.”
Zelenskyy also said he was expecting results from Ukraine’s military attaches in embassies abroad.
He said “the diplomatic front is one of the key fronts” in Ukraine’s battle to win the war against Russia.
The talks between Ukraine and Russia will resume on Friday by video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia.
The delegations met in-person on Tuesday in Istanbul, after two weeks of meeting by video, and the faint outlines of a possible peace agreement seemed to emerge.
The Ukrainian delegation offered a framework under with the country would declare itself neutral — dropping its bid to join NATO, as Moscow has long demanded — in return for security guarantees from a group of other nations.
Russian diplomats responded positively to Ukraine’s proposal.
DUBLIN — An aircraft-leasing company has filed US$3.5 billion in insurance claims for planes and aircraft engines that are stranded in Russia because of sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
AerCap said it had leased 135 planes to Russian airlines and has repossessed 22 of them outside of Russia.
The Dublin-based company said AerCap says it’s unclear whether it will recover more, and Russian airlines continue to use its planes even though it terminated the leases and demanded that the planes be returned.
After sanctions prohibited U.S. and European companies from leasing, selling or servicing planes and aircraft parts to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law letting his country’s airlines re-register foreign planes and use them for domestic flights.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency visited a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Wednesday to meet Ukrainian officials and provide technical assistance.
Rafael Mariano Grossi said the IAEA is not involved in political talks with the Russians.
“We are trying to be very active in order to ensure that as soon as possible, the situation is regressed, and the facilities are back in the hands of the Ukrainians,” Grossi said.
Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four plants, one of which (Zaporizhzia) is under the Russian military’s control.
Ukraine also is home to the decommissioned Chornobyl plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear accident, with the Russian military seized early in the war. As of Tuesday, eight reactors were operating and the rest were shut down for regular maintenance.
— From video published by Energoatom Press Service in Media Port –Mykolaiv region, Ukraine
LONDON — A U.K. intelligence chief is warning that Russia is looking for cyber targets and bringing in mercenaries to shore up its stalled military campaign in Ukraine.
Jeremy Fleming, who heads the U.K.’s GCHQ electronic spy agency, said Russian President Vladimir Putin “massively misjudged” his chances for a swift military victory in Ukraine.
In a speech in Australia, Fleming praised Ukraine’s “information operation” for effectively countering Russia’s big disinformation campaign about the war.
While there were expectations that Russia would launch a major cyberattack as part of its military campaign, Fleming said such a move was never part of Moscow’s playbook.
But Fleming warns that Russia’s “cyber actors are looking for targets in the countries that oppose their actions.”
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