Russia Won’t Ask UN Council Vote on Its Ukraine Resolution
Russia announced it will not ask the U.N. Security Council to vote Friday on its draft resolution on humanitarian relief for Ukraine, which has been criticized for making no mention of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor.
It will instead use the scheduled council session to again raise allegations that the United States has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine, claims that Washington says are disinformation and part of a potential “false-flag operation” by Moscow.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, made the announcement at a Security Council meeting Thursday afternoon that was called by six Western countries, including the United States, to get an update on the three-week-old war.
He said Russia is not withdrawing the resolution but decided not to seek a vote at this time because of what he called “unprecedented pressure” from Western nations, especially the United States and Albania, on U.N. member states to oppose the measure.
Japan Slaps New Sanctions on Russian Defence Officials, Arms Exporter
Japan said on Friday it will impose sanctions against 15 Russian individuals and nine organisations, including defence officials and state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport.
The sanctions, which include asset freezing, are the latest in a series of measures by Japan following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Japan has now slapped sanctions on 76 individuals, seven banks, and 12 other organisations in Russia, according to the finance ministry.
The government on Friday designated Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and several military equipment makers including United Aircraft Corp, which manufactures fighter jets.
Russian Media: Detention of WNBA’s Griner Extended to May 19
Russian media reported that the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner was extended until May 19, a development that could see the two-time Olympic champion being held for at least three months before her case is resolved.
The case of the 31-year-old Griner, one of the most recognizable players in women’s basketball, comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the U.S. citizen Griner until May 19,” the court said, according to the state news agency Tass.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Biden Admin Lets Ukrainians Fleeing War Into US From Mexico
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that Customs and Border Protection agents along the U.S.–Mexico border have been instructed to allow Ukrainians to enter the country to seek asylum even as most people are turned back under a public health order instituted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. More than half have gone to Poland. Most of the rest are in the surrounding countries of Eastern Europe, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mayorkas told reporters Thursday that U.S. refugee officers have been sent to the region to work with the U.N. and determine whether some Ukrainians may seek to come to the United States through the refugee program. But he and other administration officials are not expecting many will want to come.
“The vast majority of Ukrainians are displaced in the countries in that region, with the hope, understandably, of being able to return to their country,” the secretary said.
Blinken Says War Crimes Committed in Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said he agrees with President Joe Biden that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine and U.S. experts were gathering evidence to prove it.
Biden told reporters a day earlier that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “war criminal” but the White House later said no formal determination had been made on potential violations of international law since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“Personally, I agree,” Blinken said in a news conference at the State Department.
“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime,” Blinken said, adding that he finds it “difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise” after the destruction over the past few weeks.
The Kremlin called Biden’s comment “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric.” Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor and has rejected claims of targeting civilians.
Blinken recounted recent incidents of Russia bombing hospitals, schools, and a theater where civilians were sheltering, and said they were part of “a long list of attacks on civilian, not military, locations across Ukraine.”
American Citizen Killed in Ukraine
A U.S. citizen was killed during the war in Ukraine, a top U.S. official confirmed on March 17.
“I can confirm that an American citizen was killed. I don’t have any more details for you than that,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters during a briefing in Washington.
A State Department spokesperson told news outlets: “We offer our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss. Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
Authorities in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine, said earlier Thursday on social media that a U.S. citizen was among the casualties from Russian artillery attacks “on unarmed civilians.”
No Such Thing as ‘No-Fly Zone Lite’: Department of Defense
The U.S. Department of Defense said Thursday that a NATO-enforced no-fly zone would do little to prevent some of Russia’s strikes inside Ukraine, coming after some members of Congress suggested the measure.
“The systems that are being used by the Russians to engage Ukrainian forces currently–they’re using a lot of rockets and missiles and artillery,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin told reporters. “There are a number of things that can be used to counter that.”
But Austin said Russian forces have been using cruise missiles that are being launched from within Russia’s borders.
“So a no-fly zone would not have prevented that activity,” Austin told reporters while speaking at a news conference with Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad in Bratislava, Slovakia.
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Macron: Ukraine War Will Lead to Deep Food Crisis
The war between Ukraine and Russia, two of the world’s top crop producers, will likely lead to a food crisis in the next 12-18 months in Africa and the Middle East, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.
Making France a more self-sufficient country will be a key objective, he said, with proposals ranging from “investing massively” toward France’s agricultural and industrial independence to pushing ahead with building more nuclear reactors and strengthening the army.
He said he wanted to build a “European metaverse” to compete with U.S. tech giants and make Europe more independent on that front too.
G-7 Decries Russia’s ‘Indiscriminate Attacks’
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading economies are calling on Russia to comply with the International Court of Justice’s order to stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw its military forces.
In a joint statement, the G-7′s top diplomats condemned what they described as “indiscriminate attacks on civilians” by Russian forces including the siege of Mariupol and other cities.
They accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of conducting an “unprovoked and shameful war” that has forced millions to flee their homes and resulted in the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, theatres, and schools.
The G-7 said that “those responsible for war crimes, including indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians, will be held responsible” and welcomed work to investigate and gather evidence in this regard, including by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
The group also said it stood ready to further increase the pressure of sanctions on Ukraine and provide further aid to those in need, including the small nation of Moldova. Moldova is offering shelter to the largest group of refugees from Ukraine per capita.
NATO Military Drills Starts Near Russia
The NATO exercise, Cold Response, includes about 30,000 troops from over 25 countries from Europe and North America in NATO-member Norway that shares a nearly 200-kilometer (124-mile) land border with Russia.
The drill was not linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but “takes place against a dark backdrop,” Bauer said. “It has been 22 days since Russia has again invaded Ukraine, and again, in breaking international law. Therefore, for us, it is even more important to prepare for the worst and expect the unexpected.”
Russia has declined to be an observer at the exercise that aims at having Alliance members and partners practicing working together on land, in the air, and at sea, said the armed forces.
The drill, which is held every two years, is due to end April 1.
US Earmarks $180 Million for Baltic NATO Allies
Estonia’s defense ministry says the United States has earmarked $180 million in military assistance to the Baltic NATO members of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania this year under a scheme entitled the Baltic Security Initiative.
The ministry said on Thursday that a budget package approved by the U.S. Congress represents an increase of more than $10 million from last year in security assistance to the three former Soviet republics which all border Russia and have assisted Ukraine with arms and material help after the start of Moscow’s invasion.
“The decision by Congress shows that the United States is committed to the defense of our region and clearly understands that the defense of their own country is connected with the Baltic countries,” Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet said.
Slovakia Discussing Transfer of Defense System
The defense minister of NATO member Slovakia says his country would be willing to provide S-300 long-range air defense missile systems to Ukraine under certain conditions.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Naj’ said at a news conference in Bratislava with visiting Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the matter is still under discussion.
The Soviet-era anti-air defense systems use long-range missiles that are capable of flying hundreds of miles and knocking down cruise missiles as well as warplanes. They could be valuable in thwarting Russian air attacks on Ukraine.
Naj’ said such a transfer would be possible if his country received a “proper replacement” for its S-300s or if Slovakia received a “capability guaranteed for a certain period of time.”
He stressed that he could not responsibly transfer the S-300s to Ukraine in a manner that left a gap in his country’s defenses. He said Slovakia is open to making an arrangement that preserved its defenses against air threats.
Austin declined to say whether the Pentagon was in a position to provide Slovakia with a replacement for its S-300s. “These are things that we will continue to work with all of our allies on, and certainly this is not just a U.S. issue, it’s a NATO issue.”
Putin Warns ‘Traitors’ in Speech, Calls for ‘Self-Purification’ in Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a “self-purification” to rid Russia of individuals who are working to undermine the country.
Russians, he said in a televised speech on Wednesday, “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” accusing the West of fostering a “fifth column” of Russians to create civil unrest.
“And there is only one goal, I have already spoken about it–the destruction of Russia,” he said, adding that he is “convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”
Putin further stipulated that he isn’t “judging those with villas in Miami or the French Riviera” or Russians “who cannot live without foie gras and mussels or so-called gender-based rights” as long as they stood “mentally” with Russia after the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
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Reports of Major Progress in Ukraine Talks ‘Wrong’
Although there were reports of progress being made during Ukraine–Russia ceasefire talks, a top Kremlin spokesman disputed that assertion as incorrect but said that discussions are still being held on Thursday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Financial Times that the Kyiv government is “in no rush” and dragging its feet. “On the whole,” reports about the progress being made “[are] wrong,” Peskov said. He also criticized President Joe Biden for recently calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” as “unforgivable.”
“No, the work continues [on the talks],” he also said, according to Russian state-backed media. He added Moscow will inform the public of any breakthrough in the negotiations.
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War Suspends Europe Rover Mission to Mars
Europe won’t be attempting to send its first rover to Mars this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The European Space Agency confirmed Thursday that it is indefinitely suspending its ExoMars rover mission with partner Roscosmos, Russia’s state space corporation. The ESA had previously said that the mission was “very unlikely” because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The rover’s primary mission was to determine whether Mars ever hosted life. The decision to suspend cooperation with Roscosmos was taken by ESA’s ruling council, at a meeting this week in Paris.
Because of their respective orbits around the Sun, Mars is readily reachable from Earth only every two years. The next launch window for Mars would be 2024. The mission has already been pushed back from 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for more tests on the spacecraft.
‘No Death Reports’ Yet From Mariupol Theater; Rescue Began
Ukraine’s ombudswoman Ludmyla Denisova says a theater in the besieged city of Mariupol has withstood the impact of an airstrike, and that the rescue of civilians from under the rubble of the destroyed building has begun.
“The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter,” she said on the messaging service Telegram on Thursday.
“Work is underway to unlock the basement” and surviving adults and children are coming out, she wrote. She said there is no information on casualties so far.
Zelensky Outlines Demands for Ukraine–Russia Negotiations
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an address on Thursday outlined the country’s key priorities for peace talks with Russia.
“Negotiations are ongoing. Negotiations for the sake of Ukraine,” said Zelensky.
“My priorities in the negotiations are absolutely clear: the end of the war, security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country, real protection for our country,” he said.
His remarks come after Mykhailo Podoliyak, adviser to Zelensky and one of Ukraine’s representatives at the Russia–Ukraine ceasefire negotiations, signaled that the two countries appear to have found some common ground amid talks.
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Kremlin Rejects the Ruling of the International Court of Justice
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Moscow rejects the ruling of the International Court of Justice that ordered Russia to halt its operation in Ukraine.
During his daily conference call with reporters, Peskov noted that both sides need to agree on implementing the ruling, and on Russia’s side “there can be no consent.”
Peskov also said that talks between Russia and Ukraine will continue on Thursday in some form. “I don’t know if they are already underway or not, but they should be today, in one direction or another,” Peskov said.
The Kremlin spokesman stressed that the Russian delegation is ready to work 24/7 and claimed that “unfortunately, we don’t see the same zeal on [the] Ukrainian side.”
‘No Death Reports’ Yet From Mariupol Theater
A Ukrainian lawmaker says there are reports of injuries but not deaths in a strike on a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians had been taking shelter.
Lesia Vasylenko said between 1,000 and 1,500 people were sheltering at the theater when it was hit by an airstrike, and called the attack the deliberate “destruction of a refuge.”
Kremlin Says Talks With Ukraine Continue, No Deal Yet
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia was putting colossal energy into talks on a possible peace deal with Ukraine that could swiftly stop the Russian military operation there.
“Our delegation is putting in colossal effort and demonstrates more readiness towards them than the other side,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Agreeing such a document, the observance of all its parameters and their implementation could very quickly stop what is happening.”
Asked about a Financial Times report that Ukraine and Russia had made significant progress on a tentative peace plan, Peskov said, “It is not right—there are elements there that are right but on the whole it is incorrect.”
The Kremlin, he said, would announce progress when there was progress to report. “Address all other questions to the Financial Times though,” Peskov quipped.
Peskov said President Joe Biden’s claim that President Vladimir Putin was a war criminal was unacceptable and that the United States had no right to lecture Russia after its involvement in so many conflicts.
Zelensky Says Germany Prioritized Economy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Germany of putting its economy before his country’s security in the run-up to the Russian invasion.
In an address to Germany’s parliament Thursday, Zelensky criticized the German government’s support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project meant to bring natural gas from Russia. Ukraine and others had opposed the project, warning that it endangered Ukrainian and European security.
Zelensky also noted Germany’s hesitancy when it came to imposing some of the toughest sanctions on Russia for fear it could hurt the German economy.
The Ukrainian president called on Germany not to let a new wall divide Europe, urging support for his country’s membership of NATO and the European Union.
Ukrainian Officials: Status of People Sheltering in a Theater in Mariupol Is Still Uncertain
Ukrainian officials say the status of people sheltering in a theater in Mariupol is still uncertain because the entrance was under the rubble caused by a Russian airstrike.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration, claimed on Telegram on Wednesday evening that “several hundred” residents of Mariupol were sheltering in the Drama Theater. He rejected claims by the Russian military that the Azov battalion was headquartered in the theater, stressing that “only civilians” were in it when it was struck earlier Wednesday.
At least as recently as Monday, the pavement outside the once-elegant theater was marked with huge white letters spelling out “CHILDREN” in Russian, according to images released by the Maxar space technology company.
About 300 Mariupol Refugees Arrive in Russia: Interfax
Thirteen buses carrying around 300 refugees from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol have arrived in Russia’s Rostov region, Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the Russian defense ministry as saying on Thursday.
Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday civilians waiting in line for bread and sheltering in a theater in Mariupol had been killed by Russian forces. Russia has denied attacking the theater.
Ukraine’s Military Says It Hit Kherson Airport
Ukrainian military forces have hit the airport in Kherson, which Russian troops had seized early in the war, the General Staff said late Wednesday. It said the Russians were trying to remove any surviving military equipment.
Ukraine’s military said it hit the airport on Tuesday. Satellite photos taken afterward by Planet Labs PBC and analyzed by The Associated Press show helicopters and vehicles on fire at the airbase.
Russia seized the southern port city without a fight in the first days of the war. Control over Kherson allows Russia to restore freshwater supplies to Crimea; Ukraine cut off the water after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.
The General Staff said Russia’s ground offensive on major Ukrainian cities has largely stalled.
Ukraine, Russia Continue Talks Over Video
Ukrainian and Russian delegations held talks again Wednesday by video.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said Ukraine demanded a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and legal security guarantees for Ukraine from a number of countries.
“This is possible only through direct dialogue” between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said on Twitter.
Zachary Stieber, Isabel van Brugen, Jack Phillips, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.