By The Associated Press
The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
ROME — European Union member Malta says it is suspending the processing of applications from Russian and Belarusian nationals for its so-called “golden passport” program in the wake of EU sanctions on Russia.
The much-criticized program, which grants citizenship or official residence in Malta, was begun as a lucrative source of income for the tiny island nation in 2014. A government statement on Wednesday also noted that nobody who gained citizenship that way has been found to be on the list of sanctioned individuals.
It said sanctions now make it impossible to perform due diligence on applicants from Russia and Belarus. Under the program, Maltese passports can be obtained with 600,000 euros ($660,000) and three years of residency or 750,000 euros and 12 months of residency, plus a 700,000-euro purchase of property. But investigative reporting in recent years found that the residency requirement wasn’t always fully enforced.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Israel’s president says his country is helping to push for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine and is offering its services to achieve that.
President Isaac Herzog said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart on Wednesday that Israel is also sending an “unprecedented amount” of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, totaling some 100 tons.
Herzog said the aid is a “moral obligation” and that his country is considering more ways to support the Ukrainian people.
He said a missile attack on the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv “epitomizes the huge pain and suffering of people there” and the “terrible tragedy that we’re seeing unfolding in front of our eyes.”
TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister says his country will accept refugees from Ukraine, as Russia invades its eastern European neighbor.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Wednesday that the offer includes Ukrainians who have fled to Poland.
“We plan to start first with those with family and friends in Japan, but we will not stop there and will respond from a humanitarian viewpoint,” Kishida told reporters.
The Japanese offer is unusual, though Japan has accepted refugees before, from various nations, albeit in very small numbers.
Japan has often been criticized for providing a relatively narrow door for migrants wanting to get in. Those policies have become even tighter due to the coronavirus pandemic.
LONDON — Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has received a standing ovation from British lawmakers in the House of Commons.
Legislators from all parties rose to applaud when Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle announced that Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko was in the public gallery for the weekly Prime Minister’s questions session.
Hoyle said applause was usually banned in the chamber, but “the House quite rightly wants to demonstrate our respect and support for your country and its people in the most difficult of times.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “underestimated the extraordinary fortitude of the Ukrainian people and the unity and resolve of the free world in standing up to his barbarism.”
LONDON — European plane maker Airbus says it has stopped providing support services to Russian airlines and supplying spare parts to the country.
The company said in a statement that the suspension was “in line with international sanctions now in place.”
U.S. rival Boeing has also said it’s putting its operations in Moscow on hold, temporarily shutting its Kyiv office and suspending parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian carriers.
Airbus and Boeing jets account for the vast majority or Russia’s passenger aircraft fleet.
GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says more than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week and the figure is “rising exponentially,” putting it on track to cross the 1 million mark possibly within hours.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that people are continuing to stream into Ukraine’s neighboring countries to the west, with more than 200,000 fleeing since Tuesday.
A day earlier, Mantoo had cautioned that the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of the “biggest refugee crisis this century” — eclipsing the one from Syria’s war over the last decade.
She noted that UNHCR had previously projected that as many as 4 million people might flee Ukraine, but noted that the agency will be re-evaluating its forecast.
The latest figures show that more than half — or nearly 454,000 — have gone to Poland, more than 116,300 to Hungary and over 79,300 to Moldova. Another 69,000 have gone to other European countries and 67,000 have fled to Slovakia.
Mantoo noted that the figure of 874,000 was an increase from more than 660,000 only a day earlier — and some 116,000 on Saturday, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
BRUSSELS — The European Union has banned seven Russian banks from the SWIFT global system that underpins cross-border payments.
But it spared two financial institutions in Russia because they are key to transactions for EU energy imports.
The EU left out Gazprombank and Sberbank from its move Wednesday to disconnect parts of the Russian financial industry from the SWIFT secure messaging network.
The exemption of those two banks underscores the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy and the two financial institutions’ central role in managing payments for that business.
The seven banks targeted by the latest EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine are: Bank Otkritie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, Rossiya Bank, Sovcombank, VEB and VTB.
Gazprombank and Sberbank are, however, subject to other sets of EU financial sanctions against Russia that began in 2014 when the Kremlin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
MOSCOW — Russian and Ukrainian officials say they are standing by to resume talks about their war, though the time and place for negotiations was unknown and hopes for a breakthrough remain low.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that “in the second half of the day, closer to evening, our delegation will be in place to await Ukrainian negotiators.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukrainian officials are ready for new talks but said the venue is undecided and Kyiv won’t accept any Russian ultimatums.
Kuleba said: “Russia’s demands remain the same as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin announced in his address before the war started.”
Peskov said Putin’s culture adviser Vladimir Medinsky remains the main negotiator for Russia.
The first round of talks on resolving the Russia-Ukraine war were held near the Belarus-Ukraine border last Sunday.
VIENNA — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog is warning about the dangers of a war around nuclear power plants, as Russia invades Ukraine.
Rafael Grossi told a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors on Wednesday that he is “gravely concerned” by the situation.
He said it’s “the first time a military conflict is happening amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program.” That includes the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
Grossi added, according to a text of his comments provided by the IAEA: “It is also imperative to ensure that the brave people who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine can continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure.”
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s prime minister says his country has been hit by a wave of refugees from Ukraine after their country was invaded by Russian troops.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala told the lower house of parliament on Wednesday that some 20,000 refugees arrived from Ukraine in last few days. The Czech Republic doesn’t have a border with Ukraine and most refugees are coming though neighboring Slovakia and Poland.
He said his government is working on legislation that would give the refugees access to the labor market without a work permit.
He said Czechs have been creating assistance centers in every of the country’s 14 regions for the refugees, making it easier for them to get registered, receive medical treatment or receive information about job openings.
Some 200,000 Ukrainians were working in the Czech Republic before the invasion.
Fiala said his government has sent to Ukraine arms worth almost $30 million and will continue to do so.
BEIJING — China’s bank regulator says Beijing won’t join the United States and European governments in imposing financial sanctions on Russia.
China is a major buyer of Russian oil and gas and is the only major government that has refrained from criticizing Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.
Beijing disapproves of the sanctions, which it believes lack a legal basis and “will not have a good effect,” said Guo Shuqing, the chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.
“We will not join such sanctions, and we will keep normal economic, trade and financial exchanges with all the relevant parties,” Guo said at a news conference. “We disapprove of the financial sanctions.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Ukrainian embassy in the United Arab Emirates says the Gulf country is re-imposing visa requirements on Ukrainians, in an effort to stop anyone fleeing the war against Russia heading there.
The embassy posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that the suspension went into effect March 1. Any Ukrainian passport holders wanting to visit the United Arab Emirates will now need a visa first.
The energy-rich UAE, which relies on Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports, is home to some 15,000 Ukrainian residents among its roughly 8 million foreign residents and 1 million Emirati citizens. Before the coronavirus pandemic, around a quarter-million Ukrainian tourists visited the UAE.
The UAE, like other Gulf Arab states, does not recognize individuals fleeing war and has not permitted refugees from Syria, Iraq and other wars to seek asylum or seek resettlement.
The UAE, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote late last week condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is thanking Poland for opening its borders and homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.
Francis gave a special shout-out to Poland during his Wednesday general audience. The weekly appointment coincided with Ash Wednesday, which Francis has designated as a day for fasting and prayers for peace in Ukraine.
Speaking to Polish pilgrims, Francis said he was “profoundly grateful” for Poland’s gestures of solidarity.
“You are the first ones who have supported Ukraine opening your borders, your hearts, the doors of your homes to the Ukrainians who are escaping the war,” Francis said. “You are generously offering everything necessary so that they can live in a dignified way despite the dramatic moment.”
VIENNA — Russia claims its military has taken control of the area around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.
That’s according to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
It said Wednesday it had received a letter from Russia saying personnel at the Zaporizhzhia plant continued their “work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation.”
The letter added: “The radiation levels remain normal.”
Zaporizhzhia is the largest of Ukraine’s nuclear sites, with six out of the country’s 15 reactors.
Already, Russia has seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
The IAEA says that it has received a request from Ukraine to “provide immediate assistance in coordinating activities in relation to the safety” of Chernobyl and other sites.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says Russia has withdrawn a request to send four warships to the Black Sea through the Turkish straits.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that Moscow had agreed to a “friendly request” by Turkey, a NATO member.
Turkey — which has been trying to balance its close relations with both Ukraine and Russia — announced this week that it will implement an international convention that allows it to shut down the straits to warships belong to warring countries.
The convention provides an exception for warships returning to Black Sea ports they are registered with.
Cavusoglu said three of the Russian ships were not registered with Black Sea naval bases.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norsk Hydro, one of the largest aluminum companies worldwide, says it won’t sign new contracts linked to Russian producers until further notice.
The company with operations in more than 40 countries said in a statement Wednesday that it has no “business-critical supplies” from Russia or Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is appealing to Jews around the world to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in which significant Jewish sites have been hit.
Zelenskyy made the appeal on Wednesday, a day after a Russian missile strike damaged the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial on the outskirts of Kyiv, where Nazi occupiers killed more than 33,000 Jews over two days in 1941.
Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, said: “I appeal now to all the Jews of the world — don’t you see what is happening? Therefore, it is very important that millions of Jews around the world do not remain silent now.”
Earlier, shelling hit the town of Uman, a significant pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews.
MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is reversing course, saying his government will also provide offensive military equipment directly to Ukraine.
Those supplies will be in addition to what Spain is already sending through the European Union.
Sánchez told parliament Wednesday he is changing Spanish policy because other parties were demanding it and because he wanted political unity around the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, it sent 20 tons of protective military gear and aid to Kyiv.
BEIJING — China says one of its citizens was shot and injured while evacuating from Ukraine.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the incident occurred on Tuesday while the person was leaving on their own.
Wang told reporters at a daily briefing that the injured person is out of danger. Details surrounding the shooting are unclear.
Beijing has refused to criticize the Russian assault or even describe it as an invasion or war, arguing that NATO and the West had failed to properly address Russia’s “legitimate security concerns.”
In a phone call Monday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Ukraine to fulfill its “international responsibility” in ensuring the safety of Chinese nationals.
KYIV, Ukraine — Videos circulated online of an apparent attack on the regional police and intelligence headquarters in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. It shows a building with its roof blown off and its top floor on fire.
Pieces of the five-story building are strewn across adjacent streets.
The Ukrainian government’s center for strategic communications released images Wednesday of strikes hitting Kharkiv, with balls of fire lighting up the city skyline over populated areas.
Kharkiv resident Marina Boreiko described strikes hitting a neighboring building Tuesday, and her shock at seeing bodies lying in the rubble.
“Today I survived a bombing,” she told The Associated Press, repeatedly choking back tears.
As dust rose up, she said, “the first thing I heard was children crying. Our neighbors have three children and the only thing I was thinking about in that moment was, ‘God not them, please, only not them.’”
BRUSSELS — The European Union is stepping up aid for Ukraine and is moving toward granting temporary protection to those fleeing Russia’s invasion.
The EU Commission announced Wednesday it will give temporary residence permits to the refugees and allow them rights to education and work in the 27-nation bloc.
The move still has to be approved by the member states, but they already expressed broad support over the weekend.
EU Commission President Urusla von der Leyen says “all those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe. We will provide protection to those seeking shelter and we will help those looking for a safe way home.”
On Tuesday, she already committed at least half a billion euros of the bloc’s budget to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed concern that Russian attacks could threaten holy religious sites and said Russian troops are trying to “erase our history.”
In a speech posted on Facebook, Zelenskyy on Wednesday denounced a Russian strike that hit Holocaust memorial site Babi Yar in Kyiv.
He said: “This is beyond humanity. Such missile strike means that for many Russians our Kyiv is absolute foreign. They know nothing about our capital, about our history. They have orders to erase our history, our country and all of us.”
“What will be next if even Babi Yar (is hit), what other ‘military’ objects, ‘NATO bases’ are threatening Russia? St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Lavra, Andrew’s Church?” he asked, referring to sites in Kyiv held sacred by Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox believers around the world.
Zelenskyy also claimed almost 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the invasion began last Thursday. Russia has not released overall casualty numbers and the figure could not be confirmed.
LONDON — Britain’s defense secretary has pushed back against calls for NATO to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine, saying aircraft from both sides would be grounded and that could help Russia’s land forces.
Ben Wallace’s comments came a day after a Ukrainian journalist confronted Prime Minister Boris Johnson with questions about why NATO had failing to enforce a no-fly zone while civilians were being attacked from the air.
Wallace told Sky News: “You can still have fighting with a no-fly zone, it just won’t be in the air.”
He said that would allow Russian armored columns to drive around with impunity and not be struck from the air, where currently Ukrainian aircraft and unmanned air vehicles are causing damage on key parts of their logistical chain.
As Wallace was speaking Wednesday, the U.K. Defense Department released its latest intelligence assessment, saying that Russia continued heavy artillery and airstrikes on the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv in the last 24 hours.
It said Russian forces have reportedly moved into the center of the southern city of Kherson, but overall gains throughout the country have been limited. It said this is probably due to a combination of ongoing logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.
Wallace also reiterated British opposition to imposing a no-fly zone, saying that it would force NATO pilots to shoot down Russian aircraft, which could spark a wider European war.
MOSCOW — Leading Russian bank Sberbank announced Wednesday it is pulling out of European markets amid tightening Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The bank said its subsidiaries in Europe were facing an “abnormal outflow of funds and a threat to the safety of employees and branches,” according to Russian news agencies. They did not provide details of the threats.
Authorities in Austria and Czech Republic had taken actions in recent days against Sberbank’s activities in Europe.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is working on a “focused tactical strategy” to make certain that cryptocurrency doesn’t become a mechanism that Moscow is able to utilize to avert sanctions, according to a senior administration official.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced move, did not detail an exact timeline for when the new steps on cryptocurrency would be unveiled, but said the area is one of several spaces that the Biden administration officials are looking to shore up as it looks to make certain that sanctions on Russia have maximum impact.
The official said past experiences in Iran and Venezuela with sanctions evasion are informing the administration’s efforts. Additional export controls and new sanction targets are also expected to be unveiled in the days and weeks ahead to counter Russian sanction evasion efforts, the official said.
Officials have already been on the lookout for the use and creation of front companies and alternative financial institutions that Moscow might try to employ to get around sanctions.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden said in his first State of the Union address that the United States is closing its airspace to all Russian flights in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He said the U.S. is working to seize yachts and apartments of Russian oligarchs.
Biden devoted the first 12 minutes of his address to Ukraine. Lawmakers of both parties repeatedly rose to their feet and applauded as he praised the bravery of Ukraine’s people and condemned Russia’s assault.
He warned of costs to the American economy, as well, but said that without consequences, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression wouldn’t be contained to Ukraine.
Biden declared that he and all members of Congress, whatever political differences there may be, were joined “with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Defense Ministry says it has evidence that Belarus, a Russian ally, is preparing to send troops into Ukraine.
The ministry statement, posted on Facebook at midnight, said the Belarussian troops have been brought into combat readiness and are concentrated close to Ukraine’s northern border.
“During the past 24 hours, according to intelligence findings, there has been significant aircraft activity. In addition, there has been movement of a column of vehicles with food and ammunition” approaching the border,” the statement said.
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