By The Associated Press
The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has established a channel of direct communication with the Russian ministry of defense to avoid unintended conflict related to the war in Ukraine.
A U.S. defense official said the “de-confliction line” was established March 1 “for the purpose of preventing miscalculation, military incidents, and escalation.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the communication line has not been announced.
Associated Press Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
UNITED NATIONS — More than 4 million refugees may end up fleeing Ukraine due to Russia’s ongoing invasion, the United Nations said.
On Wednesday, the United Nations said that 1 million people have already fled since Russia began invading last week, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.
The United Nations says that “while the scale and scope of displacement is not yet clear, we do expect that more than 10 million people may flee their homes if violence continues, including 4 million people who may cross borders to neighboring countries,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday.
Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, remains the country with the largest refugee outflows — nearly 5.7 million people, according to UNHCR’s figures. But even at the swiftest rate of flight out of that country, in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave Syria.
BERLIN — The United Nations’ atomic watchdog says Ukraine has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that staff who have been kept at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant since Russian troops took control of the site a week ago are facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion.”
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Thursday that the staff must be allowed to rest and rotate so their crucial work can be carried out safely and securely.
Grossi received “a joint appeal from the Ukraine Government, regulatory authority and the national operator which added that personnel at the Chornobyl site ‘have limited opportunities to communicate, move and carry out full-fledged maintenance and repair work,’” the IAEA said in a statement.
Reactor No. 4 at the power plant exploded and caught fire in 1986, shattering the building and spewing radioactive material high into the sky. Even 36 years later, radioactivity is still leaking from history’s worst nuclear disaster.
Ukraine has lost regulatory control over all the facilities in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to the Russians and asked the IAEA to undertake measures “in order to reestablish legal regulation of safety of nuclear facilities and installations” within the site, the statement added.
Grossi has repeatedly stressed that any military or other action that could threaten the safety or security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants must be avoided.
“I remain gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, especially about the country’s nuclear power plants, which must be able to continue operating without any safety or security threats,” he said. “Any accident caused as a result of the military conflict could have extremely serious consequences for people and the environment, in Ukraine and beyond.”
CHERNIHIV, Ukraine — Video taken in the aftermath of shelling in the city of Chernihiv shows firefighters standing in rubble dousing flames with hoses as rescue crews carried at least one person on a stretcher and another helper assisted a person down a ladder.
Smoke spewed from a high-rise building just behind what appeared to be a children’s swing set, according to video released Thursday by the Ukrainian government.
Ukraine’s state emergencies agency says at least 33 civilians were killed and another 18 wounded in a Russian strike Thursday on a residential area in Chernihiv, a city of 280,000 in Ukraine’s north.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday announced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs and others in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle as Russian forces continue to pummel Ukraine.
Those targeted by the new sanctions include Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals and a close ally of Putin. The U.S. State Department also announced it was imposing visa bans on 19 Russian oligarchs and dozens of their family members and close associates.
“These individuals and their family members will be cut off from the U.S. financial system; their assets in the United States will be frozen and their property will be blocked from use,” the White House said in a statement announcing the new penalties.
The White House described Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, as a “top purveyor of Putin’s propaganda.”
The property of Usmanov and the others will be blocked from use in the U.S. and by Americans. His assets include his superyacht, one of the world’s largest. Usmanov’s private jet, one of Russia’s largest privately owned aircraft, is also covered by the sanctions.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic won’t punish those Czech nationals who decide to join international brigades to help Ukraine fight the invading Russian army.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Thursday he and President Milos Zeman have agreed on the plan.
To serve in a foreign army is punishable by a prison term in the Czech Republic, but Fiala said that such a person would be pardoned by the president, with him co-signing it.
Several hundred Czechs have asked the presidential office and the Defense Ministry for approval to serve in foreign armed forces following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call for international brigades of volunteers.
JUNEAU, Alaska — In a ceremonial vote, the Alaska House of Representatives has approved a measure calling on the United States to supply military aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
The so-called “sense of the House” vote lacks binding authority. However, some lawmakers say it effectively foreshadows more substantial action, including divesting the state of Alaska’s investments in Russian companies.
The measure approved Wednesday also calls on the U.S. to support Ukraine’s membership application to the European Union and to promote energy independence from Russian sources, globally and domestically.
The lone dissenting vote came from state Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican who declined to answer why he voted that way when asked by the Anchorage Daily News.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he has again asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to halt attacks on Ukraine, but that Putin won’t do it.
“At this point, he refuses,” Macron wrote in Twitter post.
He confirmed that he had spoken to Putin on the phone earlier on Thursday and said he will continue the dialogue to prevent “more human tragedy.”
“We must prevent the worst from happening,” Macron also said in his post. Dialogue has to continue to “protect the (civilian) population, to obtain good will gestures … to put an end to this war,” Macron said.
BREST, Belarus — A Ukrainian official who attended talks with Russians on Thursday said that “regrettably, we haven’t reached results we were hoping for,” but emphasized the importance of humanitarian corridors, saying that many cities have been besieged by the Russian troops and are experiencing a dramatic shortage of food and medicines.
The establishment of safe corridors was the Ukrainians’ main demand heading into their second round of negotiations in Belarus, in the Brest region that borders Poland.
Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhialo Podolyak said that Russia and Ukraine will quickly set the necessary channels of communications and logistics to organize those safe corridors.
Podolyak added that a third round of talks will be held shortly.
CHERNIHIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s state emergencies agency now says at least 33 civilians have been killed and another 18 wounded in a Russian strike on a residential area in Chernihiv, a city of 280,000 in Ukraine’s north.
The agency said Thursday night that it was forced to suspend the search for more casualties in the rubble because of new shelling.
Earlier Thursday, the agency had said at least 22 civilians had been killed, and had warned that the death toll could rise.
LONDON — Britain has slapped sanctions on two more Russians it says are linked to the Kremlin, cutting them off from properties and interests in the U.K.
The government says Alisher Usmanov and Igor Shuvalov face immediate asset freezes and travel bans.
The U.K. says the two men are worth a combined $19 billion.
Mining and telecoms tycoon Usmanov, who has held major stakes in Premier League soccer teams Arsenal and Everton, owns two English mansions and other assets. Britain called Shuvalov, a former Russian government chief of staff who headed up Russia’s bid for the 2018 Football World Cup, a core member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The announcement comes as the government is under pressure to hit the assets of more Russians in the U.K., which has long been a favored haven for Russian wealth. The U.K. has imposed sanctions on fewer wealthy Russians than the European Union or the U.S.
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say Russia has fired 480 missiles at Ukraine as Russian troops make more progress in the south, but are largely stalled in the north.
The official says about 90% of the Russian combat power that had been arrayed around Ukraine is now in the country.
Specifically, the official said that the majority of the Russian missile launches since the war began – or more than 230 of them – are coming from mobile systems within Ukraine. More than 150 missiles have been fired from within Russia, more than 70 from Belarus and only a very small number from ships in the Black Sea. Ukrainian air defenses are still intact and have been effective against the missiles, the official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russian progress in the south has been aided by the country’s eight-year presence in Crimea, where Russia has built infrastructure and systems to sustain troops. As a result, the supply lines to troops in the south are much shorter and more effective.
The official said the U.S. has not seen any Russian naval activity or other appreciable moves by Russia to move on Odesa. He said he is not challenging Ukrainian reports of activity there, but that the U.S. can’t independently confirm them. He added, however, that the U.S. believes that Russia’s goal may be to move past Kherson to Mykolayiv in order to set up a base of operations there that they can then use in a move to encircle and take Odesa.
The U.S. also assesses that Russian forces are just outside the city of Kharkiv, close to the ring road, the official said.
Associated Press Writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — The leaders of the Quad held virtual talks Thursday to discuss the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine as Russian forces continue their offensive.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed the Indo-Pacific group would create a channel for communication as each country responds to the war in Ukraine, according to a joint statement released after the meeting.
Biden has sought to strengthen the Quad since the beginning of his presidency in last year, viewing the relationship as an increasingly vital one as he looks to counter the growing economic and military strength of China in the Pacific.
But on the Ukraine crisis, there has been some differences with India, which has been reluctant to criticize Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Last week, India chose to abstain from voting on a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Russia cease its invasion of Ukraine
India is reliant on its Cold War ally Russia for energy, weapons and support in conflicts with neighbors.
During Thursday’s meeting between leaders, Modi emphasized the need to return to a “path of dialogue and diplomacy,” according to a statement issued by India’s External Affairs Ministry.
BOSTON — The CEO of a top cryptocurrency transaction-tracking firm said Thursday that it was not yet seeing any large-scale evasion of Western sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals using the virtual currencies. U.S. officials have said they are looking at the sector for possible bans as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The size of the crypto economy is still relatively small to be a viable substitute for access to the global financial system and to the U.S. dollar,” said Esteban Castaño, CEO of San Francisco-based TRM Labs. He said that in monitoring crypto flows his firm has seen some but not very significant spikes in crypto trading on “certain exchanges” he did not name.
Castaño said he could not comment on whether any of them would be sanctioned or when sanctions might occur. TRM Labs monitors more than 300 Russia-based crypto exchanges and brokers, some of which could be targets of sanctions.
In September, the U.S. Treasury department banned transactions with the Russian virtual currency broker SUEX OTC over its handling of transactions of ransomware and other cybercriminals. SUEX was what is known as a “parasite exchange.” Such brokerages are difficult to detect by legitimate exchanges, where they open accounts with fraudulent credentials to meet know-thy-customers requirements.
MOSCOW — Russian negotiators in talks with Ukraine say another round of talks will likely be held shortly.
Vladimir Medinsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adviser who led the Russian delegation in the talks Thursday in Belarus near the Polish border, said the parties’ “positions are absolutely clear, they are written down point by point,” including issues related to a political settlement of the conflict. He added without elaboration that “mutual understanding was found on part of them.”
He confirmed that Russia and Ukraine reached a tentative agreement to create safe corridors for civilians to exit besieged cities and observe local cease-fires in areas where they will be created.
Leonid Slutsky, a senior Russian lawmaker who was part of the Russian delegation in talks, said that the details of safe corridors will need to be worked out quickly. He said that the next round of talks could lead to agreements, some of which would need to be ratified by Russian and Ukrainian parliaments.
KYIV, Ukraine — A member of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia says the parties have reached a tentative agreement to organize safe corridors for civilians to evacuate and for humanitarian supplies to be delivered.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who took part in Thursday’s talks in Belarus near the Polish border, said that Russia and Ukraine reached a preliminary understanding that cease-fires will be observed in areas where the safe corridors are established.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Russian military has offered safe corridors to civilians to allow them to leave areas of fighting in Ukraine.
Putin, speaking in a video call with members of his Security Council, has charged that Ukrainian nationalist groups are preventing civilians from leaving.
The Russian leader said the groups were also using civilians as shields, taking up firing positions to provoke the Russian retaliatory fire. Putin’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.
The Russian military says it has only struck military facilities and haven’t targeted residential areas, a claim that has been contradicted by the abundant evidence of massive casualties and damage to residential areas of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and other cities in Ukraine documented by The Associated Press.
Putin reaffirmed his claim that the Russian military was fighting “neo-Nazis,” adding that some Ukrainians were also “fooled by nationalist propaganda.”
He hailed the Russian military as heroes and ordered additional payments to families of the soldiers who were killed and servicemen who were wounded in action.
BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel — The chief rabbi of Kyiv, Ukraine, says the Russian invasion has produced “a catastrophe,” and that most Jews have fled.
Jonathan Markovitch spoke as he arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport Thursday. He said the scene on the ground in Ukraine is “a catastrophe.
Planes are bombing places right next to residential buildings,” as well as a train station “maybe 100 meters from where my son lives and 50 meters from the synagogue.”
Most Jews, he said, have left the country. As he spoke, a group of about 150 young men and women held banners and sang as part of a welcome ceremony for new immigrants arriving from Ukraine.
Israel is expecting a wave of perhaps thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the invasion. So far this month, they’ve received a little over 500 people, the government says.
TORONTO — Canada is calling for Russia’s membership in Interpol to be suspended.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says international law enforcement cooperation depends on mutual respect among members. Britain is also seeking to suspend Russia from the international policing body.
Defense Minister Anita Anand also says Canada is sending more weapons to Ukraine. Anand says Canada is sending 4,500 rocket launchers and 7,500 grenades.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to sit down for talks while urging the West to offer a stronger military assistance to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion.
In a sarcastic reference to a long table Putin used for his recent meetings with foreign leaders and Russian officials, Zelenskyy said: “Sit down with me to negotiate, just not at 30 meters,” adding, “I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?”
During Thursday’s news conference, Zelenskyy said that prospects for another round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiations don’t seem promising, but emphasized the need to negotiate, adding that “any words are more important than shots.”
He said the world was too slow to offer support for Ukraine and prodded Western leaders to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine to deny access to the Russian warplanes. The U.S. and NATO allies have ruled out the move that would directly pit Russian and Western militaries.
Zelenskyy charged that if the West remains reluctant to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine, it should at least provide Kyiv with warplanes.
MOSCOW — Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, the commanding general of the Russian 7th Airborne Division, was killed in fighting in Ukraine earlier this week.
His death was confirmed by a local officers’ organization in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia. The circumstances of his death were not immediately clear.
Sukhovetsky, who was 47, began his military service as a platoon commander after graduating from a military academy and steadily rose through the ranks to take a series of leadership positions. He took part in Russia’s military campaign in Syria.
He was also a deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army.
A funeral ceremony will be held in Novorossiisk, but further details weren’t immediately announced
KHERSON, Ukraine — Zainish Hussain, a Pakistani citizen who moved to Kherson after marrying a Ukrainian woman, spoke to The Associated Press from his home, showing a nearly empty street outside.
For the past week they have struggled to hide the war from their 3-year-old daughter, trying to have her watch cartoons with headphones on to keep out the sounds of bombs or gunfire, but on Wednesday it became harder.
During what he described as the “scariest day of this life,” Hussain said that Russian tanks rolled down the street in front of his home and soldiers fired into the air to get civilians off the street. The city now has a curfew from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m.
Hussain said he is getting help from his family with cryptocurrency and hopes to hire a driver to escape to Romania.
BRUSSELS — With close to a million of refugees fleeing Ukraine already in the eastern nations of the European Union, the EU member states decided Thursday to grant them temporary protection and residency permits.
EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Thursday that millions more were expected to move into the 27-nation bloc to seek shelter, employment and education for the young.
Johansson called the quick adoption of the protection rules a “historic result” and said “the EU stands united to save lives.”
The EU Commission has already promised at least 500 million euros ($560 million) in humanitarian aid for the refugees. Johansson pointed to nations like Poland, where the population has gone out of its way to be welcoming to the refugees, as an example for others to follow.
“They need financial support now because they’re going to have to find accommodation for people to have to find schools for the children,” she said.
GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says its latest count of casualties in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week has risen to 249 civilians killed and 553 injured.
That was only a small increase from its previous tally a day earlier, when it counted 227 civilian deaths and 525 people injured, likely a testament to the difficulty it has had in confirming deaths amid the continued fighting and bloodshed. Seventeen of those killed were children, and 27 were women, the latest count found.
The rights office admits that its figures so far are a vast undercount. It uses a strict methodology and counts only confirmed casualties. The latest count is as of midnight local time from Tuesday to Wednesday. Ukrainian officials have presented far higher numbers.
The U.N. office acknowledged that many reports are pending corroboration, such as in the town of Volnovakha in the government-controlled part of eastern Ukraine, “where mass civilian casualties have been alleged.”
STOCKHOLM — The eight-nation Arctic Council said its representatives will not travel to Russia for the body’s meetings and are temporarily “pausing participation in all meetings.”
In a statement, the members of the council, which include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, said they “condemn Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and note the grave impediments to international cooperation, including in the Arctic, that Russia’s actions have caused.”
Russia currently holds the chairmanship of the intergovernmental forum that was created in 1996. Its aim is to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction, Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
The Arctic regions are home to more than 4 million people.
ENERHODAR, Ukraine — The mayor of Enerhodar, site of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, says Ukrainian forces are battling Russian troops on the edges of the city.
Enerhodar is a major energy hub on the left bank of the Dnieper River and the Khakhovka Reservoir that accounts for about one quarter of the country’s power generation due to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is Europe’s largest.
Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, said Thursday that a big Russian convoy was approaching the city and urged residents not to leave homes.
GENEVA — The U.N. human rights chief says military operations in Ukraine are “escalating further as we speak” and warned of “concerning reports” of the use of cluster bombs.
Michelle Bachelet said the Ukrainian town of Volnovakha in the eastern Donetsk region, where pro-Russian separatists seized territory in 2014, leading to a drawn-out military conflict, “has been almost completely destroyed by shelling,” with residents hiding in basements.
She spoke Thursday during an “urgent debate” at the Human Rights Council, where country after country spoke out against Russia’s invasion. Many Western envoys sported blue or yellow ties, scarves, jackets or ribbons on their lapels – colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Delegates will vote Friday on a resolution that would create a three-person panel of experts to monitor human rights and report on rights abuses and violations in Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador Sheba Crocker said her country was “deeply alarmed” by reports of “Russia’s deployment of weapons such as cluster munitions and thermobarics against cities where innocent people are sheltering.” She urged countries to vote for the resolution.
Chen Xu, China’s ambassador, hailed diplomatic talks between Russia and Ukraine but said his country opposed efforts to “politicize” human rights. He said China would vote against the resolution.
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