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Live updates: France preparing to seize Russian assets


By The Associated Press

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

PARIS — French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says France is getting ready to seize all assets of Russian officials and business leaders who are being targeted by EU sanctions.

Le Maire said France is in the process of listing property including financial assets, real estate, yachts and luxury cars.

French authorities are also seeking to identify other Russian individuals who could be added into the EU list of people targeted by sanctions due to “their proximity with the Russian leadership,” he added.

“We will get legal means to seize all these assets,” Le Maire said, speaking after a special defense meeting on Ukraine at the Elysee presidential palace.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed France will take part in the European effort to bring military equipment to Ukraine, to be sent via a hub in Poland. France will also provide more humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the coming days, he said.

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Japan is stepping up sanctions against Russia by joining the United States and other Western nations in restricting transactions with the Russian central bank.

Kishida announced the measures after speaking on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Kishida said Japan will also freeze assets of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian individuals and organizations, while restricting exports, because of the country’s “evident involvement in the invasion (of Ukraine).”

Kishida said his government will also allow visa extensions for Ukrainian residents in Japan who fear returning to their country amid the conflict. Earlier Monday, Japan announced plans to allow Ukrainians fleeing their country to temporarily stay in Japan without proper refugee status as humanitarian considerations.

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MOSCOW — Russia has closed its airspace to carriers from 36 nations, including European countries and Canada, responding in kind to their move to close their respective airspaces to all Russian aircraft.

The move, announced Monday by the state aviation agency, follows a decision by the EU and Canada over the weekend to close their skies to the Russian planes in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

It added that planes from those countries could only enter Russia’s airspace with special permission.

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WASHINGTON, D.C — The State Department has closed the U.S. Embassy in Belarus and is allowing non-essential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Russia to leave the country due to the war in Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the suspension of operations at the Minsk embassy and the authorized departure from Moscow in a statement on Monday.

“We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” he said.

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MOSCOW — Websites of several Russian media outlets were hacked on Monday, with a message condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine appearing on their main pages.

The developments reflect a growing anti-war sentiment among Russians. Protests against the devastating attack on Ukraine have been taking place all across the country for four days now, and nearly 1 million people signed an online petition demanding to stop the war.

The state news agency TASS, the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia, St. Petersburg news isite Fontanka, and a number of others suffered from the hacking attack on Monday afternoon. The independent news site Meduza posted screenshots of a message, signed by the hacker group Anonymous and “indifferent journalists in Russia”, that appeared on the main pages of some of the hacked websites.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The websites of Ukrainian embassies appeared to be down in several western countries including Denmark, Britain, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

The Ukrainian embassy in Oslo, Norway, told Danish broadcaster DR Monday that they suspect a cyber attack may have caused the problem. DR said the Ukrainian foreign ministry’s site also was down.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian oil giant Equinor ASA says it has decided to stop new investments into Russia and divest from its joint ventures in Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Norway-based energy group has been in Russia for over 30 years and made a cooperation agreement with state-controlled Russian oil and gas company Rosneft in 2012.

CEO Anders Opedal said the company was “deeply troubled by the invasion of Ukraine, which represents a terrible setback for the world, and we are thinking of all those who are suffering because of the military action.”

He added that “we regard our position as untenable” and added that the company was exiting “in a manner that is consistent with our values.”

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MOSCOW — The Russian military says its nuclear deterrent forces have been put on high alert in line with President Vladimir Putin’s order.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has reported to Putin that command posts of all of Russia’s nuclear forces have been boosted with additional personnel. The Defense Ministry said that the high alert status applies to all components of Russian nuclear forces — the Strategic Missile Forces that oversee land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Northern and Pacific Fleets that have submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the long-range aviation that has a fleet of nuclear-capable strategic bombers.

Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert Sunday, citing Western sanctions and “aggressive statements” by NATO powers. It’s not immediately clear what specific steps the measure implies, but it has raised fears that the war in Ukraine could lead to a bigger and even more dangerous confrontation.

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BERLIN — Scientists involved in writing the latest U.N. climate change report fear that the war in Ukraine will divert much-needed government funding away from efforts to tackle global warming.

“This conflict very clearly feels anachronistic when you consider the existential concerns humanity actually has in the context of climate change,” said Hans-Otto Poertner, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group that produced the report.

“To see here that financial resources are tied up, there is of course competition in the implementation,” he said, saying the delays are counterproductive especially coming during a decisive decade of climate policy.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania says it wants the United Nations’ highest court to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russia and Belarus.

The Baltic country’s Justice Minister Evelina Dobrovolska said the proposal was sent to The Hague, Netherlands-based International Criminal Court. The prosecutor has been asked to verify it and possibly launch an investigation, she said.

“In the face of such brutal aggression of the Putin regime against Ukraine, immediate action is needed,” Dobrovolska said in a statement.

The proposal said the case was directed at “the responsibility of specific individuals” namely Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

On Saturday, Ukraine launched a case against Russia with the International Court of Justice accusing Moscow of planning genocide and asking the court to intervene to halt the invasion and order Russia to pay reparations.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea says it will ban exports of strategic materials to Russia, including weapons and missile-related technologies, and support international efforts to exclude major Russian banks from a key global payment system as it joins a global push to economically pressure Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The plans drew an angry response from Russian Ambassador Andrey Kulik, who warned of a major setback in bilateral relations.

In a news conference , Kulick said Seoul’s move could jeopardize its aspirational plans to bring Russian gas through North Korea to South Korea’s industrial hubs through cross-border pipelines.

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GENEVA — The head of the United Nations refugee agency says more than a half a million people had fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on Thursday.

Filippo Grandi of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees conveyed the latest update in a tweet Monday, saying more than 500,000 people had fled to neighboring countries.

Shabia Mantoo, a spokesperson for the Geneva-based agency, said she had no details about the numbers by country.

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BEIJING — China is criticizing the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, saying that will harm the chances of finding a political settlement.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Monday reiterated China’s standard opposition to “unilateral sanctions that have no basis in international law,” despite Beijing’s own use of such measures against countries such as Lithuania over its stance on Taiwan.

“Facts have long proven that sanctions could not help solve problems but create new issues,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing. “It will not only result in a lose-lose or multi-lose situation economically, but also disrupt the process of political settlement.”

China, along with India and the United Arab Emirates, abstained in Friday’s 11-1 vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine.

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GENEVA — U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet says her office has confirmed that 102 civilians, including 7 children, have been killed, and 304 others injured in violence in Ukraine since Thursday, as she cautioned that the tally was likely a vast undercount.

She cited updated U.N. figures that more than 420,000 people have fled the country in the last several days.

“Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and air strikes,” Bachelet told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday. “The real figures are, I fear, considerably higher.”

The count by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights follows strict methodology and verification measures.

Bachelet said millions of people have been “forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters.”

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the council: “The escalation of military operations by the Russian Federation in Ukraine is leading to escalating human rights violations.”

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin has denied that the Russian military targeted populated areas in Ukraine despite abundant evidence that residential buildings, schools and hospitals have been hit during the Russian invasion.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov alleged Monday that civilian casualties have resulted from members of right-wing Ukrainian nationalist groups using civilians as shields and putting military equipment in populated areas. Peskov’s claims couldn’t be independently confirmed and they contradicted statements from Ukrainian officials who accused Russia of targeting civilians.

Peskov did not comment on Russian demands in planned talks with Ukrainian officials, saying it’s necessary to allow negotiations to proceed before making public comment. He also declined to spell out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to put Russian nuclear forces on high alert.

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WARSAW, Poland – The prime ministers of the three Baltic states and Poland are calling on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google to restrict the spread of misinformation by Russia about its invasion of Ukraine.

In a letter dated Sunday the prime ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland directly called on Mark Zuckerberg, Susan Wojcicki, Parag Agrawal and Sundar Pichai to take action immediately, saying the steps they’ve been taking so far are “not enough.”

“The Russian government seeks to spread lies, confusion and doubt about what is happening and to undermine the morale and unity of the democratic world,” the letter read.

Russia’s “massive disinformation campaign” is to “justify to the world and to its own people its war of aggression and to hide the crimes that are being committed in its course,” it said.

The prime ministers say that the online platform providers and tech companies “need to take a stand as authoritarian regimes seek to weaponize the openness of our societies to undermine peace and democracy.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says 16 Ukrainian children have been killed and another 45 have been injured in the Russian invasion.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message Monday that “every crime, every shelling by the occupiers bring our partners and us even closer.”

He hailed the sanctions that the West slapped on Russia, saying they have brought the Russian currency down. Zelenskyy asked the European Union a special quick path to membership.

Zelenskyy said that over 4,500 Russian troops have been killed and called on Russian soldiers to lay down their guns and leave. “Don’t trust you commanders, don’t trust your propaganda, just save your lives,” he said.

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LONDON — Britain’s defense secretary says President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he was putting Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert was largely an effort to distract the world from the troubles facing his invasion of Ukraine.

Ben Wallace told the BBC that while he understood concerns about the warning, Britain sees no evidence of a change in Russia’s nuclear deployment or readiness to use the weapons.

“This is him reminding the world that he’s got a (nuclear) deterrent,” Wallace said. “But secondly, it’s part of a distraction as well. He’s put it out there and we’re all talking about it, rather than the lack of success they’re currently having in Ukraine.”

The comments came as the U.K. defense ministry said its intelligence showed that the bulk of Russia’s forces were still 30 kilometers to the north of Kyiv. Logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance continue to frustrate Russian advance, the ministry said.

“At the moment this is a battle of rhetoric that President Putin is deploying, and we just have to make sure we manage it properly,” Wallace said.

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GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body has agreed to hold an “urgent debate” on the situation in Ukraine.

The Human Rights Council opened its first meeting of the year by front-loading consideration of the matter in an emergency debate in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

The vote in the 47-member-state body was 29-5, with 13 abstentions.

Ukraine and Russia, as well as the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are current members.

The debate is expected to take place Thursday.

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MADRID — Spain’s foreign minister has called the Russian president’s order to put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert “one more sign of the absolute irrationality of Vladimir Putin.”

“I hope they are simply words, but the mere fact of using those words, of using that threat, shows that Vladimir Putin’s irrationality has reached an unimaginable point,” José Manuel Albares told Spanish national radio on Monday.

Albares didn’t clarify if Spain, like other European Union members, is ready to send weapons or other military aid to Ukraine. The Spanish government sent 20 tons of humanitarian aid and military defensive gear over the weekend.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told private radio station Onda Cero that Putin’s order was “irresponsible.”

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PRZEMYSL, Poland — Trains continue to bring refugees fleeing war in Ukraine to safety in Poland and in other countries.

Poland’s Border Guard says around 213,000 people have entered Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, when Russia waged war on Ukraine.

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Another train carrying hundreds of refugees from Ukraine arrived early Monday in the town of Przemysl, in southeastern Poland.

In winter coats to protect them against near-freezing temperatures, with small suitcases, they lined at the platform to the exit. Some waved at the camera to show they felt relief to be out of the war zone.

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TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan should start discussing a possibility of seeking a NATO-style nuclear sharing arrangements as nuclear deterrence in the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We should not put a taboo on discussions about the reality of how the world is kept safe,” Abe said on a Fuji Television talk show Sunday. “We should firmly consider various options when we talk about how we can protect Japan and the lives of its people in this reality (of Ukraine).”

Abe, who bolstered Japan’s military spending and capability during his eight year leadership and known for his hawkish stance, stepped down in 2020 but remains highly influential.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday told a parliamentary session that nuclear sharing isn’t permissible because of Japan’s non-nuclear principles. Kishida said last week possessing or using nuclear weapon is not an option for Japan.

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ROME — The Vatican is offering its services for any negotiation aimed at ending the war in Ukraine.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, told several Italian newspapers in an interview published on Monday, that “even though what we feared and what we hoped wouldn’t happen did happen, there is always space for negotiation.”

He noted that the Holy See, “offering its willingness to facilitate dialogue with Russia, is always ready to help the parties to get back on that path.’

On Friday, Pope Francis in an extraordinary step went to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to meet with the Russian ambassador. The pontiff pressed for an end to fighting and a return to negotiations, Parolin noted.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s defense industry conglomerate says the world’s largest plane that was in regular operation was heavily damaged in fighting with Russian troops at the airport outside Kyiv where it was parked.

The Ukroboronprom company said in a statement that the Antonov-225 was “destroyed” but would be repaired. The An-225, which is operated by Ukroboronprom’s subsidiary Antonov Airlines, is used to move exceptionally large cargos. Its arrivals and departures at overseas airports often attract aviation buffs to observe the lumbering plane with a 290-foot (84-meter) wingspan.

Only two planes have been built with larger wingspans — the Stratolaunch and the Hughes “Spruce Goose” — but each was used only for a single flight.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military says that residents of the Ukrainian capital can use a safe corridor to leave the city if they want.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Monday that Kyiv residents can safely use a highway leading to Vasylkiv just southwest of the Ukrainian capital. The statement came as fighting raged in various parts of the Ukrainian capital, with Ukrainian authorities saying that they were fighting small groups of Russian forces in various sectors of the capital.

Konashenkov charged that Ukrainian “nationalists” were deploying military equipment using the city residents as shields, the allegations that can’t be independently verified. Despite Russian military claims that it wasn’t targeting populated areas, residential buildings, hospitals and schools have been hit all across Ukraine during the Russian invasion that began Thursday.

Konashenkov also announced new land gains, saying Russian troops have taken control of the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the south, noting that the plant was safe and the radiation levels in the area have remained normal.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Central Bank has sharply raised its key rate from 9.5% to 20% in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting ruble and prevent the run of banks amid crippling Western sanctions over the Russian war in Ukraine.

The bank’s action follows the Western decision Sunday to freeze its hard currency reserves in an unprecedented move that could have devastating consequences for the country’s financial stability. It was unclear exactly what share of Russia’s estimated $640 billion hard currency coffers will be paralyzed by the move, but European officials said that at least half of it will be affected.

The move will dramatically raise pressure on the ruble by undermining the financial authorities’ ability to conduct hard currency interventions to prevent the ruble from sinking further and triggering high inflation. The ruble has sharply dived in early Monday trading.

The Central Bank also ordered a slew of measures to help the banks cope with the crisis by infusing more cash into the system and easing restrictions for banking operations. At the same time, it temporarily barred non-residents from selling the government obligations to help ease the pressure on ruble from panicky foreign investors eager to cash out.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s investigative agency says it has opened a probe into allegations of torture of Russian prisoners of war by members of Ukrainian forces.

The Investigative Committee, the main state criminal investigation agency, said Monday that the probe will track down people responsible for torturing Russian prisoners.

The move followed the claim by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, who pointed at alleged incidents in which Ukrainian forces tortured Russian prisoners and vowed to track all the culprits down and bring them to justice. He didn’t provide details or evidence to back the claim.

Russian officials have sought to cast members of Ukraine’s right-wing groups as “neo-Nazis.“

Konashenkov also acknowledged for the first time that the Russian military has suffered casualties in the attack on Ukraine but hasn’t named any numbers and claimed that the Russian losses are “much smaller” compared to the Ukrainian.

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UNITED NATIONS — The two major bodies in the United Nations will hold separate meetings Monday on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings of the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council reflect widespread demands for a cease-fire and escalating concern for the millions of Ukrainians caught up in the war.

The Security Council gave a green light Sunday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades. It will give all U.N. members an opportunity to speak about the war and vote on a resolution that U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said would “hold Russia to account for its indefensible actions and for its violations of the U.N. Charter.”

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere announced the Security Council meeting on the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion.

Both meetings follow Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. The vote Friday was 11-1, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.

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MANILA, Philippines — Southeast Asian countries have expressed deep concern over the hostilities in Ukraine and called for dialogue but did not condemn the Russian invasion despite calls for a tougher stance against Moscow’s aggression.

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued a statement Monday calling “on all relevant parties to exercise maximum restraint and make utmost efforts to pursue dialogues through all channels” before the situation gets out of control.

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