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Live updates: UN concerned about reports of cluster bombs


By The Associated Press

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

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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BERLIN — German officials have denied that a superyacht allegedly owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has been seized in the port city of Hamburg.

Business magazine Forbes reported Thursday that German authorities had impounded the “Dilbar,” citing unnamed sources.

But a spokesperson for Hamburg state’s economy ministry said no such decision had yet been taken because it was unclear who the luxury yacht belonged to.

Susanne Meinecke told The Associated Press that the ship is registered to a holding company in Malta.

Still, the yacht is currently being serviced at a Hamburg shipyard and could not be moved even if the owner wanted it to, a German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Germany’s Economy Ministry said it was in the process of “swiftly and effectively implementing the Russia sanctions” but declined to say publicly which assets had been seized, if any.

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Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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RUKLA, Lithuania — Germany’s president has praised Russians who are speaking out against their country’s attack on Ukraine, saying they deserve respect and support.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose position is largely ceremonial, said Thursday that “many Russians in science, business and culture know what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine and condemn the war.”

“They are demanding an end to fighting and peace,” Steinmeier said. “We admire their bravery, they too deserve our respect and our support.”

Speaking during a visit to German troops in Lithuania, Steinmeier said he expected the sanctions against Russia to prompt businesspeople in the country to consider “when this war can have any advantages for Russia in the long-term.”

Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said the war would have “painful consequences” for Russia” and called for European Union members to support Ukraine joining the bloc.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office says a second round of talks with Russia about the war in Ukraine has begun in neighboring Belarus.

A video released by Zelenskyy’s office Thursday showed the informally dressed Ukrainian delegation walking into the meeting room where they shook hands with Russian delegates in suits and ties.

The talks are aimed at stopping the fighting that has sent more than 1 million people fleeing over Ukraine’s borders, but the two sides appeared to have little common ground.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its “demilitarization” and declare itself neutral, formally renouncing its bid to join NATO. Putin has long contended that Ukraine’s turn toward the West is a threat to Moscow, an argument he used to justify last week’s invasion.

The talks came as the Russian military made significant gains in the south of Ukraine as part of an effort to sever the country’s connection to the Black and Azov seas.

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PARIS — A French official says French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken for 90 minutes by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told Macron that military operations in Ukraine are “going according to plan.”

The official at the French Elysee presidential palace said Putin told Macron the conflict would continue “until the end” unless negotiations meet his terms.

Putin said negotiations must center on the “neutralization and disarmament of Ukraine,” according to the French official. Putin reportedly said he would attain that goal by military means, if not by political and diplomatic means.

The official said the two leaders spoke at Putin’s request. The French official could not be named in keeping with Elysee practice.

__By Elaine Ganley

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s most powerful politician says his country will raise its defense spending to 3% of GDP starting next year, amid the new security threat following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is deputy prime minister for security and the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, told parliament that Poland needs a strong army.

“The army should have deterrent power. We want peace, we do not want war,” Kaczynski said.

Poland is already one of the handful of NATO countries whose defense spending exceeds the alliance’s target of 2% of GDP, now at 2.2%. The country had already planned to increase spending to 2.5% in 2030 but now plans to increase spending to 3% in 2023, Kaczynski said.

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BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister has spoken out against an embargo on Russian energy imports, saying it could endanger social cohesion in the country.

Germany gets about half of its coal and gas from Russia, and a third of its oil.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, said Thursday that his country needs to “free itself from imports of Russian energy” but acknowledged that doing so will take time.

Habeck told reporters in Berlin that the government is working on a series of measures to quickly increase energy independence, including securing new suppliers and ramping up the use of renewables.

He played down the suggestion that Germany should extend the lifetime of its three remaining nuclear power plants, which are scheduled to be shut down this year. But he left open the possibility that this might be considered, “if it helps.”

Habeck said the government would also work on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand and encouraged Germans to do their bit, too.

“If you want to hurt Putin a bit, then save energy,” he said.

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AMSTERDAM — An Amsterdam museum says it has cut its close links to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Hermitage Amsterdam said Thursday that it has long distanced itself from politics in Russia under President Vladimir Putin as it built close ties with the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, giving the Amsterdam museum “access to one of the world’s most famous art collections, which we could draw from” for exhibitions.

“Russia’s recent attack on Ukraine makes keeping this distance no longer tenable,” the museum said in a statement.

The Amsterdam museum says that, “Like everyone else, we hope for peace. Also for changes in the future of Russia that will allow us to restore ties with the Hermitage Saint Petersburg.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Russia has declined to attend as an observer a NATO drill in Norway with about 30,00 troops from 27 nations later this month.

Norway is scheduled to host the Cold Response exercise from March 13. The drill, which has been planned for months, is aimed at training in cold-weather conditions in case of attack. Russia had been invited to observe it.

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The Norwegian Armed Forces said in a statement to The Associated Press that they want “to be open and transparent about this exercise, so that there will be no misunderstandings,” and stressed that the drill was “of a defensive nature, where we practice and train with our allies and partner countries.”

“With the tension that is in Europe, it is important that we practice and train to be able to defend ourselves,” the statement said, adding that the Norwegians “would have preferred Russia to send observers, but at the same time we respect their decision.”

The Scandinavian country shares a nearly 200-kilometer (124-mile) land border with Russia.

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PARIS — The United Nations’ cultural agency says it is assessing the damage to Ukraine’s educational and cultural institutions and its heritage sites amid Russia’s invasion.

UNESCO’s director general Audrey Azoulay is calling on the Russian forces and the international community to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage.

She said in a statement Thursday that the UN agency is coordinating efforts with Ukrainian authorities to mark as quickly as possible key historic monuments and sites across Ukraine with an internationally recognized sign for the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.

UNESCO will also organize a meeting with the country’s museum directors to help them safeguard collections and cultural property as the war rages.

Ukraine has seven World Heritage sites, located in the western city of Lviv; in the capital, Kyiv; in the Black Sea port city of Odesa; and in the second largest city of Kharkiv. All four cities have been subjected to artillery attacks and air bombardment by the invading Russian forces.

At least seven educational institutions have been damaged in attacks over the past week, including the Karazin National University in Kharkiv on Wednesday, the UNESCO statement said.

The nationwide closure of schools and education facilities since the assault on Ukraine began has affected the entire school-aged population: 6 million students between ages of 3 and 17, and more than 1.5 million enrolled in higher education institutions, according to the statement.

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TORONTO — Canada is announcing a 35% tariff on any imports from Russia or Belarus.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada is removing those countries’ “most favored nation” status as a trading partner, which is normally extended to fellow World Trade Organization member countries.

Freeland said Thursday that Canada is encouraging its allies to take the same step.

Russia and Belarus join North Korea in being downgraded for trade.

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LVIV, Ukraine — As Russian forces advance on strategic points in southern Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities on Thursday called on compatriots to launch a guerrilla war against Russian forces.

In a video message posted online, Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovich urged men to cut down trees and destroy rear columns of Russian troops.

“We urge people to begin providing total popular resistance to the enemy in the occupied territories,” Arestovich said.

“The weak side of the Russian army is the rear – if we burn them now and block the rear, the war will stop in a matter of days,” he said.

Arestovich said that such tactics are already being used in Konotop in northeast Ukraine and Melitopol near the Azov Sea, which were captured by Russian troops.

He called on the civilian population to build barricades in cities, hold rallies with Ukrainian flags, and create online networking groups. “Total resistance … this is our Ukrainian trump card and this is what we can do best in the world,” Arestovich said, recalling guerrilla actions in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II.

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HELSINKI — A Panama-flagged cargo vessel belonging to an Estonian shipping company has reportedly driven into a mine and sank off the Ukrainian port city of Odessa.

The m/v Helt was built in 1985 and is owned by the VISTA Shipping Agency AS, Estonian media outlets reported Thursday, adding that two crew members have been rescued, while four others are missing.

Ukrainian authorities said earlier this week that Russian sailors had captured the ship.

Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said Estonian officials are currently dealing with the issue and the ministry would give details on the incident as soon as possible.

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STOCKHOLM — The organization that awards the Nobel Prize in literature broke a long-standing practice of not making political statements by condemning “in the strongest possible terms the Russian regime’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.”

The Swedish Academy said Thursday that its history and mission “are deeply rooted in the traditions of freedom of expression, freedom of belief and freedom of inquiry,”

“We therefore join the legion of our fellow academies, literary and cultural institutions, places of higher learning, defenders of a free press, human rights organizations and nation states in expressing our abhorrence of the Russian government’s unjustified attack on Ukraine and its people,” the academy said in a statement.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces have taken a strategic Ukrainian seaport and set siege to another as Moscow tries to cut its neighbor off from the Black Sea.

The Russian military said Thursday it had control of Kherson, which has a population of 280,000 people, making it the first major city to fall since a Russian invasion began last week.

Russian armored vehicles were seen in the otherwise empty streets of Kherson, in videos shared with The Associated Press by a resident

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in Mariupol, in the outskirts of the strategic the Azov Sea port city. Electricity and phone connections are mostly not working in Mariupol, which faces food and water shortages.

The Russians are pressing their offensive on a variety of fronts, even as the Kremlin says it is ready for talks to end the fighting that has triggered more than 1 million refugees.

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LONDON — The British government is defending its sanctions against rich Russians amid criticism it is lagging compared to its American and European allies.

The U.K. has slapped sanctions on only a handful of wealthy Russians accused of links to the Kremlin who have assets in Britain. That is fewer than the European Union or the U.S.

The Conservative government is under pressure to add more names, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who has announced plans to sell the team.

The government says more individuals will be sanctioned but it has not said when. It denies the delay is giving oligarchs time to move assets out of the U.K., long a favored haven for Russian wealth.

Opposition lawmakers are also urging the government to seize oligarchs’ properties in Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, denied the government was dragging its feet. He said penalizing individuals was only part of the picture and it was sanctions on large banks and companies that would put the most pressure on the Russian government.

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LONDON — The British satellite company OneWeb says it is cancelling all launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which is run by the Russian Aerospace Forces and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos.

The firm said in a one-line statement that “the Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur.”

OneWeb had been due to launch a batch of its internet satellites Friday on Russian rockets from the base.

The launch was put in doubt after Russia demanded the British government sell its stake in OneWeb, which it partly owns. It also wanted a guarantee from the company that none of its satellites would have military uses.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown international space cooperation into turmoil and put a planned Europe-Russian mission to Mars this year on hold.

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says his country will freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs close to President Vlaimir Putin as Tokyo steps up sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kishida said Thursday that Japan is adding oligarchs to the list of sanctions as part of a collective effort by the United States and European countries. The step adds to Japan’s freezing of the assets of Putin and top officials in his government.

Kishida also said that Japan has taken steps to disconnect seven Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial messaging systems.

Japan, which wants to regain control over some Russian-held islands in a dispute that still prevents the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities, used to be reluctant to impose strict sanctions on Russia.

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MADRID — Spain’s prime minister says the 27 European Union countries will be strict about applying sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his circle, aiming to asphyxiate the Russian economy over the invasion of Ukraine.

“Putin has to know that we are not going to stop applying the sanctions against him and the oligarchy that has prospered within his regime, to isolate it and choke it economically to end an unjustified and unfair invasion,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Thursday.

Spain’s defense ministry announced that two planes loaded with Spanish offensive military material will depart for Ukraine on Friday.

The cargo includes 1,370 anti-tank grenade launchers and 700,000 rounds of ammunition for rifles and machine guns, as well as an unspecified number of light machine guns.

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GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body is holding an urgent debate on the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of creating a panel to investigate any abuses during Russia’s war with its neighbor.

The Human Rights Council meeting is set to culminate in a vote Friday on whether to set up a three-person expert panel, following Russia’s invasion last week.

The vote by the 47-member-state body, which counts Ukraine and Russia as members, offers a bellwether of international sentiment about the Kremlin’s invasion. It comes a day after the U.N. General Assembly in New York voted 141-5, with 35 abstentions, to demand an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

The panel would seek to collect and analyze evidence that could be used by a court, such as the International Criminal Court, which has already launched its own investigation over Russia’s invasion.

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JERUSALEM — Two buses carrying more than 100 Jewish refugee children from a foster home in Odesa are making their way across Europe to Berlin, where the local Jewish community will provide them with accommodation.

Rabbi Mendy Wolff, 25, spoke to the Associated Press on Thursday as the convoy made its way across Romania, after the group crossed from Ukraine into Moldova the previous day.

He said many of 105 children, the youngest only 37 days old, lack proper documentation, which prevented them from fleeing the Black Sea port of Odesa until Wednesday.

The Jewish children have received financial assistance from Jewish aid groups, and diplomatic support from Israel, Germany and other European states.

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BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official says that in the wake of Ukraine’s formal application this week to join the bloc, bids for entry are also expected “imminently” from Moldova and Georgia.

The two eastern European countries are already part of EU outreach programs, but a membership request would be a major development in their relations with the 27-nation bloc.

Any membership application and consideration is a process that would take many years and involve fundamental political adjustments, ranging from trade, to rule of law measures and anti-corruption commitments.

The EU official who spoke Thursday asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of recent geopolitical developments after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

— By Raf Casert.

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BERLIN — German automaker Volkswagen says it is halting production of vehicles in Russia until further notice due to the Russian attack on Ukraine.

The VW Group said in a brief statement Thursday on Twitter that “vehicle exports to Russia will also be stopped with immediate effect.”

The company said it takes its “responsibility for the affected employees in Russia very seriously” and all those affected will receive short-time working benefits, paid by Volkswagen.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s government says it is in talks with governments of international organizations and nearby countries to send essential medical supplies to Ukraine.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke Thursday by telephone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who requested further help in resisting Russia’s invasion of his country.

South Korea has joined the U.S.-led economic pressure campaign on Moscow over the invasion, banning exports of strategic materials to Russia and supporting efforts to cut off key Russian banks from global payment systems.

Moon’s office said he expressed his condolences for war victims and saluted the courage of Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh officials say a missile has hit one of the country’s cargo ships at the Ukrainian port of Olvia, killing one crew member.

The junior minister for shipping, Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, said 29 crew were aboard the vessel, which is owned by the state-run Bangladesh Shipping Corporation.

He said the ship was carrying cement clay and was on its way to Italy.

Hadisur Rahman, an engineer onboard, was struck in the attack late Wednesday and died. The other 28 members were safe, Chowdhury said. It was unclear whether it was a Ukrainian or Russian missile.

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PARIS — French authorities say they have seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as part of European Union sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The French Finance Ministry said in a statement Thursday that customs authorities carried out an inspection of the yacht Amore Vero in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat.

The boat arrived in La Ciotat on Jan. 3 for repairs and was slated to stay until April 1. When French customs officers arrived to inspect the yacht, its crew was preparing an urgent departure, even though the repair work wasn’t finished, the statement said. The boat was seized to prevent its departure.

It says the boat is owned by a company that lists Sechin as its primary shareholder. Sechin runs Russian oil giant Rosneft.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s government is insisting it will not allow any arms shipments bound for neighboring Ukraine to cross its territory, as the European Union country receives tens of thousands of refugees from the conflict and frets about the reliability of its energy links to Moscow.

A large Hungarian ethnic minority, around 150,000 people, lives in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia, just across the border.

The prime minister’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, says allowing weapons into Ukraine would endanger that minority.

Gulyas said Thursday that some 120,000 refugees fleeing the conflict have crossed into Hungary so far.

Hungary has agreed to all EU sanctions imposed on Russia, Gulyas said. But he argued against allowing sanctions to affect Hungary’s energy sector, which relies heavily on Russian natural gas.

Gulyas also said that Hungary will not pull out of the planned Russian-backed expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant, which will be financed primarily by a Russian state bank.

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