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Live updates: US official: Belarus may join Ukraine invasion


By The Associated Press

The latest on the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. intelligence official says Belarus is expected to send troops into Ukraine as soon as Monday to fight alongside Russian forces that invaded Ukraine last week.

Belarus has been providing support for Russia’s war effort, but so far has not taken a direct part in the conflict.

The American official has direct knowledge of current U.S. intelligence assessments and says the decision by Belarus’ leader on whether to bring Belarus further into the war depends on talks between Russia and Ukraine happening in the coming days. The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive information.

Russian forces have encountered strong resistance from Ukraine defenders, and U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts.

— James LaPorta

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CLEVELAND — Russia has apparently rendered Facebook largely unusable across leading Russian telecommunications providers amid rising friction between Moscow and the social media platform.

The London-based internet monitor NetBlocks reports that Facebook’s network of content-distribution servers in Russia was so badly restricted Sunday that “content no longer loads, or loads extremely slowly making the platforms unusable.”

Russian telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor on Friday announced plans to “partially restrict” access to Facebook. That same day, Facebook’s head of security policy had said the company was barring Russian state media from running ads or otherwise profiting on its platform anywhere in the world.

Facebook says it has also refused a request by the Kremlin not to run fact checks related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the platform for users inside Russia.

NetBlocks reported earlier that access to Twitter was similarly restricted Saturday. That was a day after Twitter said it was temporarily halting ads in both Ukraine and Russia.

The Twitter and Facebook restrictions can be circumvented inside Russia using VPN software, just as users do in mainland China.

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TOKYO — Asian stock prices have fallen after Western nations moved to tighten sanctions against Russia and as President Vladimir Putin escalated tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces on high alert.

U.S. futures fell, with the contract for the S&P 500 down 2.5% early Monday. The stock markets in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai declined while Sydney was higher.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused markets to swing wildly, given the potential impact on inflation, energy supplies and other areas. The Russian ruble has weakened sharply but was steady early Monday at 83.86 to the dollar.

Japan joined moves by the U.S. and Western nations to impose sanctions on Russia, including blocking some Russian banks from the SWIFT global payment system.

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BERLIN — The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog says missiles have hit a radioactive waste disposal site in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, but there are no reports of damage to the buildings or indications of a release of radioactive material.

In a statement late Sunday, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi says Ukrainian authorities informed his office about the overnight strike. He says his agency expects to soon receive the results of on-site radioactive monitoring.

The report came a day after an electrical transformer at a similar disposal facility in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was damaged.

Such facilities typically hold low-level radioactive materials such as waste from hospitals and industry, but Grossi says the two incidents highlight a “very real risk.” He says if the sites are damaged there could be “potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment.”

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will provide lethal military equipment to Ukraine to help the Ukrainians resist the Russian invasion.

The Australian government’s announcement Monday gave no details on what material it may be sending. The move follows an offer on Friday of non-lethal military equipment, medical supplies and a $3 million contribution to a NATO trust fund for support of the besieged country.

Australia has imposed sanctions on more than 350 Russian individuals, including Russian President Vladimir Putin since Thursday.

Australia has also targeted with sanctions 13 individuals and entities in Belarus, including that country’s defense minister, Viktor Khrenin. Belarus is supporting Russia in its war with Ukraine.

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TORONTO — The two largest media companies in Canada are dropping Russian state TV channel RT from their cable offerings.

Rogers spokesman Andrew Garas says Russia Today will no longer be available on its channel lineup as of Monday.

The Bell media company also is removing RT.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is commending the action, saying Russia has been conducting warfare in Ukraine since 2014 and information warfare across the world. He says RT is the propaganda arm of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime that spreads disinformation.

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FRANKFURT, Germany — An Austria-based subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned Sberbank has been ruled likely to fail after depositors fled due to the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The European Central Bank said early Monday that the bank had 13.6 billion euros in assets at the end of last year, but has experienced “significant deposit outflows” due to “geopolitical tensions.”

The ECB says Vienna-headquartered Sberbank Europe AG “is likely to be unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fall due.” The bank is a fully owned subsidiary of Russia’s Sberbank, whose majority shareholder is the Russian government.

Europe’s bank resolution board separately says it has imposed a payments ban on money owed by the bank and a limit on how much depositors can withdraw. The board will decide on further steps, which could include restructuring, selling or liquidating the bank.

Sberbank Europe operates 185 branches and has more than 3,933 employees.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says 352 Ukrainian civilians have been killed during Russia’s invasion, including 14 children. It says an additional 1,684 people, including 116 children, have been wounded.

he ministry’s statement Sunday does not give any information on casualties among Ukraine’s armed forces.

Russia has claimed that its troops are targeting only Ukrainian military facilities and says that Ukraine’s civilian population is not in danger.

Russia has not released any information on casualties among its troops. The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged on Sunday only that Russian soldiers have been killed and wounded, without giving any numbers.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says his government will remain neutral regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bolsonaro said he had a two-hour long conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday to talk about the war and assured Russia’s leader that Brazil will keep a neutral position. However, Brazil’s foreign ministry later said Bolsonaro did not speak to Putin on Sunday, but rather was referring to his two-hour meeting with the Russian during a visit to Moscow earlier this month.

Brazil’s ultra conservative president said Sunday that he does not want to “bring the consequences of the conflict” to Brazil.

Bolsonaro says that Russia has no intention of carrying out any massacres and that in some regions of Ukraine “90% of the people want to get closer to Russia.”

The Brazilian president also criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, saying people “entrusted the fate of the nation to a comedian.”

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. for the first time has approved the direct delivery of Stinger missiles to Ukraine as part of a package approved by the White House on Friday.

The exact timing of delivery is not known, but officials say the U.S. is currently working on the logistics of the shipment. The officials agreed to discuss the development only if not quoted by name.

The decision comes on the heels of Germany’s announcement that it will send 500 Stinger missiles and other weapons and supplies to Ukraine.

The high-speed Stingers are very accurate and are used to shoot down helicopters and other aircraft. Ukrainian officials have been asking for more of the powerful weapons.

The Baltic states have also been providing Ukraine with Stingers since January, and in order to do that had to get U.S. permission.

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TORONTO — Canada will send an additional $25 million worth of defensive military equipment to Ukraine in an effort to help the country defend against Russia’s invasion.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says the equipment includes helmets, body armor, gas masks and night-vision gear.

She says it will be routed through Poland to get there as quickly as possible.

Anand says Canada will offer up cybersecurity experts who can help Ukraine “defend its networks against cyber attacks that are increasingly forming part of modern-day warfare.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council has voted for the 193-member General Assembly to hold an emergency session on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Monday.

The vote on Sunday to authorize an emergency meeting was 11 in favor, Russia opposed, and China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining. That was the exact same vote on a resolution Friday demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. But in that case, Russia used its veto and the resolution was defeated.

Ukrainian U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya asked for the General Assembly meeting to be held under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, initiated by the United States and adopted in November 1950 to circumvent vetoes by the Soviet Union during the Korean War.

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That resolution gives the General Assembly the power to call emergency meetings when the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

MOSCOW — The U.S. Embassy in Moscow urged American citizens in Russia to think about leaving the country immediately on Sunday, as some airlines halt flights there and some countries close their skies to Russian aircraft.

“U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available,” the Embassy said in a statement on its website.

U.S. officials in recent weeks have urged Americans not to travel to Russia, and warned that the U.S. government could not help in any evacuation of Americans from there.

An earlier alert recommended Americans develop contingency plans about how to leave the country if necessary.

The European Union was among those announcing Sunday they were closing their airspace to Russian flights

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NEW YORK CITY — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order on Sunday forbidding her state from doing business with Russia. The order includes canceling its investments in Russia.

During a press conference in Albany, the governor said her state would also welcome refugees from the besieged country. Hochul said New York is home to the largest Ukrainian population in the United States.

“If you need a place to stay, you want to come over here, we will help you become integrated into our community,” she said.

The economic sanctions follow those issued by President Joe Biden to help siphon resources from the Russian government, which launched its long-expected invasion of Ukraine last Thursday.

It remains to be seen how Hochul’s move will aid the effort to severely squeeze the Russian economy in the global effort to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to retreat.

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KYIV, Ukraine — As Russian troops draw closer to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv’s mayor is both filled with pride over his citizens’ spirit and anxious about how long they can hold out.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, after a grueling night of Russian attacks on the outskirts of the city, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said there were no plans to evacuate civilians if Russian troops managed to take Kyiv.

“We can’t do that, because all ways are blocked,” he said. “Right now we are encircled.”

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Thursday, the city of 2.8 million people initially reacted with concern but also a measure of self-possession. However, nerves started fraying when grocery stores began closing and the city’s famously deep subway system turned its stations into bomb shelters.

The mayor confirmed to the VFAB that nine civilians in Kyiv had been killed so far, including one child.

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NEW YORK — Some early signs are emerging of significant economic consequences to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine three days ago. While official quotes for the Russian ruble were unchanged at roughly 84 rubles to the dollar, one online Russian bank, Tinkoff, was giving an unofficial exchange rate of 152 rubles over the weekend.

Videos from Russia showed long lines of Russians trying to withdraw cash from ATMs, while the Russian Central Bank issued a statement calling for calm, in an effort to avoid bank runs. Reports also showed that Visa and Mastercard were no longer being accepted for those with international bank accounts.

“Banks and credit card companies dealing with Russia are going into lock down mode given the fast pace and increasing bite of the sanctions,” said Amanda DeBusk, a partner with Dechert LLP.

Russia may have to temporarily close bank branches or declare a national bank holiday to protect its financial system, analysts said.

“If there’s a full-scale banking panic, that’s a driver of crisis in its own right,” said Adam Tooze, a professor of history at Columbia University and Director of the European Institute. “A rush into dollars by the Russian general population moves things into an entirely new domain of financial warfare.”

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MOSCOW — The Russian military said Sunday that some of its troops were killed and some were wounded in Ukraine — admitting for the first time that it had suffered casualties since the Russian invasion.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday “there are dead and wounded among our comrades,” without offering any numbers, but adding that Russia’s losses were “many times” fewer than those of Ukraine’s forces.

It was the first time Russian military officials mentioned casualties on their side. Ukraine has claimed that its forces killed 3,500 Russian troops. Konashenkov also said that since the start of the attack Thursday, the Russian military have hit 1,067 Ukrainian military facilities, including 27 command posts and communication centers, 38 air defense missile system and 56 radar stations.

Konashenkov’s claims and Ukraine’s allegations that its forces killed thousands of Russian troops can’t be independently verified.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Hundreds of people protested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Belarus on Sunday. The protests came despite the fact that the authoritarian Belarusian government has sided with Moscow.

The anti-war rallies spanned at least 12 Belarusian cities, and human rights advocates reported that more than 170 people have been arrested. In the capital of Minsk, demonstrators marched in different parts of the city carrying Ukrainian flags. A large pile of flowers kept growing at the building of Ukraine’s Embassy.

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JERUSALEM — Around 2,500 Ukrainian Jews have asked to immigrate to Israel and take citizenship since the onset of Russia’s invasion, a quasi-governmental organization says.

The Jewish Agency for Israel, which handles immigration matters, said that it has received over 5,000 inquiries about immigration to Israel. Around half have requested to immigrate immediately, the agency said.

Ukraine is home to a Jewish community of around 43,000. But approximately 200,000 Ukrainians are eligible for immigration under Israel’s Law of Return, which extends the right to citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent.

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TORONTO — Canada is joining many European countries in closing its airspace to all Russian aircraft as the West ramps up pressure on Russia for invading Ukraine.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Sunday that Canada will hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked attacks.

Most European countries have either announced they are closing their airspace or said they intend to do so. So far Spain, Greece, Serbia and Turkey are among the few left that haven’t joined in the move against Russia.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top migration official says more than 300,000 Ukrainians fleeing war have entered the 27-nation bloc in recent days and is warning that Europe must be ready for millions to arrive.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson is urging the bloc’s interior ministers meeting on Sunday to trigger a special protection mechanism set up 20 years ago to help deal with influxes of refugees.

“We have to prepare for even bigger numbers, and we have to prepare for the support that we need to give to the Ukrainians fleeing,” she told reporters at the EU meeting in Brussels.

The protection system was set up in the wake of the wars in former Yugoslavia and Kosovo, when thousands of people were forced to flee their homes. It has never been used. It provides residence permits for a fixed time, the possibility of jobs, accommodation, social welfare, medical treatment and education for children.

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ATHENS — Authorities say Greece is sending ammunition, assault rifles and missile launchers to Ukraine in response to a request by Ukraine’s government.

The military aid was decided at a meeting Sunday morning between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and senior defense officials.

A C-130 plane with the equipment has arrived in Poland, and a second one will arrive later, a Defense Ministry official said.

Two more planes carrying humanitarian aid such as blankets and food have also left Athens International Airport for Poland, the spokesman said.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization is warning that oxygen supplies – important for the fight against COVID-19 and other illnesses – are reaching a “very dangerous point” in Ukraine due to transportation difficulties in the wake of Russia’s military invasion, jeopardizing thousands of lives.

“The majority of hospitals could exhaust their oxygen reserves within the next 24 hours. Some have already run out. This puts thousands of lives at risk,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Europe regional director Dr. Hans Kluge in a joint statement Sunday afternoon in Europe.

They said electricity and power shortages, and the danger of ambulances getting caught in the crossfire, were increasing the risks to patients.

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Japan has decided to join the United States and European nations in cutting key Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial messaging system to step up sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Japan will also freeze assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials, while sending $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Kishida told reporters.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a unilateral attempt to change the status quo and the act shakes the foundation of the international order. It’s an outright violation to international law and we strongly denounce the act,” Kishida said.

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In a statement welcoming new sanctions from Japan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US and its allies “will continue working closely together to impose further severe costs and make Putin’s war of choice a strategic failure.”

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MOSCOW — From Moscow to Siberia, Russians have taken to the streets again on Sunday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Demonstrators marched in city centers, chanting “No to war.”

Protests against the invasion started on Thursday and have continued for four days in a row, despite police swiftly moving to detain hundreds of people each day.

In St. Petersburg, where dozens gathered in the city center, police in riot gear grabbed protesters and dragged some to police vans, even though the demonstration was peaceful.

According to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests, by Sunday afternoon police detained at least 356 Russians in 32 cities over anti-war demonstrations.

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KYIV, UKRAINE — The office of Ukraine’s president has confirmed that a delegation will meet with Russian officials as Moscow’s troops draw closer to Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy office said Sunday on the Telegram messaging app that the two sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border and did not give a precise time for the meeting.

The meeting news came shortly after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert in response to what he called “aggressive statements” by leading NATO powers.

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BERLIN — Approximately 100,000 people have turned out in Berlin to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Police said large crowds have filled the area originally planned for the demonstration, around the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin, and that they were allocating additional space to accommodate the protesters.

Sunday’s protest was peaceful, including many families with children. People waved yellow and blue Ukrainian flags to show their support. Some carried placards with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace.”

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MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces put on high alert amid tensions with the West over his invasion of Ukraine.

Putin asserted at a meeting with his top officials on Sunday that leading NATO powers had made “aggressive statements” along with the West imposing hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russia, including the president himself.

The alert means Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch. He told the Russian defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”

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WARSAW, Poland — While countries like Poland and Hungary have welcomed fleeing Ukrainians, some foreign citizens seeking to leave Ukraine have reported difficulties at the Polish border.

An Indian volunteer in Poland said Sunday some Indian citizens seeking to flee Ukraine into Poland are stuck at the border leading into Medyka, Poland, and unable to cross.

The Indian Embassy in Kyiv said Sunday that Indian citizens are being evacuated from Ukraine to Romania and Hungary. But some have arrived at the border with Poland apparently unaware of this and are stuck.

Ruchir Kataria, the volunteer, told The Associated Press that the Indians seeking to cross at Medyka were told in broken English: “Go to Romania.” But they had already made long journeys on foot to the border, and have no way to reach the border with Romania hundreds of kilometers away.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany is committing 100 billion euros ($112.7 billion) to a special fund for its armed forces, raising its defense spending above 2% of its GDP.

Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin on Sunday that it was clear “we need to invest significantly more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy.”

Germany had come under criticism for not investing adequately in its defense budget and not doing enough to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Saturday evening, the German government announced it would be sending weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine to help troops against invading Russia forces.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has temporarily lost his most senior official position in world sports.

The International Judo Federation on Sunday cited “the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine” for suspending Putin’s honorary president status.

The Russian president is a keen judoka and attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.

The judo federation is rare among Olympic sports bodies for using the word “war” to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ordered by Putin since Thursday. Others have used phrases such as “escalation of conflict.”

A Kremlin-supporting oligarch and longtime friend of Putin, Arkady Rotenberg, remains on the IJF executive committee as development manager.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s prime minister says the country is sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid to assist civilians caught up in the fighting in Ukraine.

Naftali Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet Sunday that the aid includes medical equipment and medicine, tents, sleeping bags and blankets.

Bennett did not comment on a report by Israeli public broadcaster Kan which said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked the Israeli leader to mediate talks on ending the crisis with Russia. Bennett’s office confirmed there had been a call but declined to comment on the report. The Ukrainian embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bennett has treaded carefully in his public comments on Russia’s invasion. He has voiced support for Ukrainian civilians but has stopped short of condemning Russia. Israeli relies on Russia for security coordination in Syria, where Russia has a military presence and where Israel frequently strikes hostile targets.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says his country is ready for peace talks with Russia but not in Belarus, which was a staging ground for Moscow’s 3-day-old invasion.

Speaking in a video message Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues. He said other locations are also possible but made clear that Ukraine doesn’t accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.

The Kremlin said Sunday that a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats.

“The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Peskov said.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says a Russian delegation has arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats. “The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Peskov said.

There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials, who previously expressed their own readiness for peace talks with Russia but haven’t mentioned any specific details on their location and timing.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, and its troops are closing in on the capital, Kyiv, and making significant gains along the country’s coast.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say Russian troops have entered Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv and fighting is underway in the streets.

Oleh Sinehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said Sunday that Ukrainian forces were fighting Russian troops in the city and asked civilians not to leave their homes.

Russian troops approached Kharkiv, which is located about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia, shortly after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. But until Sunday, they remained on its outskirts without trying to enter the city while other forces rolled past, pressing their offensive deeper into Ukraine.

Videos on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and a light vehicle burning on the street.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian president’s office said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

The State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection warned that the explosion, which it said looked like a mushroom cloud, could cause an “environmental catastrophe” and advised residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze and to drink plenty of fluids.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said the Russian forces have been unable to take Kharkiv, where a fierce battle is underway.

The city of 1.5 million is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.

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GENEVA — The United Nations says it has confirmed at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 people killed, in the fighting in Ukraine that erupted since Russia’s invasion on Thursday — though it believed the “real figures are considerably higher” because many reports of casualties remain to be confirmed.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs relayed the count late Saturday from the U.N. human rights office, which has strict methodologies and verification procedures about the toll from conflict.

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