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Politics

Russia-Ukraine Crisis: European Union Freezes Assets of Putin, Lavrov

February 25, 2022

The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:

BRUSSELS — Latvia’s foreign minister says the European Union has agreed to freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov along with other sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

The move indicates that Western powers are moving toward unprecedented measures to force Putin to stop the brutal invasion of Russia’s neighbor and from unleashing a major war in Europe.

Foreign Minister Edgard Rinkevics announced the EU decision Friday in a tweet.

He said another package of sanctions is to be prepared by the EU.

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Read more: Tied to Russian Money, Cyprus Objects to SWIFT Russian Sanctions

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Read more: Biden, Europe Waiting on Key SWIFT Sanction against Russia

Read more: World Shares Up, US Futures Sink as Russia Moves Toward Kyiv

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Read more: For All Its Parallels, Ukraine War Feels Distant in Taiwan

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts have agreed to send parts of the organization’s response force to help protect allies in the east over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking after chairing a NATO meeting, Stoltenberg said the leaders decided to send parts of the NATO Response Force and elements of a quickly deployed spearhead unit. He did not say how many troops would be deployed, but confirmed that the move would involve land, sea and air power.

The NRF can number up to 40,000 troops, but Stoltenberg said that NATO would not be deploying the entire force. Parts of a force known in NATO jargon as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which is currently led by France, will also be sent.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has released a video of himself and his senior aides in Kyiv to reassure the nation as Russian troops were closing in on the capital.

In the video Zelenskyy recorded in the street outside the presidential office, he said he and his top officials are staying in the capital.

“Our troops are here, citizens are here,” Zelenskyy said, adding that “All of us are here protecting our independence of our country. And it will continue to be this way. Glory to our defenders, Glory to Ukraine, Glory to Heroes.”

Russian troops bore down on Ukraine’s capital Friday, with gunfire and explosions resonating ever closer to the government quarter.

In the fog of war, it was unclear how much of Ukraine remains under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have seized. The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of Ukraine’s embattled president instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.

PARIS — The leader of the Belarus opposition in exile says the European Union should slap tougher sanctions on Belarus for its role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sviatlana Tiskhanouskaya says Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, has turned her country into “an aggressor” in Ukraine.

She told The Associated Press on Friday that Belarus has become “an aircraft carrier” for the Russian military, carrying troops to Ukraine, re-fueling its war machine and housing soldiers of the invading force.

The United States, the EU, Britain and Canada last year imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials, businesses and several sectors of the economy and the financial system following a brutal crackdown on Lukashenko’s opponents. They were protesting his fraudulent re-election for a sixth term.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday called the Belarus government “an accomplice” in Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and said it will also be targeted with sanctions.

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WASHINGTON — Russian state broadcaster RT says it was subjected to “massive” denial-of-service attacks after the online collective Anonymous pledged to carry out cyberattacks in support of Ukraine, which is being invaded by Russian forces.

RT said in a statement that the attacks on its websites came from about 100 million devices, mostly based in the U.S. But the broadcaster said it was resolving the issues and its website appeared to be functioning normally Friday.

Anonymous announced a day earlier on Twitter that it is “officially in cyber war against the Russian government” and noted later that the Russian Ministry of Defense website was down.

But it is difficult to attribute a cyberattack to Anonymous or even confirm that someone is a member of a collective that is open to anyone who claims to use hacking for a particular cause.

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GIBRALTAR — Punitive measures against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine have spread to a tiny speck of territory on Spain’s southern tip, with Gibraltar’s government taking steps against Russia Today television.

Gibraltar on Friday announced it was suspending the Russian state broadcaster for spreading “disinformation.” It also revoked a visa waiver program for Russian citizens.

The office for Chief Minister Fabian Picardo described Russia Today as a “mouthpiece for the Kremlin” that “will become a dangerous source of disinformation that Gibraltar cannot accept on its networks.”
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BRUSSELS — Europe’s foremost human rights organization has suspended Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, though it remains a member.

The 47-nation Council of Europe announced Friday that Russia was suspended with “immediate effect” from the Committee of Ministers and the parliamentary assembly “as a result of the Russian Federation’s armed attack on Ukraine.”

The Strasbourg-based organization said Russia remained a member and continued to be bound to the relevant human rights conventions.

“Suspension is not a final measure but a temporary one, leaving channels of communication open,” a statement said.

Ukrainian soldiers take position under a bridge during crossing fire inside the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

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VIENNA — The International Atomic Energy Agency says the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant reported higher-than-usual radiation levels after being taken over by Russian forces invading Ukraine.

But it said Friday that current radiation levels do not pose a threat to the public.

Ukraine’s regulatory authority previously said that increased radiation levels may be due to military vehicles stirring up soil that remains contaminated from the accident in 1986, still known as the worst nuclear disaster in history.

But the measures are “within the operational range measured in the Exclusion Zone since it was established,” according to the IAEA.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a 2,600-square-kilometer (1,000-square-mile) area of forest lying between the Belarus-Ukraine border and the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Russian forces took control over the site Thursday after a fierce battle with Ukrainian national guards protecting the plant.
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ATHENS — The Foreign Affairs Ministry approved the evacuation of Greece’s embassy in the Ukrainian capital city Kiev on Friday, following the ambassador’s request to that effect.

The ambassador requested it “due to the rapid deterioration of the security situation in Kiev,” the ministry noted in its announcement.

The departure of embassy staff and any Greek citizens wanting to leave will be carried out by road, added the ministry, noting that the Greek consulates in Mariupol and Odessa will remain operational until further notice.


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MOSCOW – The Kremlin says prospects for possible peace talks between Russia and Ukraine look uncertain due to apparent differences over a venue.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to send a delegation for talks with Ukrainian officials in Minsk, Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs a pro-Russian government.

That agreement came in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s offer earlier in the day to discuss non-aligned status for Ukraine.

Peskov told reporters that after the parties discussed Minsk as a possible venue, Ukrainian officials changed course and said they were unwilling to travel to Minsk and would prefer to meet in NATO member Poland. They then halted further communication, Peskov said.

Putin has claimed that the western refusal to heed Russia’s demand to keep Ukraine out of NATO prompted him to order an invasion of the neighboring country.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s transport minister says his country has banned all Russian airlines from Czech airports, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Martin Kupka said Friday the ban covers all regular flights between Prague and Moscow and Prague and St. Petersburg, as well as charter flights.

Russian planes will also be banned from landing at the western Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, a popular destination for Russian tourists. The measure becomes affective at midnight.

Additionally, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said his country will stop issuing visas for Russian citizens and will urge other European Union countries to do the same.

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A body of a killed soldier lies on the ground as Ukrainian Army soldiers sit next in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Major retail chains in Lithuania started to remove Russian and Belarusian products from shelves, a move joined by online shops and widely applauded by the public as a protest against Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Maxima LT, the largest chain in the Baltic nations, said Friday the Russian goods it sells are mainly alcohol, dried products and candy, amounting to millions of euros (dollars) in sales.

Other retailers like drug stores and home suppliers made similar announcements. The Lithuanian postal service said it will not be distributing any more Russian periodicals.

International companies such as IKEA are facing pressure to remove Russian-made goods from sale in the small Baltic country, which fears Russian aggression.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed his troops for their courage as they press their offensive across Ukraine and bear down on Kyiv.

Speaking during Friday’s meeting of his Security Council, Putin claimed that most Ukrainian military units are reluctant to engage to the Russian forces.

He said the units offering resistance are mostly volunteer battalions made up of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists.

He offered no evidence for his claims, which could not be independently verified.

Echoing an earlier Russian military statement, Putin accused Ukrainian forces of deploying heavy weapons in urban areas in several big cities, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, to use civilians as shields.

The Russian president urged the Ukrainian military to end their resistance and turn on their leaders.

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WARSAW, Poland – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in Warsaw for urgent talks with NATO’s nine eastern flank members on how to enhance the region’s security, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The participants were also due to remotely join a NATO summit in Brussels.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, hosting the talks between the so-called NATO Bucharest Nine, in his opening speech said that “demons of a great war, unseen since 1945” have returned to Europe.

NATO’s eastern flank members fear Moscow could also target them.

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FORT STEWART, Ga. — The U.S. Army says 3,800 soldiers from Fort Stewart, Georgia, are among additional forces deploying to Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Troops from the Army post southwest of Savannah, Georgia, “will deploy to reassure NATO allies, deter further aggression against NATO member states and train with host-nation forces,” Fort Stewart commanders said in a statement late Thursday.

Fort Stewart is home to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which saw multiple combat deployments during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the 3rd Infantry soldiers heading to Europe are assigned to the division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.

“The Raider Brigade is trained and equipped to deter aggression and to reassure and defend our allies,” Col. Pete Moon, the 1st Brigade’s commander, said in prepared statement.

The Georgia-based soldiers appear to be among 7,000 additional U.S. forces deploying to Germany to bolster NATO following the invasion of Ukraine. President Joe Biden ordered the deployments Thursday.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo prior to their talks in Beijing, China, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Chinese President Xi Jinping he’s ready to send a delegation for talks with Ukrainian officials.

The Kremlin said in its readout of Friday’s call that Xi underlined that he “views the Russian leadership’s action in the crisis situation with respect.”

In a reference to new Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion in Ukraine, the Kremlin noted that Putin and Xi agreed “it’s inadmissible to use illegitimate sanctions for achieving selfish goals of certain countries.”

Chinese state TV reported that Xi emphasized that China “supports Russia and Ukraine resolving the problem through negotiations.”

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People rest in the Kyiv subway, using it as a shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

BUCHAREST, Romania — Moldova’s national naval agency says a ship in “neutral waters” of the Black Sea has been hit by a missile, leaving two crew members seriously injured.

The Naval Agency said in a statement that the source of the missile that hit the Moldova-flagged Millennial Spirit on Friday is unknown.

“A fire broke out onboard the ship; the equipment and lifeboats were destroyed,” the agency said in a statement. “The ship’s crew left the ship equipped only with life jackets.”

The agency said that the company that operates the tanker is a Ukrainian legal entity and the crew members are Russian citizens.

Rescue operations were carried out by Ukrainian authorities, the Moldovan agency said.
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NEW DELHI — Dozens of parents, relatives and friends of Indian students stranded in Ukraine held a demonstration near the Russian Embassy in New Delhi to demand the students’ immediate evacuation.

Police barricaded the roads leading to the embassy on Friday and asked the protesters to meet Indian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss the repatriation of nearly 16,000 Indians, including students.

Some of the demonstrators held video conferencing calls with some of those stuck in metro trains and bomb shelters in Kyiv.

“We are running low on food and water in a crowded bunker,” one of the callers in Ukraine said.

Indian Embassy officials are now traveling to border areas of Ukraine touching Poland, Romania Slovakia and Hungary to facilitate the exit of Indian nationals so that they can be evacuated to India, said foreign ministy official Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

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BRUSSELS — Germany’s foreign minister said Friday that the European Union will take in all people fleeing Ukraine due to the current conflict.

“We need to do everything to immediately take in the people who are now fleeing bombs, fleeing tanks, that’s also what we’ve been preparing for in recent weeks,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Brussels.

“We tried everything so this day wouldn’t come,” she said. “And it came because the Russian president chose it, opted for war and against human lives.”

“That’s why we will take in all of the people who are fleeing now,” Baerbock said. “We will bring the people from Ukraine to safety.”

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LONDON — An expert in international trade says he thinks world leaders are reluctant to exclude Russia from the SWIFT system of financial transactions because it is the “nuclear option” of sanctions.

Disconnecting Russia from SWIFT to try to force President Vladimir Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine would have major economic costs for western countries, said Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy.

Lee-Makiyama told the BBC that if Russia were cut off for foreign payments for its gas and oi,l it would quickly start expropriating the 300 billion euros EU investors have plowed into the country.

“It’s a nuclear option that it’s going to basically exterminate yourself and your enemy,” he said.

World leaders, who have so far ruled out military intervention in Ukraine, have few good options for deterring Putin because he knows they fear a direct confrontation with Russia, Lee-Makiyama said.

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In this handout photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attends a meeting with top envoys from the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, Vladislav Deinego of the Luhansk People’s Republic, center, and Sergei Peresada of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), right, in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russia is ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks with Ukrainian officials.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to send the delegation in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s offer to discuss a non-aligned status for Ukraine.

That indicates Zelenskyy would be willing to negotiate dropping his country’s bid to join NATO, as Russia has demanded.

Before the invasion, the West had rejected the demand. Putin claimed the refusal to discuss keeping Ukraine out of NATO prompted him to order a military action in Ukraine to “demilitarize” it.
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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania’s Radio and Television Commission has temporarily suspended the operation of six Russian-language TV channels for their alleged incitement to war and propaganda.

The six TV channels were taken off the air Friday

Planeta RTR, Rossijya 24, Belarus 24, NTV Mir, RTR Planeta and Rossiya 24 were suspended for five years, and PBK and TVCI for three years, commission Vice Chairman Ricardas Slapsys told the Baltic News Service.

Lithuania, the most southern of the three Baltic nations, borders Russia’s Kaliningrad region to the southwest, Belarus to the east, Latvia to the north and Poland to the south.

Latvia banned several Russian television channels had their right to broadcast in Latvia suspended Thursday for several years.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military claims it has taken control of an airport just outside Kyiv, as Kremlin forces bear down on the Ukrainian capital.

The claim could not be independently verified.

Taking possession of the airport in Hostomel, which has a long runway allowing the landing of heavy-lift transport planes, would mean Russia can airlift troops directly to Kyiv’s outskirts.

Hostomel is just 7 kilometers (4 miles) northwest of the city.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that the Russian airborne forces used 200 helicopters to land in Hostomel and killed over 200 troops belonging to Ukraine’s special forces.

Konashenkov claimed that Russian troops suffered no casualties. That contradicts Ukrainian claims that Russian troops sustained heavy casualties in the fighting there.

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BERLIN — Germany’s Defense Ministry has confirmed media reports that it is deploying additional military assets to NATO’s eastern flank.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported that the deployments included 150 soldiers and about a dozen Boxer armored fighting vehicles, two ships and anti-missile systems.

Ministry spokesman Christian Thiels declined to say Friday exactly how many soldiers were being deployed. But he confirmed that a navy corvette would leave Saturday for patrols in the Baltic while a frigate will be deployed in the Mediterranean, both under NATO command.

Germany is also assessing whether to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to an eastern European NATO country, Thiels said.

Decisions on deploying further troops could be expected soon, he added.

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Residents use a pedestrian bridge near the Russian Embassy in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING — Chinese state TV says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that Moscow is willing to negotiate with Ukraine, even as Moscow’s forces invade its neighbor.

The report Friday followed a Kremlin announcement that Putin’s government was considering an offer by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to negotiate non-aligned status for his country.

Putin said Moscow “is willing to conduct high-level negotiations with the Ukrainian side,” China Central Television reported on its website.

It gave no indication whether Putin said he was responding to Zelenskyy’s offer or gave any details of what the two sides might negotiate.

Russia complains that the United States and its allies ignored Moscow’s “legitimate security concerns” by expanding the NATO military alliance eastward, closer to Russia’s borders.

Xi said China “supports Russia and Ukraine resolving the problem through negotiations,” CCTV said.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says officials are still assessing a request by Ukraine for Turkey to close to Russian shipping the straits at the entrance of the Black Sea.

Mevlut Cavusoglu warned, however, that under a 1936 convention Ankara may not be able to deny total access to the Russian vessels.

Ukraine on Thursday formally asked Turkey to close the Turkish Straits to Russian warships in line with the Montreux Convention which allows Turkey to restrict the passage of belligerent countries’ warships during times of war. The convention stipulates however, that warships belonging to Black Sea coastal countries can return to their bases.

“If there is a demand for the ships of the warring countries to return to their bases, then (passage) must be allowed,” Cavusoglu was quoted as telling Hurriyet newspaper in an interview.

The minister said Turkish experts were assessing if the current situation amounted to “a state of war.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s president is appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop the madness of this war now.”

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin on Friday said that “we don’t want enmity with the Russian people, quite the contrary, but this wrongdoing cannot go without a clear answer.”

Steinmeier, whose post is largely ceremonial but holds moral authority, said that Germany will do its part in deterring Putin from using force against its NATO allies.

The president, who served twice as Germany’s foreign minister, said that Putin “should not underestimate the strength of democracies” and Germans shouldn’t either.

He said it’s good that people are going out to demonstrate, adding: “The Russian president should not believe for a second that people in Germany and Europe simply accept this brutal violence.”

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis went to the Russian embassy in Rome on Friday to personally express his concern about the war in Ukraine, in an extraordinary papal gesture that has no recent precedent.

Popes usually receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican. For Francis to travel a short distance to the Russian embassy outside the Vatican walls was a sign of his strength of feeling about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vatican officials said they knew of no such previous papal initiative.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the pontiff wanted “clearly to express his concern about the war.” Pope Francis was there for just over a half-hour, Bruni said.

Francis has called for dialogue to end the conflict and has urged the faithful to set next Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine.

But he has refrained from publicly calling out Russia, presumably for fear of antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church, with which he is trying to build stronger ties.

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A Ukrainian soldier sits injured in cross fire inside the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says it is receiving increasing reports of civilian casualties in Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s military invasion.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says its staffers have so far verified at least 127 civilian casualties. They include 25 people killed and 102 injured, mostly from shelling and airstrikes.

She cautioned Friday that the numbers are “very likely to be an underestimate.”

Shamdasani also said the rights office was “disturbed by the multiple arbitrary arrests” of demonstrators in Russia who on Thursday protested against the conflict.

“We understand more than 1,800 protesters were arrested,” she said, before adding that it was unclear how many might have been released already.

Meanwhile, spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said its latest update had that more than 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes in Ukraine. She said the agency’s planning figures anticipated that “up to 4 million people may flee to other countries if the situation escalates.”

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LONDON — Latvia’s defense minister is criticizing European nations for failing to cut Russia off from the global bank payments network and refusing to provide weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

Artis Pabriks’ comments came after the U.S. and European Union stopped short of blocking Russia’s access to the SWIFT payments system when they announced a new round of sanctions late Thursday.

Pabriks also chided fellow EU nations that have refused to provide “lethal aid” to Ukraine, saying only the U.K., Greece, Poland and the Baltic states had done so.

In an interview with the BBC on Friday, Pabriks suggested that many European leaders don’t want to take these steps because they would cause economic hardship for their own countries.

“If you are really not ready yourself to spill blood, at least spill money now,’’ he said. “Do it now, because if you lose Ukraine all European geopolitics will change. … There will be much more pressure on Poland, much more pressure on the Baltics.’’

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia fear they could be the Kremlin’s next target.

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad is praising Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine and denouncing what he calls western “hysteria” surrounding it.

Assad spoke by phone Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“What is happening today is a correction of history and a restoration of balance which was lost in the world after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” Assad said, according to state-run news agency SANA.

He said confronting NATO expansionism is Russia’s right.

Russia is a main backer of Assad’s government and its military intervention in 2015 in the country’s civil war helped tip the balance of power in his favor.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says it will analyze the Ukrainian president’s offer to discuss a non-aligned status for his country, as a Russian military invasion pushes closer to Kyiv.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was ready to hold talks on the issue.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday described it as “a move in a positive direction.”

He said in a conference call with reporters that “we paid attention to that, and now we need to analyze it.”

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Zelenskyy “is simply lying” when he offers to discuss non-aligned status for Ukraine.

Lavrov said at a briefing that Zelenskyy “missed the opportunity” to discuss a neutral status for Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed it.

Putin says the West left him no option but to invade when it rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine out of NATO.

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BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official says the 27-nation bloc intends to slap further sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

EU Council president Charles Michel tweeted Friday: “Second wave of sanctions with massive and severe consequences politically agreed last night. Further package under urgent preparation.”

Michel announced the move after a call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Michel said Kyiv “is under continued attack by Russian forces” and called on Russia to immediately stop the violence.

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People protest against Russia’s military operation in Ukraine during a demonstration organized by the Hungarian opposition parties in front of the Russian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary has extended temporary legal protection to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, as countries in eastern Europe prepare for the arrival of refugees at their borders.

Hungary, which borders Ukraine to the west, has in the past taken a firm stance against all forms of immigration. It has controversially refused to accept refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

But in a decree published late Thursday, Hungary’s government announced that all Ukrainian citizens arriving from Ukraine, and all third-country nationals legally residing there, would be entitled to protection.

The section applying to third-country nationals makes it possible for non-Ukrainians — for example, Belarussian refugees living in Ukraine — to receive protection in the European Union.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that Hungary will play no part in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but that it would accept refugees arriving at its borders.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street as he makes his way to the parliament to make a statement, in London, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his solidarity with Ukraine in telephone call with the country’s leader.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said Friday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered an update on Russian military advances, including missile and artillery strikes.

“The prime minister assured President Zelenskyy that the world is united in its horror at what Putin his doing,’’ Johnson’s office said in a statement. “He paid tribute to the bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people in standing up to Russia’s campaign of violence and expressed his deep condolences for those who have been killed.’’

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BERLIN — The German government says it has suspended the granting of export credit and investment guarantees for business with Russia.

The Economy Ministry said Friday that the granting of new export credit guarantees and investment guarantees for Russia was suspended on Thursday.

The so-called Hermes credit export guarantees protect German companies from losses when exports aren’t paid for. Investment guarantees are granted by the German government to protect direct investments by German companies from political risk in the countries where they are made.

The Economy Ministry said that new export credit guarantees to the tune of 1.49 billion euros ($1.67 billion) were granted last year for business with Russia. New investment guarantees came in at a fraction of that amount, at 3.75 million euros ($4.2 million).

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Border Guard says that some 29,000 people were cleared to enter through the country’s land border with neighboring Ukraine on Thursday, the day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

Before that, there were some 12,000 average daily entries from Ukraine into European Union and NATO member Poland, through land, sea and airport checkpoints, according to Border Guard statistics.

Poland has lifted the requirement of COVID-19 quarantine or vaccination certificates for refugees from Ukraine. A number of reception centers with camp beds, soup kitchens and medical care have been organized in locations close to the border with Ukraine.

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BEIJING — China is holding back from labeling Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion.

At the same time, it is upholding the sanctity of territorial sovereignty, in a nod to its own insistence that Taiwan is part of China.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and maintained,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday.

“At the same time, we also see that the issue of Ukraine has its own complex and special historical merits, and we understand Russia’s legitimate concerns on security issues,” he added.

Wang did not answer questions about whether China would recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in Ukrainian territory claimed by Russia, as independent states.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s civil aviation authority has banned U.K. flights to and over Russia in retaliation against the British government’s ban on Aeroflot flights.

Rosaviatsiya said that all flights by the U.K. carriers to Russia as well as transit flights are banned starting Friday.

It said the measure was taken in response to the “unfriendly decisions” by the British authorities who banned flights to the U.K. by the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot as part of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military claims it has destroyed 118 Ukrainian military assets since the beginning of its assault on its neighbor and as it pushes into the outskirts of Kyiv.

The claim could not be independently verified and was not confirmed by Ukraine amid a flurry of claims and counterclaims by each side.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that among the targets were 11 Ukrainian air bases, 13 command facilities, 36 air defense radars, 14 air defense missile systems, 5 warplanes, 18 tanks and warships.

However, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace rejected Russian claims of success on the first day of its invasion of Ukraine, saying it had “failed to deliver” on its day one objectives.

Wallace told Sky News that the Western assessment is that Russia had failed to take its major objectives and is behind on its timetable for advance.

“They’ve lost over 450 personnel,’’ he said.

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BERLIN — Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling it “a deep cut in European history after the end of the Cold War.”

Germany’s dpa news agency quoted Merkel saying Friday that there was “no justification for this blatant attack of international law. I condemn it in the sharpest possible manner.”

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and speaks Russian, was heavily engaged in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout her 16 years in office, which ended in December.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear energy regulatory agency says that higher than usual gamma radiation levels have been detected in the area near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, after it was seized by the Russian military.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said Friday that higher gamma radiation levels have been detected in the Chernobyl zone, but didn’t provide details of the increase.

It attributed the rise to a “disturbance of the topsoil due to the movement of a large amount of heavy military equipment through the exclusion zone and the release of contaminated radioactive dust into the air.”

Ukrainian authorities said that Russia took the plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle Thursday.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian airborne troops were protecting the plant to prevent any possible “provocations.” He insisted that radiation levels in the area have remained normal.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”

The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.

People waiting for a Kyiv bound train spread on a platform in Kostiantynivka, the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is “closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern.”

Karim Khan warned “all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine” that Ukraine has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

That means “my office may exercise its jurisdiction over and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014 onwards, Khan said in a statement Friday.

Khan adds that because neither Russia nor Ukraine are member states of the court, his office does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in the conflict.

The International Criminal Court is the world’s permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 2002 to prosecute atrocities in countries where local authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct trials.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko said at least three people were injured when a rocket hit a multi-story apartment building in Ukraine’s capital on Friday, starting a fire.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the Russian military’s claim it is not targeting civilian areas is “a lie.” He said that military and civilian areas in Ukraine are both being hit by Russian attacks.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that France and its European allies have decided to “inflict very severe blows on Moscow,” further sanctioning individuals and targeting finance, energy and other sectors. The legal texts for the sanctions will be finalized and submitted for approval to EU foreign ministers later Friday.

Macron also said the EU has decided on economic aid for Ukraine in the amount of 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion).

The French president also called the Belorussian government “an accomplice” in Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, and said it will also be targeted.

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KYIV, Ukraine — As Russian troops continued pressing their offensive Friday, intense fighting also raged in the country’s east.

Russian troops entered the city of Sumy near the border with Russia that sits on a highway leading to Kyiv from the east. The regional governor, Dmytro Zhivitsky, said Ukrainian forces fought Russian troops in the city overnight, but other Russian convoys kept rolling west toward the Ukrainian capital.

“Military vehicles from Sumy are moving toward Kyiv,” Zhivitsky said. “Much equipment has passed through and is heading directly to the west.”

Zhivitsky added that another northeastern city, Konotop, was also sieged. He urged residents of the region to fight the Russian forces.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is “closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern.”

Karim Khan issued a statement Friday on Twitter while on a visit to Bangladesh, where he is investigating crimes against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

Khan said he alerted “all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine” that Ukraine has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

That means “my office may exercise its jurisdiction over and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014 onwards,” Khan added.

He said that “any person who commits such crimes, including by ordering, inciting or contributing in another manner to the commission of these crimes may be liable to prosecution before the Court.”

Khan added that because neither Russia nor Ukraine are member states of the court, his office does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in the conflict.

The International Criminal Court is the world’s permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 2002 to prosecute atrocities in countries where local authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct trials.

Smoke and flame rise near a military building after an apparent Russian strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military is reporting significant fighting northwest of the nation’s capital as Russian forces apparently try to advance on Kyiv from the north.

The military said Friday morning a bridge across a river had been destroyed in the area of Ivankiv, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Kyiv.

“The hardest day will be today. The enemy’s plan is to break through with tank columns from the side of Ivankiv and Chernihiv to Kyiv. Russian tanks burn perfectly when hit by our ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles),” Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.

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TOKYO — The Ukrainian ambassador to Japan is urging China to join international efforts to stop the Russian “massacre” in his country amid Beijing’s lack of criticism of Moscow’s actions.

“We would very much welcome that China exercises its connection with Russia and talks to Putin and explains to him that it is inappropriate in the 21st century to do this massacre in Europe,” Ukrainian diplomat Sergiy Korsunsky told a news conference in Tokyo.

China has not criticized Russia over its actions against Ukraine, and has joined in verbal attacks on Washington and its allies.

“I do believe China can play a much more active role to work with Putin in a manner we expect for civilized countries to do,” he said.

Korsunsky also asked support from the United States and its allies to provide anti-missile defense equipment to fight Russian cruise missile attacks. He said Ukraine wants to join NATO and called for its support in resolving the conflict.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Explosions are being heard before dawn in Kyiv as Western leaders scheduled an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleads for international help.

The nature of the explosions was not immediately clear, but the blasts came amid signs that the capital and largest Ukrainian city was increasingly threatened following a day of fighting that left more than 100 Ukrainians dead.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the government had information that “subversive groups” were encroaching on the city, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv “could well be under siege” in what U.S. officials believe is a brazen attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismantle the government and replace it with his own regime.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on a phone call that Russian mechanized forces that entered from Belarus were about 20 miles from Kyiv, according to a person familiar with the call

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BEIJING — China’s Embassy in Ukraine says it is arranging evacuation flights for Chinese citizens. An embassy statement Friday says conditions in Ukraine have “deteriorated sharply” but makes no mention of the Russian invasion.

The embassy gave no details on where the evacuation flights would be leaving from. Nor did it say when the charter flights might happen, saying that scheduling will depend on the “flight safety situation.”

It says travelers should be packed and ready to react quickly once flight schedules are announced. Passengers must have a passport from China, Hong Kong or Macau or a “Taiwan compatriot card.”

The embassy earlier advised Chinese in Ukraine to stay home and to put a Chinese flag on their vehicles if they planned to travel long distances.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines top diplomat says he will travel to Ukraine’s border with Poland to ensure the safety of Filipinos fleeing from the eastern European country now under attack by Russian forces.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. did not specify in his tweet Friday where he is going. Nor did he say how many of the approximately 380 Filipinos in Ukraine are trying to flee amid the Russian invasion.

Locsin expressed gratitude to Poland for agreeing to accept fleeing Filipinos without entry visas.

The Philippines has not condemned Russia’s assault on Ukraine but has called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Its outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte, has been a vocal Asian critic of U.S. security policies and has nurtured close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jingping.

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BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are putting on a united front after a six-hour meeting during which they agreed on a second package of economic and financial sanctions on Russia.

The EU Council president accuses Russia of using “fake pretexts and bad excuses” for justifying its invasion of Ukraine and says sanctions will hurt the government,

The legal texts for the sanctions agreed on are expected to be finalized overnight and be submitted for approval to EU foreign affairs ministers Friday.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the package includes targeting 70% of the Russian banking market and key state-owned companies.

She says Russia’s energy sector also will be targeted “by making it impossible for Russia to upgrade its refineries.” And there will be a ban on sales of software, semiconductors and airliners to Russia.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council will vote Friday on a resolution that would condemn Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine “in the strongest terms.” It also would demand an immediate halt to Russia’s invasion and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.

A senior U.S. official says the Biden administration knows the measure will be vetoed by Russia, but believes it is very important to put the resolution to a vote to underscore Russia’s international isolation.

The official says the council vote will be followed by a resolution voted on quickly in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly where there are no vetoes.

The final draft resolution, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, would reaffirm the council’s commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

The council is scheduled to vote at 3 p.m. EST Friday.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says 137 civilians and military personnel have been killed so far in the Russian invasion of his country.

He calls them “heroes” in a video address released early Friday in which he also says hundreds more have been wounded.

Zelenskyy says that despite Russia’s claim it is attacking only military targets, civilian sites also have been struck. In his words: “They’re killing people and turning peaceful cities into military targets. It’s foul and will never be forgiven.”

The president says all border guards on Zmiinyi island in the Odesa region were killed Thursday. Ukraine’s border guard service earlier in the day reported that the island was taken by the Russians.

 

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TOKYO — President Joe Biden told fellow Indo-Pacific leaders assembled for a four-country summit Tuesday that they were navigating "a dark hour in our shared history" due to Russia's brutal war on Ukraine and he urged the group to make greater effort to stop Vladimir Putin's aggression.

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