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Politics

Live Updates: Ukraine Αpplies to Join European Union

February 28, 2022

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has signed an application for Ukraine to join the European Union.

The action comes five days after Russia invaded its smaller neighbor, touching off widespread international condemnation and offers of military assistance from the 27-member nation EU and elsewhere.

Andrii Sybiha, head of Zelenskyy’s office, said on his official Facebook page that the documents “are on the way to Brussels.”

Photos of Zelenskyy were posted in Facebook. He was flanked by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and chairman of the parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk.

“The history is being created now,” the post said.
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Read more: Greece Closes Its Airspace to Russian Airplanes

Read more: Greece to send Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine, Moldova and Slovakia

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France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere addresses the emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly opened an extraordinary emergency session Monday with pleas for peace in Ukraine, starting a day of frenzied diplomacy at the U.N.

Assembly President Abdulla Shahid asked envoys from the U.N.’s 193 member nations to stand for a moment of silence at the start of the session, the assembly’s first emergency meeting in decades. Shahid repeated calls for an immediate cease-fire, maximum restraint by all parties and “a full return to diplomacy and dialogue.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council was due to meet later Monday to discuss the spiraling humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

With Russian and Ukrainian officials holding talks on the Belarus border, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said told the assembly he hoped those discussions could lead to a halt in the fighting.

“The guns are talking now, but the path of dialogue must always remain open,” he said. “We need peace now.”

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A damaged and burnt military vehicle is seen after fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Marienko Andrew)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say at least 44 people have been wounded in fighting in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, and that seven of them died in hospitals.

It wasn’t clear if the casualties, which covered the past 24 hours, were all civilians. The state emergencies agency said the casualties could be higher because the damage from Monday’s shelling of residential areas is still being assessed.

Ukrainian social networks featured videos showing residential quarters hit by a series of powerful explosions amid fighting with Russian forces.

The Russian military has consistently denied targeting residential areas despite abundant evidence of shelling of residential buildings, schools and hospitals.
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CAIRO — The Arab League has voiced concerns about the war in Ukraine, but it refrained from demanding an end to the Russian invasion.

The pan-Arab organization says in a communique Monday it supports all ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis “through dialogue and diplomacy.”

The communique comes after a meeting of representatives of the 22-member Arab League in Cairo.

The communique didn’t mention Russia, which has close ties with regional powers like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Most governments in the Arab regions have avoided criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The UAE, which holds a temporary seat at the U.N. Security Council, has joined China and India in abstaining during a vote on a U.S. resolution condemning the invasion.

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Swiss President Ignazio Cassis delivers a speech during the opening of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/Keystone via AP, Pool)

GENEVA — The Swiss president says Russia’s attack on Ukraine is “unacceptable” and Switzerland will adopt European Union sanctions, including asset freezes, targeting Russians – all but depriving well-heeled Russians of access to one of their favorite havens to park their money.

Ignazio Cassis told a news conference Monday that Russia’s invasion was intolerable on moral and political grounds. Switzerland’s government has been trying to balance its condemnation of Russia’s actions with its history of neutrality and as an intermediary between opposing countries.

Referring to the Swiss executive body, he added: “The Federal Council has decided to take up fully the sanctions of the European Union, including the asset freezes.”

Switzerland is not a European Union member but is all but surrounded by four EU countries: Austria, France, Germany and Italy.
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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s interior Ministry said the country has asked the European Union border agency Frontex to help it guard its border with Ukraine as thousands of Ukrainian refugees flee after the Russian military invasion.

Slovakia’s 98-kilometer (61-mile) border with Ukraine is also the outer border of the EU’s visa-free Schengen zone.

The Slovak government has already agreed to deploy up to 1,500 soldiers to help the border police deal with lrge numbers of refugees. Some 30,000 Ukrainians have crossed the border since Russia attacked Ukraine on Thursday and their numbers are on the rise.

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LONDON — Russia-born media mogul Evgeny Lebedev has used the pages of a British newspaper he owns to implore Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the invasion of Ukraine.

London’s Evening Standard on Monday features a front-page statement by Lebedev headlined “President Putin, please stop this war,” alongside an Associated Press photo of medics battling to save a 6-year-old girl killed by shelling in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Lebedev wrote: “As a Russian citizen I plead with you to stop Russians killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. As a British citizen I ask you to save Europe from war.”

Lebedev, whose oligarch father Alexander Lebedev once worked for the KGB, was made a member of the House of Lords in 2020.

Oligarchs Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Putin, and Mikhail Fridman, who is on a U.S. sanctions list, have also urged an end to the violence.

Meanwhile Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, has offered to help broker peace. A spokesman said Abramovich “was contacted by the Ukrainian side for support in achieving a peaceful resolution, and that he has been trying to help ever since.” It was unclear what help he could provide.
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Vladimir Medinsky, the head of the Russian delegation, second left, and Davyd Arakhamia, faction leader of the Servant of the People party in the Ukrainian Parliament, third right, attend the peace talks in the Gomel region, Belarus, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022 (Sergei Kholodilin/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

GENEVA — Russia’s diplomatic mission says a planned visit by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the United Nations in Geneva has been cancelled after EU countries closed their airspace to flights from Russia.

Lavrov had been expected to attend high-level meetings at the Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament, followed by a planned news conference.

The mission tweeted that the cancellation of the trip to landlocked Switzerland was due to an “unprecedented ban” on Lavrov’s flight by “a number of EU countries that have imposed anti-Russian sanctions.”

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

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

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

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

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

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A refugee child fleeing the conflict from neighbouring Ukraine sits in a bus at the Romanian-Ukrainian border, in Siret, Romania, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A woman carries her child as she arrives at the Medyka border crossing after fleeing from the Ukraine, in Poland, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a news conference , Kulick said Seoul’s move could possibly jeopardize its aspirational plans to bring Russian gas through North Korea to South Korea’s industrial hubs through cross-border pipelines. South Korea had described the plans as a possible peace project between the Koreas, but it never took off despite years of discussions between Seoul and Moscow amid tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Meeting with business leaders on Monday, South Korean Trade Minister Yeo Han-koo said officials were planning to hold consultations with U.S. Commerce Department this week to seek exemptions that would minimize the impact of U.S. sanctions on South Korean companies.

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A man lights candles during a service for Ukraine at Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church of St. Volodimir, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An armored vehicle rolls outside Mykolaivka, Donetsk region, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, in eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022.  (AP Photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A child watches from a train carriage, waiting to leave to western Ukraine at the railway station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wallace said Britain takes Putin’s warning “very, very seriously” and won’t do anything that increases the chances for miscalculation on either side.

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

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People, seen through a large Ukrainian flag, wave Ukraine’s flags during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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

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

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

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

The debate is expected to take place Thursday, part of the five-week Human Rights Council session that runs through April 1.

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

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

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

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

“Be alarmed, be alarmed, be alarmed!,” Borrell said when asked about Putin’s announcement during an interview in Spanish private radio Onda Cero. “It is absolutely irresponsible at this time to call for nuclear weaponry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abe, who bolstered Japan’s military spending and capability during his eight year leadership and known for his hawkish stance, stepped down in 2020 but still remains highly influential and heads the largest faction of Japan’s governing party.

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

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

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

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

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

While Orthodox Christians are predominant among the faithful in Ukraine, the Catholic Church has a discreet presence in that country through believers who follow the Eastern Rite of Catholicism.

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PARIS — France’s Minister for European Affairs says an EU ban on Russian state-owned channels Russia Today and Sputnik is an “absolute need.”

Clement Beaune said on French radio Europe 1 that he has “no problem” with banning the channels because they are spreading “propaganda.”

The European move was announced by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

It comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a key campaign issue in France. The country’s presidential election is scheduled in two rounds on April 10 and 24.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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People, seen through a large Ukrainian flag, wave Ukraine’s flags during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SAN FRANCISCO — Security officials at Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, said they identified an increase in attempts to hack the accounts of public figures in Ukraine, including a journalist, members of the Ukrainian military and at least one politician. Separately, they said the company disrupted a misinformation network run by people in Russia and Ukraine.

The hacking attempts originated from a group known to security experts as Ghostwriter, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s head of security policy. That group generally tries to break into the social media accounts of its targets and then post misinformation as if it had originated with the targets themselves. The company observed several attempts to get people to post videos that allegedly showed Ukrainian soldiers surrendering, Gleicher said.

The relatively small misinformation network, by contrast, ran several false websites that masqueraded as news outlets and published claims that the West was betraying Ukraine. It also created fictitious personas that posed as news editors, an aviation expert and the author of a scientific publication. Meta security teams took down about 40 fake accounts, pages and groups involved in this operation, none of which appeared to have significant followings.

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

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

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

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere announced the Security Council meeting on the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion, a session sought by French President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the delivery of aid to people in need in Ukraine.

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

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

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

“It is the responsibility of all parties to uphold the principles of mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and equal rights of all nations,” the regional bloc said.

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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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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.

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WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, fresh off winning Senate confirmation for a second term earlier in the day, acknowledged for the first time Thursday that high inflation and economic weakness overseas could thwart his efforts to avoid causing a recession.

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FALMOUTH, MA – The police in Falmouth have identified the victim in an accident involving a car plunging into the ocean on February 20, NBC10 Boston reported.

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NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

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PHILADELPHIA – The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Philadelphia and Greater Delaware Valley announced that the Evzones, the Presidential Guard of Greece will be participating in the Philadelphia Greek Independence Day Parade on March 20.

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Pentagon Says More High-Tech Weapons Going to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — Nearly 50 defense leaders from around the world met Monday and agreed to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including a Harpoon launcher and missiles to protect its coast, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.

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