Latest on war in Ukraine: US plans to revoke Russia favored trade status
(AP) — The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
US plans to revoke Russia favored trade status
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will announce Friday that, along with the European Union and the Group of Seven countries, the U.S. will move to revoke “most favored nation” trade status for Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
That’s according to a source familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement.
Biden’s move comes as bipartisan pressure has been building in Washington to revoke what is formally known as “permanent normal trade relations” with Russia.
The move would allow the U.S. and allies to impose tariffs on Russian imports.
US Senate approves $13.6B emergency package
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has given final congressional approval to a $13.6 billion emergency package of military and humanitarian aid for besieged Ukraine and its European allies.
The measure passed with a 68-31 bipartisan margin.
The House easily passed the compromise bill on Wednesday. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it.
Around half the $13.6 billion measure was for arming and equipping Ukraine and the Pentagon’s costs for sending U.S. troops to other Eastern European nations skittish about the warfare next door. Much of the rest included humanitarian and economic assistance, strengthening regional allies’ defenses and protecting their energy supplies and cybersecurity needs.
Democrats and Republicans have battled this election year over rising inflation, energy policy and lingering pandemic restrictions. But they’ve rallied behind sending aid to Ukraine, whose stubborn resilience against Russia has been inspirational for many voters.
China’s leader calls Ukraine situation ‘grave’
BEIJING — China’s Premier Li Keqiang on Friday called the situation in Ukraine “grave” and offered Beijing’s help in playing a “positive role” for peace while continuing to refuse to criticize Russia.
China has largely sided with Russia, refusing to refer to its actions in Ukraine as a war or invasion. Chinese officials and state media have parroted Russian claims while Beijing calls itself neutral and defending national sovereignty above all else.
“We support and encourage all efforts that are conducive to a peaceful settlement of the crisis,” Li told reporters at an annual news conference.
“The pressing task now is to prevent tension from escalating or even getting out of control,” Li said. “China calls for exercising utmost restraint and preventing a massive humanitarian crisis.”
Li spoke following the close of the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp legislature.
Russia’s war in Ukraine was not openly discussed at the meeting, although it echoes in Beijing’s approach to Taiwan — the self-governing island democracy China claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.
Japan to spend $100M for Ukraine shelter, medical care, clean water
TOKYO — Japan said it will spend $100 million in previously announced humanitarian aid for Ukraine on shelter, medical care and clean water.
The money will go to Ukraine and neighboring countries Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania through six international and Japanese groups, such as UNICEF, the World Food Program and refugee assistance programs, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.
Japan has joined the U.S. and European nations in slapping sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. In the business sector, major companies, including Sony, Uniqlo and Nissan, have decided to suspend operations in or shipments to Russia.
Friday’s aid carries out a pledge made by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last month to stand with the people of Ukraine, the ministry said.
US warns Russia on foreign corporate assets
WASHINGTON — The White House is warning Russia against taking steps to seize the assets of U.S. and international companies that have announced plans to suspend operations in Russia or to withdraw from the Russian market in response to Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
Jen Psaki, the press secretary, was responding to reports in Russian and other news media about a proposal to nationalize the property of major foreign companies that are leaving Russia.
Psaki says Thursday on Twitter that such a step would be a throwback to 1917 and that Russia will have to live for decades with investor distrust. She says Russia also could face legal claims from companies whose property is seized.
Psaki says the White House stands with American companies that are making what she called “tough decisions” about the future of their Russian operations.
The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported Thursday that the government and the general prosecutor’s office were considering a proposal to nationalize foreign companies that have announced they are pulling out of Russia because of the war in Ukraine. The newspaper said it had a list of nearly 60 companies, including IKEA, McDonald’s, Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Porsche, among others.
The article said some were urging caution. One expert quoted warned against hasty actions, saying some of the businesses were acting under pressure from their governments and that it would be wrong to conclude that they have closed their doors on the Russian market forever.
Zelenskyy: 100,000 evacuated from 7 cities in past 2 days
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 100,000 people have been evacuated during the past two days from seven cities under Russian blockade in the north and center of the country, including the Kyiv suburbs.
But he said the Russian refusal to allow evacuations from Mariupol, a port city in the south, was “outright terror.”
“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the Russians began a tank attack right where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.
The city of 430,000 has been without food supplies, running water and electricity for 10 days. Ukrainian officials say about 1,300 people have died, including three in the bombing of a maternity and children’s hospital on Wednesday.
Photos: Russian convey mired outside Kyiv
KYIV — Satellite photos show that a massive Russian convoy that had been mired outside the Ukrainian capital since last week appeared to have dispersed.
Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies showed the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks and artillery has broken up and been redeployed, with armored units seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city. Some of the vehicles have moved into forests, Maxar reported.
The convoy had massed outside the city early last week, but its advance appeared to have stalled amid reports of food and fuel shortages. U.S. officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.
Zelenskyy denies having plans to use chemical or biological weapons
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied Russia’s accusation that Ukraine is preparing to attack with chemical or biological weapons, and he said the accusation itself was a bad sign.
“That worries me very much because we have often been convinced that if you want to know Russia’s plans, they are what Russia accuses others of,” he said in his nightly address to the nation.
Russia said it uncovered plans to create secret laboratories in Ukraine to produce biological weapons.
“I am a reasonable person. The president of a reasonable country and reasonable people. I am the father of two children,” he said. “And no chemical or any other weapon of mass destruction has been developed on my land. The whole world knows this.”
UN Security Council to meet Friday
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss what Russia claims are “the military biological activities of the U.S. on the territory of Ukraine.”
Council diplomats confirmed the meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. EST, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.
Russia requested the meeting in a tweet Thursday afternoon from its first deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky.
The request came after the Biden administration rejected the accusation, made without evidence by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, that Ukraine was running chemical and biological labs with U.S. support.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki Psaki called Russia’s claim “preposterous.” On Wednesday, warned that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine, the neighbor it has invaded.
“This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” Psaki tweeted.
But Dmitry Chumakov, another Russian deputy U.N. ambassador, repeated the accusation Wednesday, urging Western media to cover “the news about secret biological laboratories in Ukraine.”
Russia asks for UN Security Council to meet
UNITED NATIONS — Russia has called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss what it claims are “the military biological activities of the U.S. on the territory of Ukraine.”
The Russian request, announced in a tweet Thursday afternoon from its deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, follows the Biden administration’s rejection of Russian accusations that Ukraine is running chemical and biological labs with U.S. support.
In response to this week’s accusations by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova — without evidence — White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a public warning Wednesday that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine, the neighbor it has invaded.
Polyansky said Russia has asked for the Security Council to meet on Friday. It was not immediately clear when or whether a council meeting would take place.
Psaki called Russia’s claim “preposterous” and tweeted: “This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine.”
Marriott to close offices in Moscow
BETHESDA, Md. — Marriott will close its corporate offices in Moscow in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the company announced Thursday.
The company said it is also pausing new hotel openings and all future hotel development and investment in Russia. Marriott’s 28 hotels in Russia, which are owned and operated by franchisees, remain open, the company said.
Ukraine says nuclear research facility on fire after shelling
LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces shelled a nuclear research institute in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city on Thursday, setting buildings on fire, said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.
A shell hit a building where there is equipment that could release radiation if it were damaged, Gerashchenko said. According to the president’s office, there has been no change in the background radiation.
The shelling caused a fire, but firefighters were able to put it out.
Russian forces have already taken over two nuclear power plants in Ukraine, raising concerns about the security of the nuclear facilities.
Ukraine: Military held back Russian troops
LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military said it has successfully held back Russian troops, preventing them from making any new gains.
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said that Russian forces were trying to encircle Kyiv moving from the north and west, but their advance has slowed down or even stopped.
It said that Ukrainian forces on Thursday drove Russians out of the village of Baklanova Muraviika near Chernihiv, which sits on a road leading to Kyiv.
International Monetary Fund leader on economic recovery ahead
WASHINGTON — The costs of economic recovery and reconstruction for war-torn Ukraine are “already massive” and will require swift aid as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the head of the International Monetary Fund said Thursday.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva spoke a day after the 190-country organization approved $1.4 billion in emergency lending for Ukraine to meet urgent needs and help blunt the economic impact of the invasion.
The emergency IMF aid comes atop $700 million disbursed to Ukraine in December and $2.7 billion in emergency reserves Ukraine received in August as part of its normal IMF allocation. The organization provides loans and other financial support to countries in crisis to help restore economic and financial stability.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top economic adviser on Thursday put the cost of recovery and reconstruction at $100 billion at least. Georgieva said it’s too early to accurately assess costs, but acknowledged they could be close to that.
For Russia, Georgieva said the unprecedented economic and financial sanctions leveled by the U.S. and European allies have brought severe economic disruption, staggering inflation and damage to the Russian people’s standard of living. A deep recession is certain, she said.
UN: 1.9M people displaced inside Ukraine
UNITED NATIONS — In addition to the more than 2.3 million people who have fled the war in Ukraine, an estimated 1.9 million people are displaced within the country, according to U.N. officials.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that most of the internally displaced people are moving away from the front lines and heading west toward Lviv. The humanitarian situation “continues to deteriorate at an alarming pace,” he said.
“Humanitarian organizations are deploying additional staff across the country and are working to move supplies to warehouses in different hubs within Ukraine and outside,” Dujarric said. “So far, we — along with our partners — have reached more than 500,000 people with some form of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, including life-saving food, shelter, blankets, and medical supplies.”
By Wednesday, he said, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR had delivered 85 metric tonnes of humanitarian assistance to reception and transit centers in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, which is hosting people who have fled hostilities further east.
The U.N. World Food Program plans to assist up to 3.1 million people, giving priority to pre-positioning bulk food, bread, and other rations in cities and areas where fighting is expected to flare, Dujarric said.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that between February and May, farmers need to start preparing land for planting wheat, barley, maize and sunflowers and they need to prepare land for sowing vegetables in the middle of March, he said. FAO is also stressing that all efforts should be made to protect harvests and livestock, he said.
Disney pauses other business in Russia
NEW YORK — The Walt Disney Co. said Thursday that in addition to pausing film releases in Russia, as previously announced, it is also “taking steps to pause all other businesses” there. That includes its cruise ships, National Geographic magazine issues and tours, local productions, product licensing and its TV networks.
Some activities can be paused immediately; others, like the TV networks and some licensing arrangements, “take time given contractual complexities,” the company said in a statement.
Ukraine withdrawing personnel in UN peacekeeping efforts
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has received official notification from Ukraine that it intends to withdraw all 308 military and police personnel serving in six U.N. peacekeeping missions, along with eight Russian-built Mi-8 helicopters currently in Congo.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric made the announcement Thursday, saying this includes about 250 troops from Congo whose withdrawal was announced Wednesday as well as 36 staff officers and experts, and 22 police officers.
In addition to Congo, the Ukrainians are serving in five other peacekeeping operations in Mali, Cyprus, Abyei and South Sudan and Kosovo.
The Ukrainian request appears to be aimed at beefing up its military and helicopters in the war against Russia.
Dujarric again stressed that every country has a right to withdraw military forces contributed to peacekeeping operations and thanked Ukrainian personnel “for their longstanding contribution to peace operations.”
He said the U.N. is in the process of taking action on the Ukrainian request and will be contacting other countries to replace the troops, police and equipment.
JPMorgan Chase ‘unwinding’ its Russian banking business
NEW YORK — JPMorgan Chase said Thursday that it is “unwinding” its Russian banking business and plans not to take any additional work, making it the latest bank to pull out of Russia.
Like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan said it has a “limited” presence in Russia, a spokeswoman said, and will only be using the coming weeks to close out pre-existing business relationships. The bank will also donate $5 million to humanitarian relief efforts.
Banks have been the latest industry to come under pressure to cut ties from Russia entirely due to the war. Goldman Sachs announced Thursday it would close its Russian offices and Citigroup has said it would try to sell its retail banking business and close its investment banking operations.
Unlike companies who make goods that ship to Russia, banks have loans, deposits and existing customer relationships that take time to wind down or sell off.
IAEA aims to ensure nuclear facility safety
BERLIN — While the situation regarding Ukraine’s nuclear facilities is “complex and difficult,” the head of the U.N. nuclear agency said Thursday that he is in contact with all sides to ascertain how to help ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities.
Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters Thursday evening in Vienna that the nuclear watchdog has ”scheduled physical inspections” of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. He would not give any details on when or how those inspections would take place citing the sensitivity of the situation.
Grossi added that the IAEA also has “a number of remote monitoring devices” in operation.
When it comes to nuclear facilities based in conflict zones, the director-general said “we are trying to make sure that we will not have again added suffering because of any radioactive release or anything having to do with nuclear facilities.”
Grossi said he does not expect any side to intentionally target nuclear reactors, but there was the risk of unintentional shelling. He also stressed that at facilities taken by the Russian military, but operated by Ukrainian staff, it was paramount that employees get enough rest to be focused while working.
Grossi told reporters that there was not immediate danger of power cuts at the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, which Russian forces seized last week, and that even in the case of power cuts there would be “ample time” to restore it before anything dangerous could happen.
People arrive in Brazil from Ukraine
BRASILIA, Brazil — A Brazilian Air Force plane from Warsaw landed in Brazil’s capital on Thursday with 68 passengers who left Ukraine amid the country’s conflict with Russia.
President Jair Bolsonaro welcomed 42 of his countrymen, 20 Ukrainians, five Argentines and one Colombian, according to the Brazilian Foreign Ministry. Eight dogs and two cats were also aboard.
The same plane took more than 11 tons of humanitarian aid to the European nation.
Bolsonaro has had an ambivalent position about the conflict, siding with the U.S. and the European Union at the United Nations without condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion.
Stallantis suspends Russia imports, exports
MILAN — The world’s fourth-largest car manufacturer, Stellantis, announced Thursday that it was suspending all imports and exports of cars to Russia.
The company did not provide further details but noted that it has employees in Russia “and we consider we should not mix ‘regime’ and people.” Stellantis operates a plant in Kaluga, Russia.
“Our CEO has made clear public statements against any more of violence,″ the statement said.
It added: “At Stellantis we condemn violence and aggression and, in this time of unprecedented pain, our priority is the health and safety of our Ukrainian employees and families.”
The company said it has dedicated a task force to helping the 71 Ukrainian colleagues in Ukraine and their families, including an exceptional supplement and support in moving out of the country.
Russia denies airstrike on maternity hospital
The Russian Defense Ministry denied responsibility Thursday for striking a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and claimed that the explosions that hit the building were staged to smear Russia.
Ukrainian officials said that Wednesday’s Russian air strike on the hospital killed three people, including a child, and wounded 17 others. The attack has caused global outrage.
Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov denied that the Russian military struck the hospital. He claimed that the two explosions that ravaged the building were caused by explosive devices planted nearby in what he described as a “staged provocation to incite anti-Russian agitation in the West.”
Shelling upsets effort to evacuate Mariupol civilians
KYIV, Ukraine — Constant shelling has thwarted attempts to evacuate civilians from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, a senior Ukrainian official said Thursday.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 1,300 civilians have been killed in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea during the nine days of siege. The city has been left without power, food and water.
Vereshchuk said in televised remarks that the Russian forces start shelling the city each time a humanitarian convoy makes an attempt to depart for Mariupol to evacuate its residents.
“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol, they want to make them starve,” she said. “It’s a war crime.”
UK leader joins others to condemn message on chemical weapons
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined other Western officials Thursday in warning that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, and accused the Kremlin of a “cynical, barbaric” attempt to justify such a move.
Johnson said the Kremlin is preparing a “fake story” that chemical weapons are being stored by their opponents or by the Americans as a pretext for deploying the weapons themselves.
“The stuff which you are hearing about chemical weapons is straight out of their playbook,” he told Sky News on Thursday. “You have seen it in Syria, you saw it even in the U.K. I just note that that is what they are already doing. It is a cynical, barbaric government I’m afraid.”
Red Cross describes dire conditions in Mariupol
GENEVA — Shops and pharmacies scoured out of desperation. Hospitals functioning only partially. People fighting for food or swiping fuel from idle cars. A black market breaking out for vegetables, and no meat available at all.
A top official with the International Committee for the Red Cross in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol has described the harrowing conditions faced by civilians trapped inside.
“All the shops and pharmacies were looted four to five days ago. Some people still have food, but (I) am not sure how long it will last,” said Sacha Volkov, the ICRC’s deputy head of sub-delegation in Mariupol, in an audio file provided Thursday by the ICRC. The comments were recorded Wednesday by satellite phone from a city with which communications with the outside world have been patchy at best.
People are getting sick because of the cold and humidity, Volkov said. Many people have no drinking water. Basements — offering greater safety — are reserved for mothers with small children.
“People started to attack each other for food,” he said. “People started to ruin someone’s car to take the gasoline out.”
The Geneva-based ICRC has been trying to arrange evacuations for days for an estimated 200,000 people in Mariupol after Russian forces have all but surrounded the Ukrainian port city.
Macron condemns airstrike on maternity hospital
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “a shameful and amoral act of war” after a Russian airstrike on a Mariupol maternity hospital.
Macron said Thursday he was deeply upset by images showing “lethal weapons have been used in an indiscriminate manner in the city center.” He spoke ahead of a summit of EU heads of state and government at the Versailles Palace, west of Paris.
Macron said “nothing justifies” what happened in Mariupol.
“I am very worried and pessimistic,” about the war in Ukraine, Macron said. “I don’t see a ceasefire (being) realistic in the coming hours.”
Biden talks with Turkey’s president
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed the importance of Turkey’s role in ending the war in Ukraine in a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday, state-run Anadolu Agency said.
In a 45-minute call, Erdogan said it was important for Turkey to be a “facilitator in the search for a solution in case the crisis deepens,” Anadolu reported. He described a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba held earlier near the Turkish city of Antalya as “a victory for diplomacy.”
The meeting was chaired by the Turkish foreign minister after Turkey lobbied to act as a mediator between the warring countries. It failed to produce any concrete results.
Erdogan also asked Biden to lift “unfair” sanctions on Turkey, Anadolu said. Sanctions on leading defense industry figures were imposed after Ankara acquired a Russian-made air defense system in 2019. Turkey was also kicked off the F-35 fighter program.
Holocaust museum suspends partnership with Russian billionaire
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum has suspended its “strategic partnership” with Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich, the museum announced Thursday.
The decision came shortly after the British government sanctioned Abramovich over his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yad Vashem said its own decision came “in light of recent developments” but gave no further details.
It’s a reversal from a Feb. 6 Yad Vashem letter to U.S. ambassador Tom Nides urging the U.S. not to sanction Abramovich because of “potentially negative consequences.” Just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the memorial announced a multi-million dollar donation that would have made Abramovich the museum’s second-largest private donor. That donation is now on hold, a spokesman said.
Yad Vashem has condemned the invasion and Putin’s comparison of Ukraine’s government to Nazi Germany, calling it a “trivialization and distortion of the historical facts of the Holocaust.”
Western governments have shunned Putin. Israel has stopped short of condemning it and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has kept up talks with both the Russian leader and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Man arrested after rape of Ukrainian woman he offered refuge
WARSAW, Poland — Polish police arrested a man accused of raping a 19-year-old Ukrainian woman he had offered refuge, officials announced Thursday.
The crime comes amid Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades, with Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine causing more than 2.3 million people to flee the country so far. Poland is the country that is taking the most, with Poles exhibiting a huge outpouring of compassion and help, and some even taking strangers into their own homes.
Police said the perpetrator offered to help the 19-year-old Ukrainian citizen “and turned out to be a ruthless criminal.” If he is convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison.
The incident comes as the International Organization for Migration warns that the refugees, who are largely women, children and the elderly, are particularly particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and to trafficking.
Exiled Belarus leader urges sanctions
LONDON — The exiled opposition leader of Belarus urged Western democracies Thursday to slap tougher sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko over his backing of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Lukashenko has full responsibility for this attack on Ukraine,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said at an event at London’s Chatham House thinktank. “I believe that it’s time for democracy to show its teeth, and it’s crucial to put diplomatic, economic and political pressure on the Belarus regime.”
Tsikhanouskaya has said that Belarus’ military is effectively under Russian control. She called for Lukashenko to be suspended from all international organizations, Belarus state banks to be cut from the international SWIFT payment network and for imports from state enterprises to be banned.
Many countries have already announced sanctions on the Belarus government, but Tsikhanouskaya said this is not enough.
“Half measures don’t work. They only make things worse,” she said.
Sheikh in Qatar meets with envoy to Ukraine president
DOHA, Qatar — Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani met Thursday with Bektum Rostam, special envoy of the Ukrainian president.
Qatar’s ruler and Rostam discussed the developments in Ukraine and diplomatic ways to solve the conflict, as well as regional and international matters, The Emir’s Diwan said in a statement.
The tiny nation of Qatar, which lies on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula and has only one land border to Saudi Arabia, is among the world’s largest suppliers of liquefied natural gas, and is among countries that the U.S. is hoping could aid Europe. Despite its small size, it also plays a strategic role as a back channel, mediator and facilitator of negotiations among countries and groups.
Polish leader: Europe must end dependence on Russian energy
PARIS — Beyond any eventual EU decision to embargo Russia’s oil and gas, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday that Europe must end its dependence on Russian energy supplies.
“It is a matter of our security,” Tusk said at a news conference attended by some EU leaders ahead of a summit in Versailles. He noted that some European leaders are hesitant about an embargo “for practical reasons,” a reference to some countries’ dependence on Russian energy. But, Tusk said, in the long-term, “this is a must for Europe.”
Tusk heads the European People’s Party, a center-right group in the European Parliament, which met in Paris ahead of the summit hosted by President Emmanuel Macron. Russia’s war in Ukraine and the wider repercussions were to dominate summit talks.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins argued ahead of the summit for targeting Russia’s energy sector, “the Kremlin’s main source of income,” as the best way to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his war in Ukraine.
The United States this week ordered a ban on Russian oil imports.
Goldman Sachs shuts down operations in Russia
NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs says it is closing its operations in Russia entirely, making it the first major Wall Street bank to do so since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Goldman’s announcement comes after Citigroup said it would start winding down its Russia operations. But that process will likely take longer because Citi operates a consumer banking and business banking division in the country.
Like other Wall Street banks, Goldman operated a small investment banking business in the country for the past few years. The bank said in a statement Thursday it has roughly $650 million in exposure to Russian debt.
Banking is the latest industry to come under pressure to cut its Russian ties due to the war. But unlike companies who make goods that ship to Russia, banks have loans, deposits and existing customer relationships that take time to wind down or sell off.
Ukrainian leader warns Russia in video
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president is telling Russian leaders that their country’s invasion of Ukraine will backfire, by landing them in court and making their people hate them.
“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video released Thursday.
The West has slapped harsh financial and economic sanctions on Russia because of the invasion, and the Ukrainian leader said the consequences will be felt by all Russians.
“And then, it will definitely happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens — everyone you have been deceiving constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their shrinking possibilities, in the stolen future of Russian children.”
Sweden asks public to report suspicious underwater activity
STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s navy is asking the public to report any suspicious underwater activity along the country’s Baltic coast, saying “we are very interested in tips.”
The request came amid heightened awareness around the Baltic Sea region after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Skärgården, a newspaper covering Stockholm’s vast archipelago, said that Naval Security Chief Anders Engqvist asked residents to keep an eye out for things such as unnatural-looking waves or periscopes.
He also asked people to alert authorities if they see anyone moor or go ashore near military installations or if someone drops anchor in a prohibited area.
Sweden’s Baltic Sea island of Gotland sits a little more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.
Hotels freeze investments in Russia
NEW YORK — All three international hotel chains based in the United States have frozen their investments in Russia and put on hold any planned openings of new hotels there.
Marriott on Thursday joined Hyatt and Hilton, which on Wednesday ceased any development of properties after Russia invaded Ukraine two weeks ago.
Marriott, like Hilton, said it’s shuttering its corporate office in Moscow as well.
Marriott hotels in Russia are owned by third parties and the company said it is evaluating the “ability” of those locations to remain open. Hyatt also said it’s evaluating the operations of hotels that remain open there.
All three hotels are either earmarking aid funds, donating profits from Russian properties, or opening hotel rooms to refugees in Europe.
VP Harris backs war crimes investigation
WARSAW — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has embraced calls for an international war crimes investigation of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and the bombing of civilians, including a maternity hospital.
Speaking Thursday in Warsaw, where she is demonstrating U.S. support for NATO’s eastern flank allies, Harris expressed outrage over the bombing of the maternity hospital on Wednesday and scenes of bloodied pregnant women being evacuated.
“Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” said Harris.
Standing alongside Harris, Polish President Andrzej Duda said, “It is obvious to us that in Ukraine Russians are committing war crimes.”
Turkey official talks about meeting of Russia, Ukraine foreign ministers
ANTALYA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in Turkey was conducted “in a civilized manner despite the difficulties.”
Cavusoglu, who took part as a facilitator in the highest-level Russian-Ukrainian talks since the start of the war in Ukraine, said he had not expected “miracles” from the first meeting, which ended without a breakthrough.
Even so, he welcomed the fact that Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Dmotry Kuleba of Ukraine spoke of the possibility of a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents — with Russia agreeing “in principle” to such a meeting.
The Turkish minister said that during the three-way talks he pushed for a “sustainable cease-fire.”
“Until that can be established, we stressed the need for humanitarian corridors to remain open… We especially stressed the need for humanitarian corridors in Mariupol,” he said.
Germany’s foreign minister talks about history
SARAJEVO, Bosnia — Germany’s foreign minister says her country has “a historic responsibility” to protect peace in the Balkans, as she drew a parallel between the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“I am aware that many people here are reminded of the terrible time in the 1990s seeing the pictures from Kiev, from Mariupol,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Thursday in Sarajevo, referring to Ukrainian targets of Russian attacks.
Baerbrock added that growing up alongside some of close to 350,000 Bosnian refugees sheltering in Germany “shaped my generation of politicians.”
“We want to live together in the European house,” said Baerbrock on the first day of her four-day tour of the politically fragile region that will also include stops in Serbia, Kosovo and Moldova.
Russia officials seek return of 25 artworks
MILAN, Italy — Russian cultural officials have asked for the return of 25 works of art on loan to two shows in Milan this month.
Italian officials said Thursday the two shows are still open and the request for a return comes ahead of agreed terms.
The works include two on display at a show on the Renaissance artist Titian at the city-run Palazzo Reale, including Titian’s “Young woman with the feathered hat,” that belongs to the Hermitage Museum.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said that “it seems evident that when the owner asks for their works to be returned, they must be returned.”
The ministry said it is currently doing a survey of what Italian works of art are on loan to Russian museums