BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he’s “sincerely thankful” to the U.S. for the new round of $800 million in military assistance.
In his daily late-night address to the nation, Zelenskyy also said he was thankful for Wednesday’s visit by the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
He said those leaders “have helped us from the first day, those who did not hesitate to give us weapons, those who did not doubt whether to impose sanctions.”
In his telephone conversation with U.S. President Joe Biden, Zelenskyy said they discussed the new weapons shipment, even tougher sanctions against Russia and efforts to bring to justice those Russian soldiers who committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy also said work was continuing to clear tens of thousands of unexploded shells, mines and trip wires that were left behind in northern Ukraine by the retreating Russians.
He urged those returning to their homes in those towns to be wary of any unfamiliar object and report it to the police.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Biden approves $800M in artillery, helicopters for Ukraine
LVIV, Ukraine — The detention of fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party and a close associate of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has been met with enthusiasm in Kyiv and irritation in Moscow.
Analysts say Medvedchuk will become a valuable pawn in the Russia-Ukraine talks to end the devastating war that the Kremlin has unleashed on its ex-Soviet neighbor.
Medvedchuk was detained on Tuesday in a special operation carried out by Ukraine’s state security service, or the SBU. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proposed that Russia could win Medvedchuk’s freedom by trading him for Ukrainians now held captive by the Russians.
The 67-year-old oligarch escaped from house arrest several days before the hostilities broke out Feb. 24 in Ukraine. He is facing between 15 years and a life in prison on charges of treason and aiding and abetting a terrorist organization for mediating coal purchases for the separatist, Russia-backed Donetsk republic in eastern Ukraine.
Medvedchuk has close ties with Putin, who is believed to be the godfather of his youngest daughter. His detention has sparked a heated exchange between officials in Moscow and Kyiv.
KYIV, Ukraine — The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia visited Ukraine on Wednesday and underscored their support for the embattled country.
The presidents of the four NATO countries on Russia’s doorstep saw heavily damaged buildings and demanded accountability for what they called war crimes carried out by Russian forces. The visit was a strong show of solidarity by the leaders of the countries on NATO’s eastern flank, three of them like Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union.
They traveled by train to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to meet Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy and visited Borodyanka, one of the towns near Kyiv where evidence of atrocities was found after Russian troops withdrew to focus on the country’s east.
“The fight for Europe’s future is happening here,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said, calling for tougher sanctions, including against Russia’s oil and gas shipments and all the country’s banks.
Appearing alongside Zelenskyy in an ornate room in Kyiv’s historical Mariinskyi Palace, the European leaders — Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Estonian President Alar Karis, Poland’s Andrzej Duda and Egils Levits of Latvia — reiterated their commitments to supporting Ukraine politically and with transfers of military aid.
Duda described what is happening not as war but as “terrorism,” saying accountability must extend not just to soldiers who committed atrocities but also those who gave the orders.
“We know this history,” Duda said. “We know what Russian occupation means. We know what Russian terrorism means.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has weighed in on growing calls to declare Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide, saying it is “absolutely right” that the term is being used given rampant allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations.
Trudeau made the comments during a news conference Wednesday, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters that Russia’s conduct in Ukraine appeared to his eyes to be a genocide.
While both North American leaders noted that it will be up to lawyers to determine whether Russia’s actions meet the international standard for genocide, they were nonetheless united in welcoming use of the term.
“It’s absolutely right that more and more people be talking and using the word ‘genocide’ in terms of what Russia is doing,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister went on to list a series of war crimes and human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by Russian forces under the direction of President Vladimir Putin, including deliberate attacks on civilians and the use of sexual violence. Trudeau said they’re attacking “Ukrainian identity and culture.”
Canada has dispatched police investigators to help the International Criminal Court collect evidence to ultimately hold Putin and other Russian leaders to account.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday approved $800 million in new military assistance to Ukraine, including artillery and helicopters, to bolster its defenses against an intensified Russian offensive in the country’s East.
Biden announced the aid after a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to coordinate the delivery of the assistance, which he said included artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armored personnel carriers, as well as helicopters.
“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden said the U.S. will continue to work with allies to share additional weapons and resources as the conflict continues.
“The steady supply of weapons the United States and its Allies and partners have provided to Ukraine has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion,” Biden said. “It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his initial war aims to conquer and control Ukraine. We cannot rest now.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says there is no chance at the moment for a humanitarian cease-fire in Ukraine, as the United Nations was seeking.
But he told reporters Wednesday that the U.N. has made a number of proposals to Russia on the possibility of local cease-fires, humanitarian corridors, and the evacuation of civilians, “and we are waiting for an answer.”
Guterres sent U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths to Moscow and Kyiv as his special envoy to seek a humanitarian cease-fire, but he said, “at the present moment, a global cease-fire in Ukraine doesn’t seem possible.”
He said the U.N. proposals to Russia are aimed at minimizing “the dramatic impact” of Russia’s war against Ukraine on civilians and include creating “a mechanism” involving Russia, Ukraine, the United Nations and eventually other humanitarian bodies to permanently manage local cease-fires, humanitarian access and evacuations to avoid incidents and failures.
As for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reported comment Tuesday that negotiations with Ukraine are at a “dead end,” Guterres said, “I will remind you that we are in an Easter period and the Easter period is about resurrection.”
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official has rejected Russia’s claims that more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops have surrendered in the besieged southeastern port of Mariupol. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 1,026 troops from the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade surrendered at a metals plant in the city.
But Vadym Denysenko, advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, denied the claim in comments to the Current Time TV channel, saying that they haven’t heard anything like that and the battle over the sea port is ongoing.
“According to official data of (Ukraine’s) Defense Ministry and the General Staff, we haven’t heard anything like that,” Denysenko said. “Moreover, I will say ... that the battle over the sea port is still ongoing today.”
PARIS — French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen warned Wednesday against sending any more weapons to Ukraine, and called for a rapprochement between NATO and Russia once Moscow’s war in Ukraine winds down.
Le Pen, an outspoken nationalist who has long ties to Russia and has supported Vladimir Putin in the past, also confirmed that if she unseats President Emmanuel Macron in France’s April 24 presidential runoff, she will pull France out of NATO’s military command and dial back French support for the whole European Union.
Macron, a pro-EU centrist, is facing a harder-than-expected fight to stay in power, in part because the economic impact of the war is hitting poor households the hardest. France’s European partners are worried that a possible Le Pen presidency could undermine Western unity as the U.S. and Europe seek to support Ukraine and end Russia’s ruinous war on its neighbor.
Asked about military aid to Ukraine, Le Pen said she would continue defense and intelligence support.
“(But) I’m more reserved about direct arms deliveries. Why? Because ... the line is thin between aid and becoming a co-belligerent,” the far-right leader said, citing concerns about an “escalation of this conflict that could bring a whole number of countries into a military commitment.”
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged China to use its “special relationship with Russia” to persuade Russia to end the war in Ukraine.
Speaking at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank, on Wednesday, Yellen said Beijing “cannot expect the global community to respect its appeals to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the future if it does not respect these principles now.”
Yellen’s speech comes a week before the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Group Spring Meetings in Washington. Her direct appeal to China underscores an increasing frustration that the United States and its allies have with a country that has only deepened its ties with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.
“The world’s attitude towards China and its willingness to embrace further economic integration may well be affected by China’s reaction to our call for resolute action on Russia,” she said.
Yellen said that countries that undermine the sanctions the U.S. and its allies have imposed on Russia will face consequences for their actions. Leaving open the question of what the consequences for flouting the sanctions could be, Yellen said Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine has “redrawn the contours” of the global economy, which includes “our conception of international cooperation going forward.”
HELSINKI — European Union nations Finland and Sweden reached important stages Wednesday on their way to possible NATO membership as the Finnish government issued a security report to lawmakers and Sweden’s ruling party initiated a review of security policy options.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 triggered a surge in support for joining NATO in the two traditionally militarily non-aligned Nordic countries, with polls showing a majority of respondents willing to join the alliance in Finland and supporters of NATO in Sweden clearly outnumbering those against the idea.
Finland, a country of 5.5 million, shares the EU’s longest border with Russia, a 1,340-kilometer (833-mile) frontier. Sweden has no border with Russia.
Russia, for its part, has warned Sweden and Finland against joining NATO, with officials saying it would not contribute to stability in Europe. Officials said Russia would respond to such a move with retaliatory measures that would cause “military and political consequences” for Helsinki and Stockholm. One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine was that the country refused to promise that it would not join NATO.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, speaking Wednesday in Stockholm in a joint news conference with her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, said Finland is ready to make a decision on NATO “within weeks” rather than months following an extensive debate in the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization slammed the global community Wednesday for its almost singular focus on the war in Ukraine, arguing that crises elsewhere, including his home country of Ethiopia, don’t receive equal consideration, possibly because those suffering aren’t white.
In a press briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he didn’t know “if the world really gives equal attention to black and white lives,” given that the ongoing emergencies in Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria have garnered only a “fraction” of the global concern for Ukraine.
Tedros said the siege of the Tigray region of Ethiopia by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces was one of the longest in modern history and noted that a recent truce had still not allowed in significant amounts of humanitarian aid. Tedros acknowledged that the situation in Ukraine was globally significant, but questioned if other crises were being accorded enough attention.
“I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way,” he said. “Some are more equal than others.”
Tedros noted that there are about 6,000 people living in Tigray with HIV, but authorities have lost track of where they are and that “many of them, we assume they have already died.” Tedros described the situation in Tigray as “tragic” and said he “hopes the world comes back to its senses and treats all human life equally.” He also critiqued the press for its failure to document the ongoing atrocities in Ethiopia, noting that people had been burned alive in the region.
“I don’t even know if that was taken seriously by the media,” he said
GENEVA — Switzerland is joining a raft of new sanctions targeting people and companies in Russia over President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign in Ukraine, including his two adult daughters.
The Federal Council on Wednesday adopted new measures against Russia and Belarus, a key ally of Moscow, that mirror similar measures adopted last week by the European Union. Switzerland, which has long prided itself on its neutrality, is not among the EU’s 27 member states.
Switzerland had already lined up with previous EU sanctions. The fifth and latest package of measures focuses on finance, transport, and trade — notably bans on imports of coal, wood, cement, seafood, and vodka that “serve as important sources of revenue for Russia,” the government said.
An extra 200 people or entities were also sanctioned including Russian oligarchs and their families, as well as Putin’s adult daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova.
MILAN — Italian energy company ENI said it has a deal to import up to 3 billion cubic meters of liquid natural gas from Egypt this year as Europe seeks to wean itself from Russian natural gas over its invasion of Ukraine.
ENI signed the deal Wednesday with EGAS (Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company), just days after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi secured a deal to increase gas imports from Algeria to help replace the 29 billion cubic meters Italy imports annually from Russia.
The Algeria deal will add up to 9 billion cubic meters of gas by 2023-24 to the 21 billion cubic meters it already receives, with the increased flows starting in the fall. Russia is Italy’s top supplier of natural gas, which is used to generate electricity, heat and cool homes and power industry.
LONDON — The Channel Island of Jersey says it is freezing assets connected to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich estimated to be worth over $7 billion.
The Law Offices Department of Jersey, a tax haven long known for drawing large amounts of foreign direct investment, said Wednesday that the assets being targeted were either located in Jersey, or owned by Jersey-incorporated entities.
It said that police also executed a search warrant Tuesday at addresses suspected to be connected to Abramovich’s business activities. It didn’t provide details.
Abramovich, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been sanctioned by the U.K. government and the European Union. The 55-year-old tycoon has assumed an unofficial role in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia aimed at ending the war.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has reopened its embassy in the Ukrainian capital that was closed after Russian troops invaded the country.
The Foreign Ministry said the diplomats have returned to Kyiv and the Czech flag is flying again at the embassy.
It said Wednesday’s move is “one of the steps to show our support for Ukraine.”
BERLIN -- Experts commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say they found “clear patterns” of violations of international humanitarian law by Russian forces in Ukraine.
OSCE member countries authorized a study in early March, and the three professors chosen to conduct it -- Wolfgang Benedek, Veronika Bílková and Marco Sassòli -- were selected by Ukraine.
Their report, issued Wednesday, said that if the Russian forces had respected their obligations “in terms of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack and concerning specially protected objects such as hospitals, the number of civilians killed or injured would have remained much lower.”
The experts found “some violations and problems” in Ukrainian practices, voicing concern about the treatment of prisoners of war.
The report said Russia responded by saying it considered the mechanism under which the experts were appointed “largely outdated and redundant” and declined to appoint a liaison person, referring them to official government statements and briefings.
LONDON — Britain has announced a new round of sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targeting 178 individuals who have helped prop up Kremlin-backed breakaway regions in the eastern part of the country.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Wednesday that the sanctions were coordinated with the European Union. The move comes after rocket attacks that targeted civilians in eastern Ukraine.
Those sanctioned include Alexander Ananchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Sergey Kozlov, the chair of government in the Luhansk People’s Republic. Also targeted are Pavel Ezubov, cousin of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, and Nigina Zairova, executive assistant to Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman.
Truss says Britain is sanctioning “those who prop up the illegal breakaway regions and are complicit in atrocities against the Ukrainian people. We will continue to target all those who aid and abet Putin’s war.”
BERLIN -- The German government is defending the country’s president after a diplomatic snub by Ukraine.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the largely ceremonial head of state, said Tuesday that his presence apparently “wasn’t wanted in Kyiv.” He said his Polish counterpart had suggested that they both travel to Ukraine along with the presidents of the three Baltic countries.
German newspaper Bild quoted an unidentified Ukrainian diplomat as saying that Steinmeier is not welcome in Kyiv at the moment because he had close relations with Russia in the past. Steinmeier was previously Germany’s foreign minister and recently admitted mistakes in policy toward Russia.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Wednesday she regrets that Steinmeier was unable to visit.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany said Chancellor Olaf Scholz would be welcome, but some German lawmakers said the snub to Steinmeier would complicate that.
Government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner defended Steinmeier, saying that he “has clearly taken a stand on Ukraine’s side.”