By The Associated Press
The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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