The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

Natali Sevriukova reacts next to her house following a rocket attack the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military says it has shot down a Russian military transport plane with paratroopers on board.

According to a statement from the military’s General Staff, the Il-76 heavy transport plane was shot down near Vasylkiv, a city 40 kilometers south of Kyiv.

The Russian military has not commented on the incident so far, and the report could not be immediately verified.

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UNITED NATIONS—Russia has vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

Friday’s vote was 11-1, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining. It showed significant but not total opposition to Russia’s invasion of its smaller, militarily weaker neighbor.

The United States and other supporters knew the resolution wouldn’t pass but argued it would highlight Russia’s international isolation.

The resolution’s failure paves the way for backers to call for a swift vote on a similar measure in the U.N. General Assembly.

There are no vetoes in the 193-member assembly. There’s no timetable as yet for a potential Assembly vote.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria on Friday introduced a ban on the entry of Russian aircraft into the country’s airspace.

All aircraft licensed by the Russian Federation may not enter the sovereign airspace of the Republic of Bulgaria, including the airspace over its territorial waters, the government announced. The ban is effective starting Saturday.

The government said it took the action in connection with the escalation of the military conflict and in solidarity with Ukraine.

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SYDNEY—Australia is imposing sanctions against all 339 members of the Russian parliament and is considering sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne also announced on Saturday sanctions against eight Russian oligarchs close to Putin. Australia was also taking steps to imposed sanctions on key figures in the Belarusian government who had aided the Ukraine invasion.

Payne said she was seeking advice from her department on following western allies’ example in sanctioning Putin.

“It is an exceptional step to sanction leaders, but this is an exceptional situation,” Payne said.

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WASHINGTON—Ukraine’s top diplomatic envoy in the U.S. is urging countries to sever diplomatic relations with Russia over its invasion of their country.

Ambassador Oksana Markarova’s request came in an emergency meeting Friday at the Washington-based Organization of American States, whose members were debating a resolution condemning the military attack ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s hard to imagine that something like this happens in the center of Europe in the 21st Century,” an emotional Markarova said during the meeting. She urged delegates to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons and follow the lead of the Federated States of Micronesia, a Pacific island nation that earlier Friday broke all ties with Russia.

Alexander Kim, a senior diplomat at Russia’s embassy in Washington, towed closely to the Kremlin’s unsubstantiated claim that the military incursion was an attempt to “de-Nazify” a government that had committed scores of atrocities against civilians.

“We are open to diplomacy,” Kim told representatives of more than 30 Latin American governments, many of whom have pursued closer relations with Moscow in recent years. “However, diplomacy presumes an ability to negotiate. It is not a tool for blackmailing and imposing the decision of Washington and its satellite states.”

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BRUSSELS (AP) — With a military intervention in Ukraine off the table, countries around the world are looking to heap more financial punishment on Moscow.

The United States, Britain and European Union said Friday they will move to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The EU’s unanimous decision, part of a broader sanctions package, indicated that Western powers are moving toward unprecedented measures to try to force Putin to stop the brutal invasion of Russia’s neighbor and from unleashing a major war in Europe.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated the U.S. sanctions will include a travel ban.

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KYIV, Ukraine–Russian troops are bearing down on Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.

Mayor Vitaly Klitschko says five explosions hit an area near a major power plant on the city’s eastern outskirts. There was no information on the cause of the blasts, which Klitschko said occurred at intervals of several minutes. No electricity outages were immediately reported.

The invasion of a democratic country has fueled fears of wider war in Europe and triggered worldwide efforts to make Russia stop.

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BELGRADE, Serbia—Serbia defied calls from the European Union and the U.S. to join sanctions against Russia, although its autocratic president said that Moscow’s assault against Ukraine is against the international law.

With the move, Serbia remains a rare European state together with Belarus not to join Western sanctions introduced against Moscow for its invasion of a sovereign European state.

“Serbia respects the norms of the international law,” President Aleksandar Vucic said. “But Serbia also understands its own interests.”

Vucic said that Serbia regards the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity as “very wrong,” but added it won’t join international sanctions against Russia.

Despite formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been strengthening ties with its traditional Slavic ally Russia. Moscow has been supplying Serbia’s armed forces with weapons, leading to more tensions in the Balkans which went through a bloody civil war in the 1990s.

LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says the bulk of Russian forces advancing on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv are more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the center of the city.

The ministry said it continues to monitor “sporadic clashes’’ between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the northern suburbs of the capital.

The intelligence update, delivered via Twitter, also said that armored units were forced to open a new route toward Kyiv after failing to capture Chernihiv, a city northeast of the capital near the Belarusian border.

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BRUSSELS — Europe’s foremost human rights organization has suspended Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, though it remains a member.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian forces took control over the site Thursday after a fierce battle with Ukrainian national guards protecting the plant.

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

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

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

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

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

A woman holds her daughter as they sit in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TOKYO — Japan has announced additional sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that the new measures include freezing the assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals and suspending exports of semiconductors and other sensitive goods to military-linked organizations in Russia.

Kishida says that “Japan must clearly show its position that we will never tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force.”

Earlier in the week, Japan suspended new issuances and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan, aiming of reduce funding for Russia’s military. It also banned trade with the two Ukrainian separatist regions.

Japan has long sought to regain control of northern islands Russia seized at the end of World War II and previously had tended to be milder toward Moscow.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Shocked Russians have turned out by the thousands to decry their country’s invasion of Ukraine as emotional calls for protests grew on social media.

Some 1,702 people in 53 Russian cities were detained Thursday, at least 940 of them in Moscow.

Emotional social media posts condemning the move, open letters demanding the attack stop and calls for protests came pouring in.

But Russian authorities were not having it, swiftly cracking down on activists who tried to rally people and pressuring the country’s media into toeing the official line.

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VIENNA — The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency says it has been informed by Ukraine that “unidentified armed forces” have taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi called for “maximum restraint” to avoid actions that could put Ukraine’s nuclear facilities at risk.

“In line with its mandate, the IAEA is closely monitoring developments in Ukraine with a special focus on the safety and security of its nuclear power plants and other nuclear-related facilities,” he said in a statement.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. aviation regulators widened the area of eastern Europe and Russia where U.S. airlines and pilots are barred because of the conflict.

In a new directive Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying over any part of Ukraine or Belarus and the western part of Russia.

Earlier restrictions had barred U.S. airlines from flying over the eastern part of Ukraine. The restrictions cover both passenger and cargo flights, but not military ones.

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MOSCOW — A Russian military plane crashed in the country’s Voronezh region that borders with Ukraine, the Russian military said Thursday night.

The An-26 plane was carrying out a planned flight transporting military equipment and crashed because of technical failure, military officials said, adding that the plane’s entire crew died in the crash.

They didn’t specify how many crew members were on board of the plane.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has announced a new round of sanctions targeting Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, charging that Russia’s Vladimir Putin “chose this war” and that his country will bear the consequences of his action.

The sanctions target Russian banks, oligarchs, and high-tech sectors.

The penalties fall in line with the White House’s insistence that it would look to hit Russia’s financial system and Putin’s inner circle, while also imposing export controls that would aim to starve Russia’s industries and military of U.S. semiconductors and other high-tech products.

Biden, for now, is holding off imposing some of the most severe sanctions, including cutting Russia out of the SWIFT payment system.

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UNITED NATIONS — Repeating a plea for Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, the U.N. chief said Thursday the world body was freeing up $20 million for urgent humanitarian needs in the country.

“Stop the military operation. Bring the troops back to Russia,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at U.N. headquarters. He called the offensive wrong and unacceptable, but not irreversible.

“It’s not too late to save this generation from the scourge of war,” Guterres said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the assault is meant to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting the government for nearly eight years. The U.S., however, said ahead of time that Russia would try to justify an invasion by falsely claiming that the rebel-held areas were under attack.

The U.N. said Thursday it was relocating some of its roughly 1,500 staffers in Ukraine.

However, Guterres reiterated that the U.N. will continue providing aid to people in the country, “regardless of who or where they are.”

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BRUSSELS — Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said European Union leaders need to adopt sanctions that will be strong enough to impact the Russian economy and the country’s military-industrial complex.

“We don’t need sanctions that bark, we need sanctions that bite,” De Croo said upon his arrival at an urgent meeting of EU leaders in Brussels to discuss a new package of measures targeting Russia.

De Croo said the main goal of the sanctions should be to make it hard for Russian financial institutions to access international markets.

Asked whether Russia should be expelled from the Swift payment system financial system that moves money from bank to bank around the world, De Croo said he is open for discussions on that topic.

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he spoke with President Zelenskyy and says Canada is imposing more severe sanctions.

The sanctions will target 58 people and entities connected to Russia, including members of that country’s elite and their families, the paramilitary organization known as the Wagner Group and major Russian banks.

The measures, announced Thursday after Trudeau attended a virtual G-7 meeting, will also affect members of the Russian Security Council, including key cabinet ministers.

Canada is also cancelling existing export permits for Russia and will not issue new ones.

Trudeau also says the federal government will be prioritizing immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada and is launching a dedicated telephone line for anyone who has any urgent questions about immigrating from Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukrainian president says that Ukraine has lost control over the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant after a fierce battle.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the condition of the plant’s facilities, a confinement shelter and storage of nuclear waste is unknown.

A nuclear reactor in then-Soviet Ukraine exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe in the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The exploded reactor has been covered by a protective shelter to prevent radiation leak and the entire plant has been decommissioned.

Podolyak said that after “absolutely senseless attack of the Russians in this direction, it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe.”

He charged that Russia may mount provocations there and described the situation as “one of the most serious threats to Europe today.”

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NEW DELHI, India — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday night and appealed for an “immediate cessation of violence,” his office said in a statement.

Modi called for efforts to return to diplomatic discussions, saying the “differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue.”

Modi also expressed concern over Indian citizens in Ukraine – officials earlier in the day said some 4,000 out of the 20,000 Indian nationals had been evacuated with efforts on to bring the rest back home.

The conversation between the two leaders comes hours after the Ukraine envoy in New Delhi urged Modi to contact Putin, saying the country “has a special relationship with Russia and New Delhi can play a more active role in controlling the situation.”

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would aim to cut Russia off from the U.K.’s financial markets as he announced a new set of sanctions in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The sanctions include freezing the assets of all major Russian banks, including VTB Bank, the nation’s second-biggest bank, Johnson said Thursday. Britain also plans to bar Russian companies and the Russian government from raising money on U.K. markets.

Britain will also ban the export of a wide range of high-tech products, including semiconductors, to Russia and bar the nation’s flagship airline, Aeroflot, from landing at U.K. airports.

The slate of sanctions comes days after Johnson was criticized for acting too cautiously in response to Russian aggression earlier this week.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.K., Vadym Prystaiko, earlier called on world leaders to ban trade in Russian oil and gas and block foreign investment in the country.

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MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry has formally confirmed that its forces have moved into Ukraine from Crimea.

Until Thursday’s statement Russia had said only that it unleashed a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukrainian air bases, air defense batteries and other military facilities.

The ministry said it has destroyed a total of 83 Ukrainian military facilities. Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov confirmed that Russian ground troops advanced toward the city of Kherson northwest of the Crimea peninsula.

Kherson sits on water reservoir used in the past to provide the bulk of fresh water for Crimea until Ukraine cut it with a dam in 2017 in response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Konashenkov said Thursday’s move allows the resumption of the water supply to Crimea.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made a televised address to the nation condemning the Russian attack on Ukraine sharply and vowed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will not win.”

Scholz said Thursday evening that “we will not accept this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia” and vowed to imply severe sanction together with Germany’s allies.

Regarding the military attack on Ukraine, Scholz stressed that Putin “is on his own. It was not the Russian people who decided to go to war. He alone bears full responsibility for it. This war is Putin’s war.”

The chancellor said that “Putin should not underestimate NATO’s determination to defend all its members.

That applies explicitly to our NATO partners in the Baltic States, in Poland and in Romania, in Bulgaria and in Slovakia. Without ifs and buts. Germany and its allies know how to protect themselves.”

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UNITED NATIONS — A senior U.S. official says the U.N. Security Council is expected to vote Friday on a resolution condemning Russia in the strongest terms possible for attacking Ukraine and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all its forces — knowing that Russia will veto the legally binding measure.

The United States believes it is very important to put the resolution to a vote to underscore Russia’s international isolation, and emphasizes that the veto will be followed quickly by a resolution in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly where there are no vetoes, the official said Thursday.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

“This is a first step in how the U.N. responds to this premeditated war of choice that Russia has chosen to take, and we will see action in the General Assembly in the coming days,” he said, adding that it is part of a much broader, coordinated response that includes steps the Biden administration and its allies are taking.

The resolution is drafted under Article 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced militarily, according to the official.

Previous Coverage:

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Russian troops launched a broad, three-pronged assault on Ukraine that brought explosions and set off air raid sirens to the country’s capital, Kyiv, and other cities, shattering any remaining hope that a military conflict would be avoided.

Ukraine’s leadership said at least 40 people had been killed in what it called a “full-scale war” targeting the country from the east, north and south. It said Russia’s intent was to destroy the state of Ukraine, a Western-looking democracy intent on escaping Moscow’s orbit.

As Ukrainian forces fought back and civilians piled into trains and cars to flee, NATO and European leaders rushed to respond, if not directly in Ukraine, with strong financial sanctions against Russia and moves to strengthen their own borders.

In a televised address as the attack began, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting for almost eight years.

The U.S. had predicted Putin would falsely claim that the rebel-held regions were under attack to justify an invasion.

The Russian leader warned other countries that any attempt to interfere in Ukraine would “lead to consequences you have never seen in history” — a dark threat implying Russia was prepared to use its nuclear weapons.

Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to block Ukraine from ever joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees.

Putin said Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine but plans to “demilitarize” it. He urged Ukrainian servicemen to “immediately put down arms and go home.” Soon after his address, explosions were heard in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa.

Russia’s Defense Ministry reported hours later that the Russian military has destroyed 74 Ukrainian military facilities, including 11 air bases.

THE WEST REACTS

World leaders decried the start of an invasion that could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and threaten the post-Cold War balance.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Russia’s attack “a brutal act of war” and said Moscow had shattered peace on the European continent.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Putin “has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”

The leaders of the Group of Seven have strongly condemned “the large-scale military aggression by the Russian Federation against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”

They called “on all partners and members of the international community to condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, and raise their voice against this blatant violation of the fundamental principles of international peace and security.”

The head of the U.N. refugee agency called on neighboring countries to keep their borders open for Ukrainians fleeing the fighting.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi pointed to “reports of casualties and people starting to flee their homes to seek safety.”

He said his agency had stepped up its operations and capacity in both Ukraine and its neighbors.

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