KYIV, Ukraine - In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, a series of explosions boomed near the television tower late Wednesday and at least temporarily knocked Russian channels off the air, Ukrainian and Russian news organizations reported.
The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said missiles and rockets were fired at the city from the direction of the Ukrainian forces to the northwest.
Kherson has been occupied by Russian forces since early in the war.
Ukrayinska Pravda, an online newspaper, said the strikes set off a fire and knocked Russian television channels off the air.
RIA Novosti said the broadcast later resumed. It said Russian channels began broadcasting from Kherson last week.
Russia has been determined to strengthen its control over the city, but residents have continued to come out onto the streets to protest the occupation.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
- Russia cuts natural gas to 2 NATO nations in escalation
- European nations accuse Russia of natural gas ‘blackmail’
- EXPLAINER: What’s behind Russia’s natural gas cutoff?
Using data on ship movements, real-time tracking of gas flows through pipelines and estimates based on historical monthly trade, the researchers reckon Germany paid Russia about 9.1 billion euros for fossil fuel deliveries in the first two months of the war.
The German government says it can’t comment on estimates and declines to provide any figures of its own.
NATO nations have supplied Ukraine with military supplies including missiles and armored vehicles. But so far they have been reluctant to send fighter planes for fear of escalating the conflict.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “this is a time for courage, not caution.” Despite Truss’ call for jets, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were “no plans” for the U.K. to send planes to Ukraine.
BOSTON - Cyberattacks by state-backed Russian hackers have destroyed data across dozens of organizations in Ukraine and produced “a chaotic information environment,” Microsoft says in a report released Wednesday.
Nearly half the destructive attacks were against critical infrastructure, many times simultaneous to physical attacks, the report notes.
A top Ukrainian cybersecurity official, Victor Zhora, told reporters in a news briefing on Wednesday that cyberattacks on telecommunications have sometimes coincided with artillery and other physical attacks.
Microsoft assessed that Russia-aligned threat groups were “pre-positioning for the conflict as early as March 2021,” hacking into networks to obtain footholds they could later use to collect “strategic and battlefield intelligence or to facilitate future destructive attacks.”
During the war, Russia’s cyberattacks “have at times not only degraded the functions of the targeted organizations but sought to disrupt citizens’ access to reliable information and critical life services, and to shake confidence in the country’s leadership,” the company’s Digital Security Unit says in the 20-page report.
Kremlin cyber operations “have had an impact in terms of technical disruption of services and causing a chaotic information environment, but Microsoft is not able to evaluate their broader strategic impact,” the report says.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday that Russia’s war on Ukraine “screams” that the world needs to stop importing oil and gas from Russia and instead move toward other forms of energy.
At an international forum on offshore wind energy in Atlantic City, Granholm said the U.S. as well as its energy industries “are on a war footing,” and called for a rapid acceleration of renewable energy including offshore wind power.
Her comments were echoed by Kadri Simson, the European Commissioner for Energy, who noted that Europe recently committed itself to a large-scale move away from Russian fossil fuel imports, and considers wind energy an important part of that transition.
Their comments came as Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, dramatically escalating its standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine. European leaders decried the move as “blackmail.”
Germany and Italy are among Europe’s biggest consumers of Russian natural gas but have already been taking steps to reduce their dependence on Moscow.
“Russia is waging a war in Ukraine and the imperative to move away from Russian oil and gas, for the world to move away from Russian oil and gas screams that there is an imperative that we electrify,” said Granholm, the former Michigan governor. “Offshore wind is just a huge component in that.”
UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. says its humanitarian office is mobilizing an experienced team from around the world to coordinate the complex evacuation of civilians from the besieged steel plant in the battered Ukrainian city of Mariupol with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to U.N. and ICRC participation in the evacuation from the plant during a nearly two-hour, one-on-one meeting Tuesday. The sprawling Azovstal complex, which has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.
“And ultimately what we want is to make sure that a cease-fire would be respected that would allow us to move people safely,” he said.
He said the exact timing depends on the outcome of discussions between the U.N. humanitarian office and Russia’s Ministry of Defense in Moscow as well as between the U.N. crisis coordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, and the authorities in Kyiv, where Guterres will be meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.
OTTAWA, Ontario - The Canadian government said Wednesday that it has imposed sanctions on more than 200 people who are loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Russian forces have been backing separatist rebels in the Donbas area for eight years following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
The Canadian sanctions are focused on the renewed Russian attempt to annex areas of the Donbas by targeting people attempting to support the next phase of the two-month-old Russian war on Ukraine.
“Canada will not stand idly by and watch President Putin and his accomplices attempt to redraw the borders of Ukraine with impunity,” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement. “International law must be respected.”
Global Affairs Canada, the governmental department that manages the country’s diplomatic relations, said the new measures target 11 senior officials and 192 other members of the People’s Councils of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk for supporting Putin’s attack on the area.
WASHINGTON - The White House says President Joe Biden will tour a Lockheed Martin facility that makes weapons systems, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, that the administration is providing to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s 2-month-old invasion.
Biden plans to visit the facility in Alabama on May 3.
A Javelin is a long-range guided anti-tank missile that can be carried by one person. The United States says it has provided several thousand of the systems to Ukraine.
MADRID - Russia announced Wednesday it was withdrawing from the United Nations World Tourism Organization just hours before the body’s assembly voted to temporarily suspend the country’s membership over the invasion of Ukraine, officials said.
The organization went ahead and approved the suspension at a special meeting in Madrid on Wednesday, where the organization has its headquarters.
“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s military offensive is an attack on the founding principles of the United Nations and on the values that tourism represents, such as peace, prosperity and universal respect and the observance of human rights,” Spanish Industry, Trade and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said in a statement following the decision.
The assembly resolution included a clause that said the suspension could be reversed if a change in the politics of the Russian Federation were noted.
Spain was one of 22 European nations that had promoted the motion.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Norway’s Energy Minister Terje Aasland said Wednesday that the Scandinavian country’s position “as a stable, predictable and long-term supplier of energy to the European market is only becoming more important.”
“It is underlined by what is now happening on the part of Gazprom,” Aasland told Norwegian news agency NTB.
The state-controlled Russian giant said it was shutting off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded.
Norway exports about 95% of its gas via an extensive subsea pipeline network linking it to terminals in Germany, Britain, France and Belgium. Last month, Denmark decided to resume the construction of the Danish part of Baltic Pipe, which will connect Poland to Norwegian gas fields.
Putin said in an address on Wednesday to both houses of parliament: “I want to emphasize again that all the tasks of the special military operation we are conducting in the Donbas and Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, will be unconditionally fulfilled.”
That, he said, will “guarantee the security of the residents” of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia recognized as independent shortly before launching its military action in Ukraine, as well as Crimea - which Russia annexed in 2014 - “and our entire country in the historical perspective.”
Robert Habeck told reporters Wednesday that the German government’s goal is to ensure the country becomes independent of Russian energy supplies, and companies established to procure fossil fuels from Russia are “not helpful in that regard.”
The refinery at Schwedt is controlled by Rosneft, a Russian state-controlled oil and gas company.
Asked whether Germany would go so far as to nationalize the refinery, an option foreseen in a regulatory change approved by Cabinet this week, Habeck said that “we are in a situation where the government must expect and prepare for all scenarios.”
“There are likely to be some we haven’t thought of,” he said. “But we are considering everything conceivable and making political preparations.”
Habeck said Russia’s decision to stop supplies of gas to Poland and Bulgaria was an example of “the reality where energy is used as a weapon.”
He acknowledged that Germany was and remains one of the biggest consumers of Russian fossil fuels worldwide, though it is making all efforts to diversify its supplies, reduce consumption and switch to renewable energy “so that we are not defenseless.”
On Wednesday, the governor of the Belgorod region said an ammunition depot was burning after several explosions were heard. Earlier this week, there was a blaze at an oil storage facility in Bryansk.
Ukraine hasn’t officially taken responsibility for those and other incidents, and Russian officials haven’t publicly ascribed them to Ukrainian attacks.
But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a Telegram post Wednesday that “karma (is) a harsh thing.”
He said that Russian regions where the incidents happened “are now also actively studying the concept of ‘demilitarization.’”
Without directly admitting any Ukrainian involvement, he said that “sooner or later the debts will have to be repaid.”
ROME - Premier Mario Draghi’s office says the Italian leader will meet President Joe Biden in Washington on May 10.
Draghi’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that Ukraine will be at the center of discussions, including coordinated measures “to support the Ukrainian population and to counter Russia’s unjustified aggression.”
The leaders will also discuss energy security. Italy is among European countries that get a large proportion of their natural gas from Russia. Draghi and his ministers have been working to get alternative sources.
WARSAW, Poland - Security authorities in Poland say that a Russian and a Belarusian man have been arrested on allegations that they spied for Russian intelligence.
A spokesman for Poland’s state security bodies, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Wednesday that material gathered by Polish military intelligence led to their arrest.
He said that they were gathering sensitive military information, including about Polish troops in the area near Poland’s border with Belarus.
The men were arrested separately last week.
SOFIA, Bulgaria - The Bulgarian government says the prime minister and defense minister will go to Ukraine to meet with that country’s leaders.
The goverment press office said Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Defense Minister Dragomir Zakov were being accompanied on Wednesday by members of Parliament.
They also will visit Borodyanka, Bucha and Irpin, in the Kyiv region, to see damage caused by the Russian invasion.
BRUSSELS - The head of the European Union’s executive Commission says energy companies in the 27-nation bloc that agree to Moscow’s demands to pay for gas deliveries in Russian rubles will be breaching the sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ursula von der Leyen spoke after Polish and Bulgarian officials said Moscow was cutting off natural gas deliveries to their countries due to their refusal to pay in rubles, a demand made by President Vladimir Putin after sanctions were levied against his nation.
Von der Leyen said Wednesday that “our guidance here is very clear.”
She said that “to pay in rubles, if this is not foreseen in the contract, is a breach of our sanctions. We have round about 97% of all contracts that explicitly stipulate payments in euros or dollars, so it’s very clear. And the request from the Russian side to pay in rubles is a unilateral decision and not according to the contracts.”
Von der Leyen said Russia’s decision to cut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria is another “provocation from the Kremlin” and an attempt to “blackmail” the EU.
She said that, following an urgent meeting of member states, both Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbors.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Russia has expelled three Norwegian diplomats following the expulsion from Norway earlier this month of three Russian diplomats.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfelt said Wednesday that the Norwegians being kicked out were doing “regular diplomatic work.” She vowed that Norway “will continue to stand with our close allies and partners against Russia’s aggression and in our support for Ukraine,”
Huitfeld told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that “like other European countries and allies, we have reduced contact with the Russian authorities to a minimum.”
On Tuesday, Russia expelled four Swedish diplomats. The Foreign Ministry in Stockholm said they too were “engaged in normal diplomatic activities.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry has announced sanctions against 287 British lawmakers in response to the U.K. sanctioning 368 members of Russia’s lower house of parliament.
The ministry on Wednesday released a list of both government and opposition lawmakers, and a few former lawmakers. They are now barred from entering Russia because they “took the most active part in the establishment of anti-Russian sanctions instruments in London (and) contribute to the groundless ramping-up of Russophobic hysteria in the U.K.”
The ministry’s statement said that “hostile rhetoric and far-fetched accusations coming from the mouths of British parliamentarians not only condone the hostile course of London aimed at demonizing our country and (at) its international isolation, but are also used by opponents of mutually respectful dialogue with Russia to undermine the foundation of bilateral cooperation.”
Responding to the announcement, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “those 287 should regard it as a badge of honor.”
MOSCOW - The Kremlin has criticized a statement by a Ukrainian presidential adviser holding the door open to possible military action in the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday described the statement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s adviser Oleksiy Arestovych as “quite provocative.” Asked in a video stream if Ukraine could send its forces into Trans-Dniester, Arestovych said it could do that but only if Moldova asks for it.
Trans-Dniester, a sliver of land with about 470,000 people, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, nominally as peacekeepers. Tensions in the region have escalated in recent days with a series of explosions, for which no one claimed responsibility, raising fears of broader hostilities.
Following domestic and international pressure, Germany announced this week that it would allow the delivery of self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s military attack, backing off earlier reluctance provide heavy weapons to the country.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said that “the federal government and chancellor have looked with great seriousness at the difficult situation Ukraine, Europe and the entire world are in, and taken a very balanced decision.”
He told reporters in Berlin: “I don’t see a change of position on the part of the government, but continuity.”
KYIV, Ukraine - The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general says the level of safety at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, currently under Russian occupation in Ukraine, is like a “red light blinking” as his organization tries in vain to get access for work including repairs.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Rafael Grossi said that the IAEA needs access to the Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine so its inspectors can, among other things, reestablish connections with the Vienna-based headquarters of the U.N. agency. And for that, both Russia and Ukraine need to help.
The plant requires repairs, “and all of this is not happening. So the situation as I have described it, and I would repeat it today, is not sustainable as it is,” Grossi said. “So this is a pending issue. This is a red light blinking.”
He spoke in an interview Wednesday, a day after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the issue.
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