NATO will supply Ukraine with weapons for its death-grip struggle against Russia’s invasion for as long as necessary, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.
“This is extremely important because Ukraine is fighting a war for freedom, democracy and our common values,” Stoltenberg said at a briefing in Brussels.
The alliance remains unconvinced that Russia is negotiating in good faith in the peace talks taking place in Istanbul. Russia must be judged on actions, not words, “and is obvious that we have seen little willingness from the Russian side to find a political solution,” he said.
Stoltenberg supported what U.S. and British intelligence officials have been saying for two days – that the military scale-back in and around Kyiv promised by the Kremlin actually appears to be forces repositioning and regrouping. Russian military forces continued their bombardment of areas around Kyiv.
“Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities,” he said. “So we can expect additional offensive actions, bringing even more suffering.”
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► President Joe Biden will order the release of 1 million barrels of oil per day for the next six months from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve in response to a spike in gas prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
► U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will travel to Moldova and Romania on Saturday to focus on efforts to assist refugees and the overwhelming humanitarian needs created by the war.
►Russia backed off a requirement that European countries pay for natural gas in rubles, allowing payments through a Russian bank that would convert the payments to rubles, Russian state media said. The rubles mandate had been set to begin Friday.
►Nineteen people were found dead under rubble after a rocket attack on a regional administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported.
►Talks between Ukraine and Russia will resume Friday by video, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia, said. Ukraine will not sign a peace treaty until Moscow withdraws its troops, he said.
The mayor of Kyiv says Russian forces, instead of easing their stranglehold around Kyiv, have intensified bombardment homes, stores, libraries and other civilian sites on the city’s outskirts.
“It’s not true,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a video address to European Union regional officials translated by Reuters. “The whole night we listened to sirens, to rocket attacks and we listened to huge explosions east of Kyiv and north of Kyiv. There are immense battles there, people died, still die.”
A delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers visited Washington on Wednesday to push for more U.S. assistance, saying their nation needs more military equipment, more financial help and tougher sanctions against Russia.
“We need to kick Russian soldiers off our land, and for that we need all, all possible weapons,” Ukrainian parliament member Anastasia Radina said at a news conference at the Ukrainian Embassy.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Australia to increase sanctions against Russia and send him some armored vehicles in a video speech Thursday to the Australian Parliament.
“Most of all we have to keep those who are fighting against this evil armed,” he said. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham did not directly respond to the request in a briefing, saying the government was considering what was practical. He said Australia has already provided missiles and protective gear to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said that the current war might not have happened if Russia had been punished after Russian-backed separatists shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014. Thirty-eight Australians were among the 298 aboard, all of whom perished.
“The unpunished evil comes back,” Zelenskyy said.
The percentage of Russians who think their country and its institutions are moving in the right direction has sharply increased since the nation invaded Ukraine, according to polling by the independent Levada Center, a Russian research nonprofit organization.
In March, 69% of Russians said they believe their country is moving in the right direction – a 17 point increase from the month prior. It’s the highest rating of approval the center has on record for the country’s direction as a whole.
The approval ratings for Russian political figures also starkly rose in March. Support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s activities rose to 83% this month compared to February’s 71% approval, and confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin increased 10 points to 44%.
Levada director Denis Volkov told the independent, English-language Moscow Times the numbers reflect the nation rallying around its leaders in the initial stages of war. Volkov said the positive numbers are likely to drop amid the economic uncertainty wrought by Western sanctions – when “there is no big euphoria, people feel the seriousness of the situation.”
– Ella Lee
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Thursday ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of Russia’s annual spring draft, but the defense ministry said the call-up was unrelated to the war. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the conscripts, ages 18-27, would be dispatched to bases in late May for 3-5 months of training. None will be sent to combat “hot spots,” he said.
The defense ministry acknowledged earlier this month that some conscripts had been taking part in the war, this despite Putin saying only professional soldiers and officers had been sent to Ukraine. The Kremlin said Putin ordered military prosecutors to investigate and punish the officials responsible for disobeying his instructions to exclude conscripts.
U.S. and British intelligence officials have determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about Russian forces’ performance in Ukraine.
Jeremy Fleming, the head of the U.K.’s spy service, said it “increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation.” He said Russian soldiers, short on weapons and morale, are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their own equipment.
“And even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” Fleming said.
A U.S. official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity said Putin has felt misled by the Russian military, leading to tension between the sides.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says its teams are ready to help evacuate civilians from of the besieged city of Mariupol.
“Our team in #Ukraine is on the road right now to be ready to: Facilitate the safe passage of civilians out of #Mariupol tomorrow. And bring aid,” the Red Cross tweeted Thursday. “All parties must agree to the exact terms. This operation is critical. Tens of thousands of lives depend on it.
The evacuation could begin Friday provided all the parties agree to the terms, route, start time and the duration, the Red Cross said. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine is sending out several dozen buses to collect civilians from Mariupol after Russia’s military agreed to a local cease-fire from the city to Ukraine-held Zaporizhzhia.
“It’s desperately important that this operation takes place. The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it,” the Red Cross said.
Sensing the worst, two weeks before Russia began invading his homeland, tech entrepreneur Volodymir “Vlad” Panchenko wanted to charter a plane for a month to get as many of his employees and their families out of Kyiv, Ukraine, as quickly as possible.
But the co-founder of video game and metaverse marketplace DMarket said his board was giving him heavy pushback because his plan to shuttle workers to the Balkan country of Montenegro would lead to a 20% budget increase.
“None of them supported me. They said I was overreacting,” said Panchenko, who trusted his gut and told them he was executing his contingency plan anyway – regardless of the cost. “I told them that I felt a war was coming and we should leave. And if there isn’t, we’ll spend time in a warm place and still get our work done.”
DMarket and many other tech companies rely on colleagues who live and work in Ukraine, a fast-growing tech hotbed. While known companies such as Google and Microsoft have workers based in Ukraine, many far lesser-known, early- and mid-stage startups globally count on the embattled country’s talent-rich pool of engineers and developers and could be in jeopardy because of the conflict. Read more here.
– Terry Collins
President Joe Biden pledged an additional $500 million in aid to Ukraine in a phone call Wednesday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have failed to produce a breakthrough.
The White House confirmed the additional “direct budgetary aid” after Biden spoke to Zelenskyy for about an hour in a call. The infusion of new assistance is on top of $2 billion the U.S. has committed to Ukraine since Biden became president.
Zelenskyy updated Biden on the status of Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia, according to the White House. It comes as the Biden administration has expressed skepticism about Russia’s stated plans to reduce military forces near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
The two leaders also discussed how the U.S. is “working around the clock” to fulfill security requests by Ukraine, the White House said, and efforts with allies to identify additional assistance needed by the Ukrainian government.
Zelenskyy said in a tweet they discussed their assessment of “the situation on the battlefield and the negotiating table” as well as defense support, a package of new sanctions on Russia and financial and humanitarian aid.
– Joey Garrison
Contributing: The Associated Press