Friday, April 12

Biden heads to Europe, West plans new sanctions

Ukrainians find warm refuge in Spanish town

GUISSONA, Spain — As Ukrainian refugees fleeing bombs and bullets at home fan out across Western Europe, few places they arrive feel as welcoming as a Spanish town known for years as “Little Ukraine.”

Even before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine last month, one in seven residents of Guissona was originally from there. Guissona’s population more than doubled to around 7,500 residents, and drew in a lot of immigrant labor, including the Ukrainians, after a regional supermarket chain opened a distribution center nearby two decades ago.

More than 3.5 million people have already fled Russia’s war in Ukraine. The refugees are finding safe havens in small communities on the continent where family and friends who went to find work have put down roots.

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Atomic energy agency offers to secure Ukraine nuclear power plants

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that it stands ready to send experts and equipment to Ukraine to help ensure the safety and security of its nuclear facilities and prevent the risk of a severe accident that could threaten both people and the environment.

In a video statement, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said he remained gravely concerned about the situation and stressed the urgent need for an agreement would allow the IAEA to provide technical assistance to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, which include 15 reactors, as well as the decommissioned Chernobyl site.

He said “a positive outcome still eludes us” and “the need to prevent a nuclear accident becomes more pressing with each day that passes.”

Lion and wolf safely evacuated from zoo in war-torn Ukraine

Simba sits inside a cell at a zoo in Radauti, Romania, on Wednesday.
Eldar Emric / AP

RADAUTI, Romania — Simba the lion and a wolf named Akyla have been evacuated from a zoo in war-torn Ukraine and brought to safety in Romania in what an animal rights group says was a four-day mission “full of dangers” further hampered by border entry bureaucracy.

The adult male lion and the gray wolf, who were fully awake during the dangerous journey due to lack of tranquilizers in Ukraine, arrived Monday at a zoo in Radauti, from a zoo in Zaporizhzhia in southeast Ukraine.

After spending four days in cages in the back of a van, the two animals were recovering in their new enclosure Wednesday, regaining their strength as they lounged in the shade.

Read the full story.

Russian opposition journalist killed in Kyiv shelling

Oksana Baulina, a veteran Russian journalist whose last tweet included the hashtag #MadVlad, referring to President Vladimir Putin, died in a shelling in Kyiv’s Podolsk district, according to The Insider, a “Russia-focused” independent news outlet. 

Baulina had been filming the aftermath of a Russian attack on a shopping center when she and three others came under fire. One civilian was also killed, and two people accompanying Baulina were wounded and hospitalized.

Prior to joining The Insider, Baulina worked as a producer for the Anti-Corruption Foundation, an opposition nonprofit founded in Moscow and listed as an extremist organization in Russia. She was forced to leave her home country in order to continue exposing Russian government corruption for The Insider, the company said.

“The Insider expresses its deepest condolences to Oksana’s family and friends,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to cover the war in Ukraine, including such Russian war crimes as indiscriminate shelling of residential areas which result in the deaths of civilians and journalists.”

Friends and former colleagues mourned Baulina’s death, praising her “phenomenal sense of moral clarity” and denouncing the killing of journalists covering the war in Ukraine. 

Blinken officially announces Russia has committed war crimes

Secretary of State Antony Blinken officially announced Wednesday that Russia has committed war crimes since invading Ukraine.

Citing numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks, he said several attacks deliberately targeted civilians, including people in a Mariupol maternity hospital, a theater, apartment buildings and schools.

“Since launching his unprovoked and unjust war of choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement. “Every day that Russia’s forces continue their brutal attacks, the number of innocent civilians killed and wounded, including women and children, climbs.”

As of Tuesday, in the besieged city of Mariupol alone, more than 2,400 civilians have been killed, officials said. Not including Mariupol, the United Nations has confirmed more than 2,500 civilian casualties and emphasized the actual toll is likely higher.

Power restored to more than 47,500 Ukrainian customers

Power supply to more than 47,500 customers has been restored in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, according to the Ukrainian government.

About 27,000 of those who had their power restored were in the Donetsk region, officials said. Gas supply to about 3,000 consumers has also been restored.

As of Wednesday, more than 1,320 settlements in Ukraine remained without electricity, with a total of more than 874,000 consumers.

The Ukrainian energy system has been operating with the European power system for more than a week. 

All four operating nuclear power plants in Ukraine continue to generate electricity, officials said.

At least 7,000 Russian troops have died since invasion began, NATO official says

At least 7,000 Russian troops have died in the first month of the war in Ukraine, but the actual number could be roughly double that amount, a NATO official confirmed to NBC News.

The official said the estimate is based on figures from Ukrainian officials, numbers that Russia has released, open-source intelligence and other methodologies.

Adding in Russian troops who have been injured, captured or gone missing, the number could be as high as 30,000 to 40,000, the official said.

Russia has not publicly disclosed how many of its troops have died fighting in Ukraine.

Putin’s climate envoy quits Kremlin role in wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion

LONDON — An adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin has become the first senior Kremlin official to quit since the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman said Wednesday.

Anatoly Chubais left his role as Russia’s envoy to international organizations and sustainable development of his own accord, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

The news was first reported by Bloomberg, which cited two people familiar with the situation saying Chubais had left Russia over his opposition to the war. Reuters also cited two anonymous sources saying he had left the country.

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Chubais hung up the phone when contacted by Reuters. NBC News has been unable to reach him for comment and has not confirmed his reasons for resigning or whether he has left the country.

Read the full story here.

Russia makes bid to host soccer’s European Championship in 2028 or 2032

Russia is making an attempt to host the European Championship despite being banned from participating in international soccer over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Football Union, the governing body of soccer in Russia, has placed a bid to host the EURO in either 2028 or 2032.

Wednesday was the deadline to submit an ‘Expression of Interest’ to the Union of European Football Associations.

During an executive meeting Wednesday, the RFU said it supports the decision to declare interest in hosting the championship.

Russia hosted the World Cup in 2018.

Kyiv mayor says Russian forces have killed 264 civilians in his city

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Wednesday that Russian forces have killed 264 civilians in his besieged city since the start of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

In an exchange with reporters as air raid sirens blared and explosions went off in the distance, he said that more than 300 people were hospitalized there and some 80 buildings have been destroyed.

Klitschko, standing beside his brother and fellow former boxing world champion, Wladimir, told reporters that Ukrainian troops have retaken the towns of Makariv and Irpin from Russian control.

NBC News has not independently verified the mayor’s claims. Russia has denied targeting civilians in its military assault on Ukraine.

E.U. commission president calls on Putin to release ships with wheat

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that Russia is blocking hundreds of ships with wheat in the Black Sea, contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. 

Belarus tells Ukrainian diplomats to leave, closes Ukraine’s consulate

Belarus told Ukraine to cut its diplomatic presence and closed the Ukrainian consulate in Brest on Wednesday, citing “numerous unfriendly actions” by Ukraine.

The statement by the Belarus foreign ministry, which also accused Ukrainian officials of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, did not specify how many diplomats it asked to leave. The Ukrainian ambassador and four other diplomats would be allowed to stay, according to Reuters.

The consulate was closed due to what Belarus said was a “lack of staff.” 

Ukrainians and other people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be allowed to enter Belarus visa free until April 15, the statement said.

Russia has used Belarus as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine and the country has hosted teams of Russian and Ukrainian officials for peace negotiations, which have been unsuccessful so far. 

NATO leaders expected to increase troop presence in Eastern Europe

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday he expects the leaders of member states will add additional troops along the alliance’s eastern flank, deploying four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

“I expect leaders will agree to strengthen NATO’s posture in all domains, with major increases in the eastern part of the alliance on land, in the air and at sea,” Stoltenberg told reporters at a news conference before a summit of NATO leaders in Brussels.

Stoltenberg confirmed that the United States already has some 100,000 service members in Europe, in addition to another 40,000 troops under NATO’s direct command.

President Joe Biden could announce that the U.S. plans to permanently maintain an increased number of its troops deployed in NATO countries near Ukraine, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

Image: Finnish Defense Forces
Soldiers from the Finnish Defense Forces during an exercise in Setermoen, Norway, on March 22.Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP – Getty Images

Nestlé to pull brands including KitKat from Russia, will keep selling ‘essential food’

Nestlé has said it will pull a number of brands from Russia, but will keep selling “essential food” in the country to uphold “the principle of ensuring the basic right to food.”

“As the war rages in Ukraine, our activities in Russia will focus on providing essential food, such as infant food and medical/hospital nutrition — not on making a profit,” the company said in a statement.

The company said KitKat and Nesquik would be among the brands to be suspended.

“We have already halted non-essential imports and exports into and out of Russia, stopped all advertising, and suspended all capital investment in the country,” the company said, adding: “Of course, we are fully complying with all international sanctions on Russia.”

Nestlé said that while it does not “expect to make a profit in the country or pay any related taxes for the foreseeable future in Russia, any profit will be donated to humanitarian relief organizations.”

Biden says Russia’s potential use of chemical weapons is a ‘real threat’

President Joe Biden has said that Russia’s potential use of chemical weapons against Ukraine was a “real threat.”

Biden made the comment after being asked about the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons in its invasion of Ukraine as he prepared to depart for Europe, Reuters reported.

The president is headed first to Brussels, with summit meetings planned with NATO, Group of Seven and European Union leaders to discuss the international response to the war in Ukraine. 

Western leaders are expected to announce a fresh round of sanctions to pressure Moscow to end the war.

Moscow Stock Exchange to resume trading partially after a month of closure

The Moscow Stock Exchange will resume trading partially Thursday after being shut for almost a month from Feb. 25.

The Bank of Russia announced its decision to resume trading of 33 shares of Russian Stock Exchange Index in a statement Wednesday. Short selling will be banned for these securities.

Russia had suspended stock trading completely as it tried to contain the fallout from the blow of sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces surround cities on the outskirts of Kyiv

Ukrainian forces have surrounded several strategic areas on the northwest outskirts of Kyiv, the Bucha city council said Wednesday.

“Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel were taken into the ring by the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the city council said in a post on Facebook. Hostomel is home to the Antonov Airport where some of the earliest battles in the war took place.

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Russian forces heavily shelled Irpin and Bucha, along with two other areas Wednesday, with some of the strikes sparking fires.

Meanwhile, in areas under the control of Russian forces, a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding, the city council said, adding that “the population has no food, medicine, hygiene products, baby food left.”

Russian soldiers, themselves looking for food and alcohol, have also broken into homes and are “looting, shooting dogs, and slaughtering cattle,” the city council said.

Zelenskyy urges united response from Asia to Ukraine war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Japan to unite the Asian front against Russia’s invasion in the form of harsh economic sanctions on Moscow and aid to Ukraine.

In an address to the Japanese Parliament on Wednesday, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine needs powerful security guarantees and called on companies to withdraw from the Russian market, emphasizing that Japan was the first Asian country to put real pressure on Russia.

He called for concerted efforts by Japan’s Asian trading partner states to stabilize the situation so that Russia seeks peace and “stops the tsunami of its brutal invasion of Ukraine,” a post on his official Telegram account said. 

Russian foreign minister calls sanctions against Moscow ‘unimaginable’

Punishing sanctions on Moscow imposed by the U.S. and its allies were “unimaginable,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday.

In remarks to staff and students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Lavrov appeared to admit that the strength of the measures taken in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine took officials by surprise.

“The current scale is very unimaginable, and I didn’t know that the West would even consider this,” he said of the sanctions.

He said that “nobody could have foreseen” the freezing of central bank reserves and called it “theft.”

He also accused the U.S. of implementing the sanctions because it finds Moscow a barrier to its efforts to create a “unipolar world.”

Poland considering expelling 45 Russian diplomats

Poland’s special services have requested that the foreign ministry expel 45 Russian diplomats, with some suspected of working for Russian intelligence under the cover of diplomatic assignments.

“Given the policy pursued by Russia against Poland and its allies, as well the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Head of the ABW is requesting the expulsion of the indicated individuals from the territory of the Republic of Poland,” spokesperson Stanisław Żaryn said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the Internal Security Agency, the activities of diplomats served the Russian undertakings “designed to undermine the stability of Poland and its allies” and posed a security risk to the country.

Among the 45 is a Russian secret services officer whose activities were revealed in an investigation that resulted in the arrest of a Polish national on suspicion of spying last week, it said.


Red Cross chief arrives in Moscow to discuss humanitarian situation in Ukraine

International Committee of Red Cross President Peter Maurer arrived in Moscow on Wednesday and is expected to meet Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the pressing humanitarian issues in Ukraine.

“The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in Donbas, has been vast. There are practical steps guided by international humanitarian law that the parties must take to limit the suffering,” Maurer said in a statement.

Maurer will meet the representatives of the foreign affairs and the defense ministries, addressing the suffering caused by the conflict in Ukraine, as well as Syria. According to Reuters, Maurer will also meet Lavrov on Thursday.

Biden heads to Europe amid pressure to ramp up support for Ukraine

BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden heads to Europe Wednesday under increasing pressure at home and abroad to do more to aid Ukraine, as he tries to walk a fine line between providing support and deterring Russia while avoiding further escalation. 

The trip will provide a high-profile leadership moment on the world stage for Biden in one of the greatest periods of European conflict since World War II. But it will also come with pressure to respond to calls to do more for Ukraine from Democrats and Republicans at home, European allies, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

White House officials say a key purpose of the trip, along with discussing how to coordinate their assistance for Ukraine, will be to reassure NATO countries of the U.S.’s support and act as a show of unity against Russia that could deter a potential invasion into NATO territory.

Read the full story here.

Russians destroyed Chernihiv bridge used for evacuations, governor says

LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge in the encircled city of Chernihiv, the region’s governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said.

The destroyed bridge had been used for evacuating civilians and delivering humanitarian aid. It crossed the Desna River and connected the city to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Chernihiv authorities said Tuesday that the encircled city has no water or electricity and called the situation there a humanitarian disaster.

Explosions and bursts of gunfire shook Kyiv on Wednesday morning, and heavy artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russian forces have sought to encircle and take the capital’s suburbs.

Strikes in Kyiv spark fires, at least 4 injured

Ukraine’s capital came under fire early Wednesday, with strikes hitting both businesses and residential buildings in several areas and sparking fires. At least four people were wounded, Kyiv’s city council said. 

“Currently there are fires in several private houses and in high-rise buildings,” the city council said on its Telegram channel.

Air raid sirens sounded in the city throughout the morning.

Firefighters extinguish a burning house hit by Russian Grad rockets in Kyiv, on Tuesday.

Firefighters extinguish a burning house hit by Russian Grad rockets in Kyiv, on Tuesday.
Aris Messinis / AFP – Getty Images

Nine corridors to evacuate residents of besieged cities set to open

Nine humanitarian corridors to evacuate Ukrainians trapped in besieged cities and towns will open on Wednesday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

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The encircled southern port city of Mariupol, where a devastating humanitarian crisis is unfolding, was included in the list of areas slated for evacuations. Buses left earlier in the day from the nearby city of Berdyansk and headed to Mariupol to pick up evacuees. Several times in past weeks evacuation efforts have been marred by shelling, though thousands have made it out in recent days.

Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to ceasefires in the Luhansk region in the east of the country to evacuate residents from four areas. Around 80 people were evacuated early Wednesday from the city of Rubizhne there, Serhiy Haidai, the region’s governor, wrote on Telegram.

“We have agreed on a ‘silence mode’ from 9:00, but be careful,” Haidai said in a separate post. “The shelling of the Russian army during these hours subsides only on the routes of evacuation of people, and not always.”

Several towns around the capital Kyiv were also among the areas listed for evacuation.

Moscow says sending peacekeeping troops to Ukraine could lead to NATO-Russia confrontation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that sending peacekeepers to Ukraine could lead to a direct confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance.

His comments came after Poland said last week that an international peacekeeping mission should be sent to Ukraine and be given the means to defend itself.

Lavrov also said that talks with Ukraine have so far been difficult, accusing Kyiv of constantly changing its position. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for a direct conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring to an end to the war.

Russian forces flank eastern Ukraine and reorganize in the north, U.K. says

Russian forces are attempting to encircle Ukrainian forces in the east while the situation remained largely static in the northern part of Ukraine, according to the British Defense Ministry.

In an intelligence update published Wednesday, it said, “Russian forces are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east of the country as they advance from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south.”

Across northern Ukraine, Russian forces are likely conducting “a period of reorganization before resuming large-scale offensive operations,” it said. The ministry also said that Russia is continuing its efforts to reach west towards Odesa, bypassing the besieged city of Mykolaiv.

Putin plans to attend G-20 summit, envoy says

Putin intends to attend a G-20 summit in Indonesia later this year, Russia’s ambassador to Indonesia said Wednesday, dismissing suggestions by some G-20 members that Russia could be barred from the group of major economies.

Lyudmila Vorobieva, Russia’s ambassador to Indonesia, which holds the rotating G-20 chair, said Putin intended to travel to the Indonesian resort island of Bali for the summit in November. Asked about suggestions Russia could be excluded from the G-20, she said it was a forum to discuss economic issues and not a crisis like Ukraine.

“Of course expulsion of Russia from this kind of forum will not help these economic problems to be resolved,” she told a news conference. “On the contrary, without Russia it would be difficult to do so.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, asked if Biden would move to push Russia out of the G-20 when he meets allies in Brussels this week, told reporters at the White House on Tuesday: “We believe that it cannot be business as usual for Russia in international institutions and in the international community.”

However, the United States plans to consult allies before any other pronouncements, he said.

Biden heads to Brussels, bringing in more sanctions

President Joe Biden heads to Brussels early morning on Wednesday, meeting NATO and G7 leaders as the U.S. coordinates its next steps of countering Russia.

The four-day visit ending Saturday will focus on deterrence and defense efforts in response to Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified” attack on Ukraine, said the White House.

Biden is also expected to unveil fresh sanctions against Russia to pressure Moscow to end its war in Ukraine. 

“He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Tuesday in a press briefing.

The President could also announce during his Europe visit plans to permanently maintain an increased number of its troops deployed in NATO countries near Ukraine, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Russian forces seized Mariupol humanitarian convoy, Zelenskyy says

Russian forces captured humanitarian workers near Mariupol after agreeing on a safe route for aid into the besieged city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday night.

Zelenskyy said in a speech that emergency services employees and bus drivers were taken prisoner near the town of Manhush, 12 miles west of Mariupol.

It wasn’t clear what happened to them. NBC News couldn’t independently verify Zelenskyy’s account. 

“For more than a week now we have been trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents,” Zelenskyy said. “And almost all our attempts, unfortunately, are disrupted by the Russian occupiers. By shelling or deliberate terror.”

Zelenskyy made the comments a day after he refused to surrender the strategically important city, which has seen relentless attacks. He said just over 7,000 residents were rescued from the city Tuesday but that about 100,000 were still trapped “in inhumane conditions, under full blockade, without food, without water, without medicine, under constant gunfire, constant airstrikes.”

Zelenskyy to address NATO summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the NATO summit Thursday via video link, spokesperson Serhii Nikiforov said.

U.S. President Joe Biden will attend the summit in Brussels during a trip to Europe, which comes as member countries and other Western nations have rallied in opposition to Russia’s attack and invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy has given other addresses via video since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, including one to the U.S. Congress last week in which he appealed for more military aid.

Zelenskyy has called on NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which members of the treaty organization have said they do not want to do because it could bring their military forces in direct confrontation with Russian forces and cause an escalation of the war.

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