Thursday, February 22

Live updates: French envoy compares Mariupol to Aleppo


DOHA, Qatar — France’s top diplomat is warning that the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol is becoming a “second Aleppo,” the Syrian commercial capital that in 2016 saw widespread Russian-backed destruction.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday told the Doha Forum, a policy conference in Qatar, that Russia’s “siege warfare” against Ukrainian cities should induce “collective guilt.”

“Civilian populations are slaughtered, annihilated, the suffering is horrible,” said a visibly angry Le Drian.

When asked whether he agreed with President Joe Biden’s remark in Warsaw that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power, he said only that diplomacy with both sides remained a French priority.

Le Drian said French President Emmanuel Macron was trying to avert the worst in Ukraine through talks with both the Ukrainian and Russian presidents. A ceasefire remains the most pressing task, he added, so that parties can move onto thornier topics like Ukraine’s security guarantees and a possible neutral military status.

Le Drian said the world is “at a tipping point” as the war continues to spiral, adding, “This is a crisis that affects us all.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Zelenskyy: West needs more courage in helping Ukraine fight back

— ‘My personal tragedy’: Ukrainians brace for an attack on Black Sea jewel of Odesa

— War shakes Europe’s path to energy independence, climate goals

— Without Russian expertise, scientists are going solo to solve world’s woes, dreams

— Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed in Hungary but an Afghan student was not

Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

BERLIN — Russian authorities have blocked the website of German newspaper Bild, part of their efforts to control the message on Ukraine.

Communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said Sunday it blocked Bild’s website at prosecutors’ request.

Instagram and Facebook were already blocked in Russia after Roskomnadzor said they were being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers. Russian authorities also have shut access to foreign media websites, including BBC, European news network Euronews, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza.

Bild says it has been putting Russian-language reports on Russia’s war in Ukraine and its slide toward “totalitarian dictatorship” on its website, and parts of its live video broadcasts have been subtitled in Russian. It noted that it also has a Russian-language Telegram channel.

Bild editor-in-chief Johannes Boie said the decision to block its website in Russia “confirms us in our journalistic work for democracy, freedom and human rights.”

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WASHINGTON — The top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged U.S. President Joe Biden to “stay on script” as he deals with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sen. James Risch of Idaho’s comments criticizing the president came a day after Biden asserted at the end of a major address in Poland that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other administration officials on Sunday sought to walk back Biden’s remarks, saying that Biden’s was not calling for regime change in Russia.

Risch, however, suggested Biden needs to be more careful with his words on the international stage.

“Please Mr. President, stay on script,” Risch said in an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military intelligence chief says that Russia could try to break Ukraine in two.

Kyrylo Budanov said in remarks released by the Defense Ministry on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has realized “he can’t swallow the entire country” and would likely try to split the country under “the Korean scenario.” That’s a reference to the decades-old division between North and South Korea.

Budanov said that “the occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine.” He pointed to Russian attempts to set up parallel government structures in occupied cities and to bar people from using the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia.

Budanov predicted that Ukrainian resistance will grow into a “total” guerrilla warfare, derailing Russia’s attempts.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has distanced himself from U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” He is urging efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Macron, who has spoken several times to the Russian president in so-far unsuccessful peace-making efforts, is due to speak again with Putin on Sunday or Monday.

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“We should be factual and … do everything so that the situation doesn’t get out of control,” Macron said Sunday on France-3 television, when asked about Biden’s remark.

Macron said: “I wouldn’t use those terms, because I continue to speak to President Putin, because what we want to do collectively is that we want to stop the war Russia launched in Ukraine, without waging war and without an escalation.”

He stressed that the U.S. remains an important ally, saying, “We share many common values, but those who live next to Russia are the Europeans.”

Macron said he will talk with Putin about a proposed humanitarian corridor for the besieged city of Mariupol, also discussed with Turkey and Greece.

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ISTANBUL – The Ukrainian embassy in Ankara says a group of 159 Ukrainian orphans has arrived in the southern Turkish city of Antalya.

The boys and girls aged 4 to 18 were evacuated from care homes in the Dnipro region, traveling first to Poland by train before flying to Turkey.

Welcoming the children and 26 care staff, Ukrainian Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar said the aim was to shelter 2,000 children and staff in Turkey.

“This is the first group to come but we are waiting for the second group,” the Demiroren news agency quoted Bodnar as saying at Antalya airport. “Children will come from cities that the Russian army has bombed or may bomb.”

The group will stay in hotels in the Mediterranean resort.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has stepped up his pleas for negotiations to end the fighting in Ukraine.

Francis told the public in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday that “this cruel and senseless war” continues after more than a month, representing “a defeat for all.”

He lamented that parents are burying their children, and “the powerful decide and the poor die.” Once again, he didn’t cite Russia by name as the aggressor.

Referring to reports that about one-half of all the children in Ukraine have been displaced by the conflict, Francis said that “war doesn’t just devastate the present but also the future of society.”

The pontiff reiterated his condemnation of war as barbarous and sacrilegious. He said that “humanity must understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to cancel war from the history of man before it cancels man from history.”

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Russia’s National Guard on the sixth anniversary of its creation.

Putin specially addressed the service staff of the National Guard units involved in the military operation in Ukraine.

“Comrades, indeed, combat conditions involve increased risk. I am well aware of how you act in this situation: highly courageously and professionally, skillfully and fearlessly. You resolve the most complicated tasks set before you competently and precisely while showing personal heroism,” Putin said in a video statement issued Sunday.

The National Guard, which numbers over 300,000 personnel, was established by Putin in 2016 as an internal military force to fight terrorism and organized crime, guard state facilities, control weapons turnover and to provide riot control.

The service reports directly to the president.

“Our entire vast country is rightly proud of each of you,” Putin said. “I want to thank you for your stamina and your impeccable service to Russia, for your loyalty to our fatherland, to your oath of allegiance and your duty.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — A manager at a UNESCO world heritage site in Kyiv says bombings in the capital are being felt in the landmark building and could threaten its foundations.

“We and the landmark feel the vibrations,” said Vadim Kyrylenko, an engineer who now is the most senior on-site manager at the St. Sophia Cathedral. “It’s a minimal threat but we feel it. If there would be a strike nearby as I say it would be a point of no return for our landmark because it is very fragile and vulnerable.”

The site shut its doors to visitors as soon as the war in Ukraine started last month. Kyrylenko said that the only people left on site apart from him are a cook, a carpenter and engineers who are keeping the main functions running.

The Orthodox shrine dates back nearly 1,000 years to the dawn of Christianity in the region. It is considered the heart of Ukrainian spiritual and national identity. The grand structure survived despite being in the crosshairs of numerous invaders and armies.

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A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine says that his region wants to hold a vote on joining Russia.

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Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said Sunday that it could hold a referendum “in the nearest time” asking voters whether they support making the region part of Russia.

Russia has supported the separatist rebels in Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk regions since an insurgency erupted there in 2014 shortly after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Moscow recognized their independence on Feb. 21 and then cited their call for military assistance to launch the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

In talks with Ukraine, Moscow has urged it to acknowledge Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Pasechnik’s statement could herald a shift in the Russian position.

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BERLIN — Germany’s president is hosting a “solidarity concert” with Ukraine featuring musicians from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

The Berlin Philharmonic was playing pieces by Ukrainian, Russian and Polish composers at President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s Bellevue palace in Berlin. Steinmeier — who addressed the event by video because he tested positive for the coronavirus last week — described it Sunday as a “signal for freedom and peace.”

Steinmeier said: “Let us be vigilant against sweeping animosities, and let us not succumb to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s pseudo-historical nationalist delusion. Let us not allow Putin’s hatred to become a hatred between people … in our own society either.”

However, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany tweeted that he had spurned an invitation. Andriy Melnyk wrote that “ONLY RUSSIAN (!) SOLOISTS” were performing, “no Ukrainians.” He added: “An affront. Sorry, I’m staying away.”

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JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is not trying to topple Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite its harsh condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken spoke a day after President Joe Biden said of Putin during a speech in Warsaw: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Blinken said Biden’s point was that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”

He said the U.S. has repeatedly said that “we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter.”

“In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people,” Blinken said.

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KYIV, Ukraine —- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has again urged the West to provide Ukraine with warplanes and air defense missiles.

Speaking in a video address early Sunday, Zelenskyy said that “our partners have all that, and it’s just collecting dust. And in fact it’s necessary not just for Ukraine’s freedom, but for the freedom of Europe.”

Zelenskyy warned that the Baltic states, Poland and Slovakia could eventually face a Russian attack “just because they will have kept in their hangars just 1% of all NATO warplanes and 1% of all NATO tanks. Just 1%! We aren’t asking for more and we have been waiting for that for 31 days!”

He said that “our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine.”

The president said: “Ukraine can’t shoot down Russian missiles with shotguns and machine guns that have accounted for the bulk of supplies. And we can’t unblock Mariupol without the necessary number of tanks, other armor, and warplanes. All defenders of Ukraine know about it.”

He added that the United States and “all European politicians” also know that.

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DOHA, Qatar — The head of the International Monetary Fund is warning that the global economic strain caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine could stoke civil unrest in the Middle East and beyond.

Speaking at the Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday, Kristalina Georgieva said Russia’s invasion and the resulting sanctions on Moscow have forced the world’s poorest to bear the worst of the crisis as they grapple with inflated food costs and scarcer jobs.

Georgieva hinted that the current situation evoked the lead-up to the 2011 uprisings known as the Arab Spring, when skyrocketing bread prices fueled anti-government protests across the Middle East.

“When prices jump, and poor people cannot feed their families, they will be on the streets,” she said. “One thing we know about trouble in one place, it travels, it doesn’t stay there.”

Georgieva called for greater global cooperation to fill the gaps in commodity and energy supplies.

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“Please, work together,” she said. “Oil producers, gas producers and food producers today are in a position to help reduce this uncertainty.”

She cited Ukraine’s importance as a top wheat exporter in urging a swift resolution to the war.

“The faster the tanks are out, the faster the tractors will be in,” she said. “We need by July the harvest in Ukraine to contribute to the stability of food prices.”

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NEW YORK — The Russian military says it has struck Ukrainian military facilities with long-range missiles.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in statement on Sunday that the air-launched cruise missiles hit a fuel depot and a defense plant in Lviv near the border with Poland a day earlier.

Konashenkov said another strike with sea-launched missiles destroyed a depot with air defense missiles in Plesetske, just west of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

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ODESA, Ukraine — The Black Sea port of Odesa is mining its beaches and rushing to defend its cultural heritage from a feared Mariupol-style fate in the face of growing alarm that the strategic city might be next as Russia attempts to strip Ukraine of its coastline.

The multi-cultural jewel, dear to Ukrainian hearts and even Russian ones, would be a hugely strategic win for Russia. It is the country’s largest port, crucial to grain and other exports, and headquarters for the Ukrainian navy.

Bombardment from the sea last weekend further raised worries that the city is in Russia’s sights.

Residents say Russian President Vladimir Putin would be insane to take Odesa with the brutal approach that has left other Ukrainian cities in ruins. Once a gilded powerhouse of the Russian empire, Odesa includes one of the finest opera houses in Europe and the famed Potemkin Steps between the city and the sea, featured in Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film masterpiece “Battleship Potemkin.”

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LONDON — The Russian military appears to be trying to encircle Ukrainian forces fighting in the separatist regions in the eastern part of the country, Britain’s Ministry of Defense says.

Russian forces are advancing southward from the area around Kharkiv and north from Mariupol, the ministry said in an intelligence briefing released Sunday morning.

Battlefields in northern Ukraine remain “largely static,” with Ukrainian counterattacks hampering Russian efforts to reorganize their forces, the ministry said.

In an earlier briefing released overnight, the ministry said Russia continued to strike targets across Ukraine, including many in densely populated areas, the ministry said.

Russia is relying on “stand-off” missiles launched from within its own territory to reduce aircraft exposure to Ukrainian anti-aircraft fire, the ministry said. But it said limited stocks of these weapons will force Russia to “revert to less sophisticated missiles or accepting more risk to their aircraft.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy angrily warned Moscow that it is sowing a deep hatred for Russia among his people, as constant artillery barrages and aerial bombings are reducing cities to rubble, killing civilians and driving others into shelters, leaving them to scrounge for food and water to survive.

“You are doing everything so that our people themselves leave the Russian language, because the Russian language will now be associated only with you, with your explosions and murders, your crimes,” Zelenskyy said in an impassioned video address late Saturday.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear watchdog says that a nuclear research facility in Kharkiv again has come under shelling by Russia and the fighting makes it impossible to assess the damage.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said that the neutron source experimental facility in the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology came under fire Saturday.

Ukrainian authorities have previously reported that Russian shelling damaged buildings at the Kharkiv facility, but there has been no release of radiation. The newly built neutron source facility is intended for the research and production of radioisotopes for medical and industrial needs. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that the nuclear material in the facility is always subcritical and the inventory of radioactive material is very low, reducing the risks of radiation release.

Kharkiv has been besieged by Russian forces since the start of the invasion and has come under repeated shelling of its residential buildings and critical infrastructure.

Ukraine’s nuclear facilities have been threatened by the Russian invasion.

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