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Ukraine says it has shot down military plane :: WRAL.com | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack | #hacking | #aihp



The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:

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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LONDON—British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is in “close contact” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as he hailed “the fierce bravery and patriotism” of Ukraine’s government and people.

In a recorded message, Johnson said “the scenes unfolding in the streets and fields of Ukraine are nothing short of a tragedy,” calling it bloodshed Europe has not seen in a generation or more.

He said “the people of the United Kingdom stand with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in the face of this unjustifiable assault on your homeland.”

Johnson also urged Russians to oppose the invasion, which he called “a tragedy for Russia” as well as for Ukraine.

Speaking in Russian, he said: “I do not believe this war is in your name.”

Britain has imposed asset freezes and other sanctions on scores of Russian companies and several oligarchs, and has joined the U.S., Canada and the European Union in slapping sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary—Hungary’s foreign minister has offered Budapest as a possible location for negotiations between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine as Russia’s invasion intensifies.

“Budapest can serve as a safe venue for both the Russian and Ukrainian negotiation delegations,” Peter Szijjarto said in a video on Facebook late Friday, adding that he had made the proposal to both Russia’s and Ukraine’s governments, neither of which dismissed it.

“I sincerely hope that an agreement can be reached within a few hours or days to start discussions; the sooner the talks begin, the sooner there will be peace and the fewer people will have to die in the war,” Szijjarto said.

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BRUSSELS—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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TORONTO—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is announcing sanctions on Russian Vladimir Putin, his chief of staff and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Trudeau also says Canada supports the removal of Russia from the SWIFT banking system.

The prime minister is also announcing sanctions against Belarus.

Meanwhile, Canada’s largest province is pulling Russian products from shelves from government owned liquor stores.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy says the province joins Canada’s allies in condemning the Russian government’s act of aggression against the Ukrainian people, and will direct the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to withdraw all products produced in Russia from store shelves.

The French-speaking province of Quebec is also considering banning Russian liquor.

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UNITED NATIONS—The U.N. plans to seek over $1 billion in donations for humanitarian relief in Ukraine over the next three months, the world body’s humanitarian chief said Friday.

Martin Griffiths said at a news briefing that the exact amount of the appeal is still being decided but will be “well north of $1 billion.”

The U.N. announced Thursday that it was immediately allocating $20 million to expand its humanitarian operations in Ukraine. Even before Russia’s attack this week, the world body estimated about 3 million people were in need of aid after years of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government in the country’s east.

Now, “the scale of need in these very, very extraordinary circumstances is going to be of the highest,” Griffiths said.

The U.N. issues multiple appeals each year for international donors, mainly governments, to finance humanitarian efforts in trouble spots around the world. Last month, it requested more than $5 billion for Afghanistan, the largest-ever appeal tied to a single country.

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RICHMOND, Va.—Criminal ransomware operators are posting messages on the dark web pledging to launch retaliatory cyberattacks if Russia is attacked.

The ransomware group Conti, which experts say has ties to Russia, said in a note on its dark web site Friday that it would “use all our possible resources to strike back at the critical infrastructures of an enemy.”

Ransomware gangs are mostly Russian-speaking and operate with near impunity out of Russia and allied countries.

In a follow up note, the Conti group stressed it was not an ally of any government and said: “we condemn the ongoing war.”

Major ransomware attacks in the last year, including against the biggest U.S. fuel pipeline, have underscored how gangs of extortionist hackers can disrupt the economy and put lives and livelihoods at risk. The U.S. government has been warning critical infrastructure entities to prepare for possible attacks and to make sure their defenses are up to date.

Non-state hackers have promised to be active in both sides of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The online collective Anonymous recently pledged to conduct cyberattacks to support Ukraine.

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BERLIN—The German government says it plans to deploy troops and the Patriot anti-missile system to Slovakia as part of NATO plans to strengthen the alliance’s eastern flank.

The Defense Ministry said Friday that it plans to send an infantry company as part of a combat troop battalion. And it said that Germany also will contribute the Patriot system.

The ministry stressed that the so-called “enhanced vigilance activity battlegroup” has a purely defensive function.

Slovakia is a NATO and European Union member that borders Ukraine. Germany already is beefing up its troop contingent in Lithuania, another nation on NATO’s eastern flank.

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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.

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ROME—Thousands of Romans and Ukrainians who live in the Italian capital marched side-by-side to the Colosseum to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

They took up the call by Rome’s mayor to clutch lit candles on Friday evening and walk from the square atop the Capitoline Hill to the ancient arena, a few minutes’ stroll away.

Several of the Ukrainians among the marchers wept. They put a hand over their heart while singing the Ukrainian anthem. Others held Ukrainian flags or protest signs or shouted, “hands off our country” or voiced other denunciations of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among the marchers was Ruslan Yakubovskyy, a Ukrainian.

“I live here, I bought a home here, my family is here, but I am thinking about going back to Ukraine to fight and lend a helping hand,″ he said. “The situation is so difficult that either it’s that the rest of the world is pretending not to see or it doesn’t want to see it at all.”

City Hall and the Colosseum were illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, yellow and blue.

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WARSAW, Poland – Presidents of NATO’s eastern flank member states gathered Friday in Warsaw voiced their support for tough sanctions on Russia and its leaders for the invasion of Ukraine.

Nine presidents of the so-called NATO Bucharest Nine held a security summit with the participation of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. They also remotely join a NATO summit in Brussels.

“There cannot be any ‘business as usual’ in this situation in relations with Russia because that would have been a betrayal of the principles of the honest, open world,” Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, said after the talks that he had hosted.

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LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would introduce sanctions against Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to inflict maximum punishment for invading Ukraine, his Downing Street office said Friday.

Johnson’s pledge comes as the European Union approved an asset freeze on Putin and Lavrov. The comments from Johnson suggest that Western powers are acting in concert on unprecedented measures to try to force Putin to stop the brutal invasion of Russia’s neighbor.

In comments to NATO leaders, the UK leader pressed again for immediate action to exclude Russia from the SWIFT system of financial transactions. European nations have faced criticism for failing to cut Russia off from the global bank payments network in offering sanctions on Thursday.

Johnson said “the world must make certain President Putin would fail in this act of aggression.”

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TIRANA, Albania—Albania’s prime minister on Friday said the tiny Western Balkan country would welcome Ukrainian refugees.

Speaking after a NATO summit Prime Minister Edi Rama said that like all the other NATO member countries, Albania would be ready to welcome a few thousand Ukrainians leaving their country due to the Russian invasion.

Rama did not give any concrete number.

Albania, a NATO member since 2009, has followed the United States and European Union on its stand denouncing Russian invasion.

Albania was the first to offer shelter and then house some 2,400 Afghan evacuees after the Taliban came to power in August last year. Some 300 have already left, mainly for the United States.

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts have agreed to send parts of the organization’s response force to help protect allies in the east over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking after chairing a NATO meeting, Stoltenberg said the leaders decided to send parts of the NATO Response Force and elements of a quickly deployed spearhead unit. He did not say how many troops would be deployed, but confirmed that the move would involve land, sea and air power.

The NRF can number up to 40,000 troops, but Stoltenberg said that NATO would not be deploying the entire force. Parts of a force known in NATO jargon as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which is currently led by France, will also be sent.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has released a video of himself and his senior aides in Kyiv to reassure the nation as Russian troops were closing in on the capital.

In the video Zelenskyy recorded in the street outside the presidential office, he said he and his top officials are staying in the capital.

“Our troops are here, citizens are here,” Zelenskyy said, adding that “All of us are here protecting our independence of our country. And it will continue to be this way. Glory to our defenders, Glory to Ukraine, Glory to Heroes.”

Russian troops bore down on Ukraine’s capital Friday, with gunfire and explosions resonating ever closer to the government quarter.

In the fog of war, it was unclear how much of Ukraine remains under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have seized. The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of Ukraine’s embattled president instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.

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ROME — Premier Mario Draghi’s Cabinet on Friday formally approved previously announced participation by 250 Italian military forces and 139 land vehicles in NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia, as well as air policing by some 12 aircraft currently deployed in Romania and patrols by an intelligence-gathering aircraft and a refueling aircraft as part of NATO’s shoring up of its eastern flank allies in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The government also approved deployment of 235 military forces aboard two or three naval vessels, as well as an aircraft as part of surveillance and intelligence-gathering in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Also getting the government’s formal OK was the mobilization of 1,350 military personnel, involving 77 land vehicles and two naval vessels – with the second one to be deployed in the second half of the year — as well as five aircraft as part of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

Approval was granted for that force to be increased to as many as 1,970 military personnel. The same Cabinet session also granted authorization to provide at no cost non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine, including protective devices for soldiers and de-mining equipment

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BRUSSELS — Latvia’s foreign minister says the European Union has agreed to freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov along with other sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

The move indicates that Western powers are moving toward unprecedented measures to force Putin to stop the brutal invasion of Russia’s neighbor and from unleashing a major war in Europe.

Foreign Minister Edgard Rinkevics announced the EU decision Friday in a tweet.

He said another package of sanctions is to be prepared by the EU.

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PARIS — The leader of the Belarus opposition in exile says the European Union should slap tougher sanctions on Belarus for its role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sviatlana Tiskhanouskaya says Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, has turned her country into “an aggressor” in Ukraine.

She told The Associated Press on Friday that Belarus has become “an aircraft carrier” for the Russian military, carrying troops to Ukraine, re-fueling its war machine and housing soldiers of the invading force.

The United States, the EU, Britain and Canada last year imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials, businesses and several sectors of the economy and the financial system following a brutal crackdown on Lukashenko’s opponents. They were protesting his fraudulent re-election for a sixth term.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday called the Belarus government “an accomplice” in Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and said it will also be targeted with sanctions.

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WASHINGTON — Russian state broadcaster RT says it was subjected to “massive” denial-of-service attacks after the online collective Anonymous pledged to carry out cyberattacks in support of Ukraine, which is being invaded by Russian forces.

RT said in a statement that the attacks on its websites came from about 100 million devices, mostly based in the U.S. But the broadcaster said it was resolving the issues and its website appeared to be functioning normally Friday.

Anonymous announced a day earlier on Twitter that it is “officially in cyber war against the Russian government” and noted later that the Russian Ministry of Defense website was down.

But it is difficult to attribute a cyberattack to Anonymous or even confirm that someone is a member of a collective that is open to anyone who claims to use hacking for a particular cause.

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GIBRALTAR — Punitive measures against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine have spread to a tiny speck of territory on Spain’s southern tip, with Gibraltar’s government taking steps against Russia Today television.

Gibraltar on Friday announced it was suspending the Russian state broadcaster for spreading “disinformation.” It also revoked a visa waiver program for Russian citizens.

The office for Chief Minister Fabian Picardo described Russia Today as a “mouthpiece for the Kremlin” that “will become a dangerous source of disinformation that Gibraltar cannot accept on its networks.”

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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.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s transport minister says his country has banned all Russian airlines from Czech airports, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Martin Kupka said Friday the ban covers all regular flights between Prague and Moscow and Prague and St. Petersburg, as well as charter flights.

Russian planes will also be banned from landing at the western Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, a popular destination for Russian tourists. The measure becomes affective at midnight.

Additionally, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said his country will stop issuing visas for Russian citizens and will urge other European Union countries to do the same.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Major retail chains in Lithuania started to remove Russian and Belarusian products from shelves, a move joined by online shops and widely applauded by the public as a protest against Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Maxima LT, the largest chain in the Baltic nations, said Friday the Russian goods it sells are mainly alcohol, dried products and candy, amounting to millions of euros (dollars) in sales.

Other retailers like drug stores and home suppliers made similar announcements. The Lithuanian postal service said it will not be distributing any more Russian periodicals.

International companies such as IKEA are facing pressure to remove Russian-made goods from sale in the small Baltic country, which fears Russian aggression.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed his troops for their courage as they press their offensive across Ukraine and bear down on Kyiv.

Speaking during Friday’s meeting of his Security Council, Putin claimed that most Ukrainian military units are reluctant to engage Russian forces.

He said the units offering resistance are mostly volunteer battalions made up of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists.

He offered no evidence for his claims, which could not be independently verified.

Echoing an earlier Russian military statement, Putin accused Ukrainian forces of deploying heavy weapons in urban areas in several big cities, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, to use civilians as shields.

The Russian president urged the Ukrainian military to end their resistance and turn on their leaders.

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WARSAW, Poland – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in Warsaw for urgent talks with NATO’s nine eastern flank members on how to enhance the region’s security, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The participants were also due to remotely join a NATO summit in Brussels.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, hosting the talks between the so-called NATO Bucharest Nine, in his opening speech said that “demons of a great war, unseen since 1945” have returned to Europe.

NATO’s eastern flank members fear Moscow could also target them.

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FORT STEWART, Ga. — The U.S. Army says 3,800 soldiers from Fort Stewart, Georgia, are among additional forces deploying to Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Troops from the Army post southwest of Savannah, Georgia, “will deploy to reassure NATO allies, deter further aggression against NATO member states and train with host-nation forces,” Fort Stewart commanders said in a statement late Thursday.

Fort Stewart is home to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which saw multiple combat deployments during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the 3rd Infantry soldiers heading to Europe are assigned to the division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.

“The Raider Brigade is trained and equipped to deter aggression and to reassure and defend our allies,” Col. Pete Moon, the 1st Brigade’s commander, said in prepared statement.

The Georgia-based soldiers appear to be among 7,000 additional U.S. forces deploying to Germany to bolster NATO following the invasion of Ukraine. President Joe Biden ordered the deployments Thursday.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Chinese President Xi Jinping he’s ready to send a delegation for talks with Ukrainian officials.

The Kremlin said in its readout of Friday’s call that Xi underlined that he “views the Russian leadership’s action in the crisis situation with respect.”

In a reference to new Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion in Ukraine, the Kremlin noted that Putin and Xi agreed “it’s inadmissible to use illegitimate sanctions for achieving selfish goals of certain countries.”

Chinese state TV reported that Xi emphasized that China “supports Russia and Ukraine resolving the problem through negotiations.”

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NEW DELHI — Dozens of parents, relatives and friends of Indian students stranded in Ukraine held a demonstration near the Russian Embassy in New Delhi to demand the students’ immediate evacuation.

Police barricaded the roads leading to the embassy on Friday and asked the protesters to meet Indian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss the repatriation of nearly 16,000 Indians, including students.

Some of the demonstrators held video conferencing calls with some of those stuck in metro trains and bomb shelters in Kyiv.

“We are running low on food and water in a crowded bunker,” one of the callers in Ukraine said.

Indian Embassy officials are now traveling to border areas of Ukraine touching Poland, Romania Slovakia and Hungary to facilitate the exit of Indian nationals so that they can be evacuated to India, said foreign ministy official Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

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BRUSSELS — Germany’s foreign minister said Friday that the European Union will take in all people fleeing Ukraine due to the current conflict.

“We need to do everything to immediately take in the people who are now fleeing bombs, fleeing tanks, that’s also what we’ve been preparing for in recent weeks,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Brussels.

“We tried everything so this day wouldn’t come,” she said. “And it came because the Russian president chose it, opted for war and against human lives.”

“That’s why we will take in all of the people who are fleeing now,” Baerbock said. “We will bring the people from Ukraine to safety.”

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Moldova’s national naval agency says a ship in “neutral waters” of the Black Sea has been hit by a missile, leaving two crew members seriously injured.

The Naval Agency said in a statement that the source of the missile that hit the Moldova-flagged Millennial Spirit on Friday is unknown.

“A fire broke out onboard the ship; the equipment and lifeboats were destroyed,” the agency said in a statement. “The ship’s crew left the ship equipped only with life jackets.”

The agency said that the company that operates the tanker is a Ukrainian legal entity and the crew members are Russian citizens.

Rescue operations were carried out by Ukrainian authorities, the Moldovan agency said.

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LONDON — An expert in international trade says he thinks world leaders are reluctant to exclude Russia from the SWIFT system of financial transactions because it is the “nuclear option” of sanctions.

Disconnecting Russia from SWIFT to try to force President Vladimir Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine would have major economic costs for western countries, said Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy.

Lee-Makiyama told the BBC that if Russia were cut off for foreign payments for its gas and oi,l it would quickly start expropriating the 300 billion euros EU investors have plowed into the country.

“It’s a nuclear option that it’s going to basically exterminate yourself and your enemy,” he said.

World leaders, who have so far ruled out military intervention in Ukraine, have few good options for deterring Putin because he knows they fear a direct confrontation with Russia, Lee-Makiyama said.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russia is ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks with Ukrainian officials.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to send the delegation in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s offer to discuss a non-aligned status for Ukraine.

That indicates Zelenskyy would be willing to negotiate dropping his country’s bid to join NATO, as Russia has demanded.

Before the invasion, the West had rejected the demand. Putin claimed the refusal to discuss keeping Ukraine out of NATO prompted him to order a military action in Ukraine to “demilitarize” it.

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BANGKOK — Myanmar’s ruling military council offered its support Friday for Russia’s attack on Ukraine, while the shadow government leading opposition to army rule condemned Moscow’s action.

A statement by the spokesman for Myanmar’s military government said Russia acted correctly to perpetuate its “sovereignty.”

A text message to Myanmar journalists from Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun also said the invasion demonstrated Russia’s position as a “world power” helping to keep global relations in balance.

Myanmar’s military rulers face armed domestic opposition, and like Russia’s leaders now, are the target of strong sanctions from Western governments seeking a return to democratic rule.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government, established by lawmakers prevented from taking their seats when the army seized power in February last year, deplored Moscow’s action.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania’s Radio and Television Commission has temporarily suspended the operation of six Russian-language TV channels for their alleged incitement to war and propaganda.

The six TV channels were taken off the air Friday

Planeta RTR, Rossijya 24, Belarus 24, NTV Mir, RTR Planeta and Rossiya 24 were suspended for five years, and PBK and TVCI for three years, commission Vice Chairman Ricardas Slapsys told the Baltic News Service.

Lithuania, the most southern of the three Baltic nations, borders Russia’s Kaliningrad region to the southwest, Belarus to the east, Latvia to the north and Poland to the south.

Latvia banned several Russian television channels had their right to broadcast in Latvia suspended Thursday for several years.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military claims it has taken control of an airport just outside Kyiv, as Kremlin forces bear down on the Ukrainian capital.

The claim could not be independently verified.

Taking possession of the airport in Hostomel, which has a long runway allowing the landing of heavy-lift transport planes, would mean Russia can airlift troops directly to Kyiv’s outskirts.

Hostomel is just 7 kilometers (4 miles) northwest of the city.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that the Russian airborne forces used 200 helicopters to land in Hostomel and killed over 200 troops belonging to Ukraine’s special forces.

Konashenkov claimed that Russian troops suffered no casualties. That contradicts Ukrainian claims that Russian troops sustained heavy casualties in the fighting there.

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BERLIN — Germany’s Defense Ministry has confirmed media reports that it is deploying additional military assets to NATO’s eastern flank.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported that the deployments included 150 soldiers and about a dozen Boxer armored fighting vehicles, two ships and anti-missile systems.

Ministry spokesman Christian Thiels declined to say Friday exactly how many soldiers were being deployed. But he confirmed that a navy corvette would leave Saturday for patrols in the Baltic while a frigate will be deployed in the Mediterranean, both under NATO command.

Germany is also assessing whether to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to an eastern European NATO country, Thiels said.

Decisions on deploying further troops could be expected soon, he added.

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BEIJING — Chinese state TV says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that Moscow is willing to negotiate with Ukraine, even as Moscow’s forces invade its neighbor.

The report Friday followed a Kremlin announcement that Putin’s government was considering an offer by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to negotiate non-aligned status for his country.

Putin said Moscow “is willing to conduct high-level negotiations with the Ukrainian side,” China Central Television reported on its website.

It gave no indication whether Putin said he was responding to Zelenskyy’s offer or gave any details of what the two sides might negotiate.

Russia complains that the United States and its allies ignored Moscow’s “legitimate security concerns” by expanding the NATO military alliance eastward, closer to Russia’s borders.

Xi said China “supports Russia and Ukraine resolving the problem through negotiations,” CCTV said.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says officials are still assessing a request by Ukraine for Turkey to close to Russian shipping the straits at the entrance of the Black Sea.

Mevlut Cavusoglu warned, however, that under a 1936 convention Ankara may not be able to deny total access to the Russian vessels.

Ukraine on Thursday formally asked Turkey to close the Turkish Straits to Russian warships in line with the Montreux Convention which allows Turkey to restrict the passage of belligerent countries’ warships during times of war. The convention stipulates however, that warships belonging to Black Sea coastal countries can return to their bases.

“If there is a demand for the ships of the warring countries to return to their bases, then (passage) must be allowed,” Cavusoglu was quoted as telling Hurriyet newspaper in an interview.

The minister said Turkish experts were assessing if the current situation amounted to “a state of war.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s president is appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop the madness of this war now.”

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin on Friday said that “we don’t want enmity with the Russian people, quite the contrary, but this wrongdoing cannot go without a clear answer.”

Steinmeier, whose post is largely ceremonial but holds moral authority, said that Germany will do its part in deterring Putin from using force against its NATO allies.

The president, who served twice as Germany’s foreign minister, said that Putin “should not underestimate the strength of democracies” and Germans shouldn’t either.

He said it’s good that people are going out to demonstrate, adding: “The Russian president should not believe for a second that people in Germany and Europe simply accept this brutal violence.”

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis went to the Russian embassy in Rome on Friday to personally express his concern about the war in Ukraine, in an extraordinary papal gesture that has no recent precedent.

Popes usually receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican. For Francis to travel a short distance to the Russian embassy outside the Vatican walls was a sign of his strength of feeling about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vatican officials said they knew of no such previous papal initiative.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the pontiff wanted “clearly to express his concern about the war.” Pope Francis was there for just over a half-hour, Bruni said.

Francis has called for dialogue to end the conflict and has urged the faithful to set next Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine.

But he has refrained from publicly calling out Russia, presumably for fear of antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church, with which he is trying to build stronger ties.

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GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says it is receiving increasing reports of civilian casualties in Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s military invasion.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says its staffers have so far verified at least 127 civilian casualties. They include 25 people killed and 102 injured, mostly from shelling and airstrikes.

She cautioned Friday that the numbers are “very likely to be an underestimate.”

Shamdasani also said the rights office was “disturbed by the multiple arbitrary arrests” of demonstrators in Russia who on Thursday protested against the conflict.

“We understand more than 1,800 protesters were arrested,” she said, before adding that it was unclear how many might have been released already.

Meanwhile, spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said its latest update had that more than 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes in Ukraine. She said the agency’s planning figures anticipated that “up to 4 million people may flee to other countries if the situation escalates.”

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LONDON — Latvia’s defense minister is criticizing European nations for failing to cut Russia off from the global bank payments network and refusing to provide weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

Artis Pabriks’ comments came after the U.S. and European Union stopped short of blocking Russia’s access to the SWIFT payments system when they announced a new round of sanctions late Thursday.

Pabriks also chided fellow EU nations that have refused to provide “lethal aid” to Ukraine, saying only the U.K., Greece, Poland and the Baltic states had done so.

In an interview with the BBC on Friday, Pabriks suggested that many European leaders don’t want to take these steps because they would cause economic hardship for their own countries.

“If you are really not ready yourself to spill blood, at least spill money now,’’ he said. “Do it now, because if you lose Ukraine all European geopolitics will change. … There will be much more pressure on Poland, much more pressure on the Baltics.’’

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia fear they could be the Kremlin’s next target.

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad is praising Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine and denouncing what he calls western “hysteria” surrounding it.

Assad spoke by phone Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“What is happening today is a correction of history and a restoration of balance which was lost in the world after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” Assad said, according to state-run news agency SANA.

He said confronting NATO expansionism is Russia’s right.

Russia is a main backer of Assad’s government and its military intervention in 2015 in the country’s civil war helped tip the balance of power in his favor.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says it will analyze the Ukrainian president’s offer to discuss a non-aligned status for his country, as a Russian military invasion pushes closer to Kyiv.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was ready to hold talks on the issue.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday described it as “a move in a positive direction.”

He said in a conference call with reporters that “we paid attention to that, and now we need to analyze it.”

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Zelenskyy “is simply lying” when he offers to discuss non-aligned status for Ukraine.

Lavrov said at a briefing that Zelenskyy “missed the opportunity” to discuss a neutral status for Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed it.

Putin says the West left him no option but to invade when it rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine out of NATO.

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BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official says the 27-nation bloc intends to slap further sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

EU Council president Charles Michel tweeted Friday: “Second wave of sanctions with massive and severe consequences politically agreed last night. Further package under urgent preparation.”

Michel announced the move after a call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Michel said Kyiv “is under continued attack by Russian forces” and called on Russia to immediately stop the violence.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary has extended temporary legal protection to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, as countries in eastern Europe prepare for the arrival of refugees at their borders.

Hungary, which borders Ukraine to the west, has in the past taken a firm stance against all forms of immigration. It has controversially refused to accept refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

But in a decree published late Thursday, Hungary’s government announced that all Ukrainian citizens arriving from Ukraine, and all third-country nationals legally residing there, would be entitled to protection.

The section applying to third-country nationals makes it possible for non-Ukrainians — for example, Belarussian refugees living in Ukraine — to receive protection in the European Union.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that Hungary will play no part in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but that it would accept refugees arriving at its borders.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his solidarity with Ukraine in telephone call with the country’s leader.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said Friday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered an update on Russian military advances, including missile and artillery strikes.

“The prime minister assured President Zelenskyy that the world is united in its horror at what Putin his doing,’’ Johnson’s office said in a statement. “He paid tribute to the bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people in standing up to Russia’s campaign of violence and expressed his deep condolences for those who have been killed.’’

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BERLIN — The German government says it has suspended the granting of export credit and investment guarantees for business with Russia.

The Economy Ministry said Friday that the granting of new export credit guarantees and investment guarantees for Russia was suspended on Thursday.

The so-called Hermes credit export guarantees protect German companies from losses when exports aren’t paid for. Investment guarantees are granted by the German government to protect direct investments by German companies from political risk in the countries where they are made.

The Economy Ministry said that new export credit guarantees to the tune of 1.49 billion euros ($1.67 billion) were granted last year for business with Russia. New investment guarantees came in at a fraction of that amount, at 3.75 million euros ($4.2 million).

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Border Guard says that some 29,000 people were cleared to enter through the country’s land border with neighboring Ukraine on Thursday, the day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

Before that, there were some 12,000 average daily entries from Ukraine into European Union and NATO member Poland, through land, sea and airport checkpoints, according to Border Guard statistics.

Poland has lifted the requirement of COVID-19 quarantine or vaccination certificates for refugees from Ukraine. A number of reception centers with camp beds, soup kitchens and medical care have been organized in locations close to the border with Ukraine.

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BEIJING — China is holding back from labeling Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion.

At the same time, it is upholding the sanctity of territorial sovereignty, in a nod to its own insistence that Taiwan is part of China.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and maintained,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday.

“At the same time, we also see that the issue of Ukraine has its own complex and special historical merits, and we understand Russia’s legitimate concerns on security issues,” he added.

Wang did not answer questions about whether China would recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in Ukrainian territory claimed by Russia, as independent states.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s civil aviation authority has banned U.K. flights to and over Russia in retaliation against the British government’s ban on Aeroflot flights.

Rosaviatsiya said that all flights by the U.K. carriers to Russia as well as transit flights are banned starting Friday.

It said the measure was taken in response to the “unfriendly decisions” by the British authorities who banned flights to the U.K. by the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot as part of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military claims it has destroyed 118 Ukrainian military assets since the beginning of its assault on its neighbor and as it pushes into the outskirts of Kyiv.

The claim could not be independently verified and was not confirmed by Ukraine amid a flurry of claims and counterclaims by each side.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that among the targets were 11 Ukrainian air bases, 13 command facilities, 36 air defense radars, 14 air defense missile systems, 5 warplanes, 18 tanks and warships.

However, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace rejected Russian claims of success on the first day of its invasion of Ukraine, saying it had “failed to deliver” on its day one objectives.

Wallace told Sky News that the Western assessment is that Russia had failed to take its major objectives and is behind on its timetable for advance.

“They’ve lost over 450 personnel,’’ he said.

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BERLIN — Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling it “a deep cut in European history after the end of the Cold War.”

Germany’s dpa news agency quoted Merkel saying Friday that there was “no justification for this blatant attack of international law. I condemn it in the sharpest possible manner.”

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and speaks Russian, was heavily engaged in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout her 16 years in office, which ended in December.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear energy regulatory agency says that higher than usual gamma radiation levels have been detected in the area near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, after it was seized by the Russian military.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said Friday that higher gamma radiation levels have been detected in the Chernobyl zone, but didn’t provide details of the increase.

It attributed the rise to a “disturbance of the topsoil due to the movement of a large amount of heavy military equipment through the exclusion zone and the release of contaminated radioactive dust into the air.”

Ukrainian authorities said that Russia took the plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle Thursday.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian airborne troops were protecting the plant to prevent any possible “provocations.” He insisted that radiation levels in the area have remained normal.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”

The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is “closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern.”

Karim Khan warned “all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine” that Ukraine has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

That means “my office may exercise its jurisdiction over and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014 onwards, Khan said in a statement Friday.

Khan adds that because neither Russia nor Ukraine are member states of the court, his office does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in the conflict.

The International Criminal Court is the world’s permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 2002 to prosecute atrocities in countries where local authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct trials.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko said at least three people were injured when a rocket hit a multi-story apartment building in Ukraine’s capital on Friday, starting a fire.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the Russian military’s claim it is not targeting civilian areas is “a lie.” He said that military and civilian areas in Ukraine are both being hit by Russian attacks.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that France and its European allies have decided to “inflict very severe blows on Moscow,” further sanctioning individuals and targeting finance, energy and other sectors. The legal texts for the sanctions will be finalized and submitted for approval to EU foreign ministers later Friday.

Macron also said the EU has decided on economic aid for Ukraine in the amount of 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion).

The French president also called the Belorussian government “an accomplice” in Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, and said it will also be targeted.

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KYIV, Ukraine — As Russian troops continued pressing their offensive Friday, intense fighting also raged in the country’s east.

Russian troops entered the city of Sumy near the border with Russia that sits on a highway leading to Kyiv from the east. The regional governor, Dmytro Zhivitsky, said Ukrainian forces fought Russian troops in the city overnight, but other Russian convoys kept rolling west toward the Ukrainian capital.

“Military vehicles from Sumy are moving toward Kyiv,” Zhivitsky said. “Much equipment has passed through and is heading directly to the west.”

Zhivitsky added that another northeastern city, Konotop, was also sieged. He urged residents of the region to fight the Russian forces.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is “closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern.”

Karim Khan issued a statement Friday on Twitter while on a visit to Bangladesh, where he is investigating crimes against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

Khan said he alerted “all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine” that Ukraine has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

That means “my office may exercise its jurisdiction over and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014 onwards,” Khan added.

He said that “any person who commits such crimes, including by ordering, inciting or contributing in another manner to the commission of these crimes may be liable to prosecution before the Court.”

Khan added that because neither Russia nor Ukraine are member states of the court, his office does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in the conflict.

The International Criminal Court is the world’s permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 2002 to prosecute atrocities in countries where local authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct trials.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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