By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration has made a formal determination that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Blinken said the assessment was based on a “careful review” of public and intelligence sources since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month.
America’s top diplomat said the United States would share that information with allies, partners and international institutions tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Blinken made the announcement Wednesday in a statement released as he was traveling to Brussels with President Joe Biden for an emergency summit of NATO leaders.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— NATO estimates that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of fighting
— Biden starts a trip to Europe as Russia’s war in Ukraine bogs down, challenges grow
— Russian Olympic athletes who participated in a rally supporting President Vladimir Putin are facing a backlash
— Amid Russia’s new crackdowns, small signs of defiance emerge
— A new fund directs its support to Ukraine’s long-term needs
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
LONDON — Russian Olympic athletes who participated in a rally supporting President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine are facing a backlash, with one losing a sponsorship deal and facing a disciplinary investigation.
Medalists from cross-country skiing, gymnastics, figure skating and swimming gathered on stage at the Luzhniki Stadium on Friday as part of the concert and entertainment program around Putin’s speech.
Olympic champion swimmer Evgeny Rylov is under investigation from the sport’s governing body, known as FINA, for attending the event.
Rylov also lost his endorsement deal with swimwear manufacturer Speedo because of his involvement in the pro-Putin rally.
Most of the athletes, including Rylov, were pictured wearing jackets with a “Z” on the chest at the rally. The letter isn’t part of the Russian alphabet but has become a symbol of support for Russian troops after it was used as a marker on Russian armored vehicles operating in Ukraine.
Other Olympic medalists athletes in attendance included figure skaters Victoria Sinitsina, Nikita Katsalapov, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov; and rhythmic gymnastic twin sisters Dina and Arina Averina.
PARIS — Ukrainian refugees lined up outside a welcome center in Paris on Wednesday that’s providing food and temporary shelter to people as some await transfer to permanent shelters in Brittany in northwestern France.
The center is run jointly by Paris authorities and several French NGOs. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday that 26,000 Ukrainian refugees had arrived in the country since Feb. 24. While some have remained in France, others have traveled to Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, Castex said.
European Union member countries have granted Ukrainians a six-month temporary protection visa, renewable up to a maximum of three years. This Temporary Protection Directive, implemented for the first time in the EU, includes a residence permit, access to the labor market and housing, medical assistance, and access to education for children.
Hayko, a 30-year-old woman from Lviv, arrived in Paris with her friend, Tanja, 31, and their three children after a lengthy trip from Ukraine through Moldova and Romania. They said they left Lviv a few days after the Russian invasion began. They plan to live for now with Tanja’s sister-in-law, who lives in Paris.
“I have a 7-year-old son,” Hayko said. “My husband is in Ukraine. He is protecting our country. We don’t want to stay here for the rest of our lives. I hope it will only be for a short period of time.”
She continued: “It’s better than at home (in Ukraine) as the children were very nervous because of the sound of sirens, because of this long journey (from Ukraine to France). Here it’s very peaceful for them. It’s better here.”
Asked what her hopes were for Ukraine, Tanja said, “We hope it will remain free, our parents and husbands will be alive and we can go back home soon.”
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Ukrainian National Guard’s Special Forces Unit Azov has released a drone video showing the widespread destruction of the coastal city of Mariupol from Russian shelling and bombardments.
The 45-second video shows a burned-out city with smoke rising from some buildings. Soot and ash cover the ground and buildings stretching to the Sea of Azov.
UNITED NATIONS — Ukraine’s U.N ambassador is urging all nations that stand against Russia’s invasion to vote for a U.N. resolution on the humanitarian consequences of its aggression, saying this will send a powerful message aimed at helping people caught in the conflict and ending Moscow’s military action.
Russia’s U.N. envoy countered that the U.N. General Assembly, which is considering the resolution, is just “another political anti-Russian show, set this time in an allegedly humanitarian context” and urged its 193 member nations to vote against it and support a rival South African draft resolution that focuses solely on humanitarian issues with no “political assessment.”
Ukraine’s Sergiy Kyslytsya and Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia spoke at the start of Wednesday’s emergency special session of the General Assembly to consider the rival resolutions on the humanitarian impact of the war, which will mark its one-month anniversary on Thursday. Russia has also called for a vote later Wednesday in the U.N. Security Council on its own humanitarian resolution, which has been widely criticized for not referring to its invasion of Ukraine.
Kyslytsya said the Ukraine-backed assembly resolution, drafted by two dozen diplomats from all parts of the world and co-sponsored by nearly 100 countries, focuses on “the urgent need to elevate the humanitarian suffering on the ground and immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation.”
Nebenzia warned that adoption of that resolution “will make a resolution to the situation in Ukraine more difficult.” That’s because it will likely embolden Ukrainian negotiators and “nudge them to maintaining the current unrealistic position, which is not related to the situation on the ground, nor to the need to tackle the root causes” of Russia’s military action, he said.
WASHINGTON — A senior NATO military officer says the alliance estimates that Russia has suffered between 30,000 and 40,000 battlefield casualties in Ukraine through the first month of the war, including between 7,000 and 15,000 killed. It is NATO’s first public estimate of Russian casualties since the war started Feb. 24.
The military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO, said the estimate of the number killed is based on a combination of information from the Ukrainian government, indications from Russia, and open-source information.
The U.S. government has largely declined to provide public estimates of Russian or Ukrainian casualties, saying available information is of questionable reliability.
The NATO military officer, in a briefing from the alliance’s military headquarters in Belgium on Wednesday, said the estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian casualties is derived from what he called a standard calculation that in war an army suffers three wounded soldiers for every soldier killed. The casualties include killed in action and wounded in action, as well as those taken prisoner or missing in action, the officer said.
Associated Press Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
BRUSSELS — The head of the European Union’s executive arm says she will discuss with President Joe Biden the possibility to secure extra deliveries of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. for the 27-nation bloc.
Speaking at the European Parliament ahead of Biden’s visit to Europe, Ursula von der Leyen said she will discuss with him “how to prioritize LNG deliveries from the United States to the European Union in the coming months.”
The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.
The bloc is looking at ways to end its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying suppliers. Von der Leyen said the EU is aiming at having a commitment for additional supplies from the U.S. “for the next two winters.”
PARIS — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on French multinationals based in Russia to leave Russia and stop indirectly supporting the war against Ukraine.
In a 20-minute virtual speech to the French parliament, the wartime leader mentioned several French companies such as carmaker Renault, supermarket chain Auchan and home improvement giant Leroy Merlin. He said they “must stop being sponsors of Russia’s war machine.”
The companies did not have any immediate comment. Zelenskyy used the address to French MPs to rally further European support for his war-torn country’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression. He called on France for assistance with arms, equipment and more planes “so that liberty does not slip away,” according to a French translation of the 20-minute speech.
BERLIN — Environmental campaigners staged a protest early Wednesday off Germany’s Baltic coast against oil imports from Russia.
Activists from the group Greenpeace painted the words “oil fuels war” in large letters onto the side of the oil tanker Stamos as it passed the island of Fehmarn.
German news agency dpa reported that the tanker was carrying 100,000 tons of crude oil from the Russian port of Ust-Luga to Rotterdam.
Greenpeace has called on Germany and other European countries to cease buying fossil fuels from Russia, payments for which the group says help finance the war in Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly dismissed calls to boycott Russian energy supplies, saying it would cause significant damage to Germany’s economy.
PARIS — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his “true leadership” over the war during a virtual address from Kyiv to the French parliament Wednesday.
Zelenskyy used the address to French MPs via video link to rally further European support for his war-torn country’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression. He called on France for assistance with arms, equipment and more planes “so that liberty does not slip away,” according to a French translation of the 20-minute speech.
Using often-emotive language, the Ukrainian leader told French lawmakers “you know who the guilty one is” that “buries his head in the sand.”
The speech comes one day after French President Emmanuel Macron talked with both Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the terms of a potential cease-fire.
Though they reached “no agreement,” according to the French presidency, Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy has been a regular fixture in recent weeks in international lawmaking chambers, having spoken Japan’s parliament earlier Wednesday, and previously to the US Congress and the German Parliament, to harness international help.
The Kremlin says President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for liaison with international organizations has resigned.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Anatoly Chubais had submitted his resignation.
Peskov wouldn’t say if Chubais has left the country, saying it’s his private business.
Chubais, the architect of Russia’s post-Soviet privatization campaign, has served at a variety of top official jobs during the past three decades.
His latest job envisaged contacts with international organizations to pursue the goals of sustainable development — a broad portfolio that allowed him to maintain contacts with top foreign officials and organizations.
After Russia began its last month, Chubais posted a photo of Boris Nemtsov, a leading Russian opposition figure who was shot dead near the Kremlin in 2015. Even without a caption, it was seen as a powerful statement from a Moscow insider.
Chubais’ resignation appears to reflect growing divisions among top Russian officials over the military operation in Ukraine.
LIMA, Peru — A top Ukrainian cyber defense official says a steady stream of Russian cyberattacks continues, much of it intending to disrupt communications, with refugee assistance and other humanitarian organizations being targeted.
Victor Zhora, deputy chair of Ukraine’s special communications service, told reporters in an online news conference Wednesday that state-backed Russian hackers were in some cases using phishing campaigns to try to get access to accounting and other systems of European charities helping Ukrainian refugees.
Zhora said hackers “financed and basically owned by the Russian federation” were also attacking state and private organizations distributing humanitarian supplies, moving with an alacrity characteristic of a military.
He did not specify the humanitarian targets by name. The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked on Feb. 24.
Zhora said that despite repeated efforts by the Russian military to disrupt Ukrainian communications – with bombs, missiles and cyberattacks – very few regions of the country lack connectivity.
In hard-hit regions in particular where fixed telecoms links have been severed, Zhora said uplinks donated by Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service have been providing “priceless” assistance.
MEDYKA, Poland — A Ukrainian refugee described the horrid conditions in the eastern city of Kharkiv after crossing the border at Medyka, Poland, on Wednesday.
“The situation in Kharkiv is terrible,” said Natalia Savchenko, 37. “People are being killed day and night. They are shooting with everything they have. There is almost no one left in Kharkiv. There is no electricity, water. The city is almost empty. They do not supply children with medicine and food. They are just killing people.”
Savchenko said the military helped her escape by train.
“It is horrible, so horrible,” she said. “We left, but in the district where we lived, my grandmother stayed, my mum and my husband. Today our district was bombed, Shevchenkivsky district. We are running away.”
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military organization is setting up new multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe to deter Russia from launching an attack on any of its members.
The battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, will be set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Stoltenberg says they will remain in place “as long as necessary.”
Speaking Wednesday on the eve of a summit of NATO leaders, Stoltenberg said that Russia’s war on Ukraine means “a new normal for our security and NATO has to respond to that new reality.”
Stoltenberg says the leaders are likely to agree to send more assistance to Ukraine, including “equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.”
NATO’s 30 allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fears that Moscow might want to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
Stoltenberg says that “any use of chemical weapons would totally change the nature of the conflict,” and would have “far-reaching consequences” for Russia. He declined to elaborate.
PRZEMYSL, Poland — Ukrainian refugees continued to arrive at the train station in the border city of Przemysl, Poland, on Wednesday.
Kateryna Mytkevich, 39, arrived from Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.
“We endured (the fighting), trapped at home for three weeks,” Mytkevich said. “We hoped the war would pass us by. But then the heavy artillery shifted to our city and bombs began to fall. Two schools in the city center were blown up, there were small children there. It’s so difficult. I don’t understand why we have such a curse.”
Wiping tears from her face, Mytkevich added, “I had to flee because everything was destroyed. There was no gas, no electricity, no water in the city. Our children are dying. My son had to stay in Chernihiv, I could only take my daughter with me. It hurts a lot. Now we have nowhere to go, our whole neighborhood is destroyed. Everything is completely destroyed.”
Volodymr Fedorovych, 77, also fled Chernihiv.
“There was nothing, there wasn’t even bread,” Fedorovych said. “Bread was brought in every three days. One day I was standing in line for bread, but then decided to go get some tea. I had just walked away when they dropped the bomb (on people in line). Apparently it was a helicopter, we didn’t even hear the whistle (of the bomb falling). Sixteen people died and 47 were taken by ambulance, some of them without arms and legs. Horrible. There were 100 people in that queue.”
BERLIN — A senior German official says the country’s intelligence agencies have joined the hunt for assets belonging to Russian oligarchs who have been slapped with international sanctions.
The official, who briefed journalists on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday authorities at several levels are tasked with determining which assets can be frozen in Germany.
He said this includes the federal customs agency and intelligence agencies, without elaborating.
Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok says his country’s diplomats are returning to Ukraine to open an embassy in the western town of Uzhorod.
Korcok has called the move “an important step for the diplomatic service.”
Uzhorod is located near the border with Slovakia.
He said that in addition to diplomatic activities, the diplomats will be helping at the border where thousands of Ukrainian refugees arrive every day and report about the situation in Ukraine.
Slovakia’s closed the embassy in Kyiv on March 4 due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Czech Republic has also said it is preparing to open an embassy in Uzhorod, which has not been targeted by the Russian troops.
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Kyiv says Russian forces have killed 264 civilians, including four children, in the Ukraine capital since the war started last month.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Wednesday that battles were being waged in the area of Liutizh, a village 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of Kyiv and that Ukrainian forces have wrested back control of areas to the north-west and the north-east of the city, including most of Irpin.
He said the western town of Makariv has also been taken back by Ukranian troops.
Klitschko spoke to reporters in the capital Kyiv in a central park overlooking the city. Explosions and gunfire could be heard in the background as he spoke.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department says a U.S. Embassy official has visited with WNBA star Brittney Griner, who remains detained near Moscow, to check on her condition.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN on Wednesday that the official found Griner “to be in good condition.” Price did not identify the official who had been granted consular access to Griner, something the United States had been demanding.
Griner was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that a court had extended Griner’s pretrial detention to May 19.
Price says the U.S. “will do everything we can to see that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”
A member of a Russian state-backed prison monitoring group visited with Griner last week at the pretrial detention facility outside Moscow where she’s being held and said the Phoenix Mercury star was faring well behind bars.
PARIS — In his latest address to a foreign parliament, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is to speak to French lawmakers on Wednesday.
The address, via video link from his office in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, comes one day after French President Emmanuel Macron talked with both Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the terms of a potential cease-fire.
Though they reached no agreement, according to the French presidency, Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy hrecently addressed the U.S. Congress and the German and Japanese parliaments, among others, to harness international help.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s pro-Russian president is accusing the West of double standards, comparing Moscow’s attacks against Ukraine with the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.
The Western military alliance launched a 78-day air war against Serbia in March 1999 to stop a bloody crackdown by Serbia’s armed forces on majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who were seeking independence.
The Serbian troops were forced to leave the former province which declared independence in 2008, something both Belgrade and Moscow do not recognize.
The NATO bombing is a key argument used by Serbian nationalists to justify and support the current Russian attacks against Ukraine.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that if the West is so brave and moral, “why don’t you carry out an aggression against Russia … why don’t you (militarily) protect Ukraine?” he said on state-controlled Pink TV.
“Morality is an important category in politics, but you can’t stick to it one day and forget about it the next.”
Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia under Vucic has established close political and military ties with the Kremlin.
Serbia voted in favor of a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine but is the only European nation that has refused to join international sanctions against the Kremlin.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden has left the White House for a four-day trip to Europe, where he will meet with key allies to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As he departed Wednesday, Biden told reporters the possibility that Russia could use chemical weapons in the Ukraine war is a “real threat.”
He said he would say more on the subject directly to the leaders he was meeting with Thursday.
There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its invasion stalls amid logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Biden’s first stop is Brussels, where he’ll attend a hastily arranged emergency NATO summit. He will also participate in meetings of the European Union and the Group of Seven, which includes the world’s richest democracies.
He’ll travel to Warsaw on Friday to meet Polish officials.
LVIV, Ukraine — Russian ally Belarus says it is expelling Ukrainian diplomats and closing a consulate.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz didn’t specify Wednesday how many diplomats would have to leave but said a maximum of five could remain.
Glaz said, “This step is aimed at ending the undiplomatic activities of several staff of the Ukrainian foreign missions.”
Belarus has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging area for its forces invading Ukraine.
The announcement comes on the same day as Poland expelled Russian diplomats.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has again prayed for peace in Ukraine and added a personal note to explain his aversion to war: He said his Italian grandfather, a World War I veteran, taught him to hate war in all its forms.
Francis prayed for the victims of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, including the “many soldiers who fell on both sides,” during his weekly general audience Wednesday. He urged government leaders to understand that buying and producing weapons is not the solution.
He offered a personal testimony, saying he learned “hatred and anger toward war” from his grandfather who fought in northern Italy during World War I and conveyed his experiences to his grandson.
Francis on Friday is expected to preside over a special prayer for peace by consecrating both Ukraine and Russia to the Virgin Mary. The Vatican on Wednesday released translations of the consecration prayer in 30 languages in hopes that the faithful around the world will join him.
BRUSSELS — The European Commission has announced measures to help European Union countries provide the millions of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with access education, health care, accommodation and work.
The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people — mainly women and children — have fled Ukraine in the four weeks since Russian tanks rolled across the border and Moscow began bombarding towns and cities.
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said Wednesday the new raft of measures aims to build on a “Temporary Protection Directive” issued earlier this month and on initiatives happening across Europe to welcome refugees.
The protection system, established in 2001 in response to the fallout from the 1990s Balkan wars but never previously used, streamlines entry procedures for Ukrainians arriving in the EU and outlines entitlements such as employment and housing.
Wednesday’s announcement provides support for EU countries in meeting those commitments.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says the European Union must engage with China to make sure it is working actively to mediate peace in Ukraine and does not show any support for Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor.
Draghi told Parliament on Wednesday that the EU summit with China on April 1 must underline the bloc’s expectations that Beijing will be a constructive and authoritative player for peace.
Draghi said: “It’s fundamental that the EU is compact in keeping open spaces for dialogue with Beijing so that it contributes in a constructive way to the international mediation effort.”
He added: “We must repeat our expectations that Beijing abstains from actions supporting Moscow and participates actively and authoritatively in the peace effort.”
MOSCOW — The Russian Central Bank says it is reopening trading on the Moscow stock exchange for the first time since it was closed nearly a month ago.
Trading will resume Thursday but only for 33 stocks of large companies listed on the IMOEX index. There will be a ban on short-selling.
The exchange resumed trading in government debt earlier this week.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president is urging Japan and other Asian countries to step up sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
In an address by video link to Japan’s parliament on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Japan to place a national embargo on trade with Russia. He also asked Japanese companies to pull out of the Russian market.
“I call on Asian states and your partners to unite their efforts so that Russia seeks peace and stops the tsunami of its brutal invasion of our state,” Zelenskyy said in the address.
He told the Japanese lawmakers that over the past 28 days, “thousands of people, including 121 children” were killed in Ukraine and about nine million were forced to leave their homes.
“Our people cannot even adequately bury their murdered relatives, friends and neighbors. They have to be buried right in the yards of destroyed buildings, next to the roads,” Zelenskyy said.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Internal Security Agency says it is expelling 45 Russian intelligence officers using diplomatic status as cover to stay in country.
The agency said Wednesday it is asking the Foreign Ministry to urgently expel the Russians, describing them as a danger to Poland’s security.
The agency also said it detained a Polish citizen on suspicion of espionage on behalf of the Russian secret services. The suspect worked in Warsaw’s registry office and had access to city archives.
“Given the nature of documents kept by those units, the activity of the suspect posed a threat to both the internal and external security of Poland,” the agency said in a statement.
BERLIN — Four environmental think tanks say the European Union can stop its imports of Russian gas by 2025, allowing the bloc to end its dependence in the medium term on a key energy source that’s been called into question amid the war in Ukraine.
A report published Wednesday by Ember, E3G, the Regulatory Assistance Project and Bellona concludes that ramping up solar and wind power, reducing demand and electrification can replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports within three years.
It suggests that the remaining shortfall can be met through existing gas infrastructure, without the need to build new terminals for LNG imports that some countries are now eyeing.
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