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EU leaders pledge extra military aid for Ukraine

March 11, 2022

As Russia's invasion continues, EU leaders have pledged more financial assistance and said further sanctions against Russia were in the works.

EU leaders' summit in Versailles
EU leaders have been meeting at the Palace of Versailles near Paris to address the fallout from Russia's invasion of UkraineImage: IAN LANGSDON/AFP/Getty Images
  • US, G7, EU to downgrade trade status with Russia in newest sanctions
  • UN agencies report 2.5 million people fled Ukraine and 2 million more internally displaced
  • Zelenskyy says a "strategic turning point" has been reached in the war
  • Putin points to "positive shifts" in the process of holding cease-fire talks
  • UN Security Council holds meeting at Russia's request
  • German Chancellor Scholz says sanctions are having "dramatic consequences" for Russia

This live updates article has been closed, for the latest on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, please click here

Deutsche Bank 'winding down' operations in Russia

Following a backlash, Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank said it would wind down its business in Russia.

"Like some international peers and in line with our legal and regulatory obligations, we are in the process of winding down our remaining business in Russia while we help our non-Russian multinational clients in reducing their operations," the bank said on Friday.

"There won't be any new business in Russia."

Deutsche Bank had faced stinging criticism from some investors and politicians for its ongoing ties to Russia. It had said leaving would go against its values, despite other banks cutting off ties.

UK intelligence: Russian strikes targeted Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk

The British Ministry of Defence said Russian air and missile forces had conducted strikes in the past 24 hours against the cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine. 

Lutsk Mayor Ihor Polishchuk said four servicemen were killed and another six were wounded.

US accuses Russia of using UN Security Council for 'disinformation'

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia had requested a UN Security Council meeting to spread "disinformation" as part of a potential false-flag operation by Moscow for the use of chemical or biological agents in Ukraine.

Thomas-Greenfield said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned that President Putin would "fabricate allegations about chemical or biological weapons to justify its own violent attacks against the Ukrainian people."

"The intent behind these lies seems clear, and is deeply troubling," she said. "We believe Russia could use chemical or biological agents for assassinations, as part of a staged or false-flag incident, or to support tactical military operations."

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow had documents claiming that Ukraine has at least 30 biological laboratories carrying out "very dangerous biological experiments" involving pathogens, and its work "is being done and funded and supervised by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the United States." 

US announces new sanctions against Kremlin elites, oligarchs

The US Department of Treasury imposed new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and oligarchs, as well as their family members. 

Those hit with sanctions include 10 people comprising VTB Bank's board and 12 members of the Duma.

"[The Department of] Treasury continues to hold Russian officials to account for enabling Putin's unjustified and unprovoked war," Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement. 

"Today's actions also further isolates the severely damaged Russian economy by prohibiting trade in products that are key to the economic and financial interests of all Russian elites." 

Among the individuals targeted are three family members of Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov, who the US name as "the lead propagandist" of Russia. 

Separately, the US also announced sanctions against two Russian individuals and three entities over their support for North Korea's weapons program

EU agrees new sanctions on Russia: DW's Richard Walker

Ukraine says Russian forces abducted mayor of occupied city

According to Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, Russian forces have abducted the mayor of the city of Melitopol.

An unverified video posted on social media shows Mayor Ivan Fedorov being led away by armed men from a government building in the city.

Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine, has been occupied for more than a week. Fedorov's fate is unknown.

"The abduction of the mayor of Melitopol is classified as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocol, which prohibit the taking of civilian hostages during the war," Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Amnesty says its Russian website blocked, RSF says it has a workaround

Amnesty International's Russian-language website is among those blocked by country's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, it emerged on Friday. 

"By blocking Amnesty's Russian-language site, along with those of many other human rights organizations, independent media outlets and social media platforms, the Kremlin is showing that it can't stomach the truth about the horror Russia has unleashed in Ukraine," Marie Struthers, Amnesty's Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said.

Amnesty said Russia was trying to "suppress information about the possible war crimes its troops are committing in Ukraine" with the shutdown. 

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said hackers and other specialists had created a mirror site for the Russian independent news website, Meduza, that Russia can't easily block.

The site is run out of Latvia by exiled Russian journalists.

RSF said it could do the same thing for other independent media outlets that Russia was blocking.

"Without strong action, the Russian Internet will soon complete its transformation into a propaganda network," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Europe to implement the fourth round of sanctions against Russia

The EU has joined the United States in revoking Russia's "most-favored nation" trade status. The World Trade Organization term is a little misleading, as almost all WTO members trade with each other under "most-favored nation" status.

The move would put Russia on par with North Korea and Iran.

"We will also work to suspend Russia's membership rights in leading multilateral financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

It is part of the fourth set of sanctions the bloc is implementing against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Other measures include a crackdown on Moscow's use of crypto-assets, a ban on exports of luxury goods to Russia, and preventing imports of iron and steel sector goods to the EU.

"This crisis is unprecedented. And so is the unity and speed of reaction our democracies have shown so far," von der Leyen said.

ICC opens online portal to gather war crime evidence

The International Criminal Court warned warring parties in Ukraine that attacks on civilians are a crime.

"If attacks are intentionally directed against the civilian population: that is a crime. If attacks are intentionally directed against civilian objects: that is a crime," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said in statement.

The court last week opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine.

On Friday, it launched an online portal to gather evidence of war crimes.

"I encourage all those with relevant information to come forward and contact our Team through this platform," Kahn said.

It will be added to evidence gathered by an investigative team sent to the region last week.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a fully-fledged ICC member state.

UN Security Council session opens amid reciprocal 'false flag' allegations

A special session of the UN Security Council has opened, called by Russia, about Moscow's claims that US-backed laboratories in Ukraine were working on biological weapons and planning a "false flag" attack. 

"There is no region in the world that can feel safe," Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzya, said.

The UN's disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, however, told the council that the UN body was not aware of any biological weapons program in Ukraine.

The US in turn accused Russia of planning a biological or chemical weapons attack of its own that it would then seek to blame on the other side. It also said Russia was abusing the UN Security Council by using it as a vehicle to spread disinformation.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield went even further, saying "Russia has a track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating."

"We have serious concerns that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people," she said, without providing evidence.  

Russian siege of Mariupol kills almost 1,600 civilians: local council

At least 1,582 civilians have been killed in Ukraine's southeastern city of Mariupol as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said in an online statement, also saying: "We will never forget and will never forgive this crime against humanity."

Russia's Defense Ministry on Friday said that its offensive, led by fighters from the separatist-held Donetsk region, was further squeezing Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov that runs into the Black Sea.

Repeated attempts over the past week to evacuate many of the city's 430,000 residents and deliver food and medicine have failed owing to violations of temporary cease-fires and other complications.

Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, described Mariupol as the "worst humanitarian catastrophe on the planet." He posted a picture showing a mass grave in the city on Twitter.

Residents have been sheltering underground without power, heat, water and enough food for several days and the Red Cross has described the situation as "apocalyptic."

There are growing concerns that Russia may repeat the same strategy of laying siege to Ukrainian cities as used in Syria.

Macron: Ukraine conflict threatens food security in Europe, Africa

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the war in Ukraine could "deeply destabilize" food supplies in Europe and Africa.

Speaking to reporters after the EU leaders' meeting near Paris, he warned that some of the world's most fertile agricultural land in Ukraine can't be planted right now because of Russia's invasion.

Macron's comments backed up a warning from the United Nations on Friday that millions of people could be threatened with malnutrition by next year if there are major cuts in the export of grain from major producers Ukraine and Russia.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that the number of undernourished people worldwide could rise by 8 million to 13 million by 2023 if the conflict in Ukraine continues for months.

Prices for wheat and corn, among other grains, have already risen sharply on world markets and Ukrainian farmers — who produced a record grain crop last year — say they are now short of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and can't get enough fuel to power their equipment.

In a television address on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on farmers to keep up production to try to avoid shortages of produce.

The issue isn't limited to Ukraine, either. Farmers elsewhere are concerned about drastically higher prices for nitrogen fertilizer, the production of which requires natural gas. 

Zelenskyy says Ukraine is fighting for more countries than itself

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy got a standing ovation from the Polish National Assembly. He spoke to the assembly via video link at an event marking the 23rd anniversary of Poland joining NATO.

Zelenskyy thanked Poland for its military support and for hosting Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian attacks, "when there is someone that is brutal in its attack, you need someone you can count on."

"We are fighting for the Baltic states and for Poland so that they don't have to face [Russia]," he said.

At the same event, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance has more than doubled the number of troops and military equipment deployed in Poland, adding "we will protect Poland."

He again stressed Russia could not dictate who joins NATO.

"Neither Russia nor anyone else has a veto whether any country becomes a member," Stoltenberg said.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was essential to support Ukraine against Russia.

"What Russia is doing in Ukraine shows it is still the empire of evil," Duda said. "We cannot allow Russia to overpower the free and independent Ukraine."

Biden to revoke Russia's 'most favored nation' trade status

US President Joe Biden said Washington would revoke Russia's "most favored nation" trade status over its invasion of Ukraine. The phrase used by the World Trade Organization (WTO) is somewhat misleading, as it means countries reciprocally agree to trade with each other on the same terms as they do with other "most favored nations." The US extends this status to all countries in the WTO except those who have had the status suspended, as do most members.

In the US, this trade status is in fact referred to as "Permanent Normal Trade Relations" (PNTR). Removing it would require an act of Congress, but lawmakers in both houses — and on both sides of the political aisle — have already signaled their support.

The European Union and Group of Seven wealthy nations (G7) are expected to follow suit.

Biden said the United States would also cut imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia and would work with its international partners to stop Moscow to taking loans from global institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Again ruling out any direct US military intervention in Ukraine, Biden said broadening the conflict to a clash between NATO and Russia could lead to "World War III." 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that he had spoken to Biden earlier Friday and had informed him about the “crimes of Russia against the civilian population." He added that the pair had "agreed on further steps to support the defense of Ukraine and increase sanctions against Russia."

Russia carries out first air strikes on western Ukraine

Russia has widened its offensive in Ukraine, striking airfields in the west for the first time.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Moscow used high-precision long-range weapons to put military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk "out of action."

Russian air strikes also targeted for the first time the eastern city of Dnipro, a major industrial hub and Ukraine's fourth-largest city, on the river of the same name.

Until now, Russian forces have made the biggest advances on cities in the south and east while stalling in the north and around Kyiv.

But the advance had appeared to stall amid reports of food and fuel shortages and attacks by Ukrainian troops with anti-tank missiles.

New satellite photos also appeared to show the massive Russian convoy outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, had fanned out.

A 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of tanks and other vehicles had massed outside the city early last week. The Russian military is widely expected to try to encircle Kyiv.

Europe to double military aid for Ukraine

Europe has earmarked another €500 million ($550 million) for military aid to Ukraine, the President of the European Council Charles Michel said.

He spoke at the end of the meeting of EU leaders at Versailles in France.

The money will be on top of the €500 million the EU has already committed to support Ukraine.

At the same event, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe would impose a fourth round of sanctions on Russia and President Vladimir Putin soon.

She also said Ukraine's application for EU membership was being considered favorably, adding that the country is already "a member of the European family." 

"Ukraine's membership application is an expression of their will and their right to choose their own destiny. Today we have opened the pathway towards us for Ukraine," she added.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU would hold an extraordinary summit by May to discuss joint defense investments in the block.

He said the EU wants to stop importing Russian gas, oil and coal by 2027.

"There have to be new investments and new facilities so that we can support our choices for renewables and nuclear energy," Macron said.

Macron said he and Scholz will speak again to Putin "in a few hours."

Scholz: Cutting Europe's reliance on Russian energy will take time

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Europe is working to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But he acknowledged that it would take some time.

"Our situation is much different than the US or Canada, who are much less dependent on Russian oil and gas, because they are net exporters," Scholz told a news conference following a summit of EU leaders at Versailles in France on Friday.

"What they are doing, they know that Europe cannot do in the undertake in the same way" he added, referring to the ban on Russian energy by the US and Canada.

One idea, he said, was to link up electricity and gas networks across Europe to be more efficient.

The German leader also said the Western sanctions on Moscow had been "massive" and were already having "dramatic consequences" on the Russian economy.

Scholz said the Western countries had shown a "strong will to stand together, to stand shoulder to shoulder in managing this crisis."

He added that other EU leaders had welcomed Berlin's decision to drastically hike military spending.

EU summit at Versailles wrapping up

The leaders of EU member states have concluded an informal summit held at France's Versailles Palace with talks centering around the situation in Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are among the participants.

There has been strong support of Ukraine's resistance to Russia's invasion.

However, some have stressed that there is no shortcut to EU membership, which Ukraine is seeking as a matter of urgency. Former eastern bloc countries however believe there needs to be a stronger signal towards membership.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich hit with fresh sanctions, from Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that his country had imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and four other oligarchs.

"These individuals will be prevented from dealings in Canada and their assets will be frozen," Trudeau told reporters in Warsaw.

He added that 32 Russian companies and government entities would be barred from receiving defense equipment or supplies from Canada.

However, the Canadian operations of Russian steelmaker Evraz, of which Abramovich is the largest shareholder, will not be affected by the move.

On Thursday, Abramovich — who owns Chelsea Football Club — was included in fresh UK sanctions against Russian individuals.

The football club is among the assets frozen and his planned sale of the club has been stalled.

Kremlin: Russian peace demands handed to Ukraine

Russia said Friday that its concrete demands for ceasing hostilities in Ukraine had been handed over to Kyiv.

The Interfax news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that the demands were related to the advance of NATO infrastructure on Russia's western borders and Ukraine's actions in the southeastern Donbas region.

"For the resolution of these two issues, the concrete demands formulated by the Russian side were handed over to the Ukrainian side. As far as we know, the Ukrainians are discussing these demands with their advisers, primarily from the US and EU countries," Peskov said.

He added that a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy had not been ruled out.

"But first, both delegations and ministers must do their part to ensure that the presidents meet not for the sake of the process, not for the sake of talking, but for the sake of the result," Peskov said.

NATO chief: War must not escalate beyond Ukraine's borders

Russia's invasion of Ukraine must not spill over into an open conflict between NATO and Moscow, the military alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

"We have a responsibility to prevent this conflict from escalating beyond Ukraine's borders to becoming a full-fledged war between Russia and NATO," he told AFP news agency on the sidelines of a forum in Turkey.

Kyiv has strongly criticized NATO's refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine to stop Russian missiles and warplanes.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Western military alliance ruled out the measure despite knowing that further Russian aggression was likely.

In his interview with AFP, Stoltenberg warned that a no-fly zone would "most likely lead to a full war," causing "so much more suffering, so much more death and destruction."

Moscow threatens Facebook over posts for calling for 'murder' of Russians

Russia said on Friday it would shut down Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp if the platforms allowed users to call for violence against Russians and death to President Vladimir Putin.

Internal emails seen by Reuters news agency showed Facebook's parent company Meta had temporarily allowed posts that call for the death of Putin or Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

A Meta spokesperson confirmed it had eased its rules, allowing posts such as "death to the Russian invaders," although it would not allow calls for violence against Russian civilians.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said it was launching a criminal case into the report.

Russia's General Prosecutor's Office also requested that the internet giant be branded "extremist."

Zelenskyy: 'Strategic turning point' in war with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country has reached a strategic turning point in its war with Russia.

But he cautioned that time and patience were still needed until victory is achieved.

"It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land," he said in a televised address. "But we can say we will do it."

Zelenskyy also urged the international community to step up their sanctions on Moscow.

What can sanctions achieve?

UN: Credible reports of Russian use of cluster bombs

The United Nations human rights office said on Friday it had received "credible reports" of several cases of Russian forces using cluster bombs in Ukraine.

The munitions are made up of a hollow shell that explodes in mid-air, dispersing dozens or even hundreds of smaller "bomblets" over a wide area.

UNHCR spokesperson Liz Throssell said the use of cluster bombs in populated areas is "incompatible with the international humanitarian law principles governing the conduct of hostilities."

"We remind the Russian authorities that directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages and other forms of indiscriminate attacks, are prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes."

The UNHRC said it had confirmed at least 549 civilian deaths in Ukraine and 57 injuries since the Russian invasion began on February 24, although experts say the real figure is likely higher.

Russia is not a party to a 2008 convention banning cluster bombs, but the country is bound by international humanitarian law.

Minister proposes evacuating wounded to Germany

Germany should play a leading role in providing medical care for the victims of the war in Ukraine, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Friday.

"Wounded, injured people can be brought to Germany with the help of the International Red Cross and then be distributed throughout the country, he said.

Lauterbach said Germany can also deliver medicines and medical supplies to Ukraine, via Poland.

He also hailed reports that several German nurses and doctors have volunteered to work in Ukraine, describing their decision as a "heroic effort."

'Positive shifts' in Russia-Ukraine talks, Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday there had been some progress in talks with Ukraine, but provided no details.

"There are certain positive shifts, negotiators on our side tell me," Putin said in a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, adding that talks continued "practically on a daily basis."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had said Thursday the meeting in Turkey with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, did not bring any decisive progress.

Kuleba said they couldn't agree on the creation of humanitarian corridors for the port city of Mariupol, but that Lavrov would confer with colleagues in Moscow on the issue.

Interior Ministry: Most extremists fighters have returned to Germany

Most of the far-right extremists who left Germany to help Ukraine fight against Russia have returned, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said Friday.

The update followed a report by Bild newspaper last week that nearly 1,000 foreign fighters from Germany had traveled to Ukraine to join the international legion to fight the invasion. Among them were members of neo-Nazi groups, the report said.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy had called on Ukrainians abroad or other interested parties to come to and help his country fight Russia

The Interior Ministry spokesperson reiterated an earlier statement that the number was in the single digits, adding that Berlin authorities were able to stop others from leaving.

In Germany, there have been a small number of anti-Russian and anti-Ukrainian incidents. The ministry is monitoring the situation, added the spokesperson.

EU plans to double military aid financing to Ukraine

The European Union is proposing to spend an extra €500 million ($549 million) to finance military aid to Ukraine, the bloc's foreign policy chief said.

Josep Borrell said he was "certain" EU leaders meeting in France for a second day on Friday would agree to double the spending package that has seen the bloc fund weapons going to Ukraine.

The bloc last month broke a long-standing taboo by agreeingto pay for arms deliveries to Ukraine after Russia invaded its neighbor to the West.

The move by Brussels was part of a broad push by Ukraine's allies to send weapons after pleas from Kyiv to help it fight off the Kremlin's advancing forces.

Officials said the new tranche of money would go towards reimbursing EU nations that were unilaterally sending arms requested by Ukraine.

1 million without power in Ukraine: energy firm

Nearly a million people in Ukraine are without electricity, the country's state-owned nuclear energy provider Energoatom said on Friday, as Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian cities continued.

It added that nearly 228,000 consumers were without natural gas.

Other reports have said the port city of Mariupol, where authorities have tried repeatedly to evacuate civilians, has been without food, running water and electricity for 10 days.

Nighttime temperatures in Ukraine regularly fall below freezing and daytime temperatures hover around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

Deutsche Bank maintains operations in Russia

Deutsche Bank has been criticized for not joining other Western companies in leaving Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Bill Browder, an investor campaigning to expose corruption, said by continuing to do business in Russia, Germany's biggest bank "is completely at odds with the international business community and will create backlash, lost reputation and business in the West."

Ana Botin, president of the European Banking Federation, told Spain's El Mundo newspaper, "Most European banks are applying the strictest sanctions and even going further, trying to do what is right and what needs to be done."

Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing on Thursday defended the decision in a note to staff, saying leaving Russia would “go against our values."

He added that it would not "be the right thing to do in terms of managing those client relationships and helping them to manage their situation."

Deutsche Bank said earlier this week its credit risk exposure to Russia and Ukraine was €2.9 billion ($3.18 billion) and that it had reduced its Russia exposure further over the past two weeks.

Two German public broadcasters resume operations in Moscow

A week after they announced they would suspend operations in Russia, German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF have said they will resume broadcasts from Moscow. 

The broadcasters said they will report on the "political, economic and social situation in Russia," WDR, a member of the ARD network, said.

The decision to halt broadcasting came after the Russian State Duma passed a law criminalizing "false reporting" of its armed forces with up to 15 years in jail

Unlike Deutsche Welle, which is also a public broadcaster, the two other German networks' journalists did not have their press accreditation revoked by Russian authorities.  

Litvinenko's widow: West must counter Putin's 'brainwashing'

The West must step up its battle against the Kremlin's disinformation campaign, Marina Litvinenko, the widow of the poisoned Russian spy and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, told DW.

She said the Russian people have been "completely brainwashed" over the past 20 years and most independent media outlets have been shut down.

Litvinenko said Western countries — including Germany — who used to beam Russian language broadcasts into the Soviet Union, were partly responsible for allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to spread disinformation when they cut their services after the end of the Cold War.

"It was a huge mistake because the people behind this war have been waiting for revenge. When this all proper [truthful] information left Russia, it was ... [replaced] by disinformation, by brainwashing," she added.

Litvinenko called on the Russian people to "stop supporting this regime" by staging strikes and protests.

"Stop working, go outside on the street … against this war. [Putin] is not only destroying Ukraine, he's not only destroying West, he destroyed his own country. In two weeks, the Russian economy has completely collapsed."

UN: 4.5 million displaced by Russian invasion

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says 2.5 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia invaded 15 days ago.

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said the figures, taken from national governments, were up to date until Friday morning (GMT).

Dillon said more than 1.5 million refugees have gone to Poland and that around 116,000 of those who've fled Ukraine are "third-country nationals," not Ukrainians.

The UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, also gave the 2.5 million figure for refugees and said his agency estimates that about 2 million people are also displaced inside Ukraine.

Infographic showiing where people have fled to from Ukraine

Putin calls on 'volunteers' to join Russia's offensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed plans to let volunteers from countries fight in Ukraine as the conflict there enters its third week.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia knew of "more than 16,000 applications" from the Middle East, many of them from people who he said helped Russia against the "Islamic State" group, according to a Kremlin transcript.

They want "to take part in what they consider a liberation movement," Shoigu said, on the side of Russia-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Scholars have cast doubt on the Kremlin's motives, particularly the notion that Moscow maintains it is liberating Ukraine. University of Rochester's associate professor of history Matthew Lenoe called Russia's invasion of its neighbor "a brutal act of aggression with absolutely no justification."

Navalny repeats protest call to stop 'maniac Putin'

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called for anti-war protests to take place across Russia on Sunday.

"Mad maniac Putin will most quickly be stopped by the people of Russia now if they oppose the war," Navalny posted on Instagram.

"You need to go to anti-war rallies every weekend, even if it seems that everyone has either left or got scared," he said. "You are the backbone of the movement against war and death."

Potential Chelsea buyers must approach UK government

Anyone interested in buying Premier League soccer club Chelsea must first approach the UK government and make a proposal.

The British government sanctioned owner Roman Abramovich and halted his planned sale of the club, as well as a raft of restrictions on the club, such as limits on travel expenditure and an inability to buy players.

"As the license conditions are written today, the sale would not be allowed," Britain's technology minister Chris Philp told Sky News.

"If a buyer emerged it would be open to that buyer or to that football club to approach the government and ask for the conditions to be varied in a way that allows that sale to take place."

The sanctions on Abramovich, which froze all his UK assets over his "clear" links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, brought a halt to plans that he had of selling the club in the wake of the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.

Separately, London-listed Russian steelmaker Evraz, in which Abramovich is the largest shareholder according to Refinitiv Eikon, said on Friday its entire board had quit.

Meanwhile, German coach Thomas Tuchel insisted it was "business as usual" as Chelsea played their Premier League match against Norwich City just hours after the UK government announced the strict measures on the London club's Russian owner.

Food export markets 'must remain open' says German minister

Global food markets must stay open without export restrictions to ensure supplies to poor countries in particular, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said.

The war in Ukraine has caused surging food prices amid tight supplies as a growing list of key producing countries seeking to keep vital food supplies within their borders. But Özdemir told German television ZDF: "Markets must remain open."

"We must ensure that the grain that is available is available fairly at affordable prices," he added as wheat prices hit a 14-year high with no end in sight to the conflict.

Russia and Ukraine provide nearly 30% of all global wheat exports.

Ukraine will no longer buy Russian nuclear fuel

Ukraine's state-owned nuclear power firm Energoatom will no longer buy Russian nuclear fuel, Reuters news agency reported the company as saying.

The country operates nuclear reactors from the Soviet era and imports its fuel from Russia and the United States.

Last week, Europe's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, was caught in the crossfire after fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces caused a fire at the power station.

While no radiation leaks were detected and staff continue to work on the site, the incident sparked fears of a possible nuclear disaster among global leaders.

Air Astana and Pegasus Airlines suspend flights to Russia

Kazakhstan's national airline Air Astana and Turkey's Pegasus Airlines said Friday they were temporarily suspending flights to Russia.

The Kazakh airline tweeted: "Air Astana sincerely regrets to advise that due the withdrawal of insurance coverage for commercial flights to, from and over the Russian Federation, all flights to the Russian Federation are suspended with immediate effect." In a statement, Air Astana said it hoped to "restore flights as soon as possible."

Turkish budget airline Pegasus Airlines said that its flights to Russia will be suspended from March 13 to 27.

Pegasus said the decision to halt flights was brought about by "operational risks" from the sanctions imposed by the European Union.

Russians flee their country for Finland

Russia to declare cease-fire, open evacuation corridors

Russia's Defense Ministry will announce a partial cease-fire on Friday, enabling an opening of routes for the evacuation of Ukrainian citizens from five cities, according to the RIA and Interfax news agencies.

The agencies quoted the ministry as saying people could travel to Russia or other cities in Ukraine.

"From 10:00 am Moscow time (0700 GMT/UTC) on March 11, 2022, the Russian Federation will declare a 'regime of silence' and is ready to provide humanitarian corridors," Interfax reported, citing a statement.

The five cities are Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said she hopes the route for the besieged city of Mariupol will be successfully opened. Previous attempts to open such a corridor came under fire by Russian forces, Ukrainian officials said.

Vereshchuk added that buses would be sent to multiple Kyiv suburbs to bring people to the capital, and to bring aid to those staying behind.

Civilian targets shelled in Dnipro, Lutsk

Civilian targets came under Russian shelling in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, killing one, emergency services said.

It appeared to be the first direct attack on the city.

Emergency services said three airstrikes hit a kindergarten, an apartment building and a shoe factory.

Shelling was also reported Friday near the airport in Lutsk, a city in north-western Ukraine, the mayor wrote on Facebook.

Russia's Defense Ministry said its troops targeted airports in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, another western Ukrainian city some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Lutsk.

Orban: EU will not impose sanctions on Russian gas or oil

The European Union will not impose sanctions on Russian gas or oil, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

"The most important issue for us has been settled in a favorable way: there won't be sanctions that would apply to gas or oil, so Hungary's energy supply is secure in the upcoming period," Orban said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

Orban's comments came as EU leaders gathered in France to discuss ways of helping Ukraine.

Germany's gas addiction 'a European problem'

Over 200,000 flee Ukraine to Russia

Since the conflict began on February 24, more than 200,000 people have been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia from Ukraine and its two Russian-backed rebel regions — Donetsk and Luhansk — the Russian state-owned TASS news agency reported on Friday, citing an unidentified source.

The United Nations has estimated that 2.2 million people have fled the fighting since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Solidarity and support for Ukrainians

Facebook allows posts calling for violence against Russian soldiers, Putin

Meta Platforms will allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russian troops, Reuters reported Friday. It represents a temporary shift in Meta's hate speech policy.

The social media giant is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

A Meta statement on the issue read: "As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as 'death to the Russian invaders.' We still won't allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians."

The Russian Embassy in the United States demanded that Washington stop Meta's "extremist activities," Reuters news agency reported.

"Users of Facebook & Instagram did not give the owners of these platforms the right to determine the criteria of truth and pit nations against each other," the embassy said on Twitter.

Russian officials later said Meta would be shut down in Russia if it allowed calls for Putin's death.

US and allies plan to cut Russia's trade status

US President Joe Biden is expected to call for an end of normal trade relations with Russia later on Friday.

Despite the tense relationship between Washington and Moscow, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US currently still affords "most favored nation status" to Russia.

The designation means that a country with the clause must give the same concessions, privileges, or immunities to nations with it as to any other World Trade Organization member.

Removing the special status from Russia would allow the US and allies to impose tariffs on Russian imports, increasing the isolation of the Russian economy in retaliation for the invasion.

The move is expected to be coordinated with other G7 allies, including the UK.

In the US, removing Russia's "Permanent Normal Trade Relations" (PNTR) status will require an act of Congress.

However, lawmakers in both houses of Congress — and on both sides of the aisle — have already signaled their support, officials say.

US passes bill for $14 billion to Ukraine

US lawmakers have passed a huge spending bill that includes almost $14 billion (about €12.7 billion) in humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine.

The money for Kyiv, which piggybacked on wider spending legislation, had support from both Democrats and Republicans who have both rallied behind sending aid to the country. 

"We're keeping our promise to support Ukraine as they fight for their lives against the evil Vladimir Putin," Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democrats, said in a statement.

The emergency aid was said to be more than double what US President Joe Biden's administration had originally requested.

The House of Representatives had passed the bill a day earlier, with the bill now heading to Biden's desk. The aid package is certain to be signed into law by the US president. 

Around half the money is for arming and equipping Ukraine and for the Pentagon's costs for sending US troops to Ukraine's next-door neighbors.

Much of the remaining sum includes humanitarian and economic help, protecting energy supplies, and cybersecurity.

UN Security Council to meet at Russia's behest

The US Security Council is set to meet later on Friday to discuss Russia's claims about alleged US "military biological activities" in Ukraine.

The allegations were made earlier this week, without evidence, by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Washington has responded, saying the claim was "exactly the kind of false flag effort we have warned Russia might initiate to justify a biological or chemical weapons attack."

That statement suggested Russia might seek to create a pretext for further escalating the two-week-old conflict that has seen the Russian offensive slowed, but not stopped, by Ukraine's troops.

"We're not going to let Russia gaslight the world or use the UN Security Council as a venue for promoting their disinformation," Olivia Dalton, spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations said late Thursday.

For years, the international community for years has assessed that Russia has used chemical weapons in carrying out assassination attempts against opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia also backs Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has used chemical weapons against its people in an 11-year-long civil war.

Satellite pics show Kyiv-bound convoy dispersal

Satellite images appear to show a huge Russian convoy, mired outside the Ukrainian capital since last week, has broken up and redeployed.

The pictures from Maxar Technologies showed the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, including tanks and artillery, has dispersed.

Armored units have been seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city and some have moved into forests, Maxar reported.

The convoy's advance on Kyiv appeared to have stalled last week amid reports of food and fuel shortages.

According to US officials, Ukrainian troops also targeted the line of hardware with anti-tank missiles.

Convoy elements appear to have deployed further north of the airport near the town of Lubyanka, with towed artillery howitzers in firing positions.

Summary of events in Ukraine-Russia crisis on Thursday

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said nearly half of the capital's residents had fled and the city had been turned into a fortress on Thursday.

Russian troops have taken over the outskirts in the north and northwest of the city. But the former boxing champion Klitschko said the city was determined not to fall.

"Every street, every building, every checkpoint has been fortified," he said in a televised address. "Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian forces of targeting a humanitarian corridor in the city of Mariupol in an operation of "outright terror."

Zelenskyy said that, while some 100,000 people have been evacuated from the country's cities in just two days, some city residents have no way out.

The president said he had decided to send a convoy of trucks with food, water and medicine, but that "the occupiers launched a tank attack exactly where this corridor was supposed to be."

After international condemnation of a Russian strike on a hospital in Mariupol, Russia's Defense Ministry later denied hitting the building.

More than 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine so far, according to the latest UN tally, around half of them children.

In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for a halt to military action in Ukraine.

However, Ukraine and Russia made "no progress" toward agreeing on a 24-hour cease-fire after talks in Turkey. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had been meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"It seems that there are other decision-makers for this matter in Russia," Kuleba said, in a thinly veiled reference to Putin.

Putin on Thursday said his compatriots would find a way to "adapt" to the massive international sanctions and withdrawals of Western corporations in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

rc/wd (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)