Russia-Ukraine update: World leaders condemn Russian action

(AP)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine and for the first time laid responsibility directly on Moscow for the tensions and violence in Hungary’s eastern neighbor.

“Together with our European Union and NATO allies, we condemn Russia’s military action,” Orban said in a video on Facebook.

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A member of the European Union and NATO that borders Ukraine, Hungary under Orban has pursued close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a point of concern for many of Hungary’s western partners.

While Hungary’s government has urged a peaceful resolution to the conflict through diplomacy, high-ranking officials until now avoided condemning Russia’s actions directly.

Orban said Thursday that the number of Ukrainian refugees approaching Hungary’s borders was likely to grow. He said Hungary is “prepared to care for them and will be able to meet this challenge quickly and effectively.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military chief says Ukrainian troops are fighting the Russian army in in the north and the south.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi said a battle was raging Thursday near the Hostomel air base 7 kilometers (less than 5 miles) northwest of the capital, Kyiv.

He said that in the south, fighting was going on near Henichesk, Skadovsk and Chaplynka.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister has offered humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but stopped short of issuing a public condemnation of Russia’s attack.

Naftali Bennett said “our hearts go out to the citizens of Ukraine, who got into this situation without any wrongdoing on their part” during a speech Thursday.

Earlier in the day Israel’s foreign minister issued a formal condemnation of Russia’s attack.

Bennett made no direct reference to Russia in his speech at a military officers’ graduation ceremony, but offered humanitarian aid to Ukraine and urged Israeli citizens to leave the country.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is still holding out hope for negotiations after Russia attacked Ukraine.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in a statement that “there is still time for good will, there is still room for negotiation, there is still room for the exercise of a wisdom that prevents the prevalence of partisan interests, protects the legitimate aspirations of each and saves the world from the madness and horrors of war.”

The Vatican has been loathe to call out Russia by name, for fear of antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church, a key focus of Francis’ ecumenical efforts.

The Vatican issued Parolin’s statement as the head of the largest eastern rite church in communion with Rome, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was in a bomb shelter under the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev along with many other people, his office in Rome said.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Defense Ministry says the Russian military has destroyed 74 Ukrainian military facilities, including 11 air bases.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered that Ukrainian servicemen be treated “with respect” and those who lay down their weapons offered safe corridors.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the loss of a Su-25 attack jet due to “pilor error.”

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BERLIN — The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has expanded its recommendations following the Russian attack on Ukraine to warn operators against flying over Moldova and Belarus and “exercise caution” over large parts of Russia.

EASA already had warned of high risks to civilian aircraft over Ukraine early Thursday morning. In an update, it cited a notice issued by Moldova closing its airspace for all flights due to the Ukrainian crisis.

It pointed to “a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft.”

It said that operators also should “exercise caution” when operated in airspace controlled by Moscow and Rostov-on-Don in Russia “due to heightened military activity which may include launches of mid-range missiles penetrating into controlled airspace.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says the country is putting in place additional measures to safeguard its energy supply amid the escalating tensions with Russia.

Germany gets about half of its natural gas and coal and about a third of its oil from Russia.

Robert Habeck told reporters in Berlin Thursday that measures already taken to fill gas reserves would ensure that “we will get safely through the winter.”

“Further measures have been put in place for the next winter”, he said, including legally requiring the owners of gas storage facilities in Germany to fill them during the summer.

Habeck said Germany’s national oil reserve would be sufficient for 90 days, should that need to be tapped, though so far there has been no cut in supplies.

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BRUSSELS — A top European Union official is pledging to make Russia suffer with “massive and targeted sanctions” that will particularly hit the country’s elite.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the package of EU measures will include financial sanctions that will severely limit Russia’s access to the capital markets and have a severe impact on all sectors of its economy.

She said ahead of an EU summit Thursday that “these sanctions will suppress Russia’s economic growth, increase the borrowing costs, raise inflations, intensify capital outflow and gradually erode its industrial basis.”

Von der Leyen said the package also will aim to limit Russia’s access to crucial technologies.

She said that “our measures will weaken Russia technological positions in key areas, actually from which the elite makes most of their money.” She cited high-tech components and “cutting-edge software.”

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WARSAW, Poland — The parliament in Poland, a nation on NATO’s eastern flank which borders Ukraine and Belarus, strongly denounced Russia’s attack on Ukraine and vowed its support to Ukraine.

Members of the Sejm, or lower house of parliament, approved by acclamation a statement condemning Russia. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday will go down in history as “the day Russia chose war,” attacking another nation for no reason.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Mark Brzezinski sought to assure Poland that, as a NATO member, the country is safe.

Brzezinski noted in an interview on TVN24 television that there are now 10,000 U.S. soldiers in Poland. More than half were deployed in recent weeks amid the Russian threats.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s prime minister says that a planned NATO drill in Norway next month “was not a response to the events in Ukraine.”

From March 13, Norway is scheduled to host the Cold Response exercise with thousands of NATO troops taking part. The exercise has been planned for months and Russia was invited to observe it.

The Scandinavian country shares a nearly 200-kilometer (124-mile) land border with Russia.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said that Norway has long managed to maintain a pragmatic neighborly relationship. He said that “we will continue to have contacts” with Russia.

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PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron says France and its European allies did everything to try to head off the attack on Ukraine. He said that they will show “no weakness” in their response.

Macron said in a televised address to the nation Thursday that Russia’s attack is a “turning point in European history” and as a result “there will be profound consequences for our continent and changes in our lives.”

He said that “to this act of war, we will reply without weakness, we will reply calmly and in a determined and united manner.”

“We have tried everything to avoid this war but it is here and we are ready,” Macron said.

He said that sanctions will be “proportionate” to Russia’s military operations, targeting its economy and its energy sector.

“We will show no weakness,” Macron said. “We will take all measures necessary to defend the sovereignty and stability of our European allies.”

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The Slovak government has authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 soldiers to help guard the border with Ukraine following Russia’s attack on Slovakia’s eastern neighbor.

The defense ministry said Thursday they will be used if there is a massive wave of refugees.

The government said Slovakia is also ready to open more border crossings with Ukraine if needed.

Slovania last week lifted all coronavirus restrictions for potential refugees coming from Ukraine in the case of a Russian invasion.

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ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says Russia’s attack on Ukraine has made dialogue with Moscow “impossible.” He is demanding that Putin “immediately stop the bloodshed and withdraw military forces.”

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Speaking after an urgent Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Draghi said Russia’s operation “concerns all of us, our way of living freely, our democracy.”

He said Italy, which has kept its embassy in Kyiv open, fully supported “very strong” sanctions against Russia and was coordinating with NATO and EU allies to beef up security on NATO’s eastern flank. He said that “we are reinforcing our already significant contribution to the military deployments in all the most directly exposed Allied countries.”

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HELSINKI — Latvian authorities say three Russian television channels will have their right to broadcast in Latvia suspended for several years with immediate effect. They cited the channels’ incitement to hatred against Ukraine, justification of war and spreading of disinformation on Ukraine, Latvia and other countries.

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Latvia’s National Electronic Mass Media Council said Thursday that there will be a ban on broadcasts of the Rossija RTR channel for five years, Rossija 24 channel for four years and TV Centr International for three years.

European Union and NATO member Latvia is urging other European nations to make a similar decision.

“We are calling on all European Union member countries to use the evidence we have collected, follow our example and ban these three (Russian) channels in the entire territory of the EU,” said the council’s chairman, Ivars Abolins.

He said that “in the last several years, we have closed 41 programs associated with Russia. Unfortunately, other European countries have not done the same.”

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GENEVA — The head of the U.N. refugee agency is warning of “devastating consequences” of Russia’s military action in Ukraine and calling on neighboring countries to keep their borders open for people fleeing the fighting.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, pointed to “reports of casualties and people starting to flee their homes to seek safety” without elaborating.

He said in a statement that UNHCR had stepped up its operations and capacity in Ukraine and its neighboring countries, without providing details.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says that “Russia’s key goal is clear: to oust the Ukrainian leadership and stir up as much panic as possible.”

Podolyak said Thursday the Russians “want to cut off part of the country and they moving in in big convoys.”

He said that “we are seeing attempts to estabilize the situation in big cities, including Kyiv and Kharkiv.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Russia’s military actions in Ukraine violate international laws and amount to a “heavy blow” to regional peace and stability.

In an address to an international gathering in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan said Turkey — which has enjoyed close ties to both Russia and Ukraine — “sincerely regrets” that the two countries are confronting each other.

“We reiterate our call for a resolution of the problems between Russia and Ukraine, with which we have deep historical ties and friendly relations, through dialogue, within the framework of Minsk agreements,” Erdogan said. He was referring to deals that aimed to restore peace in eastern Ukraine.

The Turkish leader said Turkey would “do its part to ensure the safety of everyone living in Ukraine,” including Turkish citizens and Crimean Tatars, with whom Turkey shares ethnic and cultural bonds.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin has “unleashed war in our European continent” and Britain “cannot and will not just look away.”

In a televised address Thursday, Johnson said the U.K. and its allies will agree a “massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy.”

“Our mission is clear: diplomatically, politically, economically and eventually militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure,” Johnson said.

He is expected to give more details about new sanctions later Thursday.

“A vast invasion is underway by land by sea and by air,” Johnson said. “(Putin) has attacked a friendly country without any provocation and without any credible excuse.”

The prime minister also said that the West must collectively end its dependence on Russian oil and gas, which “for too long has given Putin his grip on western politics.”

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GENEVA — The head of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning anti-nuclear group says a warning from Russian President Vladimir Putin to anyone who might meddle in Russia’s attack on Ukraine amounted to a threat to “launch a nuclear war.”

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, was referring to the Russian leader’s comments as the attack began that “whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history.”

Fihn, whose group won the Nobel prize in 2017, said Russia had manufactured a “false justification” for its military action in Ukraine and said Putin’s warning was “basically to launch a nuclear war.”

She alluded to recent tests by Russia of intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles, saying that they smacked of “basically the Russian military practicing mass-murdering civilians.”

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BUCHAREST, Romania — The president of Romania has condemned Russia’s “reprehensible” attack on Ukraine and said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “threatens the peace of the entire planet.”

Romania borders Ukraine and is a member of NATO and the European Union. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said that Russia “chose the reprehensible and completely illegal path of massive armed violence against an independent and sovereign state.”

Iohannis said that Romania, a country of about 19.5 million people, is ready to deal with economic and humanitarian consequences that the conflict could generate.

He stressed that Romania will not be drawn into the military conflict in Ukraine and said Romanian authorities will take “absolutely all the necessary measures” to ensure the safety of the country’s citizens.

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PRAGUE — Czech President Milos Zeman, who has been a leading pro-Russian voice among European Union leaders, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “an unprovoked act of aggression.”

Zeman said in an address to the nation that “Russia has committed a crime against peace.”

A week ago, Zeman said that warnings of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine were a failure by CIA. He said repeatedly he didn’t believe Russian wanted to attack Ukraine.

“I admit I was wrong,” Zeman said Thursday. “An irrational decision by the leadership of the Russian Federation will cause significant damages to the Russian state.”

He called for harder sanctions against Russia, declaring that “it’s necessary to isolate a lunatic and not just to defend ourselves by words but also by deeds.”

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BRUSSELS — NATO’s secretary-general says Russia has launched war on Ukraine and shattered peace on the European continent.

Jens Stoltenberg called for a summit of NATO alliance leaders for Friday.

Stoltenberg said that “this is a deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion.” And he charged that “Russia is using force to try to rewrite history.”

Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine earlier Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling. Ukraine’s government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border.

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HELSINKI — NATO member Lithuania, which has borders with Russian ally Belarus and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, has declared a state of emergency effective early Thursday afternoon due to the situation in Ukraine.

The decree signed Thursday by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda steps up border protection. It gives authorities, among other things, the right to check and inspect vehicles, persons and luggage in the border area.

Lithuania also borders fellow NATO and European Union members Poland and Latvia.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling it a “dark day for Europe” and expressing his country’s “full solidarity with Kyiv.”

Scholz said in a statement at the chancellery in Berlin on Thursday that new sanctions to be imposed on Russia by Germany and its allies would show that “Putin has made a serious mistake with his war.”

Addressing NATO allies in eastern Europe, Scholz said Germany understood their worries in light of the latest developments and stands by its commitments within the alliance.

Scholz said he and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed soon holding an in-person meeting of the heads of government of NATO member states.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Moldova’s president says the country’s Supreme Security Council has decided to ask parliament to introduce a state of emergency following Russia’s attack on neighbouring Ukraine.

President Maia Sandu said Thursday that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a “flagrant violation of international norms.”

Sandu urged Moldovan citizens in Ukraine to return home. Moldova, a former Soviet republic and one of Europe’s poorest nations, has a population of around 3.5 million and is not a NATO member.

There are now concerns in Moldova that the neighboring conflict could trigger an influx of refugees. Sandu said that “at the border crossing points with Ukraine there is an increase in traffic flow.”

She added that “we will help people who need our support. At this moment, we are ready to accommodate tens of thousands of people.”

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