Authorities fear some 300 may have died in a Russian strike on a theatre sheltering civilians, as the US and the EU mount pressure on Moscow by announcing a drive to wean Europe off Russian gas imports.

Kiev and some surrounding areas have faced deadly bombardments by Russian forces, who have failed to enter the capital city in the face of Ukrainian resistance.
Kiev and some surrounding areas have faced deadly bombardments by Russian forces, who have failed to enter the capital city in the face of Ukrainian resistance. (Reuters)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Macron: Aiming to talk to Putin in next 48-72 hours on Mariupol

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is targeting more talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin within the next 48-72 hours regarding the situation in Ukraine and an initiative to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol.

Macron said he was coordinating efforts with Greece and Türkiye and hoped to convince Russia to allow the evacuation. "There was a concrete discussion today with the Mayor of Mariupol. We are coordinating and we will then negotiate with the Russians," Macron told reporters after an EU summit in Brussels.

The southeastern port of Mariupol, a city of 400,000 before the conflict, has been among the worst hit by the Russian bombardment. 

Tens of thousands of people are still believed to be trapped with little access to food, power or heat, while the city around them has been reduced to ruins.

Erdogan, Zelenskyy hold phone call

Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken by phone with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They discussed the situation on the ground in Ukraine and the stage reached in negotiations between Kiev and Moscow, Erdogan's office said.

Erdogan told Zelenskyy that he had emphasised at this week's NATO summit his support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and that he had conveyed in bilateral talks the "effective" diplomatic efforts that Türkiye has made, the statement said.

Zelenskyy said they also discussed "the threat of the food crisis and ways to prevent it" and added that he was grateful for Ankara's support.  

EU urges Russia to respect obligations under international law

European Union leaders have urged Russia to fully respect its obligations under international law and abide by a recent order of the International Court of Justice, which told Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

"Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine grossly violates international law and is causing massive loss of life and injury to civilians," the leaders of the 27-nation EU said in a joint statement.

"Russia is directing attacks against the civilian population and is targeting civilian objects, including hospitals, medical facilities, schools and shelters. These war crimes must stop immediately," they said.

Macron: European Commission to have mandate to make common energy purchases

The European Commission will have a mandate to make common energy purchases in order to allow the European Union to get a better grip on its energy supplies and on tackling energy prices, French President Emmanuel Macron has said.

Macron also told a news conference in Brussels that there was a need to improve the disconnection between the price of electricity from the price of gas.

Energy prices have risen sharply in the wake of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukrainians fighting to retake Kherson, now 'contested' city

Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive in Kherson, the country's only major city seized by Russian troops, and it is once again "contested," a senior US defence official has said.

"The Ukrainians are trying to take Kherson back, and we would argue that Kherson is actually contested territory again," the Pentagon official told reporters.

"We can't corroborate exactly who is in control of Kherson but the point is, it doesn't appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was before," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Biden compares Russian assault to Tiananmen Square

US President Joe Biden has compared Russia's assault on Ukraine to China's crushing of protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, speaking during a visit to Poland near the border with Ukraine.

Biden spoke with US soldiers in Poland and with aid workers helping to deal with the massive refugee crisis. Earlier, he landed in the city of Rzeszow  — around 80 kilometres (50 miles) in a straight line from the border with Ukraine.

Biden praised Ukrainians for showing "backbone" in their resistance, giving the example of "a 30-year-old woman standing there in front of a tank with a rifle". "I mean, talk about what happened to Tiananmen Square. This is Tiananmen Square squared," he said.

You're in the midst of a fight between democracies and autocrats. What you're doing is consequential, really consequential

President Joe Biden to US soldiers stationed in Poland

Putin signs law on jail for 'fake' news on state actions abroad

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill introducing jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing "fake" information about Russia's actions abroad.

The bill, adopted by Russia's parliament this week, sets out jail terms and fines for people who publish "knowingly false information" about actions abroad by Russian government agencies.

IAEA: Chernobyl staff have not been rotated in four days

Staff on duty at Chernobyl's Russian-held radioactive waste facilities have not been rotated in four days and Ukraine cannot say when that will change because of fighting in the town where many of them live, the UN nuclear watchdog has said.

"Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency today that there had been no rotation of technical staff at (Chernobyl) since 21 March and it did not know when it might next take place," the IAEA said in a statement.

Staff now on duty replaced a shift that was there for more than three weeks.

Pope leads global prayer for peace

Pope Francis has led the world's Catholic bishops in praying for peace between Russia and Ukraine, saying the world had forgotten the tragedies of the 20th century and was still menaced by nuclear war.

Francis presided at a service in St. Peter's Basilica in which he entrusted the protection of all humanity, "especially Russia and Ukraine," to Mary, who Christians believe is the Mother of God and who can intercede with him in heaven. Both the Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors to the Vatican attended, sitting on separate sides of the aisle.

At about the same time, thousands of bishops in cathedrals and chapels around the world were reading the same prayer in local languages, resulting in one of the most precisely coordinated global Church event in living memory.

Russia's Pobeda airline to ground some Boeings

Russian airline Pobeda, a low-cost unit of the state carrier Aeroflot, will ground 16 of its 41 Boeing B-737-800 jets until the end of 2022 to help it cope with Western sanctions, Interfax news agency has said.

"To maintain flight safety...we will reduce the fleet to 25 aircraft. The remaining planes will not fly until the end of the year so that the spare parts we have accumulated will last until lost supply chains are restored," the agency quoted acting general director Andrei Yurikov as telling employees.

Macron: No reason to accept demands for rouble payments

French President Emmanuel Macron has said there is no reason for France to accept a demand from Russia to pay up in Russian roubles for Russian gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had said earlier this week that Russia will seek payment in roubles for gas sold to "unfriendly" countries, raising alarm about a possible gas crunch in Europe.

Macron told a news conference in Brussels that "texts show it is forbidden" to make such demands for payments in the rouble.

Ukraine military command centre hit by Russian strike

Russian missiles have hit a military command centre in the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, Kiev officials say, adding it is unknown if there are any casualties.

"Today (Friday) at around 4.30 p.m, the Russian occupiers launched a missile strike on the territory of the Air Force Command in Vinnytsia," the Ukrainian Air Force said on Telegram.

It posted an image of the alleged centre in rubble and said missiles had hit "several buildings, causing significant damage to infrastructure."

UN: 3.7 million people flee Ukraine

Some 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's attacks began a month ago, the UN has said. Ukraine's refugee crisis is Europe's worst since World War II.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said 3,725,806 Ukrainians had fled the country — an increase of 50,854 from the previous day's figure. Around 90 percent of them are women and children, it added.

In total, more than 10 million people — over a quarter of the population in regions under government control before the conflict — are now thought to have fled their homes, including nearly 6.5 million who are internally displaced.

Regional governor: Ukrainian forces still control Mariupol

The governor of Ukraine's Donetsk region has said Ukrainian forces still control the besieged southern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Speaking on national television, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said around 65,000 people had so far fled the city in private vehicles or on foot although official efforts to organise mass evacuations under temporary ceasefires have mostly failed.

Ukraine's top security official Oleksiy Danilov said: "Mariupol is holding on, and no one is going to surrender Mariupol." 

Defence official: US sees Russia focusing on eastern Ukraine

The US assesses that Russia is prioritising eastern Ukraine's Donbass, as opposed to Kiev, in what could be an effort to build leverage in negotiations and cut off Ukrainian forces in the east from the rest of the country, a senior US defence official has said.

Russia said earlier on Friday that the first phase of its military operation was mostly complete and it would focus on completely "liberating" Ukraine's breakaway eastern Donbass region.

The US defence official also said Russia was looking to send reinforcements from Georgia.

Russia: First phase of operation mostly complete

Russia has said the first phase of its Ukraine operation is mostly complete and that it would focus on completely "liberating" eastern Ukraine's Donbass region. 

The announcement appeared to indicate Russia may be switching to more limited goals after running into fierce resistance.

The defence ministry said Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93 percent of Ukraine's Luhansk region and 54 percent of the Donetsk region — the two areas that jointly make up the Donbass.

The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which...makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass

Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operational Direct

Moscow, Kiev making little progress on key issues

Russia and Ukraine are coming closer to an understanding on secondary issues at peace talks but there has been limited progress on the key questions, Moscow's negotiator Vladimir Medinsky has said.

"On minor issues, positions are drawing closer now, but on major political issues we are actually marking time," Medinsky told reporters, Russian news agencies reported. 

He said Russia is seeking a comprehensive deal on a whole range of issues, without which an agreement is unlikely.

Meanwhile, Ukraine said the "negotiation process is very difficult" and vowed not to back down on its demands. "We insist, first of all, on a ceasefire, security guarantees, and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

UN: Dozens of Ukrainian officials, journalists detained

Dozens of Ukrainian officials, journalists and activists have been detained or forcibly disappeared by Russian forces, the UN has said, warning that some cases resembled "hostage-taking".

The United Nations rights office said it had documented the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of 22 local Ukrainian officials, 13 of whom had subsequently been released.

"This does seem to be a pattern that is occurring in areas that are occupied by the Russian Federation," said Matilda Bogner, who is the UN rights office's representative in Ukraine. "Forces of the Russian Federation are going specifically to detain, and do not inform relatives and others where they are taking people."

Neutral Swiss adopt more EU sanctions against Russia

The Swiss government has adopted more European Union sanctions against Russia for its attacks on Ukraine, the cabinet has said.

"This means that all measures contained in the EU's fourth package of sanctions have been implemented," it said in a statement.

The statement added the government has decided not to implement the EU measure of March 1 suspending the broadcasting of Russian media outlets Sputnik and Russia Today.

Minister: Brazil opposed to ejecting Russia from G20

Brazil is "clearly opposed" to barring Russia from the G20, the foreign minister has said, as the US led a push to exclude Moscow from the group over its assault on Ukraine.

"We've seen initiatives emerge in various international organisations...to expel or suspend Russia. Brazil is clearly opposed to those initiatives, in line with our traditional position in favour of multilateralism and international law," Foreign Minister Carlos Franca told a Senate session.

Russia issues fresh warning over rouble row

Russia's foreign ministry has warned of global bankruptcies should countries refuse to pay for its gas exports in roubles, the RIA news agency has reported.

The ministry also said a Russian exit from the World Trade Organization (WTO) would be counter-productive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Gazprom to accept payment in roubles for its natural gas exports to Europe and the gas behemoth has four days left to work out how to move over billions of dollars in sales, the Kremlin said.

France summons Russian envoy over embassy Twitter cartoon

Russia's ambassador to France has been summoned to the French Foreign Ministry over an earlier embassy Twitter post that Paris deemed unacceptable, the foreign ministry has said.

The Russian Embassy in Paris had posted a picture depicting a body lying on a table called "Europe" with characters representing the United States and European Union jabbing needles into it.

"These posts are unacceptable. We made that clear today to the Russian Ambassador," the ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters news agency. 

"We are trying to maintain a demanding channel of dialogue with Russia and these actions are completely inappropriate."

Russian ambassador sues Italian daily over Putin article

The Russian ambassador to Italy, Sergey Razov, has said he is suing Italian newspaper La Stampa over an article that had raised the possibility of killing President Vladimir Putin.

"Needless to say that this goes against the rules of journalism and morality," Razov told reporters in front of the prosecutor's office in Rome after he had deposited the suit.

On March 22, La Stampa published an analysis headlined "If killing the tyrant is the only option". The piece said if all other options failed to halt Russia's attacks on Ukraine, the only solution might be for someone to kill the president.

Ukraine region cuts rail links with Belarus

Ukraine's northern Rivne region has suspended its rail links with Russia-allied Belarus to prevent supplies reaching Russian forces in Ukraine, Governor Vitaly Koval has said.

"This means that Russia will no longer be able to deliver military equipment and supplies to the occupiers through the Belarusian railways," he said in an online statement.

China's Sinopec 'pauses' Russia projects

China's state-run Sinopec Group has suspended talks for a major petrochemical investment and a gas marketing venture in Russia, sources told Reuters news agency.

The move by Asia's biggest oil refiner to hit the brakes on a potentially half-billion-dollar investment in a gas chemical plant and a venture to market Russian gas in China highlights the risks, even to Russia's most important diplomatic partner, of unexpectedly heavy Western-led sanctions.

Yellen: US sanctions on China not necessary or appropriate

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said sanctions against China are "not necessary or appropriate" since its support for Russia following the attacks on Ukraine was still unclear.

"I don't think that that's necessary or appropriate at this point," Yellen said in an interview with CNBC, adding that "senior administration officials are talking privately quietly with China to make sure that they understand our position."

She noted Washington "would be very concerned if they were to supply weapons to Russia. Or to try to evade the sanctions that we've put in place on the Russian financial system and the central bank. We don't see that happening at this point."

300 feared killed Mariupol theatre bombing

Local officials, citing witness accounts, have said as many as 300 people may have been killed in the bombing of a theatre in the besieged city of Mariupol on March 16.

The city council made clear it was still not possible to determine the exact death toll after the incident, in which it said a powerful Russian air strike hit the theatre where hundreds of people had been sheltering in the encircled city.

"From witnesses comes information that about 300 people died in the Mariupol Drama Theatre as a result of the bombing by a Russian plane," Mariupol city council said in a statement. Russia has denied bombing the theatre.

Russian army: 1,351 soldiers killed in Ukraine

The Russian army has updated its losses in Ukraine to 1,351 soldiers. NATO estimates that 7,000-15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in a month of fighting.

At a Moscow briefing, senior military officials gave the first update on Russian deaths in weeks and said 419,736 civilians had been evacuated from Ukraine.

A senior representative of the General Staff, Sergei Rudskoi, said: "We consider a huge mistake the supplies of arms to Kiev by Western countries. That prolongs the operation."

Biden lands in Poland near Ukraine border

US President Joe Biden has landed in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland — around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

Biden is due to meet US soldiers stationed in the area and non-governmental organisations helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia's attacks.

Ukraine claims another Russian general killed

Kiev has announced that its forces have killed a high-ranking Russian military official, the latest in a series of claims against the leadership of Moscow's forces.

In a video statement, presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukraine forces had killed the senior Russian military official during fighting in the south of the country, near Kherson.

Ukrainian forces "killed commander of the 49th Russian Southern District Army, General Yakov Ryazantsev, in a strike on Chornobayivka near Kherson," he said.

UN rights office: 1,081 civilians killed in Ukraine

The UN rights office has confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths and 1,707 injuries in Ukraine since the start of the Russian attacks on February 24, adding that the real toll was likely considerably higher.

UN human rights monitors are working to verify reports of additional deaths in places of intense clashes in the regions of Sumy, Kharkiv and Donestsk, where the city of Mariupol is located, a statement said.

Putin accuses West of cancelling Russian culture

President Vladimir Putin has said the West is trying to cancel Russian culture, including the works of great composers such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninov.

"Today they are trying to cancel a thousand-year-old country — I am talking about the progressive discrimination against everything connected with Russia," Putin said in televised remarks, mentioning Russian music and literature.

"The last time such a mass campaign to destroy unwanted literature was carried out was by the Nazis in Germany almost 90 years ago."

Ukraine: Forces repulsed attack on Chernobyl workers' town

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said troops have repulsed a first attack by Russian forces on the town of Slavutych, where workers at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant live.

Earlier on Friday, local authorities said Slavutych was isolated, with Russian forces just beyond the town's limits.

Ukraine hopes to agree on humanitarian corridor for Chernihiv

Ukraine hopes to agree on a humanitarian corridor to help people evacuate from Chernihiv on Saturday after local authorities reported the northern city was in effect cut off by Russian forces.

Speaking on television, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said negotiations on creating humanitarian corridors were challenging, with Russia wanting civilians to evacuate to Russian-controlled territory. 

Both sides accuse the other of thwarting efforts to help civilians in front-line areas in Ukraine.

UK's Johnson holds call with Chinese president about Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has held a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the situation in Ukraine, Johnson's spokesman has said, as Western leaders call on China to refrain from supporting Russia in its campaign.

"This morning the prime minister has spoken to the president of China on the ongoing situation in Ukraine," the spokesman said, adding the call lasted about 50 minutes.

US, NATO doing 'contingency planning' for possible attack

The United States and its NATO allies are doing contingency planning for any possible Russian attack on NATO territory, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has said.

Denmark prepares to take more than 100,000 refugees

Denmark is preparing for a scenario in which more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees arrive to the Nordic nation, immigration and integration minister Mattias Tesfaye has said.

White House: US has 'no intention' of using chemical weapons

The United States has "no intention" of using chemical weapons under any circumstance even if Russia uses such weapons in Ukraine, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said.

"There will be a severe price if Russia uses chemical weapons. And I won't go beyond that other than to say the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance," he told reporters on board Air Force One.

Kremlin: Biden diverting attention on chemical weapons issue 

The Kremlin has accused US President Joe Biden of seeking to divert attention from his country's chemical and biological weapons programme, after he said Russia could use such weapons in Ukraine.

"We see this as an attempt to divert attention to some kind of ephemeral, allegedly existing threat against the backdrop of a scandal that is flaring up in the world involving chemical and biological weapons programmes that the United States has been carrying out in various countries, including Ukraine," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

The Russian defence ministry accuses Biden's son, Hunter Biden, of funding biological weapons labs in Ukraine through his investment fund Rosemont Seneca.

Russian military chaplain 'killed by rocket' near border

A Russian military chaplain has been killed in a Ukrainian rocket attack in the southwest near the Ukraine border, the Russian Orthodox Church has said.

Oleg Artyomov was serving in the village of Zhuravlyovka in Russia's Belgorod region on Thursday when he "came under shelling from a Ukrainian Smerch (rocket launcher) and died", the Moscow Patriarchate's military department said on social media. 

Artyomov, a Cossack, was an assistant commander for serving believers in a military unit. This is the first publicly reported death on Russian soil from Ukrainian shelling since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24. 

Russia denies breaching international law 

Russia says it has "never" violated international law, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of using phosphorus bombs in his country.

"Russia has never violated international conventions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, referring any further questions to the defence ministry. He did not provide any details.

International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus shells in heavily populated civilian areas, although it allows them in open spaces to be used as cover for troops.

Kremlin says Russia's exclusion from G20 not 'fatal'

The Kremlin has said Russia's exclusion from the G20 grouping of major economies — sought by US President Joe Biden over its military action in Ukraine — would not be "fatal".

"As far as the G20 format is concerned, it's important," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "But in the current situation, when most of the participants in this format are in a state of economic war with us, nothing fatal will happen."

Russia is facing 'total war' from West - Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia is facing total war declared by the West.

Lavrov said at a meeting that “a real hybrid war, total war was declared on us.” He said the goal was “to destroy, break, annihilate, strangle the Russian economy, and Russia on the whole.”

During the first month of what Russia describes as a “special military operation” in Ukraine, the West imposed tough measures targeting Russia’s economy and financial system as well as President Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs.

Despite that, Lavrov said Russia was not isolated. 

UN: Evidence growing of Mariupol mass graves

The head of the UN human rights team in Ukraine said that monitors had received increasing information on mass graves in the encircled city of Mariupol, Ukraine, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies.

"We have got increasing information on mass graves that are there," Matilda Bogner told journalists by video link from Ukraine, saying some of the evidence came from satellite images.

Bogner said that civilian deaths in Ukraine exceeded 1,035, adding that the UN team was probing what appeared to be indiscriminate attacks by both sides in the conflict. 

Kremlin: Gazprom is working on rouble settlements for gas exports

President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian energy giant Gazprom to accept payments for its natural gas exports in roubles and it must work out how that can be done in the next four days, the Kremlin said. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia's largest producer of liquefied natural gas, Novatek, had not been given such instructions.

Putin on Wednesday said Russia would seek payment in roubles for gas sold to "unfriendly" countries after the United States and European allies teamed up to impose sanctions on Russia aimed at forcing its withdrawal from Ukraine. 

Russian forces "partially" created a land corridor to Crimea

Ukraine's Defence Ministry said Russian forces had managed partially to create a land corridor to Crimea from territory in Ukraine's Donetsk region.

"The enemy was partially successful in creating a land corridor between the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and part of Donetsk region," it said in an online post. 

US, EU announce new partnership to undercut Russian energy

The United States and European Union have announced a new partnership to reduce the continent's reliance on Russian energy, a step top officials characterised as the start of a years-long initiative to further isolate Moscow after its offensive on Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin uses energy to “coerce and manipulate his neighbours” and uses the profits from its sale to “drive his war machine.”

Biden said the partnership he announced jointly with a top European Union official will turn that dynamic on its head by reducing Europe's dependence on Russian energy sources, as well as the continent's demand for gas overall.

Erdogan: NATO cornerstone of European security

Türkiye's President has stressed the importance of NATO for the security of Europe amid Russia’s offensive on Ukraine.

"NATO is the cornerstone of European security. We have seen this very clearly. Türkiye is an indispensable ally for ensuring regional security," Erdogan told reporters during his return flight from Brussels where he attended an extraordinary NATO summit on Thursday.

Erdogan said he will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday, and may hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin this weekend or early next week to assess results of Thursday’s NATO summit.

Hungary rejects Zelenskyy's appeal for weapons

Hungary’s prime minister rejected an emotional appeal from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to supply Ukraine with weapons and support sanctions on Russia’s energy sector.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted to social media that Zelenskyy’s requests were “against Hungary’s interests,” and that sanctions on Russian energy “would mean that the Hungarian economy would slow down and then stop within moments.”

The rejection came after Zelenskyy on Thursday addressed a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels where he specifically addressed Orban, who is widely considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU. 

Russian strikes kill four at Kharkiv medical facility: police

Russian strikes killed four civilians and wounded several others while targeting a medical facility in Ukraine's second city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials said.

"This morning, following a bombardment on civilian infrastructure from several rocket launchers, seven civilians were injured, four of them died," said police in the eastern city near Russia's border.

The strikes targeted a medical centre in the Osnovyansky district of the city, police said. 

Germany moves to wean itself off Russian energy

Germany said it was drastically slashing its energy purchases from Russia amid Moscow's offensive in Ukraine, with oil imports to be halved by June and coal deliveries to end by the autumn.

"In recent weeks, together with all relevant players, we have made intensive efforts to import less fossil energy from Russia and broaden out our supply base," said Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

"The first important milestones have been reached to free us from the grip of Russian imports," he added. 

Before Moscow's offensive, a third of Germany's oil imports, 45 percent of its coal purchases and 55 percent of gas imports came from Russia. 

Russia destroys largest military fuel storage site in Ukraine

Russia said it had destroyed the largest remaining military fuel storage site in Ukraine, hitting it with the Kalibr sea-based cruise missiles.

"On the evening of March 24, Kalibr high-precision sea-based cruise missiles attacked a fuel base in the village of Kalynivka near Kiev," the Russian defence ministry said.

Ukraine accuses Moscow of forcibly removing civilians to Russia

Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia to pressure Kiev to give up, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his country to keep up its military defence and not stop “even for a minute.”

Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken against their will into Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kiev to surrender. 

The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who have been relocated, but said they were from predominantly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and wanted to go to Russia.

Missiles hit Ukrainian military unit near Dnipro

Rescuers were searching for survivors among the debris after two missiles hit a Ukrainian military unit on the outskirts of the city of Dnipro, causing "serious destruction", regional governor Valentyn Reznychenko said on social media. 

UK: Ukraine has re-occupied towns 35km east of Kiev

Ukraine has re-occupied towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres east of Kiev, helped by Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, Britain's defence ministry said.

Russian ex-president: Western sanctions won't sway Kremlin

It is "foolish" to believe that Western sanctions against Russian businesses could have any effect on the Moscow government, Russian ex-president and deputy head of security council Dmitry Medvedev said.

The sanctions will only consolidate the Russian society and not cause popular discontent with the authorities, Medvedev told Russia's RIA news agency in an interview. 

Ukraine hopes to open safe corridor from Mariupol

Ukraine hopes to open a safe corridor to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol in private vehicles, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. 

Biden to visit near Ukraine border in show of solidarity

US President Joe Biden will travel to a town near the Polish-Ukrainian border, trying to signal Western resolve against a Russian offensive that has entered into its second month.

Air Force One will jet into the eastern Polish town of Rzeszow – bringing the US president less than 80 kilometres (50 miles) from a nation still struggling to repel Russian attacks.

The trip is designed to underscore Washington's willingness to defend NATO allies, as fears rise that the month-old conflict in Ukraine could spill westward sparking what the US president has called "World War III." 

Biden plans gas shipments to Europe to cut Russian leverage

Biden is expected to announce increased shipments of liquefied natural gas to Europe, part of a long-term initiative to wean the continent off Russian energy after the offensive in Ukraine.

He plans to discuss the issue with Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Union’s executive arm, shortly before leaving for Poland, the final leg of his four-day trip.

Earlier this week, Von der Leyen said "we are aiming at having a commitment for additional supplies for the next two winters.” And Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, recently told reporters that the administration wants to quickly “surge” gas to Europe. 

Zelenskyy: Over 2,000 Ukrainian children abducted

Ukraine’s president said that more than 2,000 children have been kidnapped since the start of Russia’s offensive against his country.

"We do not know the whereabouts of our children," said Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking at the European Council summit, which he attended virtually.

Zelenskyy also accused Russian forces of firing on humanitarian aid convoys and targeting women and children in evacuation corridors. 

Russia more of a burden to China after Ukraine conflict - Pentagon official

Russia's attack on Ukraine has made it more of a strategic burden on China, a senior Pentagon official said.

"I do think that there's a degree to which what Putin has done in Ukraine makes Russia much more of a strategic burden for Beijing than it was six weeks ago or six months ago," Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said.

In February, China and Russia declared a "no limits" partnership, backing each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.

Russia claims US president's son involved in financing Ukrainian biolabs

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that Hunter Biden, the son of the US president, was directly involved in financing biological laboratories in Ukraine.

Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force, presented documents at a news conference in Moscow, allegedly of Ukrainian and US origin, seized in battles in Ukraine.

They showed the Rosemont Seneca Partners investment fund, chaired by Hunter Biden, sponsored a military biological program in Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy asks EU leaders for quick membership

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked EU leaders for working together to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, including Germany's decision to block Russia from delivering natural gas to Europe through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

But he lamented that these steps weren't taken earlier, saying there was a chance Russia would have thought twice about its offensive. He then appealed to the EU leaders, who had gathered in Brussels, to move quickly on Ukraine's application to join the bloc. 

He then listed the 27 member countries, noting those he said were "for us." He appealed to Germany and particularly to Hungary not to block Ukraine's bid.  "Listen, Viktor, do you know what is happening in Mariupol?" Zelenskyy said, addressing Hungarian President Viktor Orban. "I want to be open once and for all — you should decide for yourself, who you are for."

Orban is widely considered to be Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest ally among EU leaders.

Zelenskyy: Ukraine held back all main directions of Russian attacks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has marked one month since the beginning of the Russian offensive in an optimistic air, smiling throughout a short video addressed to the Ukrainian people.

Zelenskyy quipped that Russia would have not gone into Ukraine had it known what was waiting for it as the Ukrainian people have been able to stall or hold back most Russian assaults across the frontline.

"The 30th day. If Russia knew such was waiting for it here, I am sure it would have been afraid to come here. In this month we have held back all the main directions of the Russian attacks."

EU leaders dismiss Putin's rouble payments threat

President Vladimir Putin's threat to have "unfriendly" countries pay for Russian natural gas exports only in roubles from now on has got the not-so-friendly treatment from European Union nations.

Several EU leaders have come out saying it would be a gross violation of their contracts. From German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, they said they would not meet such demands.

The Russian threat is potent since the EU imports 90 percent of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40 percent of EU gas.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies