Despite mounting casualties, punishing international sanctions and unexpectedly strong resistance from Ukrainians, US sees no sign that Russia "is prepared to stop" its offensive — now in its 23rd day.

An unexploded short range hypersonic ballistic missile, according to Ukrainian authorities, from Iskander complex is seen amid Ukraine-Russia conflict in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 9, 2022.
An unexploded short range hypersonic ballistic missile, according to Ukrainian authorities, from Iskander complex is seen amid Ukraine-Russia conflict in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 9, 2022. (Reuters)

Friday, March 18, 2022

Years will take to defuse explosives — Ukraine

Ukraine’s interior minister has said that it will take years to defuse unexploded ordnances after the Russian incursion.

Denys Monastyrsky said the country will need Western assistance to cope with the massive task once the incursion is over.

“A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine and a large number haven’t exploded, they remain under the rubble and pose a real threat,” Monastyrsky said. “It will take years, not months, to defuse them.”

In addition to the unexploded Russian ordnances, the Ukrainian troops also have planted land mines at bridges, airports and other key infrastructure to prevent Russians from using them.

Russia fired over 1,000 missiles towards Ukraine — US official

A US defence official has said that Russia has fired more than 1,080 missiles since the start of its military assault in Ukraine.

"We assess the airspace over Ukraine remains contested. The Ukrainian Air Force is continuing to fly aircraft and employ air and missile defence," the official said in a background statement.

Russia remains largely stalled in its operation, he said. 

Belgium postpones nuclear energy exit for 10 years

Belgium has delayed by a decade a plan to scrap nuclear energy in 2025, spooked by the huge rise in energy prices due to the Russian assault of Ukraine.

"Everyone knows there is a war in Europe ... we choose certainty in uncertain times," he told a news conference.

"The federal government has decided to take the necessary steps to extend the life of the two most (recently built) nuclear reactors by ten years," Prime Minister Alexandre De Croo said.

Power line repaired in Zaporizhzhia - Ukrainian specialists

Ukrainian specialists have repaired one of the damaged power lines to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, the Interfax Ukraine agency quoted the national energy company as saying.

Three of the five power lines were damaged or disconnected after Russian troops took over the plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, on March 4. 

The International Atomic EnergyAgency earlier said Ukraine had told it the line should be working early next week.

Italy to tax 'excess' energy profits to ease price burden: PM

Italy has announced it would tax the extra profits made by energy firms off the back of spiking prices to help families and businesses struggling with high bills.

"Let's tax a part of the extraordinary profits that producers are making thanks to the increase in the cost of raw materials, and redistribute this money to businesses and families who are in great difficulty," Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters.

Biden outlines 'consequences' of Chinese support to Russia

US President Joe Biden has described to China's Xi Jinping "implications and consequences" if Beijing provides material support to Russia, the White House has said, as the two leaders discussed the Ukraine conflict in a nearly two-hour video call.

"The President underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution...The two leaders also agreed on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication, to manage the competition between our two countries," the White House said in a statement.

"He (Biden) described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians," the statement added.

Hezbollah chief denies sending fighters to support Russia

Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has denied reports about sending fighters and experts to fight alongside Russia in Ukraine, Lebanese Al Mayadeen TV has reported.

"No one from Hezbollah, neither a fighter nor an expert, went to this arena or any of the arenas of these wars," Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV quoted him as saying.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the green light for up to 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East to be deployed alongside Russian-backed rebels to fight in Ukraine.

Ukrainian negotiator says Kiev's position at talks unchanged

Ukraine's negotiator at talks with Russia has said Kiev's position is unchanged and it wants peace negotiations to lead to a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees.

"The statements of the Russian side are only their requesting positions. All statements are intended, inter alia, to provoke tension in the media," Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

"Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas."

Russia: Council of Europe a Russophobic instrument

Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, has accused the Council of Europe of being a "Russophobic" instrument serving Western interests.

"Due to the Westerners' Russophobic activity, this structure has lost its reason for being," she said.

The pan-European rights body, which expelled Russia on Wednesday, a day after Moscow said it would leave, had "turned into an obedient instrument of the European Union, NATO and their satellites", she added in a statement.

UN: Second wave of Ukrainian refugees more traumatised

Refugees now fleeing Russia's assault are "more traumatised" than those who escaped in the first phase of the conflict, the UN has said.

While those who made an early decision to leave were often those with contacts outside the country, those fleeing Ukraine now are more likely to be lost as to what to do next, the UN refugee agency said.

Spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh said those fleeing now were in greater need of assistance. "That is certainly something that we've noticed in the last five to six days in Poland," he told reporters in Geneva via video-link.

Ukraine: Some residents of Mariupol are fleeing on foot

Some residents of Ukraine's besieged city of Mariupol have resorted to escaping the blockade on foot as official evacuation efforts have mostly failed due to ongoing shelling by Russian forces, the region's governor has said.

Some 400,000 people have been trapped in the strategic port city for over two weeks, with central supplies of electricity, heating and water severed. Russia denies bombing residential areas or targeting civilians.

Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said around 35,000 had managed to leave the city. "The way out of blockaded Mariupol begins with residents getting out either on foot or in their own transport," Kyrylenko said.

Italy prepares plan to take in 175,000 Ukrainian refugees

Italy has drawn up plans to take in up to 175,000 Ukrainian refugees, a draft decree seen by Reuters says. The plan is expected to be approved by the cabinet later on Friday.

Some 53,600 Ukrainians, including 27,000 women and 21,600 children, have come to Italy so far following the beginning of Russia's attacks on their country, interior ministry data shows.

Switzerland slaps sanctions on luxury exports to Russia

Switzerland has adopted the EU's sanctions on exporting luxury goods to Russia imposed over the Kremlin's assault on Ukraine, acknowledging that some Swiss companies could be badly hit.

The EU imposed a fourth wave of sanctions on Tuesday, which Switzerland said it would match. Switzerland is not in the EU and has a long-standing tradition of neutrality, but nonetheless has been aligning itself with waves of EU sanctions.

The new measures "will come into force within the next few days", the Swiss government said. "The ban on the export of luxury goods contained in the new sanctions affects only a small portion of Switzerland's global exports of such goods. However, specific companies could be seriously affected," Bern admitted.

Price rise 'may push over 40M' into extreme poverty

Massive price spikes for food and energy sparked by Russia's attacks on Ukraine will push over 40 million people into extreme poverty, the Center for Global Development (CGDEV) has said.

In an analysis blog, the Washington-based think tank said food commodity prices since the start of the conflict have risen above levels experienced in price spikes in 2007 and 2010. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day.

"Price increases seen to date are already of a similar magnitude to the 2010 increases, and our analysis suggests at least 40 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by the 2022 price spike," CGDEV researchers wrote.

They warned against export curbs and sanctions on Russian food production.

Putin accuses Ukraine of 'war crimes'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Kiev of "war crimes" in a call with his French counterpart, saying that Moscow is doing "everything possible" to avoid civilian deaths in Ukraine.

"Attention was drawn to the numerous war crimes committed daily by the Ukrainian security forces, in particular massive rocket and artillery attacks on the cities of Donbas," the Kremlin said of the call between Putin and Emmanuel Macron.

Macron said he was "extremely concerned" about the situation in Mariupol, which has been hit by constant shelling over recent days, according to the French presidential office. The call lasted just over one hour, the Elysee added.

One badly wounded, no dead in Mariupol theatre strike

A Russian strike on a theatre sheltering civilians in Ukraine's besieged city of Mariupol has badly wounded one person but did not kill anyone, the city's authorities have said.

"According to initial information, there are no dead. But there is information about one person gravely wounded," the city council said on Telegram in the first casualty tally since the strike on Wednesday. Russia denies targeting the theatre.

Russian negotiator: Halfway there on demilitarisation

Vladimir Medinsky, who led Russian negotiators in talks with Ukraine, has said the sides have narrowed their differences on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting a neutral status. 

He added that the sides are now “half-way” on issues regarding the demilitarisation of Ukraine.

“The issue of neutral status and no NATO membership for Ukraine is one of the key issues in talks, and that is the issue where the parties have made their positions maximally close,” Medinsky said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

Medinsky noted that while Kiev insists that Russia-backed separatist regions in Ukraine’s east must be brought back into the fold, Russia believes that people of the regions must be allowed to determine their fate themselves.

UN says 6.5 million displaced inside Ukraine

The UN migration agency estimates that nearly 6.5 million people have now been displaced inside Ukraine, on top of the 3.2 million refugees who have already fled the country.

The estimates from the International Organization for Migration suggests Ukraine is fast on a course toward the levels of displacement from Syria’s devastating war – which has driven about 13 million people from their homes both in the country and abroad.

The findings come in a paper issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It cited the IOM figures as “a good representation of the scale of internal displacement in Ukraine — calculated to stand at 6.48 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine as of March 16”.

Russia's biggest cargo airline to suspend all Boeing flights

Russia's biggest cargo airline Volga-Dnepr Group has suspended all flights using Boeing aircraft due to Western sanctions, it has said.

Sanctions have cut off the supply of most aircraft and parts to Russia. The United States and Europe have closed their airspace to Russian airlines, and Moscow has responded by imposing the same measure on them.

Volga-Dnepr said in a statement it had stopped operations of two of its subsidiaries — AirBridgeCargo and Atran — that use 18 Boeing 747 and 6 Boeing 737 airplanes due to sanctions and a decision by Bermuda's Civil Aviation Authority to terminate their safety certificates.

Italy seizes property belonging to Russian oligarch Mordashov

Italy has seized a building complex on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia worth around $116.2 million (105 million euros) owned by Russian businessman Alexey Mordashov, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's office has said.

It was the second time this month that assets belonging to Mordashov, reputed to be Russia's richest man, have been seized in Italy.

Police on March 4 impounded his 65-metre yacht, the "Lady M", which had a price tag of $71.9 million (65 million euros).

Ukraine: Russian forces have not made any fresh advances

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Ukrainian troops had prevented Russian troops from making any fresh advances on Friday.

Speaking on national television, Malyar said Russian forces had food and fuel supply issues and communications problems.

Bangladesh seeks $22.4 million after missile hits ship

State-owned Bangladesh Shipping Corp has been seeking $22.4 million from its insurer for a cargo ship hit by a missile in March, government officials said, in the first major marine insurance claim from the conflict in Ukraine.

The UN's shipping agency said last week it would create a safe maritime corridor for merchant ships and crews stuck in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, although shipping industry sources expect progress to be slow. Projectiles have hit four other vessels.

An explosion on the night of March 2-3 rocked the Bangladesh-flagged Banglar Samriddhi and killed a crew member. The vessel had been stuck in Olvia since February 24 after Ukraine closed its ports due to Russia's assault.

US targets Abramovich plane, 99 others over export violations

The US Commerce Department will move to effectively ground 100 airplanes that have recently flown to Russia and are believed to violate US export controls.

The list, seen by Reuters, includes 99 Boeing airplanes operated by Russian passenger and cargo carriers including Aeroflot, AirBridge Cargo, Utair, Nordwind, Azur Air and Aviastar-TU — as well as Roman Abramovich's Gulfstream G650.

The Commerce Department will warn companies around the world that any refuelling, maintenance or repair subject companies to US actions that could include "substantial jail time, fines, loss of export privileges, or other restrictions." 

NASA has cooperation with 'Russian colleagues'

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has played down comments by the head of Russia’s space agency that the United States would have to use broomsticks to fly to space after Russia said it would stop supplying rocket engines.

“That’s just Dmitry Rogozin. He spouts off every now and then. But at the end of the day, he’s worked with us,” Nelson said. 

“The other people that work in the Russian civilian space programme, they’re professional. They don’t miss a beat with us, American astronauts and American mission control.”

Nelson spoke with The AP news agency hours before three Russian cosmonauts launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, the first crew launch since Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.

Western states: Russia using UN to spread propaganda

Russia is using the UN Security Council to spread disinformation and propaganda about its attacks on Ukraine, six Western members states have said.

They made the allegation at a council meeting called at Russia's request to discuss its allegations that Ukraine is developing biological weapons.

"Russia is once again attempting to use this council to launder its disinformation, spread its propaganda, and justify its unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine," the six countries with seats on the council said in a statement read out by US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

She was accompanied by representatives of France, Norway, Albania, Ireland and Britain.

US boycotts conflict diamond meetings chaired by Russia

The United States and Britain have been boycotting some Kimberley Process meetings because they are chaired by Russia.

The Kimberley Process, set up in 2003, is an 85-nation body that certifies rough diamond exports and monitors members' implementation of requirements aimed at stemming the flow of conflict diamonds.

The division risks causing stagnation at the Kimberley Process, undermining efforts to ensure better controls against conflict diamonds. The US has banned the import of Russian diamonds as part of sweeping economic sanctions on the country.

Western official: Nothing suggests Putin's intent has altered

There is no evidence to suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin's overall intent in Ukraine has altered despite the assault failing to reach its original objectives, a Western official has said.

"I've seen nothing which suggests that the original intent of Putin has significantly altered," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Western official also said Russian forces could sustain bombardments on Ukrainian cities by increasingly using unguided missiles as they moved towards a strategy of attrition.

Dutch, Germans to send 3 Patriot defence systems to Slovakia

The Dutch government has said it would send a Patriot missile defence system to Sliac, Slovakia, as part of NATO moves to strengthen air defences in Eastern Europe.

"The worsened safety situation in Europe as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes this contribution necessary," Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in a statement.

Germany is also sending two Patriot systems to Slovakia, the statement said.

EU body recommends free Covid tests, vaccines for refugees

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said countries should provide free Covid-19 testing for refugees from Ukraine to avoid outbreaks as more than three million people flee their war-stricken homeland.

Infectious diseases and conflict often go hand-in-hand, and the risk of infections spreading could be further exacerbated.

Covid-19 vaccination rates in Ukraine have been low overall at 35 percent versus the EU average of 71.7 percent.

Those fleeing the country should be offered a full course of Covid-19 vaccines and booster doses, if they do not have proof of prior inoculation, the ECDC said.

Xi: Conflicts like Ukraine crisis in no one's interests

China's leader Xi Jinping has told US President Joe Biden that conflicts between states are "in no one's interest" and that the Ukraine crisis is "something that we don't want to see", Chinese state TV has reported.

"State-to-state relations cannot go to the stage of military hostilities," state broadcaster CCTV reported Xi as saying in a video call. "Peace and security are the most valued treasures of the international community."

Xi  added that China and the US must guide bilateral relations along the right track, and both sides should also shoulder due international responsibilities and make efforts for world peace.

It was not immediately clear if Xi made any direct criticism of Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine.

Putin hails Russia's 'special operation' in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed what Russia calls its special operation in Ukraine, appearing on stage at a rally at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium in front of thousands of people waving Russian flags.

"We know what we need to do, how to do it and at what cost. And we will absolutely accomplish all of our plans," Putin told the rally, even as an unusual interruption hit the tightly controlled Russian state television as he spoke. 

Putin's speech was cut mid-sentence as he was saying: "It so happened that the beginning of the operation coincided by chance with the birthday of one of our outstanding military..." The Kremlin later said it was a technical glitch.

Pope slams 'perverse abuse of power'

Pope Francis has denounced the “perverse abuse of power” on display in Russia’s assault on Ukraine and called for aid to Ukrainians who he said had been attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and were “defending their land.”

Francis’ comments marked some of his strongest yet in asserting Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state. They came just days after Francis spoke with head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.

"The blood and tears of the children, the suffering of women and men who are defending their land or fleeing from the bombs shake our conscience,” Francis told a meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.

EU appreciates Türkiye’s diplomatic efforts 

The European Union appreciates Türkiye’s diplomatic efforts in mediating between Ukraine and Russia, an EU official has said.

The European Commission’s lead foreign policy spokesperson, Peter Stano, said "the clear position" adopted by Türkiye was appreciated, noting that the country "made great efforts to play the role of the mediator".

He underlined that Türkiye managed to organise the first meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers after Russia's attack on Ukraine. He also called Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visits to Moscow and Ukraine's western Lviv city "very important".

Scholz to convene G7 talks on Ukraine next week

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as current G7 president, has invited leaders of the world's top industrialised countries to a meeting on Ukraine as part of EU and NATO summits next week, his office has said.

Deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters the talks in Brussels on Thursday would focus "in particular on the situation in Ukraine" and be "integrated" into the previously scheduled summits.

Germany this year holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven, which also includes Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States.

UN: At least 816 civilians killed since conflict began

At least 816 civilians have been killed and 1,333 wounded in Ukraine through to March 17, the UN rights office (OHCHR) has said.

Most of the casualties were from explosive weapons such as shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, OHCHR said.

The real toll could be considerably higher since OHCHR, which has a large monitoring team in the country, has not yet been able to verify casualty reports from badly-hit cities like Mariupol.

Ukraine: 130 people rescued from bombed Mariupol theatre

Ukraine's human rights ombudswoman has said 130 people have been rescued so far from a bombed theatre in Mariupol but there is no information on more than 1,000 others officials believe were sheltering there when the bomb fell.

Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said rescue work was ongoing at the site, which Ukraine says was hit by a powerful Russian air strike on Wednesday. Russia has denied bombing the theatre or targeting civilians.

"Rescuers are working. There is only this information: 130 people are alive and have been taken out. The rest are waiting for help," she said on national television.

Ukraine conflict disrupts GPS in Finland, Mediterranean

GPS interferences have intensified in places as far away as Finland, the Mediterranean and Iraq since Russia attacked Ukraine, forcing aircrafts to reroute or change destinations, according to European aviation authorities.

Disruptions to Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which include GPS, are caused by the "jamming" or "spoofing" of satellite signals.

Since the conflict began on February 24, "jamming and/or possible spoofing has intensified in geographical areas surrounding the conflict zone and other areas," the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said in an online bulletin.

Federer to donate $500,000 to support Ukrainian children

Roger Federer will donate $500,000 through his foundation to ensure children affected by the Ukraine conflict are provided with care and access to education, the former world number one has said.

"My family and I are horrified seeing pictures from Ukraine and heartbroken for the innocent people who have been so terribly affected. We stand for peace, " Federer said on Twitter.

Andy Murray, another former world number one and an ambassador for UNICEF UK, said last week that he would donate his prize money won from tennis tournaments in 2022 towards aid efforts for children affected by Russia's assault.

Russia says post-1991 'illusions' about the West are over

Russia has lost any illusions about ever relying on the West and Moscow will never accept a world order dominated by the United States, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

Lavrov said the West's reaction to what Moscow has called a "special military operation" had illustrated that the West was completely dominated by the US and that the European Union was largely powerless.

"What the Americans want is a unipolar world which would not be like a global village but like an American village — or maybe like a saloon where you know the strongest calls the shots," Lavrov said.

Ukraine president to address Japan parliament next week

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to deliver an online speech to Japan's parliament at around 6pm Japan time (0900 GMT) on March 23, public broadcaster NHK has said.

Stop spreading threats against Russians on YouTube: Russia

Russia has demanded that Alphabet Inc's Google stop spreading what it labelled as threats against Russian citizens on its YouTube video-sharing platform.

The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said adverts on the platform were calling for the communications systems of Russia and Belarus' railway networks to be suspended.

"The actions of YouTube's administration are of a terrorist nature and threaten the life and health of Russian citizens," the regulator said. "Roskomnadzor...demands that Google stop broadcasting anti-Russia videos as soon as possible."

Ukraine: World lenders see widespread economic fallout

The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other top lenders have warned of "extensive" economic fallout, including higher prices for food and energy, from the Ukraine conflict and expressed horror at the "devastating human catastrophe".

"The entire global economy will feel the effects of the crisis through slower growth, trade disruptions, and steeper inflation, harming especially the poorest and most vulnerable," they said in a statement, warning that the conflict was increasing poverty.

Other signatories included the Council of Europe Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

EU denies 'double standard' over refugee policy

The EU has said it is not applying a double standard towards refugees from Ukraine compared to Syria, as it grapples with the biggest migration crisis in Europe since World War II.

EU Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas said there was no difference in the bloc's refugee policy based on country of origin, after allegations that it was welcoming refugees from Ukraine more openly compared to those fleeing the Middle East.

He added that the current situation with refugees from Ukraine was "unique" as the country directly borders several EU nations, unlike Syria. 

"The movement comes straight into the European Union," he told journalists in Istanbul.

Russian official who spoke out leaves post

Former Kremlin aide and ex-deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich, 49, has stepped down as chair of the Skolkovo Foundation after becoming a rare official voice of dissent against Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine.

Established in 2010, the Skolkovo Foundation has aimed to diversify the country's economy from oil and gas, foster start-ups and build a Russian version of Silicon Valley outside Moscow.

"Arkady Dvorkovich decided to terminate the powers of chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation and focus on the development of educational projects," Skolkovo said in a statement.

US condemns Russian 'threat' to Bosnia over NATO bid

The United States has denounced "dangerous" comments by Russia's ambassador to Bosnia, who issued a tacit threat to the Balkan country over its proposed bid to join NATO.

The US embassy in Bosnia hit out at what it called "threats", calling them "dangerous, irresponsible, and unacceptable". "No third party has a say in security arrangements between NATO and sovereign countries," the embassy tweeted.

Earlier this week, Russia's ambassador in Sarajevo, Igor Kalabukhov, said his country could "react" if Bosnia were to join the Western military alliance, invoking Moscow's assault on Ukraine.

Germany probes Russian oligarch's alleged sanctions dodge

German tour operator TUI has said authorities are investigating Russian billionaire Alexei Mordashov for allegedly seeking to shield his major stake in the group from EU sanctions.

Investigators from the German economy ministry suspect Mordashov used complex ownership transfers to his wife to hide the $1.7-billion (1.5-billion-euro) stake in TUI.

The EU added Mordashov, who holds 34 percent of TUI, on March 1 to its list of individuals to be sanctioned over their close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the Ukraine attacks.

UK regulator revokes license of Russia-backed broadcaster RT

Britain’s communications regulator has revoked the licence of the state-funded Russian broadcaster RT amid concern that its coverage of the conflict in Ukraine was biased.

The decision comes as the regulator, Ofcom, conducts 29 investigations into the impartiality of RT’s coverage. The volume and nature of the issues raised by these inquiries are of “great concern,” the regulator said.

RT’s funding from the Russian state, as well as the fact that Russia attacked its neighbour, were also part of the decision, Ofcom said.

Russia loses bid to freeze ban from World Cup qualifying

Russia’s request to freeze a FIFA ban on its soccer teams ahead of next week’s World Cup qualifying playoffs has been denied.

FIFA said the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed the Russian soccer federation’s bid for an urgent interim ruling to freeze the ban pending a full appeal, which could come within weeks.

The CAS decision means Russia will not be able to play Poland in World Cup qualifying on Thursday. The ruling follows a similar CAS refusal on Tuesday to freeze UEFA’s ban on Russian national and club teams in European soccer.

Putin accuses Ukraine of stalling talks - Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukrainian authorities of stalling talks, but added that Moscow was ready to search for solutions as he spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

"It was noted that the Kiev regime is trying in every possible way to stall negotiations, putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals," the Kremlin said after the phone call.

"Nevertheless, the Russian side is ready to continue to search for solutions in line with its well-known principled approaches." 

Russian strikes hit outskirts of Ukrainian capital and Lviv

Russian forces pressed their assault on Ukrainian cities, with new missile strikes and shelling on the capital Kiev and the outskirts of the western city of Lviv, as world leaders pushed for an investigation of the Kremlin’s repeated attacks on civilian targets, including schools, hospitals and residential areas.

The early morning barrage of missiles on the outskirts of Lviv was the closest strike yet to the centre of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or fight.

Black smoke billowed for hours after the explosions, which hit a facility for repairing military aircraft near the city’s international airport, only six kilometres (four miles) from the centre.

Bulgaria expels 10 Russian diplomats

Bulgaria's foreign ministry has declared 10 Russian diplomats "persona non grata" and gave them 72 hours to leave the Balkan country over activities deemed incompatible with their diplomatic status.

In a statement on its website, the foreign ministry said the Russian ambassador to Sofia has been informed about the expulsions. 

Over 197,000 refugees from Ukraine recorded in Germany

More than 197,000 refugees from Ukraine have been registered in Germany so far, an interior ministry spokesperson said on Friday. 

Over 2M Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland, border guard says

Over 2 million refugees have entered Poland from Ukraine since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on February 24, the Polish border guard said.

"Today, March 18 at 0900 (local time) the number of refugees from Ukraine exceeded 2 million. Mainly women and children," the border guard wrote on Twitter. 

At least 3 killed in shelling of eastern Ukrainian cities

Ukraine's state emergency service said a multi-storey teaching building was shelled in the eastern city of Kharkiv, killing one person, wounding 11 and trapping one person in the rubble.

Shells also hit the eastern city of Kramatorsk, killing two people and wounding six, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in an online post. 

IEA urges 'emergency measures' to cut oil demand

The International Energy Agency urged governments to implement immediate measures to cut global oil consumption within months following supply fears stemming from Russia's offensive of Ukraine. 

The 10 proposals put forward in a report, including increasing working from home and reducing speed limits, could cut oil consumption among advanced economies "by 2.7 million barrels a day within the next four months", the IEA said.

109 children killed in Russian attacks

At least 109 children have been killed in Ukraine due to Russian attacks, Ukrainian media reported.

Another 130 children have been wounded, Ukraine’s state news agency Ukrinform reported citing the Prosecutor General's Office.

More than 439 educational institutions have been damaged, and 63 others destroyed completely, the report added.

France: Sanctions starting to have impact on Russia

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said sanctions imposed by Western countries on Russia in reaction to Moscow's offensive on Ukraine were starting to have a "real impact".

"We hope these sanctions will force (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to change his plans," Attal told BFM TV.

Earlier this week, European Union member states agreed on a fourth package of sanctions against Russia. 

Germany warns supply shortfall from Ukraine conflict will be severe

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that supply shortfalls due to the conflict in Ukraine will be severe and could lead to further conflicts in already vulnerable countries.

She underscored that Germany needed to maintain contact with authoritarian regimes even if they don't share its values and not to stay quiet on issues due to economic or energy interests.

Baerbock, who was presenting a new national security strategy, added that a new China strategy would be in the works in the coming months. 

Aid agencies rush in supplies as crisis in Ukraine grows 

Aid agencies continue to ramp up their efforts to bring much-needed relief supplies to civilians affected by the fighting, and also to over 3.2 million refugees who have fled the country since the conflict began.

Rzeszow, the largest city in southeastern Poland, roughly 100 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, has become a humanitarian aid hub for the region. 

By road and by air, aid supplies — including food, blankets, solar lamps, warm clothing, mattresses, jerrycans and plastic sheeting — continue to arrive in a massive warehouse run by the UN refugee agency, next to the airport outside Rzezsow. 

Russian forces strike Lviv airport area in west Ukraine

Russian forces struck an area around Lviv's airport in western Ukraine, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said. 

Writing on messaging app Telegram, Sadovyi said he could not give a precise address of the targeted area "but it's definitely not an airport." 

Lviv is the largest city in western Ukraine and a popular tourist destination known for its picturesque views. 

One killed, 4 wounded after parts of missile fall in northern Kiev

One person was killed and 4 wounded after parts of a Russian missile fell on a residential building in the northern part of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, emergencies services said. 

The services said in a statement that 12 people were rescued and 98 were evacuated from the 5-storey building. 

Russia battles to keep internet free

Limit access to the internet is proving highly divisive after Western sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine has called loudly for a widespread boycott and Kiev has even pushed for Russia to be cut off from the world wide web.

International sanctions have seen companies including big tech firms halt operations in Russia. 

Critics say this could well marginalise opponents of the Kremlin, boost the dominance of state media and even lead Russia to try to develop a sealed-off, local version of the internet. 

Russia sets up no-fly zone over Ukraine's Donbass

Russia has established a no-fly zone over Ukraine's Donbass region, according to a separatist official from the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, the Interfax news agency said. 

Oil prices increase as Ukraine-Russia peace talks yield no result

Oil prices jumped as ongoing talks between Ukraine and Russia failed to bring the sides closer towards a resolution to end the conflict.

International benchmark Brent crude was trading at $108.53 per barrel at 0605 GMT for a 1.77 percent gain after closing the previous session at $106.64 a barrel.

American benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) traded at $105.33 per barrel at the same time for a 2.28 percent increase after settling at $102.98 a barrel in the previous session. 

Search continues for Ukraine theatre bombing survivors

Rescue workers continue to search desperately for any survivors buried beneath the rubble of Mariupol's bombed-out theatre, as Russia's forces pounded residential areas across Ukraine, stoking allegations of war crimes.

Twenty-four hours after Mariupol's once-gleaming whitewashed theatre was hollowed out by a Russian strike, the number of dead, injured or trapped is still unclear.

Ukraine's ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said a bombshelter in the building had survived the impact, and some "adults and children" had emerged alive.

Italy's minister of culture Dario Franceschini said his country was ready to rebuild the theatre "as soon as possible."

Ukraine: Russia recruited nearly 1,000 'mercenaries' from Mideast

The Russian army has recruited nearly a thousand "mercenaries" from Syria and Lebanon, Ukraine said.

“The Russian occupiers, which have suffered huge losses during the war, have already recruited mercenaries from the troops under the command of (Syria's) Bashar al Assad regime and (Lebanese group) Hezbollah's so-called army," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement.

Foreigners — some of whom have never handled a firearm yet but are ready to die — have also arrived in Ukraine from other European countries, the US and elsewhere. Russia says it killed 180 pro-Kiev "mercenaries" in a training base attack on Sunday and has warned its forces will show "no mercy for mercenaries wherever they are on the territory of Ukraine."

Blasts heard in Ukraine's Lviv

At least three blasts were heard in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Friday morning, Ukraine 24 television station reported through the Telegram messenger.

It published a short video in which a mushroom-shaped plume of smoke could be seen rising on the horizon. 

Australia, Japan bring new sanctions on Russia 

Australia has placed sanctions on Russia's Finance Ministry and 11 additional banks and government organisations, covering the majority of the country's banking assets along with all entities that handle Russia's sovereign debt.

"With our recent inclusion of the Central Bank of Russia, Australia has now targeted all Russian government entities responsible for issuing and managing Russia's sovereign debt," Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a statement.

Japan also imposed new sanctions against 15 Russian individuals and nine Russian groups, it said, adding targets of new asset freeze sanctions also include Russian defence official and two lawmakers.

Hundreds of Ukraine-bound bulletproof vests stolen in New York

An NGO in New York had hundreds of bulletproof vests stolen after they were donated by officers and destined for Ukraine as it battles a Russian offensive, police and the organisation said.

The theft occurred at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), where police arrived Wednesday and learned that "approximately 400 bulletproof vests were removed from the location," NY Police Department spokeswoman Lieutenant Jessica McRorie said.

"There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing," she added. A spokesperson for UCCA said a smaller number of vests, about 300, were missing from the group's Manhattan location.

Canada offers three years of temporary residency to Ukranians 

Ottawa has announced it is establishing a new immigration programme that will offer Ukrainians fleeing the Russian offensive a temporary Canadian residence permit for up to three years.

Canada, which has a large Ukrainian diaspora, especially in the centre and west of the country, said in a statement that "Ukrainians and their immediate family members of any nationality may stay in Canada as temporary residents for up to three years."

Applicants are required to apply online and provide their biometric data in the form of fingerprints and a photo. Ukrainian refugees can simultaneously apply for a work and study permit.

For live updates from Thursday (March 17), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies