Live coverage – Russia strikes western Ukraine targets
Russia on Friday widened its strikes to western parts of Ukraine as the U.S. and other allies prepared to apply new sanctions on Moscow.
Follow The Hill’s live coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine below:
Sony Pictures Entertainment became the latest business to announce a suspension operations in Russia amid the country’s invasion in Ukraine.
“Two weeks ago, we paused the upcoming theatrical release of Morbius in Russia. Since then, we have also halted our planned home entertainment releases, including Spider-Man: No Way Home, and any future television distribution deals. And just this morning, Crunchyroll suspended its anime streaming service in Russia,” Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra said in a note to staff shared with The Hill Friday.
Vinciquerra also noted that the company had previously announced a $2 million donation to the Save the Children NGO and U.N. refugee agency.
Other high-profile companies that have withdrawn business from Russia include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonald’s.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia calling Friday’s UN Security Council hearing to spread lies and disinformation about Ukraine and chemical weapons.
Greenfield told the international body that the U.S. believes Russia could use chemical or biological agents for assassinations as part of a false flag incident or to support tactical military operations.
“And we are deeply concerned that Russia’s calling for this meeting is a potential false flag effort in action – exactly the kind we have been warning about, including from Secretary Blinken here in the security council last month,” she said.
The U.S. has “serious concerns” that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people.
According to Greenfield, Russia has a “track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating.”
She added that the UN security council meeting revealed Russia’s objectives to the world, and “exposed Russia’s lies” which she called “a malicious effort to cover for the atrocities being committed by Russia as part of their illegal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister told companies that were still doing business in Russia that “every dollar you make or euro you make in Russia is stained with Ukrainian blood.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the businesses to “stop making blood profits in Russia” during an interview with Bloomberg published on Friday.
Kuleba explained that in addition to there being a moral component to nixing business with Moscow, there was also currently an unpredictable business climate in Russia.
“You all see that Russian economy is under sanctions and financial system is under pressure so businesses – responsible businesses who care for themselves, for their profits, for their reputation – they should be very careful when it comes to making business in Russia,” he said.
— Caroline Vakil
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Thursday that it verified 26 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country.
“As of today, @WHO has verified 26 attacks on health care in #Ukraine between 24 Feb-9 Mar, incl. the maternity hospital in Mariupol; In total, 12 people died and 34 have been injured. More incidents are being verified. WHO strongly condemns these attacks,” WHO tweeted.
Earlier this week, Ukraine accused Russia of striking a children’s hospital in the southeastern city of Mariupol, which officials said killed three people and injured 17 others. Russia has said it would investigate the incident.
Twitter removed several posts from the Russian Embassy in London regarding the children’s hospital bombing, which suggested that the building had not been operational and that one of the victims had been “played” by a beauty blogger.
President Biden on Friday spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shortly before announcing a new wave of penalties on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“President Biden highlighted how the United States is continuing to surge security, humanitarian, and economic assistance to Ukraine. He also updated President Zelenskyy on the actions the United States is taking today in coordination with the G7 and the EU to further raise the costs on Russia,” the White House said in a statement.
Shortly after the two spoke, Biden announced the United States and allies would move to revoke the “most favored nation” trade status for Russia. Biden said the U.S. would also ban imports of Russian seafood, vodka and diamonds and prohibit the export of luxury goods to Russia by way of an executive order.
It marked the latest tranche of sanctions imposed in recent weeks in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. and European allies have previously targeted major Russian banks, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top advisers and Russian energy imports.
— Brett Samuels
President Biden announced Friday that the United States and other allies would move to revoke the “most favored nation” trade status for Russia in response to its military invasion of Ukraine.
In remarks from the Roosevelt Room, Biden said the coordinated move would deal a “another crushing blow to the Russian economy.”
The move requires an act of Congress and Biden said Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had agreed to hold off on a bill ending normal trade relations with Russia until he could get U.S. allies behind a plan to do so together.
The move will open the door to the U.S. imposing higher tariffs on Russian goods, which will further hamper the Russian economy.
Biden also announced that his administration would sanction more Russian oligarchs.
President Biden on Friday stressed the U.S. and NATO allies would not fight Russia in Ukraine, describing such a scenario as “World War III.”
“We’re going to continue to stand together with our allies in Europe and send an unmistakable message. We will defend every single inch of NATO territory with the full might of the united and galvanized NATO,” Biden said after announcing additional sanctions on Russia. “We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent.”
The president’s comments were his starkest warning yet as some experts and journalists have asked what type of Russian escalation might trigger a U.S. military response.
Biden said Friday Russia would pay a “severe price” if it carries out a chemical weapons attack.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang said Friday that his country could play a “positive role” in ending the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
China has largely backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but speculation has increased over the last week that the carnage in Ukraine is making Beijing feel uncomforable.
Li said nothing critical of Russia in his comments, however, as he called the Ukrainian crisis “grave,” The Associated Press reported.
Japan imposes sanctions on Russia, Belarus
Japan imposed multiple retaliatory measures against Russia and Belarus on Friday, including freezing the assets of three Belarusian banks.
Along with the banks, Japan approved measures to stop exporting semiconductors, chips, machine tools and communication equipment to Russia and Belarus, Bloomberg reported.
Putin cites ‘positive movement’ in Ukraine talks as Russia widens offensive
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said there has been “positive movement” in talks with Ukraine, though Moscow continues to target Ukrainian cities and areas close to airports in missile strikes.
At the beginning of a meeting with Belarusian President and Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said that discussions between Russia and Ukraine occurred “practically on a daily basis” and noted that “there’s some positive movement there, as our negotiators have told me,” according to Interfax, Bloomberg reported.
But both countries’ foreign ministers have made little progress this week on negotiations, the news wire noted, even concerning a cease-fire for the safe evacuations of civilians.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s foreign ministry had announced that a safe corridor between the eastern city of Sumy and Poltava, which sits closer to the country’s center, had been agreed upon by both sides, allowing the first stage of evacuations to begin.
But the foreign ministry later announced that the cease-fire had been broken by Russian forces.
Leaders of the European Union held a summit Thursday in Versailles, France to discuss the Russia-Ukraine conflict, The Washington Post reported.
Holding off on a decision to let Ukraine join the union, EU leaders agreed to provide weapons and equipment to Ukraine as well as “temporary protection” to Ukrainian refugees.
“Putin believed that he was going to conquer Ukraine, he failed,” said High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles. “He believed he was going to divide us, he failed. He believed he was going to weaken the transatlantic relationship and he failed.”
Borrell continued: “Now he needs to end the war.”
More than 2.5 million Ukrainians have now fled the country, the United Nations reported late Thursday, as Russia continues an attack proving increasingly deadly for civilians.
The figure, released just past the two-week mark of the invasion, highlights the rapid flight of Ukrainians. U.S. intelligence analysts assessed the crisis could spur anywhere from 1 million to 5 million people to leave the country – a refugee figure likely to be met as Russian continues its march into Ukraine.
The majority of refugees, roughly 1.5 million people, have headed to Poland.
The mayor of Poland’s capital, Warsaw, is calling for help as the city has been overwhelmed by Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.
“We are dealing with the greatest migration crisis in the history of Europe since World War II. … The situation is getting more and more difficult every day,” Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said Friday, The Associated Press reported.
He stated 300,000 Ukrainian refugees have come to the city as Poland has been a top destination for those escaping the conflict. Poland’s Border Guard agency said 1.5 million refugees have made it to Poland.
In total, more than 2.5 million individuals have left Ukraine since Feb. 24 when the invasion began.
Volunteers have been working to provide humanitarian aid to refugees in the city, but the mayor said this is only a temporary fix as the citizens will have to go back to their jobs soon, according to the AP.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday said that citizens who were speaking out against the war are not “real” Russians.
“A real Russian is not ashamed that he is Russian — and if he is ashamed, then he is not Russian and is not with us,” Peskov said, The Washington Post reported.
The comments have come as more than 13,000 Russians have been detained for protesting the war, OVD-Info, a protest monitoring group, has said.
Other Russians are leaving the country for Europe over their anger with the Russian government’s actions against Ukraine, according to The Post.
Russia has been leading a propaganda campaign in an attempt to convince citizens Russia rightfully invaded Ukraine, either to save the Ukrainian people or to prevent Ukraine from attacking Russia.
News outlets are not allowed to run information contrary to what the Russian government gives them and posts online that speak ill of the government are deleted.
China is backing unsubstantiated claims made by Russia that the U.S. has biolabs in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made unverified claims that Russia has discovered U.S. biolabs in the nation to “develop ethnically targeted biological weapons,” the Associated Press reported.
“This Russian military operation has uncovered the secret of the U.S. labs in Ukraine, and this is not something that can be dealt with in a perfunctory manner,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Thursday.
“It is not something they can muddle through by saying that China’s statement and Russia’s finding are disinformation, and are absurd and ridiculous,” he added.
Headlines by Chinese-backed media have read “Russia reveals evidence of U.S.-funded bio-program in Ukraine,” “China urges U.S. to disclose more details about biolabs in Ukraine” and “US tries to refute ‘rumors’ about its biolabs in Ukraine, but can we believe it?” according to the AP.
The U.S. has been quick to condemn Russian accusations of biolabs in Ukraine and says Russia could be using the allegation as an excuse to launch its own biological attack.
Three Russian airstrikes early Friday in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro killed at least one person and hit near a kindergarten building and an apartment complex.
Ukraine warned last weekend that Russian forces were starting to encircle Dnipro, which has a population of about one million people, Reuters reported. The city is a major industrial hub and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city.
Russia struck a nuclear plant in Enerhoder, a city along the Dnipro River, last weekend. A United Nations watchdog said no radiation was released from the attack.
The airstrikes in Dnipro are among several Russia carried out against Ukraine Friday, as they also hit near the Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk military airfields.
NATO told CNN aboard a surveillance plane that Russia is launching many of their air operations against Ukraine from Belarus.
CNN joined NATO on its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWCS) plane that is used on the Ukrainian-Poland border to collect intelligence. The Russians know the planes are there and try to jam their radar, NATO’s technical director told CNN.
NATO mission’s technical director told the outlet the “vast majority” of Russian jets have been found coming to Ukraine from Belarus, a neighboring country and ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A U.S. defense official said this week Russia is launching air operations from Belarus, the Black Sea, Russia and Ukraine.
The NATO members on the plane say it is hard to tell if Belarus has any of its own troops participating in the war as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine all use similar fighter jets.
NATO tactical director Denis Guillaume said Thursday that a dozen Russian jets were idling in Belarus. When asked by CNN if NATO is sharing this intelligence with Ukraine, he declined to answer.
“I cannot answer that question,” Guillaume said. The technical director told the outlet, “The only thing I can tell you right now is that we, as NATO allies, are sharing the data with NATO countries.”
The move from Russia came just days after facing outrage over an airstrike that hit a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol, The Associated Press reported.
Strikes on the Lutsk airfield killed two Ukrainian soldiers and wounded six other people, according to the AP. After reports of a strike near the Ivano-Frankivsk International Airport, nearby residents were ordered to shelter following an air raid.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russia used high precision long-range weapons to derail operations in the Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk military airfields, the AP reported.
The airstrikes come as the U.S. and other allies are working to end Russia’s favored “Permanent Normal Trade Relations” (PNTR) status, which would allow higher tariffs to be imposed on Russian imports. President Biden is expected to formally take the step Friday.