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The Latest: Ukraine shuts airports, warns of airspace danger

WASHINGTON — The Ukrainian government is closing airports in eastern Ukraine from midnight through 7 a.m. because of the confrontation with Russia.

Ukrainian aviation authorities also have declared some airspace in the east to be “danger areas” because of attempts by Russian aviation authorities to seize control of the airspace.

Ukraine acted after Russia issued a ban on civilian air traffic in airspace over eastern Ukraine.

The announcement Wednesday night establishes buffer zones for traffic controlled by Ukrainian authorities to avoid coming into potentially hazardous conflict with air traffic controlled by Russian authorities.

Last week, Ukrainian aviation officials warned pilots in the region to be on the lookout for Russian authorities trying to take control of the airspace and to only recognize Ukraine’s controllers.

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the request of Ukraine, which says there is an immediate threat of a Russian invasion.

The meeting comes two days after the 15-member council held an emergency open meeting also requested by Ukraine. That session saw no support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for two separatist areas in Ukraine’s east and his announcement that Russian troops would be heading there to keep the peace.

The meeting Wednesday night comes as council diplomats are finalizing a draft resolution that they say would make clear that Russia is violating the U.N. Charter, international law and a 2015 council resolution endorsing the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace in eastern Ukraine.

They say the resolution would urge Russia to get back into compliance immediately,.


CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister says Ukrainians in Australia whose Australian visas will expire by the end of June will be allowed to stay an additional six months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said Thursday that Ukrainians applying for Australian visas will be given priority over other nationalities, Morrison said.

Morrison made the announcement a day after Australia imposed sanctions on eight members of Russia’s Security Council in response to Russia’s actions against Ukraine.

Sanctions have also been placed on a series of banks and financial institution. Sanctions that have existed since 2014 on the transport, energy, minerals and telecommunications sectors have been extended to rebel-held areas of Ukraine that Russia recognizes as independent.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president is rejecting Moscow’s claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warns that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the comments in a video address early Thursday.

Speaking emotionally in Russia, he said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back.”

Zelenskyy says he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.


WASHINGTON — The White House says the request by Ukrainian separatists for Russian military assistance in the face of supposed “aggression” by Ukraine’s government is an example of the “false flag” operations the West has consistently warned against.

The U.S. and allies have alleged for weeks that Russia would try to create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine through the use of such operations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Kremlin’s announcement Wednesday that the separatists are seeking help ”is an example” of such an operation.

Psaki adds that “we’ll continue to call out what we see as false flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual status is on the ground.”


MOSCOW — The Kremlin says the rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military assistance to fend off the Ukrainian “aggression.”

The appeal raises the prospect of Russia’s direct military involvement in eastern Ukraine amid Western fears that Moscow is poised to launch an all-out invasion of its neighbor.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the rebel chiefs wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him that shelling by the Ukrainian military has caused civilian deaths and forced many people to flee.

The move comes after Putin recognized the independence of Russia-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine and signed friendship treaties with them. On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers gave Putin permission to use military forces outside the country.

KYIV, Ukraine — Lawmakers in Ukraine have approved a nationwide state of emergency amid fears of an all-out Russian invasion.

The parliament approved Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decree that imposes the measure for 30 days starting Thursday. The state of emergency allows authorities to impose restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”

The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move Monday to recognize the independence of two rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, where a nearly eight-year conflict with the pro-Russia rebels has left over 14,000 dead. Putin has sanctioned the deployment of Russian troops there to “maintain peace” and received a parliamentary approval to use military force outside the country.

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly voiced concerns that Russia could try destabilize Ukraine by relying on Moscow supporters inside the country, including a pro-Russia political party in parliament.


WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Russian aggression toward Ukraine is “an attack on democracy,” vowing that the U.S. will stand united with its allies around the world in swiftly imposing sanctions on Russia and ensuring financial and political support for an independent Ukraine.

Pelosi, who returned to the Capitol from a diplomatic overseas trip, compared the aggression to Russia’s intervention in the United States’ own democratic process during the 2016 election.

“There will be a price to pay for Vladimir Putin,” she said, flanked by lawmakers who had joined her delegation at the annual security conference in Munich.

Pelosi said the Russian president is one of the richest men in the world and warned that the sanctions being imposed by the U.S. and its allies are only the start of what is possible to inflict financial pain on his regime. “We’re doing this together,” she said.


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is allowing sanctions to move forward against the company that built the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and against the company’s CEO for its actions against Ukraine.

Biden said Wednesday “I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers. These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”

Germany said Tuesday that it was indefinitely suspending the project, after Biden charged that Russia President Vladimir Putin had launched “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” by sending troops into two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.

The pipeline is completed but had not yet begun operating. Critics, including the U.S., have said the pipeline is a geopolitical move that will only increase Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.


WASHINGTON — There’s little support among Americans for a major U.S. role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to a new poll, even as President Joe Biden imposes new sanctions and threatens a stronger response that could provoke retaliation from Moscow.

Biden has acknowledged a growing likelihood that war in Eastern Europe would affect Americans, though he has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine. Gas prices in the U.S. could rise in the short term. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has a range of tools he could use against the U.S., including cyberattacks hitting critical infrastructure and industries.

“Defending freedom will have costs for us as well, here at home,” Biden said. “We need to be honest about that.”

Just 26% of Americans polled say the U.S. should have a major role in the conflict, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Fifty-two percent say a minor role; 20% say none at all.

The findings are a reminder for Biden and fellow Democrats that while the Ukraine crisis may consume Washington in the coming months, pocketbook issues are likely to be a bigger priority for voters heading into the midterm elections.


WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official in Washington says the Russian forces arrayed along Ukraine’s borders are “as ready as they can be” for an invasion, if ordered to launch it.

U.S. authorities have estimated that Russia has more than 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus.

About 80% of those forces are now in “what we would consider forward positions, ready to go,” the official said, adding that they are within 5 to 50 kilometers (3 to 31 miles) of the border. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

The official said the U.S. has indications — based on intelligence as well as visual evidence — that “they (Russian forces) have advanced their readiness to a point where they are literally ready to go now, if they get the order to go.”

— AP military writer Robert Burns.


UNITED NATIONS — China’s United Nations ambassador is urging a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis, stressing Beijing’s “consistent” position “on safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states” and upholding the U.N. Charter.

In brief remarks to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose country is usually allied with Russia at the United Nations, did not mention Russia by name or in any way endorse President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for Ukraine’s separatist areas or Putin’s decision to send Russian forces there as what he called “peacekeepers.”

The Chinese ambassador noted that the current situation in Ukraine “is rooted in a complex web of historical and present day factors” and said “all parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid taking any action that may aggravate tensions.”

“China calls on all parties to recognize the importance of implementing the principle of indivisible security, to continue to engage in dialogue and consultation and to seek reasonable solutions that address each other’s concerns. through peaceful means on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” Zhang said.


BUDAPEST — Hungary’s prime minister said Wednesday that his country would seek to “stay out” of the worsening conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

In a video on his Facebook page, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said “we must do everything we can to avoid war.”

He added that “Hungary must stay out of this conflict … Because Hungary’s security is the most important interest.”

Orban reiterated an earlier announcement from Hungary’s defense minister that Hungarian soldiers would be deployed to the country’s border with Ukraine to prepare for the possible arrival of Ukrainian refugees. Orban is a fierce opponent of migration.

Orban went to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month and lobbied for larger shipments of Russia gas.

Earlier Wednesday, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Hungary supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and would back European Union sanctions against Russia.


GENEVA — The Swiss government is condemning Russia’s recognition of two regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states and is vowing to make sure that Switzerland isn’t used to evade European Union and other international sanctions.

The executive Federal Council, a seven-member body, said Wednesday it decided not to adopt the EU sanctions — as it often does — but criticized the “violation of international law and Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” Switzerland is not among the members of the 27-country EU, but is all but surrounded by four of them: Austria, France, Germany and Italy.

The Swiss government does not recognize the independence of the two territories, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Switzerland is a major international banking center, and its generally stable hard currency — the Swiss franc — and high-tech financial institutions have lured many international investors and elites, including those from Russia.


UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s U.N. ambassador is urging the world’s nations to rein in what he called Ukraine’s ongoing violence and “blatant genocide” in eastern separatist regions of the country that Moscow has declared independent.

The eastern Donbas region of Ukraine is a flashpoint in the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as the United States warns Moscow is seeking a pretext to invade its neighbor. Ukraine has denied any aggression against pro-Russian forces in the eastern area, including Luhansk and Donetsk, which borders Russia.

Russian President Vladmir Putin has declared those republics independent and plans to send Russia troops there as what he called “peacekeepers.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, warned the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday that “no one intends to go softly, softly with any violators” of the peace in those eastern areas of Ukraine.

He said the departure of tens of thousands of people from Luhansk and Donetsk to Russia — including 96,000 people on Wednesday — shows Ukraine’s disparaging treatment of people there, including dubbing them “terrorists.”


UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is telling countries around the world that “now is the time to get off the sidelines” and speak out against Russia’s actions toward Ukraine.

“There is no middle ground here. Calling for both sides to de-escalate only gives Russia a pass. Russia is the aggressor here,” Thomas-Greenfield said at a U.N. General Assembly meeting Wednesday.

She called on Russia “to come back to the negotiating table and to work toward peace.”


BERLIN — The head of the German parliament’s foreign policy committee says the government is considering providing further protective equipment to Ukraine.

Michael Roth said after a special meeting of the committee Wednesday with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that there are talks with the Ukrainian government on delivering night-vision devices, for example, German news agency dpa reported.

He said it’s also possible that protective equipment no longer needed after the German military withdrew from Afghanistan last year could be provided.

Germany has refused to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine, a stance that has irked some allies, but has said it would deliver 5,000 helmets.


BOSTON — Ukrainian government and banking websites have been knocked offline with another wave of distributed-denial-of-service attacks.

The targets Wednesday included the defense, foreign and interior ministries, as well as Privatbank, the country’s largest commercial bank.

Many of the same sites were similarly hit in Feb.13-14 attacks that the U.S. and U.K. governments quickly blamed on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. Such attacks barrage websites with junk traffic, rendering them unreachable.

Wednesday’s DDoS attacks appeared to be less impactful than the previous onslaught, with targeted sites soon reachable again as emergency responders blunted them.

Cyberattacks have been a key tool of Russian aggression in Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Crimea and hackers tried to thwart elections.


BRUSSELS — European Union sanctions against Russia have taken effect.

They are the first steps in a planned series of retaliatory measures devised to be cranked up if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack or pushes his troops deeper into Ukraine.

The sanctions that took effect Wednesday targeted senior Russian government officials, several companies and hundreds of lawmakers who voted in favor of recognizing the independence of separatist parts of southeast Ukraine.

The sanctions are mostly a freeze on the assets of those listed and a ban on them traveling in the 27-nation EU.

The measures come on top of a slew of economic and other sanctions slapped on Russia since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Those sanctions already targeted Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors, as well as goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.


UNITED NATIONS — Ukraine’s foreign minister wants the world to stand together against Russia, arguing that Moscow’s aggression toward his country will have wider repercussions for the international order.

Dmytro Kuleba told the U.N. General Assembly that the deployment of Russian troops in rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine and Moscow’s recognition of the rebel regions as independent amounts to an “attack on the United Nations.”

He said: “If Russia does not get a severe swift and decisive response now, this will mean a total bankruptcy of the international security system and international institutions.”

Kuleba urged countries to use tough economic sanctions, strong messages and “active diplomacy” to get Russia to back off from Ukraine.

“We are at a critical juncture of world history, and our actions today define it for years to come,” he said, drawing parallels with the leadups to the last century’s two world wars.


BRUSSELS — European leaders plan an in-person emergency summit on Thursday evening in Brussels to discuss the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

European Union Council president Charles Michel said in his invitation letter to the 27 leaders that the “use of force and coercion to change borders has no place in the 21st century.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had already planned to hold a 90-minute virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Thursday afternoon. That meeting was announced last week.

Michel praised the heads of states and government for the unity shown by the bloc in recent days to ensure the adoption of sanctions against Russia and deter its suspected plans to invade Ukraine.


MOSCOW — Russia has started evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, as fears mount that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be about to order an invasion of Ukraine.

Russian state news agency Tass reported that Russia began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The move came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats against Russians in Ukraine.

At the same time, Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia as the region braced for a military confrontation, with some 150,000 Russian troops deployed around Ukraine’s borders.

Putin on Tuesday received authorization to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.


BRUSSELS — The deputy chairman of Russia’s State Duma claims Russians are unimpressed by the sanctions slapped on their country by the European Union.

Pyotr Tolstoy, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that Moscow is planning a response to the sanctions. He did not give details.

Tolstoy told Belgian broadcaster RTBF the EU sanctions were “worthless.”

The EU on Tuesday announced sanctions against the 351 Duma legislators who voted in favor of formally recognizing pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine, among others.


MOSCOW — Ukraine’s top diplomat wants to see tougher sanctions slapped on Russia over its aggressive posture toward his country.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday on Twitter: “To stop Putin from further aggression, we call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now.”

He expressed thanks for international sanctions imposed on Moscow the previous day. But he asked countries to crank up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kuleba wrote: “Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

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