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Live updates | UN mobilizing team for steel plant evacuation – The Denver Post

By The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. says its humanitarian office is mobilizing an experienced team from around the world to coordinate the complex evacuation of civilians from the besieged steel plant in the battered Ukrainian city of Mariupol with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to U.N. and ICRC participation in the evacuation from the plant during a nearly two-hour, one-on-one meeting Tuesday. The sprawling Azovstal complex, which has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Wednesday that the U.N. is trying to translate the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle “into an agreement in detail and an agreement on the ground.”

“And ultimately what we want is to make sure that a cease-fire would be respected that would allow us to move people safely,” he said.

Haq said U.N. officials are having follow-on discussions Wednesday with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv “to develop the operational framework for the timely evacuation of civilians.”

He said the exact timing depends on the outcome of discussions between the U.N. humanitarian office and Russia’s Ministry of Defense in Moscow as well as between the U.N. crisis coordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, and the authorities in Kyiv, where Guterres will be meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia cuts natural gas to 2 NATO nations in escalation

— European nations accuse Russia of natural gas ‘blackmail’

— The AP Interview: UN nuclear chief wants Ukraine plant access

— EXPLAINER: What’s behind Russia’s natural gas cutoff?

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

OTTAWA, Ontario — The Canadian government said Wednesday that it has imposed sanctions on more than 200 people who are loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Russian forces have been backing separatist rebels in the Donbas area for eight years following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The Canadian sanctions are focused on the renewed Russian attempt to annex areas of the Donbas by targeting people attempting to support the next phase of the two-month-old Russian war on Ukraine.

“Canada will not stand idly by and watch President Putin and his accomplices attempt to redraw the borders of Ukraine with impunity,” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement. “International law must be respected.”

Global Affairs Canada, the governmental department that manages the country’s diplomatic relations, said the new measures target 11 senior officials and 192 other members of the People’s Councils of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk for supporting Putin’s attack on the area.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden will tour a Lockheed Martin facility that makes weapons systems, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, that the administration is providing to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s 2-month-old invasion.

Biden plans to visit the facility in Alabama on May 3.

A Javelin is a long-range guided anti-tank missile that can be carried by one person. The United States says it has provided several thousand of the systems to Ukraine.

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MADRID — Russia announced Wednesday it was withdrawing from the United Nations World Tourism Organization just hours before the body’s assembly voted to temporarily suspend the country’s membership over the invasion of Ukraine, officials said.

UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili made the announcement on his official Twitter account. He said it was the first U.N. body to address Russia’s membership.

The organization went ahead and approved the suspension at a special meeting in Madrid on Wednesday, where the organization has its headquarters.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s military offensive is an attack on the founding principles of the United Nations and on the values that tourism represents, such as peace, prosperity and universal respect and the observance of human rights,” Spanish Industry, Trade and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said in a statement following the decision.

The assembly resolution included a clause that said the suspension could be reversed if a change in the politics of the Russian Federation were noted.

Spain was one of 22 European nations that had promoted the motion.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Energy Minister Terje Aasland said Wednesday that the Scandinavian country’s position “as a stable, predictable and long-term supplier of energy to the European market is only becoming more important.”

“It is underlined by what is now happening on the part of Gazprom,” Aasland told Norwegian news agency NTB.

The state-controlled Russian giant said it was shutting off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded.

Russia threatened to do the same to other countries, dramatically escalating its standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine. European leaders decried the move as “blackmail.”

Norway exports about 95% of its gas via an extensive subsea pipeline network linking it to terminals in Germany, Britain, France and Belgium. Last month, Denmark decided to resume the construction of the Danish part of Baltic Pipe, which will connect Poland to Norwegian gas fields.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to Russia’s parliament that the goals of the country’s military operation in Ukraine will be achieved.

Putin said in an address on Wednesday to both houses of parliament: “I want to emphasize again that all the tasks of the special military operation we are conducting in the Donbas and Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, will be unconditionally fulfilled.”

That, he said, will “guarantee the security of the residents” of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia recognized as independent shortly before launching its military action in Ukraine, as well as Crimea — which Russia annexed in 2014 — “and our entire country in the historical perspective.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says the government is considering “all scenarios” for a Russian-owned oil refinery that supplies much of the petroleum used in and around Berlin.

Robert Habeck told reporters Wednesday that the German government’s goal is to ensure the country becomes independent of Russian energy supplies, and companies established to procure fossil fuels from Russia are “not helpful in that regard.”

The refinery at Schwedt is controlled by Rosneft, a Russian state-controlled oil and gas company.

Asked whether Germany would go so far as to nationalize the refinery, an option foreseen in a regulatory change approved by Cabinet this week, Habeck said that “we are in a situation where the government must expect and prepare for all scenarios.”

“There are likely to be some we haven’t thought of,” he said. “But we are considering everything conceivable and making political preparations.”

Habeck said Russia’s decision to stop supplies of gas to Poland and Bulgaria was an example of “the reality where energy is used as a weapon.”

He acknowledged that Germany was and remains one of the biggest consumers of Russian fossil fuels worldwide, though it is making all efforts to diversify its supplies, reduce consumption and switch to renewable energy “so that we are not defenseless.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian presidential adviser has hinted that his country might be involved in a series of fires in border regions of Russia in recent days.

On Wednesday, the governor of the Belgorod region said an ammunition depot was burning after several explosions were heard. Earlier this week, there was a blaze at an oil storage facility in Bryansk.

Ukraine hasn’t officially taken responsibility for those and other incidents, and Russian officials haven’t publicly ascribed them to Ukrainian attacks.

But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a Telegram post Wednesday that “karma (is) a harsh thing.”

He said that Russian regions where the incidents happened “are now also actively studying the concept of ‘demilitarization.’”

Without directly admitting any Ukrainian involvement, he said that “sooner or later the debts will have to be repaid.”

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ROME — Premier Mario Draghi’s office says the Italian leader will meet President Joe Biden in Washington on May 10.

Draghi’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that Ukraine will be at the center of discussions, including coordinated measures “to support the Ukrainian population and to counter Russia’s unjustified aggression.”

The leaders will also discuss energy security. Italy is among European countries that get a large proportion of their natural gas from Russia. Draghi and his ministers have been working to get alternative sources.

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WARSAW, Poland — Security authorities in Poland say that a Russian and a Belarusian man have been arrested on allegations that they spied for Russian intelligence.

A spokesman for Poland’s state security bodies, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Wednesday that material gathered by Polish military intelligence led to their arrest.

He said that they were gathering sensitive military information, including about Polish troops in the area near Poland’s border with Belarus.

The men were arrested separately last week.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — The Bulgarian government says the prime minister and defense minister will go to Ukraine to meet with that country’s leaders.

The goverment press office said Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Defense Minister Dragomir Zakov were being accompanied on Wednesday by members of Parliament.

In Kyiv, they will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, and with members of the 200,000-strong Bulgarian community in Ukraine.

They also will visit Borodyanka, Bucha and Irpin, in the Kyiv region, to see damage caused by the Russian invasion.

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BRUSSELS — The head of the European Union’s executive Commission says energy companies in the 27-nation bloc that agree to Moscow’s demands to pay for gas deliveries in Russian rubles will be breaching the sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ursula von der Leyen spoke after Polish and Bulgarian officials said Moscow was cutting off natural gas deliveries to their countries due to their refusal to pay in rubles, a demand made by President Vladimir Putin after sanctions were levied against his nation.

Von der Leyen said Wednesday that “our guidance here is very clear.”

She said that “to pay in rubles, if this is not foreseen in the contract, is a breach of our sanctions. We have round about 97% of all contracts that explicitly stipulate payments in euros or dollars, so it’s very clear. And the request from the Russian side to pay in rubles is a unilateral decision and not according to the contracts.”

Von der Leyen said Russia’s decision to cut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria is another “provocation from the Kremlin” and an attempt to “blackmail” the EU.

She said that, following an urgent meeting of member states, both Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbors.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Russia has expelled three Norwegian diplomats following the expulsion from Norway earlier this month of three Russian diplomats.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfelt said Wednesday that the Norwegians being kicked out were doing “regular diplomatic work.” She vowed that Norway “will continue to stand with our close allies and partners against Russia’s aggression and in our support for Ukraine,”

Huitfeld told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that “like other European countries and allies, we have reduced contact with the Russian authorities to a minimum.”

On Tuesday, Russia expelled four Swedish diplomats. The Foreign Ministry in Stockholm said they too were “engaged in normal diplomatic activities.”

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The Russian Foreign Ministry has announced sanctions against 287 British lawmakers in response to the U.K. sanctioning 368 members of Russia’s lower house of parliament.

The ministry on Wednesday released a list of both government and opposition lawmakers, and a few former lawmakers. They are now barred from entering Russia because they “took the most active part in the establishment of anti-Russian sanctions instruments in London (and) contribute to the groundless ramping-up of Russophobic hysteria in the U.K.”

The ministry’s statement said that “hostile rhetoric and far-fetched accusations coming from the mouths of British parliamentarians not only condone the hostile course of London aimed at demonizing our country and (at) its international isolation, but are also used by opponents of mutually respectful dialogue with Russia to undermine the foundation of bilateral cooperation.”

Responding to the announcement, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “those 287 should regard it as a badge of honor.”

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin has criticized a statement by a Ukrainian presidential adviser holding the door open to possible military action in the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday described the statement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s adviser Oleksiy Arestovych as “quite provocative.” Asked in a video stream if Ukraine could send its forces into Trans-Dniester, Arestovych said it could do that but only if Moldova asks for it.

Trans-Dniester, a sliver of land with about 470,000 people, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, nominally as peacekeepers. Tensions in the region have escalated in recent days with a series of explosions, for which no one claimed responsibility, raising fears of broader hostilities.

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BERLIN — The German government has rejected criticism that it has been slow to provide Ukraine with weapons requested by Kyiv.

Following domestic and international pressure, Germany announced this week that it would allow the delivery of self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s military attack, backing off earlier reluctance provide heavy weapons to the country.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said that “the federal government and chancellor have looked with great seriousness at the difficult situation Ukraine, Europe and the entire world are in, and taken a very balanced decision.”

He told reporters in Berlin: “I don’t see a change of position on the part of the government, but continuity.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general says the level of safety at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, currently under Russian occupation in Ukraine, is like a “red light blinking” as his organization tries in vain to get access for work including repairs.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rafael Grossi said that the IAEA needs access to the Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine so its inspectors can, among other things, reestablish connections with the Vienna-based headquarters of the U.N. agency. And for that, both Russia and Ukraine need to help.

The plant requires repairs, “and all of this is not happening. So the situation as I have described it, and I would repeat it today, is not sustainable as it is,” Grossi said. “So this is a pending issue. This is a red light blinking.”

He spoke in an interview Wednesday, a day after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the issue.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says that Russia may halt gas supplies to other European customers following a cutoff to Poland and Bulgaria if they also refuse to switch to payment in rubles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, argued that the Russian demand to switch to rubles in payments for gas resulted from the Western action to freeze Russian hard currency assets. He said those were effectively “stolen” by the West in an “unprecedented unfriendly action.”

Speaking in a conference call Wednesday with reporters, Peskov warned that other European customers may see the taps turned off if they refuse to pay for gas in rubles by the time payment is due. Peskov argued that refusing to switch to rubles reflects a Western desire to “punish Russia at any cost to the detriment of their own consumers, taxpayers and producers.”

He rejected the EU’s description of the Russian move to halt supplies to Bulgaria and Poland starting Wednesday as blackmail, insisting that “Russia has remained a reliable supplier of energy resources” and stuck to its contractual obligations.

Peskov argued that the demand for payment in rubles is purely technical and doesn’t change price or other contract conditions for consumers.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia says that the Russian cutoff of gas supplies to Bulgaria does not affect the Balkan country.

Serbia receives some 6 million cubic meters of Russian gas daily via neighboring Bulgaria. Energy Minister Zorana Mihailovic in a statement on Wednesday that supplies have not been halted.

Mihailovic said authorities nonetheless were looking into backup options in case the situation becomes more complicated.

Serbia depends heavily on Russian gas and the country’s main oil monopoly is owned by the Russian giant Gazprom. The country has refused to join sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Mihailovic added that the Serbian government is already preparing plans for next winter. She said that “we have to secure energy stability in any possible way because at this moment it is every state for itself.”

Serbia sold 51% of the Serbia Oil Industry company to Gazprom in 2008.

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STOCKHOLM — The head of Sweden’s domestic security agency says Russia has a “limited time window” to influence the Scandinavian country’s position on whether to join NATO and attempt to take advantage of it.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to growing support in Sweden and eastern neighbor Finland, which has a long land border with Russia, for joining NATO.

Newspapers in both countries reported this week that the Swedish and Finnish governments have agreed to submit NATO applications at the same time and that they will do so in mid-May.

The head of Swedish security agency SAPO, Charlotte von Essen, said Wednesday that Russian influence on the debate in Sweden “could happen in many different arenas at the same time to influence the media, public opinion and decision-makers.” She spoke during a meeting with her Finnish and Norwegian counterparts.

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BERLIN — Climate activists have tried to shut down several oil pipelines in Germany to protest the use of fossil fuels and the war in Ukraine.

German news agency dpa quoted regional police on Wednesday confirming that a woman and a man had chained or glued themselves to a facility in Schwedt, northeast of Berlin.

The group Last Generation, which has staged highway blockades and other protests in recent months, also said its members entered a pipeline facility south of Cologne. Security staff prevented activists from disrupting a third facility in Breydin, also northeast of Berlin, dpa reported.

The group posted pictures showing activists placing sunflowers — a symbol of support for Ukraine — on the shutoff valves at two facilities. It was unclear whether any oil flows had actually been stopped.

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