The Russian military sustained a major blow Thursday when the flagship of the country’s Black Sea fleet was badly damaged and its crew evacuated. Ukrainian officials say their forces hit the vessel with missiles, while Russia acknowledged a fire aboard the Moskva but no attack.
The warship was 60 to 65 nautical miles south of Odesa when the fire ignited, and the vessel was still battling flames hours later while heading east, according to a Pentagon official. The loss of the ship would be a major military setback and a devastating symbolic defeat for Moscow as its troops regroup for a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine after retreating from much of the north, including the capital.
Russia said the fire aboard the ship, which would typically have 500 sailors on board, forced the entire crew to evacuate. It later said the blaze had been contained and the ship would be towed to port with its guided missile launchers intact.
The ship can carry 16 long-range cruise missiles, and its removal from combat would greatly reduce Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Russian warship badly damaged after Ukrainians claim strike
— Pressure on US to give Ukraine more intelligence on Russia
— UN says Ukraine war threatens to devastate many poor nations
— Ukraine’s detention of oligarch close to Putin angers Moscow
— Polish, Baltic presidents visit Ukraine in show of support
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
NEW YORK — A Russian legislator and two aides were charged with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions as they pushed a covert Russian propaganda campaign in the U.S. to win support for moves against Ukraine and other countries, an indictment unsealed Thursday said.
Three conspiracy charges were brought in an indictment in Manhattan federal court against the legislator, Aleksandr Babakov, 59, and two of his staff members — Aleksandr Nikolayevich Vorobev, 52, and Mikhail Alekseyevich Plisyuk, 58.
All three men named are based in Russia and remain at large, authorities said. Babakov currently serves as deputy chairman of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature, federal authorities said in a release.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Babakov’s actions show Russia’s “illegitimate actions against Ukraine extend beyond the battlefield, as political influencers under Russia’s control allegedly plotted to steer geopolitical change in Russia’s favor through surreptitious and illegal means in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West.”
Russian authorities have accused Ukrainian forces of launching air strikes on the Russian region of Bryansk which borders with Ukraine, the latest in a series of allegations of cross-border attacks by Kyiv on Russian territory.
Russia’s Investigative Committee alleged that two Ukrainian military helicopters entered Russia’s air space Thursday and, “moving at low altitude, acting deliberately, they carried out at least six air strikes on residential buildings in the village of Klimovo,” about 11 kilometers away from the Russian border.
It said at least six houses in the village were damaged and seven people, including a toddler, sustained injuries. The Investigative Committee has launched a probe into the attack.
Earlier on Thursday, Russia’s state security service, or the FSB, also accused Ukrainian forces of firing mortars at a border post in the Bryansk region on Wednesday.
The reports could not be independently verified. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s top security officials denied that Kyiv was behind an air strike on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, 35 miles from the border.
PARIS — France is moving its embassy in Ukraine back to Kyiv from the western city of Lviv, after Russian troops pulled away from regions around the capital and have concentrated on embattled eastern Ukraine.
The French Foreign Ministry announced the move Thursday after Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba about French military and humanitarian support for Ukraine. A date for the move was not announced.
France had maintained its embassy in Kyiv at the outset of the war but moved its operations to Lviv in March. France sent a new convoy of fire trucks, ambulance and emergency equipment to Ukraine on Thursday and a team of French investigators arrived this week to gather evidence of war crimes.
Russian news reports say a criminal case has been opened against a Siberian journalist whose news website had published content critical of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
Mikhail Afanasyev, the chief editor of Novy Fokus in the Russian region of Khakassia, was arrested by security forces Wednesday over the website’s reporting on 11 riot police who had allegedly refused deployment to Ukraine as part of Russia’s military action there.
Afanasyev was accused Thursday of disseminating “deliberately false information” about the Russian armed forces, an offense which carries a maximum 10-year jail sentence, according to a law passed in early March.
Another Siberia-based journalist was also arrested Wednesday on suspicion of breaching Russia’s new laws on the media coverage of the situation in Ukraine. Sergei Mikhailov, the founder of the LIStok weekly newspaper based in the Republic of Altay, was reportedly placed in pre-trial detention over the outlet’s alleged “calls for sanctions against Russia.”
LONDON — Britain’s Foreign Office says it is freezing the assets worth up to 10 billion pounds ($13.1 billion) belonging to two Russian oligarchs described as long-standing business associates of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Officials said Thursday that Eugene Tenenbaum took control of Evrington Investments Ltd., an Abramovich-linked investment company, immediately following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Tenenbaum, who is also a director of Chelsea Football Club, was hit with an asset freeze.
The other sanctioned Russian is David Davidovich, who was subject to an asset freeze and a travel ban.
The move came after the Channel Island of Jersey said this week it is freezing an estimated $7 billion of assets suspected to be connected to Abramovich, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Britain’s government said the measures “cut key revenue sources for Putin’s war machine” amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron declined to use the term “genocide” to describe Russia’s Ukraine war, arguing against an “escalation of words.”
Asked about the use of the term by U.S. President Joe Biden, Macron said “the word genocide must be spelled out by jurists, not by politicians.”
Speaking on French radio France Bleu, Macron said he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday and will speak again with him later that day. He said he will do “everything to end this war and stay by the Ukrainians’ side.”
Macron previously denounced “war crimes” in Ukraine and France sent magistrates and police officers to help the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation.
GENEVA — The international Red Cross says it’s rolling out its largest-ever cash assistance program to help more than 2 million people in Ukraine or who have fled abroad cope with the fallout from Russia’s invasion.
Nicole Robicheau, spokeswoman of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said Thursday the organization plans to distribute “well over 100 million” Swiss francs — about $106 million –- to people affected by Russia’s seven-week-old war in Ukraine.
Humanitarian groups like the IFRC have recently touted the effectiveness of cash assistance programs for people in places hit by events like natural disasters, drought, famine and conflict, as a way to “allow people to decide what they need” and “put money back into the local economy,” Robicheau said by phone.
The program aims to help some 360,000 people inside Ukraine and many more in countries of refuge.
IFRC says it and national Red Cross organizations have already helped over 1 million people with items like blankets, food, mats and kitchen equipment.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Western countries’ attempts to phase out Russian gas imports will have a negative impact on their economies.
Speaking Thursday, Putin said European attempts to find alternatives to Russian gas shipments will be “quite painful for the initiators of such policies.”
He argued that “there is simply no reasonable replacement for it in Europe now.”
Putin noted that “supplies from other countries that could be sent to Europe, primarily from the United States, would cost consumers many times more.” He added it would “affect people’s standard of living and the competitiveness of the European economy.”
The European Union is dependent on Russia for 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil.
PARIS — France’s government says it has frozen 33 properties on the French Riviera, Paris and elsewhere that belong to Russian oligarchs targeted for sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
The Finance Ministry this week published an updated list of Russian-owned properties that have been frozen in France, including a luxury chateau overlooking the Mediterranean on the Cap d’Antibes that reportedly belonged to sanctioned Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Together, the 33 properties are estimated to be worth more than half a billion euros. Unlike property that is seized or confiscated, frozen properties still belong to their owners and they can continue living in them. But they cannot be sold or rented out.
The total value of Russian assets frozen or seized in France is now approaching 24 billion euros, with the bulk of that being nearly 23 billion euros in frozen financial assets for the Russian central bank. Aside from financial assets and properties, French authorities have also frozen or seized three yachts and four transport ships, and frozen six helicopters and three artworks.
LVIV, Ukraine — Russia’s Defense Ministry says the fire at the Moskva cruiser, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, has been contained. It says the vessel remains afloat and will be towed to the port.
The ministry said in a statement Thursday that there is no open fire at the ship anymore and explosions of the ammunitions have ceased. “The main missile weapons were not damaged,” the statement read.
Ukrainian officials claimed however that the ship has sunk, saying it’s a “resounding slap in the face” to Moscow’s forces. The conflicting accounts couldn’t be immediately reconciled.
Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian president’s office, said in a Facebook post that 510 crew were onboard the Moskva cruiser as it sank in the Black Sea, following serious damage from a Ukrainian missile strike.
Military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said the damaging of the Moskva significantly raises the morale of Ukrainian forces on the eve of a new wave of Russian offensive in the Donbas.
In the early hours of Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said the ship sustained “serious damage” after its ammunition detonated “as the result of a fire.” The ministry did not ascribe the fire to a missile strike.
LONDON — Ireland’s foreign minister is in Kyiv, the latest in a string of senior European politicians to make the trip to show support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion.
The Irish government says Simon Coveney, who is also defense minister, is meeting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
Ireland has sent Ukraine 20 million euros ($22 million) in humanitarian aid and 33 million euros ($36 million) in non-lethal military assistance.
It is also a strong backer of Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union, and the government said Coveney would discuss how Ireland can “assist Ukraine in its application for EU candidate status.”
BERLIN — German authorities say they have seized a massive superyacht in Hamburg after determining that it belongs to the sister of Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov.
The Federal Criminal Police Office said Wednesday that, after “extensive investigations” and despite “offshore concealment,” it had been able to determine that the owner is Gulbakhor Ismailova, Usmanov’s sister.
Superyacht Dilbar was launched in 2016 at a reported cost of more than $648 million.
The German police office said German authorities worked in Brussels to ensure that European Union sanctions applied to the owner. It says the yacht can no longer be sold, rented, or loaded.
The United States and EU last month announced economic sanctions against Usmanov, a metals magnate, over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.
A German official said in early March that the superyacht was registered to a holding company in Malta, but subsequent investigation by the Federal Criminal Police Office revealed the vessel is owned by a series of companies based in the Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Switzerland leading to Usmanov’s sister as the beneficial owner.
PRAGUE — Three Czech lawmakers from Parliament’s upper house, the Senate, are visiting Kyiv together with their counterparts from Poland. Led by speaker Milos Vystrcil, they were invited by Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of Ukraine’s unicameral parliament Verkhovna Rada.
UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. task force is warning in a new report that Russia’s war against Ukraine threatens to devastate the economies of many developing countries that are now facing even higher food and energy costs and increasingly difficult financial conditions.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched the report Wednesday stressing that the war is “supercharging” a crisis in food, energy and finance in poorer countries that were already struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and a lack of access to adequate funding for their economic recovery.
Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of the U.N. agency promoting trade and development who coordinated the task force, said 107 countries have “severe exposure” to at least one dimension of the food, energy and finance crisis and 69 countries are severely exposed to all three and face “very difficult financial conditions with no fiscal space, and with no external financing to cushion the blow.”
The report urges countries to ensure a steady flow of food and energy through open markets, and it calls on international financial institutions to do everything possible to ensure more liquidity immediately.
ODESA, Ukraine — In the Odesa region of Ukraine, Gov. Maksym Marchenko says forces have struck the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva with two missiles and caused “serious damage.”
Moskva is the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the ship was damaged Wednesday, but not that it was hit by Ukraine.
The Ministry says ammunition on board detonated as a result of a fire whose causes “were being established,” and the Moskva’s entire crew was evacuated. The cruiser typically has about 500 on board.
Odesa is Ukraine’s biggest port.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he’s “sincerely thankful” to the U.S. for the new round of $800 million in military assistance.
In his daily late-night address to the nation, Zelenskyy also said he was thankful for Wednesday’s visit by the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
He said those leaders “have helped us from the first day, those who did not hesitate to give us weapons, those who did not doubt whether to impose sanctions.”
In his telephone conversation with U.S. President Joe Biden, Zelenskyy said they discussed the new weapons shipment, even tougher sanctions against Russia and efforts to bring to justice those Russian soldiers who committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy also said work was continuing to clear tens of thousands of unexploded shells, mines and tripwires that were left behind in northern Ukraine by the retreating Russians.
He urged people returning to their homes in those towns to be wary of any unfamiliar object and report it to the police.
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