MOSCOW — The Russian military says it will offer safe passage to foreign ships that have been stranded in Ukrainian ports.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said Thursday that Russia is offering to allow foreign vessels to gather in the Black Sea 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of the port of Illichivsk and then follow a 80-mile-long (129-kilometer-long) “humanitarian corridor” to safety. He added that the safe route will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Moscow time (0500 to 1600 GMT) starting Friday.

He said that 67 ships from 15 countries have been stranded in Ukrainian ports. Mizintsev charged that those ships have been unable to leave due to the threat of Ukrainian shelling and the presence of sea mines deployed by the Ukrainian forces.


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BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden says that he wants Russia out of the G-20.

Biden made the comments during a press conference Thursday in Brussels following a series of urgent NATO meetings on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The G-20, or Group of Twenty, is an intergovernmental forum of 19 countries and the European Union that works on major global issues. He said he raised the issue Thursday with other world leaders.

Biden said that he would prefer Russia is removed from the group, but should Indonesia or other nations disagree, he would ask that Ukraine leaders be allowed in for conversations.

Biden and Western allies on Thursday pledged new sanctions and humanitarian aid in response to the continued assault in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BRUSSELS – President Joe Biden says that Russian President Vladimir Putin was wrong to assume NATO would be divided over Ukraine.

Biden says at a news conference that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has built greater unity within NATO, the European Union and the Group of Seven economies.

Biden says of Putin, “He didn’t think we could sustain this cohesion,” adding that NATO has “never been more united than it is today.”

NATO countries and other allies have imposed harsh sanctions against Russia, crippling that country’s economy. Still, the EU has refrained from taking the same steps as the U.S. by banning oil and natural gas from Russia.

PARIS — French President Emmanuel warned about “reputation risks” for French companies which are operating in Russia but said they are free to make their own choices.

“My position is to let the companies free to decide for themselves. That’s up to the companies’ leadership to assess” the situation, he said Thursday in a news conference in Brussels.

Macron’s remarks come after French automaker Renault announced plans to pause production at its Moscow plant in an apparent move to fend off mounting criticism.

Macron said he requested all French companies operating in Russia to comply with EU sanctions.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on French multinationals to stop indirectly supporting the war against Ukraine by leaving Russia, in a speech to the French parliament on Wednesday.

Naming Renault, supermarket chain Auchan and home improvement giant Leroy Merlin, Zelenskyy said they “must stop being sponsors of Russia’s war machine.”

BRUSSELS — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the world is united in its response to the Russian attack on Ukraine last month and said that sanctions against Russia were proving to be powerful.

Scholz told reporters in Brussels Thursday after the NATO summit that “we are united in our commitment to see these sanctions through as long as necessary and to keep reviewing them for effectiveness.”

Asked about the threat of a possible nuclear, biological, chemical weapons attack by Russia, Scholz said that such an attack “would be a breach of all the rules and agreements and conventions that exist.”

Scholz also said that Germany has committed to giving 370 million euros ($407 million) to Ukraine in humanitarian aid and pledged another 430 million euros for the global food supply to help prevent famines.

He called on the international community to help Europe shoulder the burden of the millions of refugees arriving from Ukraine.

BRUSSELS — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says “extraordinary unity among allies” characterized both the NATO and G-7 meetings in Brussels.

Draghi told reporters during a break in gatherings on Thursday that the unity pertained to both applying the sanctions against Russia as well as to ”deciding to toughen them if necessary.”

He described as “unanimous” the analyses by summit participants that the sanctions are being “extraordinarily effective. The Russian economy is strongly weakened.”

As for the drama of the millions of refugees from Ukraine, Draghi said the feeling among participants was that the humanitarian drama must be managed, in addition to on a European level, also on world level, with the full involvement of the United Nations.

Regarding China, ’’there was no condemnation, on the contrary, there was the hope that China contributes to the peace process,” the Italian leader said.

LVIV, Ukraine — Belarus’ authoritarian leader has warned that a Polish proposal to deploy a Western peacekeeping force in Ukraine could trigger World War III.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has allowed his ally Russia to use Belarus’ territory to launch an invasion of Ukraine, pointed Thursday at Poland’s offer of a peacekeeping mission made last week, saying “it will mean World War III.”

“The situation is very serious and very tense,” he added.

Lukashenko’s comment follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning at the start of the invasion of Ukraine that any foreign interference with Moscow’s military action would trigger an immediate Russian response that will lead to “the consequences you have never seen in your history.” A few days after the start of the invasion, Putin ordered to put Russia’s nuclear forces on special regime of combat duty.

LVIV, Ukraine — A local government official in the northern city of Chernihiv has said a “catastrophe” is unfolding for the population as Russian troops deliberately target food stores in a near-month-long siege.

An airstrike this week destroyed a bridge over the Desna River, which was a crucial route to bring in food and other aid from Ukraine-controlled territory further south.

“Humanitarian help, medicines and food used to be delivered into the city via this bridge,” city council secretary Olexander Lomako told The Associated Press in an audio message.

He estimated that more than 130,000 people are left in the city out of a pre-war population of 285,000 but that Ukraine remains in full control.

“Chernihiv is under total control of Ukrainian army, Ukrainian flag waves here,” he said.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners Thursday.

Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media that Ukraine exchanged 10 “captured occupiers” for 10 Ukrainian troops.

She also said that Ukraine had handed over 11 civilian Russian sailors who Ukraine had rescued from a sinking ship off Odesa, in return for 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors from a Ukrainian search and rescue boat. The boat will also be returned via Turkey, she said.

There have previously been reports of local prisoner exchanges on a smaller scale than those announced by Vereshchuk. They included a swap of nine Russian soldiers for a captured Ukrainian mayor. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday two prisoner swaps had taken place but didn’t provide details of when they happened or who was involved.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine says more than 400,000 of its citizens have been forcibly taken to Russia.

Ukrainian Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said at a briefing Thursday that the Ukrainians were taken to by Russian troops from Mariupol and other besieged Ukrainian cities. The number includes 84,000 children. She says they are held in primitive conditions with little food and water.

Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko also said that Russians are taking Ukrainians’ passports and take them to filtration camps place where Russian FSB counterintelligence agency officers conduct security checks before moving them to various distant areas in Russia.

Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents had been long deprived of information and the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia. “Russian lies may influence those who have been under the siege,” he said.

Russian officials reported Wednesday that over 384,000 Ukrainians had voluntarily traveled to Russia where they were being offered accommodation and payments.

BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says Europe needs to beware of Russian efforts to destabilize the Western Balkans against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that such moves preceded Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s continued denial that it was preparing an attack.

Similar support by Russia for breakaway movements in Bosnia, for example, could endanger the integrity and sovereignty of Western Balkans nations, Baerbock said after a meeting with her Croatian counterpart, Goran Grlic Radman.

Baerbock said the European Union and its partners would do what they can to help countries now taking in large numbers of Ukrainians fleeing the war, particularly tiny Moldova, which has received the highest number of refugees per capita so far.

Germany has organized a first direct flight to bring refugees from Moldova to Frankfurt on Friday, with more to follow, she said.

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution blaming Russia for humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.

Thursday’s vote on the resolution was 140-5 with only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joining Russia in opposing the measure. There were 38 abstentions, including China.

The resolution deplores Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.

The vote was almost exactly the same as on the March 2 resolution the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire and withdrawal of all its forces and demanding protection for all civilians and infrastructure indispensable to their survival. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.

When the result of the vote was announced, many diplomats in the General Assembly chamber burst into applause.

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria’s prime minister said Thursday that his country will recall its ambassador to Moscow for consultations in response to a succession of statements by Russia’s ambassador that have deeply offended Bulgaria’s government.

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said the move comes on the heels of ”undiplomatic, sharp and rude” statements made by Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova.

The latest was on Monday, when Mitrofanova said in an interview with Russia 24 TV channel that “the people of Bulgaria do not support the rhetoric and actions of their government regarding Russia’s special operation in Ukraine.”

“This is why we will summon our ambassador from Russia for consultations. Usually, when a country summons its ambassador for consultations, the other country should follow suit and do the same,” Petkov said.

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance is stepping up its defenses against chemical and nuclear weapons as concern mounts that Russia might use such weapons in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg says that NATO leaders agreed at their summit Thursday to send equipment to Ukraine to help protect it against a chemical weapons attack.

“This could include detection equipment, protection, and medical support, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management,” he told reporters after meeting in Brussels.

But Stoltenberg says the 30 NATO allies are boosting their own “preparedness and readiness.”

The leaders agreed Thursday to deploy four new battlegroups, which usually number from 1,000-1,500 troops, to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Four other battlegroups are stationed in the Baltic States and Poland.

NATO nations are concerned that Russia’s attempt to falsely accuse them of working on chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine is part of a ruse by Moscow to create a pretext for using such arms itself.

LONDON — Britain is sanctioning 65 more companies and individuals over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The targets include Russia’s largest private bank and a woman the British government said was the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the new round of sanctions target strategic industries, banks and business elites. Among those sanctioned are Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank and Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond mining company.

The U.K. also targeted billionaires Eugene Markovich Shvidler, who has close ties to Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and Herman Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Polina Kovaleva, who was described as Lavrov’s stepdaughter, was also sanctioned as the U.K. broadens the scope of its sanctions to reach people linked to those responsible for “Russian aggression.”

LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says Russia is making arrangements to forcibly relocate thousands of civilians to Russia from the besieged port of Mariupol.

It said Thursday Russian forces had taken 6,000 Mariupol residents “to Russian filtration camps in order to use them as hostages and put more political pressure on Ukraine.”

The Foreign Ministry expressed concern for 15,000 people from a district of Mariupol under Russian control, saying Russian troops were confiscating their identity documents and insisting they traveled to Russia. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian troops of obstructing attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including by seizing bus drivers sent to collect civilians.

Ukrainian military intelligence said Thursday that Ukrainian civilians were being sent through a “filtration camp” in Russian-controlled territory then onward through southern regions of Russia and then to “economically depressed” parts of the country.

Some could be sent as far as the Pacific Ocean island of Sakhalin, Ukrainian intelligence said, and are offered jobs on condition they don’t leave for two years. The claims could not be independently verified.

Russia has said it is helping civilians evacuate from Mariupol and other cities affected by fighting. Russia claims many civilians are keen to find refuge in Russia.

BRUSSELS — NATO leaders are extending the mandate of Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for an extra year to help steer the 30-nation military organization through the security crisis sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Stoltenberg tweeted Thursday that he is “honored” by the decision of NATO leaders to extend his term until 30 September 2023.

“As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation, we stand united to keep our Alliance strong and our people safe,” he said.

The former Norwegian prime minister was named to NATO’s top civilian post in October 2014. It’s the second time that his term of office has been extended. His mandate was due to expire in September.

BRUSSELS — Group of Seven leaders have announced they are restricting the Russian Central Bank’s use of gold in transactions, while the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions targeting more than 400 elites and members of the Russian State Duma.

Previously, sanctions against Russian elites, the country’s Central Bank and President Vladimir Putin did not impact Russia’s gold stockpile, which Putin has been accumulating for several years. Russia holds roughly $130 billion in gold reserves, and the Bank of Russia announced Feb. 28 that it would resume the purchase of gold on the domestic precious metals market.

White House officials said Thursday the move will further blunt Russia’s ability to use its international reserves to prop up Russia’s economy and fund its war against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced more sanctions targeting 48 state-owned defense companies, 328 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower parliament, and dozens of Russian elites. The Duma as an entity was also named in the new sanctions.

The G-7 and the European Union also announced a new effort to share information and coordinate responses to prevent Russia from evading the impact of sanctions that western nations have levied since the Feb. 24 invasion.

WASHINGTON — A White House official says the U.S. is trying to help its Eastern European allies by taking in up to 100,000 of the 3.5 million Ukrainians refugees who have fled Russia’s invasion of their country.

Among the first Ukrainians refugee coming to the U.S. will be those who have family already in the United States, senior Biden administration officials said in a conference call with reporters.

U.S. refugee efforts will also focus on helping refugees who are considered particularly vulnerable following the Russian invasion, groups that include LGBTQ people, those with medical needs as well as journalists and dissidents, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the efforts ahead of their formal release.

The officials said further details of the refugee effort will be released later but they don’t expect to raise the overall cap of 125,000 refugees, from around the world, for budget year 2022 that the administration set last year in consultation with Congress.

That’s because the 100,000 Ukrainians can come in through other admission programs such as humanitarian parole, which was used to bring in thousands of Afghans following the U.S. withdrawal in August.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president has pleaded with NATO to provide his embattled nation with military assistance.

In a video address to the NATO summit Thursday, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs “military assistance without limitations,” as Russia is “using its entire arsenal” against the country.

Zelenskyy urged NATO to provide Ukraine with “1% of all your planes, 1% of all your tanks.” “We can’t just buy those,” Zelenskyy said. “When we will have all this, it will give us, just like you, 100% security.”

Ukraine is also in dire need of multiple launch rocket systems, anti-ship weapons and air defense systems, Zelenskyy said. “Is it possible to survive in such a war without this?,” he asked.

Zelenskyy said Russia used phosphorous bombs on Thursday morning, killing both adults and children. He reminded NATO leaders that thousands of Ukrainians have died in the past month, 10 million people have left their homes, and urged NATO to give “clear answers.”

“It feels like we’re in a gray area, between the West and Russia, defending our common values,” Zelenskyy said emotionally. “This is the scariest thing during a war — not to have clear answers to requests for help.”

Zelenskyy did not reiterate his request for a no-fly zone or ask to join NATO, according to a senior Biden administration official.

PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s Parliament has approved a plan to deploy up to 650 Czech service members to Slovakia as part of an multinational NATO force set up in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Parliament’s lower house approved the deployment Thursday after the upper house gave the green light last week.

The United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia will also contribute troops to the unit, expected to include up to 2,100 soldiers.

The plan is part of the NATO initiative to reassure member countries on the alliance’s eastern flank.

The alliance stationed troops in the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and Poland after the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by Russia. After Russia attacked Ukraine, NATO decided to boost its presence along the entire eastern flank by deploying forces in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

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