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Kremlin rejects U.S. claims Putin is being misled by advisers


Russian defense ministry says it will open humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia

The Russian defense ministry said on Thursday it would open a humanitarian corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday, Tass news agency reported.

It quoted Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of the Russian National Center for Defense Management, as saying Moscow was acting on a request that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had made to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Turkish President renews offer to host meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his offer to host a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders during a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

A statement from Erdogan’s office said the Turkish president also told Zelenskyy Thursday that a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators who met in Istanbul earlier this week had given “a meaningful impetus” to efforts to end the fighting.

Earlier this week, Ukraine’s delegation laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of nations, including Turkey.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with a top Turkish Cypriot official that Erdogan also is expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden says he is skeptical Putin is pulling back forces

Biden told reporters on Thursday there is “no clear evidence” that Putin is pulling back all of his forces.

The idea that Putin is pulling all of the troops out from around Kviv and moving south “there’s no evidence he’s done that,” said Biden. 

However, he said there is evidence Putin is “beefing up” his troops in the Donbas region. 

“Depending on your view of Putin, I’m a little skeptical,” said Biden. “It’s an open question whether he’s actually pulling back.” 

“But I’m a skeptic. I don’t have proof,” he continued. 

Biden announces plan to release 1M barrels of oil a day from reserves

President Joe Biden said Thursday he plans to release roughly 1 million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for about six months in an effort to drive down record oil prices.

The move could free up as much as 180 million barrels of oil, the largest release of U.S. reserves in history, with the first barrels coming on the market in May. The U.S. consumes more than 7 billion barrels of oil a year. “This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply until production ramps up later this year,” Biden said. 

U.S. consumers have been hit with record gas prices as a result of disruptions to the oil market caused by the pandemic and the U.S. ban on Russian oil imports following its invasion of Ukraine. The surge in prices has helped push inflation to its highest point in decades, with oil prices affecting everything from the cost of plastics to food.

U.N. struggling to aid cities in south Ukraine

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine says the United Nations and its partners have delivered supplies for thousands of people in the country’s northeast but have been unable to reach some encircled cities in the south.

Osnat Lubrani said Thursday that food rations from the humanitarian organization People in Need and the U.N. World Food Program will benefit nearly 6,000 people in Sumy and areas including Trostianets and Okhtyrka.

In addition, she said, basic household items including blankets and kettles from the U.N. refugee agency will support 1,500 people and sanitation kits will help 6,000 people with hygiene and drinking water.

Lubrani said medical supplies and trauma kits from the U.N. World Health Organization will treat 150 patients needing intensive care for serious injuries while other medical supplies will support 10,000 people for three months.

Shei said the U.N.-facilitated humanitarian notification system with Ukraine and Russia enabled safe passage for the convoy to Sumy on Thursday “but this is clearly not enough.” Efforts over the past month to reach Mauripol, Kherson and other encircled cities in the south have been unsuccessful because of safety concerns.

Britain and allies to send more lethal aid to Ukraine: UK Defense Minister

Britain and its allies have agreed to send more lethal weapons to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia’s invasion, British defense minister Ben Wallace said on Thursday.

“There’ll be more lethal aid going into Ukraine as a result of today. A number of countries have come forward either with new ideas or indeed more pledges of money,” Wallace told reporters after hosting over 30 international partners at a conference.

He said the lethal aid included longer range artillery, ammunition, and more anti-aircraft weapons.

Nuclear operator says Russian forces withdrawing from Chernobyl

Russian forces are withdrawing from Chernobyl and the satellite city of Slavutych according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s national operator of nuclear power plants.

Russia first captured Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, over a month ago. Since then, a limited number of Ukrainian station personnel have remained at the plant to ensure its function. 

Energoatom said Thursday that the Russian decision to reallocate forces was influenced in part by soldiers’ contact with radiation from the site and resultant symptoms, which sparked concerns. The organization said soldiers from both the plant and the city are headed in the direction of Ukraine’s shared border with Belarus. 

700 units of equipment seen leaving Kyiv, Ukraine Armed Forces reports

The Armed Forces of Ukraine is reporting a partial withdrawal of Russians from Kyiv, with almost 700 units of equipment seen leaving overnight, according to the Ukraine Media Center

“During the night, almost 700 units of equipment were counted, which moved towards Ivankiv, towards the Belarusian border,” said Deputy Chief of Staff of the Land Forces Command Oleksander Gruzevich. 

The Ukrainian Armed Forces believes either the troops are regrouping and redeploying or the battalion tactical groups will appear in the Donbas, which is in south-eastern Ukraine, Gruzevich said.

“Measures are currently underway to liberate and clean up the occupiers of settlements in the Kyiv region,” he said. 

He added that the forces that remain around Kyiv are still quite large. “There is nothing to be afraid of, but they can cause harm,” Gruzevich said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday during a news conference that NATO intelligence shows Russia is not withdrawing from Ukraine but rather, its troops are repositioning. “Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbass region,” he said. 

Kremlin decree allows foreign currency for gas

ROME — A Kremlin decree says “unfriendly countries” can continue to pay for natural gas in foreign currency through a Russian bank that will convert the money into rubles.

The decree published Thursday by state media came a day after the leaders of Italy and Germany said they received assurances from President Vladimir Putin.

Putin talked tougher, saying Russia will start accepting ruble payments starting Friday for Western countries that imposed sanctions over its conflict with Ukraine. He said contracts will be stopped if buyers don’t sign up to the new conditions, including opening ruble accounts in Russian banks.

European leaders had rejected paying for deliveries in rubles, saying it would undermine sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.

The decree Putin signed and published by state news agency RIA Novosti says a designated bank will open two accounts for each buyer, one in foreign currency and one in rubles. The buyers will pay in foreign currency and authorize the bank to sell that currency for rubles, which are placed in the second account, where the gas is formally purchased.

MAP: Russian attacks and Ukrainian counterattacks in the last week

NATO secretary-general says Russia is not withdrawing from Ukraine, but repositioning

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that NATO intelligence shows Russia is not withdrawing from Ukraine but rather repositioning its troops.

“Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions. So we can only judge Russia on his actions, not on its words. According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning,” he said at a news conference. “Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region.” Donbas is in southeastern Ukraine.

Russia is also maintaining “pressure” on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, Stoltenberg said. “So we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering.”

“Russia must end this senseless war, withdraw all its troops and engage in talks in good faith,” he added. 

Zelenskyy says thousands of ‘peaceful residents’ in Mariupol have died

Thousands of residents have died in the besieged port city of Mariupol since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

Addressing Belgium’s Parliament via video conference Thursday, Zelenskyy said “thousands of peaceful residents of Mariupol” have died.

“People are being buried in the courtyards in residential areas, or rather in the courtyards of what is now left of these residential areas,” he said. 

His comments came as an evacuation convoy of 17 buses was able to leave Mariupol on Thursday morning, according to its city council. Many have yet to be evacuated out of the city, where the humanitarian situation has become increasingly dire.

Biden administration weighs releasing 1M barrels of oil a day from reserves

President Joe Biden is weighing the release of about 1 million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for about six months, a source familiar with the matter said.

The president could announce the plan, which could free up as much as 180 million barrels of oil, when he delivers remarks from the White House at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Biden plans to outline his administration’s actions to lessen the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on domestic energy and gas prices.

The news comes several weeks after he announced the U.S. was banning the import of Russian energy products, including oil, liquified natural gas and coal, as part of an effort to increase pressure on Russia’s economy through a range of sanctions. The president and other administration officials made clear that they anticipated the move would lead to a rise in already-high gas prices.

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She fled the Donbas region years ago. Now, she is helping the latest wave of refugees

Anna Chernikova, 26, is spending every day helping refugees get situated in Vinnytsia, a city of approximately 400,000 in west-central Ukraine. 

Just a few years ago, she was a refugee herself. She left the Donbas region back in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. Her brother moved her, her mother and another brother to Vinnytsia.

“I waved my grandma goodbye and told her I would see her in two weeks. It was the last time I would see her,” she said, standing in a storefront that has been transformed into a humanitarian hub for Ukrainian refugees at a high-end mall.

Chernikova stood in the empty storefront full of boxes with clothing donations from all over the world, including the United States. A steady stream of refugees walked past her as they looked for clothes that would fit them.

Image: Anna Chernikova
Anna Chernikova runs a humanitarian center inside what was once a high-end mall in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia.Gabe Gutierrez / NBC News

Russian attacks on Ukraine cast shadow over NATO allies that were Soviet countries

TALLINN, Estonia — Each new bomb and missile that strikes Ukraine casts a long shadow across this country and the other Baltic states that share a border with Russia.

Unlike Ukraine, however, these states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are members of NATO and are close allies of the United States. For years, they have raised the alarm that Russia is their most existential threat. Yet, they feel they received little response prior to the invasion of Ukraine. 

Now, unless they get further support from their allies, they fear they could be the next target of the Kremlin and the very bombs and missiles that it has used to level Ukrainian cities.

Read the full article here

Ukraine’s economy could shrink by a fifth this year, European bank says

The Ukrainian economy is expected to shrink by one-fifth this year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said Thursday. 

The bank said it expected Ukraine’s gross domestic product to fall by 20 percent this year and Russia’s by 10 percent, in its biannual Regional Economic Update published Thursday.

The bank said the war was taking place in territories that produce about 60 percent of Ukraine’s GDP. It said that the National Bank of Ukraine estimates that 30 percent of businesses have stopped production, while electricity consumption was estimated at about 60 percent of the prewar level. 

“Projections are subject to an exceptionally high degree of uncertainty, including major downside risks should hostilities escalate or should exports of gas or other commodities from Russia become restricted,” it noted.

Still, the bank further said that the war would have a “severe effect” on economies beyond the immediate area of the conflict.

“The war on Ukraine has been having a profound impact on the economies in the EBRD regions, as well as globally,” Beata Javorcik, chief economist of the bank, said. “Inflationary pressures were already exceptionally high and it seems certain they will now be worse, which will have a disproportionate affect on many of the lower income countries where we work.”

Russian units not withdrawing but repositioning, NATO chief says

Russian forces are not withdrawing and instead have repositioned after vows of scaling down military operations near Ukraine’s capital and Chernihiv, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference Thursday.

“Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities. So, we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering,” he said.

He also reiterated warnings that any use of chemical weapons will be “absolutely unacceptable.”

Stoltenberg welcomed additional defense spending by Eastern European nations, calling for a more “360 degree approach.”

Kremlin rejects U.S. intelligence claiming Putin is being misled by advisers

The Kremlin rejected U.S. claims that Vladimir Putin is being misled by his advisers about Russia’s failures on the battlefield.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a daily news briefing Thursday that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have real information about what is happening in the Kremlin.” 

“They just don’t understand what’s going on in the Kremlin, they don’t understand President Putin, they don’t understand the decision-making mechanisms, and they don’t understand the way of our work,” he said. He added that “such a complete misunderstanding leads to erroneous and rash decisions that cause very bad consequences.”

It comes after declassified U.S. intelligence claimed that Putin’s senior advisers have been “too afraid to tell him the truth” about the situation on the ground in Ukraine. 

“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” a U.S. official told NBC News.

The head of the British intelligence agency GCHQ has further said it appears Putin “has massively misjudged the situation” in Ukraine, warning that the Russian leader’s backup plan will be to launch more attacks on civilian areas.

New evacuation convoy leaves Mariupol

Ukrainian police and emergency officers escorted an evacuation convoy of 17 buses out of Mariupol on Thursday morning, according to its city council.

The convoy will join a column of 45 other evacuation buses carrying civilians out of the blockaded city to Berdyansk to the southwest.

“Every day is a struggle for the people of Mariupol who still remain in the besieged city. We call for the full evacuation of Mariupol. I appeal to all international partners to help and save every Mariupol resident by joint actions,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said in a statement.

More than 80,000 residents have been safely evacuated from Mariupol to the city of Zaporizhzhia, around 141 miles west of the city, since the efforts began, according to the city council. 

Elsewhere, more than 380 people were evacuated from the Luhansk region, while over 200 were evacuated from the city of Severodonetsk, according to the head of its regional administration. 

Ukraine’s foreign minister visits Warsaw

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was received by the Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Thursday as part of an “active dialogue” between the two governments. 

“We highly value Poland’s strong support for Ukraine and hospitality towards Ukrainians,” Kuleba tweeted. “Free and strong Ukraine means free and strong Poland and Europe.” 

More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February, according to the United Nations refugee agency. More than 2.3 million have fled to neighboring Poland. 

ICRC says it is ready to evacuate civilians out of Mariupol

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine is ready to bring aid and evacuate civilians out of Mariupol on Friday, it has said.

“Our team in Ukraine is on the road right now to be ready to … facilitate the safe passage of civilians out Mariupol tomorrow,” it said in a tweet Thursday.

“This operation is critical. Tens of thousands of lives depend on it,” it said, adding that “all parties must agree to the exact terms” to allow the effort to move forward.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a tweet he was working on returning home Ukrainians which were “abducted or forcibly relocated” to Russia.

Earlier on Wednesday, ICRC said it had also delivered urgently needed medicines and supplies to the Kharkiv regional hospital.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general says at least 148 children have been killed in war

At least 148 children have been killed since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, according to the office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General. 

As of Thursday, at least 232 children were reported to have been injured, without taking into account numbers from areas affected by active hostilities, according to the office. 

Iryna Venediktova, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine shared the data on Twitter, adding that at least “797 educational institutions were damaged, 76 completely destroyed.” NBC News was not able to independently verify those numbers. 

Soldiers from The Royal Anglian Regiment sort and pack some of the 84,000 ballistic helmets being shipped to soldiers and emergency service workers in Ukraine on Thursday in Donnington, England. 

Soldiers from The Royal Anglian Regiment sort and pack some of the 84,000 ballistic helmets being shipped to soldiers and emergency service workers in Ukraine on Thursday in Donnington, England.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

U.K. announces 14 additions to Russia sanctions list, targeting media organizations

The British government has made 14 additions to its list of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with senior figures from media organizations among those targeted.

The government announced the additions on Thursday, as the West continues to issue penalties to pressure Russia to end the war by crippling the country’s economy. 

Among those sanctioned are senior figures from media outlets including RT’s managing director Alexey Nikolov, Sputnik’s editor-in-chief Anton Anisimov and Sergey Brilev, a news anchor at state-owned Rossiya Television and Radio network. 

“The government is also directly sanctioning state media organizations, targeting the Kremlin funded TV-Novosti who own RT, formerly Russia Today, and Rossiya Segodnya who control news agency Sputnik,” the government said. 

Russia’s Chief of the National Defence Command and Control Centre Mikhail Mizinitsev was also named on the list, with the U.K. saying he was “responsible for planning and executing the siege and bombardment of Mariupol.” 

Zelenskyy appeals for more weapons in address to Dutch parliament

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked the European Union for more weapons in a video conference address to the Dutch parliament, warning that war could spread across Europe if Russian forces were not stopped. 

“Ukraine is just the beginning. If you don’t, if we don’t stop Russia, and if we don’t stop it urgently,” he said as the conflict dragged into its 36th day. 

Zelenskyy thanked the Netherlands for its support during the conflict but stressed his country needed more. “We need stingers. Air defense weapons, they will allow us to stand strong. We also need weapons which can secure our skies or unblock our cities where Russia has created artificial famine. We need weapons that will allow us to drive the occupiers out of our land,” he said. 

The president also appealed for stronger sanctions against Russia. 

“Together with other countries in the EU you must do everything so that Russia will have no resources to continue this war,” he urged the parliamentarians. 

Rescuers evacuate an elderly man as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continued in the town of Irpin, outside Kyiv on Wednesday.  

Rescuers evacuate an elderly man as Russia's attack on Ukraine continued in the town of Irpin, outside Kyiv on Wednesday.

Kharkiv authorities accuse Russia of not allowing humanitarian corridors

Russia is not allowing for humanitarian corridors in Kharkiv, regional governor Oleh Synegubov said on Thursday. 

“We are working every day to open green corridors. But so far Russia is not giving us such an opportunity,” Synegubov said in a statement on the administration’s official Telegram channel. 

“As we can see, the actions of the Russian occupiers are difficult to predict, they are completely chaotic,” he continued, saying the Ukrainian armed forces were holding their positions to fend off Russian forces.

Russia and Ukraine earlier this month had agreed on the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape the worst of the fighting.

The city suffered dozens of artillery, mortar and tank attacks on Wednesday evening, Synegubov said, as well as missile strikes. A gas pipeline was also damaged, causing a strong fire. 

Australia to impose tariff increases on imports from Russia, Belarus

The Australian government is imposing an additional 35% increase in imports from Russia and Belarus, its foreign and trade ministry announced Thursday.

Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne said in a statement that the government will draft a “formal notification withdrawing entitlement to the Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) tariff treatment” to apply the additional fee on imports from Russia and Belarus.

Payne said this move attempts to further condemn Russia’s actions and is aligned “with other like-minded members of the World Trade Organization.”

The ministry’s statement came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a virtual address to the Australian parliament Thursday.

Russian shelling sets fire to a school and an oil depot in Luhansk, officials say

Russian shelling over the past two days set fire to a school, an oil depot, and dozens of houses in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, the regional state administration has said. The shelling killed at least two people and injured two children, it said.

NBC News was not able to verify the death toll. 

“Several injured and dead residents could not be taken from the streets for hours,” Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk region, said in a statement shared on the administration’s Telegram page. “The final number of victims is still being determined.”

The regional state administration said the Ukrainian army had rebuffed several Russian attacks in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions on Wednesday.

Evacuation corridor from Mariupol agreed, Ukraine says

Russia has agreed to open a humanitarian corridor for evacuation from the besieged cities Mariupol and Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said, citing confirmation from the Red Cross.

Vereshchuk said officials had “received a message from the International Committee of the Red Cross about Russia’s confirmation of its readiness to open a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol with transit through Berdyansk” in a televised statement. NBC News was not able to independently confirm the agreement. 

Along with the planned evacuation routes, humanitarian aid will also be delivered to those in Melitopol, Vereshchuk said.

Corridors have further been approved for evacuees fleeing the city of Enerhodar, home to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe that caught fire earlier in March, Vereshchuk added.

At least 45 buses have already been sent for the planned evacuation from Mariupol, while the approved link from Enerhodar to Zaporizhzhia will have to be undertaken by one’s own transportation, the deputy prime minister said.

Zelenskyy addresses Australian parliament

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Australia’s parliament via video link Thursday, warning that global security could be at risk if Russia does not end its invasion of Ukraine. 

He specifically warned about the threat of the use of nuclear weapons and the risk of radioactive contamination of nuclear weapons are used. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Australian federal parliament via video link on Thursday in Canberra.
Martin Ollman / Getty Images

‘Significant’ strikes around Chernihiv despite Russia’s vow to reduce presence, U.K. says

Despite a vow to reduce military activity around Ukraine’s capital and Chernihiv, Russia has continued significant shelling and missile strikes around the latter northern city, Britain’s defense ministry has said.

Meanwhile, Russian forces continue to hold positions around Kyiv, it said in its latest intelligence update Thursday.

“Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units,” it said.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in the besieged city of Mariupol with Ukrainian forces controlling the city’s center, it said.

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