The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
PARIS — French authorities say they have seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as part of European Union sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The French Finance Ministry said in a statement Thursday that customs authorities carried out an inspection of the yacht Amore Vero in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat.
The boat arrived in La Ciotat on Jan. 3 for repairs and was slated to stay until April 1. When French customs officers arrived to inspect the yacht, its crew was preparing an urgent departure, even though the repair work wasn’t finished, the statement said. The boat was seized to prevent its departure.
It says the boat is owned by a company that lists Sechin as its primary shareholder. Sechin runs Russian oil giant Rosneft.
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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s government is insisting it will not allow any arms shipments bound for neighboring Ukraine to cross its territory, as the European Union country receives tens of thousands of refugees from the conflict and frets about the reliability of its energy links to Moscow.
A large Hungarian ethnic minority, around 150,000 people, lives in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia, just across the border.
The prime minister’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, says allowing weapons into Ukraine would endanger that minority.
Gulyas said Thursday that some 120,000 refugees fleeing the conflict have crossed into Hungary so far.
Hungary has agreed to all EU sanctions imposed on Russia, Gulyas said. But he argued against allowing sanctions to affect Hungary’s energy sector, which relies heavily on Russian natural gas.
Gulyas also said that Hungary will not pull out of the planned Russian-backed expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant, which will be financed primarily by a Russian state bank.
BERLIN — A German magazine says it has hired 15 reporters in Ukraine and Russia to cover the war after existing staff waived part of their salaries and the publication received a flood of donations from supporters.
Editor-in-chief Benjamin Friedrich said Katapult magazine is sending its new hires in Ukraine urgently needed equipment such as protective vests, helmets and smartphones to help them do their work. Fourteen of the new hires are women.
“It’s a bit of a wild effort,” Friedrich told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. The magazine hopes to hire a total of 21 staff for the new venture, which will initially be published online in English and Ukrainian, he said.
“Russian would be great too, eventually,” Friedrich said, noting that coverage of the war in Russian media is very limited and not often impartial.
Katapult magazine, a quarterly based in the northeast German town of Greifswald, has made a name for itself in recent years explaining complex social issues with easy-to-understand graphics and charts that are widely shared on social media. It claims to have 150,000 print subscribers.
MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow is ready for peace talks but will press its effort to destroy Ukraine’s military infrastructure, which the Kremlin claims is threatening Russia.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that the Russian delegation to the talks submitted its demands to Ukrainian negotiators earlier this week and is now waiting for Kyiv’s response in a meeting set for Thursday.
Lavrov said that Russia will insist on provisions that Ukraine will never again represent a military threat to Russia. He said it will be up to Ukrainians to choose what government they should have.
Lavrov voiced regret for civilian casualties during the Russian action in Ukraine, which started last week, and insisted that the Russian military is using only precision weapons against military targets.
He tacitly acknowledged that some Russian strikes could have killed civilians, saying that “any military action is fraught with casualties, and not just among the military but also civilians.”
BEIJING — China is denouncing a report that it asked Russia to delay invading Ukraine until after the Beijing Winter Olympics as “fake news” and a “very despicable” attempt to divert attention and shift blame over the conflict.
“The New York Times report is purely fake news, and such behaviors of diverting attentions and shifting blames are very despicable,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Thursday.
The Times article cited a “Western intelligence report” considered credible by officials, which indicated that “senior Chinese officials had some level of direct knowledge about Russia’s war plans or intentions before the invasion started last week,” the Times wrote.
China also commented on its decision to abstain in Wednesday’s U.N. General Assembly emergency session vote to demand an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.
“Regrettably, the draft resolution submitted to the General Assembly emergency special session for vote had not undergone full consultations with the whole membership, nor does it take into consideration the history and the complexity of the current crisis,” Wang said.
BERLIN — Activists from the Fridays for Future environmental movement are staging protests in dozens of German cities calling for peace in Ukraine.
The group, which has staged large marches in the past calling for greater action against climate change, said it wants to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine following Russia’s attack.
The demonstrations, including one in front of the German parliament, are scheduled to take place in 35 cities on Thursday.
Separately, churches across Germany are planning to ring their bells at noon for seven minutes, representing the seven days since the start of the war in Ukraine.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister is calling on world leaders to get Russia and Ukraine “out of the battlefield and to the negotiating table” after a week of fighting.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke in English on Thursday at a cyber tech conference in Tel Aviv, less than a day after he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Israel maintains good relations with both countries. It has condemned Russia’s invasion and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but the same time has avoided taking a stance that might anger Moscow. Russia and Israel cooperate on military operations in Syria.
Bennett said of the situation in Ukraine that “things are looking bad on the ground right now, but it’s important to understand that if world leaders don’t act quickly it can get much worse.”
GENEVA — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is backing calls to investigate potential human rights violations committed by Russia in Ukraine, with a view to holding to account those responsible.
In a video message to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Baerbock said that grave abuses “must be prosecuted.”
“We urgently need a commission of inquiry on Ukraine to investigate all violations of human rights that have been committed by Russia since its military aggression,” she said. “We must stand strong on accountability.”
Baerbock also expressed support for activists in Russia, such as the recently closed human rights group Memorial and imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Hercules C130 transport aircraft with some 2,000 anti-tank missiles for Ukraine has taken off from Norway.
The weapons are to help Ukrainian forces resist Russia’s invasion, which began last week.
Norway’s national news agency NTB said the shipment was being sent from Oslo on Thursday to a third country before being transported to Ukraine.
Also Thursday, Germany’s economy ministry approved sending 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, the dpa news agency said.
The agency quoted unnamed Economy Ministry officials saying the weapons are Soviet-made, shoulder-fired Strela surface-to-air missiles left over from East German army supplies.
Germany reversed its previous refusal to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons last week, following Russia’s attack.
LONDON — A British military expert says the longer Ukrainian cities can hold out against Russian attacks, the fewer troops Moscow will have at its disposal to encircle Kyiv, its main objective.
Jack Watling, an expert in land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, said Thursday that if cities are able to resist they can draw out the conflict.
“If the conflict protracts, the Ukrainians have more leverage to be able to negotiate,” Watling said.
His assessment came as Russia claimed its troops had taken the southern city of Kherson, even as the head of the local administration said he was working to keep the Ukrainian flag flying over the city.
Russian forces pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, overnight and air raid sirens were heard in the capital, Kyiv.
The next phase of the war will test the Ukrainians’ commitment and their ability to conduct small-scale offensive actions that disrupt and delay the Russian advance, Watling said.
The challenge will be to prevent cities from being surrounded so they aren’t cut off from supplies of food, water and ammunition, he added.
GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says 227 civilians have been killed and another 525 injured in its latest count of the toll in Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s military invasion that began a week ago.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the tally eclipses the entire civilian casualty count from the war in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in 2014 — which left 136 dead and 577 injured.
The rights office admits that the figures so far are a vast undercount. It uses a strict methodology and counts only confirmed casualties. Ukrainian officials have presented far higher numbers.
The rights office said in a statement late Wednesday that “real figures are considerably higher, especially in government-controlled territory and especially in recent days, as the receipt of information from some locations where intensive hostilities have been going on was delayed and many reports were still pending corroboration.”
Most of the casualties were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and airstrikes, the rights office said.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say a convoy of dozens of Greek citizens and staff from the Greek consulate in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol are making their way toward Ukraine’s western borders.
The convoy of 21 vehicles and more than 80 people left Mariupol on Wednesday, arriving in the town of Zaporizhzhia that night. Greek authorities said the convoy set out again Thursday morning from Zaporizhzhia, heading toward the border with Moldova.
Greek Ambassador Frangiskos Kostelenos, who was heading the convoy, told Greek state television ERT the convoy had been delayed Wednesday by checkpoints and a destroyed bridge but the vehicles had arrived in Zaporizhzhia without serious incident.
A Greek diaspora community in Ukraine lives mainly in the Donetsk Oblast region, in and around Mariupol. Greece’s consulate in Mariupol continues to operate.
BERLIN — The German news agency dpa reported that Germany has approved sending 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.
The report quoted unnamed Economy Ministry officials on Thursday saying the weapons are Soviet-made, shoulder-fired Strela surface-to-air missiles left over from East German army supplies.
Germany reversed its previous refusal to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons last week following Russia’s invasion.
Berlin has already authorized sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine.
LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says that a Russian military column heading for Kyiv has made “little discernible progress” over the past three days and remains over 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the center of the city.
The column has been delayed by Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdowns and congestion, the ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing Thursday.
Despite heavy Russian shelling, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol remain in Ukrainian hands, the department said. Some Russian forces have entered the city of Kherson, but the military situation remains unclear, it added.
The ministry also noted that Russia has been forced to admit that 498 of its soldiers have been killed in Ukraine and another 1,597 have been wounded. The actual number of those killed and wounded will almost certainly be considerably higher and will continue to rise, it said.
STOCKHOLM — Low-cost fashion brand Hennes & Mauritz AB has become the latest company to suspend its activities in Russia and Ukraine, saying it had decided to temporarily pause all sales in its Russian stores and temporarily close its Ukrainian shops “due to the safety of customers and colleagues.”
The Stockholm-based group said Wednesday that it was “deeply concerned about the tragic developments in Ukraine and stand with all the people who are suffering.” It added that it was “in dialogue with all relevant stakeholders.”
H&M said clothes “and other necessities” had been donated and the H&M Foundation, which is privately funded by the founders and main owners of the group, had made donations to Save the Children and to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
BRUSSELS — With close to a million refugees already fleeing Ukraine for the eastern nations of the European Union, the bloc is bracing for the arrival of many more as the Russian invasion continues.
EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Thursday ahead of a special meeting of justice and home affairs ministers that “we have to be prepared for millions of refugees to come to the European Union.”
The bloc is already moving toward granting temporary protection to those fleeing war, seeking to give temporary residence permits to refugees and allow them rights to education and work in the 27-nation bloc.
The EU Commission has already promised at least 500 million euros ($560 million) in humanitarian aid for the refugees. Johansson said the bloc will need funding and equipment.
LONDON — Fitch Ratings has downgraded Russia’s credit rating, citing a “severe shock” to fundamental conditions due to its invasion of Ukraine.
Fitch said the war has raised risks to financial stability and could undermine Russia’s ability to service its government debt. It said that, in turn, will weaken the country’s finances and slow its economy, further raising geopolitical risks and uncertainty.
Among other factors, the ratings agency noted sanctions imposed by Western countries that are limiting access to foreign currency needed to repay debt and purchase imports and increased uncertainty over Russia’s willingness to pay such debts.
BEIJING — Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games for their countries’ roles in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing.
The about-face comes less than 24 hours after the IPC on Wednesday said it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete when the Games open on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with colors, flags and other national symbols removed.
The IPC received immediate criticism for its initial decision. It was termed a betrayal that sent the wrong message to Russia’s leadership. The IPC also said it was evident that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, creating chaos for the Paralympics.
The IPC now joins sports like soccer, track, basketball, hockey and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarusians.
SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean pharmaceutical company manufacturing Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine says it’s bracing for business complications as the U.S.-led West escalates sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.
Recently expanded U.S. sanctions include targeted measures against the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund run by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin that globally markets the Sputnik vaccines.
Kim Gi-young, an official from Seoul-based GL Rapha, said the sanctions won’t directly impede its production of the shots as the measures aren’t aimed at essential medical supplies.
However, the company is concerned about potential problems rising from the financial side as South Korea joins the United States and many European countries in a move to cut off key Russian banks from global payment systems.
“Right now, we are watching how the situation develops,” Kim said.
GL Rapha has so far produced 5 million shots of the single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine, but none of them have been used so far as Russia continues to delay rollout plans, Kim said.
GL Rapha also has an agreement with RDIF to produce 150 million shots of the two-dose Sputnik V and is participating in a consortium of South Korean companies that has been contracted to produce another 500 million doses of Sputnik V, but these shots haven’t been produced yet.
RDIF has reportedly criticized the U.S. sanctions and said the measures would slow its promotion of Sputnik V.
MAZYR, Belarus — A string of seven bus-size Russian military ambulances — their windows blocked with gray shades — pulled up to the back entrance of the main hospital about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border with Ukraine on Tuesday evening, ferrying casualties from the front.
The convoy was part of what residents and doctors said has in recent days become a steady flow of Russian soldiers wounded in fierce fighting around Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where a Russian advance has stalled in the face of strong resistance.
A doctor at the hospital — which is in southern Belarus’s Gomel region, a main staging ground for Russia’s offensive — said injured Russian troops began arriving on Monday. “I hope they don’t jail me for sharing this,” she said.
GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says 1 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion less than a week ago, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.
The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population on the move in under a week. The World Bank counted the population at 44 million at the end of 2020.
The U.N. agency has predicted that up to 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine but cautioned that even that projection could be revised upward.
In an email, UNHCR spokesperson Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams wrote: “Our data indicates we passed the 1M mark” as of midnight in central Europe, based on counts collected by national authorities.
On Twitter, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, wrote: “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries.”
Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, currently remains the country with the largest refugee outflows – at more than 5.6 million people, according to UNHCR figures. But even at the swiftest rate of flight by refugees out of Syria, in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave that country.
UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that “at this rate” the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”
KYIV, Ukraine — In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an upbeat assessment of the war and called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance.
“We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,” he said. “They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.”
Zelenskyy didn’t comment on whether the Russians have seized several cities, including Kherson.
“If they went somewhere, then only temporarily. We’ll drive them out,” he said.
He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.”
“These are not warriors of a superpower,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”
He said the Russian death toll has reached about 9,000.
“Ukraine doesn’t want to be covered in bodies of soldiers,” he said. “Go home.”
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