LONDON — Russia’s central bank says it’s lowering a key interest rate, and said more cuts could be on the way.
The decision indicates the bank thinks strict capital controls and other severe measures are stabilizing Russia’s currency and financial system despite intense pressure from Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
The bank said Friday it lowered its benchmark rate from 20% to 17%, effective Monday. It had raised the rate from 9.5% on Feb. 28 — four days after the invasion — as a way to support the ruble’s plunging exchange rate.
A currency collapse would worsen already high inflation for Russian shoppers by ballooning the cost of imported goods.
The rate increase shows how the central bank has managed to stabilize key aspects of the economy with severe controls, artificially propping up the ruble to allow it to rebound to levels seen before the invasion of Ukraine — even as the West piles on more sanctions.
People are also reading…
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Officials say Russian missile kills 30 civilians at train station
— EU imposes sanctions on Putin’s daughters
— Key Polish leader bashes Hungary’s Orban, longtime ally, over stance on Ukraine
— Congress votes to suspend Russia trade status, enact oil ban
— U.N. General Assembly votes to suspend Russia from UN rights council
— UN aid chief: ‘I’m not optimistic’ about Ukraine cease-fire
— Russia is moving troops and focus toward the east, but that strategy carries risks as well
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A shipment of valuable art destined for Russian museums that was seized on the Finnish-Russian border can be released under an amendment to sanctions that went into effect on Friday, Finnish customs officials said.
The artwork and artifacts — which were returning to Russia from Italy and Japan, where they were on loan — have a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million).
They were seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing on April 1-2 under European Union sanctions imposed on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.
The amendment to the sanctions makes it possible to grant an exceptional permit for transports between museums. Finland’s customs agency said the Foreign Ministry can grant a permit enabling the release of works of art.
LVIV, Ukraine — The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region says the death toll from a missile strike on a rail station in the eastern town of Kramatorsk has risen to 50, including five children.
Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on social media that 38 people had died at the scene, and another 12 in hospital.
Ukrainian officials have said as many as 4,000 people were at the station, where trains were evacuating civilians westward from the Ukraine-held town ahead of an expected Russian offensive.
Scores of people were injured in the strike, and local hospitals were overwhelmed in dealing with the influx of patients.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia’s military of deliberately targeting a location where only civilians were assembled. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied any Russian role in the attack.
TIRANA, Albania — Thousands of demonstrators waving Ukrainian flags and chanting support for Ukraine have marched through Albania’s capital.
Western diplomats and the city’s mayor joined Ukraine’s ambassador in a procession from Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square to the Ukrainian embassy.
Youths held aloft a 30-meter (100-foot) long blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and anti-war posters. Some sought to liken Russian President Vladimir Putin to the late Serb ex-authoritarian leader Slobodan Milosevic, a reviled figure in Albania.
Albania’s government has lined up with European Union sanctions and expressed support for U.S. initiatives against Russia at the U.N. Security Council, where Albania currently holds a seat.
TOKYO — Japan is expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials and will phase out imports of Russian coal and oil.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that Moscow must be held accountable for “war crimes” in Ukraine and pointed to a “critical moment” now in efforts to get Russia’s government to end its invasion of Ukraine.
He said Japan will also ban imports of Russian lumber, vodka and other goods, and will prohibit new Japanese investment in Russia. It will also step up sanctions against Russian banks and freeze assets of about 400 more individuals and groups.
Reduction of Russian fossil fuel imports is a difficult choice for resource-poor Japan, and could mean a shift for its energy policy toward more renewables and nuclear power. Russia accounts for about 11% of Japanese coal imports.
Earlier Friday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials, joining similar moves in European countries.
MADRID — Spain’s defense minister expects a “long and cruel” war in Ukraine.
Margarita Robles said Friday that killings and alleged torture of civilians in the town of Bucha were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to atrocities committed since Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
Evidence of the violence against civilians emerged after Russian forces pulled out of the town on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.
Robles told Antena 3 that an expected Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region — where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014 — will likely bring more horror.
She predicted increased “cruelty” would be inflicted by Russian forces in the region.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Prime Minister Eduard Heger says Slovakia has donated its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine.
The comments from Heger came as he was visiting the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv with top EU officials ahead of a planned meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday.
Zelenskyy mentioned S-300s by name when he spoke to U.S. lawmakers by video last month, appealing for defense systems that would allow Ukraine to “close the skies” to Russian warplanes and missiles.
NATO members Bulgaria, Slovakia and Greece have the S-300s, which can fire missiles hundreds of kilometers (miles) and knock out cruise missiles as well as warplanes.
Slovakia previously said it was willing to give its S-300 to Ukraine on condition that it has a proper replacement.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials are raising the death toll from a missile strike on a packed train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, as local hospitals buckled under an influx of injured victims.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said an updated count showed 39 people were killed in Friday’s strike. Ukrainian officials had earlier put the figure at around 30. Officials put the number of injured anywhere from 87 to as many as 300.
Kramatorsk mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko told Ukrainian TV that between 30 and 40 surgeons were treating the wounded, and hospitals were unable to cope with the surge in admissions.
The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general said about 4,000 civilians were in and around the station, most of them women and children. The Ukrainian government has been urging to leave the area before an expected new offensive by Russian forces.
Russian-backed separatists control part of the Donestsk region, but Kramatorsk remains under Ukrainian government control.
BRUSSELS — The European Union has returned its ambassador to Ukraine to the capital, Kyiv, in a move that underscores the improved security situation there and the 27-nation bloc’s commitment to the beleaguered country.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made the announcement Friday during a visit to Kyiv where he joined EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Borrell said the ambassador’s return would help ensure that the EU and Ukraine’s government can work together more directly and closely.
Russian forces sought to enter Kyiv in the days after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine but despite severe losses and damage, the city withstood the attacks and the government was able to continue functioning from there.
Borrell called it “impressive” that Ukraine’s government was fully functioning under “the very difficult circumstances.”
ROME — The United Nations says prices for world food commodities like grains and vegetable oils reached their highest levels ever last month due to fallout from the war in Ukraine.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday its Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices for a basket of commodities, recorded a double-digit percentage-point increase in March from the record level already set the previous month.
FAO said the index came in at 159.3 points last month, up 12.6% from February’s all-time high since the index was created in 1990.
The Rome-based agency says the war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in prices for cereals, including wheat and all coarse grains. Russia and Ukraine together account for around 30% and 20% respectively of global wheat and maize exports.
LONDON — Britain has added two adult daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin to its sanctions list, following similar moves by the U.S. and the European Union.
The government said Friday it is imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Putin’s daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, as well as Yekaterina Vinokurova, daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Britain says it has sanctioned more than 1,200 Russian individuals and businesses since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, including 76 oligarchs and 16 banks.
It says Western nations have collectively frozen 275 billion pounds ($360 billion), amounting to 60% of Russian foreign currency reserves.
KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says about 30 people have been killed and around 100 injured following a rocket strike on the railway station in Kramatorsk in the east of the country.
Writing on social media platforms, Zelenskyy said thousands of people were present in the station at the time of the strike. The head of the Ukrainian railway service, Olexander Kamyshin, made similar comments about the strike.
Kramatorsk is a city in part of the Donetsk region that is controlled by the Ukrainian government, and its railway station was being used to evacuate civilians.
Zelenskyy lashed out at Russian forces, saying they were “cynically destroying the civilian population” and called it “an evil without limits.”
Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk have claimed that Ukrainian forces were responsible.
KYIV, Ukraine — The regional governor of Ukraine’s Sumy region that borders Russia is urging local residents to avoid using forest roads, walking on roadsides, or approaching destroyed military equipment after Russian troops pulled out of the region.
Dmytro Zhyvytskyy warned Friday on the messaging app Telegram that locals are still in danger because of mines and other ammunition that the Russian forces left behind.
In a message apparently directed to local residents, Zhyvytskyy said any explosions in the area in the short term were likely to be sounds of rescuers and mine-clearing specialists at work deactivating the ammunition and other explosives.
He had said earlier this week that Russia no longer controlled any settlements in the region.
BRUSSELS — The European Union imposed has sanctions on two adult daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a new package of measures targeting Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, according to two EU officials.
The EU included Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova in its updated list of individuals facing assets freeze and travel bans. The two EU officials from different EU member countries spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the updated list of sanctions has not been published yet.
The move from the European bloc follows a similar move two days earlier by the United States.
— By Samuel Petrequin and Raf Casert in Brussels.
BRUSSELS — Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and two top European Union officials are in Kyiv looking to shore up the bloc’s support for war-torn Ukraine.
Heger said in a tweet Friday that he, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief have come with trade and humanitarian aid proposals for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government.
Part of that, Heger says is “to offer options for transporting grains, including wheat.” Ukraine is a major world wheat supplier and Russia’s war on Ukraine is creating shortages, notably in the Middle East.
He adds that the three want to help Ukraine on its path toward closer ties with the EU by “creating a ReformTeam.” Ukraine has applied to join the EU, but was already sorely in need of reforms, notably to root out rampant corruption, years before Russian troops invaded in February.
LONDON — Britain’s Defense Ministry has assessed that at least some of the Russian forces who had pulled out from northern Ukraine will be transferred to the eastern Donbas region to continue fighting.
In a daily update, the ministry says that many of these forces will require significant replenishment before being ready to deploy farther east, with any mass redeployment from the north likely to take at least a week minimum.
It says Russian shelling of cities in the east and south continues and Russian forces have advanced farther south from the strategically important city of Izium, which remains under their control.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Latvia says it has blacklisted 15 citizens of Russia and Belarus on grounds that their activities pose a threat to the nation’s national security.
A list of nine Russians and six Belarus citizens was given by Latvia’s State Security Service — the counterintelligence agency — to Interior Minister Marija Golubeva.
The State Security Service said Friday they include people who “may be involved in obtaining intelligence or providing support for Russia’s foreign policy interests.” It says among them are those who despite the crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine express support for the Kremlin.
Earlier this month, Latvia said it will close two Russia’s consular missions and expel a total of 13 Russian diplomats and employees currently stationed in the Baltic country.
MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has acknowledged that Russia has suffered “significant losses of troops” during its military operation in Ukraine.
Peskov said: “Yes, we have significant losses of troops and it is a huge tragedy for us.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview with British broadcaster Sky on Thursday, Peskov also hinted that the operation might be over “in the foreseeable future.” He said that Russian forces were “doing their best to bring an end to that operation.”
He said: “And we do hope that in coming days, in the foreseeable future, this operation will reach its goals, or we’ll finish it by the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.”
CANBERRA, Australia — The first of 20 Bushmaster armored vehicles has left Australia for Ukraine, one week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically requested the Australian-manufactured four-wheel drives.
A Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport jet that can carry four Bushmasters left the east coast city of Brisbane for Europe on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The 20 Bushmasters cost 50 million in Australian dollars, which is $37 million in U.S. dollars.
The vehicles are in addition to $116 million in Australian dollars ($87 million in U.S. dollars) in military and humanitarian aid previously committed to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy requested Bushmasters when he made a video address to the Australian Parliament on March 31.
“And as soon as he asked, we said yes,” Morrison said.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday announced it is levying sanctions against Russia’s largest military shipbuilding and diamond mining companies.
The move blocks their access to the U.S. financial system as the United States looks to exact more economic pain on President Vladimir Putin for the invasion of Ukraine.
Alrosa is the world’s largest diamond mining company and accounts for about 90% of Russia’s diamond mining capacity, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Alrosa generated over $4.2 billion in revenue in 2021. Diamonds are one of Russia’s top 10 non-energy exports by value.
The State Department also said it was blacklisting the United Shipbuilding Corporation, as well as its subsidiaries and board members.
The moves against the two-state owned companies come a day after the U.S. announced it was targeting the two adult daughters of President Vladimir Putin, two of Russia’s largest banks and banning new American investment in Russia.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday night that work has begun to dig through the rubble in Borodianka, another city northwest of Kyiv that was occupied by the Russians.
He also said “it is much scarier” there, with even more victims of the Russian troops.
In his daily nighttime video address to the nation Thursday, Zelenskyy said the Russians were preparing to shock the world in the same way by showing corpses in Mariupol and falsely claiming they were killed by the Ukrainian defenders.
Meanwhile, Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said Thursday on Ukrainian television that investigators have found at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians during the Russian occupation.
Fedoruk said hundreds have been killed and investigators are finding bodies in yards, parks and city squares.
PHOENIX — A Ukrainian diplomat pleaded for the United States to send weapons to his beleaguered nation in a speech to the Arizona Legislature on Thursday.
Dmytro Kushneruk, Ukraine’s consul general in San Francisco, told Arizona lawmakers that Ukraine needs three things to repel Russian invaders and prevent more civilian deaths — “weapons, weapons and weapons.”
Kushneruk said it’s a “war for the soul of humanity” and time is of the essence as Russia regroups for an expected offensive on the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine.
According to Kushneruk, prompt American help will save civilian lives and he pleaded for people not to look away even as the war drags on.
Kushneruk said Ukraine needs planes, anti-aircraft systems, heavy artillery, tanks, rockets systems and long-range missiles that can target Russian ships in the Black Sea.
The speech continued the outreach by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government to political and cultural institutions around the world.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden calls the United Nations vote Thursday to suspend Russia from the body’s Human Rights Council “a meaningful step by the international community.”
He also said that it further demonstrates how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war “has made Russia an international pariah.”
The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the U.N.’s leading human rights body over allegations of horrific rights violations by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
The vote on Thursday was 93-24 with 58 abstentions
The United States and Ukraine have called Russia’s alleged rights violations tantamount to war crimes.
In a statement, Biden said the images out of Bucha and other areas of Ukraine as Russian troops withdraw are “horrifying” and “an outrage to our common humanity.”
BRUSSELS — European Council president Charles Michel says the bloc’s top diplomat has proposed adding an additional 500 million euros ($544 million) to Ukraine under the “European Peace Facility,” the fund which has been used for the first time during the war to deliver defensive lethal weapons to a third country.
The EU has previously agreed to spend 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) on military supplies for Ukrainian forces in an unprecedented step of collectively supplying weapons to a country under attack.
EU countries and NATO have so far excluded the option of a direct military intervention in Ukraine.
“Once swiftly approved this will bring to 1.5 billion the EU support already provided for military equipment for Ukraine,” Michel said in a message posted on Twitter in which he thanked EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
The proposal needs to be approved by the 27 EU countries. The EU said the instrument should help Ukraine armed forces “defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” and protect the civilian population.
The World Health Organization has verified more than 100 “attacks on health care” in Ukraine since the country was first invaded more than a month ago, the organization’s top official said Thursday.
At least 103 attacks on hospitals and other health-care facilities in the country, and at least 73 were killed and 51 injured in those incidents, said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
The toll includes medical workers as well as patients, he said.
He praised the United States for supporting international health efforts in Ukraine, including the delivery of more 180 metric tons of medical supplies to hard-hit areas. “We are outraged that attacks on health care (in Ukraine) continue,” he said.
BRUSSELS — European Union nations have approved new sanctions against Russia, including an EU embargo on coal imports in the wake of evidence of torture and killings emerging from war zones outside Kyiv.
The ban on coal imports will be the first EU sanctions targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry over its war in Ukraine, said an official on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not yet been made.
The EU ban on coal is estimated to be worth 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) per year. In the meantime, the EU has already started working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports.
— Reported by Raf Casert.
PARIS — The International Energy Agency says its member countries are releasing 60 million barrels of oil from their emergency reserves on top of previous U.S. pledges to take aim at energy prices that have soared since Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Paris-based organization said Thursday that the new commitments made by its 31 member nations, which include the United States and much of Europe, amount to a total of 120 million barrels over six months. It’s the largest release in the group’s history.
Half of that will come from the U.S. as part of the larger release from its strategic petroleum reserve that President Joe Biden announced last week.
The IEA agreed last Friday to add to the amount of oil hitting the global market. It comes on top of the 62.7 million barrels that the agency’s members said they would release last month to ease shortages.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.