The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.
A pro-Kremlin tabloid briefly publishes the apparent Russian war toll, reporting that 9,861 Russian soldiers have been killed since Moscow launched the invasion of Ukraine and 16,153 injured.
The report in the Komsomolskaya Pravda, which cites Russian Defense Ministry figures, is taken down after several hours.
The figure is similar to that claimed by Ukraine.
Russia has not released an official toll since March 2, when the Kremlin reported 498 casualties.
Komsomolskaya Pravda, the pro-Kremlin tabloid, says that according to Russian ministry of defense numbers, 9,861 Russian soldiers died in Ukraine and 16,153 were injured. The last official Russian KIA figure, on March 2, was 498. Fascinating that someone posted the leaked number. pic.twitter.com/LHrBWIQ49z
— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) March 21, 2022
Russian forces shelled along a humanitarian corridor today, wounding four children who were among the civilians being evacuated, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says in his nighttime video address to the nation.
He says the shelling took place in the Zaporizhzhia region, the initial destination of those fleeing Mariupol.
The Ukrainian government said that about 3,000 people from Mariupol were evacuated on Monday.
Zelensky says he spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and French President Emmanual Macron to coordinate their positions before Western leaders meet on Thursday.
“Our position will be expressed and will be expressed strongly, believe me,” Zelensky says.
US President Joe Biden says that Russia is considering using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
Putin’s “back is against the wall and now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up including, asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe, simply not true,” Reuters quotes Biden as saying at a Business Roundtable event.
“They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he’s considering using both of those,” Biden says.
Biden did not offer proof.
WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden says that India was an exception among Washington’s allies with its “shaky” response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Biden lauded the US-led alliance, including NATO, the European Union and key Asian partners, for its united front against President Vladimir Putin.
This includes unprecedented sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s currency, international trade and access to high-tech goods.
However, unlike fellow members of the Quad group — Australia, Japan and the United States — India continues to purchase Russian oil and has refused to join votes condemning Moscow at the United Nations.
Addressing a meeting of US business leaders in Washington, Biden says there had been “a united front throughout NATO and in the Pacific.”
“The Quad is, with the possible exception of India being somewhat shaky on some of this, but Japan has been extremely strong — so has Australia — in terms of dealing with Putin’s aggression.”
Indian oil refiners have reportedly continued to purchase discounted Russian oil, even as the West seeks to isolate Moscow.
New Delhi, which historically has had close ties with Moscow, called for an end to the violence in Ukraine but has stopped short of condemning Russia’s invasion, abstaining in three votes at the United Nations.
US President Joe Biden warns of intelligence pointing to a growing Russian cyber threat and urges US businesses to “immediately” prepare defenses.
“If you have not already done so, I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately,” he says in a statement.
Biden cites “evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks,” including in response to Western sanctions over Moscow’s launching of the war in Ukraine.
“It’s part of Russia’s playbook,” he says.
Biden says the US government would “continue to use every tool to deter, disrupt, and if necessary, respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure.”
However, he underlined that most critical infrastructure in the country is owned and operated by private entities, which cannot be compelled to take specific cyber security measures.
“Owners and operators must accelerate efforts to lock their digital doors,” he says.
President Volodymyr Zelensky insists that a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “in any format” is needed to end the war in Ukraine.
“I believe that without this meeting it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war,” Zelensky says in an interview with the Ukraine regional media outlet Suspilne.
Zelensky has previously said that “without negotiations, we cannot end the war” and called for a summit with Putin, but his comments on Monday were particularly insistent.
Several sessions of Ukraine-Russia talks have taken place via videoconferencing since the start of the Russian military action in Ukraine on February 24.
Shipments of highly touted arms promised by the US to Ukraine last week are being shipped but seemingly will not arrive for a few more days, unnamed officials tell CNN.
US President Joe Biden promised $800 million in aid to Ukraine, including drones, anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft missiles, and other arms Kyiv says it badly needs.
A senior defense official says the shipments are still being “fleshed out.”
“But it will arrive, we believe it will arrive very, very soon, or at least the initial shipments will start to arrive soon, but nothing has been actualized on that yet,” the official tells reporters.
Another official says shipments started, but have not arrived yet.
Reporters without Borders, also known as RSF, says a fixer working for Radio France in central Ukraine was kidnapped and held in a forest and a cold cellar by Russian troops for nine days, during which he was tortured.
The fixer, who is given the alias “Nikita,” has worked for several French media outlets in Ukraine, providing translation services and helping foreign reporters parachuting into the country to get stories.
According to the account, which RSF says was corroborated through reporting, the fixer was nabbed after his car was hit by machine gun fire. Over some nine days, he was repeatedly beaten by soldiers pummeling him with rifle butts and cutting him with a knife, tied to trees, stuck in a water-filled basement, shocked and interrogated as a spy, and forced to sign a confession.
“A soldier rolled Nikita’s right trouser up to the knee and another gave him electric shocks. With his face pressed to the ground, Nikita was unable to see what instrument was used to administer the electric shocks, but he counted three or four shocks, each lasting five to 10 seconds. The pain was such that every second felt like an eternity,” the account reads.
He was eventually taken to the forest and released. A Russian soldier who found him as he tried to reach help forced other Ukrainians in a car to take him, threatening to kill him if they did not take him.
RSF says the account is being submitted to the International Criminal Court.
“Nikita has given us a chilling testimony that confirms the intensity of the war crimes perpetrated by the Russian army against journalists,” RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire says in a statement.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed protesters in Kherson for their courage in confronting the Russian troops who fired shots to disperse the demonstration.
Russian troops on Monday used stun grenades and fired in the air to break up demonstrators in the southern city of Kherson.
— Ukraine Alert???????? (@alert_ukraine) March 21, 2022
Speaking in a video address, Zelensky says that “we saw slaves shooting at free people, slaves of propaganda that replaced their conscience.”
He adds that the war has turned ordinary Ukrainians into heroes and “the enemy doesn’t believe it’s all real.”
“There is no need to organize resistance,” Zelensky adds. “Resistance for Ukrainians is part of their soul.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah will visit Ramallah sometime in the next two weeks, Haaretz reports, citing a senior Palestinian official.
Abdullah will meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit, which will take place either next week or sometime before April 2, according to the report.
The visit by the Jordanian royal will be his first since 2017. It was first reported by Kan.
According to the reports, Abdullah will look to use the visit to keep tensions from boiling over, with Ramadan on the horizon. Officials in Israel and the US have warned of possible violence around the holy month, which begins in early April, when zealous fervor is often raised. The holiday will also overlap with Passover, which can add to tensions as masses of Jews visit Jerusalem’s Old City for the holiday.
Palestinians are also hoping the visit will help push their plight back onto the political agendas of Israel and the US.
“The king’s presence is mainly for support, a significant ‘strong player’ matching up against Israel and the US, even if the White House and Prime Minister’s Office in Israel present the Palestinian diplomatic portfolio as if it is frozen,” a Palestinian official is quoted saying.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will not return to Israel from Egypt, but will bunk in Sinai’s Sharm el-Sheikh, Channel 12 news says.
According to the report, which does not attribute the information to any source, Bennett has meetings scheduled for Tuesday in Egypt, after traveling there today for an unannounced summit.
It is unclear if the meetings will be a continuation of his tripartite summit with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
Bennett’s office has yet to put out a statement on the visit, or even to officially confirm his travel, and official Egyptian and UAE outlets are similarly tight-lipped.
US President Joe Biden discussed Russia’s “brutal” war in Ukraine in a phone call with European allies Monday, ahead of attending NATO and EU summits, followed by a trip to Poland, the White House says.
Biden hosted the call, lasting just under one hour, with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “to discuss their coordinated responses,” according to a White House statement.
“The leaders discussed their serious concerns about Russia’s brutal tactics in Ukraine, including its attacks on civilians,” the statement said.
“They underscored their continued support for Ukraine, including by providing security assistance to the brave Ukrainians who are defending their country from Russian aggression, and humanitarian assistance to the millions of Ukrainians who have fled,” it said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says Biden’s diplomatic emphasis has been on “unity” and on his trip “what the president is hoping to achieve is continued coordination.”
One thing Biden will not be doing this week, the White House says, is making a risky, but hugely symbolic trip to Kyiv.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, along with the Czech and Slovenian prime ministers, traveled to the embattled capital last week. But “there are no plans to travel into Ukraine,” Psaki says.
A senior US defense official says the Russians have increased the number of military aircraft sorties over Ukraine over the past two days, doing as many as 300 in the last 24 hours. The official says Ukraine has also increased the pace of its military flights, but declines to provide numbers.
Officials have made it clear that Russia has vastly more aircraft, and flies a great deal more than Ukraine does, but that Russia still does not have air superiority over the country’s skies.
The official says that most of the military flights involve air-to-ground strikes, mainly on stationary targets, and that the Russian aircraft are not spending a lot of time in Ukrainian airspace. The Ukraine military has continued to use its short and long-range air defense systems and drones to target Russian aircraft.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby refuses to say if Russian S-300 or S-400 air defense systems have been given to Ukraine.
The Russians have also increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea, but there are no indications at this point of an amphibious assault on Odesa. The US speaks on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment.
Any deal agreed in peace negotiations with Russia will be submitted to a referendum in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky tells a regional Ukrainian public media outlet.
“I explained it to all the negotiating groups: when you speak of all these changes (in a future accord) and they can be historic… we will come back to a referendum,” Zelensky tells Suspilne, an internet news site.
The US says a deal to return to the Iran nuclear pact is not imminent and the US is preparing for the option of no agreement being reached.
“There has been significant process in recent weeks. But I want to be clear an agreement is neither imminent nor is it certain,” spokesman Ned Price says.
“In fact, we are preparing equally for scenarios with and without a return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” he adds, noting President Joe Biden’s commitment to keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
However, he says the US is prepared to make concessions to come to terms with Tehran.
“We are prepared to make difficult decision to return Iran’s nuclear program to its JCPOA limits,” he says.
President Joe Biden is warning of intelligence pointing to a growing Russian cyber threat and he urged US businesses to “immediately” prepare defenses.
“If you have not already done so, I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately,” he says in a statement.
Biden cites “evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks,” including in response to Western sanctions over Moscow’s launching of the war in Ukraine.
“It’s part of Russia’s playbook,” he says.
Biden says the government will “continue to use every tool to deter, disrupt, and if necessary, respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure.”
However, he underlines that most critical infrastructure in the country is owned and operated by private entities, which cannot be compelled to take specific cyber security measures.
“Owners and operators must accelerate efforts to lock their digital doors,” he says. “You have the power, the capacity, and the responsibility to strengthen the cybersecurity and resilience of the critical services and technologies on which Americans rely. We need everyone to do their part.”
A NATO official tells reporters that Ukraine and Russia are heading toward a devastating stalemate, and Belarus may soon actively enter the war to help give Russia an upper hand.
The official says Russia has made barely any gains in the last two weeks, but President Vladimir Putin is expected to dig in, rather than retreat.
“The reality is that neither side has a superiority over the other,” the official says. “So what happens when you have these two forces then grinding on each other in this way? The loss of life and the damage is going to be quite severe. Neither side here can win. Neither side will capitulate.”
The official says Belarus, which already lets Russia use its territory for military bases, may ratchet up its engagement, and could even let Russia place nuclear weapons in the country.
“The Belarusian government is preparing the environment to justify a Belarusian offensive against Ukraine and the imminent deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus,” the official says.
The official adds that placing the nuclear weapons is not necessarily imminent, but the path to such a move already paved: “I’m not telling you they’re going to put nukes in there tomorrow. What I mean is they’ve taken steps politically to now be able to receive nuclear weapons if such a decision is made.”
Kyiv has entered a fresh 35-hour curfew, a day after Russian shells pounded the city overnight, including a strike on a shopping center that killed eight.
The curfew went into effect at 8 p.m. local time and will remain in effect until 7 a.m. Wednesday
According to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, quoted by Ukrainian state media, 65 civilians in the city have been killed by Russian attacks since the start of the war, including four children.
Moscow has ramped up its air and sea operations, as the Kremlin is “desperate” to turn the tide against a ferocious Ukrainian resistance, a senior US defense official says.
A yacht belonging to Chelsea soccer club owner and sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich has docked in the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum, Turkish media reports said Monday, amid international moves to freeze assets belonging to top Russian businessmen with close links to the Kremlin.
Turkey’s private NTV television said the Bermuda-flagged luxury yacht “Solaris” docked at the port in Turkey — which has not joined sanctions on Russia — after departing Montenegro.
A group of Ukrainians, carrying Ukrainian flags with the words “No War” emblazoned on them, boarded a small motor boat and tried to prevent the yacht from docking, the Sozcu newspaper reports.
It is not known if Abramovich was aboard or if the yacht has been moved to Turkey to avoid sanctions.
Last week, the European Union imposed sanctions on Abramovich, as it updated a list of individuals facing asset freeze and travel bans over their role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Abramovich had already been punished in Britain.
NATO-member Turkey has close ties to both Russia and Ukraine. It has criticized Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but has also positioned itself as a neutral party trying to mediate between the two.
It has closed the Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean to most Russian warships, but has not imposed sanctions on Russia or shut down its airspace to Russian flights.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine will not accept Russian demands to surrender.
“We have an ultimatum with points in it. ‘Follow it and then we will end the war,'” Zelensky says in an interview with Ukrainian public news outlet Suspilne, according to Reuters, seemingly referencing Russian comments. “Ukraine cannot fulfill the ultimatum.”
Officials are mostly mum about what is being discussed in the tripartite meeting in Egypt between the leaders of Israel, Egypt, and the UAE, but most Israeli pundits believe Iran is high on the agenda.
“This is looking like a regional summit against Iran,” Channel 13’s Sefi Ovadia tweets.
The Kan news outlet brands the meeting an “anti-Iran summit.”
Channel 12 news reports that the meeting was called “to send a regional message to the Iranians before the nuclear deal is signed.”
Others see the target audience in Washington, not Tehran.
This summit is a signal to the Biden administration at least as much as it is a signal to Iran https://t.co/YTYO4DBwtJ
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) March 21, 2022
While Iran is surely on the agenda, worth remembering that unlike Israel, Egypt and the UAE support a revival of the Iran nuclear deal https://t.co/nXLI27YDxZ
— Jacob Magid (@JacobMagid) March 21, 2022
Russia claims a shopping mall in Kyiv that was attacked and destroyed overnight killing at least eight people was used to store rocket systems.
Russia used “long-range precision-guided weaponry” to destroy a store of “multiple-launch rocket systems” and ammunition in a shopping center in Kyiv, defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov tells media.
Displaying aerial footage of the bombing, he accused Ukraine of continuing to use civilian infrastructure as a shield for artillery and rocket systems used to attack Russian troops.
A square near the mall was used to store and reload ammunition for missile systems, Konashenkov says, playing a video of a khaki military vehicle driving close to the building.
He also shows night-vision images of a huge explosion coming from the building’s roof.
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) March 21, 2022
The 10-story building was hit by a powerful blast that pulverized vehicles in its car park and left a crater several meters wide.
Konashenkov says that the Russian military’s aerial footage was “absolute proof of the criminal use by the Kyiv nationalist regime of civilian buildings… as firing positions for artillery and rocket systems.”
Russian soldiers who have taken over the town of Trostyanets, south of Sumy, are forcing residents to shield Russian military equipment with their bodies, a war crime, Ukraine’s human rights comptroller says.
According to a report from Lyudmyla Denisova, the town has been under Russian control for weeks, and Russian soldiers have used it to hide tanks and other military equipment next to homes, stores, administrative buildings, and other civilian infrastructure. People are also forced to spend nights outside in the cold to sit next to the equipment, so Ukrainians do not bomb it.
The report notes that when a local politician was killed and her body left on the street, snipers fired on anyone who tried to retrieve it. A number of other people have been shot and killed by the occupying forces, including three elderly people, who were killed when homes were shelled on Sunday.
Troops are also looting shops, pharmacies, and homes, the report says.
A group of local religious leaders have attached a letter to the outer wall of Jerusalem’s Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral on Monday afternoon, calling on Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to “take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict [in Ukraine], and seek a peaceful resolution to it.”
“We are saddened to see the fighting, which primarily pits Orthodox Christians against each other,” the letter reads. “The current conflict has already resulted in a significant loss of life, of both combatants and civilians.”
The letter also warns of potential war between nuclear powers.
Kirill, 75, is a close ally of Putin, sharing a vision of a muscular Russia defending traditional Christian values from an immoral West. His public statements on the Ukraine-Russia war have been in line with Moscow’s rhetoric.
“I believed it was important that there be a public event of religious leaders in the Holy Land affirming the importance of peace, and publicly calling on Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to speak with President Putin to seek peace,” Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development tells The Times of Israel.
“Religious leaders in the Holy Land have moral authority,” he continues. “It’s important that they not be silent. It’s important that they speak out, and today they spoke out.”
Neril, who organized the event, reached out to the two Russian Orthodox archmandrites in Jerusalem, one of whom wrote back, saying that he had forwarded it to the other clergyman who was in direct contact with Patriarch Kirill.
The event is attended by Latin Patriarch Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Rev. Karin Ekblom of the Swedish Theological Institute, Muslim Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion of Rahat, Rabbi Rasson Arousi of the Chief Rabbinate’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See, American Jewish Committee International Director of Interreligious Affairs Rabbi David Rosen, and other Druze, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula coincides with a trip there by UAE crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayed.
MBZ, as he is popularly known, will hold a three-way meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Bennett in Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian official tells The Times of Israel.
The content of the meeting is not publicized.
Israeli officials refuse to comment on the record about the meeting, but Hebrew-language media outlets, which often carry non-attributed statements from government officials, report on the Egypt meetings.
The UN says there have been at least 925 civilians killed since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as of the end of March 20, though the real toll is likely much higher.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 75 children were killed. This tally is lower than Ukraine’s, which says 115 children have been killed.
Another 1,496 people have been injured in the fighting.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes,” the office says.
The Russian military says it will continue using its state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to hit particularly important targets in Ukraine.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov says the Kinzhal hypersonic missile “has proven its efficiency in destroying heavily fortified special facilities.”
He said that a Kinzhal missile was used Friday to hit a Soviet-era arsenal for storing missiles near the western town of Deliatyn in the Carpathian Mountains, the first time the new weapon was used in combat. It also was used in a strike on the fuel depot in Kostiantynivka near the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv over the weekend. Konashenkov noted that Kinzhal was used for these strikes due to its high kinetic energy and its ability to penetrate defenses.
Konashenkov said that Kinzhal missiles were fired at a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers (over 620 miles).
Kinzhal, one of an array of hypersonic weapons developed by Russian in recent years, has a range of 2,000 kilometers(1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound. It’s carried by specially redesigned MiG-31 fighter jets.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is currently meeting Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during a visit to Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian official confirms to ToI.
The content of the unannounced talks is not known.
Israeli sources have yet to officially confirm the visit.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson says a NATO drill in Norway that was planned before the invasion of Ukraine sends “an important signal that there is cooperation, cooperation and a readiness to defend our territory.”
The visit to the exercise Cold Response “shouldn’t be interpreted as a step toward a Swedish NATO membership,” Andersson tells reporters.
Sweden has a close partnership with NATO and that “has deepened during the crisis.”
Support for joining NATO has surged to record levels in non-Alliance members Finland and Sweden.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is in Egypt for an unannounced visit, Egypt says.
The trip to Sharm el-Sheikh is his second since taking office in the summer, after meeting Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi in the Egyptian coastal resort in September.
The current visit comes days after Israel and Egypt agreed to increase direct flights between the two nations with the opening of a new route between Ben Gurion Airport and Sharm.
Israel and Egypt have bolstered their diplomatic ties in recent years. The two governments share security interests in the Gaza Strip — Egypt, like Israel, sees the enclave’s Hamas rulers as a serious threat — as well as in Sinai and the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatiana Komuk, an Israeli woman detained by Russian forces earlier today, tells Israel’s Kan news that she and her parents were investigated for having reported on what is happening in Melitopol, which Moscow has bombarded and attempted to capture for over a week.
Komuk, who is normally based in Tel Aviv where she runs a bridal shop, tells the news outlet that Russians first arrested her parents, who run a local newspaper, along with other journalists. She says about an hour later Russian soldiers came to her home.
“They told me if I don’t open up they will break into the house. They threw me in a car and took me to a base,” Komuk says. She was not told where the base was.
She says the three Russian soldiers who arrested her were respectful and did not hurt or yell at her. When she asked why she was arrested she says they told her “for making too much noise in the city,” and because it’s illegal to protest. Komuk, who has been posting pictures from protests on her Facebook page, says the soldiers told her, “We came from Russia to Ukraine to free Ukrainians from the Nazis,” to which she replied that they should “go on Google and look up what real Nazis are.”
Russia has summoned the US ambassador in protest after President Joe Biden branded Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, saying he had endangered ties.
“Such statements by the American president, which are not worthy of a high-ranking statesman, have put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.
The statement says ambassador John Sullivan was handed a formal letter of protest over “recent unacceptable statements” made by Biden.
He was warned that “hostile actions taken against Russia would receive a firm and decisive response,” the ministry says.
Biden described Putin as a “war criminal” in remarks to reporters last week, amid heavy fighting in Ukraine after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into the pro-Western country.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has asked Shin Bet officials to prepare for him to possibly visit Kyiv for high-stakes ceasefire talks, the Ynet news site reports.
While a visit is still a distant possibility, talk of a possible trip ramped up over the weekend, according to the report, with Ukrainians pushing for Bennett to visit as a show of support for their cause, though Bennett would like to use the trip to push talks with Russia.
Israeli security officials reportedly believe such a visit would be a security nightmare given the Russian bombardment there.
According to the report, Israeli officials have told Ukrainian counterparts that Bennett won’t make the trip “for a photo op” and will only visit if the sides are close to reaching a deal, to help push them over the finish line.
Bennett already visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to help mediate talks at the start of the war.
The Prime Minister’s Office says it cannot immediately comment on the report.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister announces the Asian country will open an embassy in Israel.
Vivian Balakrishnan, visiting from the city-state, breaks the news in a meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
“I welcome the government of Singapore’s decision to open an embassy in Israel for the first time since the establishment of relations. This represents another testament to the good and unique relations between the countries,” says Lapid.
The two countries have had diplomatic relations since 1965, and have since developed close security and business ties.
European Union aid to the Palestinian Authority is being held up as EU officials discuss conditioning it on reforms to Palestinian textbooks, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki confirms to official PA radio.
The story was first reported by The Times of Israel in late February.
The EU is normally the PA’s largest single donor, helping to pay the salaries of Ramallah’s many civil servants. But little aid has been disbursed since 2020.
The aid’s disbursal was stymied when EU official Oliver Varhelyi sought to condition around $10 million in aid on textbooks meeting international standards, creating a bureaucratic quagmire.
In a February interview, a diplomat familiar with the discussions criticized the proposed conditionality.
“Should such substantive financial aid be linked to one element of the relationship between Europe and the Palestinians?” the diplomat said at the time.
Palestinian textbooks have long been a subject of controversy. Critics accuse them of containing incitement to violence and glorifying terror, while the PA defends them as simply reflecting the Palestinian national narrative.
The deputy head of the Kherson regional council says Russian forces opened fire to disperse a group of unarmed civilian protesters in Kherson, the first major city taken by Russia earlier this month.
Videos of the scene show dozens of people chanting in a central square when loud shots can be heard from an unknown source.
— B-Cat (@ePowerLife2) March 21, 2022
A second video shows dozens of people fleeing as gunfire crackles through the air.
Ukraine : Vidéo qui montre la situation à Kherson où les troupes d'occupation de la Russie (Rosgvardia) répriment actuellement les manifestations des habitants. Des victimes ont été signalées
Géolocalisation (Rosgvardia) : https://t.co/2teCpgrkmhpic.twitter.com/3VwjdNnQtD
— Rebecca Rambar (@RebeccaRambar) March 21, 2022
It’s unclear if live fire was used. According to deputy chairman of the Kherson region Yuriy Sobolevsky, the most serious casualty was an older man who was badly hurt in his leg. He says “cannonades, gas grenades and flashbangs” were used against the protesters, the last two of which are meant to be non-lethal.
Sobolevsky says one person was arrested and protesters plan to be back at the square to protest tomorrow.
Daily peaceful protests against the Russian occupiers have been held in the square.
Britain is accusing the Russian state of being behind hoax calls to two government ministers by an imposter posing as the prime minister of Ukraine.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says the hoaxer was able to speak to him on a video call Thursday. Home Secretary Priti Patel says she had received a similar call, and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries says an unsuccessful attempt was made to speak to her.
Wallace says he became suspicious and hung up after the caller “posed several misleading questions.” He accuses Russia of “dirty tricks.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, says “the Russian state was responsible for the hoax calls made to government ministers last week.”
British officials are concerned that Russia might release doctored clips from the calls as part of a disinformation campaign and to embarrass Britain.
Blain warns that “it won’t be the last attempt,” and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of staging distractions “to hide the scale of the conflict and Russia’s failings on the battlefield.”
Michael Brodsky, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, tells The Times of Israel that the Foreign Ministry is dealing with reports that three Israeli members of a family in Melitopol were arrested by Russian forces.
“The Foreign Ministry is fully aware of the situation and is working on it,” Brodsky says.
Brodsky is currently in Israel after breaking his knee in a traffic accident in Poland earlier this month.
According to the Ynet news site, local newspaper publisher Michael Kumok, his wife Vera and daughter Tatiana were arrested this morning.
The World Health Organization tweets that there were “six additional reports of attacks on health care” in Ukraine on Sunday.
The international body says that as of March 20, there have been 52 attacks verified on healthcare in Ukraine over the course of the 25 days since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
The organization does not provide any further details and seemingly does not differentiate between assaults on buildings and assaults on individuals.
A Holocaust survivor has been killed in his home in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, according to a tweet from a memorial account for the Buchenwald concentration camp.
“Boris Romantschenko survived the concentration camps Buchenwald, Peenemünde, Dora and BergenBelsen. He was killed last Friday in a blast at his home in Charkiv, Ukraine. He was 96 years old. We are stunned,” reads the statement.
“According to his granddaughter, he lived in a multi-story building, hit by a shell. Boris Romanchenko worked intensively on the memory of Nazi crimes and was vice-president of the Buchenwald-Dora International Committee,” the account tweets.
Boris Romantschenko survived the concentration camps #Buchenwald, #Peenemünde, #Dora and #BergenBelsen. Now he has been killed by a bullet that hit his house in #Charkiv, #Ukraine. He was 96 years old. We are stunned. pic.twitter.com/ZZIK2OdbAu
— Stift. Gedenkstätten Buchenwald und Mittelbau-Dora (@Buchenwald_Dora) March 21, 2022
Three Israeli citizens have been arrested by Russian troops in the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol, reports say.
The Foreign Ministry says it is looking into the matter.
According to the Ynet news site, Michael Kumok, a former editor of a local newspaper and a printing house owner, was arrested this morning along with his wife Vera and their daughter Tatiana.
The report says no reason has been given for the arrest and a family friend says there are concerns for the family’s safety.
MOSCOW — Russia’s FSB national security service asks a court to “immediately” ban US tech giant Meta, accusing it of working against Moscow’s interests during the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The court was considering a request by prosecutors to designate Meta — the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — an “extremist” organization and ban it.
The move is part of sweeping efforts by Moscow to put a tight lid on information available to Russians about the conflict in Ukraine.
“The activities of the Meta organization are directed against Russia and its armed forces,” FSB representative Igor Kovalevsky tells Moscow’s Tverskoi district court, Russian news agencies report.
“We ask [the court] to ban Meta’s activities and oblige it to implement this ruling immediately,” he says.
After President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, authorities blocked access in Russia to Facebook and Instagram, as well as to Twitter.
Meta had announced on March 10 that the platforms would allow statements like “death to Russian invaders” but not credible threats against civilians.
But in what appeared to be damage control, Meta’s global affairs president, Nick Clegg, later said the laxer rules would only apply to people posting from inside Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency says the radiation monitors around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst meltdown in 1986, have stopped working.
In a statement Monday, the agency also said there are no longer firefighters available in the region to protect forests tainted by decades of radioactivity as the weather warms. The plant was seized by Russian forces on Feb. 24.
According to the statement, the combination of risks could mean a “significant deterioration” of the ability to control the spread of radiation not just in Ukraine but beyond the country’s borders in weeks and months to come.
Management of the Chernobyl plant said Sunday that 50 staff members who had been working nonstop since the Russian takeover have been rotated out and replaced.
GENEVA — Nearly 3.5 million Ukrainians have now fled the country following Russia’s invasion, the United Nations says, praising neighboring countries for showing overwhelming compassion towards their “extreme plight.”
More than 10 million people — over a quarter of the population in regions under government control — are now thought to have fled their homes, including the millions of internally displaced people.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says 3,489,644 Ukrainians had fled the country since Russia invaded on February 24 — a figure up 100,600 on Sunday’s update.
“Over the last four weeks, the world has watched in disbelief. Countless lives have been lost while millions of others have been completely upended,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi says.
“As if to counter the despair, we have also witnessed overwhelming acts of welcome and compassion as neighboring countries, particularly local responders, have opened their hearts and homes to Ukrainians.
“Millions around the world were rightly moved by the extreme plight of the Ukrainian people,” he says, citing their “pain and sorrow… loss and anguish,” and “relief at finding safety and trepidation of an uncertain future.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that the United States understands that Israel will not support a return by Washington to the Iran nuclear deal but he won’t get into a public fight on the matter.
“In 2015 [ahead of the first deal], the pre-signing rhetoric was at its peak, and it failed,” Bennett tells a conference organized by the Ynet news site.
“The agreement was signed. Not only was it signed, but then ears in Washington were closed on all matters. I do not get into quarrels just for the sake of quarrels. I will only go to war if there is a real chance of success and a worthy purpose,” Bennett says.
“The US has internalized that we are not bound by the nuclear agreement,” he says.
The premier also addresses reports that Washington is considering delisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as part of the negotiations.
“The Revolutionary Guards are truly the largest state-supported terrorist organization in the world,” Bennett says. “There is hardly a day that Revolutionary Guardsmen do not carry out acts of terrorism in the Middle East — against the United Arab Emirates, against other people, and are now really trying to harm Americans and Israelis. A terrible organization.”
Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana, who has relentlessly campaigned for an improvement in the treatment of Ukrainian refugees, says Israel should feel shame about the conditions at a detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport for those who have been refused entry.
“A source of great shame,” Mara’ana tells Army Radio. “There is no hot water in some of the rooms in the detention facilities. We all know the price of war — they have nowhere to go back to. The State of Israel can receive more refugees.”
The lawmaker, chair of the Knesset Committee for Foreign Workers, tweets photos from her visit, showing the spartan facilities.
“The reception given to a young mother and her two children who fled the inferno in Ukraine for a father waiting for them in Israel,” she captions a photo. “Shame on the facility run by the Population and Immigration Authority. They weren’t even given bedding, let alone toys or books for children or free access to their belongings.”
???????? קבלת פנים לאמא צעירה ושני ילדיה שברחו מהתופת באוקראינה לאבא שמחכה להם בישראל. בושה במתקן יהלום של רשות האוכלוסין וההגירה. אפילו מצעים לא נתנו להם, שלא לדבר על צעצועים וספרים לילדים או גישה חופשית לחפצים שלהם pic.twitter.com/nhyhCLZZv4
— Ibtisam Mara'ana אבתיסאם מראענה إبتِسام مراعنة (@IbtisamMaraana) March 21, 2022
Since the war broke out, 275 Ukrainian citizens have been refused entry to Israel.
The Jewish Agency has ramped up its efforts to bring over thousands of Ethiopians eligible for Israeli citizenship, after the High Court of Justice ended its injunction barring their immigration earlier this month.
The CEO of the organization, Amira Aharonovich, tells reporters that the first flights carrying Ethiopian immigrants are expected to arrive in Israel before the Passover holiday next month.
In November, the government approved a plan to let thousands of Ethiopians with first-degree relatives in Israel immigrate under the Law of Return.
However, the right-wing Israeli Immigration Policy Center petitioned the High Court of Justice to block the move on the grounds that the Ethiopians in question were not themselves Jewish or the direct descendants of Jews. The immigration was blocked by a judicial injunction until the matter could be resolved.
After the court indicated it would not overturn the government’s decision, the Israeli Immigration Policy Center withdrew its opposition last week, ending the injunction.
Aharonovich says that while the Jewish Agency is focusing considerable resources on bringing over Ukrainian refugees who are eligible for Israeli citizenship, the organization is also increasing its efforts in Ethiopia to prepare the initial 3,000 or so people waiting to immigrate from there.
“Saving the Jews of Ukraine and the Jews of Ethiopia together is part of the Jewish Agency’s moral obligation and purpose,” she tells reporters in a video press conference.
COVID czar Salman Zarka, who is spearheading the national response to the coronavirus, says that the country is facing a resurgent fifth wave of infections.
“The transmission rate shows that the epidemic is spreading,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster.
“The BA.2 variant is more contagious than the Omicron, so we are in the resurgence of the fifth wave,” he says. “It’s the same variants so we are still in the fifth wave.”
“The decline [in infections] has stopped and unfortunately the virus is here to stay,” he says.
For the first time in nearly a month, new daily coronavirus cases rose to over 12,000, the Health Ministry said earlier.
According to the ministry, 12,869 new infections were diagnosed the previous day, the highest rate since February 22.
The R number, which denotes the transmission rate of the virus, continued its steady climb and reached 1.23.
Officials in Odesa accuse Russia of carrying out a strike on residential buildings, the first such assault on the Ukrainian Black Sea port city.
There are no reports of casualties although the strike was said to have caused a fire.
The reports of the strike have not been independently verified.
“These are residential buildings where peaceful people live,” Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov tells the Reuters news agency.
Odesa, known as the pearl of the Black Sea, has been bracing for a Russian attack since the start of the invasion as it is both a symbolic and strategic target.
KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calls on European leaders to cease all trade with Russia in an effort to pressure Moscow to halt its nearly month-long military assault on his country.
“Please do not sponsor the weapons of war of this country, of Russia. No euros for the occupiers. Close all of your ports to them. Don’t export them your goods. Deny energy resources. Push for Russia to leave Ukraine,” Zelensky says in a video address.
Addressing Germany directly, he says: “You have the strength. Europe has the strength.”
His appeal comes as several countries in the EU, including the Baltic states, call for an embargo on Russian oil and gas imports.
Germany has opposed an outright halt on Russian energy imports.
EU foreign ministers are meeting to discuss Ukraine and a possible tightening of sanctions.
Some 4,000 Ukrainians have immigrated to Israel since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, according to the Jewish Agency.
In addition, roughly 8,500 have started the paperwork to immigrate and 25,000 have called the Jewish Agency’s hotline to inquire about immigration, the acting head of the organization, Yaakov Hagoel, tells journalists in a virtual press conference.
Hagoel says the organization is working to streamline the immigration process in order to bring over thousands of immigrants each week.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko announces a new curfew for the Ukrainian capital that will last until Wednesday morning.
The curfew “will begin at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) and last until 7:00 am (0500 GMT) on March 23,” Klitschko writes on Telegram.
The BBC reports that under the terms of the curfew, anyone on the streets of the Ukrainian capital who doesn’t have a special pass or is not on the way to a shelter will be considered an enemy combatant.
The announcement comes after at least eight people are killed in the bombing of a shopping center in northwest Kyiv overnight. The death toll has been revised upwards in the hours since the attack. The 10-story building was completely destroyed in the blast.
UK officials say that “despite the continued lack of progress, Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective and they are likely to prioritize attempting to encircle the city over the coming weeks.”
MOSCOW — An embargo on Russian oil imports, pushed for by some European countries over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine, would have a direct impact on everyone, the Kremlin says.
As EU foreign ministers met to discuss more sanctions on Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells journalists that an oil embargo “is a decision that will hit everyone.”
Russia’s invasion has sparked an unprecedented wave of Western sanctions against President Vladimir Putin, his entourage and Russian companies.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell decries Russia’s attack on the Ukrainian port city Mariupol as “a massive war crime,” as the bloc discusses imposing more sanctions on Moscow.
“What’s happening now in Mariupol is a massive war crime, destroying everything, bombarding and killing everybody,” Borrell says at the start of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
The encircled southern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the worst horrors of the war, under Russian pounding for more than three weeks.
Strikes hit an art school sheltering some 400 people only hours before Russia’s offer to open two corridors out of the city in return for the capitulation of its defenders, according to Ukrainian officials.
Russia’s invasion has sparked an unprecedented wave of Western sanctions against President Vladimir Putin, his entourage and Russian companies.
LONDON — Morad Tahbaz, an environmental campaigner being held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike, his sister says, accusing the UK government of abandoning him after two other detainees were released.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori flew home last week, at the same time as the UK government repaid a longstanding debt to Tehran.
But Tahbaz, 69, who holds British, US and Iranian citizenship, was only released on furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison and was not allowed to leave the country.
After 48 hours he was taken back to prison, reportedly to have an ankle bracelet fitted, but he has not been heard from since.
“We have heard through a relative just now… that he’s been taken from the prison and he’s been taken to an undisclosed location and that he’s gone on hunger strike,” Tarane Tahbaz tells BBC radio.
“He continues to be used as a pawn on a chessboard. And it’s very distressing, we’re agonizing, we’re absolutely distraught, and we don’t know what the next moves are.”
Tarane Tahbaz says that her brother has cancer and has already lost 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in weight.
She accuses the government in London of not communicating with the family and not doing enough to secure Morad’s release.
“The only answer we’ve heard from them since is that it’s because Morad is also an American citizen,” she says.
“Does that make him less important or is that just a way of an excuse or a way to edge away from securing his release? We don’t know… we feel very abandoned.”
The British foreign ministry says in a statement that “Morad has now been moved from Evin prison to a residential location in Tehran.”
“We have been in touch with Morad’s family throughout the day and continue to lobby the Iranian authorities at the highest levels to allow him to return home immediately, as the Iranian government committed to doing,” it says.
A Tehran court in 2020 jailed Tahbaz for 10 years on charges of spying, conspiring with Washington and damaging national security.
He and seven others convicted on similar charges worked with environmental group Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation to track endangered species and were arrested on suspicion of espionage in early 2018.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine, saying that while progress has been made on the matter, there are still disagreements on fundamental issues.
“We will continue, together with other countries, to try to bring an end to the war,” Bennett says at a conference organized by the Ynet news site.
“There is still a long way to go because there are controversial issues, some of them fundamental issues. Recently, there has been progress between the parties, but the divisions are still very large,” he says.
According to a report last week by the Financial Times, Bennett has been the “primary international mediator” during the talks. The report cited three people familiar with the matter.
Bennett also directly responds to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s caustic address to Israeli lawmakers on Sunday, saying that while he believes the Holocaust should not be compared to anything, he understands that the Ukrainian people are suffering.
“His country and his people are in a very severe war,” Bennett says. “Many hundreds of dead, millions of refugees. I cannot imagine what it is like to be in his shoes.”
“However I personally believe that the Holocaust should not be compared to anything,” he says.
Israeli politicians frequently invoke the Holocaust, most notably now-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu who often mentioned it in the context of the threat from Iran.
Ukraine MP: Russia wants to starve Mariupol into surrender; rescuers still can’t reach basement of bombed theater
A Ukrainian lawmaker says he believes that Russia is trying to starve the besieged city of Mariupol into surrender.
“Russians don’t open humanitarian corridors, they don’t let humanitarian convoys enter the city,” Dmytro Gurin, who is from the southern port city, tells the BBC.
He makes the comments hours after the Russian deadline passes for Mariupol to surrender.
“We clearly see now that the goal of the Russians is to start to [create] hunger [in the city] to enforce their position in the diplomatic process, and if the city does not surrender — and the city will not surrender — they won’t let people out,” Gurin says.
The lawmaker says rescue services are still unable to reach the basement of a theater bombed by Russia last week.
It’s believed that hundreds of people were sheltering in the Mariupol Drama Theater and that the bomb shelter withstood the attack.
“The services cannot clean this rubble because the shelling never stops and bombing never stops. It’s really dangerous,” he says.
BEIJING — A China Eastern passenger jet carrying 133 people has crashed in southwest China with an unknown number of casualties, state broadcaster CCTV reports.
The crash sparks a mountainside fire.
The Boeing 737 plane crashed in the rural countryside near Wuzhou city, Guangxi region and “caused a mountain fire,” CCTV says, adding that rescue teams were dispatched to the scene.
The Health Ministry says 12,869 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed yesterday.
Experts believe the resurgence is most likely caused by the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is thought to be more infectious. It is still unknown if it causes more serious illness.
Israel’s R number — the transmission rate of the virus — continued its steady climb, reaching 1.23.
The transmission rate represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over 1 signifies that the pandemic is growing. It is based on data from 10 days earlier.
The ministry says 328 people are hospitalized in serious condition — a slight decrease.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that Israel is providing Ukraine with a large amount of aid, at a scale not provided by most other countries, while balancing a number of “complex considerations.”
Bennett is speaking at the departure ceremony for an Israeli delegation flying out to set up a field hospital in Ukraine, his first public statement on the matter following a caustic speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Israel “has been reaching out with aid in the crisis in Ukraine for several weeks, right from the first moment through various channels,” Bennett says.
Israel also operates “in other dimensions; there are not many countries that operate on such a scale,” he says.
Ukraine has criticized Israel for its failure to arm Kyiv or even send defensive military kit such as flak jackets and helmets.
“We are managing this unfortunate crisis in a sensitive, benevolent and responsible manner, while balancing the various considerations – and they are complex,” Bennett says.
Zelensky criticized Jerusalem bitterly in a speech to Israeli lawmakers on Sunday, repeatedly invoking the Holocaust and slamming Israel for failing to arm his country and impose sanctions on Russia.
But he later changed tack and thanked Bennett in his nightly video address.
“The prime minister of Israel, Mr. [Naftali] Bennett, is trying to find a way of holding talks. And we are grateful for this. We are grateful for his efforts, so that sooner or later we will begin to have talks with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem,” Zelesnky said, according to a translation by Reuters.
LVIV, Ukraine — Emergency officials have contained an ammonia leak at a chemical plant that contaminated wide area in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, officials say.
Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy didn’t say what caused the leak, which spread about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) in all directions from the Sumykhimprom plant.
The plant is on the eastern outskirts of the city, which has a population of about 263,000 and has been regularly shelled by Russian troops in recent weeks.
BEIJING — Shanghai Disneyland closes as China’s most populous city tries to contain its biggest coronavirus flareup in two years, while the southern business center of Shenzhen allows shops and offices to reopen after a weeklong closure.
Meanwhile, the cities of Changchun and Jilin in the northeast began another round of citywide virus testing following a surge in infections. Jilin tightens anti-disease curbs, ordering its 2 million residents to stay home.
China’s case numbers in its latest infection wave are low compared with other major countries, but authorities are enforcing a “zero tolerance” strategy that has suspended access to some major cities.
The government reported 2,027 new cases on the Chinese mainland on Sunday, up from the previous day’s 1,737. That included 1,542 infections in Jilin province, where Changchun and Jilin are located.
Shanghai, which has a population of 24 million, has avoided a citywide shutdown but appealed to the public to stay home. Bus service into the city has been suspended and visitors are required to show a negative virus test.
Disney Co. says Shanghai Disneyland, Disneytown and Wishing Star Park are closed until further notice.
A report by British intelligence says that Kyiv remains the focus of Russian military plans, despite the “continued lack of progress” by Moscow’s troops in their attempts to take the Ukrainian capital.
The report seemingly contradicts the statements given by unnamed US officials to the Wall Street Journal that Russian President Vladimir Putin is shifting strategy away from seizing the Ukrainian capital.
“Heavy fighting continues north of Kyiv,” the UK Ministry of Defense says in a statement.
“Russian forces advancing on the city from the north-east have stalled. Forces advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the north-west have been repulsed by fierce Ukrainian resistance,” the statement says. “The bulk of Russian forces remain more than 25 kilometers from the center of the city.”
The report concludes that despite the lack of progress by Russian troops, “Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective and they are likely to prioritize attempting to encircle the city over the coming weeks.”
Unnamed senior US officials tell the Wall Street Journal that they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is changing tack and will no longer focus on seizing Kyiv.
The report says that after Russian troops did not quickly take Ukraine as they expected, the objective is now to hold areas in the southeast of the country, and then use that to extract key demands from Kyiv, including a pledge of Ukrainian neutrality.
Previously, the US and allies believed that the Kremlin aimed to quickly seize Kyiv and install a puppet regime.
The officials note that the situation is shifting and Putin “might expand his war aims, should his military begin to have more success against Ukraine’s forces.”
The Wall Street Journal says some officials believe “the status of the capital remains an open question,” and it remains unclear whether Russia has the ability to take and hold Kyiv in the face of Ukrainian resistance.
“His objective has not changed at all,” Daniel Fried, a former senior State Department official who served as US ambassador to Poland tells the newspaper. “What has changed is his tactics.”
According to reports earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has survived a number of assassination attempts by Russian mercenaries.
Meanwhile, at least six people were killed in overnight shelling of the Ukrainian capital.
KYIV — The death toll in the overnight bombing of a shopping center in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, rises to six, with rescuers combing the wreckage for other victims.
Six bodies were laid out in front of the Retroville shopping mall in the northwest of Kyiv, according to an AFP journalist.
The 10-storey building was hit by a powerful blast that pulverised vehicles in its car park and left a crater several meters wide.
The burnt-out mall is still smoking on Monday morning. All of its south side has been destroyed, as well as a fitness center in its car park.
Twisted bits of metal and other debris are strewn across the area for hundreds of meters, as firefighters and soldiers search the devastation for victims.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden adds a stop in Poland to his trip this week to Europe for urgent talks with NATO and European allies, as Russian forces concentrate their fire upon cities and trapped civilians in a nearly month-old invasion of Ukraine.
Biden will first travel to Brussels and then to Poland to meet with leaders there, press secretary Jen Psaki says in a statement.
Poland is a crucial ally in the Ukraine crisis. It is hosting thousands of American troops and is taking in more people fleeing the war in Ukraine — more than 2 million — than any other nation in the midst of the largest European refugee crisis in decades.
Biden will head to Warsaw for a bilateral meeting with President Andrzej Duda scheduled for Saturday. Biden will discuss how the US, along with its allies and partners, is responding to “the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created,” Psaki says.
On Monday ahead of his trip, Biden will discuss the war with European leaders. President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom are expected to take part, the White House says.
White House officials have said Biden has no plans to travel to Ukraine.
Ukraine rejects an ultimatum from Moscow to surrender the besieged port city of Mariupol to Russian forces.
Russia gave the city an ultimatum late Sunday, urging its defenders to surrender before 05:00 am on Monday.
Russia has been barraging the encircled southern city on the Sea of Azov, hitting an art school sheltering some 400 people only hours before offering to open two corridors out of the city in return for the capitulation of its defenders, according to Ukrainian officials.
Fighting for Mariupol continues to be intense, even as the Russian offensive in other areas has floundered to the point where Western governments and analysts see the broader conflict grinding into a war of attrition.
“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk tells the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense say authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it described as “bandits,” the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports.
Previous bids to allow residents to evacuate Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities have failed or have been only partially successful, with bombardments continuing as civilians sought to flee.
KYIV — Residents of the northern Ukrainian town of Novoselytsya should seek shelter after an ammonia leak at a nearby chemical factory, an official says, as intense fighting with Russian forces in the area continues.
Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky says there had been an “ammonia leakage” at the Sumykhimprom facility, affecting an area within 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) of the plant, which produces fertilizers.
The extent and cause of the incident is not immediately clear, but residents are told to seek refuge in basements or on lower levels of buildings to avoid exposure.
“Ammonia is lighter than air, therefore shelters, basements and lower floors should be used for protection,” Zhyvytsky says in a Telegram message.
He adds that emergency crews were at the scene and prevailing winds meant the nearby city of Sumy — with a pre-war population of around 250,000 — was not under immediate threat.
According to Sumykhimprom’s website the facility produces a range of chemical fertilizers.
Four people are reportedly killed in overnight shelling of a shopping center and residential buildings in Kyiv by Russian forces.
Ukrainian officials revise the death toll after earlier saying one person was killed in the attack, the BBC reports.
“Enemy shelling” caused a fire on several floors of the mall in the city’s northwestern Podilsky district and set several cars ablaze, emergency services say on Facebook.
Russia’s advance on Kyiv has largely stalled. Moscow’s forces engage in sporadic fighting to the northwest and east but have barely moved for two weeks.
An ammonia leak at a chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy has contaminated an area with a radius of more than 2.5 kilometers (about 1.5 miles), officials say.
Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy doesn’t say what caused the leak.
The Sumykhimprom plant is on the eastern outskirts of the city, which has a population of about 263,000 and has been regularly shelled by Russian troops in recent weeks.
“For the center of Sumy, there is no threat now, since the wind does not blow on the city,” says Zhyvytskyy.
He says the nearby village of Novoselytsya, about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) southeast of Sumy, is under threat.
Emergency crews were working to contain the leak.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky changes tack and thanks Israel in his nightly video address, after criticizing Israel in a speech to lawmakers earlier in the day.
“Of course, Israel has its interests, strategy to protect its citizens. We understand all of it,” Zelensky says in a video he posts daily to social media.
“The prime minister of Israel, Mr. Bennett, is trying to find a way of holding talks. And we are grateful for this. We are grateful for his efforts, so that sooner or later we will begin to have talks with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem,” Zelensky says, according to a translation by Reuters.
“That’s the right place to find peace. If possible,” Zelensky says.
In a caustic address to Knesset members on Sunday Zelensky repeatedly invoked the Holocaust and criticized Israel for failing to arm his country and impose sanctions on Russia. His comparisons to the Holocaust drew criticism from some Israeli lawmakers.
“I’m sure you feel our pain, but can you explain why we’re still waiting… for your help… when other countries are giving help? Why isn’t Israeli help, or even entry permits, forthcoming?” he asked.
“What is it? Indifference? Political calculation? Mediation without choosing sides?” Zelensky said.
“I’ll leave you to provide the answers to these questions, but I want to point out that indifference kills. Calculations can be wrong. You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil.”
“You need to provide answers to these questions and live with them,” he said.
Hebrew media reported that Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were “surprised” by the ferocity of the Ukrainian president’s critique in the speech, but senior political sources said Israel would not change its policy.
Police open an investigation for a suspected murder in Jerusalem after finding a man stabbed to death in an apartment.
The victim appears a man in his 20s and not Israeli and was declared dead at the scene, police say.
The incident happened in an apartment in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood.
Police say they were called to the area for a “violent incident” at around 1:30 a.m.
Police scour the area for evidence and have arrested four suspects.
A man in his 40s was moderately injured in the same incident and taken to a Jerusalem hospital. Police are questioning him as part of the investigation.
United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been hospitalized with “flu-like symptoms,” the court says.
Thomas was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington on Friday, the court says in a statement, and was diagnosed with an infection, which is being treated with intravenous antibiotics.
“His symptoms are abating, he is resting comfortably, and he expects to be released from the hospital in a day or two,” the statement reads.
According to the statement, Thomas will continue in his duties on the highest court in the United States while hospitalized.
“Justice Thomas will participate in the consideration and discussion of any cases for which he is not present on the basis of the briefs, transcripts, and audio of the oral arguments,” the court says.
Thomas, 73, is the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court.
The White House says President Biden will visit Poland this week after his meetings in Brussels.
The White House had previously announced Biden’s visit to Europe, but not the trip to Poland, although Poland’s president had said Biden would “probably” visit.
Biden will meet NATO allies in Brussels, Belgium, as well as G7 leaders and European Union leaders to “discuss international efforts to support Ukraine and impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia for its invasion,” the White House says.
On Friday Biden will travel to Poland to meet President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw and discuss “how the United States, alongside our Allies and partners, is responding to the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created.”
“The trip will be focused on continuing to rally the world in support of the Ukrainian people and against president Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki says.
“But there are no plans to travel into Ukraine,” she says.
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