Live updates: NATO adding troops in eastern Europe The Denver Post

By The Associated Press

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military organization is setting up new multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe to deter Russia from launching an attack on any of its members.

The battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, will be set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Stoltenberg says they will remain in place “as long as necessary.”

Speaking Wednesday on the eve of a summit of NATO leaders, Stoltenberg said that Russia’s war on Ukraine means “a new normal for our security and NATO has to respond to that new reality.”

Stoltenberg says the leaders are likely to agree to send more assistance to Ukraine, including “equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.”

NATO’s 30 allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fears that Moscow might want to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg says that “any use of chemical weapons would totally change the nature of the conflict,” and would have “far-reaching consequences” for Russia. He declined to elaborate.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukrainian leaders accuse Russia of seizing 15 workers from aid convoy

— Biden starts a trip to Europe as Russia’s war in Ukraine bogs down, challenges grow

— Amid Russia’s new crackdowns, small signs of defiance emerge

— A new fund directs its support to Ukraine’s long-term needs

— Security Council taking up Russian resolution on Ukraine crisis as Assembly hears rival resolutions

— Spanish ties provide safe havens for Ukrainian refugees

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

PRZEMYSL, Poland — Ukrainian refugees continued to arrive at the train station in the border city of Przemysl, Poland, on Wednesday.

Kateryna Mytkevich, 39, arrived from Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.

“We endured (the fighting), trapped at home for three weeks,” Mytkevich said. “We hoped the war would pass us by. But then the heavy artillery shifted to our city and bombs began to fall. Two schools in the city center were blown up, there were small children there. It’s so difficult. I don’t understand why we have such a curse.”

Wiping tears from her face, Mytkevich added, “I had to flee because everything was destroyed. There was no gas, no electricity, no water in the city. Our children are dying. My son had to stay in Chernihiv, I could only take my daughter with me. It hurts a lot. Now we have nowhere to go, our whole neighborhood is destroyed. Everything is completely destroyed.”

Volodymr Fedorovych, 77, also fled Chernihiv.

“There was nothing, there wasn’t even bread,” Fedorovych said. “Bread was brought in every three days. One day I was standing in line for bread, but then decided to go get some tea. I had just walked away when they dropped the bomb (on people in line). Apparently it was a helicopter, we didn’t even hear the whistle (of the bomb falling). Sixteen people died and 47 were taken by ambulance, some of them without arms and legs. Horrible. There were 100 people in that queue.”

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BERLIN — A senior German official says the country’s intelligence agencies have joined the hunt for assets belonging to Russian oligarchs who have been slapped with international sanctions.

The official, who briefed journalists on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday authorities at several levels are tasked with determining which assets can be frozen in Germany.

He said this includes the federal customs agency and intelligence agencies, without elaborating.

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Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok says his country’s diplomats are returning to Ukraine to open an embassy in the western town of Uzhorod.

Korcok has called the move “an important step for the diplomatic service.”

Uzhorod is located near the border with Slovakia.

He said that in addition to diplomatic activities, the diplomats will be helping at the border where thousands of Ukrainian refugees arrive every day and report about the situation in Ukraine.

Slovakia’s closed the embassy in Kyiv on March 4 due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Czech Republic has also said it is preparing to open an embassy in Uzhorod, which has not been targeted by the Russian troops.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Kyiv says Russian forces have killed 264 civilians, including four children, in the Ukraine capital since the war started last month.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Wednesday that battles were being waged in the area of Liutizh, a village 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of Kyiv and that Ukrainian forces have wrested back control of areas to the north-west and the north-east of the city, including most of Irpin.

He said the western town of Makariv has also been taken back by Ukranian troops.

Klitschko spoke to reporters in the capital Kyiv in a central park overlooking the city. Explosions and gunfire could be heard in the background as he spoke.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department says a U.S. Embassy official has visited with WNBA star Brittney Griner, who remains detained near Moscow, to check on her condition.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN on Wednesday that the official found Griner “to be in good condition.” Price did not identify the official who had been granted consular access to Griner, something the United States had been demanding.

Griner was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that a court had extended Griner’s pretrial detention to May 19.

Price says the U.S. “will do everything we can to see that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”

A member of a Russian state-backed prison monitoring group visited with Griner last week at the pretrial detention facility outside Moscow where she’s being held and said the Phoenix Mercury star was faring well behind bars.

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PARIS — In his latest address to a foreign parliament, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is to speak to French lawmakers on Wednesday.

The address, via video link from his office in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, comes one day after French President Emmanuel Macron talked with both Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the terms of a potential cease-fire.

Though they reached no agreement, according to the French presidency, Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy hrecently addressed the U.S. Congress and the German and Japanese parliaments, among others, to harness international help.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s pro-Russian president is accusing the West of double standards, comparing Moscow’s attacks against Ukraine with the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.

The Western military alliance launched a 78-day air war against Serbia in March 1999 to stop a bloody crackdown by Serbia’s armed forces on majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who were seeking independence.

The Serbian troops were forced to leave the former province which declared independence in 2008, something both Belgrade and Moscow do not recognize.

The NATO bombing is a key argument used by Serbian nationalists to justify and support the current Russian attacks against Ukraine.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that if the West is so brave and moral, “why don’t you carry out an aggression against Russia … why don’t you (militarily) protect Ukraine?” he said on state-controlled Pink TV.

“Morality is an important category in politics, but you can’t stick to it one day and forget about it the next.”

Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia under Vucic has established close political and military ties with the Kremlin.

Serbia voted in favor of a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine but is the only European nation that has refused to join international sanctions against the Kremlin.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden has left the White House for a four-day trip to Europe, where he will meet with key allies to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As he departed Wednesday, Biden told reporters the possibility that Russia could use chemical weapons in the Ukraine war is a “real threat.”

He said he would say more on the subject directly to the leaders he was meeting with Thursday.

There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its invasion stalls amid logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Biden’s first stop is Brussels, where he’ll attend a hastily arranged emergency NATO summit. He will also participate in meetings of the European Union and the Group of Seven, which includes the world’s richest democracies.

He’ll travel to Warsaw on Friday to meet Polish officials.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Russian ally Belarus says it is expelling Ukrainian diplomats and closing a consulate.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz didn’t specify Wednesday how many diplomats would have to leave but said a maximum of five could remain.

Glaz said, “This step is aimed at ending the undiplomatic activities of several staff of the Ukrainian foreign missions.”

Belarus has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging area for its forces invading Ukraine.

The announcement comes on the same day as Poland expelled Russian diplomats.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has again prayed for peace in Ukraine and added a personal note to explain his aversion to war: He said his Italian grandfather, a World War I veteran, taught him to hate war in all its forms.

Francis prayed for the victims of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, including the “many soldiers who fell on both sides,” during his weekly general audience Wednesday. He urged government leaders to understand that buying and producing weapons is not the solution.

He offered a personal testimony, saying he learned “hatred and anger toward war” from his grandfather who fought in northern Italy during World War I and conveyed his experiences to his grandson.

Francis on Friday is expected to preside over a special prayer for peace by consecrating both Ukraine and Russia to the Virgin Mary. The Vatican on Wednesday released translations of the consecration prayer in 30 languages in hopes that the faithful around the world will join him.

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission has announced measures to help European Union countries provide the millions of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with access education, health care, accommodation and work.

The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people — mainly women and children — have fled Ukraine in the four weeks since Russian tanks rolled across the border and Moscow began bombarding towns and cities.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said Wednesday the new raft of measures aims to build on a “Temporary Protection Directive” issued earlier this month and on initiatives happening across Europe to welcome refugees.

The protection system, established in 2001 in response to the fallout from the 1990s Balkan wars but never previously used, streamlines entry procedures for Ukrainians arriving in the EU and outlines entitlements such as employment and housing.

Wednesday’s announcement provides support for EU countries in meeting those commitments.

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ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says the European Union must engage with China to make sure it is working actively to mediate peace in Ukraine and does not show any support for Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor.

Draghi told Parliament on Wednesday that the EU summit with China on April 1 must underline the bloc’s expectations that Beijing will be a constructive and authoritative player for peace.

Draghi said: “It’s fundamental that the EU is compact in keeping open spaces for dialogue with Beijing so that it contributes in a constructive way to the international mediation effort.”

He added: “We must repeat our expectations that Beijing abstains from actions supporting Moscow and participates actively and authoritatively in the peace effort.”

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MOSCOW — The Russian Central Bank says it is reopening trading on the Moscow stock exchange for the first time since it was closed nearly a month ago.

Trading will resume Thursday but only for 33 stocks of large companies listed on the IMOEX index. There will be a ban on short-selling.

The exchange resumed trading in government debt earlier this week.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president is urging Japan and other Asian countries to step up sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

In an address by video link to Japan’s parliament on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Japan to place a national embargo on trade with Russia. He also asked Japanese companies to pull out of the Russian market.

“I call on Asian states and your partners to unite their efforts so that Russia seeks peace and stops the tsunami of its brutal invasion of our state,” Zelenskyy said in the address.

He told the Japanese lawmakers that over the past 28 days, “thousands of people, including 121 children” were killed in Ukraine and about nine million were forced to leave their homes.

“Our people cannot even adequately bury their murdered relatives, friends and neighbors. They have to be buried right in the yards of destroyed buildings, next to the roads,” Zelenskyy said.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Internal Security Agency says it is expelling 45 Russian intelligence officers using diplomatic status as cover to stay in country.

The agency said Wednesday it is asking the Foreign Ministry to urgently expel the Russians, describing them as a danger to Poland’s security.

The agency also said it detained a Polish citizen on suspicion of espionage on behalf of the Russian secret services. The suspect worked in Warsaw’s registry office and had access to city archives.

“Given the nature of documents kept by those units, the activity of the suspect posed a threat to both the internal and external security of Poland,” the agency said in a statement.

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BERLIN — Four environmental think tanks say the European Union can stop its imports of Russian gas by 2025, allowing the bloc to end its dependence in the medium term on a key energy source that’s been called into question amid the war in Ukraine.

A report published Wednesday by Ember, E3G, the Regulatory Assistance Project and Bellona concludes that ramping up solar and wind power, reducing demand and electrification can replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports within three years.

It suggests that the remaining shortfall can be met through existing gas infrastructure, without the need to build new terminals for LNG imports that some countries are now eyeing.

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GENEVA — The Swiss attorney general’s office says it is collecting evidence from Ukraine refugees on possible international crimes or embargo violations stemming from Russia’s war with Ukraine.

The attorney general’s office said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Wednesday that it’s in contact with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which monitors possible sanctions violations, to see if any violations of embargo law have been committed and merit investigation.

The Swiss government has joined the European Union in imposing sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals and entities in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Switzerland is not part of the EU.

The Swiss Bankers’ Association has estimated the assets of Russian clients deposited in Swiss banks total between 150-200 billion Swiss francs (about $160-$215 billion).

No criminal proceedings in Switzerland have yet been launched in connection with the war.

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GENEVA — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived in Moscow for talks at the Russian foreign and defense ministries on humanitarian issues caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Peter Maurer, the ICRC president, was expected Wednesday to take up issues such as prisoners of war, the conduct of hostilities and the delivery of aid.

“The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in Donbas, has been vast,” Maurer said in a statement, referring to the region of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists.

“There are practical steps guided by international humanitarian law that the parties must take to limit the suffering,” Maurer said.

Maurer traveled to Ukraine last week. While in Moscow, he was also expected to meet with the head of the Russian Red Cross, which has been helping people who have fled eastern Ukraine into Russia.

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MOSCOW — The Russian parliament has passed a law expanding military veteran status to troops taking part in the invasion of Ukraine.

Veteran status brings various benefits, such as monthly payments, tax breaks, discounts on utilities and preferential access to medical treatment, among other things.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed the law on Wednesday, four weeks since the start of the war in Ukraine, with the three required readings taking place at once.

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LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says the war in northern Ukraine is largely “static,” with Russian forces trying to reorganize before resuming a large-scale assault.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, U.K. defense officials say “Russian forces are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east of the country as they advance from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south.”

In an update posted Wednesday on social media, Britain’s defense ministry said Russian troops in the south are trying to circumvent the city of Mykolaiv as they push west towards Odesa, a key Black Sea port that has so far been spared major attack.

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PARIS — French authorities say a convoy of rescue vehicles and emergency equipment is to leave Paris on Wednesday to be provided to Ukraine’s emergency service.

A statement from the French foreign and interior ministries says 100 firefighters and rescue staff will dispatch the vehicles and equipment to Romania, at the border with Ukraine. They include 11 fire engines, 16 rescue vehicles, and 23 trucks transporting 49 tons of health and emergency equipment.

It comes in addition to a convoy of 21 new ambulances, which left on Tuesday.

The statement says the operation is meant to support rescuers from Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Service “mobilized day and night to provide relief to victims.”

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has reiterated that his country will not support a no-fly zone over Ukraine or send troops to intervene in the war launched by Russia.

Scholz told German lawmakers on Wednesday that “NATO will not become a party to the war. We are in agreement on this with our European allies and the United States.”

Still, the German leader said Ukraine could rely on Germany’s help, citing the financial and military aid already provided, the harsh sanctions on Russia and the reception of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

Scholz said Germany would not support a boycott of Russian oil, coal and gas, but is seeking to wean itself off those imports by seeking out other suppliers and ramping up the use of renewable energy.

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LVIV, Ukraine – The Kyiv city administration says Russian forces shelled the Ukrainian capital overnight and early Wednesday morning, damaging buildings in two districts.

Kyiv authorities said on Telegram that a shopping mall, some private sector buildings and high-rises came under fire in the districts of Sviatoshynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi.

Four people sustained injuries.

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