Russia Continues to Target Sites Around Kyiv

The Russian military continues to target sites ringed around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and intense fighting has been reported. Ukraine’s top diplomat on Friday pushed back on the suggestion of “positive movement” in talks with Russia cited Friday by President Vladimir Putin, saying there’s been “zero progress.”

About 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country, with a majority crossing over to Poland, and that could climb to 4 million within days.

The European Union has proposed to double the size of a fund that provides weapons to Ukraine. It also disbursed 300 million euros in financial aid, with more to come. Additional EU sanctions are expected to be confirmed. The US will ban imports of Russian caviar and vodka in its latest effort to pressure the Kremlin.

Ukraine Again Seeks to Evacuate Mariupol (10: am)

The Ukrainian government sought again on Saturday to evacuate people from the port city of Mariupol, in the country’s east, after earlier attempts were hampered by Russian attacks in violation of temporary cease-fires.

The city has been heavily shelled for the past two weeks and remains encircled by the Russian army. That has cut off citizens from the supply of food and medicines. Local authorities said the city had to start burying people in mass graves, the Associated Press reported.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has described the humanitarian situation in Mariupol as “extremely dire” with small children, in particular, at risk of death by dehyrdation.

Japan Considers Additional Sanctions (9:43 am)

Japan’s government is considering imposing additional economic sanctions on Russia, Kyodo News reported Saturday without attribution. As the US and others move to strip Russia of most-favored-nation trade status, Japan is “urgently moving to coordinate concrete measures,” according to Kyodo.

Belgium’s Russian Asset Freezes Hit 10 Billion Euros (9:27 am)

Some 10 billion euros ($ 10.9 billion) in Russian assets have been frozen by the Belgian government so far following sanctions imposed by the EU, the finance ministry told L’Echo newspaper. Those figures include 2.7 billion euros in frozen accounts and 7.3 billion euros in transactions, but do not account for additional real estate and property assets that have been seized.

Almost all of these funds are newly frozen. Ten days ago, Belgium had frozen only 25.5 million euros in Russian assets, the paper noted.

Russia Continues to Target Sites Close to Kyiv (8:41 am)

Ukraine says the “situation is tense” in towns around the capitol as the government attempts to accelerate evacuations. Battles continue in Irpin, about 20 kilometers (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, and near the airport at Hostomel. Russian troops are also shelling towns northeast of Kyiv.

Tass reported that Russia targeted two other sites near Kyiv: the military air base near Vasylkiv to the southwest, and a radar center at Brovary to the northeast. The sites were rendered non-operational, Tass reported, citing a Russian military officials.

Further afield, Ukrainian officials said Russia shelled residential areas in Chernihiv and dropped air-bombs on Sumy. Explosions were reported in Kropyvnytskyi, central Ukraine, where Russian forces targeted an airport, according to preliminary information. Russia continued shelling the southern city of Mykolaiv, including residential areas, Ukraine said. Local authorities in Luhansk, in far eastern Ukraine, said Russia now controls 70% of the region.

Refugee Flood Strains European Solidarity (6:00 am)

The number of people fleeing Ukraine could reach 4 million in days, matching the top overall projection of migrants by United Nations agencies before the war after less than three weeks.

While refugees have been greeted with an outpouring of support, their sheer number is beginning to weigh on the resources that eastern European nations have to take care of them.

“We have never been in such a situation,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said Thursday. “We are trying to cope with it, but if we do not get international assistance, it may end up being a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Ukraine Update: Another Attempt to Evacuate Besieged Mariupol

Russian Space Explorers Demand Removal of Sanctions (7:36 am)

Roskosmos, Russia’s state-owned space exploration company, will write to its partners in the international space station to demand the removal of sanctions imposed on the corporation, Russian news agency TASS reported.

The Russian company will be writing to NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency to demand the removal of illegal sanctions against it, TASS said, citing the company’s general director, Dmitri Rogozin, via his Telegram channel.

Seafarers Reportedly Denied US Entry (3:48 am)

US border protection officials are refusing to let some Ukrainian and Russian seafarers enter the country out of fear they could try to stay in the country, Dow Jones reported.

Crew members from Russia and Ukraine working mostly on commercial ships have been blocked from entering the US at ports including Port Canaveral, Florida, Port Arthur, Texas, and Port of New Orleans, Dow said, citing industry and government officials familiar with the matter.

US State Department. Issues More Sanctions (2:56 am)

The US State Department sanctioned Russian businessmen tied to ABR Management and Novikombank, seeking to target elites close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a release.

The sanctions apply to ABR Management and Yuri Kovalchuk, Kirill Kovalchuk, Dmitri Lebedev, and Vladimir Knyaginin for their ties to leadership within the company. Four Novikombank board members, chair Elena Georgieva, German Belous, Andrey Sapelin, and Dmitri Vavulin, were also sanctioned.

Abramovich’s US Investments to Be Frozen: WSJ (2:30 am)

Several US hedge fund companies with investments from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich were told to freeze his assets after the businessman was sanctioned by the UK, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Since late February, Abramovich had been attempting to sell investments in funds including those managed by Empyrean Capital Partners in Los Angeles and Millstreet Capital Management in Boston, the paper said, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. He also accessed hedge fund investments through New York-based Concord Management, the paper said.

Repairs Begin at Chernobyl (9:46 pm)

Technicians started repairing damaged power lines at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement, adding that additional fuel for diesel generators was delivered.

At the Zaporizhzhya plant, which Russia now controls, exploded munitions from the March 4 attack are being detected and disposed of.

Pentagon Official Says More Jets Won’t Help Ukraine (7:45 pm)

A US defense official said it is not clear that Ukraine needs additional fixed-wing fighter aircraft like the MiG’s Poland offered earlier this week, but that it could use more surface-to-air and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft systems.

Ukraine’s air force has about 56 aircraft and they are only flying about five to 10 hours a day, the official said. That’s in part because of Russia’s wide coverage of Ukraine air space. So it makes no sense to US officials that shipping additional jets to Ukraine will tip the balance, the Pentagon official said.

The Ukrainian air force consists of MiG-29 and SU-27 air-to-air fighters and SU-24 and SU-25 ground attack jets, according to the 2022 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies annual worldwide balance review.

EU Vows Fourth Russia Sanctions Package for Saturday (6:19 pm)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU will introduce a fourth package of sanctions on Saturday to isolate the Russian economy.

The proposal includes revoking Moscow’s most-favored nation trading status, banning the export of luxury goods to Russia, making sure Russians can not use crypto assets to circumvent sanctions and prohibiting the import of some iron and steel goods from Russia.

Kuleba Cites No Progress in Russia Talks (5:57 pm)

Ukraine’s top diplomat said he does not see the progress in Russian-Ukrainian talks cited by Putin and reiterated that the country could compromise on neutral status if offered security guarantees.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said high-level talks Thursday with his Russian counterpart yielded no progress.

“There was zero progress in talks, so it’s hard for me to understand what kind of progress President Putin is referring to,” Kuleba said on Bloomberg Television.

Russian Economy is Already in a Tailspin (2:59 pm)

The Russian economy was on track to expand for a second straight year, but two weeks into the Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine output has fallen about 2% – a drop that rivaled the full-year contraction during the pandemic in 2020, Bloomberg Economics estimates .

More than $ 30 billion has likely already been erased from Russia’s annual gross domestic product, based on last year’s prices, and the slump for 2022 is likely to be about 9%.

Putin Sees ‘Positive’ Developments in Talks (12:32 pm)

President Vladimir Putin noted “positive” shifts in talks between Russia and Ukraine, IFX reported him saying at the start of a meeting Friday with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

“There’s some positive movement there, as our negotiators have told me,” Putin said, noting talks are happening “practically on a daily basis.” He gave no further details but it’s likely a reference to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week indicating he’s willing to discuss Ukraine adopting a more neutral status.

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