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Live updates | Biden: Idea of larger proxy war ‘not true’

 

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is rejecting the idea that Russia’s war in Ukraine could grow into a larger proxy conflict between Moscow and the United States and NATO allies that may even bring the world closer to nuclear confrontation. At an event at the White House where Biden asked Congress for an additional $33 billion to aid Ukraine, the president said Thursday that the idea of a larger proxy war was concerning but “not true.” He blamed Russian authorities for exaggerating such speculation, saying “it shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure” with the invasion of Ukraine. “Instead of saying that the Ukrainians, equipped with some capability to resist Russian forces, are doing this, they’ve got to tell their people that the United States and all of NATO is engaged,” Biden said. He added that “no one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons” and called doing so “irresponsible.”

 

——— KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR: — Ukraine says Russian offensive in east picks up momentum — NATO chief says Finland, Sweden could join quite quickly — Biden seeks new powers to use oligarchs’ assets for Ukraine — A chilling Russian cyber aim in Ukraine: Digital dossiers — Most in US fear Ukraine war misinformation: AP-NORC poll Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

 

——— OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: LONDON — The British government says a U.K. national has been killed in Ukraine, and another is missing. The Foreign Office confirmed Thursday that it is supporting the family of a British national killed in Ukraine. It also said it was “urgently seeking further information” on another Briton who is missing. The government did not provide further details. Sky News reported that the Britons were believed to have been fighting with Ukrainians against the Russian invasion. Volunteers from Britain and many other countries have traveled to Ukraine to fight, despite being discouraged from doing so by their governments.

 

——— ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says both U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have told him that their talks in Moscow earlier this week were “positive.” Erdogan told reporters before leaving for a trip to Saudi Arabia, that he held separate telephone calls with Guterres and Putin. “Mr. Guterres ... informed me that the talks (with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov) were positive. In our discussion with Mr. Putin yesterday, Putin expressed the same views.” Erdogan added that the Russian president had “conveyed the opinion that a U.N. intervention is positive for the future.” He did not elaborate.

 

——— KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops defending a steel plant that is the last Ukrainian bulwark in the key port of Mariupol say an intensive Russian bombing has inflicted more casualties. The Azov Regiment holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant on Thursday posted a video showing people combing through the rubble to remove the dead bodies and help the wounded after the Russian bombing overnight. The Azov said the Russians hit an improvised underground hospital and its surgery room, killing an unspecified number of people and wounding others there. The video couldn’t be independently verified. The Russian troops have pummeled the mammoth seaside plant with relentless airstrikes and artillery barrage, trying to uproot its defenders holed up in a 24-kilometer (15-mile) maze of underground tunnels, passages and bunkers. Ukrainian officials say that up to 1,000 civilians also were sheltering in Azovstal. They are demanding that Russia provides a safe exit for them under the United Nations aegis.

 

——— WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s border guard agency says that it has recorded 3 million crossings into Poland from neighboring Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, while there have been 904,000 crossings into Ukraine. Border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said Thursday that the number includes people who cross a number of times because, for example, they regularly do shopping in Poland and then go back. Polish authorities say some 1.6 million refugees have applied for and received special ID numbers that will allow them to work and receive free health care and education in Poland.

 

——— VIENNA — The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says radiation levels in “excavations” found in the exclusion zone around the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant were well below the maximum authorized levels for plant workers. Ukraine’s state power company said after Russian troops withdrew at the end of March that they received “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the area. IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said Thursday that, during a visit this week, experts from his agency took measurements from “excavations” probably made by occupying soldiers. He said that the levels were “three times or more lower than the authorized levels for workers in areas exposed to radiation.” As for whether anyone was actually exposed to those radiation levels, he said: “We have asked about possible exposures or situations; we haven’t received any answer.” Although that suggested the health risk wasn’t as great as feared, Grossi stressed that “it’s not a place to have a picnic or excavate.”

 

——— BRUSSELS — Senior European Union officials say countries or companies bowing fully to the terms of a Russian presidential decree insisting that they pay their gas bills in rubles will be in breach of the bloc’s sanctions. The Kremlin says importers should establish an account in dollars or euros at Russia’s Gazprombank, then a second account in rubles. They would pay the gas bill in euros or dollars and direct the bank to exchange the money for rubles. The officials warn that Russia’s central bank could hold on to the money before converting it and in essence use the funds as a temporary loan for the national economy or to prop up the ruble. The EU’s sanctions prohibit any transaction with the Russian Central Bank. One official said Thursday that “if the member states and the European companies apply strictly the decree … it will constitute a breach of the sanctions.” His job description does not allow him to be named publicly. The violation essentially comes with the use of the second bank account. The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, has said that companies could remain in compliance by paying in euros or dollars, as per their contract, and then notifying Gazprombank that their payment obligations are over. Ultimately, it’s up to the 27 EU countries to judge whether the rules are being broken. Some of those countries are heavily reliant on Russia for gas. — By Lorne Cook.

 

——— TOKYO — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is defending his country’s ongoing purchase of gas and other fossil fuels from Russia. Speaking during a visit to Japan on Thursday, Scholz said that “it is a challenge that many European countries, including Germany, are dependent on imports of fossil resources from Russia.” Scholz said his government aims to end imports of Russian coal and oil this year. He said that “the same will happen for gas, but that is a process that will require more time.” Asked whether he was concerned Russia might stop shipping gas to Germany, like it did this week for Poland and Bulgaria, Scholz acknowledged that “any interruption would have consequences for the economic situation.” He said this was also the reason why there no sanctions have so far been imposed on energy supplies from Russia, adding this had been decided “in close cooperation with our partners who themselves are energy exporters and therefore in a different starting position, such as the United States.” Scholz said: “Whether and what decisions the Russian government takes in this regard one can only speculate, but it makes little sense to do so.”

 

——— ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has discussed the war in Ukraine in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders also discussed a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia that took place in Turkey on Wednesday. Erdogan’s office said he told Putin on Thursday that Turkey’s mediation in the exchange was an indication of the importance Ankara attaches to “peace, dialogue and cooperation.” He reiterated Turkey’s readiness to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and its wish to establish peace in the region “by increasing the momentum” generated in face-to-face talks that were held between the two countries’ delegations in Istanbul late last month. It was the second telephone call between the two presidents this week. On Tuesday, Erdogan urged Putin to agree to direct talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.

 

——— WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is asking Congress or new powers to seize and repurpose the assets of Russian oligarchs as part of a new funding request to aid Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion. In remarks at the White House on Thursday morning, Biden will formally ask for billions of dollars in additional U.S. spending earmarked for supplying Ukraine’s military, bolstering its economy and supporting the millions of refugees who fled Russia’s invasion two months ago. The White House said he will also seek new authorities from Congress to strengthen U.S. sanctions against the Russian government and those who profit from it, the White House said. Biden is asking lawmakers to make it a criminal offense for a person to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government,” double the statute of limitations for foreign money laundering offenses to 10 years, and expand the definition of “racketeering” under U.S. law to include efforts to evade sanctions.

 

——— MOSCOW — Russia says that Turkey gave it advance notice before moving to bar Russian planes from flying to Syria over its territory. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Turkey had asked Russia more than a month ago not to send Syria-bound planes over its territory. She added that “the reasons for that were clear to us and the Russian side isn’t using that route.” Zakharova made the comment when asked about Turkey’s weekend announcement that it had halted Russian flights to Turkey over its territory from the start of this month. It wasn’t clear whether the move was related to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Turkey has close relations with both countries and has positioned itself as a mediator. Russia and Turkey have backed opposite sides in the Syrian civil war.

 

——— COPENHAGEN, Denmark — One of Denmark’s largest supermarket chains says it will lay off 100 office employees because of “the situation in Ukraine" and the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. It said Thursday that both "pose significant challenges to the grocery trade.” Kræn Østergård Nielsen, the chief executive of COOP Danmark, the country’s second-biggest retailer of consumer goods, said that rising prices for transport, energy and food mean the costs of running the business must be reduced.

 

——— SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has said during a visit to the Ukrainian town of Borodyanka that he hopes Bulgarian lawmakers will agree next week to send military assistance to Ukraine. Petkov was due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv later Thursday. He said after viewing damage caused to Borodyanka during the initial Russian advance that “we cannot be indifferent. We cannot say that this is a Ukrainian problem, we cannot say some people are dying but we are not interested in that.” He criticized the argument of some politicians in Bulgaria that denying military aid to Ukraine would bring about a faster peace. Petkov said: “If this is the price of peace, if the Russian state continues to fire and no one can defend himself — is this the peace we want?”

 

——— ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Witnesses and local authorities say that at least three people, including a child, were wounded when a rocket struck a residential area in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia — the first such residential strike since Russia’s invasion began. They said there were no military facilities nearby. Emergency services official Pavlo Zhukov told The Associated Press at the scene on Thursday that the rocket had been hit by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft system and that if it had struck directly, much more damage would have resulted. Several homes were destroyed or damaged. A dog was killed by shrapnel. The strike occurred as Russian forces move closer to the industrial city that has been a crucial waypoint for people leaving Mariupol and other occupied cities.

 

——— KYIV, Ukraine — Mariupol authorities are sounding the alarm about unsanitary conditions in the ravaged port city that they say pose a “deadly danger” to its remaining residents. Mariupol City Council said on the messaging app Telegram Thursday that “deadly epidemics may break out in the city due to the lack of centralized water supply and sewerage, the decomposition of thousands of corpses under the rubble, a catastrophic shortage of drinking water and food.” It said that the lives of 100,000 people who still remain in Mariupol, out of 450,000 pre-war residents, may be in danger — pointing to diseases like cholera and dysentery. The Telegram post cited Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko as saying that “the invaders are not able to provide the remaining population with food, water and medicines — or are simply not interested in that.” He said that “living conditions in the ruined Mariupol are now medieval” and that “an immediate and complete evacuation is needed.”

 

——— BERLIN — German police have recorded more than 1,700 crimes in the country in connection with the war in Ukraine, most of them property damage and insults. The group Mediendienst Integration said Thursday that a survey of all German police authorities showed that the crimes largely targeted people of Russian or Ukrainian origin, or their property. The group said more than 160 cases of violence against a person were recorded. Authorities have also opened 170 investigations over the use of the ‘Z’ symbol that in some contexts is considered to be a show of support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Germany deems illegal. Germany has a large population of migrants from the former Soviet Union. Since the outbreak of the war in February it also has taken in almost 400,000 Ukrainians seeking shelter from the conflict.

 

——— WASHINGTON — A majority of U.S. adults say misinformation around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a major problem, and they largely fault the Russian government for spreading those falsehoods. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 61% of people in the United States say the spread of misinformation about the war is a major problem, with only 7% saying it’s not a problem. Older adults were more likely to identify the wartime misinformation as an issue, with 44% of those under 30 calling it a problem, compared with 65% of those 30 or older. Misleading social media posts, fake pictures or videos and propagandized headlines have proliferated on websites, from TikTok to Facebook, since Russia’s assault on Ukraine began in February. In recent weeks, Russian state media and social media accounts have operated in lockstep to push tweets, TV reports and posts that claim photos of bombed buildings and bodies across Ukraine have been staged or faked.

 

——— KYIV, Ukraine — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has toured areas outside the Ukrainian capital that suffered damage during the Russian advance there. Speaking to journalists on Thursday at several points, Guterres urged Russia to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. That’s after the bodies of civilians were found in areas once held by Russian forces, some shot with their hands bound. Guterres also said that “civilians always pay the highest price” in any war. “When I see those destroyed buildings, I must say what I feel. I imagined my family in one of those houses that is now destroyed and black. I see my granddaughters running away in panic, part of the family eventually killed,” he said. “So, the war is an absurdity in the 21st century. The war is evil. And when one sees these situations our heart, of course, stays with the victims.” He also added: “When we talk about war crimes, we cannot forget that the worst of crimes is war itself.”

 

——— BERLIN — German lawmakers have voted in favor of sending heavy weapons to Ukraine, a symbolic decision that reflects the government’s change of course on the issue. Germany had initially refused to send any offensive weapons to Ukraine and later balked at sending heavy equipment such as armored vehicles. Under pressure domestically and from allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government agreed recently to let Ukraine purchase German armaments and support weapons swaps with allies who in turn are sending heavy gear to Ukraine. Germany has already sent about 2,500 anti-aircraft missiles, 900 bazookas, and millions of rounds of ammunition, hand grenades and mines to Ukraine, the dpa news agency reported. It now plans to give armored vehicles to Slovenia to replace Soviet-era tanks the country is sending to Ukraine, send mortars directly to Ukraine and let Kyiv purchase mothballed self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns from Germany. German companies have also asked to send 88 Leopard tanks, 100 Marder armored vehicles and 100 howitzers to Ukraine, permission for which has yet to be granted. Thursday’s non-binding motion — with 586 lawmakers in favor, 100 against and seven abstentions — received support from governing parties and the main opposition Union bloc of ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel.

 

——— LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show Russian fire is intensifying on a steel mill that is the last Ukrainian-held area in the city of Mariupol. The images by Planet Labs PBC shot Wednesday show that concentrated attacks have greatly damaged a central facility at the Azovstal steelworks. An estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltering along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters in the steelworks, a massive Soviet-era complex with a warren of underground facilities built to withstand airstrikes. Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, is viewed as crucial for the Russians in the war. The new images come as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits Ukraine and plans to speak to Ukraine’s president about his efforts to negotiate with Moscow for a corridor for people to leave the besieged area.