Live updates | Russia bars Kamala Harris, Mark Zuckerberg

Russia's foreign ministry announced that it had blocked U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as well as 27 other prominent Americans, from entering Russia.

Live updates | Russia bars Kamala Harris, Mark Zuckerberg

The ministry released a statement Thursday on its website, stating that it was responding to the "ever-increasing anti-Russian sanction" imposed by the Biden administration. It claimed it was targeting top executives, public intellectuals, and journalists who were shaping "the Russophobic narrative", which is a dominant theme in US public discourse.

The ban also includes Harris and Zuckerberg; top defense and justice officials; CEOs of LinkedIn, Bank of America; prominent foreign affairs commentators; and the editor of Meduza's Russia-focused news website.

Thursday's statement by the ministry stated that travel bans will be in effect "in perpetuity" while the sanctions list will be "shortly" updated to address "hostile actions” of Western authorities.

Similar restrictions were placed on 61 Canadian citizens who were also accused of leading "Russophobic” policies. Cameron Ahmad, Director of Communications to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Steve Boivin, Commander Canadian Special Operations Forces, were sanctioned.

In retaliation for similar actions by the Baltic countries, Russia also ordered Thursday's closure of all consular missions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All non-Russian staff were expelled.

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RUSSIA-UKRAINE WORLD WAR:

Putin attempts to claim Mariupol victory but won't storm the holdout

China's Xi calls for dispute resolution and opposes the imposition of sanctions

-- EXPLAINER - What's the effect if Europe stops buying Russian oil?

Biden to announce military assistance to Ukraine

-- AP-NORC poll says many believe Biden is not hard enough to deal with Russia

Follow all AP stories on Russia's war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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AUTOTHER DEVELOPMENTS

KYIV, Ukraine -- An official from Ukraine suggested that a Ukrainian airstrike could be launched against the bridge connecting Crimea and the Russian mainland. The statement he made on Thursday was met with anger by top Russian politicians.

In an interview with Radio NV Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov (secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council) was asked if Kyiv would be able reach the $4 billion Kerch bridge. This is Moscow's only road link to the peninsula and helps to stop military resupplies flowing through it.

Danilov responded, "Had it been possible, we would have done it." "If it is possible, we will do it."

He didn't clarify whether Kyiv has the ability to conduct an attack at present.

Dmitry Peskov (the Kremlin's spokesperson) called Danilov’s statement "nothing but the announcement of possible terrorist acts" and "unacceptable."

Peskov stated that all security measures were in place for the Kerch bridge as well as "other strategic facilities" during a regular press conference on Thursday.

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LONDON -- Officials from the West say Ukraine will require economic and military support in the coming months as the conflict escalates.

A Russian official stated that Putin is still in a position "to win" the war. However, this was not immediately as Russia's invasion moves into a new phase focusing on the eastern Donbas.

Two Western officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence and suggested that Russia could be able to surround the Ukrainian forces and make territorial gains. Russia's forces may be able to take all of the Donbas, and secure a land bridge to Crimea.

Officials said however that Russia is unlikely to achieve this goal. According to them, Russia had learned from past mistakes in Ukraine and is now more efficient in command-and-control.

They said that Russia was still sending troops to its eastern offensive in "piecemeal" and moving in long columns along roads. This leaves its forces vulnerable to attack.

Officials also said that they have not seen any major push from the south yet, which would allow Russian forces trap Ukraine's soldiers in a pincer movement. This is partly due to the 5,000-10,000 Russian troops trying to overthrow the last pockets of resistance in Mariupol.

-- By Jill Lawless

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LISBON (Portugal) -- Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, has asked Portugal to support a European ban of Russian gas and oil in order to aid his country's war efforts.

Zelenskyy, speaking via videoconference to the Portuguese parliament on Thursday asked the European Union member for assistance in "speeding up" the removal of sanctions and the delivery more military aid.

He said, "I hope you will also advocate for a boycott of Russian Oil and Gas on the EU Level." "The Russian occupiers murdered people for entertainment. They killed them in their homes and in the vehicles of children."

The leader of Ukraine made a comparison between Russia's aggression in his country and Portugal's 1974 Carnation Revolution. This was a military coup led by left-leaning officers which overthrew an authoritarian regime to usher in democracy.

"The Portuguese know how they can get rid of dictatorship." "I know that our countries understand each other," he stated during his speech, which earned him a standing ovation from lawmakers.

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According to Mariupol's mayor, Russian troops are burying civilians who died in conflict with Ukraine in order to hide "military crimes."

Vadym Boychenko, Mariupol Mayor, claimed that hundreds of civilians were buried in Manhush outside Mariupol by the Russians.

Boychenko stated that "the bodies began disappearing from streets of the city", claiming that the Russians were "hiding their trace of their crimes" and "using mass graves as an instrument for that."

He stated that the Russians had dug large trenches near Manhush (20 km) or 12 miles west of Mariupol. During an online briefing, he stated that Russians were transporting the bodies of Mariupol's deceased residents in trucks and dumping them in those trenches.

He said, "They are hiding military crimes."

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WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden announced that he will send $800 million more in weapons and ammunition for Ukraine in the next days. He called it the "frontlines to freedom" in order to defend itself against a Russian invasion.

The $800 million arms package increases the U.S. security aid to Ukraine to $3.4 billion since February 24, when the Russians invaded.

Biden said that he will request Congress to approve billions of dollars more in aid to Ukraine next week because the assistance package approved last month was now "almost exhausted." Officials were still determining the right amount to request.

Biden stated that the U.S. has "the capability to do so for a long period" in shipping arms to Ukraine. However, it must be more aggressive to maintain international pressure against Russia as retaliation to its invasion.

Biden stated that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims, there is still no evidence that Mariupol has fallen. Ukrainian forces and civilians are trapped in a huge steel plant. Biden called upon Russia to create humanitarian corridors for civilians to flee.

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WASHINGTON -- While making it easier for Ukrainian refugees to reach the United States, the Biden administration has tried to close a route through northern Mexico that had emerged in recent weeks.

The program, announced Thursday, will simplify refugee applications for Ukrainians fleeing fighting. It will not grant asylum to people who appear at the U.S. border seeking asylum as thousands have since the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

According to the U.S., it plans to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. About 15,000 people have arrived in the U.S. since February 24, when they invaded Ukraine. Officials stated that this route would no longer be possible starting Monday, except in exceptional circumstances.

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WASHINGTON -- The Treasury has announced that the United States will provide additional financial assistance of $500 million to Ukraine in order to support its salaries, pensions, and other government programs.

This official was not allowed to speak publicly in advance of an announcement on Thursday. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet with Denys Shmyhal (Ukraine Prime Minister), Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo, and Serhiy Marchenko (Ukraine Finance Minister).

This funding is in addition to the $500 million in economic assistance that President Joe Biden announced in March.

This announcement is made against the background of the International Monetary Fund spring meetings, which were dominated by discussions about how to manage spillovers from Russia's war with Ukraine.

-- By Fatima Hussein and Chris Megerian

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KYIV, Ukraine -- The prime minister of Denmark has stated during a visit in Kyiv that the country will more than double its amount given to Ukraine for weapons purchases.

Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark, announced Thursday that Denmark would donate 600 million Kroner ($87.4 Million). She praised the "new and significant contribution" alongside Pedro Sanchez, her Spanish counterpart, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy (the Ukrainian President).

Frederiksen stated that the total Danish military contribution now amounts to 1 billion Kroner. Denmark will also assist Ukraine with clearing mines in areas under Ukrainian control.

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This article corrects the kroner-to-dollar conversion.

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BERLIN -- According to the U.N. migration agency, Ukraine has seen 7.7 million people flee their country since Russia invaded.

According to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, more than 600,000.00 people were also displaced in the country during the first 17 days.

The IOM figures were released a day after U.N. refugee agency stated that more than 5,000,000 people have fled Ukraine since February 24, when the war began.

According to the IOM, more than half of internally displaced persons, mostly from the east of the country reported that they were starving. The IOM stated that their most pressing issues are cash access and financial support. Next came medicines.

Ukraine's pre-war population was 44 million.

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WARSAW (Poland) - The Foreign Ministry of Poland says that Poland has taken control of the Russian Embassy's Warsaw bank account, citing suspicions that it was being used to fund "not good" purposes.

Lukasz Jasina, a ministry spokesperson, stated Thursday that the account had been frozen by prosecutors. He stated that the Russian consulate in Poland and the Polish embassy in Moscow have been subject to a variety of retaliatory actions. For example, roads around Moscow's embassy were dug up over the past two weeks, making it difficult to enter and exit the compound.

He stated that this almost prevented the departure from Poland of diplomats expelled in Russia's international spat about Russia's invasion Ukraine.

Jasina did not provide any further information about the actions of prosecutors. According to Business Insider portal, the prosecution ordered the freezing of the account of Russia's embassy in Poland and the account of Russia's trade missions in Poland for six month immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine. They claimed that the money could be used to finance terrorist activities.

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LONDON -- The British government has issued new sanctions against Russian army leaders who "committed atrocities on Russia's frontline."

Thursday's Foreign Office statement stated that it is targeting several Russian generals as well as military commanders, including Lt. Colonel Azatbek Ozurbekov. Authorities claim that the "Butcher of Bucha" was the commander of forces that occupied Kyiv, where there have been multiple reports of civilian deaths and war crimes.

Omurbekov was among those who were placed under a travel ban. British authorities announced Thursday that they will expand their sanctions to include individuals and companies supporting President Vladimir Putin's invasion in Ukraine. These include Oleg Belozyorov (CEO of Russian Railways) and Russian weapon suppliers and manufacturers like Kalashnikov Concern.

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MILAN -- ENI, an Italian energy company, has reached a deal to supply natural gas to Italy from the Republic of Congo. This is part of European efforts to reduce dependence on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

This deal, which was signed Thursday, comes on the heels of other recent agreements to increase production and delivery from Angola and Algeria. Italy currently receives 38% of its natural gasoline from Russia and has already signed agreements to replace the remaining half.

Brazzaville signed a new deal that will allow for a new liquefied gas project. It is expected to be launched next year and have a production capacity of up to 4 billion cubic meters per year. ENI also stated that it would support sustainable energy projects in central Africa.

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KYIV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian adviser says that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to not storm Mariupol's last Ukrainian stronghold means that the Russian military cannot perform the task.

Oleksiy Arastovich, a Ukrainian adviser, stated Thursday that they could not physically capture Azovstal, a huge steel plant that is Ukraine’s last stronghold at the strategic Sea of Azov port.

This statement was made by Arestovich in response to Putin's attempt at taking control of Mariupol, even though Ukrainian defenders continue to fight at Azovstal. Putin directed his defense minister to stop sending troops to storm the plant, and instead to block it.

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HELSINKI -- The Latvian Parliament approved a statement accusing Russia for genocide against the Ukrainian population.

The 100-seat Saeima legislative in Baltic countries approved Thursday's unanimous statement. It pointed out extensive evidence and testimony about crimes committed by the Russian military at Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol.

It stated that Latvia, a member of NATO, the European Union, and the Council of Europe, cannot accept Russia's actions. A similar statement was made by the neighbouring Estonian Parliament later on Thursday.

Latvian officials also called for EU members to immediately stop importing Russian oil or gas.

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MOSCOW -- Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, says Russia's military operation against Ukraine "continues as planned" despite President Vladimir Putin ordering his forces to not storm the Azovstal Steel plant, which was the last refuge for Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

Peskov stated to reporters that there was still an opportunity for Ukrainian troops in the country to surrender their arms and leave via established corridors.

He stated that the operation was continuing as planned and Mariupol had been liberated. When asked if the order to not storm the steel plant was a change in plans, he replied that this is a separate facility that the remaining Ukrainian nationalists are completely blocked from.


 

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