The announcement, which came after Zelensky had rejected a Russian offer to hold talks in Belarus, did not specify when the meeting might occur. However, the Kremlin said the talks would take place in the Gomel region, in the south of Belarus; Ukraine previously called talks in a country supporting the invasion a non-starter.
But hostilities remained intense, with street fighting in Ukrainian cities and an announcement from Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday that he had put his nuclear deterrence forces into high alert, attributing the move to “aggressive statements” from the West against Russia. The White House called the order an example of “manufacturing threats that don’t exist.”
Earlier Sunday, Russian forces pushed into Kharkiv, sparking a battle for control in Ukraine’s second-largest city. By afternoon local time, the city was quieter, with the sounds of bombardment fading from downtown and Kharkiv’s governor announcing the city remained under government control.
Over four days of fighting, the United Nations’ refugee agency said Sunday that 368,000 people have fled Ukraine. In a sign of how the war is quickly upending Europe’s status quo, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a major boost in defense spending, saying it was time to “invest significantly more” in security and protecting democracy.
Here’s what to know
- The Biden administration and its European allies vowed Saturday night to block the Kremlin’s access to its sizable foreign currency reserves in the West and to cut off Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, a network that connects banks around the world. The actions could send Russia’s financial market into free fall and cripple the Kremlin’s ability to pay for its new war, which has intensified in recent days.
- Russian troops have moved into Ukraine from the north, south and east. Russian successes in the south contrast with difficulties to take Kyiv, which is resisting more than Russia was expecting.
- Zelensky also called on Russia to lose its seat at the United Nations Security Council and said he had spoken with the U.N.’s secretary general, António Guterres, about the possibility.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT
Russian climate delegate apologizes on Ukraine, saying many ‘fail to find any justification for the attack.”
The head of the Russian delegation at a major United Nations climate meeting apologized Sunday for his country’s invasion of Ukraine, telling hundreds of government ministers and scientists, “those who know what is happening fail to find any justification for the attack.”
Russia’s Oleg Anisimov’s unexpected remarks came during a virtual meeting of delegates from 195 nations who had convened to finalize a major assessment of how climate change will affect the globe in the coming decades, according to two participants who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the closed-door negotiations.
“Let me present an apology on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict,” Anisimov said, according to a participant in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent session.
The comments by Anisimov, a scientist at the state hydrological institute, mark a rare public rebuke of the Russian invasion by a government official. His apology came after an impassioned speech from his Ukrainian counterpart, Svitlana Krakovska, who linked the invasion of her country to the global challenge the ministers and scientists sought to confront: climate change.
“Human induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots, fossil fuels, and our dependence on them,” another delegate recalled Krakovska saying.
Anisimov, who noted that the meeting was focused on “scientific matters, not political” expressed admiration for the Ukrainian delegation’s commitment to participating in the negotiations despite the war in their home country, the first participant recalled.
The report that will be released on Monday discusses the millions of people who will be displaced by climate disasters and conflict linked to food and water shortages, the Ukrainian delegate said. Perhaps in the future, she said, the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians currently fleeing their country will also be seen as climate migrants.
Krakovska woke up in a different world on Thursday, she told fellow negotiators Sunday. The Ukrainian delegation was briefly absent from the virtual meeting, one witness recalled, but returned to participate in the final sessions.
She declared that she and her colleagues would keep working on this report as long as they had Internet and no bombs were falling on their heads.
“We will not surrender in Ukraine,” she told other delegates. “And we hope the world will not surrender in building a climate resilient future.”
Japan joins Western allies in SWIFT banking ban on Russia
Japan will join Western allies in imposing stricter sanctions on Russian financial institutions, including the removal of certain Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT international payment system, in a dramatic ramp-up of Japanese sanctions in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday evening announced a fresh round of harsher sanctions on Russia, including freezing the assets of Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin. Kishida also announced that Japan will provide $100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Japan has already pledged another $100 million in emergency loans in support.
In recent days, Japan has taken a sharp turn in rhetoric and economic measures in response to Moscow’s actions. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi labeled Russia’s actions as “aggression,” the strongest descriptor yet by Japanese officials. Japan had also announced earlier rounds of softer sanctions, in line with Western allies.
Kishida said Japan will join the United States and European countries in isolating Russia from the international financial system and the global economy. Removing Russian institutions from SWIFT could hobble the country’s ability to do business outside of its own borders.
“We will show that there is a high price to pay for violence,” Kishida said in a statement Sunday evening. “Following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, it is no longer possible to continue relations with Russia as it has been. Japan along with G-7 countries and the international community will take stricter sanctions.”
In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki lauded Japan’s announcement, and noted that with the decision, “the entire G7 now supports disconnecting selected Russian banks from SWIFT, restrictions on the Russian Central Bank, and sanctioning key Russian leaders, including President Putin.”
After years of trying to avoid antagonizing Moscow, Japan has been cautiously stepping up its response alongside other G-7 countries — out of concerns over China. Leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called on stronger measures by Japan, to show that Japan will not stand for regional actors using force to change the territorial status quo.
Hayashi and Kishida have repeatedly said that Moscow’s actions will have consequences beyond Europe and could affect the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the face of an increasingly aggressive China.
Ukrainian ambassador calls on U.S. businesses to stand up to Russia: ‘It’s time to take sides’
Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, on Sunday called on American businesses to take a stand against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, saying that now is not the time to stay silent.
“This is a full-fledged, unjust war,” Markarova said. “I think it’s time to think about saving reputations and not cooperating with a regime that will end up in The Hague for everything they’ve done and they’re doing now to Ukraine.”
“One of the very famous survivors of Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, said that you always have to take sides because the silence or neutrality always helps the oppressor and never those that are oppressed,” Markarova said. “So it’s time to take sides and it’s time to take Ukrainians’ side, because we are defending our home. We were peaceful. We never planned any offensives. We didn’t attack anyone, and we were attacked.”
Markarova also called for more sanctions against Russia and more defensive weapons for Ukraine, saying Russian troops were now all over Ukraine using missiles and heavy artillery.
“Nothing is off limit to them,” she said. “What we see is a full-fledged war, with war crimes on the ground.”
Markarova paused when asked if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was safe.
“He is as safe as our country,” she said. “And that’s the choice he made to stay in Kyiv, to stay in Ukraine and lead the nation in this very difficult moment.”
Israel tries to balance between Russia and Ukraine over invasion
TEL AVIV — Israel is increasingly going public with its support for Ukraine while avoiding public condemnation of Russia, the primary backer of the Syrian regime, which is classified by Israel as an enemy state on its northern border.
“We are praying for the well-being of the citizens of Ukraine and hope that additional bloodshed will be avoided,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday in a statement. “We are conducting a measured and responsible policy.”
He said that over the next two days, Israel will send 100 tons of water purification kits, medical drugs, tents, blankets and other humanitarian equipment for civilians in the combat zones in Ukraine and to Ukrainians attempting to flee.
Bennett also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, according to a statement released by Bennett’s office.
Map: Russian attacks on fourth day of invasion
Outnumbered Ukrainian forces continued to counter Russian attacks across the country. On Sunday, Russian forces pushed into Kharkiv, sparking a battle for control in Ukraine’s second-largest city that included heavy street fighting and back-and-forth rocket firing.
White House says Putin’s nuclear high alert is part of pattern of ‘manufacturing threats that don’t exist’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday said Putin putting Russian nuclear forces on high alert was part of a pattern of “manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression.”
“And the global community and the American people should look at it through that prism,” Psaki said on ABC’s “This Week.” “At no point has Russia been under threat from NATO, has Russia been under threat from Ukraine. This is all a pattern for President Putin and we’re going to stand up for the ability to defend ourselves.”
Psaki said the Biden administration is open to providing additional security assistance to Ukraine and that energy sanctions are “certainly on the table.” She also cited Putin’s speech last week before invading Ukraine and warned that Putin “clearly had ambitions beyond that.”
“One of the mistakes we probably all made is looking at this through the prism of global norms — and global community behavior that people should operate through — as leaders in the world,” Psaki said.
When asked if the White House was assured of Zelensky’s safety, Psaki said Biden remained in close touch with the Ukrainian president but would not get into details about his security.
“The American people have seen … his standing up courageously against the invasion of President Putin and Russian leadership,” Psaki said. “The last conversation [Biden] had with him, President Zelensky asked for additional security assistance. That’s exactly what we delivered, and we will remain in close contact with him.”
Ukraine says it has agreed to talks with Russia at site on Belarus border
MOSCOW — Russian and Ukrainian delegations will meet on the border of Ukraine and Belarus near the Pripyat River for talks about ending Russian attacks, Ukraine’s presidential office said Sunday. The timing of the meeting was not announced.
Ukraine had earlier ruled out a meeting in Belarus because Russian forces launched attacks from there but agreed to meet “without preconditions” on the border near the Pripyat River.
Kyiv announced the agreement after phone calls Sunday between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks would be held in the Gomel region of southern Belarus but did not comment on possible conditions. The location had been the sticking point on the talks, and it was not clear if this had been overcome.
Lukashenko, Putin’s closest military ally, said he guaranteed that there would be no military activity on Belarusian territory during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel and negotiations. The Kremlin said it had warned Ukraine that its military actions would continue throughout negotiations.
The two sides have been talking about the possibility of negotiations since Friday, after Zelensky said Ukraine was open to neutrality.
The Kremlin announced Sunday morning it had sent a delegation to talks with Ukraine in Gomel — until Zelensky swiftly ruled it out, saying Ukraine was willing to talk in any neutral location, naming cities such as Baku, Azerbaijan; Warsaw; Budapest; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Istanbul. Later Sunday, Israel offered to mediate, and finally Ukraine announced an agreement about the border location.
The Russian delegation will include senior officials from the presidential administration, Defense Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry. On Friday, the Kremlin said it was willing to talk on the condition that Ukraine “demilitarize and de-nazify,” making it clear it expected Ukraine’s capitulation.
Putin has demanded an end to Ukraine joining NATO, the removal of all its weapons and its recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.
368,000 Ukrainians flee to European countries, with some waiting 40 hours in freezing temperatures to cross
Some 368,000 Ukrainians have fled to European neighbors — mainly to Poland, as well as to Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania — since Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, the United Nations refugee agency said Sunday.
Thousands more are still trying to get through the clogged borders, waiting in the cold for hours on end in cars or on foot with just the bare minimal belongings. As of Saturday, there was a nearly nine-mile backlog at the crossing into Poland, with some people waiting for 40 hours in 28-degree temperatures at night, according to a spokesperson with the U.N. refugee agency, Chris Melzer.
The scale of the exodus has not been seen in Europe in years. What could become Europe’s biggest humanitarian emergency since 2015 — when more than 1 million refugees mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan arrived and triggered a continentwide crisis over whether to accept or reject those fleeing — is swiftly unfolding.
So far, European leaders and communities say they are ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees — including countries such as Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, which have previously hardened their borders and policies in the face of other waves of refugees amid a backlash from the far-right.
In contrast to 2015 when many European countries were hostile to sharing the burden of so many refugees, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said Sunday that Germany was ready to offer Poland and other eastern European countries support to handle the sudden surge in Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, the situation keeps getting more grave: The United Nations warned Friday that up to 5 million of Ukraine’s 44 million people could become refugees if Russia’s attacks Ukraine continue. It’s mainly women, children and the elderly fleeing — as males ages 18 to 60 are barred from leaving Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukrainians to take up arms and defend the country.
Putin puts Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday put nuclear deterrent forces onto high alert, in response to sanctions and what he called “aggressive statements” from the West against Russia.
It’s a major escalation of tensions with NATO after Western nations announced plans to restrict the Russian central bank from its foreign currency reserves and cut off certain Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system.
“Top officials of the leading NATO countries also allow aggressive statements against our country,” Putin said at a Kremlin meeting Sunday, as he ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov to put the nuclear deterrence forces into “special combat duty.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview on “Face the Nation” that Putin’s order was a “totally unacceptable” sign of escalation.
“We have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way,” she said.
Map: Latest ground advances of Russia into Ukraine
Russian troops have moved into Ukraine from the north, south and east of the country. Russian forces are pushing into Kharkiv, but the city remains under Ukrainian control. According to the Pentagon, Russia is facing more resistance in the capital than what it was expecting.
Ukrainian border guards may have survived reported last stand on Snake Island
Ukrainian border guards who insulted Russian forces this week in a recorded exchange that went viral may not have been killed, Ukrainian officials said Saturday, contradicting an earlier claim by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said in a statement posted to its Facebook page that the guards may be alive, after Russian media reported that they were taken as prisoners from their base on Snake Island in the Black Sea to Sevastopol, a port city that Russia controls on the Crimean Peninsula.
Zelensky cited the guards’ story Thursday while highlighting Ukrainian resistance to a Russian invasion, saying that 13 guards had “died heroically.” He said he would recognize each with the title Hero of Ukraine.
Fuel depot south of Kyiv hit, explosions light up the night sky
Kyiv was rocked by a major explosion in the early hours of Sunday as fighting continued close to the capital of Ukraine.
Video published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shows an oil depot on fire in Vasylkiv, roughly 21 miles southwest of Kyiv’s center. The damage was sustained after a shelling attack, according to the city’s mayor.
The depot belonged to KLO, a Ukrainian company that operates a chain of gas filling stations.
“Within minutes of a strike by a Russian missile and explosion amid burning fuel tanks at the KLO oil depot, 15 wagons of diesel fuel and eight wagons of gas managed to be saved,” a statement posted on the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page said.
Later, a statement from Ukraine’s state emergency service said that the fire had been contained and that there was no threat to residents in the surrounding area.
Images and photos of the attack shared online show a single blast hitting the depot followed by a mushroom cloud of smoke. The site then erupted into tall flames that continued to burn brightly enough to be visible from central Kyiv.
A Ukrainian news service cited Ukrainian authorities saying residents should close their windows to avoid being affected by smoke and other harmful materials spreading in the areas as a result of the blast.
It follows explosions and gunfire around the capital the previous day as Ukrainian forces fight to keep the capital out of Russian hands.
Pope Francis criticizes the war while Orthodox Patriarch Kirill echoes Putin’s rationale for fighting
Pope Francis, leader of 1.3 billion Catholics, on Sunday denounced the logic behind the conflict in Ukraine as “diabolical.” Speaking to pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square, some of them holding Ukrainian flags, he said that “those who make war forget humanity.”
At nearly the same time, Russian Orthodox Church leader Russian Patriarch Kirill cited President Vladimir Putin’s view of a Russian world with “one people” in his sermon at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, echoing the president’s conviction that Ukraine belongs to a conservative, Orthodox, Russian-led Slavic brotherhood.
He said he wanted peace in the “Russian land” — meaning Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — adding “may the Lord protect the peoples that are part of the single space of the Russian Orthodox Church,” warning of “dark and hostile external forces” seeking to divide “our common historical fatherland.”
The two religious leaders’ conflicting approaches show the early, spiritual dimension to a conflict that is sharping lines between the East and West.
Francis had made it a point to draw more closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, and in 2016 he became the first pope to meet with a patriarch. In December, Francis said another meeting with Patriarch Kirill was “not far on the horizon.”
Since Russia began its invasion, Francis has so far abstained from directly criticizing the Kremlin or discussing the Russian church. But he has made it clear where he stands in the conflict, calling for Catholics to pray for Ukraine, making an unannounced trip to Russia’s embassy to the Holy See, and holding a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to express his “sorrow.”
Germany, 10 others ban Russian flights from their airspace
Germany has banned Russian aircrafts and flight operators from flying into and over its airspace starting at 3 p.m. local time Sunday, a government release said — adding to the list of countries to do so amid a coordinated European pushback against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Our European skies are open skies,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Twitter. “They’re open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress.”
Russia has so far retaliated by banning flights from at least nine countries. In various statements, the country’s Federal Agency for Air Transport called the moves by countries such as the United Kingdom and Romania to ban Russian flights “unfriendly.”
From Sunday afternoon, under a notice issued by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure that is set to last at least three months, most Russian aircrafts and aircraft operators will be barred from German airspace, with some exceptions, including flights carrying humanitarian aid.
On Sunday, Denish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said his country would push for a European Union-wide ban on Russian flights at the extraordinary meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers. Such a move would largely cut off Russia from the easiest air route west, while countermeasures imposed by Moscow could make it more difficult for European carriers to fly east, notably to Asia.
While many of Ukraine’s allies have moved to ban Russian flights from their own airspace, there appears to be little appetite for a no-fly zone over the country, a measure previously requested by Ukrainian officials. When asked about it at a news conference on Friday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said enforcing a no-fly zone would mean putting British pilots in the line of fire and would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
“To do a no-fly zone I would have to put British fighter jets against Russian,” Wallace told the BBC. “NATO would have to effectively declare war on Russia.”