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President Biden traveled to Rzeszow, a Polish town that has become a principal hub for Western military aid to Ukraine, signaling U.S. determination to support Kyiv with high-tech weaponry to punish Moscow for its invasion.
Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, a day after both of them attended a NATO summit where members pledged to reinforce the alliance’s eastern flank, provide further military support to Ukraine, and impose high economic costs on Russia.
The two leaders are expected to focus on the growing refugee crisis, with the bulk of fleeing Ukrainians having crossed into Poland. More than 3.6 million people have left the fighting in Ukraine, the U.N. said.
The battle around Ukraine’s capital continued. To Kyiv’s northwest, Ukraine’s military attempted to encircle Moscow’s forces, drawing closer to allow for ambushes. Ukrainian forces made territorial gains to the west of Kyiv, including in the town of Irpin, a battleground for weeks now. Russia made progress in Kyiv’s north and east, retaking the town of Izyum and shelling Kharkiv and Chernihiv.
A senior Ukrainian official on Friday asked the U.S. and its allies for instant intelligence reports to help the country fight off Russia’s invasion.
“We need the exchange of intelligence in real time,” Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s presidential spokesman, told the Atlantic Council. “We badly need a clear and complete picture of what is going on.”
In a virtual appearance with the Washington think tank, Mr. Yermak also reiterated that Ukraine is looking for more weapons, including Javelin antitank missiles, rifles, long-range artillery, multiple rocket launchers and long-range missile-defense systems.
Mr. Yermak declined to discuss intelligence in detail, saying he would “leave that to the professionals.” He acknowledged interactions with the U.S., the U.K., Israel and Turkey and said, “I hope that this cooperation gives very quick and very necessary, important results.”
U.S. officials have said the classified information now streaming across secure communication portals includes detailed, tactical data on Russian troop movements that is designed to help Ukraine formulate a military response. They declined to be more specific, citing the classified nature of the exchange.
One U.S. official said earlier this month that the intelligence data first must be scrubbed to remove clues about how it was collected, leading to delays in sharing it with the Ukrainians.
Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are cutting ties between their digital-wallet services and Russia’s homegrown version of Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc., called Mir.
Apple is removing Mir cards as an option in Apple Pay, Mir’s operator said Friday. Mir is run by the National Payment Card System, known by its Russian initials NSPK. It is owned by Russia’s central bank.
Users lost the ability to load new Mir cards into Apple Pay accounts starting Thursday. Apple is expected to delete existing Mir cards from the service in the coming days, NSPK said in a statement.
Russian lenders Sberbank, Gazprombank and Tinkoff Bank—all of which issue Mir cards—notified customers on social media Friday that Apple Pay would stop supporting the cards.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment. The iPhone maker said on March 1 that it was stopping product sales in Russia and limiting Apple Pay and other services due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Google, meanwhile, has paused a pilot plan to allow consumers to use Mir cards within Google Pay in Russia, according to a person familiar with the matter. Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported last October on plans to hook Mir up to Google Pay.
Google Pay users in Russia experienced disruptions after Visa and Mastercard suspended services in the country. The U.S. card networks said in early March that they were leaving the country amid a broad pullout of Western companies.
“Google Pay is pausing payments-related services in Russia as a result of payment services disruption out of our control,” a Google spokeswoman said.
Russians’ debit and credit cards have continued to work for transactions in the country, even for cards branded with Visa and Mastercard logos, because such transactions are processed through NSPK’s system under an arrangement dating back to 2015.
Russia on Friday more than doubled the tally of its service members to have died in the fighting in Ukraine, though Moscow’s figures remain far lower than those given by Ukrainian and Western officials.
The Russian military said 1,351 service members have now been killed in Ukraine, with 3,825 wounded. It was Russia’s first update on combat casualties in more than three weeks.
On Wednesday, a senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine and up to 40,000 troops in total have been either killed, wounded, taken prisoner or reported missing.
Those numbers would account for as much as one-fifth of Russian combat forces sent to Ukraine in about a month of fighting and underscore the extent to which Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has stalled in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.
U.S. estimates of Russian casualties haven’t been as high, according to defense officials there. Some U.S. officials have estimated in recent days that up to 7,000 Russian troops have been killed. Ukraine says more than 16,000 Russian troops have died.
“Unfortunately, there have been losses among our military comrades,” said Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Russian general staff’s main operational department.
“The state will take responsibility for all decisions relating to support for families, upbringing of children up to the level of higher education, debt forgiveness and questions of accommodation,” Mr. Rudskoy added.
The statement is the first of its kind since March 2, when Russia said 498 soldiers had died in combat since the start of its war in Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Another NATO official said that Russia might also have lost 10% of its equipment, impairing its ability to maintain the pace of operations.
Finland’s national railway operator will suspend trips between the capital Helsinki and the Russian city of St. Petersburg, a connection that for weeks had been crammed with Russians leaving their country.
The operator, VR Group, said the decision to halt the service starting Monday stemmed from Western sanctions on Russia over the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The trains operating the link are owned by Karelian Trains, a joint venture between the Finnish state rail operator VR and Russia’s state-owned railway RZD.
Earlier this month, VR said it was going to add trains to its Helsinki-St. Petersburg connection, known as Allegro, even though it didn’t make financial sense as trains going to Russia were nearly empty.
“Until now, we have continued to operate Allegro in accordance with official instructions, and the purpose has been to secure access to Finland for Finns. During these weeks, people who have wanted to leave Russia have had time to leave the country,” Topi Simola, VR’s passenger-traffic director said Friday.
“Now, according to the state ownership control, it is no longer appropriate to continue operating Allegro’s traffic due to sanctions, so we will suspend traffic for the time being,” he said.
The move further isolates Russia from the global transport system. The country’s airlines already have largely been cut off from the global aviation network.
The train link with Finland had grown in importance as flight options became more limited and sanctions, growing isolation and fear of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s repressive rule are driving thousands of Russians out of their country.
Many Russians have fled to neighboring Georgia, Moldova or the Baltic states, and a significant number have traveled westwards to Finland, using buses, trains or cars. In some cases, they have moved on, taking flights no longer accessible back home. Some Russians fear that Mr. Putin might declare martial law and seal the borders.
White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said NATO allies had worked to find consensus on how to respond if Russia employed chemical weapons in Ukraine.
“In broad terms, I believe that there is convergence around the fundamental nature of how the alliance would respond to these issues,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One Friday.
He declined to offer any specifics, saying any decisions would need to be tailored to moves by Russia.
Mr. Sullivan is accompanying President Biden on his trip to Poland after both, on Thursday, participated in a NATO summit to address how the alliance could further assist Ukraine in its efforts to repel invading Russian forces and punish Moscow for the assault.
Alliance members have grown concerned Russia could use chemical or other mass-casualty weapons in its attack on Ukraine. Mr. Biden Thursday said such weapons use would trigger a response from the U.S. and allies.
Asked what Mr. Biden meant when he said the U.S. would respond “in-kind” if Russia used chemical weapons, Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. would “select the form and nature of our response based on the nature of the action Russia takes and we’ll do so in coordination with our allies.”
He reiterated that there would be “a severe price if Russia uses chemical weapons.” He said the U.S. has no intention of using chemical weapons “under any circumstances.”
Allied leaders have been careful not to spell out specific red lines, trying to balance efforts to pressure the Kremlin into stopping the war without having NATO drawn into direct conflict with Russia.
“Strategic ambiguity and discretion are more effective” than red lines, French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday, explaining why he wouldn’t specify what Russian action might trigger a NATO response.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday that it wasn’t necessary or appropriate at this point to levy sanctions on China over its position on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
China hasn’t joined Western nations in imposing sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for its military aggression in Ukraine, and President Biden recently warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping of consequences should Beijing provide substantive assistance to Russia in its war.
Ms. Yellen said that senior administration officials continue to talk privately with China to ensure Beijing understands the U.S. position.
“We would be very concerned if they were to supply weapons to Russia or to try to evade the sanctions that we’ve put in place on the Russian financial system and the central bank,” Ms. Yellen said in a CNBC interview. “We don’t see that happening at this point and it’s really up to China to make sure they understand the complex situation that they face.”
Ms. Yellen also left open the possibility of issuing sanctions against Roman Abramovich, a prominent Russian oligarch. The Biden administration had previously drafted sanctions aimed at Mr. Abramovich, but didn’t implement them following a request from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said the oligarch could serve as a potential peace negotiator with Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“We are continuing to sanction individuals, as well as looking at broader sanctions on sectors,” Ms. Yellen said. I would “certainly not take off the table the possibility that he or other individuals could face sanctions in the future,” she said.
Ms. Yellen said she wouldn’t comment on the administration’s exact calculus about the factors that determine whether Mr. Abramovich could face sanctions.
She also defended the Biden administration’s policy efforts aimed at combating climate change and said the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine on global energy markets further demonstrates the need for economies to transition away from fossil fuels.
“Europe and the United States would be less exposed to the pressures that this conflict is putting on our energy markets if we had greater reliance on renewables, so that remains firmly appropriate as medium- and longer-term goals,” she said.
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Last Updated: Mar 25, 2022 at 1:19 pm ET