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Thursday August 18th, 2022 4:56PM

Live Updates | UK pledges more military equipment to Ukraine

By The Associated Press
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LONDON - U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged another 100 million pounds ($130 million) in high grade military equipment to Ukraine, saying Britain wants to help Ukraine defend itself.

Speaking Friday at a news conference with Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Johnson said he would give Ukraine’s military more Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, another 800 anti-tank missiles, and precision munitions capable of lingering in the sky until directed to their target.

He also promised more helmets, night vision and body armor. The items were in addition to some 200,000 pieces of non-lethal military equipment from the UK that had already been promised.

The pledge of new weaponry came as Johnson condemned the attack on train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk earlier Friday. Women and children gathering on a train platform perished in the blast.

Johnson said both the U.K. and Germany shared the “revulsion at the brutality being unleashed, including the unconscionable bombing of refugees fleeing their homes,’’ adding that the train station attack “shows the depths to which Putin’s vaunted army has sunk.’’

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Officials say Russian missile kills 30 civilians at train station

— EU imposes sanctions on Putin's daughters

— Key Polish leader bashes Hungary's Orban, longtime ally, over stance on Ukraine

— Congress votes to suspend Russia trade status, enact oil ban

— U.N. General Assembly votes to suspend Russia from UN rights council

— UN aid chief: ‘I’m not optimistic’ about Ukraine cease-fire

— Russia is moving troops and focus toward the east, but that strategy carries risks as well

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

KYIV, Ukraine - Ukrainian prosecutors say a war crimes investigation has begun after one utilities worker was killed and two injured by a mine that retreating Russian forces left behind.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office said Friday the incident happened near Trostianets, a town in northeastern Ukraine which was occupied by Russian troops for around a month until they withdrew in late March.

It said the workers were traveling Thursday to restore electricity to the area when their vehicle struck the mine outside the village of Bilka.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned of the dangers of mines and explosive traps left by Russian forces in formerly occupied areas.

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LONDON - A military expert has rejected Russia’s effort to deny responsibility for the missile strike on a Ukrainian railway station, saying the denial follows a standard formula the Kremlin uses to “muddy the waters” after attacks on civilian targets.

Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said Friday that railroads in eastern Ukraine are a significant military target for Russia because destroying this kind of infrastructure makes it more difficult for Ukraine to reinforce its forces in the region. He added that Ukraine has little incentive to deliberately kill its own people during a war of attrition.

Bronk told the Associated Press that the strike was entirely in line with how Russian forces operate by terrorizing civilians to try and increase pressure on the Ukrainian government to agree a cease fire. He added this would allow them to consolidate their gains and try and stabilize their military position, “which is not great.”

Russia’s defense ministry rejected claims that Russia was responsible for the attack, saying it no longer uses the type of missile that hit the railway station.

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BERLIN - Officials say 40 Russian diplomats declared ‘persona non grata’ by Germany earlier this week have left the country.

The diplomats were picked up Friday by a Russian government plane that had received special permission to land at Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport despite a ban on flights from Russia in the European Union.

Germany’s top security official had said earlier this week that the diplomats were chosen because they were linked to Russian intelligence agencies.

Germany ordered the expulsion after dozens of civilians were found killed in the Ukrainian town of Buch following the withdrawal of Russian troops there.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Slovakia’s Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad says the United States will deploy a Patriot air defense system in his country next week.

Friday’s announcement came shortly after Slovakia donated its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine at its request. Nad previously said his country was willing to provide its S-300 long-range air defense missile system to Ukraine on condition it has a proper replacement.

Additionally, Germany and the Netherlands have agreed to send troops armed with Patriot missiles to Slovakia as part of 2,100-strong force made up of soldiers from several NATO members states, including the US. The force will form a battlegroup on Slovak territory to boost NATO defenses on the alliance's eastern flank.

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LONDON - Russia’s central bank says it’s lowering a key interest rate, and said more cuts could be on the way.

The decision indicates the bank thinks strict capital controls and other severe measures are stabilizing Russia’s currency and financial system despite intense pressure from Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

The bank said Friday it lowered its benchmark rate from 20% to 17%, effective Monday. It had raised the rate from 9.5% on Feb. 28 -- four days after the invasion -- as a way to support the ruble’s plunging exchange rate.

A currency collapse would worsen already high inflation for Russian shoppers by ballooning the cost of imported goods.

The rate increase shows how the central bank has managed to stabilize key aspects of the economy with severe controls, artificially propping up the ruble to allow it to rebound to levels seen before the invasion of Ukraine — even as the West piles on more sanctions.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A shipment of valuable art destined for Russian museums that was seized on the Finnish-Russian border can be released under an amendment to sanctions that went into effect on Friday, Finnish customs officials said.

The artwork and artifacts — which were returning to Russia from Italy and Japan, where they were on loan — have a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million).

They were seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing on April 1-2 under European Union sanctions imposed on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The amendment to the sanctions makes it possible to grant an exceptional permit for transports between museums. Finland’s customs agency said the Foreign Ministry can grant a permit enabling the release of works of art.

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LVIV, Ukraine — The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region says the death toll from a missile strike on a rail station in the eastern town of Kramatorsk has risen to 50, including five children.

Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on social media that 38 people had died at the scene, and another 12 in hospital.

Ukrainian officials have said as many as 4,000 people were at the station, where trains were evacuating civilians westward from the Ukraine-held town ahead of an expected Russian offensive.

Scores of people were injured in the strike, and local hospitals were overwhelmed in dealing with the influx of patients.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia’s military of deliberately targeting a location where only civilians were assembled. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied any Russian role in the attack.

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TIRANA, Albania — Thousands of demonstrators waving Ukrainian flags and chanting support for Ukraine have marched through Albania’s capital.

Western diplomats and the city’s mayor joined Ukraine’s ambassador in a procession from Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square to the Ukrainian embassy.

Youths held aloft a 30-meter (100-foot) long blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and anti-war posters. Some sought to liken Russian President Vladimir Putin to the late Serb ex-authoritarian leader Slobodan Milosevic, a reviled figure in Albania.

Albania’s government has lined up with European Union sanctions and expressed support for U.S. initiatives against Russia at the U.N. Security Council, where Albania currently holds a seat.

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TOKYO — Japan is expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials and will phase out imports of Russian coal and oil.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that Moscow must be held accountable for “war crimes” in Ukraine and pointed to a “critical moment” now in efforts to get Russia’s government to end its invasion of Ukraine.

He said Japan will also ban imports of Russian lumber, vodka and other goods, and will prohibit new Japanese investment in Russia. It will also step up sanctions against Russian banks and freeze assets of about 400 more individuals and groups.

Reduction of Russian fossil fuel imports is a difficult choice for resource-poor Japan, and could mean a shift for its energy policy toward more renewables and nuclear power. Russia accounts for about 11% of Japanese coal imports.

Earlier Friday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials, joining similar moves in European countries.

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MADRID — Spain’s defense minister expects a “long and cruel” war in Ukraine.

Margarita Robles said Friday that killings and alleged torture of civilians in the town of Bucha were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to atrocities committed since Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

Evidence of the violence against civilians emerged after Russian forces pulled out of the town on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.

Robles told Antena 3 that an expected Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region — where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014 — will likely bring more horror.

She predicted increased “cruelty” would be inflicted by Russian forces in the region.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Prime Minister Eduard Heger says Slovakia has donated its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine.

The comments from Heger came as he was visiting the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv with top EU officials ahead of a planned meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday.

Zelenskyy mentioned S-300s by name when he spoke to U.S. lawmakers by video last month, appealing for defense systems that would allow Ukraine to “close the skies” to Russian warplanes and missiles.

NATO members Bulgaria, Slovakia and Greece have the S-300s, which can fire missiles hundreds of kilometers (miles) and knock out cruise missiles as well as warplanes.

Slovakia previously said it was willing to give its S-300 to Ukraine on condition that it has a proper replacement.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union has returned its ambassador to Ukraine to the capital, Kyiv, in a move that underscores the improved security situation there and the 27-nation bloc’s commitment to the beleaguered country.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made the announcement Friday during a visit to Kyiv where he joined EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Borrell said the ambassador’s return would help ensure that the EU and Ukraine’s government can work together more directly and closely.

Russian forces sought to enter Kyiv in the days after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine but despite severe losses and damage, the city withstood the attacks and the government was able to continue functioning from there.

Borrell called it “impressive” that Ukraine’s government was fully functioning under “the very difficult circumstances.”

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ROME — The United Nations says prices for world food commodities like grains and vegetable oils reached their highest levels ever last month due to fallout from the war in Ukraine.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday its Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices for a basket of commodities, recorded a double-digit percentage-point increase in March from the record level already set the previous month.

FAO said the index came in at 159.3 points last month, up 12.6% from February’s all-time high since the index was created in 1990.

The Rome-based agency says the war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in prices for cereals, including wheat and all coarse grains. Russia and Ukraine together account for around 30% and 20% respectively of global wheat and maize exports.

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LONDON — Britain has added two adult daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin to its sanctions list, following similar moves by the U.S. and the European Union.

The government said Friday it is imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Putin’s daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, as well as Yekaterina Vinokurova, daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Britain says it has sanctioned more than 1,200 Russian individuals and businesses since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, including 76 oligarchs and 16 banks.

It says Western nations have collectively frozen 275 billion pounds ($360 billion), amounting to 60% of Russian foreign currency reserves.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The regional governor of Ukraine’s Sumy region that borders Russia is urging local residents to avoid using forest roads, walking on roadsides, or approaching destroyed military equipment after Russian troops pulled out of the region.

Dmytro Zhyvytskyy warned Friday on the messaging app Telegram that locals are still in danger because of mines and other ammunition that the Russian forces left behind.

In a message apparently directed to local residents, Zhyvytskyy said any explosions in the area in the short term were likely to be sounds of rescuers and mine-clearing specialists at work deactivating the ammunition and other explosives.

He had said earlier this week that Russia no longer controlled any settlements in the region.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union imposed has sanctions on two adult daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a new package of measures targeting Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, according to two EU officials.

The EU included Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova in its updated list of individuals facing assets freeze and travel bans. The two EU officials from different EU member countries spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the updated list of sanctions has not been published yet.

The move from the European bloc follows a similar move two days earlier by the United States.

— By Samuel Petrequin and Raf Casert in Brussels.

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BRUSSELS — Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and two top European Union officials are in Kyiv looking to shore up the bloc’s support for war-torn Ukraine.

Heger said in a tweet Friday that he, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief have come with trade and humanitarian aid proposals for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government.

Part of that, Heger says is “to offer options for transporting grains, including wheat.” Ukraine is a major world wheat supplier and Russia’s war on Ukraine is creating shortages, notably in the Middle East.

He adds that the three want to help Ukraine on its path toward closer ties with the EU by “creating a ReformTeam.” Ukraine has applied to join the EU, but was already sorely in need of reforms, notably to root out rampant corruption, years before Russian troops invaded in February.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Latvia says it has blacklisted 15 citizens of Russia and Belarus on grounds that their activities pose a threat to the nation’s national security.

A list of nine Russians and six Belarus citizens was given by Latvia’s State Security Service — the counterintelligence agency — to Interior Minister Marija Golubeva.

The State Security Service said Friday they include people who “may be involved in obtaining intelligence or providing support for Russia’s foreign policy interests.” It says among them are those who despite the crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine express support for the Kremlin.

Earlier this month, Latvia said it will close two Russia’s consular missions and expel a total of 13 Russian diplomats and employees currently stationed in the Baltic country.

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MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has acknowledged that Russia has suffered “significant losses of troops” during its military operation in Ukraine.

Peskov said: “Yes, we have significant losses of troops and it is a huge tragedy for us.”

Speaking in an exclusive interview with British broadcaster Sky on Thursday, Peskov also hinted that the operation might be over “in the foreseeable future.” He said that Russian forces were “doing their best to bring an end to that operation.”

He said: “And we do hope that in coming days, in the foreseeable future, this operation will reach its goals, or we’ll finish it by the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.”

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CANBERRA, Australia — The first of 20 Bushmaster armored vehicles has left Australia for Ukraine, one week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically requested the Australian-manufactured four-wheel drives.

A Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport jet that can carry four Bushmasters left the east coast city of Brisbane for Europe on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The 20 Bushmasters cost 50 million in Australian dollars, which is $37 million in U.S. dollars.

The vehicles are in addition to $116 million in Australian dollars ($87 million in U.S. dollars) in military and humanitarian aid previously committed to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy requested Bushmasters when he made a video address to the Australian Parliament on March 31.

“And as soon as he asked, we said yes,” Morrison said.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday announced it is levying sanctions against Russia’s largest military shipbuilding and diamond mining companies.

The move blocks their access to the U.S. financial system as the United States looks to exact more economic pain on President Vladimir Putin for the invasion of Ukraine.

Alrosa is the world’s largest diamond mining company and accounts for about 90% of Russia’s diamond mining capacity, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Alrosa generated over $4.2 billion in revenue in 2021. Diamonds are one of Russia’s top 10 non-energy exports by value.

The State Department also said it was blacklisting the United Shipbuilding Corporation, as well as its subsidiaries and board members.

The moves against the two-state owned companies come a day after the U.S. announced it was targeting the two adult daughters of President Vladimir Putin, two of Russia’s largest banks and banning new American investment in Russia.

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