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Sunday September 25th, 2022 3:38AM

Live updates | US defense sec: Russia’s capability weakened

By The Associated Press
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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the war in Ukraine has already weakened Russia’s military capability.

Austin said after meeting allies and partners at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Tuesday that, since Russia began the invasion, its land forces have sustained “pretty substantial” casualties, as well as lost a lot of equipment and used a lot of precision-guided munitions.

He said that “they are, in fact, in terms of military capability, weaker than when they started, and … it’ll be harder for them to replace some of this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been placed on them.”

Austin reiterated that “we would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”

He criticized Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s warning that the threat of a nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated.”

Austin said that “it’s unhelpful and dangerous to rattle sabers and speculate about the use of nuclear weapons.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Putin gets what he didn’t want: Ukraine army closer to West

— Top Russian diplomat warns Ukraine against provoking WWIII

— France’s victorious Macron boosts weapons, stakes in Ukraine

— Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra organized by Met, Polish operas

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

MOSCOW — A senior Kremlin official says that Ukraine may split into several parts.

Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, said in remarks published Tuesday that “the policies of the West and the Kyiv regime controlled by it would only be the breakup of Ukraine into several states.”

The statement comes as Russia says it has focused on expanding control over Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland called Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian troops there since 2014 when conflict erupted following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula.

Moscow launched military action in Ukraine on Feb. 24, days after recognizing the separatist regions’ independence.

Last week, a senior Russian military officer said that along with taking control over Donbas, Russia also wants to overtake southern Ukraine, saying such a move would also open a land corridor between Russia and the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova.

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MADRID — Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Tuesday he was “very worried” by the explosions this week in the separatist region of Trans-Dniester, adding that they reminded him too much of occurrences in the Donbas region immediately prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine late February.

“I remember before Feb. 21, there have been some series of ‘false-flag’ operations in Donbas region, so called people republics, that were used as the pretext by Russia to recognize and then to sign the so-called friendship and assistance treaties and then to start the military operation,” Rinkevics told reporters in Madrid.

“I’m very worried about the current trend in Trans-Dniester because that resembles a little bit that pattern that we have seen,” he added.

Police in Trans-Dniester say two explosions Tuesday in a radio facility close to the Ukrainian border knocked two antennas out of service. On Monday, several explosions were reported to have hit the Ministry of State Security in Tiraspol, the region’s capital.

Trans-Dniester, a strip of land in Moldova, has been under the control of separatists since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops there. The United States has warned that Russia could launch “false-flag” attacks in nearby nations as a pretext for sending in troops to those nations.

Rinkevics was in Madrid to meet his Spanish counterpart and discuss the Ukraine war and the upcoming NATO summit in the Spanish capital.

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The Russian military has warned it could strike Ukrainian “decision-making centers” in the Ukrainian capital and said wouldn’t be stopped by the possible presence of Western advisers there.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday accused the U.K. of making statements encouraging Ukraine to use Western weapons to carry out strikes on the Russian territory, warning that if it happens the Russian military could retaliate by hitting government structures in Kyiv.

It directly pointed at U.K. Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey, who told Times Radio that it was “not necessarily a problem” if Ukraine British-donated weapons were used to hit sites on Russian soil.

The ministry said in a statement that “the Russian armed forces are ready to deal retaliatory strikes with long-range precision guided weapons on Kyiv centers that would make such decisions.” It noted that “the presence of citizens of one of Western countries in the Ukrainian decision-making centers won’t necessarily pose a problem for Russia in making a decision to launch retaliatory action.”

The Russian military so far has avoided striking presidential, government and military headquarters in Kyiv during its campaign in Ukraine that has entered a third month.

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is urging Congress to fully fund the Biden administration’s proposed budget for the State Department, telling lawmakers the spending is critical to ensuring that the war in Ukraine is a “strategic failure” for Russia and a message to other countries that might invade their neighbors.

Blinken said his weekend visit to Kyiv with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had left him with the “indelible impression” that Ukraine is winning, particularly in the capital. “It was right in front of us: the Ukrainians have won the battle for Kyiv,” he said.

Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the U.S.-led global response to Russia’s invasion had “underscored the power and purpose of American diplomacy.” He said the $60.4 billion budget proposal for the next fiscal year was needed to continue to rally partners and allies in the cause.

“We will, we have to continue to drive that diplomacy forward to seize what I believe are the strategic opportunities and address risks presented by Russia’s overreach, as countries reconsider their policies, priorities, their relationships,” Blinken said. “The budget request before you predated this crisis, but fully funding it is critical in my judgment to ensuring Russia’s war in Ukraine is a strategic failure for the Kremlin and serves as a powerful lesson to those who might consider following its path.”

Blinken did not name other nations that might be considering following Russia’s lead but his comment was seen as a veiled reference to China, which has sided with Russia in the Ukraine conflict and has made no secret of its desire to re-unify the island of Taiwan with the mainland.

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CHERNOBYL, Ukraine — The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency says it was possible that an accident could have occurred when Russian troops seized control of the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster during the war in Ukraine.

Speaking on a visit to the former nuclear power plant Tuesday on the 36th anniversary of the meltdown, Rafael Mariano Grossi said “the situation in 1986 was completely different. In this case, what we had was a nuclear safety situation which was not normal, and could have developed into an accident.”

Russian troops moved into the radiation-contaminated Chernobyl exclusion zone in February on their way toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and withdrew late last month as Russia switched its focus to fighting in eastern Ukraine. The site is now back in Ukrainian hands and communications which were disrupted have been restored.

Russian forces continue to hold a working nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhia plant, where there was fighting nearby in early March which damaged the plant’s training facility.

“Clearly, the physical integrity of one nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, was compromised, we also had situations where the external power was interrupted including here (Chernobyl) so there were a number of events that were compromising the normal operations of any nuclear power facility,” Grossi said.

“Those were avoided but of course, as I was saying, the situation was not stable and we have to stay on alert.”

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday announced a 6.2 trillion yen ($48.7 billion) emergency package to reduce the impact of rising prices of gasoline, grains and other raw materials due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The package includes additional gasoline subsidies, financial support for small and medium-scale businesses hit by the pandemic, as well as support for low-income households.

At a time when the pandemic still impacts people’s daily lives and the economy, the Russian invasion of Ukraine heightened global uncertainty while triggering rising costs of oil and grains, disrupting the stable supply of seafood and raw materials, and causing insecurity to people’s lives, Kishida said. “We need to ensure sense of security among the people.”

About one quarter of the package will be used to address soaring crude oil prices. To limit gasoline price increases, the government will raise subsidies to oil distributors and extend the program until the end of September.

The package will also support small and medium-size businesses hit by the pandemic and provide support for low-income households, as well as fisheries, lumber and wheat companies.

Kishida also said Japan will maximize renewable energy and promote nuclear energy following a decision to phase out coal imports from Russia. He said the government will ensure stability of energy, materials and food supply by diversifying exporters.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has hit a strategic bridge linking the southern Odesa region with neighboring Romania.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, said the bridge across the Dniester Estuary where the Dniester River flows into the Black Sea was damaged in Tuesday’s missile attack by Russian forces. He said there were no injuries.

The strike has cut off the railway connection to areas of the Odesa region west of the estuary and Romania.

The Russian attack follows a series of strikes on key railway facilities in Ukraine unleashed by the Russian military on Monday.

It comes after last week’s claim by a senior Russian military officer that Russia aims to take control of the entire south of Ukraine and build a land corridor to the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova, where tensions have escalated in recent days.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government says it is imposing sanctions on 50 Russian entities and individuals over Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Tuesday that the Polish measures come on top of European Union sanctions and target many Russian individuals and companies that do business in Poland.

Kaminski said the targeted companies will have their assets frozen and will be excluded from participation in public tenders, while Russian oligarchs on the list will be banned from entering Poland.

Gas giant Gazprom and Moshe Kantor, who owns a share of Poland’s state-owned chemicals group Azoty, are on the new list.

Kantor recently resigned as head of the European Jewish Congress after Britain imposed sanctions on him over his alleged ties to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Poland, a strong supporter of Kyiv, has taken in millions of refugees and on Monday announced plans to send an unspecified number of tanks to Ukraine.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s foreign minister has decried as “unjustified and disproportionate” a decision by Russian authorities to expel several Swedish diplomats.

Ann Linde vowed in a social-media post that Sweden would respond “appropriately” to the expulsions announced Tuesday of four Swedish diplomats by Moscow. Separately, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said three diplomats “from the Swedish Embassy in Russia” would be expelled.

Swedish news agency TT reported that three of the diplomats were based in Moscow, where the embassy is located, and one in St. Petersburg.

Linde wrote on Twitter: “By expelling Western diplomats, Russia is isolating itself internationally.”

Russia has generally sought to keep expulsions symmetrical to moves by European countries to kick out Russian diplomats over President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Sweden expelled three Russian diplomats.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials were reporting more civilian deaths in various parts of eastern Ukraine as Russian forces stepped up attacks on Tuesday.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said three people died after Russian shells hit a residential building in the city of Popasna, which Russian forces have been trying to capture.

Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko of the neighboring Donetsk region said two people were killed and six others wounded in his region, writing on social media that “Russians continue to deliberately fire at civilians and to destroy critical infrastructure.”

To the north in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said shelling of civilian areas killed three people and wounded seven more.

And further south, regional authorities in Zaporizhzhia said a missile strike killed at least one person and wounded another. Russian forces fired several missiles targeting one of the factories in the city of Zaporizhzhia, they said.

The U.N. human rights office said Tuesday it has counted 2,729 people killed and 3,111 injured in fighting since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, though it acknowledges that tally only includes confirmed casualties and is likely to understate the real toll.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to direct talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.

The call comes in the wake of Turkish diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis over Russia’s war in Ukraine, including by hosting Ukrainian and Russian negotiators for talks in Istanbul late last month.

The Turkish presidency said in a statement Tuesday that Erdogan proposed taking the “Istanbul process to the level of leaders, a crucial threshold in the Russia-Ukraine negotiations.” It sought to continue the “positive progress of the Istanbul talks” toward peace.

Talks stalled after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of committing war crimes. Putin later said peace efforts were at a dead end.

Ankara, which maintains close ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, has presented itself as a neutral broker in a bid to end the fighting.

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MOSCOW — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a cease-fire in Ukraine at his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Guterres is visiting Moscow and is then scheduled to visit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, this week.

“We are extremely interested in finding ways in order to create the conditions for effective dialog, create the conditions for a cease-fire as soon as possible, create the conditions for a peaceful solution,” Guterres said, speaking in televised comments at the start of the meeting.

Guterres also said he wanted to reduce the impact of fighting in Ukraine on food security in other parts of the world. Lavrov said they would discuss “the situation around Ukraine that acts as a catalyst for a great number of problems which had piled up over recent decades in the Euro-Atlantic region.”

Guterres is also expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Tuesday.

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GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency is launching a new appeal for funds for the crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine that projects up to 8.3 million people will have to flee the country by year-end.

The projection was announced Tuesday as part of a new $1.85 billion regional response plan from UNHCR aimed at supporting refugees from Ukraine after Russia’s war began on Feb. 24. It far outstrips the agency’s previous refugee estimates, which now stand at just over 5.2 million.

The exodus has exceeded the worst-case predictions of the Geneva-based agency, which it has called the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The response plan would help refugees who have fled to neighboring countries including Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, but also other countries in the region, including Belarus, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

The U.N. estimates that nearly 8 million people are displaced within Ukraine, and another 13 million people are believed to be trapped in war-affected areas of Ukraine. The country had a pre-war population of about 44 million.

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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is vowing that Ukraine’s allies will “keep moving heaven and earth” to fulfill Kyiv’s defense requirements as the war enters a new phase.

Austin convened a meeting with officials from around 40 countries on Tuesday at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany to work out ways to keep military aid to Ukraine going. Guests included Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.

He said “this gathering reflects the galvanized world” since Russia’s invasion, with more than 30 allies and partners joining the U.S. in sending security assistance to Ukraine and more than $5 billion worth of equipment committed.

Austin cautioned that “we have much more to do: Ukraine needs our help to win today, and they will still need our help when the war is over.”

He said of Ukraine: “We know, and you should know, that all of us have your back and that’s why we’re here today -- to strengthen the arsenal of Ukrainian democracy.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister says her country will enable the delivery of self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine.

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht made the announcement at a U.S.-hosted meeting on arming Ukraine at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany, according to the text of her remarks Tuesday provided by her ministry.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced mounting pressure, including from within his governing coalition, to approve the delivery of heavy weapons such as tanks and other armored vehicles to Ukraine. Germany has already delivered other equipment.

Lambrecht also reiterated plans for eastern European allies to send Soviet-era material to Ukraine, and then have Germany fill the resulting gaps. She said Germany is working together with the U.S. to train Ukrainian troops on artillery systems on German soil.

Germany decided on Monday to clear the delivery of Gepard anti-aircraft guns, Lambrecht said, without providing details. German media reported that defense company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann would get the green light to deliver technically upgraded guns from former German military stocks.

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LONDON — A top British government official says Russia is making “unsound” military decisions because of President Vladimir Putin’s desire to secure some kind of victory in Ukraine by May 9, when Russia marks its victory in World War II.

U.K. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Tuesday that Russian forces were “giving away whatever advantage they may have won” by launching an offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region before enough troops were assembled.

He told Sky News that Putin’s “desire to stand there on the steps of the Kremlin on May 9 and be a hero, means that thousands of Russian lives are going to be lost and the Russians are going to hand over the numerical advantage that they should have.”

Heappey also rejected Russia’s claim that NATO is provoking Russia by arming Ukraine, calling accusations of aggression by the alliance “utter nonsense.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused NATO of “pouring oil on the fire” by supply Ukraine with weapons.

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