MOSCOW — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Moscow still hopes to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Ukraine, even as the fighting has continued.
Speaking at a Kremlin meeting Tuesday with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Putin noted that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators made what he described as a “serious breakthrough” in their talks in Istanbul, Turkey, last month. He claimed, however, that the Ukrainian side later walked back on some of the tentative agreements reached in Istanbul.
In particular, Putin said Ukrainian negotiators have changed their position on the issue of the status of Crimea and separatist territories in eastern Ukraine, offering to leave it for the countries’ presidents to discuss. Putin charged that the shift in the Ukrainian stand makes it hard to negotiate a future deal.
Putin has demanded that Ukraine recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and recognize independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as part of a future agreement on ending the hostilities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that those issues could only be decided by a future nationwide vote.
During Tuesday’s Kremlin meeting, Guterres criticized Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbor’s territorial integrity. He also urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped at a giant steel mill in Mariupol surrounded by the Russian forces.
Putin responded by claiming that the Russian forces have offered humanitarian corridors to civilians holed up at the Azovstal steel plant, charging that the Ukrainian defenders of the plant were using civilians as shields and not allowing them to leave.
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
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern about the tensions in a Moscow-backed separatist region of Moldova.
The ministry noted that an attack on an administrative building in Tiraspol, the center of the separatist Trans-Dniester province of Moldova, along with explosions that hit broadcast antennas and other facilities in the region follow a Russian officer’s statement about Moscow’s intention to fully take control of Ukraine’s south and build a land corridor to Trans-Dniester.
It said in a Tuesday statement that Ukraine “resolutely supports Moldova’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and condemn attempts to draw the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova into the full-fledged war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine and call for deescalating tensions.”
Trans-Dniester, a strip of land with about 470,000 people, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, nominally as peacekeepers.
WARSAW, Poland — The Polish climate minister gave assurances on Tuesday that the country has plenty of natural gas on reserve, following reports that Russia has suspended gas supplies to Poland.
Anna Moskwa, minister for climate and environment, tweeted: “Poland has the necessary gas reserves and sources of supply that protect our security — we have been effectively independent from Russia for years. Our warehouses are 76% full. There will be no shortage of gas in Polish homes.”
Her tweet followed reports by the Onet news portal that Russia has suspended gas supplies to Poland under the Yamal contract. Onet reported that a crisis team had gathered at the Ministry of Climate to deal with the matter. Onet said, citing unnamed sources, that Russia had insisted on a Friday deadline for payment in rubles and that Poland has said it would not pay in rubles.
Poland has been working to wean itself off of Russian energy sources and was due to end its reliance on Russian gas this year.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.