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Wednesday August 17th, 2022 7:36AM

Live updates | EU begins emergency gas talks

By The Associated Press
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BRUSSELS — European Union officials are holding emergency gas talks following Russia’s decision to abruptly turn off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, according to the bloc’s top official.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the announcement by Gazprom “is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”

Von der Leyen lashed out at what she described as an “unjustified and unacceptable” move underlining “the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier.” Von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive branch, said a meeting of the gas coordination group was underway, adding that the region’s 27 countries are prepared to weather Russia’s cutoffs.

“Member States have put in place contingency plans for just such a scenario and we worked with them in coordination and solidarity,” she said. “We are mapping out our coordinated EU response. We will also continue working with international partners to secure alternative flows.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— UN chief and Russia’s Putin agree on key Ukraine evacuation

— Poland, Bulgaria say Russia suspending natural gas supplies

— Russia removed as host of 2023 worlds in men’s ice hockey

— US urges more arms for Ukraine amid fears of expanding war

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

LONDON — British military authorities say Ukraine retains control of a majority of the country’s airspace as Russia has failed to destroy Ukraine’s air force or suppress its air defenses.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in an intelligence update released Wednesday morning, says Russian air activity is focused on supporting ground forces in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The ministry says Russian air forces have “very limited” access to northern and western Ukraine, limiting them to long-range attacks with missiles and other “stand-off” weapons.

The ministry also says that the majority of air strikes on the southern city of Mariupol are probably being conducted with unguided bombs, which are difficult to target and increase civilian casualties.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said Wednesday that Bulgaria can meet the needs of users for at least one month, after the country was given a one-day notice by Russia’s Gazprom that its gas supplies would be discontinued.

He said that gas is still flowing as he spoke.

“Alternative supplies are available, and Bulgaria hopes that alternative routes and supplies will also be secured at EU level,” Nikolov said referring to an EU expert meeting due later Wednesday to plan the next steps. He added that Poland and Lithuania are in the same situation as Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian side has fully met its obligations and has made all payments required under its current contract in a timely manner, strictly and in accordance with its terms, Nikolov said, and Bulgaria has paid in advance for supplies in April, which shows that Gazprom has defaulted on its contract.

“Obviously gas is used as a political tool,” he said. “As long as I am Minister, Bulgaria will not negotiate under pressure, Bulgaria is not for sale and does not succumb to any trade counterpart.”

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LONDON — U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is calling for Britain to increase defense spending and provide more heavy weapons to Ukraine as the West seeks to counter Russian aggression.

In a speech to be delivered Wednesday night, Truss will say that a “generation of under investment” in the military led to the invasion of Ukraine, according to excerpts reported by the Daily Telegraph. She adds that the target for NATO members to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defense should be considered a minimum.

Truss will also say that Britain must “double down” on support for Ukraine, digging into inventories and ramping up production so it can provide heavy weapons, tanks and airplanes to help repel the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If Putin succeeds there will be untold further misery across Europe and terrible consequences across the globe,” Truss plans to say. “We would never feel safe again.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — European gas prices have spiked by as much as 24% following Gazprom’s statement that it was suspending deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria starting Wednesday because it hasn’t received any payments from them since April 1. Benchmark Dutch futures traded at one point around 125 euros per megawatt hour.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, called Russia’s decision to cut off natural gas to Bulgaria and Poland the “weaponization of energy supplies.”

“Gazprom’s move to completely shut off gas supplies to Poland is yet another sign of Russia’s politicisation of existing agreements & will only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies,” he tweeted Wednesday morning.

He said the Russia’s decision “makes it clearer than ever that Europe needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on Russian energy.”

The spike comes even as the weather turns warmer in the Europe, lessening the demand for the natural gas for heating homes and businesses.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom says it has cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after they have refused to pay for the shipments in rubles.

It warned that if they siphon gas intended for other European customers, the deliveries to Europe will be reduced to that amount.

The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to switch to rubles in payments for the Russian gas supplied to Europe.

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BEIJING — Drone company DJI Technology Co. said it will temporarily suspend business activities in Russia and Ukraine to ensure its products are not used during the hostilities.

“DJI is internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions. Pending the current review, DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine,” the company said in a statement.

The declaration makes it one of few Chinese companies who have publicly pulled out of Russia. While many Western brands and companies have withdrawn from the Russian market in protest of its invasion of Ukraine, many Chinese firms have continued operating in the country. China continues to refrain from directly criticizing Russia over the war.

The suspension comes over a month after vice prime minister of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov wrote an open letter appealing to DJI to block the sales of their drones in Russia, alleging that the Russians were using “DJI products in Ukraine in order to navigate their missile to kill civilians.”

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POKROVSK, Ukraine — As Russian forces intensify their shelling of eastern Ukraine, more people are leaving their homes in search of safety.

In Pokrovsk, a town in the Donetsk region, people lined up Tuesday to board a train headed to the far west of the country along the border with Hungary and Slovakia. One person was lifted onto the train in a wheelchair, another on a stretcher.

The passengers took with them cats, dogs, a few bags and boxes, and the memory of those who did not flee in time.

“We were in the basement, but my daughter didn’t make it and was hit with shrapnel on the doorstep” during shelling on Monday, said Mykola Kharchenko, 74. “We had to bury her in the garden near the pear tree.”

He said his village, Vremivka, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Pokrovsk, was under heavy fire for four days and everything was destroyed. With tears in his eyes, Kharchenko said he somehow held himself together at home, but once he reached the train station he fell apart.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. says Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be involved in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that during their one-on-one meeting Tuesday, Guterres and Putin “discussed the proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, namely in relation to the situation in Mariupol.”

The sprawling Azovstal steel plant has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks but it is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.

An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.

Dujarric said that following the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle, discussions will be held with the U.N. humanitarian office and the Russian Defense Ministry on the evacuation.

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WASHINGTON — The State Department says U.S. diplomats have begun returning to Ukraine by making day trips to temporary offices in the western city of Lviv from neighboring Poland.

The department said the first group of diplomats crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border and traveled to Lviv on Tuesday morning before returning to Poland later in the day.

The step came just two days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed Ukrainian leaders during a secrecy-shrouded visit to Kyiv that the U.S. would start restaffing its diplomatic facilities in Ukraine this week.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the agency has accelerated its review of reopening the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, which was closed shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. He said operations at the embassy would resume as soon as possible depending on the security situation in the capital.

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