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Thursday August 11th, 2022 5:22AM

Live updates | 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces

By The Associated Press
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PRAGUE — Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces to help them fight the Russian aggression.

Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies which is a crime punishable by a prison term of up to five years.

Those 103 belong to a total of some 400 Czechs who have applied for an exemption from the ban, according to the Defense Ministry. The authorities still have to process most of the requests.

It’s not clear how many Czech have already been fighting on the Ukrainian side against invading Russian troops.

The president’s approval has to be co-signed by Prime Minister Petr Fiala who said through his spokesman he would sign all requests that have been approved by the Czech authorities.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukrainians make gains in east, stop Russian gas at one hub

— Wartime birth amid the air raid sirens in Ukraine hospital

— US, Western Europe fret over uncertain Ukraine war endgame

— Fighters appeal for evacuation of wounded from Mariupol mill

— House approves $40B in Ukraine aid, beefing up Biden request

— Leonid Kravchuk, independent Ukraine’s 1st president, dies

— Ambassador nominee for Ukraine seeks quick embassy reopening

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Britain has pledged to defend Sweden if the country came under attack, with Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Magdalena Andersson signing a security assurance deal outside Stockholm on Wednesday.

Sweden and neighboring Finland are pondering whether to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Johnson is later expected to make a similar defense commitment to Finland, where he will meet with President Sauli Niinisto.

The British-Swedish agreement will “fortify northern Europe’s defenses, in the face of renewed threats,” Johnson said, adding “whether it’s in the event of a disaster or a military attack...we would come to the other party’s assistance.”

Andersson said that Russian President Vladimir “Putin thought he could cause division, but he has achieved the opposite. We stand here today more united than ever.”

The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO.

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BERLIN — The German government has dismissed suggestions that it might activate the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany to compensate for reduced flows via Ukraine.

A spokeswoman for the Energy Ministry said Wednesday that Germany is currently receiving a quarter less gas through Ukraine after Ukrainian authorities shut down a pipeline saying it no longer controls a key compressor station that’s in Russian hands.

Annika Einhorn, the ministry spokeswoman, said the shortfall is being partly compensated for through increased supplies from Norway and the Netherlands.

“Nord Stream 2 has really died after Russian attacked Ukraine and nobody is thinking about switching to that,” she said.

She also noted that the majority of Russian gas reaches Germany through a sister pipeline, Nord Stream 1, rather than via Ukraine.

Germany has pledged to end imports of Russian natural gas by 2024 at the latest.

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MOSCOW — A senior Russian official has denounced the U.S. aid for Ukraine as part of Washington’s proxy war against Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council who served as president in 2008-2012 when Vladimir Putin shifted to prime minister’s position due to term limits, said Wednesday on a messaging app that the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine approved by the U.S. Congress was driven by a desire to “inflict a heavy defeat on our country, restrict its economic development and political influence in the world.”

He described the aid package as part of the U.S. “proxy war” against Russia and predicted that the United States will fail while the goals of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine will be fulfilled.

In another statement Wednesday, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, accused the United States of using the aid package to “drive Ukraine deeper into debt” and try to take control of the country’s grain reserves.

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PRAGUE — Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces to help them fight the Russian aggression.

Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies — a crime punishable by a prison term of up to five years.

Those 103 are from a total of some 400 Czechs who have applied for an exemption from the ban, according to the Defense Ministry. The authorities still have to process most of the requests.

It’s not clear how many Czech have already been fighting on the Ukrainian side against invading Russian troops.

The president’s approval has to be co-signed by Prime Minister Petr Fiala who said through his spokesman he would sign all requests that have been approved by the Czech authorities.

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PARIS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia’s war in Ukraine is “pushing a number of countries” toward NATO membership.

With Finland and Sweden moving toward joining the alliance, he said, “These countries want to be protected from Russia” because their people see what’s happening in Ukraine and want “to live in security, in their own house, and spend time calmly with their family.”

Russia has cited NATO’s expansion toward its borders as a reason for invading Ukraine.

Speaking Wednesday to French university students via video link, Zelenskyy also proposed “preventive sanctions” against Russia and any countries that threaten to use nuclear weapons. He also called for international debate about nuclear disarmament.

He said Russia’s suggestions that it could use nuclear force in the war in Ukraine should not go unpunished, but didn’t elaborate.

He urged more unity in European policy, as the EU’s 27 members haggle over a sixth round of sanctions that include an oil embargo.

Asked how the war could end, he said, “The war will end when we restore our unity and territory...when we get back what belongs to us.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show that a Russian ship believed to be carrying stolen Ukrainian grain has docked in Syria.

The photo taken Tuesday by Planet Labs PBC showed the Russian-flagged Matros Pozynich at dockside in Latakia, Syria.

The ship seen in the photo matched known characteristics of the bulk carrier, as well as its dimensions.

The ship turned off its transponders nearly a week ago off the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.

Samir Madani, the co-founder of the online research firm TankerTrackers.com, also told the AP that he believed the ship docked in Latakia was the Matros Pozynich, based on its dimensions and last-known position.

Ukraine has alleged that the ship had 27,000 tons of grains Russia stole from the country. It alleged Russia initially tried to ship the grains to Egypt, which refused to take the cargo. Ukrainian diplomats had been asking nations not to accept the grain.

The ship’s registered owners, Crane Marine Contractor LLC of Astrakhan, Russia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Russian bombing campaign and support from Iran beat back insurgents who nearly toppled Syrian President Bashar Assad after the 2011 Arab Spring. Russia still maintains a navy and air base in Syria, though it has reportedly rotated forces out of the country to aid its war on Ukraine.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s ambassador in Moscow has been summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Polish foreign minister said, hinting on Wednesday at a reciprocal move by Warsaw.

Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau was answering media questions about the state of Polish-Russian relations after Russia’s Ambassador Sergey Andreev was splattered earlier this week with red paint, symbolizing the bloodshed in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The relations have been very tense since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which borders Poland. The Polish government has been urging for tough international sanctions.

“Regarding our relations with the Russian federation we know that Poland’s ambassador in Moscow has been summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry,” Rau said.

He added that “in international relations there is the principle of reciprocity,” which suggested that his ministry will summon Andreev.

Andreev was splattered on Monday with red paint thrown at him by protesters opposed to the war in Ukraine at a Warsaw cemetery holding the remains of Red Army soldiers who died on Polish territory during World War II. The protest prevented him from paying his respects on the Russian patriotic “Victory Day” holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany.

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VIENNA — The United Nations chief says that while it is clear that “at the present moment there are no immediate chances of a peace agreement or immediate chances for local cease fire” in Ukraine, the organization is still working on improving the difficult circumstances of the people suffering from the war.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday during a visit to Vienna that the U.N. has concentrated all its diplomatic efforts on improving the civilians’ living conditions and is helping with the evacuations of Ukrainians from war zones in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Guterres told reporters after a meeting with the Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen that “there is still a lot we can do in diplomacy to save lives and to improve the humanitarian situation in the conflict.”

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LVIV, Ukraine -- The Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard says Russian troops on Wednesday continued to pound the Azovstal steelworks, the last pocket of resistance of Ukrainian forces in the port city of Mariupol.

In a social media statement, Azov, which is holed up at the sprawling steel plant with other units of Ukraine’s military and law enforcement, said that over the past 24 hours the Russians carried out 38 airstrikes "on the territory” of Azovstal, including with the use of strategic bombers. The Russian troops were also using barrel artillery, tanks and other weapons, the statement said.

The vast Azovstal steel mill, with its network of underground tunnels and bunkers, has sheltered hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians. Scores of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that at least 100 civilians could still be trapped there.

Azovstal is the last holdout of Ukrainian units that have become widely known as “defenders of Mariupol.”

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A Russia-installed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region says the region’s administration will ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex the region.

The deputy head of the Russia-installed administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, told reporters on Wednesday that there are no plans to create a self-proclaimed “Kherson People’s Republic,” akin to the ones in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. But, he said, there are plans to ask Putin to annex it.

“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Stremousov was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency. “There will be no (Kherson People’s Republic) on the territory of the Kherson region, there will be no referendums. It will be a decree based on an appeal from the Kherson regional leadership to the Russian president, and there will be a request to include the region into a proper region of the Russian Federation.”

Taking control of Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine, and much of the surrounding region early on the war has been arguably Russia’s most significant gain in the war.

Ukrainian officials have speculated that Russia plans to stage a referendum in the region to declare its independence, similar to the ones that took place in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014. Moscow recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics two days before invading Ukraine and used it as a pretext to send troops to its ex-Soviet neighbor.

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Ukraine’s natural gas pipeline operator has stopped Russian shipments through a key hub in the east of the country.

Wednesday’s move was the first time natural gas supply has been affected by the war that began in February. It may force Russia to shift flows of its gas through territory controlled by Ukraine to reach its clients in Europe.

Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom initially said it couldn’t reroute the gas, though preliminary flow data suggested higher rates moving through a second station in Ukrainian-controlled territory.

The pipeline operator said Russian shipments through its Novopskov hub, in an area controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, would be cut because of interference from “occupying forces,” including the apparent siphoning of gas.

the Ukrainian pipeline operator said the hub handles about a third of Russian gas passing through Ukraine to Western Europe. Russia’s state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom put the figure at about a quarter.

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VATICAN CITY — The wives of two Ukrainian soldiers defending the Mariupol steel mill have met with Pope Francis and asked him to intervene to help arrange for a third-party evacuation of the troops before Russian soldiers might capture or kill them.

Kateryna Prokopenko and Yuliia Fedusiuk greeted Francis on Wednesday at the end of his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, they said Francis made no commitments but said he was praying for them.

Prokopenko, whose husband, Denys Prokopenko, is the commander of the Azov Regiment in the Azovstal mill, said the men would be willing to travel to a third country — they mentioned Turkey or Switzerland — if an evacuation could be organized.

She said: “Our soldiers are ready to be evacuated to a third country. They are ready to lay down their arms in case of evacuation to a third country. We all are ready to help them, I hope.”

The women have been in Italy seeking to rally international support for a diplomatic resolution to the standoff at Azovstal.

The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross have organized a series of evacuations of civilians from the mill, but not the troops, who remain holed up with diminishing water, food and medical supplies.

Fedusiuk said her husband, Arseniy Fedusiuk, had recently asked her to research how to survive without water.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Russia’s foreign minister has made a surprise visit to the Gulf Arab state of Oman for meetings with officials about Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Sergey Lavrov briefed Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said on the war Wednesday in Muscat, Oman’s state-run news agency reported.

Sultan Haitham stressed the need to adhere to international law and intensify efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis “in a manner that preserves the independence, sovereignty and coexistence of countries and peoples,” the statement added.

Oman, a country of 4.6 million on the Arabian Peninsula, has long served as an island of neutrality in a region torn by sectarian and political conflicts. Sultan Haitham has continued the policies of his predecessor in pursuing quiet diplomacy to help resolve international crises.

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The British military says Ukraine’s targeting of Russian forces on Snake Island in the Black Sea is helping disrupt Moscow’s attempts to expand its influence in the Black Sea.

In a daily intelligence briefing posted to Twitter on Wednesday, the British Defense Ministry said “Russia repeatedly (is) trying to reinforce its exposed garrison located there.”

It added: “Ukraine has successfully struck Russian air defenses and resupply vessels with Bayraktar drones. Russia’s resupply vessels have minimum protection in the western Black Sea, following the Russian Navy’s retreat to Crimea after the loss of the Moskva.”

This corresponds to satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press this weekend showing the fighting there.

The British military warned: “If Russia consolidates its position on (Snake) Island with strategic air defense and coastal defense cruise missiles, they could dominate the northwestern Black Sea.”

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House emphatically approved a fresh $40 billion Ukraine aid package Tuesday as lawmakers beefed up President Joe Biden’s initial request, signaling a magnified, bipartisan commitment to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody three-month-old invasion.

The measure sailed to passage by a lopsided 368-57 margin, providing $7 billion more than Biden’s request from April and dividing the increase evenly between defense and humanitarian programs.

The bill would give Ukraine military and economic assistance, help regional allies, replenish weapons the Pentagon has shipped overseas and provide $5 billion to address global food shortages caused by the war’s crippling of Ukraine’s normally robust production of many crops.

The new legislation would bring American support for the effort to nearly $54 billion, including the $13.6 billion in support Congress enacted in March.

That’s about $6 billion more than the U.S. spent on all its foreign and military aid in 2019, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which studies issues for lawmakers.

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