MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a 10% raise to the minimum wage rate and pensions in the coming month, a move that comes as the Russian economy faces an unprecedented wave of international sanctions.
Putin said in a government meeting that the minimum cost of living and the minimum wage will be up 10% beginning June 1 and suggested increasing state pensions by 10% starting July 1. The bump will bring the minimum wage to about $250 per month and the average pension to $320, according to the Interfax news agency.
“Our key and unchanging priority is to increase the welfare and quality of life of citizens,” Putin said.
He also tasked government officials with increasing pay for Russian soldiers serving abroad as the Russian military operation in Ukraine enters its fourth month.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Scars of war seem to be everywhere in Ukraine after 3 months
— Saving the children: War closes in on eastern Ukrainian town
— Sweden, Finland delegations go to Turkey for NATO talks
— US to end Russia’s ability to pay international investors
— UK approves sale of Chelsea soccer club by sanctioned Abramovich
Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
BERLIN — The Swiss government on Wednesday said it will initiate proceedings to confiscate more than 100 million francs ($104 million) in assets of a close associate of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Switzerland’s governing Federal Council said it is providing support to Ukraine as Kyiv is facing “certain difficulties” in its efforts to confiscate the money, which have been compounded by the current war. But it said the move is unrelated to sanctions imposed on Russia this year.
The government said the assets of Yanukovych associate Yuriy Ivanyushchenko and family members were frozen in Switzerland following the ouster of the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in 2014. A Swiss federal court will determine whether the assets can be confiscated and, if it agrees, they will be returned to Ukraine.
MADRID — British Defense Minister Ben Wallace on Wednesday dismissed a proposal by Russia to permit food corridors in Ukraine if sanctions are lifted, saying Russia should do the “right thing,” leave Ukraine and free up the grain for the nations that need it.
Wallace said Russia in effect stole the grain by not letting it out of Ukraine, “potentially starving countries around the world of grain.” He said that much of that food was needed by countries such as Libya and Yemen.
“People around the world are relying on that grain to feed themselves,” he said. “That grain is for everyone.”
“I call on Russia to do the right thing in the spirit of humanity and let the grain of Ukraine out. Stop stealing the grain,” he said at a press conference in Madrid. “And let’s not talk about sanctions.”
DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukraine’s foreign minister says the urgency of his country’s weapons needs can be summed up in two abbreviations: MLRS — multiple launch rocket systems, and ASAP — as soon as possible.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says the situation in the eastern Donbas region “is extremely bad.” The rocket systems could help Ukrainian forces try to recapture places such as the southern city of Kherson from Russian occupiers who invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Kuleba said he had about 10 bilateral meetings with other leaders whose countries possess such systems.
“The response I get is, ‘Have the Americans given it to you already?’” he said, alluding to U.S. leadership. “So this is the burden of being a leader. Everyone is looking at you. So Washington has to keep the promise and provide us with multiple launch rocket systems as soon as possible. Others will follow.”
“If we do not get an MLRS ASAP, the situation in Donbas will get even worse than it is now,” he added. “Every day of someone sitting in Washington, Berlin, Paris and other capitals, and considering whether they should or should not do something, costs us lives and territories.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — State-owned Equinor ASA of Norway says it has transferred its participating interests in four joint ventures in Russia to Russian state energy company Rosneft.
It means that the Stavanger, Norway-based company has been “released from all future commitments and obligations.”
“The exit from all joint ventures has been completed in accordance with Norwegian and EU sanctions legislation related to Russia,” the company said Wednesday.
On Feb. 27, Equinor which has been in Russia for more than 30 years, decided to start the process of exiting the company’s joint ventures in Russia and has since then has halted all new investments in Russia, stopped trading oil and gas products from Russia and announced an impairment of $1.08 billion on the balance sheet as of March 31.
LVIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in eastern Ukraine has told The Associated Press that Russian forces are fighting on the outskirts of the city of Sievierodonetsk and a key supply route is coming under pressure.
Serhiy Haidai, the Kyiv-backed governor of the Luhansk region, says Ukrainian forces continue to hold Sievierodonetsk. But he said “the situation is serious. The city is constantly being shelled with every possible weapon in the enemy’s possession.”
Haidai added in written comments in response to questions from the AP that Russian forces were dropping aerial bombs and accused them of deliberately striking “places where people could be hiding.”
Sievierodonetsk and the nearby city of Lysychansk are the largest remaining settlements held by Ukraine in the Luhansk region, of which Haidai is the Kyiv-backed governor. The region is “more than 90%” controlled by Russia, he said.
The road between Lysychansk and the city of Bakhmut to the southwest is widely considered crucial to keeping Ukrainian troops in the area supplied. Haidai said it was “constantly being shelled” and that Russian sabotage and reconnaissance teams were approaching the area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an order to allow a fast track to Russian citizenship for people in two southern regions of Ukraine which are largely held by Russian forces.
Putin’s decree, dated Wednesday, could allow Russia to strengthen its control over the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. They form part of a land connection between eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.
Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin last week visited both regions and indicated they could become part of “our Russian family.” A Russia-installed official in the Kherson region has predicted the region could become part of Russia.
Russia already had a program for fast-track naturalization of people living in two regions of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists.
MOSCOW — Russian lawmakers have passed a bill which removes age limits for professional soldiers joining the military and could be a way for the Russian armed forces to expand recruitment.
The lower house of the Russian parliament passed the bill in all three readings Wednesday to scrap an age limit of 40 for Russians signing their first voluntary military contracts.
The chair of the parliament’s defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said the measure would make it easier to hire people with “in-demand specialisms.” A description of the bill on the parliament website indicated older recruits could be suited to operating precision weapons or serving in engineering or medical roles.
Russian authorities have said that only volunteer contract soldiers are being sent to fight in Ukraine, though they have acknowledged that some conscripts were drawn into the fighting by mistake in the early stages.
In recent years, the Russian military has increasingly relied on volunteers. All Russian men aged 18-27 must undergo one-year compulsory military service. Many avoid the draft through college deferments and other exemptions.
WARSAW, Poland — A leader of Poland’s Catholic Church says his recent visit to sites of mass murder in Ukraine led him to conclude that humans have drawn no lessons from previous deadly wars but have only improved their killing methods.
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of Poland’s Bishops’ Conference, said that when he prayed last week over the mass graves found after Russian troops left the town of Bucha he had “the sad thought that human civilization isn’t really making any progress on key issues.”
“We’ve heard so many declarations and incantations over recent decades about such crimes no longer being possible, given the present level of civilization, but murdering people has turned out to be just as possible as before,” Gadecki said in an interview for Poland’s Catholic news agency KAI, published this week.
“We do not see any humanitarian progress in the world, apart from technical progress that makes murdering people possible on a larger scale,” he said.
DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his country will not give up land in return for an end to the war with Russia following its invasion.
Speaking by video link Wednesday at a “Ukrainian breakfast” during the World Economic Forum’s gathering in Davos, Zelenskyy said he didn’t believe Russian president Vladimir Putin fully understood what was going on in Ukraine.
Responding to a question from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about whether it was possible to negotiate an end to the conflict, Zelenskyy said through a translator: “Ukraine is not going to concede our territory. We are fighting in our country, on our land.”
He added that the war is being fought “for our land, for our freedom, for our independence, and for our future.”
As a first step to diplomatic negotiations, Zelenskyy says Russia would need to demonstrate its desire to engage in talks and “should demonstrate at least something like steps withdrawing their troops and equipment to the position before Feb. 24,” when the invasion began.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has destroyed the production facilities of a key Ukrainian maker of aircraft engines.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that the military has used long-range air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy the Motor Sich plant in Zaporizhzhia.
Motor Sich has been a key maker of aircraft engines since Soviet times. It has specialized in helicopter engines, which were also used to equip Russian helicopters before the supplies were halted following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A political forum for cooperation between governments around the Baltic Sea says ties with Russia “will remain severed until cooperation under the fundamental principles of international law has become possible again.”
The 11-country Council of the Baltic Sea States said Wednesday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “is entirely incompatible with the cooperative model of international relations in the Baltic Sea Region (and) has a long-term negative impact on regional security.”
The CBSS includes the nations around the Baltic Sea plus Iceland, Norway and the European Union. It suspended Russia last March.
Moscow, on the other hand, said it was leaving the group because EU and NATO member countries were seeking to use the CBSS as “an instrument of anti-Russian policy.”
MOSCOW — The Russian military says the key Ukrainian port of Mariupol is functioning again after three months of fighting.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that the military has finished clearing the port of mines and it is now fully operational.
The Russian forces took control of Mariupol, the strategic port on the Sea of Azov, after the last Ukrainian defenders at the giant Azovstal seaside steel plant laid down their weapons.
POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russian strikes are hitting the eastern Ukrainian town of Pokrovsk, in the Donetsk region, causing at least some injuries.
Pokrovsk administration head Ruslan Trebushkin said in a Facebook post that the damage and the number of injured people in the strikes early Wednesday were still being assessed.
One strike left a crater at least 3 meters (10 feet) deep, with the remnants of what appeared to be a rocket still smoldering. A row of low terraced houses near the strike suffered significant damage, with roof tiles blown off, door frames ripped from walls and pieces of concrete scattered around.
“There’s no place left to live in, everything is smashed,” said Viktoria Kurbonova, a mother-of-two who lived in one of the terraced houses.
The windows had been blown out by an earlier strike about a month ago and were replaced with plastic sheeting. That, she said, probably saved their lives because no glass flew around.
LONDON — British military authorities say Ukraine’s overland export routes are “highly unlikely” to offset the problems caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port of Odessa.
And that will put further pressure on global grain prices.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in an update posted Wednesday morning, says there has been no “significant” merchant shipping in or out of Odessa since the start of the Russian invasion.
The ministry says that the blockade, combined with the lack of overland routes, means that significant supplies of grain remain in storage and can’t be exported.
“While the threat of Russia’s naval blockade continues to deter access by commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortfalls will further increase the price of many staple products,” the ministry said.
KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in eastern Ukraine says at least six civilians have been killed by the latest Russian shelling.
Luhansk region Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Wednesday that another eight people were wounded in the shelling of the town of Sievierodonetsk over the previous 24 hours.
Sievierodonetsk is at the epicenter of fighting in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas, where the Russian forces have been pressing their offensive despite stiff Ukrainian resistance.
Haidai accused the Russians of deliberately targeting shelters where civilians were hiding.
ANKARA, Turkey — Delegations from Sweden and Finland are scheduled Wednesday to hold talks in Ankara with senior Turkish officials, aiming to overcome Turkey’s objections to their historic bids to join NATO.
Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join the alliance last week in a move that marks one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war in Ukraine — and which could rewrite Europe’s security map.
Turkey has said it opposes the two Nordic countries’ membership in the military alliance. It cites grievances with Sweden’s — and a to a lesser extent Finland’s — perceived support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other entities that Turkey views as a security threat. It also accuses the two of imposing arms exports restrictions on Turkey and refusing to extradite suspected “terrorists.”
Turkey’s objections have dampened Stockholm’s and Helsinki’s hopes for quick NATO membership amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and puts the trans-Atlantic alliance’s credibility at stake. All 30 NATO members must agree to admit new members.
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says Russia left Sweden and Finland “no choice” but to join NATO.
Annalena Baerbock said Germany would support the two countries’ membership and called it “a real gain” for the military alliance.
She spoke late Tuesday ahead of her visit to Norway for a meeting of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.
Baerbock said Germany will use its presidency of the group, starting in July, to promote the use of offshore wind power in the Baltic to help countries wean themselves off Russian energy imports.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt back to international investors on Wednesday, making a Russian default on its debts for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution all but inevitable.
The Treasury Department said in a notification that it does not plan to renew the license that allowed Russia to keep paying its debtholders through American banks.
Since the first rounds of sanctions, the Treasury Department has given banks a license to process any dollar-denominated bond payments from Russia. That window expires at midnight May 25.