Key developments and updates from the Russian war in Ukraine.
WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official says the Pentagon has determined that some of the Russian combat units that retreated from the Kyiv area in recent days are so heavily damaged and depleted that their combat utility is in question.
The official described these units as “for all intents and purposes eradicated,” with only a small number of functioning troops and weapons remaining. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. military assessments, did not say how many units sustained such extensive damage.
The official said some combat units that withdrew from the Kyiv area are beginning to move toward the Russian towns of Belgorod and Valuyki for refitting and resupplying before likely deploying to the Donbas region of Ukraine. The official also said the U.S. has seen thousands of additional Russian troops added to the combat force that Moscow has been using in and around the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
The official says that the U.S. believes Russia has lost 15 to 20 percent of the combat power it had assembled along Ukraine’s borders before launching its invasion Feb. 24.
—Reporting by Robert Burns.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Officials say Russian missile kills 50 civilians at train station
— EU imposes sanctions on Putin’s daughters
— Key Polish leader bashes Hungary’s Orban, longtime ally, over stance on Ukraine
— Congress votes to suspend Russia trade status, enact oil ban
— U.N. General Assembly votes to suspend Russia from UN rights council
— Food prices soar to record levels on Ukraine war disruptions
— Russia is moving troops and focus toward the east, but that strategy carries risks as well
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s chief spokesperson on Friday called the Russian missile attack on a train station in eastern Ukraine “another horrific atrocity” by Russian forces but stopped short of calling the action a war crime.
“Where we are now is we’re going to support efforts to investigate the attack as we document Russia’s actions, hold them accountable,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Biden has already accused Russian forces of committing war crimes outside of Kyiv, including in the town of Bucha.
Psaki added that “the targeting of civilians would certainly be a war crime” and that the U.S. would support “efforts to investigate exactly what happened.”
At least 50 people were killed in the attack and about 4,000 civilians were in and around the station at the time of the strike, according to the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general said. Most were women and children heeding calls to leave the area before Russia is anticipated to launch a full-scale offensive in the country’s east.
BUCHA, Ukraine – The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office says approximately 67 bodies were buried in a mass grave near a church in Bucha, a northern Kyiv suburb where journalists and returning Ukrainians discovered scores of bodies on streets and elsewhere after Russian troops withdrew.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said Friday that 18 bodies had been located so far, 16 with bullet wounds and two with bullet and shrapnel wounds. Two were women and the rest were men, she said.
“This means that they killed civilians, shot them,” Venediktova said, speaking as workers pulled corpses out under spitting rain. Black body bags were laid in rows in the mud.
The prosecutor general’s office is investigating the deaths, and other mass casualties involving civilians, as possible war crimes. Venediktova said the European Union is involved in the investigation and “we are coordinating our actions.”
LONDON — The board chairman of Russian metals company Rusal has called for an investigation into events in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where Ukrainian forces and journalists discovered scores of bodies after Russian troops withdrew.
Rusal Chairman Bernard Zonneveld, an independent non-executive director, didn’t address who was responsible or even directly say anyone was killed in Bucha. But he said in a statement this week that the reports “shocked us” and that “we support an objective and impartial investigation of this crime.”
The statement stood out because Russian companies have generally remained silent about the war amid rigorous suppression of opposition by Russian authorities and state-controlled media narratives.
Zonneveld said the company was “interested in putting an end to the conflict in this European country as soon as possible.”
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia is seeking explanations from NATO on why its jets have allegedly shadowed Serbian passenger planes flying back from Russia.
Serbian officials said that on Wednesday a NATO jet flew close to an Air Serbia flight from Moscow to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, near the Latvian border.
A similar incident was reported by Serbian media on Friday when reportedly a NATO Belgian Air Force fighter jet “escorted” another Air Serbia plane flying from St. Petersburg to Belgrade.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has said such actions “endanger civil aviation and lives of passengers.”
Besides Turkish carriers, Air Serbia remains the only European airline to maintain its regular flights to Russia after an international flight ban was imposed.
Serbia has voted in favor of UN resolutions condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine but has refused to join international sanctions against its ally Moscow.
LONDON – U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged another 100 million pounds ($130 million) in high grade military equipment to Ukraine, saying Britain wants to help Ukraine defend itself.
Speaking Friday at a news conference with Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Johnson said he would give Ukraine’s military more Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, another 800 anti-tank missiles, and precision munitions capable of lingering in the sky until directed to their target.
He also promised more helmets, night vision and body armor. The items were in addition to some 200,000 pieces of non-lethal military equipment from the UK that had already been promised.
The pledge of new weaponry came as Johnson condemned the attack on train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk earlier Friday. Women and children gathering on a train platform perished in the blast.
Johnson said both the U.K. and Germany shared the “revulsion at the brutality being unleashed, including the unconscionable bombing of refugees fleeing their homes,’’ adding that the train station attack “shows the depths to which Putin’s vaunted army has sunk.’’
KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian prosecutors say a war crimes investigation has begun after one utilities worker was killed and two injured by a mine that retreating Russian forces left behind.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office said Friday the incident happened near Trostianets, a town in northeastern Ukraine which was occupied by Russian troops for around a month until they withdrew in late March.
It said the workers were traveling Thursday to restore electricity to the area when their vehicle struck the mine outside the village of Bilka.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned of the dangers of mines and explosive traps left by Russian forces in formerly occupied areas.
LONDON – A military expert has rejected Russia’s effort to deny responsibility for the missile strike on a Ukrainian railway station, saying the denial follows a standard formula the Kremlin uses to “muddy the waters” after attacks on civilian targets.
Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said Friday that railroads in eastern Ukraine are a significant military target for Russia because destroying this kind of infrastructure makes it more difficult for Ukraine to reinforce its forces in the region. He added that Ukraine has little incentive to deliberately kill its own people during a war of attrition.
Bronk told the Associated Press that the strike was entirely in line with how Russian forces operate by terrorizing civilians to try and increase pressure on the Ukrainian government to agree a cease fire. He added this would allow them to consolidate their gains and try and stabilize their military position, “which is not great.”
Russia’s defense ministry rejected claims that Russia was responsible for the attack, saying it no longer uses the type of missile that hit the railway station.
BERLIN – Officials say 40 Russian diplomats declared ‘persona non grata’ by Germany earlier this week have left the country.
The diplomats were picked up Friday by a Russian government plane that had received special permission to land at Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport despite a ban on flights from Russia in the European Union.
Germany’s top security official had said earlier this week that the diplomats were chosen because they were linked to Russian intelligence agencies.
Germany ordered the expulsion after dozens of civilians were found killed in the Ukrainian town of Buch following the withdrawal of Russian troops there.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia’s Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad says the United States will deploy a Patriot air defense system in his country next week.
Friday’s announcement came shortly after Slovakia donated its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine at its request. Nad previously said his country was willing to provide its S-300 long-range air defense missile system to Ukraine on condition it has a proper replacement.
Additionally, Germany and the Netherlands have agreed to send troops armed with Patriot missiles to Slovakia as part of 2,100-strong force made up of soldiers from several NATO members states, including the US. The force will form a battlegroup on Slovak territory to boost NATO defenses on the alliance’s eastern flank.
LONDON – Russia’s central bank says it’s lowering a key interest rate, and said more cuts could be on the way.
The decision indicates the bank thinks strict capital controls and other severe measures are stabilizing Russia’s currency and financial system despite intense pressure from Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
The bank said Friday it lowered its benchmark rate from 20% to 17%, effective Monday. It had raised the rate from 9.5% on Feb. 28 — four days after the invasion — as a way to support the ruble’s plunging exchange rate.
A currency collapse would worsen already high inflation for Russian shoppers by ballooning the cost of imported goods.
The rate increase shows how the central bank has managed to stabilize key aspects of the economy with severe controls, artificially propping up the ruble to allow it to rebound to levels seen before the invasion of Ukraine — even as the West piles on more sanctions.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A shipment of valuable art destined for Russian museums that was seized on the Finnish-Russian border can be released under an amendment to sanctions that went into effect on Friday, Finnish customs officials said.
The artwork and artifacts — which were returning to Russia from Italy and Japan, where they were on loan — have a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million).
They were seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing on April 1-2 under European Union sanctions imposed on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.
The amendment to the sanctions makes it possible to grant an exceptional permit for transports between museums. Finland’s customs agency said the Foreign Ministry can grant a permit enabling the release of works of art.
LVIV, Ukraine — The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region says the death toll from a missile strike on a rail station in the eastern town of Kramatorsk has risen to 50, including five children.
Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on social media that 38 people had died at the scene, and another 12 in hospital.
Ukrainian officials have said as many as 4,000 people were at the station, where trains were evacuating civilians westward from the Ukraine-held town ahead of an expected Russian offensive.
Scores of people were injured in the strike, and local hospitals were overwhelmed in dealing with the influx of patients.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia’s military of deliberately targeting a location where only civilians were assembled. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied any Russian role in the attack.
TOKYO — Japan is expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials and will phase out imports of Russian coal and oil.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that Moscow must be held accountable for “war crimes” in Ukraine and pointed to a “critical moment” now in efforts to get Russia’s government to end its invasion of Ukraine.
He said Japan will also ban imports of Russian lumber, vodka and other goods, and will prohibit new Japanese investment in Russia. It will also step up sanctions against Russian banks and freeze assets of about 400 more individuals and groups.
Reduction of Russian fossil fuel imports is a difficult choice for resource-poor Japan, and could mean a shift for its energy policy toward more renewables and nuclear power. Russia accounts for about 11% of Japanese coal imports.
Earlier Friday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials, joining similar moves in European countries.
MADRID — Spain’s defense minister expects a “long and cruel” war in Ukraine.
Margarita Robles said Friday that killings and alleged torture of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to atrocities committed since Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
Evidence of the violence against civilians emerged after Russian forces pulled out of the town on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.
Robles told Antena 3 that an expected Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region — where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014 — will likely bring more horror.
She predicted increased “cruelty” would be inflicted by Russian forces in the region.
BRUSSELS — The European Union has returned its ambassador to Ukraine to the capital, Kyiv, in a move that underscores the improved security situation there and the 27-nation bloc’s commitment to the beleaguered country.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made the announcement Friday during a visit to Kyiv where he joined EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Borrell said the ambassador’s return would help ensure that the EU and Ukraine’s government can work together more directly and closely.
Russian forces sought to enter Kyiv in the days after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine but despite severe losses and damage, the city withstood the attacks and the government was able to continue functioning from there.
Borrell called it “impressive” that Ukraine’s government was fully functioning under “the very difficult circumstances.”
ROME — The United Nations says prices for world food commodities like grains and vegetable oils reached their highest levels ever last month due to fallout from the war in Ukraine.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday its Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices for a basket of commodities, recorded a double-digit percentage-point increase in March from the record level already set the previous month.
FAO said the index came in at 159.3 points last month, up 12.6% from February’s all-time high since the index was created in 1990.
The Rome-based agency says the war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in prices for cereals, including wheat and all coarse grains. Russia and Ukraine together account for around 30% and 20% respectively of global wheat and maize exports.
LONDON — Britain has added two adult daughters of Russian President Vladimir Putin to its sanctions list, following similar moves by the U.S. and the European Union.
The government said Friday it is imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Putin’s daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, as well as Yekaterina Vinokurova, daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Britain says it has sanctioned more than 1,200 Russian individuals and businesses since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, including 76 oligarchs and 16 banks.
It says Western nations have collectively frozen 275 billion pounds ($360 billion), amounting to 60% of Russian foreign currency reserves.
KYIV, Ukraine — The regional governor of Ukraine’s Sumy region that borders Russia is urging local residents to avoid using forest roads, walking on roadsides, or approaching destroyed military equipment after Russian troops pulled out of the region.
Dmytro Zhyvytskyy warned Friday on the messaging app Telegram that locals are still in danger because of mines and other ammunition that the Russian forces left behind.
In a message apparently directed to local residents, Zhyvytskyy said any explosions in the area in the short term were likely to be sounds of rescuers and mine-clearing specialists at work deactivating the ammunition and other explosives.
He had said earlier this week that Russia no longer controlled any settlements in the region.
BRUSSELS — Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and two top European Union officials are in Kyiv looking to shore up the bloc’s support for war-torn Ukraine.
Heger said in a tweet Friday that he, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief have come with trade and humanitarian aid proposals for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government.
Part of that, Heger says is “to offer options for transporting grains, including wheat.” Ukraine is a major world wheat supplier and Russia’s war on Ukraine is creating shortages, notably in the Middle East.
He adds that the three want to help Ukraine on its path toward closer ties with the EU by “creating a ReformTeam.” Ukraine has applied to join the EU, but was already sorely in need of reforms, notably to root out rampant corruption, years before Russian troops invaded in February.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Latvia says it has blacklisted 15 citizens of Russia and Belarus on grounds that their activities pose a threat to the nation’s national security.
A list of nine Russians and six Belarus citizens was given by Latvia’s State Security Service — the counterintelligence agency — to Interior Minister Marija Golubeva.
The State Security Service said Friday they include people who “may be involved in obtaining intelligence or providing support for Russia’s foreign policy interests.” It says among them are those who despite the crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine express support for the Kremlin.
Earlier this month, Latvia said it will close two Russia’s consular missions and expel a total of 13 Russian diplomats and employees currently stationed in the Baltic country.
MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has acknowledged that Russia has suffered “significant losses of troops” during its military operation in Ukraine.
Peskov said: “Yes, we have significant losses of troops and it is a huge tragedy for us.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview with British broadcaster Sky on Thursday, Peskov also hinted that the operation might be over “in the foreseeable future.” He said that Russian forces were “doing their best to bring an end to that operation.”
He said: “And we do hope that in coming days, in the foreseeable future, this operation will reach its goals, or we’ll finish it by the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.”
CANBERRA, Australia — The first of 20 Bushmaster armored vehicles has left Australia for Ukraine, one week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically requested the Australian-manufactured four-wheel drives.
A Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport jet that can carry four Bushmasters left the east coast city of Brisbane for Europe on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The 20 Bushmasters cost 50 million in Australian dollars, which is $37 million in U.S. dollars.
The vehicles are in addition to $116 million in Australian dollars ($87 million in U.S. dollars) in military and humanitarian aid previously committed to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy requested Bushmasters when he made a video address to the Australian Parliament on March 31.
“And as soon as he asked, we said yes,” Morrison said.
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