Russian law enforcement has announced the first known criminal cases against people posting what is deemed to be “false information” about the war in Ukraine.
The Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency, listed three suspects, including Veronika Belotserkovskaya, who is a Russian-language cookbook author and popular blogger living abroad.
It said Belotserkovskaya made posts on Instagram containing “deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to destroy cities and the civilian population of Ukraine, including children.”
Belotserkovskaya, whose Instagram profile says she was born in Ukraine, responded to the announcement by writing that “I have been officially declared to be a decent person!”
The other suspects were identified only as a man and a woman in the Tomsk Region of Siberia. The Investigative Committee said they had posted false messages about Russian military operations and casualties and that their homes had been searched.
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The invasion of Ukraine is being characterized in Russia as a “special military operation,” not a war. President Vladimir Putin on March 4 signed legislation allowing for jail terms of up to 15 years for posting false information about the military.
HERE ARE TODAY’S KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukraine’s president cites Sept. 11, urges U.S. Congress to help his country
— A top U.S. and Russian official spoke by phone, the highest level engagement between the two countries since the invasion began
— The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has descended into despair
— Russia could default – what then?
Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
BRUSSELS – Poland’s defense minister says that at Wednesday’s NATO meeting he presented his country’s proposal to have the alliance establish a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, similar to the one in Kosovo.
Minister Mariusz Blaszczak spoke in Brussels following talks among the 30-member alliance’s defense ministers regarding the war in Ukraine.
Blaszczak said he presented a peace mission proposal that Poland’s deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, made Tuesday in Kyiv. The proposal will be discussed further, he said.
NATO has been leading a peace-support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area.
During a visit of support to Kyiv, along with Poland’s, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers, Kaczynski said he thinks a NATO peacekeeping mission is needed in Ukraine, or “possibly some wider international structure, but a mission that will also be able to defend itself and that will operate in Ukraine.”
He maintained it would be in line with international law and would not have any hostile character.
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo president awarded a medal to the Ukrainian contingent, part of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, before they left to join fighting in their homeland.
President Vjosa Osmani awarded the Presidential Military Medal to the Ukrainian contingent who have sent 1,400 troops on a rotational basis in the last three years.
“Today’s Medal is an embodiment of our gratitude to your army, and our way of paying respect to the professionalism they have displayed in Kosovo, and the bravery they are displaying during this dark time for the Ukrainian nation,” said Osmani.
The last contingent of 40 Ukrainian officers of the Armed Forces Engineering Regiments will return to Ukraine.
Kosovo has condemned Ukraine’s invasion by Russia and has joined the European Union and the U.S. with sanctions on Russia “over the unjustified and unprovoked aggression toward Ukraine.”
TIRANA, Albania — Albania has sheltered the first group of Ukrainians who have left the country after Russia’s invasion.
Interior Minister Bledi Cuci said 351 Ukrainians are being housed in Albania.
Albania has offered to shelter thousands of Ukrainians. The country housed Afghans last year and Kosovar brethren in their 1999 war.
Ukrainians may enter Albania without visas and stay for a year without being issued a residents’ permission, the ministry said.
Albania has joined the European Union in the hard-hitting sanctions against Russian top officials and institutions.
Tirana also joined the U.S. as a “co-pen holder” in initiating resolutions at the United Nations Security Council against Ukraine’s Russian invasion.
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has categorically ruled out any role for the military organization in setting up and policing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect against Russian airstrikes.
Stoltenberg says “NATO should not deploy forces on the ground or in the air space over Ukraine because we have a responsibility to ensure that this conflict, this war, doesn’t escalate beyond Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly appealed for NATO to set up a no-fly zone given Russia’s air superiority, as civilian casualties mount three weeks into the war.
Speaking Wednesday after chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg conceded that “we see human suffering in Ukraine, but this can become even worse if NATO (takes) actions that actually turned this into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”
He says the decision not to send air or ground forces into Ukraine is “the united position from NATO allies.” Earlier Wednesday, Estonia urged its 29 NATO partners to consider setting up a no-fly zone.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration on Wednesday urged Ukrainians arriving in Denmark with their pets to have them registered with the government agency because of fear that they might carry rabies
”It is important to have a special focus on dogs, cats and ferrets, which can be carriers of the rabies virus which occurs in Ukraine,” the agency said.
People are asked to fill in a form that is available on the agency’s website and pet owners will be contacted and an inspection will take place. That includes visits by an official veterinarian, isolation and various measures, such as rabies vaccination and antibody titration test of the animal, the administration said.
Rabies is usually a fatal disease in animals and humans, caused by a virus that invades the central nervous system. It’s most commonly spread through a bite from an infected animal.
MADRID — Real Madrid says it will donate 1 million euros ($1.1 million) for humanitarian aid for the war victims in Ukraine.
The Spanish soccer club said Wednesday that the money will be used by its own charity foundation which “works alongside the main international NGOs” including the Red Cross and UNHCR, among others. The aid will go to fund relief projects both inside Ukraine and in neighboring countries to help refugees.
The club added that it will also donate 13,000 items of clothing and sporting goods to the Spanish Red Cross and other charity-run centers in Madrid for refugees coming to Spain.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The United Nations’ top court ordered Russia to stop hostilities in Ukraine on Wednesday, granting measures requested by Kyiv, but many are skeptical that Russia will comply.
Ukraine asked the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, to intervene two weeks ago, arguing Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the ongoing invasion.
The court’s president, U.S. judge Joan E. Donoghue, demanded that “the Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the special military operations it commenced on Feb. 24.”
Following the news, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted: “Ukraine gained a complete victory in its case against Russia at the International Court of Justice. The ICJ ordered to immediately stop the invasion. The order is binding under international law. Russia must comply immediately. Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further.”
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — An Associated Press video captured graphic images of the badly wounded and the dead in and around a hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol on Tuesday.
Medical workers wheeled an injured man into the hospital, the incessant sounds of warfare pounding in the distance. Badly injured and bloodied civilians lay on stretchers in a hallway, some moaning in pain. Dead bodies were scattered alongside a wall outside the hospital.
In the hospital’s basement, Dr. Valeriy Drengar used the flashlight on his cellphone to illuminate the bodies of the dead. He pulled back a blanket to show one of two infants lying across from each other in a hallway. The infant died after being brought to the hospital for injuries caused by Russian shelling. The baby was just 22 days old, Drengar said.
He cast his cellphone light on at least seven wrapped bodies, some likely children given their size, that had been placed in a basement room. “These are the people we could not save,” Drengar said.
Drengar said his hospital is the only one left in Mariupol that treats the injured because of bomb damage to other medical facilities. The city morgue no longer accepts the dead, he said.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria is beefing up its refugee registration system by opening additional border points where documents are issued to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion.
According to latest government figures, more than 81,000 Ukrainian citizens have entered Bulgaria trough the border crossings since the war broke out, and almost half of them have said that they want to stay in the Balkan country.
After initial registration, refugees are accommodated with families or in apartments provided by NGOs and local communities.
Bulgaria, which is the European Union’s poorest member, is facing a serious demographic crisis as its population has shrunk from almost nine million in 1989 to 6.5 million now, mainly due to a massive west-bound emigration.
In the wake of the current refugee influx, Bulgarian employers in the IT, tourism and construction sectors have offered to hire tens of thousands of Ukrainians.
Bulgaria is also concerned over the safety of some 200,000 ethnic Bulgarians, most of whom have been living for over a century mainly in the southern Ukrainian region of Odesa.
NEW YORK — Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall, who was seriously injured in the wartime incident that killed two colleagues on Monday, is out of Ukraine, the network said on Wednesday.
“Ben is alert and in good spirits,” said Suzanne Scott, Fox News Media CEO, in a memo to staff. “He is being treated with the best possible care in the world and we are in close contact with his wife and family.”
Fox video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian journalist working with the Fox crew, were both killed when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire in Horenka, outside of Kyiv. Hall survived the blast.
The network offered no other details of Hall’s whereabouts or his condition.
NEW YORK — The Russian Orthodox Church says Pope Francis discussed the war in Ukraine with its leader, Patriarch Kirill, in a call on Wednesday.
The Russian Orthodox Church said the call, which included other senior figures from both churches, included expressions from both sides “that a just peace is achieved soon” and the importance of negotiations, as well as “humanitarian aspects of the current crisis.”
The Vatican didn’t immediately respond when asked to confirm the call or comment on its contents.
Earlier Wednesday, during his weekly general audience, Francis made reference to a “final catastrophe” of an atomic war that would extinguish humanity. While he didn’t reference Ukraine explicitly in that part of his speech, he did elsewhere call for prayers for Ukraine and for God to protect its children and to forgive those who make war.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Three Romanian citizens are being investigated by prosecutors after a car was discovered by security officials carrying six Ukrainian men in a city near the Ukraine border, Romanian border police said.
“Upon entering the city … the driver abandoned the car and fled to the nearby houses, and inside the car was discovered six men of Ukrainian citizenship,” border police said in a statement Wednesday. “They had not completed the entry formalities in Romania through the border point.”
More than 3 million refugees from war-torn Ukraine, mostly women and children, have fled into neighboring countries since Russia’s invasion started on Feb. 24. Men in Ukraine aged between 18 and 60 years old are not allowed to legally leave, unless they have three or more children.
The car carrying the Ukrainian nationals failed to stop when signaled Monday by police, resulting in a car chase that ended in the town of Radauti, border police said.
The town of Radauti in Suceava County is situated about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Romania’s northern Siret border crossing with Ukraine, where tens of thousands of refugees have entered since Russia began its attacks.
The men have asked for protection from the Romanian state and have applied for asylum, authorities said.
WASHINGTON — White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan and Gen. Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, spoke by phone on Wednesday, the highest level engagement between the U.S. and Russia since the invasion nearly three weeks ago.
Sullivan warned Patrushev “about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine,” according national security council spokesperson Emily Horne. The White House last week accused China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be a pretext for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons.
Patrushev spoke of “the need to stop Washington’s support for neo-Nazis and terrorists in Ukraine and to facilitate the transfer of foreign mercenaries to the conflict zone, as well as to refuse to continue supplying weapons to the Kyiv regime,” council spokesman Yevgeny Anoshin said.
The call marked the highest-level conversation between the two sides since the invasion began.
Lower-level interactions between two sides have been ongoing, with the embassies in Moscow and Washington passing messages, much as they do with their missions at the United Nations. Those exchanges have been largely confined to informing the other side of diplomatic expulsions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin charged Wednesday that the West is trying to divide Russia through “the fifth column” and “national traitors,” apparently referring to Kremlin critics.
”(The West) now, once again, wants to repeat the attempt to squeeze us, to put pressure on us, to turn us into a weak dependent country, to violate (our) territorial integrity, to dismember, in the best way for them, Russia. It didn’t work out then, and it won’t work out now,” Putin said in a long emotional speech, opening a video conference meeting with government officials. “Of course, they will bet on the so-called ‘fifth column,’ national traitors, those who earn money here, but live there.”
The Russian leader juxtaposed “our people” to Russians who “have a villa in Miami or on the French Riviera, those who can’t go by without foiе gras, oysters or so-called gender freedoms.” “That’s not the problem, the problem is that many of those people, by their very nature, are mentally there. They are not here. Not with our people. Not with Russia,” Putin said.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan traveled to Ukraine on Wednesday and had a surprise virtual linkup with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss the court’s ongoing war crimes investigation.
“I was pleased to hold important exchanges with the President while in the country; we agreed all efforts are needed to ensure international humanitarian law is respected and to protect the civilian population,” Khan said in a statement following the virtual meeting.
The court opened an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity two weeks ago, following a record-breaking number of referrals from other signatories to the Rome Statute, which created the court in 2002. Investigators traveled to Ukraine last week to begin collecting evidence.
Ukraine is not a member of the court but gave the court jurisdiction over crimes on its territory in 2014 after the Russian-backed government was removed following a popular uprising. As the Russian Federation is also not a party to the court, it has no jurisdiction over the invasion itself but could indict people from either country for committing war crimes.
Kyiv has alleged widespread human rights abuses by Russia, including the use of cluster bombs against civilians and attacking hospitals and schools.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the operation in Ukraine is unfolding “successfully, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans” and decried Western sanctions against Russia, describing them as “aggression and war with economic, political, information means.”
At the same time Putin said that the West has failed to wage “an economic blitzkrieg” against Russia.
“In effect these steps are aimed at worsening the lives of millions of people,” Putin said of the sanctions that have delivered a crippling blow to Russia’s economy.
“One should clearly understand that the new set of sanctions and restrictions against us would have followed in any case, I want to emphasize this. Our military operation in Ukraine is just a pretext for the next sanctions,” Putin told a government meeting Wednesday.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for an end to the “bloodshed and tears” from the conflict in Ukraine during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart.
Speaking after a meeting with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday, Cavusoglu also called for an immediate cease-fire for the besieged city of Mariupol to allow the evacuation of stranded civilians, including Turkish citizens.
“This state of events must come to an end, the bloodshed and tears must be stopped now,” Cavusoglu said. “There can be no winners in war and no losers in peace.”
Cavusoglu is visiting Moscow as Turkey — a NATO member — has maintained close ties to both Ukraine and Russia, positioning itself as a mediator between the two sides. He is scheduled to travel to Ukraine on Thursday.
Dozens of Turkish nationals and others have been sheltering inside a mosque in Mariupol, seeking refuge from the Russian attack on the encircled port.
Cavusoglu said Turkey has so far evacuated more than 15,000 of its citizens from Ukraine.
TOKYO — Japan’s Defense Ministry says it has spotted Russian warships crossing a strait in northern Japan this week as Russia’s maritime activity in the area has escalated.
The ministry said Wednesday that it has also spotted an unmanned Chinese aircraft BZK-007 violating Japanese Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea, causing the Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighter jets and conduct surveillance activity.
China and Russia have stepped up their military collaboration recently, causing concerns in Japan about escalating tension in East Asia.
A pair of Russian tank-landing ships crossed the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori on the northern end of Japan’s main island and Hokkaido on Tuesday night, and another pair of tank carriers were spotted in similar waters Wednesday. The ships moved west to the Sea of Japan.
Larger fleets of Russian warships have been repeatedly seen in northern Japanese waters in recent months.
WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cited Pearl Harbor and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in appealing to the U.S. Congress in his country’s fight against Russia.
Zelenskyy said by livestream at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday: “We need you right now.”
Zelenskyy has been rallying support against Russia’s crushing invasion. Wednesday’s speech was among Zelenskyy’s most important as he pushes the U.S. to do more than it has pledged so far.
Zelenskyy again asked for Western air forces to set up a no-fly zone to block Russian airplanes that are attacking cities and other civilian targets.
Notably, however, Zelenskyy also gave Western leaders an out from his demand for a no-fly zone, which the U.S. and NATO say would risk dragging the West into war against Russia.
“If this is too much to ask, we offer you an alternative,” Zelenskyy said. He asked by name for the Soviet-era S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, or similar systems to use against Russian aircraft, on top of Stingers and other anti-aircraft weapons already delivered by the West.
Biden is expected to deliver an address later Wednesday announcing $800 million in additional security assistance for Ukraine.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, who visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv together with his Polish and Slovenian counterparts, said the Ukrainians urgently need weapons to have a chance to face the invading Russian troops.
“Ukraine these days and weeks needs above all arms supply,“ Fiala said on Wednesday at a Prague airport after returning from Tuesday’s visit.
He said such supplies have to be delivered quickly by as many countries as possible and have to be massive.
It must be done in days,“ Fiala said.
“We have to realize that (the Ukrainians) do also fight for our independence, for our freedom and we have to support them. That’s the reason why we traveled there, to show them they’re not alone.“
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