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War updates: US skeptical of Russian gestures

Russia files two cases against Google over banned content
Russia has pledged to scale back its military operation around Kyiv and Chernihiv
Russia has pledged to scale back its military operation around Kyiv and Chernihiv
Deutsche Welle.

Deutsche Welle   |   Published 29.03.22, 10:39 AM

This article was last updated at 21:30 PM IST

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have concluded a round of peace talks, with both sides expressing cautious optimism. Russia says it will reduce some military activity "to increase mutual trust." DW has the latest.

  • Zelensky says Russian forces continuing Kyiv assault
  • Ukrainian, Russian negotiators expected to meet in Istanbul for talks
  • Wagner Group mercenaries deployed in eastern Ukraine, UK says
  • Australia announces first Magnitsky-style sanctions

Russia files two cases against Google over banned content

Russia has filed two legal cases against Alphabet Inc, which owns Google, for failure to remove banned information from its YouTube video-sharing platform, the country's communication regulator said on Tuesday.

Roskomnadzor accused the tech giant of blatantly promoting false content about Russia's invasion, which the Kremlin calls a "special military operation."

It said YouTube had become one of the key platforms in the "information war" against Moscow.

The regulator added that Google could be fined up to 8 million rubles ($91,533; €82,500), or as much as 20% of the company's annual revenue in Russia for repeat offenses.

US skeptical of Russian gestures

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned the seriousness of Russia's claims of progress at the Ukraine-Russia talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

"I've not seen anything to suggest that this is moving forward in an effective way because we have not seen signs of real seriousness" from Russia, Blinken said during an official visit to Morocco.

"There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does. We're focussed on the latter," he added.

"If they somehow believe that an effort to subjugate "only," in quotation marks, the eastern part of Ukraine and the southern part of Ukraine can succeed, then once again they are profoundly fooling themselves," CNN quoted Blinken as saying. 

He once again called on Russia to end the fighting and said the Ukrainians were engaged in negotiations "with a gun literally to their heads."

'De-escalation is not a cease-fire'

Following the announcement that Russia would decrease its military activities around Kyiv and Chernihiv, Russian lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky clarified that this did not amount to a cease-fire.

"This is not a cease-fire but this is our aspiration, gradually to reach a de-escalation of the conflict at least on these fronts," Medinsky told TASS news agency.

He went on to say that talks between the two sides "still have a long way to go."

UK calls for 'complete withdrawal' of Russian troops from Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a full withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine, his spokesperson said.

Asked about Russia's promise to scale back their armed forces around the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv, the spokesman said: "We will judge [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his regime by his actions, not by his words."

"There has been some reduction in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, largely because Ukrainian forces have been successfully pushing back the Russian offensives in the northwest of the city," he told reporters.

"But fighting continues. There's heavy bombardment in Mariupol and other areas. So we don't want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory."

Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland expel dozens of Russian diplomats

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said the Netherlands has expelled 17 Russian "intelligence officers" who were "undercover as diplomats." 

"These intelligence officers are a threat to the security of [the Netherlands]," Hoekstra wrote on Twitter.  

"Experience shows that Russia does not leave such measures unanswered. We cannot speculate on that, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is prepared for various scenarios that may occur in the near future," he said in a statement.

Shortly after the Dutch announcement, Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes said Belgium was also expelling 21 Russian diplomats for actions related toi espionage or unlawful influence peddling.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney later said Ireland was expelling four Russian diplomats whose activities have not been "in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behavior." 

Poland approves law to ban Russian coal imports 

Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said the Cabinet has adopted draft legislation that will allow a ban on imports of Russian coal. 

"We don't want these imports to be possible any longer, although we realize that there's a risk related to the fact that the European Union has not approved such actions to date,"  Muller told reporters in Warsaw.

Generally, the whole EU has to agree on sanctions imposed in the bloc, and Brussels could potentially punish members states acting unilaterally.

Russian representatives not welcome at Buchenwald commemoration

German officials have told Russian and Belarusian diplomatic representatives that they are not welcome at the commemoration for the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Nazi concentration camps.

"We have informed the consular representations in writing that they are not welcome at the events," director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, Jens-Christian Wagner, said on Tuesday.

One reason for the move was the death of the 96-year-old Buchenwald camp survivor Boris Romanchenko.

Romanchenko, who had previously served as vice-president for the international committee of survivors for the two camps, was killed by Russian bombardments in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in mid-March.

The Nazi camps were liberated by US troops on April 11, 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War.

UK detains Russian-owned superyacht 

Britain has detained a Russian-owned superyacht in what it called a "warning" to Moscow of the consequences of invading Ukraine.

Phi is a 58.5-meter (192-foot) vessel worth $50 million (€45 million), boasting a fresh-water swimming pool. It was docked at Canary Wharf in London. 

The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) said the ship is registered to a company based in the Caribbean country of St Kitts and Nevis and sails under a Maltese flag. 

"The ownership of the yacht was deliberately well-hidden," the agency said in a statement, adding that it had ultimately uncovered that its owner was a Russian businessman. 

Amnesty International accuses Russia of war crimes in Ukraine

Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of the human rights organization, told DW that Amnesty has been "documenting an escalation of human rights and humanitarian law violations including the indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of civilians."

"Russia's crackdown on freedom of speech started before the aggression against Ukraine," Callamard said. She pointed to "the shrinking space for independent media and dissenting voices," which she said goes back to at least 2021.

She added that disinformation and propaganda are part of the war, making it difficult to keep track of what is actually going on.

Callamard also insisted that "the standards that are applied to… Ukrainian refugees are applied across the board to others."

"As we speak right now, there are refugees stuck between Belarus and Poland who are denied entry into Poland," she added, saying that the failure to support those refugees mean that the west was "losing a war of values."

She added that as an outcome of the war, many countries will experience food shortages and skyrocketing prices, exacerbated by the failures of governments to "build back better" after the coronavirus pandemic. "That is the betrayal of 2021," she told DW. 

Netherlands expels 17 Russian diplomats accused of espionage

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said the Netherlands has expelled 17 Russian "intelligence officers" who were "undercover as diplomats." 

"These intelligence officers are a threat to the security of [the Netherlands]," Hoekstra wrote on Twitter.  

"Experience shows that Russia does not leave such measures unanswered. We cannot speculate on that, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is prepared for various scenarios that may occur in the near future," he said in a statement.

UNHCR: More than 3.9 people fled Ukraine 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said 3,901,713 have fled the war in Ukraine —  a figure up 38,916 from Monday's. 

UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh told reporters that the number of refugees was "unprecedented since World War II in Europe, certainly in terms of the speed and scale of the displacement." 

Russia pledges to reduce some military activity after talks

General Alexander Fomin, Russia's deputy defense minister, told reporters that Russia would reduce its military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv in light of the "meaningful" negotiations with Ukraine.

"In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing (an) agreement, a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions," Fomin told reporters.

According to the AP news agency, Ukraine's military said it had noted withdrawals around Kyiv and Chernihiv. However, the Pentagon said it could not confirm the reports.

Turkey said Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers were expected to meet in the next phase to set a mutual understanding and set the stage for a meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin. 

"We are extremely happy to see an increased rapprochement between the two sides at every stage,"  Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said refugees were arriving exhausted and feeling "hopeless."

"We are seeing millions of people arriving at borders, their coping capacities stretched by what they have experienced and witnessed," he said. 

"People are understandably tired and stressed, physically, mentally and emotionally." 

Oil prices fall, shares head higher  

With apparent progress in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, oil prices shed over 5%, and world share markets and global borrowing costs surged. 

European benchmark Brent crude dived 6.6%, and New York's WTI oil slid 5.2%. 

Europe's major stock markets jumped higher. Frankfurt soared 3.5%, Paris  3.1% and London 1.2 %.

Wall Street's main indexes also opened higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 0.45%. The S&P 500 opened higher by 0.60%, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.01% at the opening bell.

"It is the first time in this conflict where we have seen any indications for any form of easing of military action from the Russian side," SEB analyst Bjarne Schieldrop told the AFP news agency.

"Now for the first time the market is hoping that there might actually be a way forward not being a full destruction and takeover of Ukraine."

Russia expels 10 diplomats from the Baltic states

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Moscow has expelled 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a tit-for-tat response to the Baltic states' recent expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats. 

The Baltic states had said they expelled Russian diplomats as they had been carrying out activities that were "incompatible with their diplomatic status." They said the move was also in solidarity with Ukraine. 

Moscow has now summoned the ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to lodge a "firm protest in view of the provocative and unjustified actions."

Biden to speak with European allies

The White House said US President Joe Biden would discuss the war in Ukraine with the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Britain on Tuesday. 

The phone call is due to start at 9:15 a.m. (1315 UTC), the White House said. 

Separately, the Kremlin said on Tuesday Russia has maintained communication with Washington despite Biden's recent statement on Putin, in which he called him a "butcher."  

The "personal insults" made by Biden against Putin have had a "negative impact" on relations between the two countries, Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said, according to the Interfax news agency. 

"Nevertheless, the dialogue between Russia and the US is necessary in any case," Peskov added. "It is not only in the interest of both countries, but in the interest of the whole world." 

Russia-Ukraine talks conclude in Istanbul

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators concluded face-to-face peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, with the Ukrainian side saying that there have been enough developments to have a meeting between the presidents of the two countries.

Russia said the talks were "constructive," raising hopes that there could be progress toward ending the war.

However, Russian top negotiator Medinsky said a meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy is possible only if a deal has been approved by the foreign ministries of both countries.

Following the talks, Ukrainian negotiators told reporters that Kyiv would agree to a neutral status if a security guarantee system is put in place. They said, under the new system, Israel, Poland, Canada and Turkey could be among Ukraine’s security guarantors.

The neutral status would include not hosting any foreign military bases on Ukrainian territory.

There needs to be full peace across Ukraine for any final agreement with Russia to come into force, the Ukrainian side stressed, adding that a referendum would be needed in Ukraine on the terms of any final deal.

They also proposed holding consultations with Russia on the status of Crimea.

The talks on Tuesday lasted around four hours with occasional breaks. It is unclear if the discussions will continue for a second day.

Russia says rules for gas payments in rubles will be ready in days

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was working out practical arrangements for foreign companies and governments to pay for Russian gas in rubles.

Peskov said the plan would be ready by Thursday, in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin's set deadline.

"No one will supply gas for free, it is simply impossible, and you can pay for it only in roubles," Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

He added that "all modalities are being developed so that this system is simple, understandable and feasible for respected European and international buyers."

Peskov's remarks came a day after Germany said the G7 nations rejected Putin's demand to pay for Russian gas in rubles. Berlin said the demand was a breach of the pre-agreed terms and conditions.

Zelensky addresses Danish parliament, urges tightening sanctions  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Danish lawmakers on Tuesday, saying that the EU must tighten sanctions on Russia. He urged European countries to cut off all trade with Russia, including a ban on Russian energy supplies.

Speaking via video link, Zelensky said of the Russian invasion that "the brutality is more violent than what we have seen during World War II."

The Ukrainian leader has so far made online speeches to lawmakers in several countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, among others.

Russian rocket hits Mykolaiv government building

A Russian rocket strike on Tuesday destroyed a regional government building in the southern city of Mykolaiv, local authorities said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the missile strike killed at least seven people and wounded 22.

"We're clearing the rubble. Half the building was destroyed. My office was hit," local governor Vitaliy Kim said in a video statement.

Mykolaiv, a key port, has been under heavy assault for weeks, along with other southern port cities like Kherson and Mariupol.

Zelensky addresses Danish parliament, urges tightening sanctions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Danish lawmakers on Tuesday, saying that the EU must tighten sanctions on Russia. He urged European countries to cut off all trade with Russia, including a ban on Russian energy supplies.

Speaking via video link, Zelensky said of the Russian invasion that "the brutality is more violent than what we have seen during World War II."

The Ukrainian leader has so far made online speeches to lawmakers in several countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, among others.

Peace talks focusing on security guarantees, cease-fire, says Zelenskyy adviser

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has said that the ongoing talks in Turkey between Ukraine and Russia are focusing on security guarantees for Ukraine and a cease-fire.

"Only with this agreement can we end the war in a way that Ukraine needs," he said. Podolyak added the two sides were also discussing alleged breaches of the rules of war.

Russia says the military's main task is now to 'liberate' Donbas

Russia's defense minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that Ukraine's military capacity had been seriously degraded, the Interfax news agency reported. "The combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has been significantly reduced, which makes it possible to focus the main attention and main efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas."

Shoigu's assertion came despite Ukraine's unexpectedly strong resistance since the war began last month, which has seen Russia fail to take any major cities, and stall in advancing along multiple fronts.

However, Shoigu reiterated statements made last week by officials that the Russian military had completed the main objective of the first phase of its invasion.

The minister also stressed the change in Russia's war aims, underlining that the main task of the Russian military is now to "liberate" Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, part of which has been under the control of Russian proxies since 2015.

Furthermore, he warned the West that Moscow will respond appropriately if NATO supplies fighter aircraft and air defense systems to Ukraine.

Russia resumes LNG exports through the Sea of Azov

Russia on Tuesday resumed exports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) through the Sea of Azov, with a Comoros-flagged gas tanker expected to be loaded at the port of Temryuk, the port operator said.

The tanker, bound for the Bulgarian port of Burgas, would mark the first time since the start of Russia’s Ukraine invasion that LNG is exported through the waterway.

Russian authorities had banned ship movements in the region following the outbreak of the war.

IAEA chief in Ukraine to talk about nuclear safety

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has arrived in Ukraine to hold talks with senior officials on how to ensure the safety of the nation's nuclear facilities.

"The military conflict is putting Ukraine's nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger," Mariano Grossi, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said in a statement.

He added that "there have already been several close calls. We can't afford to lose any more time."

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four active power plants, and also is home to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl and of the largest active power plant, at Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine says it's resuming evacuations from conflict-affected areas

Ukraine said Tuesday it was reopening humanitarian corridors and evacuating civilians from war-scarred regions after a one-day pause over what Kyiv called possible Russian "provocations."

"Three humanitarian corridors were agreed for today," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video statement posted on Telegram, a day after announcing their closure citing intelligence reports.

US to deploy fighter jets to Germany to boost NATO posture

The United States is deploying six Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft to the Spangdahlem airbase in Germany to bolster NATO's defense posture, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.

This is "to bolster readiness and NATO's collective defense posture and further increase air integration capabilities with our Allied and partner nations," he said during a conference call.

Kirby stressed that the aircraft were not intended to be used against the Russian military in Ukraine, but were intended to strengthen NATO's eastern flank and serve as a deterrent against Russia.

Kirby added that some 240 Navy personnel, consisting of pilots and maintenance crew, will also be stationed to maintain the aircraft.

The aircraft, developed by the US firm Boeing, are used in electronic warfare to counter adversaries by offering tactical jamming capabilities besides offering land and naval defense.

Russia, Ukraine talks begin in Turkey

Talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators to end the conflict have started in Istanbul. Addressing the negotiators, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said both Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are "valuable friends."

"We have entered a time when talks need to yield concrete results," he stressed, calling for an immediate cease-fire.

"A fair peace will not have a loser and continuing the conflict benefits no one," he underlined.

US says Asia complying with Russia sanctions

The US has said Asian nations and firms are complying with export controls imposed on Russia by the West due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Some companies are even "self-sanctioning," Matthew Borman, US Commerce Department deputy assistant secretary for export administration, was quoted by Reuters as saying on Tuesday.

"The restrictions have been in place for roughly a month, a little bit over a month, and we certainly haven't seen any indication that there's non-compliance, in fact we've seen the reverse," he said.

"I think there's also a fair amount of additional self-sanctioning, if you will, by multinational companies operating in Russia," the official added.

"We know that Russia is quite dependent upon foreign supplies for some key inputs like semiconductors so I think it will be relatively readily apparent if there is non-compliance and the task will be to trace that back to its origin."

Australia announces first Magnitsky sanctions

Australia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced the country's first Magnitsky-style sanctions.

The newest sanctions will target "Russian individuals responsible for the corruption that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered and those complicit in his subsequent mistreatment and death."

In a press release, the Australian government explained Magnitsky was "a Ukrainian-born Russian lawyer and tax advisor," who "uncovered widespread corruption by Russian tax and law enforcement officials. He was imprisoned and mistreated, and died in custody in November 2009, after being refused medical treatment."

The Australian Foreign Ministry said, "In this first tranche, the Government will honour Mr Magnitsky and all who defend the rule of law, with targeted sanctions and travel bans against 14 Russian individuals responsible for the serious corruption that he exposed and a further 25 Russian perpetrators and accomplices of his abuse and death."

IAEA: Kharkiv nuclear facility intact despite shelling

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi said that the "small amount of nuclear material" at the Kharkiv nuclear research facility "remained intact" despite shelling.

In a statement, Grossi said, "Ukraine said the building, its thermal insulation and the experimental hall were damaged, but the neutron source, that contains nuclear material used to generate neutrons for research and isotope production, was not."

Zelensky: Situation tense despite some victories

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation remains tense despite some Ukrainian victories following Russia's invasion of his country on February 24.

Russian forces have been repelled from the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation published via his Telegram channel.

However, fighting continues in Kyiv as well as in other parts of the country.

Russian troops remain in control of Kyiv's northern suburbs. The situation remains "very difficult" in the Chernihiv, Sumy, Donbass and southern regions.

Zelensky added that further tightening of sanctions on Russia to include oil supplies to Europe were only likely to take place if Russia makes use of chemical weapons in its war effort.

"There are no words for that," Zelenskyy said.

Summary of Monday's events in Ukraine-Russia crisis

Ukrainian and Russian delegations are due to meet in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he made separate calls to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin that were progressing in a "positive direction.''

He did not give more detail but added that he would meet Ukrainian and Russian delegations ahead of their talks.

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmtryo Kuleba said a cease-fire was the most his country could hope for from the latest peace talks with Russia.

"The minimum program will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum program is reaching an agreement on a cease-fire," Kuleba said. "We are not trading people, land or sovereignty."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia expected no breakthrough at the talks

The Financial Times reports in exchange for giving up on its plan to join NATO, Ukraine will be free to join the EU.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning earlier this month after a meeting in Kyiv, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The WSJ report said Abramovich, who accepted a Ukrainian request to help negotiate an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and at least two senior members of the Ukrainian team, were affected.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian missiles struck another fuel depot in the northwest of the country. More than 1,000 Russian mercenaries connected to the Wagner Group are deployed in eastern Ukraine, UK military intelligence said.

Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper said it would stop publishing until the war in Ukraine ends. The leading independent publication, edited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, said it was taking the step after receiving a second warning from the media regulator Roskomnadzor.

If a media outlet receives two warnings from the communications regulator, a court can shut it down.

Meanwhile, the G7 rejected Russia's demand for gas payment in rubles.

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