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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 25


Two men carry a wood panel next to damaged buildings and destroyed cars in a Russian bombing in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, May 24, 2022. The town of has been coming under increasing artillery strikes over the last week as Russian forces try to encircle the city of Sieverodonetsk.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

Recap of May 25
FIGHTING
* Russia continued to pour forces and equipment into its all-out offensive in eastern Ukraine, where it seeks to encircle Ukrainian troops in two cities, as Kyiv warned that the country is facing an existential battle that could determine its fate.
* Russia’s State Duma approved a law removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the country’s military.
* Russian forces continued to bombard eastern Ukraine, including Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region.
ECONOMY
*The U.S. said it would not extend a waiver, set to expire Wednesday, that allowed Russia to pay back its debts to international investors.
* Russia said it would start paying its foreign debt in rubles after the United States ended an exemption allowing Moscow to make the payments in dollars held in Russia
* The Russian military says the key Ukrainian port of Mariupol is functioning again after three months of fighting.
* The Russian ruble firmed past 56 against the dollar for the first time since 2018, and touched a seven-year high against the euro.
* Ukraine, battered by three months of war, plans to continue to tap crypto investors to help raise funds after a plunge in prices decimated the country’s fundraising efforts in May.
* After making it through the spring planting season, sometimes with the help of bulletproof vests and helmets, Ukraine's farmers are facing another challenge – finding enough diesel for the harvest to come.
SANCTIONS
* The European Commission proposed to make breaking European Union sanctions against Russia a crime.
* Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned Russia for demanding that sanctions be lifted before it unblocks Ukraine’s food exports.
* U.S. sports apparel giant Nike and venerable British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) say they are quitting the Russian market over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
HUMANITARIAN
* U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the creation of a new Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group.
* Britain’s Prince Charles traveled to Romania’s capital to visit refugees, mostly women and children, from Russia’s war in Ukraine who have found safety in the neighboring Eastern European country.
RELIGION
* Head of Orthodox Christians worldwide Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew urges that the head of Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill stand up against Russian Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
DIPLOMACY
* Estonian Prime Minister said Ukraine has to be able to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength so that Moscow is not encouraged to take further aggressive action.
* Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used part of his address at a forum in Davos to express his condolences to the family members of those killed Tuesday in a mass shooting at a U.S. elementary school.
* Lithuania’s defense ministry said it would transfer 20 M113 armored personnel carriers, military trucks and de-mining vehicles to Ukraine.
* Ukrainian president said he was only willing to talk directly to Russian president and not via intermediators.
NUCLEAR
* Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency,discussed nuclear safety and security in Ukraine during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
MEDIA
* The main Dutch journalists' union filed a lawsuit challenging the European Union's ban on Russian state-backed media outlets as a violation of European citizens' own rights to freedom of information.
* A Moscow journalist who protested Russia's invasion of Ukraine by interrupting a live news broadcast on Russian state television in March has been awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize.
SPORTS
* British government announced it had approved purchase of Chelsea football club from the sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
* Russian-born tennis star said she cannot go back to Russia because she spoke publicly against its invasion of Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

11:10 p.m.: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shares an account of a midwife who worked in Mariupol’s maternity hospital for weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

9:20 p.m.: World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged countries not to block or restrict exports of basic foodstuffs after Russia's invasion of Ukraine worsened tensions on global food markets, Agence France-Presse reported. "We're trying to tell members also on the export prohibition, restriction side, let's keep it down," Okonjo-Iweala told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, AFP reported.

8:45 p.m.: In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rebuffed those in the West who have suggested Ukraine cede control of areas occupied by Russian forces for the sake of reaching a peace agreement, The Associated Press reported. Those “great geopoliticians” who suggest this are disregarding the interests of ordinary Ukrainians – “the millions of those who actually live on the territory that they propose exchanging for an illusion of peace,” he said, according to the AP. “We always have to think of the people and remember that values are not just words. Zelenskyy compared those who argue for giving Russia a piece of Ukraine to those who in 1938 ceded territory to Hitler in hopes of preventing World War II, AP reported.

8:20 p.m.: A senior Turkish official has insisted after talks with Swedish and Finnish officials that Turkey will not agree to the two Nordic countries joining NATO unless specific steps are taken to address Ankara’s objections, The Associated Press reported. “We have made it very clear that if Turkey’s security concerns are not met with concrete steps in a certain timeframe the process will not progress,” Ibrahim Kalin said after Wednesday’s talks in Ankara that lasted about five hours, AP reported.

7:37 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday ordered an end to visa-free travel for Russian citizens, citing the need to improve border security in the wake of Moscow's invasion, Reuters reported. Russian citizens are currently allowed to visit neighboring Ukraine without visas. In an order posted on the presidential website, Zelenskyy said he backed a petition submitted by a citizen asking for this practice to end.

5:55 p.m.: Ukrainian fighters are ushering in a new era of battlefield tactics by using powerful locally designed electric bikes. Today, several militaries, including the United States, are actively researching the potential of electric bicycles in war. The main advantage of e-bikes is their stealth. For special forces teams, who are often airdropped into enemy territory and have to trek into position, the new technology offers a way to quietly cover large distances, then flee situations that teams would previously have had to shoot their way out of. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

4:30 p.m.: Britain’s Prince Charles traveled to Romania’s capital Wednesday to visit refugees, mostly women and children, from Russia’s war in Ukraine who have found safety in the neighboring Eastern European country. Speaking to a group of Ukrainians through an interpreter, Charles apologized for his lack of language skills, saying, “I wish my Ukrainian was better.” He said, “We feel for you greatly, it’s a nightmare situation,” adding, “I’m full of admiration for the Ukrainian people. Total, extraordinary courage and resilience.”

4:06 p.m.: A senior Turkish official insisted after talks with Swedish and Finnish officials Wednesday that Turkey would not agree to the two Nordic countries joining NATO unless specific steps are taken to address Ankara’s objections, The Associated Press reported. “We have made it very clear that if Turkey’s security concerns are not met with concrete steps in a certain timeframe the process will not progress,” Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference after the talks in Ankara that lasted about five hours. Kalin is the spokesman of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a senior presidential aide.

3:51 p.m.: Michael McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that Ukraine should not be concerned that many of his party colleagues voted against the recent $40 billion aid bill, approved to help the country defend itself from Russian aggression. Speaking to RFE/RL's Ray Furlong in Prague on May 25, he said: "I believe there are enough on both sides of the aisle to get to 218, which is what you need to give Ukraine what it needs to win this."

3:26 p.m.: A senior U.N. official is due to visit Moscow in the coming days to discuss reviving fertilizer exports, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Nebenzia said that "formally fertilizers and grain are not under sanctions, but there are logistical, transport, insurance, bank transfer problems" created by Western sanctions that "prevent us from exporting freely."

"We are prepared to export fertilizers and grain from our ports to the world market," he said, adding that when it came to Ukrainian grain exports, "I think that should be negotiated with the Ukrainians, not with Russians." However, Western officials say any deal on access to Ukrainian ports would need Russian agreement, citing what they say is a Russian blockade and a need for security guarantees.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who visited Moscow and Kyiv last month, is in "intense contact" with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the United States and the European Union in a bid to broker what he calls a "package deal" to resume both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports.

3:04 p.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the creation of a new Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group on Wednesday.

2:57 p.m.: A Moscow journalist who protested Russia's invasion of Ukraine by interrupting a live news broadcast on Russian state television in March has been awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize. In a ceremony in Oslo on May 25, Marina Ovsyannikova received the award, given annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor "outstanding" civil society action in the defense of human rights. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

2:42 p.m.: The President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met with the mayor of Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv, Vitaliy Klychko during the World Economic Summit, saying on Twitter that the EU will help Ukraine rebuild after the war.

2:35 p.m.: After a Russian soldier was jailed for life in Ukraine, his victim's widow has spoken up, Reuters reported. The widow of an unarmed man killed in Ukraine by a Russian soldier has recounted finding her husband's body, a bullet hole in his head. Kateryna Shelipova said she saw Vadim Shishimarin carrying a rifle shortly before she found her husband, 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov, lying in a road near their house in the northeast Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28. Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, pleaded guilty to killing Shelipov and asked his widow for forgiveness. He was jailed for life last week in the first war crimes trial of Russia's invasion.

2:28 p.m.: The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks (Democrat - New York), says he hopes "a different type of Russia" will emerge following the war in the Ukraine, "not a Russia that is led by a brutal regime." Speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ray Furlong in Prague on Wednesday, Meeks said he was not advocating "regime change," and that change would have to be driven by "the people of Russia."

2:09 p.m.: The main Dutch journalists' union on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging the European Union's ban on Russian state-backed media outlets as a violation of European citizens' own rights to freedom of information, Reuters reported.

The EU issued sweeping restrictions on the distribution of Russia Today and Sputnik in Europe on March 2 as part of sanctions against Moscow, arguing that they produced propaganda used to justify and support the invasion of Ukraine.

The Dutch lawsuit, filed at the EU's Court of Justice, did not endorse the content produced by the Russian organizations or say that European broadcasters should carry them. Rather, it said the ban was overly broad and that allowing politicians to enact censorship policies overnight is wrong in principle.

1:53 p.m.:

1:41p.m.: President Vladimir Putin ordered 10% rises on Wednesday in pensions and the minimum wage to cushion Russians from inflation, but denied the country's economic problems were all linked to the war in Ukraine, Reuters reported. With annual inflation near 18% last month, the Kremlin leader acknowledged that 2022 would be a "difficult" year for the Russian economy. "When I say 'difficult', it doesn't mean all these difficulties are connected to the special military operation," Putin told a televised meeting of the State Council in Moscow.

1:30 p.m.:

1:22 p.m.: Russia's expanding influence and activity in Africa pose a "worrying" threat to the security of NATO countries along with its invasion of Ukraine and must be addressed by the military alliance, the Spanish and British defense ministers said Wednesday, according to Reuters. At a joint news conference in Madrid, Spain's Margarita Robles said the expansion of operations by the Russian state and Russian private security companies such as the Wagner Group in countries like Mali and Libya was "very clear" and accused them of fomenting organized crime and terrorism. "NATO cannot remain indifferent in this situation," she added.

1:08 p.m.: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has left nearby Moldova feeling vulnerable and threatened. With a small military of its own and a decades-long frozen conflict in breakaway Transdniester fueled in large part by Moscow, impoverished Moldova is worried it could be the Kremlin's next target. The United States and Britain, as well as the EU, have recently come forward with proposals to beef up Moldova's modest military. That has sparked a debate in this country of some 2.6 million people about abolishing its neutral status, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

12:48 p.m.:

12:27 p.m.: Pope Francis has sent a protocol greeting to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, assuring him of prayers on his patron’s feast day and stressing the value of human life and wisdom, as the Vatican insists on maintaining cordial relations amid the war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. The moderate tone was evidence of the Vatican’s attempt to maintain relations with Kirill, a policy that has come under increasing criticism from the head of the Polish bishops conference. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki returned from a visit to Ukraine this week and called for the Vatican to change its “naive and utopian” policy, saying it won’t work in the long run.

12:02 p.m.: The German government hopes talks on a fresh round of EU sanctions against Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine will be completed soon but it will not be a topic at the forthcoming leaders' summit, a German official said on Wednesday, according to Reuters. A decision on EU candidate status for Ukraine will not be made either, said the official.

11:54 a.m.:

11:46 a.m.: A Danish Jehovah’s Witness on Wednesday has returned to Denmark after spending five years in a Russian prison under Moscow’s crackdown on the religious group, the organization said. Russia officially banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, and designated the religious denomination “an extremist organization” in connection to its alleged “propaganda of exclusivity.” Dennis Christensen, a 49-year-old Dane, was arrested that year for leading a prayer meeting, and was handed a six-year prison sentence in 2019. The Associated Press has this report.

11:25 a.m.:

11:18 a.m.: Prominent Ukrainian anti-corruption campaigners say they have seen no signs that their armed forces are misusing Western military supplies in the three months since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a country long perceived as among the world’s most corrupt. VOA’s Michael Lipin and Igor Tsikhanenka have this story.

11:03 a.m.: The Swiss government plans to seize more than $104 million worth of assets from an associate of Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovich, who was deposed in 2014, it said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

10:58 a.m.:
Russia said Wednesday that it will start paying its foreign debt in rubles after the United States ended an exemption allowing Moscow to make the payments in dollars held in Russia, Agence France-Presse reported. The US Treasury announced Tuesday it was closing the escape clause to the drastic financial sanctions imposed on Moscow after it sent troops to Ukraine, pushing Russia closer to default. "Noting that the refusal to extend this license makes it impossible to continue servicing government foreign debt in US dollars, payments will be carried out in Russia's currency," the finance ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

10:51 a.m.: 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.

10:47 a.m.: EU Commission Executive Vice President for Economy Valdis Dombrovskis spoke at the World Economic Forum Wednesday, noting that 62 percent of Russia’s exports to the EU were hydrocarbons. “If we want to get close to the heart of the financing of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war machine, we need to act on hydrocarbons, and that’s why those sanctions against oil are so important. So I hope that EU member states will be able to agree and move forward on this,” he said. “Otherwise, we are in a somewhat paradoxical situation. We are providing massive support to Ukraine with one hand, and we provide financing to Putin to continue his war with another hand, so this clearly has to stop,” he added.

10:44 a.m.: A Russian-backed official in the occupied Ukrainian port of Mariupol said on Wednesday that the first ship to leave since pro-Russian forces completed their capture of the city would leave in the next few days, the TASS news agency reported. The official said the ship would take around 3,000 tonnes of metals to Rostov-on-Don in Russia, TASS said. Earlier, Russia's defense ministry said that Mariupol's port, a shallow-water harbor on the Azov Sea, was "operating normally,” Reuters reported.

10:41 a.m.: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday condemned Russia for demanding that sanctions be lifted before it unblocks Ukraine’s food exports.

10:34 a.m.: 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, The Associated Press reported. 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. “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.”

10:23 a.m.: Russia's parliament approved a law on Wednesday in double-quick time removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military, amid heavy casualties in Ukraine, Reuters reported. Lawmakers in the State Duma lower house approved the bill in three readings in a single session, with the upper house, the Federation Council, giving its assent shortly after. The bill now needs only the signature of President Vladimir Putin to become law.

10:17 a.m.: U.S. sports apparel giant Nike and venerable British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) say they are quitting the Russian market over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Nike said it would not extend its franchise agreement with Russia's Inventive Retail Group (IRG), the largest retailer of Nike products in the country. M&S, which specializes in the sale of clothing, beauty, home products, and food, announced on Wednesday that it would fully cease its operations in Russia after suspending them in early March. M&S said it was unable to import its goods to Russia because of the war in Ukraine. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

9:46 a.m.:

9:41 a.m.: President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday simplifying the process for residents of Ukraine's Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to acquire Russian citizenship and passports, Reuters reported.

The decree marks a further step towards "Russification" of the two regions, where Moscow's war in Ukraine has enabled it to establish a continuous land bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Putin's move extends a scheme available to residents of areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Moscow has issued around 800,000 passports since 2019.

9:33 a.m.:

9:30 a.m.: The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to make breaking European Union sanctions against Russia a crime, a move that would allow EU governments to confiscate assets of companies and individuals that evade EU restrictions against Moscow, Reuters reported.

Breaking EU sanctions on Russia is now a criminal offense in 12 EU countries. It is either an administrative or a criminal offense in 13 and two treat it only as an administrative offense, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said. Penalties for sanction breaking across the EU vary accordingly.

The Commission proposal aims to unify that approach to make sanctions evasion a serious crime in all members of the 27-nation bloc, he told a news conference.

9:26 a.m.:

9:18 a.m.: 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, The Associated Press reported. 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.

9:11 a.m.: The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Twitter Wednesday that health facilities have been attacked repeatedly and should not be a target in the war in Ukraine. The U.N. is drawing attention to a range of humanitarian issues during Protection of Civilians Week.

9:02 a.m. : Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will not accept a nomination to the board of Russian energy company Gazprom, Radio Free Europoe/Radio Liberty reported. Schroeder said on May 24 on social media that he told Gazprom “some time ago” that he was not interested in the nomination.

Gazprom nominated Schroeder for a supervisory board position shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The 78-year-old had been due to join Gazprom's supervisory board in June.

The longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under increasing international pressure to sever his ties with Russia's biggest energy companies since Moscow launched the invasion.

8:59 a.m.: The Russian military says it has destroyed the production facilities of a key Ukrainian maker of aircraft engines, The Associated Press reported. 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.

8:54 a.m.: Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday. Ukraine's Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24 and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country, Reuters reported.

8:28 a.m.: 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 Associated Press reported.

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.”

8:17 a.m.: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the West, and Europe in particular, must tighten ranks and bolster support for Ukraine in the face of Russia's unprovoked war.

Speaking at a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 25, the Ukrainian leader said he was grateful for the financial and military aid given to Kyiv since Russia launched its attack in late February, but said cracks in Europe's unity are limiting the war effort.

He also reiterated Kyiv's stance that Ukraine does not want to lose any territory to Russia in the war. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

8:03 a.m.: U.S. sportswear maker Nike has not renewed agreements with its largest franchisee in Russia, the Vedomosti daily reported on Wednesday, marking the latest exit by a major U.S. brand since Russian forces entered Ukraine, Reuters reported.

7:55 a.m.: After making it through the spring planting season, sometimes with the help of bulletproof vests and helmets, Ukraine's farmers are facing another challenge – finding enough diesel for the harvest to come, Reuters reported.

The war with Russia cut fuel supplies just as farmers stepped up work for the spring season and they have lost about 85% of their normal supplies since the conflict started on Feb. 24, farmers, fuel distributors and analysts say.

7:41 a.m.: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said it is preparing to raise additional funds for the reconstruction of Ukraine after Russia's invasion, after pledging to spend 1 billion euros in the country in 2022, Reuters reported.

The European Union has estimated that the overall cost of the damage to Ukraine as a result of what Moscow calls a "special military operation" could stand at between 500 billion euros ($530 billion) and 600 billion euros.

"(We) expect to get donors funding in particular for the reconstruction as what we are doing now is sort of emergency financing to support the (Ukrainian) economy," EBRD President Odile Renaud-Basso told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.

7:30 a.m.: The Russian ruble firmed past 56 against the dollar on Wednesday for the first time since 2018, and touched a seven-year high against the euro as export-focused companies sold foreign currency to pay taxes, and traders shrugged off the expiry of a key debt payment license, Reuters reported.

The United States said on Tuesday it would not extend a key waiver, which expired on Wednesday, that had allowed Russia to pay U.S. bondholders. The decision could push Moscow closer to the brink of default as Washington ramps up pressure on the country over its actions in Ukraine.

Ruble traders looked past that for now as the currency extended gains.

7:21 a.m.: The Russian military says the key Ukrainian port of Mariupol is functioning again after three months of fighting, The Associated Press reported. 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.

7:13 a.m.:

7:10 a.m.: Ukraine, battered by three months of war, plans to continue to tap crypto investors to help raise funds after a plunge in prices decimated the country’s fundraising efforts in May, Reuters reported. All the funds raised in the "Aid for Ukraine" fund were stored in cryptocurrency but the government was able to spend $45 million of it on equipment for Ukraine's army before the crash.

7:02 a.m.: Russian strikes are hitting the eastern Ukrainian town of Pokrovsk, in the Donetsk region, causing at least some injuries, The Associated Press reported. 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.

Meanwhile, Luhansk region Governor Serhiy Haidai said Wednesday that another eight people were wounded in the shelling of the town of Sievierodonetsk over the previous 24 hours, AP reported. Sievierodonetsk is at the epicenter of fighting in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas region. Haidai accused the Russians of deliberately targeting shelters where civilians were hiding.

6:54 a.m.:

6:51 a.m.: Russia continued to pour forces and equipment into its all-out offensive in eastern Ukraine, where it seeks to encircle Ukrainian troops in two cities, as Kyiv warned that the country is facing an existential battle that could determine its fate. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation in the Donbas is "extremely difficult" as Russia steps up its assault. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

6:49 a.m.:

6:42 a.m.: The Director General of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, discussed nuclear safety and security in Ukraine during a panel discussion Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Grossi commented on his assessment of the probability of the world facing the first nuclear confrontation, and the potential for a nuclear accident due to an attack on a nuclear power plant or the release of any nuclear material that could “add to the tragedy” of the war. He shared a video clip of the discussion on Twitter.

6:40 a.m.: Russia’s State Duma approved a law on Wednesday removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the country’s military, Reuters reported.

Currently, only Russians aged between 18 and 40 and foreigners aged 18 to 30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian army.

6:30 a.m.: In exchange for lifting Western sanctions, Russia might unblock ports in Ukraine from areas it is currently controlling, The Kyiv Independent reported Wednesday.

In a Twitter post, the English-language Ukrainian media outlet attributed the comments to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko.

Earlier, Rudenko was quoted saying that the port of Mariupol is “operating normally” and that Moscow is in touch with the United Nations. Rudenko said his country would not “rule out the possibility of global talks to unblock Ukraine’s ports,” a Reuters report said.

6:00 a.m.: The British government announced Wednesday it had approved Todd Boehly’s $5.3 billion (£4.25 billion) purchase of Chelsea football club from the sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Agence France-Presse reported.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries said “We are satisfied the proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or other sanctioned individuals.”

Boehly, a co-owner of U.S. baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, had agreed a record deal to buy the club from Abramovich earlier this month. The Russian put Chelsea on the market in early March, just before he was sanctioned by Britain following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, AFP added.

5:35 a.m.: The Russian Orthodox Church has let Christian Orthodox fathers down by supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said in an interview, Reuters reported, citing an interview which aired on Greek state TV ERT on Tuesday evening.

Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 260 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, said he expected the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill to stand up against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and resign, if needed, in an act of opposition.

“It would not be possible for all churches not to condemn violence, war. The Russian church disappointed us. I did not want the Church of Russia and Brother Patriarch Kirill to be this tragic exception. I do not know how he can justify himself in his conscience,” he said. “I expected Brother Kirill to stand up to this crucial, historic moment. If needed, to sacrifice his throne, to tell Putin, ‘Mr. President, I can not agree with you, I resign,’” he said.

Patriarch Kirill has supported Moscow’s action and his stance has splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.

5:00 a.m.: Ukraine has to be able to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength so that Moscow is not encouraged to take further aggressive action, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Wednesday, speaking at an event in Stockholm.

“We must avoid a bad peace, a badly negotiated peace for Ukraine would mean a bad peace for us all,” Kallas said. “It is much more dangerous giving in to Putin, than provoking him. All these seemingly small concessions to the aggressor lead to big wars. We have done this mistake already three times: Georgia, Crimea and Donbas.”

4:50 a.m.: Workers digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 decomposing bodies in the basement, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The Ukrainian city was taken by Russia after a three-month siege.

4:30 a.m.: Lithuania’s defense ministry said Wednesday that it will transfer 20 M113 armored personnel carriers, military trucks and de-mining vehicles to Ukraine.

“The coordinated help from us and the allies is the deciding factor for the Ukrainian victory,” Reuters reported, citing defense minister Arvydas Anusauskas’ statement.

The vehicles are worth a total of 15.5 million euros, said the ministry. Previously, Lithuania has provided military support to Ukraine worth 100 million euros, the report added.

4:00 a.m.: The United States said it will not extend a waiver, set to expire Wednesday, that allowed Russia to pay back its debts to international investors.

The Treasury Department had let Russia use U.S. banks to make the payments, saying that was a temporary measure meant to provide an “orderly transition” and allow for the investors to sell their stakes.

Closing that pathway raises the prospect that Russia may default on its debt.

3:40 a.m.: Speaking by video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy used part of his address Wednesday to express his condolences to the family members of those killed Tuesday in a mass shooting at a U.S. elementary school.

“As far as I know, 21 people were killed, including 19 children. This is terrible, to have victims of shooters in peaceful time,” he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also expressed his condolences saying “as a nation that goes through the pain of losing innocent young lives, Ukraine shares the pain of our U.S. friends. We stand in solidarity with you at this difficult time.”

3:25 a.m.: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Wednesday that his country is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, Reuters reported, citing the Interfax news agency.

The news agency quoted Rudenko saying Russia plans to discuss possibilities of prisoner exchange with Ukraine after surrendered prisoners are put on trial for war crimes, a demand made by Russia and separatist officials, according to Reuters.

2:50 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy said on Wednesday that he was only willing to talk directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin and not via intermediators, Reuters reported.

He added that if the Russian President “understands reality” there was the possibility of finding a diplomatic way out of the conflict. Speaking to an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Zelenskyy said that his country will fight until it recovers all its territory.

Zelenskyy added that a first step toward talks with Russia would be for Russian forces to withdraw back to the lines that were in place before Russia launched its invasion in late February. There has been no sign of movement toward a negotiated end to the conflict in recent weeks with both sides accusing the other of not being willing to engage in talks.

Questions have swirled about whether a negotiated solution with Putin is possible. VOA’s Dora Mekouar has the story.

2:40 a.m.: Delegations from Sweden and Finland were in Ankara on Wednesday for talks with Turkish officials about the two nations’ applications to join NATO, which have been met with opposition from Turkey.

Turkey accused Sweden and Finland of harboring people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey says orchestrated a 2016 coup attempt.

NATO bids need approval from all of the alliance’s current members. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said he is confident any objections will be overcome and both Sweden and Finland will be welcomed into the alliance.

The Associated Press has an update on scheduled talks with Turkish officials as delegations from the two countries are set to discuss obstacles to joining the NATO alliance.

1:50 a.m.: As Russian forces bombarded eastern Ukraine, including Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region, Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak pushed foreign governments to take action to pressure Russia to end its fighting in Ukraine.

“The duration of this war depends on the speed of imposing energy sanctions and weapons supply,” Podolyak said in a Twitter post Wednesday.

Podolyak’s post followed Zelenskyy’s message late Tuesday in which he said sending Ukraine rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, anti-ship missiles and other weapons is “the best investment” to prevent future Russian aggression.

1:15 a.m.: The British defense ministry said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is significantly impacting the global grain supply due to lack of “merchant shipping activity in or out of Odesa since the start of the war” in its daily intelligence report published Wednesday.

“Russia’s subsequent naval blockade of key Black Sea ports has deterred the commercial shipping industry from operating in the area,” the report said, adding “overland export mechanisms are highly unlikely to substitute for the shortfall in shipping capacity caused by the Russian blockade.”

12:15 a.m.: As the war entered its fourth month on Wednesday, Russian forces were relentlessly bombarding the industrial city of Severodonetsk while attempting its encirclement, a key goal of recent fighting in the Donbas region, Agence France-Presse reported.

Russian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, pounding key cities and aiming “to destroy everything there,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday, as Moscow signaled it was digging in for a long war against its neighbor, the AFP said.

12:01 a.m.: Russian-born tennis star Daria Saville, who plays for Australia, said she cannot go back to Russia because she spoke publicly against its invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported.

“I can’t really go back to Russia,” she said to the media at the French Open.

Saville wore yellow and blue, the colors of Ukraine, at the Paris Open in March and urged Vladimir Putin to stop the war and the Russian army to return home in a post on social media.

Though she was born in Russia, tennis player Daria Saville wore the colors of Ukraine during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California. Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.
Though she was born in Russia, tennis player Daria Saville wore the colors of Ukraine during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California. Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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