Russian forces now control most of the eastern city of Sieverodonetsk, an important strategic target and the last Ukrainian holdout in the Luhansk region of the Donbas.
Moscow has roundly criticized the Biden Administration's new $700 million military aid package for Ukraine, which includes longer-range weapons.
Meanwhile, oil prices have dipped on reports that Saudi Arabia may be willing to increase its crude production if Russia's supply is hit by EU sanctions.
UN humanitarian chief to meet with Russian officials amid push to restart agricultural exports
The U.N. humanitarian chief was to meet with Russian officials as part of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' efforts to enable Ukrainian and Russian agricultural exports through the Black Sea amid a global food crisis.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths met officials Wednesday and will continue his meetings Thursday.
Guterres said there was no resolution as of Wednesday, but the U.N. is engaged in serious dialogue with all relevant parties "in order to find a package deal."
Dujarric noted that Griffiths' visit to Moscow followed a Monday visit to the Russian capital by Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development known as UNCTAD. Grynspan is focusing on getting Russian grains to global markets. She later went to Washington.
"We've seen a lot of positive statements coming from various capitals," Dujarric said. "We also very much appreciate the role that Turkey is playing in all of this. If we have something concrete to announce, we will do so."
— Associated Press
Russia limits exports of noble gases, a key ingredient for making chips
Sanctions-hit Russia has limited exports of noble gases such as neon, a key ingredient for making chips, until the end of 2022 to strengthen its market position, its trade ministry said.
Stoltenberg calls Turkey an 'important ally' ahead of key gathering on Sweden, Finland NATO bids
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sought to underscore the alliance's appreciation of Turkey as an "important ally."
He offered the conciliatory words to Ankara ahead of a planned gathering of senior officials from Sweden, Finland and Turkey in Brussels next week to discuss Turkey's opposition to the Nordic countries joining the defense alliance.
Stoltenberg made the comments to reporters after meeting with President Joe Biden and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House for what was billed as preparatory talks for the Madrid NATO Summit to be held this month.
Stoltenberg said he discussed Sweden and Finland's application to join NATO with Biden and Sullivan and expressed confidence that the alliance would find a path to addressing Ankara's concerns. But Stoltenberg also seemed to go out of his way to note Turkey's value to the alliance.
"I think we need to also recognize that Turkey is an important ally. Turkey contributes to our security in many different ways," said Stoltenberg, who noted the country's Turkey's efforts at countering Islamic State militants.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted Finland and Sweden must show more respect for Turkish sensitivities about terrorism since the countries filed their NATO applications. He is refusing to budge over what he says is their alleged support for Kurdish militants.
— Associated Press
U.S. Treasury targets yachts management companies tied to Putin
The U.S. Treasury Department announced a litany of sanctions against yachts and yacht-management companies tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian oligarchs for Moscow's continued assault on Ukraine.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control said its latest actions also target Putin money manager, Sergei Roldugin.
Specifically, Treasury blocked the use of two ships — the Russia-flagged Graceful and the Cayman Islands-flagged Olympia, saying Putin has used them for travel in the past.
Imperial Yachts, a ship management company that caters to oligarchs whose wealth rises and falls based on the decisions made by Putin, is also subject to the department's sanctions.
— Thomas Franck
Russia now occupies 20% of Ukraine's territory: Zelenskyy
Russia currently occupies about 20% of Ukraine's territory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to Luxembourg's parliament.
"We have to defend ourselves against almost the entire Russian army. All combat-ready Russian military formations are involved in this aggression," he said.
The front lines of the fighting extended across more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of land, Zelenskyy added.
Russian forces have been making steady gains in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called an "unconditional priority" for Moscow. Ukrainian officials describe the territory as almost entirely destroyed by Russian bombing and shelling.
— Natasha Turak
Turkish manufacturer donates drone for Ukraine after Lithuanian crowdfunding campaign
Lithuanian Deputy Defense Minister Vilius Semeska poses next to a TB2 advanced combat drone in Istanbul with Selcuk Bayraktar and Haluk Bayraktar, the chief technology office and chief executive officer, respectively, of Turkish company Baykar.
Baykar and Turkey's Defense Industry Agency will donate one of the combat drones for Lithuania to transfer to Ukraine after Lithuanians crowdfunded nearly 6 million euros to buy it.
Sweden to send more weapons to Ukraine including anti-ship, anti-tank missiles
Sweden's government announced a new batch of weapons and financial aid to be delivered to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, anti-ship missiles and rifles.
"The proposals that are submitted (to parliament) mean that allocated funds for the central government budget will increase by SEK 1.0 billion ($101 million) in 2022," Sweden's finance ministry said in a statement, adding that it "sees a continuing need" to support Ukraine.
Sweden in February said it was sending body armor, helmets and 5,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, and one month later said it would send an additional 5,000 anti-tank weapons.
— Natasha Turak
Putin to meet with African Union leader to discuss releasing blockaded grain supplies from Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with African Union leader and Senegalese President Macky Sall on Friday to discuss unblocking grain and wheat stocks that have been frozen by Russia's war in Ukraine.
The meeting, which will be held in the southern Russian city of Sochi, is aimed at "freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilizers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries," as well as easing the conflict in Ukraine, a statement from Sall's office said.
Putin has been accused of weaponizing food and hunger, as his forces have now for months blocked vital ports and attacked agricultural logistics hubs in Ukraine, which is a major exporter of much of the world's grains. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide more than a quarter of the world's cereals, as well as other important cooking staples like sunflower oil.
The disruption to agricultural exports has sent food prices soaring, particularly for African and Middle Eastern countries that rely heavily on imports from Russia and Ukraine.
— Natasha Turak
Angela Merkel calls Russia's war 'barbaric' in first speech since leaving office
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel harshly condemned Russia's war in Ukraine in her first public speech since leaving office in December of last year.
Merkel described Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a "barbaric war of aggression" which constituted a "far-reaching turning point" and the most "glaring breach of international law" in Europe since World War Two.
"My solidarity goes out to Ukraine which has been attacked and raided by Russia," the former leader said at a German trade union event in Berlin on Wednesday night, adding that Ukraine's right to self-defense was indisputable.
Merkel, who led Germany for 16 years, has come under heavy scrutiny in the last few months for her history of friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and track record of expanding economic ties between Russia and Germany.
Many criticize her for making Germany more reliant on Russian energy imports, particularly with the establishment of the first Nord Stream gas pipeline between the two countries. She also drove the development of the now-defunct Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which her predecessor Olaf Scholz suspended just before Russia invaded Ukraine.
— Natasha Turak
Biden administration plans to sell lethal drones to Ukraine: Reuters
The Biden administration aims to sell drones to Ukraine in the "coming days" that can be lethally armed, Reuters reported, citing three sources. The sale would be of four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones, produced by General Atomics, which can be equipped with Hellfire missiles.
The Gray Eagle is the U.S. Army's iteration of the powerful Predator drone, and can fly more than 30 hours, collect large amounts of intelligence and carry up to eight Hellfire missiles. Ukraine has been using armed drones with substantial success in the months since Russia's invasion began, but the Gray Eagle would represent a major step up in capabilities.
Congress can halt the sale — which has been reviewed by the Pentagon for the last several weeks — or it can still be nixed by a change in policy, Reuters wrote.
— Natasha Turak
Ukraine working on UN-backed mission to restore grain shipping routes
Ukraine is working with its Western partners to establish a United Nations-backed effort to reopen its vital Black Sea export routes, through which it delivers the vast majority of its grain and other produce to much of the world.
"We call on countries whose food security may suffer more from Russian aggression against Ukraine to use their contacts with Moscow to force it to lift the blockade of Ukrainian seaports and end the war," foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Facebook.
Russian forces have blockaded several of Ukraine's largest ports, and Russia's navy has control over major shipping lanes in the Black Sea. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide roughly 25% of the world's wheat, and the disruption to those exports due to the war and sanctions has sent food prices soaring and sparked fears of a global food crisis.
— Natasha Turak
Russian forces in control of most of Sieverodonetsk: U.K.
Russia has made significant gains in a strategic city in Ukraine's Donbas, the eastern-most city that was still under Ukrainian control and a last Ukrainian holdout in the Luhansk region.
"Russia has taken control of most of Sieverodonetsk. The main road into the Sieverodonetsk pocket likely remains under Ukrainian control but Russia continues to make steady local gains, enabled by a heavy concentration of artillery," the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence wrote as part of its daily intelligence update on Twitter.
"This has not been without cost, and Russian forces have sustained losses in the process."
Russian troops now will likely have to cross the Siverskyy Donets River, which stands in the way of its advance, a mission that is "vital for Russian forces as they secure Luhansk Oblast and prepare to switch focus to Donetsk Oblast," the ministry wrote.
"It is likely Russia will need at least a short tactical pause to re-set for opposed river crossings and subsequent attacks further into Donetsk Oblast, where Ukrainian armed forces have prepared defensive positions," it said, noting that this could "risk losing some of the momentum they have built over the last week."
— Natasha Turak
Moscow calls U.S. weapons package a 'direct provocation'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov joined other Russian officials in condemning the United States' decision to send longer-range rockets to Ukraine as part of a new $700 million military aid package.
"It is a direct provocation (by Ukraine), aimed at involving the West in military action," Lavrov told a news conference while in Saudi Arabia.
Previously, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: "We believe that the United States is purposefully and diligently adding fuel to the fire."
Biden administration officials are reportedly divided over what level of weapons support for Ukraine will constitute too much involvement and risk sparking a dangerous confrontation with Russia.
— Natasha Turak
Zelenskyy says Russia has forcibly deported more than 200,000 Ukrainian children
Russia has forcibly deported more than 200,000 Ukrainian children, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.
"These are orphans from orphanages. Children with parents. Children separated from their families," Zelenskyy said.
Nearly 700 children have been injured or killed as a result of Russia's attacks, with a further 139 children missing, the president said.
Yesterday, UNICEF reported that on average, more than 2 children are killed and more than 4 are injured every day in Ukraine due mostly to attacks using explosive weapons in populated areas, according to reports verified by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
— Chelsea Ong
Oil prices dip on report Saudi Arabia could step up if Russia production gets hit by EU sanctions
Oil prices dipped in the morning of Asia trading hours after the Financial Times reported Saudi Arabia is prepared to increase production if Russia's output markedly drops following European Union sanctions.
Saudi Arabia is aware of the risks of a supply shortage and that it is "not in their interests to lose control of oil prices," the Financial Times reported, citing sources.
The FT report comes ahead of a monthly meeting of the OPEC+ alliance on Thursday, which Russia is a part of.
Saudi Arabia, OPEC's de facto leader, has not yet seen a true shortage in oil markets, according to the report. But that could change as economies globally reopen amid the pandemic recovery, driving demand for crude.
— Weizhen Tan
Ukraine welcomes new U.S. military aid package
The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed $700 million in new military aid outlined by the United States.
"Thanks allies," Zelenskyy advisor Andriy Yermak tweeted after listing what the package would include, along with emoji showing a handshake between the Ukrainian and U.S. flags.
The U.S. will send four rocket systems known as HIMARS, Javelin anti-tank missiles, anti-armor weapons, artillery rounds and helicopters, among other equipment.
— Jacob Pramuk