President Joe Biden said Russia should be kicked out of the Group of 20 nations in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, a major step that would further isolate the Kremlin and restrict Russia’s say in the global economy.
Russia’s membership in the group, which represents the world’s major economies, was discussed during an emergency meeting with key U.S. allies, Biden told reporters Thursday during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
He noted that the decision on whether to boot Russia from the group is up to other G-20 members. If the other members decline to revoke Russia’s membership, Ukraine should be permitted to attend G-20 meetings, Biden said.
The G-20 includes not only Western democracies but also tyrannical and authoritarian countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. The group works to address major issues impacting the global economy.
The U.S. and other allies expelled Russia in 2014 from a smaller group that represents industrialized nations after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. That alliance, known at the time as the Group of Eight, is now called the Group of Seven, or G-7.
The president’s remarks came as the U.S. reinforced a united stand with allies in supporting Ukraine one month into Russia’s invasion, with added sanctions against the Kremlin aimed at further crippling the country’s economy. The sanctions against more than 400 Russian officials and entities came as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economy has shrunk to half the size it was before the invasion, according to the White House.
A senior administration official told reporters that independent assessments indicate Russia’s last 15 years of economic gains will evaporate this year and inflation will spike to 15%.
Russia, which had the world’s 11th largest economy before the invasion, will fall out of the top 20, according to the official. At the same time, the official said, sanctions are cutting off all sources of potential growth, including blocking Russia from purchasing cutting-edge technology.
Biden also announced Thursday he hopes to meet with Ukrainian refugees while in Europe, giving away a part of his schedule that the White House had not announced.
Biden said getting a first-hand look at the effects of the war on Ukrainians will reinforce his commitment to the U.S. playing a major role in helping both those inside and outside Ukraine.
“I plan on attempting to see those folks as well as, I hope, I’m going to be able to see — guess I’m not supposed to say where I’m going, am I?” Biden said. “But anyway, I hope I get to see a lot of people.”
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►Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners Thursday.
►Bulgaria is recalling its ambassador to Moscow for consultations in response to “undiplomatic, sharp and rude” statements made by Russian Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova. Mitrofanova said Monday that Bulgarians do not “support the rhetoric and actions of their government” regarding Russia’s invasion.
►Herman Gref, the head of Russia’s largest bank and a close Putin associate, was among those targeted by sanctions the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled Thursday. As CEO of Sberbank, Gref, 58, also oversees a large number of companies owned by Sberbank in other industries, the department said.
►The Russian stock market resumed limited trading Thursday under heavy restrictions almost one month after prices plunged and the market was shut down following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine says Moscow is forcibly taking civilians to Russia
Ukraine accused Moscow on Thursday of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to give up.
Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, have been taken against their will.
The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who have been relocated, but said they wanted to go to Russia. Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern regions are predominantly Russian-speaking, and many people there have supported close ties to Moscow.
Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said the roughly 400,000 people evacuated to Russia since the start of the military action were from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting for control for nearly eight years.
Russian authorities said they are providing accommodations and dispensing payments to the evacuees.
Ukrainian officials said that the Russians are taking people’s passports and moving them to “filtration camps” in Ukraine’s separatist-controlled east before sending them to various distant, economically depressed areas in Russia.
Poll shows Americans support Russian sanctions, think Biden should be tougher
A majority of Americans are supportive of the harsh sanctions on Russia but believe Biden needs to be tougher on the Kremlin after its invasion of Ukraine, according to a poll commissioned by the Associated Press and NORC released Thursday.
The poll, which surveyed 1,082 U.S. adults from Thursday to Monday, found 56% of Americans believe Biden’s response to Russia hasn’t been tough enough, including a majority of 53% of Democrats. A very small percent, about 6%, said they thought Biden had been “too tough,” the poll shows.
Across the board, Americans of both political parties were supportive of the harsh economic blows to Russia. The poll showed 68% were supportive of economic sanctions in general with 70% saying they supported the recent banning oil imported from Russia, which in turn caused gas prices to rise.
– Christal Hayes
Biden: China understands its economic future is ‘tied to the West’
President Joe Biden said he is “hopeful” that Chinese President Xi Jinping will not assist Russia in its war against Ukraine but declined to say whether he’s seen any indications that China will intervene.
“China understands that its economic future is much more closely tied to the west than it is to Russia,” Biden said. “And so I’m hopeful that he does not get engaged.”
Biden pointed to his virtual meeting last week with Xi in which the president said he “made it clear to him” him that he understand the consequences and would be “putting himself in significant jeopardy.”
Biden said he “made no threats,” to Xi but pointed out the number of American companies that have pulled out of Russia as a result of Putin’s “barbaric behavior.”
– Joey Garrison
Biden: US, NATO will ‘respond’ if Russia uses chemical weapons
President Joe Biden said the United States and NATO allies would “respond” to Russia if they used chemical weapons.
“We would respond, we would respond if he uses it,” Biden said during a press conference Thursday. “The nature of the responses depend on the nature of the use.”
Biden would not expand on whether the United States has gathered specific intelligence on if Russian President Vladimir Putin is using chemical weapons.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said Russian military forces committed war crimes in Ukraine after hitting civilian targets.
When asked whether there could be a military response if Putin uses chemical weapons, Biden said that NATO would decide as a whole if they would cross that line.
– Rebecca Morin
Biden says ‘sanctions never deter,’ defending US actions against Putin
President Joe Biden vigorously defended his administration’s use of sanctions on Russia, arguing the financial penalties were never meant to deter Putin from invading Ukraine but are designed to provide sustained pain.
“Sanctions never deter,” Biden said when pressed why U.S. sanctions have not stopped Putin’s course in Ukraine. “You keep talking about that.”
Biden said it’s the “maintenance of sanctions” and “increasing the pain” over the next year that will stop Russia.
“We have to demonstrate the purpose,” Biden said. “The single most important thing is for us to stay unified and for the world to continue to focus on what a brut this guy is.”
Biden noted that Putin was banking on NATO being split when he invaded Ukraine. Instead, “NATO has never, never been more united than it’s been today,” Biden declared Thursday after an emergency meeting of the allies in Brussels.
But Putin can take anything for another month, including the harsh sanctions, so the alliance must not crack, Biden added.
– Joey Garrison and Maureen Groppe
U.S. to accept 100K refugees, provide $1B in humanitarian assistance
The U.S. will accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and others fleeing Russia’s invasion and provide more than $1 billion in new humanitarian assistance, the White House announced Thursday.
The funding will pay for food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies and other forms of assistance.
Although many Ukrainian refugees prefer to remain in Europe where they will be closer to family and their homes, the Biden administration is working to expand and develop new programs with a focus on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members in the U.S.
Food shortages have been a major concern as both Russia and Ukraine are top producers of wheat. Biden discussed with other countries Thursday during a meeting in Brussels how to alleviate the issue, with both Canada and the U.S. – also top producers of the crop – discussing how production can be increased.
“It’s going to be real,” Biden said of food disruptions.
The nations also talked about the need to end trade restrictions on sending food abroad, Biden said.
Biden noted the U.S. has provided $1 billion in assistance to Ukraine and, along with American allies, is committed to identifying “additional equipment, including air defense systems, to help Ukraine.” The U.S. is consulting with allies on providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, a senior administration official told reporters Thursday.
At a news conference Thursday after meeting with key allies in Brussles, Biden said U.S. weapons are flowing into Ukraine to help the embattled country resist Russia’s invasion.
Speaking to reporters, Biden said the U.S. has committed to provide over $2 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since he became president. Air systems and armor systems ammunitions are flowing into the country “as I speak”, he said.
Meet Ukraine’s volunteer online army
Tens of thousands of ordinary people across Europe have joined a grassroots, pro-democratic mission to fight Russia on social media. They call themselves “elves” because they hunt trolls spreading Russian propaganda and disinformation on Facebook and counter Kremlin conspiracy theories with credible information gathered from allies on the ground in embattled parts of Ukraine.
Their ranks have swelled since the start of the war one month ago as more office workers, doctors, scientists, teachers and IT professionals enlist to stem the flood of pro-Russian falsehoods and conspiracy theories in news feeds.
Ričardas Savukynas, a management consultant from Vilnius, started the underground resistance movement in Lithuania in 2014 during the Ukrainian uprising on Kyiv’s Maidan Square and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula.
“The idea is everybody can be an elf simply by fighting against propaganda, against lies,” Savukynas said. Read more here.
– Jessica Guynn
State Department: Russians not attempting to strike weapons convoys
Weapons convoys arriving in Ukraine almost every day thus far have not been targeted by Russia’s military, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. Kirby, speaking on Fox News, did not directly respond to a question about how the U.S. and NATO would respond if Russia struck a convoy – accidentally or on purpose – in Poland. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has warned that convoys “pumping Ukraine with weapons” will be considered legitimate targets.
“We have not seen the Russians attempt to strike any of these convoys,” Kirby said. “We’re watching this very, very carefully, as you might expect. But so far, we have not seen any attempt by the Russians to stall or to slow these convoys.
Kirby added that the Russian military has their “hands full” in places such as Kyiv, and Chernihiv, Kharkiv and in the south near Crimea.
Zelenskyy seeks 1% military solution
In a video address to a NATO summit Thursday, Ukraine President VolodymyrZelenskyy stressed the need for military assistance. Zelenskyy urged NATO to provide Ukraine with “1% of all your planes, 1% of all your tanks.”
“When we will have all this, it will give us, just like you, 100% security,” he said.
Zelenskyy called on people worldwide to gather in public to show support for his embattled country.
“Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,” Zelenskyy said in English during an emotional video address late Wednesday that was recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. “Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”
US, allies consider providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine
The U.S. is consulting with allies on providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, a senior administration official told reporters Thursday. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there could be technical challenges but that it is something that allies are “starting to work on.” The Russians have several warships off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, according to the official. They include surface combatants that have shelled the city of Mariupol. They also have amphibious landing craft, supply ships and patrol boats.
Ukraine’s navy reported Thursday that it had sunk the Russian ship Orsk in the Azov near the port city of Berdyansk. It released photos and video of fire and thick smoke coming from the port area. Russia did not immediately comment on the claim.
– Maureen Groppe and Tom Vanden Brook
McConnell: Ukraine war shows need for more US defense spending
The 2023 budget request the White House will send to Congress on Monday must reflect that “the world is dangerous and getting smaller,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday.
“We have to meet the military requirements that come from being a superpower facing growing threats to our global interests,” McConnell said on the Senate floor as he addressed President Joe Biden’s meetings with European allies.
McConnell said the U.S. needs to increase defense spending and expand inventories of critical weapons to meet the nation’s own security ends and to be a reliable supplier of weapons and munitions to allies. He said the war in Ukraine has highlighted shortcomings in both current stockpiles and in the industrial capacity to produce more quickly.
“Ukrainian forces can win this fight,” he said, “but they need more weapons, more ammunition, more fuel. And they need it all as fast as possible.
Dissident Russian journalist Oksana Bauline killed in Kyiv bombardment
Dissident Russian journalist Oksana Baulina was killed while filming in Kyiv, making her at least the fourth journalist to die in the country during the war. Baulina was working as a correspondent for The Insider when Russian troops shelled a shopping center in the Podil district, a historic neighborhood in Kyiv, the site said in a statement. Another civilian was killed and two more people were wounded and hospitalized.
Baulina had fled Russia but had continued to report on corruption inside the Russian government.
“The Insider expresses its deepest condolences to Oksana’s family and friends,” the statement read.
– Asha C. Gilbert
Zelenskyy address doesn’t mention ‘no-fly’ zone, NATO membership
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked NATO allies Thursday for continued help in his fight against Russia’s invasion but did not repeat his recurring request for a “no-fly” zone, according to the White House. Zelenskyy addressed the NATO summit by video from Ukraine, speaking shortly after the emergency summit was opened by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, according to a senior administration official who described the closed-door gathering on condition of anonymity.
The official said Zelenskyy also did not ask for Ukraine to become a member of the alliance. Russia is opposed to Ukraine joining NATO, one of the conditions Moscow set in the failed negotiations before troops invaded Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s frequents requests for a “no-fly” zone over his country have been dismissed by U.S. and NATO officials who say defending Ukraine skies would risk a wider escalation of the war.
NATO nations agree to strengthen defense forces
NATO leaders agreed Thursday to strengthen its deterrence and defense forces in Europe for the longer-term while increasing support to Ukraine and imposing further costs on Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the alliance’s emergency meeting.
“Transatlantic solidarity remains vital,” Stoltenberg tweeted.
In a group statement released after the meeting, NATO leaders said they condemn Russia’s invasion and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately stop the war and withdraw forces. The leaders also called on Belarus to end its complicity in the war and for China and other countries to stop supporting Russia’s war effort in any way, and to “refrain from any action that helps Russia circumvent sanctions.” NATO also will enhance cyber capabilities and defenses and “substantially increasing” defense spending overall.
Russia to expel more American diplomats, State Department says
Russia has begun the process to expel several American diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Moscow, the State Department said Wednesday.
The department said it received a list of diplomats on who have been declared “persona non grata” by the Russian foreign ministry. It didn’t say how many diplomats were affected by the order, which generally results in the expulsion of those targeted within 72 hours.
The State Department called Wednesday’s move “Russia’s latest unhelpful and unproductive step” in relations between the countries. It urged Russia “to end its unjustified expulsions of U.S. diplomats and staff.”
– Charles Ventura
US has determined Russia committed war crimes, Blinken says
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States has determined Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement.
He said the assessment is based on “a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources.”
Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has unleashed “unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Ukraine.” He cited reports of indiscriminate attacks, including those deliberately targeting civilians, among other atrocities.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Contributing: Bart Jansen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press