Russia’s tactics in Ukraine have focused in recent days on damaging the country’s infrastructure, and as Sunday began, Ukrainian officials said hundreds of thousands of homes had their gas turned off.
The news came shortly after Ukrainian officials warned that Russian forces cold be moving to seize the dam of a hydroelectric power station north of Kyiv, the New York Times reported.
The threat to the power plant is part of what Ukrainian officials believe is an effort by Russian forces to control infrastructure. The most notable example came late last week when a fire broke out at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after Russian forces shelled the area.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday that Ukraine’s nuclear regulator was in communication with staff at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, CNN and the New York Times reported .
Defense officials in the United Kingdom said they believe Russia is targeting populated areas in multiple locations, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol in an effort to break Ukrainian morale, according to a statement released early Sunday.
“Russia has previously used similar tactics in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016, employing both air and ground-based munitions,” the statement said.
The statement also credited the scale and strength of the Ukrainian resistance for targeting Russian supply lines and slowing the advance of ground forces.
“There is a realistic possibility that Russia is now attempting to conceal fuel trucks as regular support trucks to minimise losses,” the statement read.
►Ukraine and Russia will engage in talks aimed at negotiating a cease-fire and safe passage for civilian evacuations on Monday, a Ukraine official said, after the evacuation of the southeastern city of Mariupol was halted. The Ukrainian president’s office said Saturday that Russia continued shelling the area in violation of a cease-fire. The shelling intensified into Saturday night, according to Mariupol’s mayor, who said Russian airplanes were “dropping bombs on residential areas.”
► Russia’s unprecedented attack on a nuclear power plant sparked worldwide alarm and astonished and worried experts, who are fearful of what the dangerous move could mean moving forward. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned the U.N. Security Council Friday that Russian troops were “20 miles and closing to Ukraine’s second largest nuclear plant.
► The State Department urged Americans on Saturday to leave Russia immediately, citing the “unprovoked and unjustified attack” against Ukraine and the potential for harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government security forces.
►A gallon of regular gas in the U.S. will likely average $4 before the end of the weekend, analysts projected. The cost of gasoline has risen in recent weeks as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine applies pressure on global oil markets. At the same time, the U.S. has begun lifting mask mandates instituted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a move projected to spur consumer spending and travel.
► In its cold open sketch, “Saturday Night Live” skewered Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham and former President Donald Trump for their pre-war comments on Ukraine and Russia with the “Fox News Ukrainian Invasion Celebration Spectacular,” a fundraising telethon for Russian oligarchs held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.
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Another attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol was set to begin Sunday morning after a temporary ceasefire was announced, CNN and the BBC reported, citing local officials.
The evacuation attempt will come about 24 hours after a previous attempt was thwarted when Russian troops continued to shell the area in violation of a cease-fire.
Ukraine and Russia were previously scheduled to engage in talks Monday aimed at negotiating a cease-fire and safe passage for civilian evacuations.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Moldova pledging America’s support to the small Western-leaning former Soviet republic that is coping with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and warily watching Russia’s intensifying war with its neighbor.
Blinken was meeting on Sunday with senior Moldovan officials who are appealing for international assistance in dealing with more than 120,000 refugees from Ukraine that it is now hosting while also seeking security reassurances against potential Russian aggression. More than 230,000 people have fled into Moldova from Ukraine since the war began 11 days ago.
Blinken said Moldova’s welcoming of refugees is an inspiration to the world.
“We admire the generosity of hospitality, the willingness to be such good friends to people who are in distress, and, indeed, I want to do everything we can to help you deal with the burden that this has imposed,” he said.
Russia already has troops in the country of 2.6 million that are stationed in the disputed territory of Transnistria and are being closely watched as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses ahead with the invasion of Ukraine. Although it has no plans to try to become a member of NATO, Moldova formally applied to join the European Union just three days ago in a fast-track bid to bolster its ties with the West.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is suspending operations in Russia due to government pressures since the start of the war in Ukraine.
RFE/RL, which describes itself as an editorially independent media company supported by a grant from Congress and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, issued a statement late Saturday saying it had stopped operating in Russia “after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists.”
The media entity also referenced a law signed Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that could subject journalists to prison sentences if they deviate from Kremlin-approved descriptions of the war. It said RFE/RL journalists would “continue to tell the truth about Russia’s catastrophic invasion of its neighbor,” reporting on developments from outside of Russia.
“This is not a decision that RFE/RL has taken of its own accord, but one that has been forced upon us by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth,” President and CEO Jamie Fly said.
Russia’s federal communications agency announced Friday that it would block the websites of RFE/RL, the BBC, Voice of America and other foreign outlets for spreading what it termed “fake” information.
RFE/RL, which has maintained a physical presence in Russia since 1991, said nine of its Russian language websites have been blocked in the last week after it refused to comply with demands to delete information about the invasion of Ukraine.
– Bill Keveney
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s prime minister has returned Sunday morning from a surprise trip to Russia where he met President Vladimir Putin and discussed the war in Ukraine.
Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, where he met the Russian leader for three hours. The trip was made “in coordination and with the blessing” of the Biden administration, according to Bennett’s office.
Bennett spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his meeting with Putin. He then flew to Germany to meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Bennett landed in Israel on Sunday morning and is expected to convene his Cabinet for its weekly meeting later in the day.
Bennett’s trip was the latest attempt at diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Israel has delivered humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but also maintains ties with Moscow to make sure that Israeli and Russian warplanes do not come into conflict in neighboring Syria.
– The Associated Press
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