What’s happening in Ukraine today and how are countries around the world responding? Read live updates on Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
BERLIN — Germany’s influential ADAC auto club is calling on its 21 million members to help reduce the country’s oil imports from Russia by driving less and taking their foot off the gas where possible.
In an open letter posted on its website Wednesday, the club’s leadership said driving more slowly and anticipating stops were among the ways drivers could reduce fuel consumption by up to 20%.
They also urged drivers to consider whether they really need to take the car or could switch to walking, cycling or public transport instead.
The German government says it wants to wean the country off Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
BERLIN — Chemicals maker BASF says it will wind down most of its business in Russia and Belarus by the beginning of July.
The Ludwigshafen, Germany-based company said Wednesday that it “has not conducted new business” in the two countries in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has now decided to exit most of its existing activities there.
It said that it is exempting business to support food production “as the war risks triggering a global food crisis.”
BASF said it currently has 684 employees in Russia and Belarus and plans to “continue its support” for them until the end of this year. It said the two countries accounted for about 1% of its total sales last year.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister has lashed out at Russia for trying to “blackmail” his country with an abrupt cutoff of gas supplies. He says he believes the move was revenge for new sanctions that Warsaw imposed this week against Russia.
The sanctions announced Tuesday targeted 50 Russian oligarchs and companies, including Gazprom. Hours later Poland said it had received notice that Gazprom was cutting off supplies to Poland for failing to comply with new demands to pay in Russian rubles.
Speaking to the Polish parliament, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vowed that Poland would not be cowed by the gas cutoff. He said Poland was safe thanks to years of efforts aimed at securing gas from other countries.
Lawmakers stood and applauded when he said that Russia’s “gas blackmail” would have no effect on his country.
Russian made up some 45% of Poland’s overall gas usage until the cutoff. But Poland is far more reliant on coal to heat homes and fuel industry, with gas accounting for only 9% of the country’s overall energy mix.
Russian supplies were also due to end later this year in any case. Poland has made plans to get its supplies from other countries, including Norway. A new pipeline, “Baltic Pipe,” is due to become operational in the fall.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s foreign minister says his country’s supply of Russian natural gas is unaffected by the decision of Russia’s Gazprom to cut supplies to Poland and Bulgaria.
Peter Szijjarto said in a video on Facebook Wednesday that “the news that Gazprom’s deliveries to Bulgaria have stopped may be worrying,” but the transit of Russian gas to Hungary via Bulgaria would continue.
He said: “I would like to reassure everybody that the non-delivery of gas to Bulgaria does not mean the stop of transit through Bulgaria.”
Gazprom said it would suspend gas deliveries to Bulgaria and Poland beginning on Wednesday after those countries refused to comply with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that European countries pay for gas in rubles.
Szijjarto said Hungary receives around 3.5 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year via a pipeline that passes through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia. He added that supply was assured after Hungary reached an agreement with Russia whereby gas payments would be made to Gazprombank in euros and then converted into rubles.
LONDON — Britain’s top diplomat says the West should send planes to Ukraine to bolster its fight against Russian invasion.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says “the fate of Ukraine remains in the balance,” and is calling for Western nations to increase military support to Kyiv.
In a speech in London on Wednesday, Truss will say: “Heavy weapons, tanks, aeroplanes – digging deep into our inventories, ramping up production.”
She says that “if Putin succeeds there will be untold further misery across Europe and terrible consequences across the globe. We would never feel safe again. So we must be prepared for the long haul and double down on our support for Ukraine.”
Truss is also calling for tougher economic sanctions on Russia, saying the West must cut off Russian oil and gas imports “once and for all.”
Extracts of the speech were released in advance by the Foreign Office.
NATO nations have supplied Ukraine with military gear including missiles and armored vehicles, but have been reluctant to send fighter planes out of concern about escalating the conflict.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has struck a batch of Western weapons delivered to Ukraine.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles hit the weapons stored on the grounds of an aluminum plant in Zaporizhzhia. He said the batch of weapons contained equipment from the U.S. and European countries.
Konashenkov also said that the Russian warplanes struck 59 Ukrainian targets, including areas of concentrations of troops and equipment. He said Russian artillery hit 573 Ukrainian targets.
BRUSSELS — European Union officials are holding emergency gas talks following Russia’s decision to abruptly turn off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, according to the bloc’s top official.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the announcement by Gazprom “is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”
Von der Leyen lashed out at what she described as an “unjustified and unacceptable” move underlining “the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier.” Von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive branch, said a meeting of the gas coordination group was underway, adding that the region’s 27 countries are prepared to weather Russia’s cutoffs.
“Member States have put in place contingency plans for just such a scenario and we worked with them in coordination and solidarity,” she said. “We are mapping out our coordinated EU response. We will also continue working with international partners to secure alternative flows.”
LONDON — British military authorities say Ukraine retains control of a majority of the country’s airspace as Russia has failed to destroy Ukraine’s air force or suppress its air defences.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence, in an intelligence update released Wednesday morning, says Russian air activity is focused on supporting ground forces in southern and eastern Ukraine.
The ministry says Russian air forces have “very limited” access to northern and western Ukraine, limiting them to long-range attacks with missiles and other “stand-off” weapons.
The ministry also says that the majority of air strikes on the southern city of Mariupol are probably being conducted with unguided bombs, which are difficult to target and increase civilian casualties.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said Wednesday that Bulgaria can meet the needs of users for at least one month, after the country was given a one-day notice by Russia’s Gazprom that its gas supplies would be discontinued.
He said that gas is still flowing as he spoke.
“Alternative supplies are available, and Bulgaria hopes that alternative routes and supplies will also be secured at EU level,” Nikolov said referring to an EU expert meeting due later Wednesday to plan the next steps. He added that Poland and Lithuania are in the same situation as Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian side has fully met its obligations and has made all payments required under its current contract in a timely manner, strictly and in accordance with its terms, Nikolov said, and Bulgaria has paid in advance for supplies in April, which shows that Gazprom has defaulted on its contract.
“Obviously gas is used as a political tool,” he said. “As long as I am Minister, Bulgaria will not negotiate under pressure, Bulgaria is not for sale and does not succumb to any trade counterpart.”
LVIV, Ukraine — European gas prices have spiked by as much as 24 per cent following Gazprom’s statement that it was suspending deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria starting Wednesday because it hasn’t received any payments from them since April 1. Benchmark Dutch futures traded at one point around 125 euros per megawatt hour.
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, tweeted Wednesday morning that his organization “stands firmly with Poland.”
“Gazprom’s move to completely shut off gas supplies to Poland is yet another sign of Russia’s politicisation of existing agreements & will only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies,” he wrote.
The spike comes even as the weather turns warmer in the Europe, lessening the demand for the natural gas for heating homes and businesses.
MOSCOW — Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom says it has cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after they have refused to pay for the shipments in rubles.
It warned that if they siphon gas intended for other European customers, the deliveries to Europe will be reduced to that amount.
The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to switch to rubles in payments for the Russian gas supplied to Europe.
BEIJING — Drone company DJI Technology Co. said it will temporarily suspend business activities in Russia and Ukraine to ensure its products are not used during the hostilities.
“DJI is internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions. Pending the current review, DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine,” the company said in a statement.
The declaration makes it one of few Chinese companies who have publicly pulled out of Russia. While many Western brands and companies have withdrawn from the Russian market in protest of its invasion of Ukraine, many Chinese firms have continued operating in the country. China continues to refrain from directly criticizing Russia over the war.
The suspension comes over a month after vice prime minister of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov wrote an open letter appealing to DJI to block the sales of their drones in Russia, alleging that the Russians were using “DJI products in Ukraine in order to navigate their missile to kill civilians.”
POKROVSK, Ukraine — As Russian forces intensify their shelling of eastern Ukraine, more people are leaving their homes in search of safety.
In Pokrovsk, a town in the Donetsk region, people lined up Tuesday to board a train headed to the far west of the country along the border with Hungary and Slovakia. One person was lifted onto the train in a wheelchair, another on a stretcher.
The passengers took with them cats, dogs, a few bags and boxes, and the memory of those who did not flee in time.
“We were in the basement, but my daughter didn’t make it and was hit with shrapnel on the doorstep” during shelling on Monday, said Mykola Kharchenko, 74. “We had to bury her in the garden near the pear tree.”
He said his village, Vremivka, about 70 kilometres from Pokrovsk, was under heavy fire for four days and everything was destroyed. With tears in his eyes, Kharchenko said he somehow held himself together at home, but once he reached the train station he fell apart.
UNITED NATIONS — The UN says Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be involved in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that during their one-on-one meeting Tuesday, Guterres and Putin “discussed the proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, namely in relation to the situation in Mariupol.”
The sprawling Azovstal steel plant has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks but it is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.
An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.
Dujarric said that following the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle, discussions will be held with the UN humanitarian office and the Russian Defence Ministry on the evacuation.
WASHINGTON — The State Department says U.S. diplomats have begun returning to Ukraine by making day trips to temporary offices in the western city of Lviv from neighbouring Poland.
The department said the first group of diplomats crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border and travelled to Lviv on Tuesday morning before returning to Poland later in the day.
The step came just two days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed Ukrainian leaders during a secrecy-shrouded visit to Kyiv that the U.S. would start restaffing its diplomatic facilities in Ukraine this week.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the agency has accelerated its review of reopening the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, which was closed shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. He said operations at the embassy would resume as soon as possible depending on the security situation in the capital.
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