Russia’s tactics in Ukraine have focused in recent days on damaging the country’s infrastructure, and early Sunday Ukrainian officials said hundreds of thousands of homes had their gas turned off.
The news came shortly after Ukrainian officials warned that Russian forces were preparing to seize the dam of a hydroelectric power station north of Kiev, The New York Times reported.
The threat to the power plant is part of what Ukrainian officials see as an effort by Russian forces to control the 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 UK said they believed Russia was targeting populated areas in several places, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol, in a bid to break Ukrainian morale, according to a statement released early Sunday.
“Russia has already used similar tactics in Chechnya in 1999 and in Syria in 2016, using both air and ground munitions,” the statement said.
The statement also credited the breadth and strength of 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 disguise tank trucks as regular support trucks to minimize casualties,” the statement said.
►Ukraine and Russia will start talks on Monday aimed at brokering a ceasefire and safe passage for civilian evacuations, a Ukrainian official said, after the evacuation of the city of Mariupol, in the southeast of the country. The Ukrainian president’s office said on Saturday that Russia was continuing to bomb the area in violation of a ceasefire. The shelling intensified on Saturday evening, according to the mayor of Mariupol, who said Russian planes were “dropping bombs on residential areas”.
► Russia’s unprecedented attack on a nuclear power plant has sparked global alarm and shocked and worried experts, who fear what this dangerous move could mean moving forward. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned the UN Security Council on Friday that Russian troops were “20 miles away and closing in on Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear power plant.”
► The State Department on Saturday urged Americans to leave Russia immediately, citing the “unprovoked and unwarranted attack” on Ukraine and the potential for harassment of American citizens by Russian government security forces.
►A gallon of regular gasoline in the United States will likely cost an average of $4 before the end of the weekend, analysts say. Gasoline prices have risen in recent weeks as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine puts pressure on global oil markets. At the same time, the United States has begun lifting mask mandates instituted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that is expected to boost consumer spending and travel.
► In its cold-open skit, “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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Ceasefire could allow evacuations from Mariupol on Sunday: Reports
Another attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol was due to begin on Sunday morning after a temporary ceasefire was announced, CNN and BBC reported, citing local officials.
The evacuation attempt will come about 24 hours after a previous attempt was foiled when Russian troops continued to shell the area in violation of a ceasefire.
Ukraine and Russia were previously due to engage in talks on Monday aimed at brokering a ceasefire and safe passage for civilian evacuations.
Blinken pledges US support in Moldova
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Moldova to pledge US support for the small, Western-leaning former Soviet republic that is dealing with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and watching with suspicion as the war escalates between Russia and his neighbour.
Blinken was meeting on Sunday with senior Moldovan officials who are appealing for international help to deal with the more than 120,000 refugees from Ukraine it is currently hosting, while seeking security guarantees against possible Russian aggression. More than 230,000 people have fled to 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 those in distress and, indeed, I want to do whatever we can to help you with the burden this has imposed” , did he declare.
Russia already has troops in the country of 2.6 million who are stationed in the disputed territory of Transnistria and are being closely watched as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues the invasion of Ukraine. Although it has no intention of trying to become a member of NATO, Moldova officially applied to join the European Union just three days ago in an accelerated attempt to strengthen its links with the West.
Radio Free Europe suspends its operations in Russia
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty suspends operations in Russia due to government pressure since the start of the war in Ukraine.
RFE/RL, which describes itself as an editorially independent media company backed by a grant from Congress and the US Global Media Agency, released a statement late Saturday saying it had ceased operations in Russia “after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police stepped up pressure on its journalists.
The media entity also referred to a law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that could subject journalists to prison terms if they deviate from Kremlin-approved descriptions of the war. He said RFE/RL journalists would “continue to tell the truth about Russia’s catastrophic invasion of its neighbour”, reporting on developments from outside Russia.
“This is not a decision that RFE/RL made on its own, but a decision forced upon us by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth,” said Chairman and CEO Jamie Fly. .
Russia’s Federal Communications Agency said on Friday it would block the websites of RFE/RL, BBC, Voice of America and other foreign media for spreading what it called ‘false’ news. .
RFE/RL, which has maintained a physical presence in Russia since 1991, said nine of its Russian-language websites were blocked last week after it refused to comply with demands to remove information about the invasion. ‘Ukraine.
Israeli PM returns from surprise trip to Russia
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s prime minister returned Sunday morning from a surprise trip to Russia where he met with President Vladimir Putin and discussed the war in Ukraine.
Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, where he met with 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 with 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 Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with Russia and Ukraine. Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but also maintains ties with Moscow to ensure Israeli and Russian warplanes do not come into conflict in neighboring Syria.
– The Associated Press