WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has tapped retired Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, a former three-star Army general and former National Security Council official during the Obama administration, to coordinate billions of dollars security assistance being sent into Ukraine.
Wolff recently joined the Biden White House but his appointment has not been formally announced, according to a White House official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Wolff as Army officer served three tours of duty in Iraq and has held senior roles at the Pentagon, Joint Staff, and State Department. He was tapped by the Obama administration in 2015 to serve as deputy special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State.
Wolff’s latest appointment comes as Biden on Thursday announced that he was sending a new tranche of $800 million of security assistance to Ukraine, including heavy artillery and drones. The president, who has already approved the dispersal of about $3.4 billion in military assistance, said he will soon seek approval from Congress for additional security assistance for Ukraine.
Congress approved $6.5 billion for military assistance last month as part of $13.6 billion in spending for Ukraine and allies in response to the Russian invasion.
— By Aamer Madhani
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Putin tries to claim Mariupol win but won’t storm holdout
— China’sXi urges dispute resolution, opposes sanctions
— EXPLAINER: What’s the impact if Europe cuts off Russian oil?
— Biden announce s new military assistance for Ukraine
— AP-NORC poll: Many say Biden not tough enough on Russia
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine — The Mariupol City Council says as many as 9,000 civilians could be buried in mass graves in the village of Manhush outside Mariupol.
In a post on Telegram, the city council quoted Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko calling the site ”the new Babi Yar.”
“Then Hitler killed Jews, Roma and Slavs. And now Putin is destroying Ukrainians. He has already killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol,” he was quoted as saying. “This requires a strong reaction from the entire world. We need to stop the genocide by any means possible.”
In a separate statement earlier Thursday, Boychenko alleged the Russians had dug huge trenches near Manhush, 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) west of Mariupol, and were “hiding their war crimes” by dumping bodies there.
On Thursday evening, Ukrainian media published satellite photos of Manhush, showing what they said were mass graves similar to the ones discovered in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. The accuracy of these claims and images could not be immediately verified.
KYIV, Ukraine — No residents could be evacuated from the encircled city of Mariupol on Thursday due to continuing Russian shelling of agreed-to humanitarian corridors, Ukrainian deputy PM Iryna Vereshchuk said in a Telegram post on Thursday evening.
“No happy news out of Mariupol. Everything has been hard-going,” she wrote. “On the Russian side, everything has been very difficult, chaotic, slow, and of course, dishonest.”
“We apologize to the residents of Mariupol who did not get to be evacuated today. Shelling began at the evacuation point, which is why the humanitarian corridor had to be closed.”
In the same post, Vereshchuk acknowledged that on Wednesday, a four-bus convoy was allowed to transport 79 civilians from Mariupol to Kyiv-controlled territory in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhhia region – a development she said “gave her hope.”
Russia’s foreign ministry has announced that it has barred U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and 27 other prominent Americans from entering the country.
In a statement on its website Thursday, the ministry said that the move came as a response to “ever-widening anti-Russian sanctions” brought on by the Biden administration. It claimed to be targeting top executives, public intellectuals and journalists shaping what it referred to as “the Russophobic narrative” prevailing in US public debate.
Alongside Harris and Zuckerberg, the ban includes top defense and justice officials; the CEOs of LinkedIn and Bank of America; high-profile foreign affairs commentators; as well as the editor of the Russia-focused Meduza news website.
In a statement Thursday, the ministry said that the travel bans would apply “in perpetuity” and that the sanctions list would be updated “shortly” in responsible to the “hostile actions” of Western authorities.
Similar restrictions were imposed on 61 Canadian citizens, similarly accused of spearheading “Russophobic” policies. Those sanctioned include Cameron Ahmad, director of communications to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Canadian Special Operations Forces Commander Steve Boivin.
Also on Thursday, Russia ordered the closure of all consular missions maintained in the country by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, expelling all their non-Russian staff in retaliation to similar moves by the Baltic states.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official raised the possibility of a Ukrainian airstrike against the strategically important bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland. His statement on Thursday prompted angry denouncements from top Russian political figures.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, was asked in an interview with Ukraine’s Radio NV whether Kyiv would be able to hit the $4 billion Kerch bridge, which is Moscow’s only direct road link to the peninsula, in order to stem the flow of military resupplies channeled through it.
“Had we been able to do it, we would have already done it,” Danilov said in response. “If there is a possibility, we will definitely do it.”
He did not clarify whether Kyiv currently has the capability to carry out an attack.
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, branded Danilov’s statement “nothing else than the announcement of a possible terrorist act” and “unacceptable.”
Speaking at a regular press briefing on Thursday, Peskov added that “all security measures” were in place around the Kerch bridge and “other strategic facilities.”
LONDON — Western officials say Ukraine will need economic and military support for months to come as the war grinds into a long conflict.
As Russia’s invasion enters a new phase focused on the eastern Donbas region, an official said Putin “is still in a position to win” the war, but not quickly.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, two Western officials said Russia might be able to surround and destroy the bulk of Ukraine’s forces and make territorial gains. An aim of taking all of the Donbas and securing a land bridge to Crimea is “potentially within reach” for Russia’s forces.
However, officials said it is far from certain Russia will achieve that goal. They said Russia had learned some of the lessons of past failures in northern Ukraine, and was showing more effective command-and-control.
But they said Russia was still feeding troops into its eastern offensive “piecemeal” and advancing in long columns of vehicles along roads, leaving its forces vulnerable to attack.
Officials said they also have not yet seen a major push up from the south, which would allow Russian forces to trap Ukraine’s troops in a pincer movement. Partly that is due to 5,000 to 10,000 Russian troops attempting to overcome the last pocket of resistance in the port city of Mariupol.
— By Jill Lawless
LISBON, Portugal — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Portugal to support a European ban on Russian gas and oil to help his country’s war effort.
Speaking via video conference to the Portuguese parliament on Thursday, Zelenskyy asked the European Union member to help “speed up” sanctions and the delivery of more military aid.
“I hope that you will also advocate a boycott of Russian oil and gas on the EU level,” he said. “The Russian occupiers killed people purely for entertainment, killed them inside their homes and in vehicles in which children were traveling.”
The Ukrainian leader drew a parallel between his country’s fight against Russian aggression and Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution, the military coup by left-leaning officers that overthrew an authoritarian regime and ushered in democracy.
“The Portuguese know how to rid themselves of a dictatorship. … I know that our nations understand each other,” he said during his speech that earned him a standing ovation by lawmakers.
The mayor of the besieged port city of Mariupol says Russian troops are burying Ukrainian civilians killed in the conflict in order to cover up “military crimes.”
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko claimed that the Russians buried hundreds of civilians killed in Manhush outside Mariupol.
Boychenko said that “the bodies started disappearing from the streets of the city,” charging that the Russians were “hiding the trace of their crimes and using mass graves as one of the instruments for that.”
He said that the Russians dug huge trenches near Manhush, 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) west of Mariupol. “They are taking the bodies of the dead residents of Mariupol in trucks and throw them into those trenches.” He said during an online briefing.
“They are hiding their military crimes,” he said.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says he is sending another $800 million in weapons and ammunition to Ukraine in the coming days, calling it the “frontlines of freedom” as it defends itself against a Russian invasion.
This $800 million arms package raises to $3.4 billion the amount of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine since the Russians began their invasion Feb. 24.
Biden says he will ask Congress next week to approve billions more dollars in aid for Ukraine because the assistance package passed last month is now “almost exhausted.” He said officials were still sorting out the appropriate amount to request.
Biden said the U.S. has “the capacity to do this for a long time” as it ships arms to Ukraine, but must work harder to maintain international pressure on Russia in retaliation for its invasion.
Biden said despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims, “There is no evidence yet that Mariupol is completely fallen.” Ukrainian forces and civilians are encircled in a massive steel plant in the city and Biden called on Russia to provide humanitarian corridors so that civilians may flee safely.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is making it easier for refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine to come to the United States from Europe while trying to shut down an informal route through northern Mexico that has emerged in recent weeks.
A program announced Thursday will streamline refugee applications for Ukrainians and others fleeing the fighting. But it will no longer routinely grant entry to those who show up at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, as thousands have done since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began almost two months ago.
The U.S. says it expects to admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine and about 15,000 have come since the Feb. 24 invasion, mostly through Mexico. Officials said that, starting Monday, that route will no longer be an option except in extreme circumstances.
WASHINGTON — A Treasury official says the United States will provide an additional $500 million in financial assistance to Ukraine to help it sustain salaries, pensions and other government programs.
The official was not authorized to speak publicly ahead of an announcement on Thursday, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, along with Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo and Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko.
The new funding comes on top of $500 million in economic aid that President Joe Biden unveiled in March.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings dominated by conversations over how to manage the spillover from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
— By Fatima Hussein and Chris Megerian
KYIV, Ukraine — Denmark’s prime minister has announced during a visit to Kyiv that her country will more than double the amount it has given to Ukraine to buy weapons.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Thursday that Denmark will donate 600 million kroner ($87.4 million). Standing alongside Spanish counterpart Pedro Sánchez and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, she called it a “new, significant contribution.”
Frederiksen said the total Danish military contribution is now 1 billion kroner. Denmark also will assist Ukraine in the clearing mines in areas that are under Ukrainian control.
This story corrects kroner to dollar conversion.
BERLIN — The U.N. migration agency says the number of people displaced within Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began has risen to 7.7 million.
The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said Thursday that more than 600,000 additional people were displaced within the country in the first 17 days of April.
The figures from the IOM came a day after the U.N. refugee agency said the number of people who have fled Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24 has risen to more than 5 million.
The IOM said that more than half of the internally displaced people, mostly in the east of the country, reported a lack of some food products. It said their most pressing problems include cash and access to financial support, followed by medicines.
Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s Foreign Ministry says that Poland has frozen the bank account of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw over suspicions it was being used for purposes that were “not good.”
Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said Thursday that the account was frozen by prosecutors. He said that Poland’s embassy and consulates in Russia have been exposed to various retaliatory steps — with roads around the embassy in Moscow dug up for the past two weeks, complicating entry to and exit from the compound.
He said that almost prevented the departure of Polish diplomats expelled by Russia in the international spat over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Jasina didn’t give further details of the action by prosecutors. According to the Business Insider portal, prosecutors ordered the freezing of the embassy account and that of Russia’s trade mission in Poland for six months shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, saying the money in the accounts may be used to finance terrorism.
LONDON — Britain’s government has announced new sanctions against leaders in Russia’s army responsible for “committing atrocities on the frontline.”
The Foreign Office said Thursday that it’s targeting several Russian generals and military commanders including Lt. Col. Azatbek Omurbekov. Authorities say the so-called “Butcher of Bucha” commanded forces that occupied the town outside Kyiv where multiple reports of war crimes and civilian killings have surfaced.
Omurbekov and several others were subject to a travel ban and asset freeze. British authorities also said Thursday that they are expanding their sanctions list to individuals and companies that are supporting President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They include Oleg Belozyorov, CEO of logistics company Russian Railways, and Russian weapons suppliers and manufacturers such as Kalashnikov Concern.
MILAN — Italian energy company ENI has signed a deal with the Republic of Congo to increase natural gas production and supply to Italy, as part of European moves to cut dependence on Russian energy over its invasion of Ukraine.
The deal signed Thursday comes on top of recent deals to increase production and delivery from Algeria and Angola. Italy currently gets some 38% of its natural gas from Russia, and has signed deals to replace about half.
The new deal signed in Brazzaville calls for a new liquefied natural gas project that is expected to launch next year with a capacity of up to 4.5 billion cubic meters a year for export. ENI said it also agreed to back sustainable energy projects in the central African country.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to the Ukrainian president says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol means that the Russian military is unable to perform the task.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Thursday that “they cannot physically capture Azovstal,” a giant steel plant that is Ukraine’s last stronghold in the strategic Sea of Azov port.
Arestovich’s statement followed Putin’s attempt to claim control of Mariupol even though Ukrainian defenders have continued to fight at Azovstal. Putin ordered his defense minister not to send troops to storm the plant and to block it instead.
HELSINKI — Latvia’s Parliament has approved a statement accusing Russia of carrying out genocide against the Ukrainian people.
The statement approved unanimously Thursday by the Baltic country’s 100-seat Saeima legislature pointed to extensive testimony and evidence of crimes committed by the Russian military in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol and elsewhere.
It said that, as a member of the United Nations, Council of Europe, European Union and NATO, Latvia cannot accept Russia’s actions. Neighboring Estonia’s Parliament agreed later Thursday on a similar statement.
The Latvian statement also called on EU member countries to stop importing Russian oil and gas immediately.
MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Russia’s military operation in Ukraine “continues according to plan” although President Vladimir Putin has ordered his forces not to storm the Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the port city of Mariupol.
Peskov told reporters on Thursday that “there was and still is an opportunity for Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms and come out via established corridors.”
He said that “the operation continues according to plan” and that Mariupol “has been liberated.” Asked whether the order not to storm the steel plant represented a change of plans, he said that “this is a separate facility where the remaining group of Ukrainian nationalists is completely blocked.”