Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now

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Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for rejecting its demand for payment in roubles, taking direct aim at European economies in its toughest retaliation so far against international sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

The step was denounced by European leaders as “blackmail”, and comes as European countries have joined the United States in ramping up arms shipments to help Ukraine fend off a new Russian assault in the east.

Russia reported a series of blasts in the south of the country and a fire at an ammunition depot, the latest in a spate incidents that a Ukrainian official described as payback and “karma” for Moscow’s invasion.

* Russian forces were attacking a huge steel plant where fighters and some civilians are holed up in the southern city of Mariupol, an aide to the city’s mayor said.

Petro Andryushchenko also said no agreements had been reached on trying to evacuate civilians from Mariupol on Wednesday.

* Russia’s defence ministry said its Kalibr missiles had struck an arms depot in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region housing weapons from the United States and European countries.

* Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces were pressing their offensive in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions and had captured several settlements.

Reports of battlefield developments could not be immediately verified by Reuters.

* Ukraine’s lead negotiator said no agreement had been reached for the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to discuss the war despite efforts by Turkey to arrange talks.

* Germany announced its first delivery of heavy weapons – Gepard or Cheetah tanks with anti-aircraft guns – to Ukraine after weeks of pressure at home and abroad.

* Russian President Vladimir Putin said any countries attempting to interfere in Ukraine would receive a swift response, and that the relevant decisions had been taken.

* The United Nations said Putin had agreed “in principle” to involvement by the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from the Mariupol steel plant.

* Moscow freed former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, jailed on charges of fighting with police, in exchange for the United States releasing Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, jailed for drug trafficking.

* Ukraine accused Russia of trying to drag Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria into its war after authorities in the Russia-backed region, adjacent to southwest Ukraine, said they had suffered a series of attacks.

* The European Commission proposed to suspend import duties for a year on all Ukrainian goods and to exempt Ukraine’s steel exports from anti-dumping and safeguard measures to help its economy.

* Ukrainian authorities dismantled a huge Soviet-era monument in Kyiv meant to symbolise friendship with Russia.

* Germany cut its economic growth forecast for 2022 to 2.2% from the 3.6% predicted in January as the war in Ukraine, sanctions and high energy prices take their toll.

* Ukrainian farmers close to the front line in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia are wearing body armour to plough their fields.

“The announcement by Gazprom … is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

“This is unjustified and unacceptable. And it shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier.”

SOURCE: REUTERS

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