Live updates | Biden proposes more weapons aid to Ukraine

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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.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Putin tries to claim Mariupol win but won’t storm holdout

— China’s Xi urges dispute resolution, opposes sanctions

— EXPLAINER: What’s the impact if Europe cuts off Russian oil?

— Biden set to announce 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

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

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 ($874,000). 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.

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.”

BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says her country and others are keeping up pressure on Russia to allow people out of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and stop striking potential evacuation routes.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said during a news conference with her Estonian counterpart in Tallinn Thursday that trying to ensure humanitarian corridors has been an issue for weeks. She noted that in some cases such corridors have been shot at, and “you see that assurances can’t be relied on.”

Baerbock said that Germany and partners, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, are working to “make clear that people must be able to leave the city; the Russian bombardment of routes and ways must be stopped so that innocent people can be brought to safety.”

But she added that “the situation is how it is. It is in (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s hands to stop these bombardments there.”

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s interior minister says the Balkan country should reconsider its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union because of alleged Western pressure to join international sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Aleksandar Vulin was responding Thursday to a question about a draft European Parliament resolution calling on Serbia to introduce sanctions against Russia if it really wants to join the EU.

He told the state RTS broadcaster that the draft ’’clearly indicates that the European Union does not want Serbia in its composition“ and that it’s ’’high time that Serbia also reconsiders its decision to remain on the path to EU membership.’’

Although Serbia has voted in favor of three United Nations resolutions condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine, it has refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow.

Vulin said that “we are an old, ancient, historical nation that chooses its friends. Russia is our friend.”

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s Parliament has decided that Danish students studying in Russia or Belarus will no longer be entitled to state grants from Denmark.

Under Danish law, the country’s citizens are entitled to receive financial support throughout their studies wherever they study, a system meant to ensure that people from all social backgrounds can study without having to focus on earning money. This year, they get 6,397 kroner ($931) per month before tax.

Lawmakers voted Thursday to exclude studies in Russia and Belarus from the grant program until Jan. 1, 2024.

KYIV, Ukraine — A senior Ukrainian official is demanding that the Russian military open a humanitarian corridor from the Azovstal steel plant, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the strategic port city of Mariupol.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday on the messaging app Telegram that “there are about 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded soldiers there. They all need to be pulled out of Azovstal today!”

Vereshchuk called on “world leaders and the international community to focus their efforts now on Azovstal.” She said it was a “key point and a key moment for humanitarian efforts.”

BERLIN — Official figures from Germany show that the country’s exports to Russia plunged in March as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Federal Statistical Office said on Thursday that exports to Russia were down 57.5% compared with a year earlier, at 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion), as a result of sanctions and other decisions by companies.

That left Russia as the No. 12 destination outside the European Union for German exports, compared with No. 5 in February.

Germany has Europe’s biggest economy.

BEIJING — A Russian news outlet is reporting that China’s credit card processor has refused to work with banks in Russia for fear of being targeted by sanctions over its war on Ukraine, cutting off a possible alternative after Visa and Mastercard stopped serving them.

RBC reported Wednesday that UnionPay’s decision affects Sberbank, Russia’s biggest commercial bank, and smaller institutions. It cited five unidentified sources in large Russian banks.

Mastercard and Visa suspended operations in Russia after the United States and other governments imposed trade and financial sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s government for its attack on Ukraine.

Sberbank and another institution, Tinkoff Bank, announced they were looking at switching to UnionPay, which is operated by Chinese state-owned banks. UnionPay is one of the biggest global payments processors but does almost all its business in China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces not to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged city of Mariupol but to block it “so that not even a fly comes through.”

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Thursday that the sprawling Azovstal steel plant where Ukrainian forces were holed up was “securely blocked” while the rest of the city was “liberated,” which Putin hailed as “success.”

Leaving the plant in Ukrainian hands, however, robs the Russians of the ability to declare complete victory in Mariupol. The city’s capture has both strategic and symbolic importance.

LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says Russian forces in Ukraine are advancing from staging areas in the Donbas region toward the city of Kramatorsk, which is the target of “persistent” rocket attacks.

In an intelligence update posted Thursday morning, the ministry says Russian forces may increase the intensity and forcefulness of operations in Ukraine as the Kremlin seeks to demonstrate “significant successes” before the annual Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which commemorate the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945.

The ministry also reports “high levels” of activity by Russian air forces as they provide close air support to the offensive in eastern Ukraine and try to suppress Ukraine’s air defenses.

KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv regional police said Thursday two mass graves with nine bodies were discovered the day before in the city of Borodyanka northwest of the Ukrainian capital.

Head of the Kyiv regional police Andriy Nebytov said two women and a teenager were among the “civilians killed by the Russian occupants.”

“I want to stress that these people are civilians. The Russian military deliberately shot civilians that didn’t put up any resistance and didn’t pose any threat,” Nebytov said, adding that some of the victims were apparently tortured.

All of the bodies were transported to the morgues of the Kyiv region for further forensic study.

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