Russia-Ukraine war: Russia outraged at Poland's expulsion of diplomats

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation," has triggered Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War Two.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022.  (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)

The United States plans to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, two sources familiar with the forthcoming announcement told Reuters. The US will also announce $1 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

The United States is also launching the 'European Democratic Resilience Initiative' with $320 million in funding to support media freedom, social resistance, and human rights in Ukraine and nearby countries, the official said.

The expected announcement comes as US President Joe Biden meets with European leaders on Thursday to coordinate Western nations' response to Moscow's assault on its neighboring country.

It was not immediately clear how the effort would work, including travel and immigration logistics.

Not all of the accepted Ukrainians will come through the US refugee program, one Biden administration official said, with others coming on family-based visas or another process known as humanitarian parole.

Ukraine deserves to be full member of EU - Zelensky

Ukraine is fighting for the security of the whole of Europe and should be a full member of the European Union, President Volodymyr Zelensky told Swedish lawmakers on Thursday via video link.

"We are not fighting just for the people of Ukraine, but for Europe's security and we have shown that we deserve to be a fully-fledged member of the EU," Zelensky said in an address to Sweden's parliament.

"It's time to go ahead with that decision and I am convinced you are going to support us even in that."

Millions of Ukrainians have fled the country in the month since Russia launched its invasion, which Moscow calls a "special military operation" to "denazify" its neighbor.

Western allies have imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia and provided weapons and aid worth billions of dollars for Ukraine's defense. 

NATO, the G7 and the EU were all set to hold summits on Thursday with further measures directed against Russia expected to be agreed upon.

Zelensky, who addressed NATO and EU leaders by video-conference, called for more sanctions and asked for Swedish help to rebuild Ukraine when the war is over.

"I want Swedish companies, Swedish architects, the Swedish state and the Swedish people to take part in that," he said through a translator.

"We will rebuild for the sake of the people ... for the sake of Europe."

Zelenskiy appealed to NATO leaders on Thursday to increase military support for his country against Russian forces that he warned would next target alliance members in eastern Europe including Poland.

Russia "wants to go further. Against eastern members of NATO. The Baltic states. Poland for sure," Zelenskiy said in a pre-recorded video address to a NATO summit which was released in advance by the Ukrainian presidency.

"But NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people," he said.

NATO leaders on Thursday agreed to bolster defenses, particularly in Eastern Europe, and will deploy four new combat units in Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, US President Joe Biden said in a statement.

NATO leaders will also develop plans for additional forces and capabilities before their June summit, Biden said in a statement during his trip to Europe to address Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

EU countries should consider imposing sanctions on energy imports from Russia to attempt to stop the war in Ukraine, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Karins said on Thursday.

"Energy sanctions are a way to stop money flowing into Putin's war coffers", Karins said upon his arrival for a summit with EU leaders in Brussels.

"The most logical place to move forward is in oil and coal. We have to stop Putin. Because if we do not stop Putin, Putin will not stop."

Biden calls for Russia to removed from G20

US President Joe Biden said he thinks Russia should be removed from the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies and the topic was raised during his meetings with world leaders in Brussels earlier on Thursday.

"My answer is yes, depends on the G20," Biden said, when asked if Russia should be removed from the group.

Biden also said if countries such as Indonesia and others do not agree with removing Russia, then in his view, Ukraine should be allowed to attend the meetings.

Biden said on Thursday that China understands its economic future is more closely tied to the West than to Russia, after warning Beijing it could face consequences for aiding Moscow's war in Ukraine.

"I made no threats but I made it clear to him - made sure he understood the consequences of helping Russia," Biden said of a recent conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.​

"China understands that its economic future is much more closely tied to the West than it is to Russia."

Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of emergency meetings in Europe, Biden said he also pointed out to Xi the number of American and foreign companies that have left Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General to extend term

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is set to extend his term as head of the alliance by another year due to the war in Ukraine, Norwegian broadcaster TV2 and daily Dagens Naeringsliv reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Stoltenberg's current term expires on October 1 and he had been due to take up a post as central bank governor of his native Norway by the end of 2022.

When asked on Wednesday whether he would stay on at NATO, Stoltenberg said any such decision was up to member countries to make.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation," has triggered Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War Two and led Western nations to fundamentally rethink their defense policies.

Stoltenberg, an economist by training and former leader of Norway's Labour Party, was Norwegian prime minister from 2000-01 and 2005-13 before becoming NATO chief the following year. He has also been finance minister and energy minister.

 US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday. (credit: Olivier Douliery/Reuters) US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday. (credit: Olivier Douliery/Reuters)

The Norwegian government last month named deputy central bank chief Ida Wolden Bache governor of Norges Bank for up to nine months, with Stoltenberg slated to take the top job by year-end.

The central bank governor is in charge of setting interest rates and managing financial stability as well as overseeing Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest with assets of $1.4 trillion.

Russia outraged at Poland's expulsion of diplomats

Russia accused Poland on Thursday of trying to destroy bilateral relations by expelling 45 of its diplomats, and said it would respond harshly.

The Russian ambassador said Poland, which said on Wednesday it was expelling the diplomats on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence, had also blocked the embassy's bank accounts.

The Russian foreign ministry said the expulsions were "a conscious step towards the final destruction of bilateral relations, the dismantling of which our Polish 'partners' have been systematically carrying out for a long time."

It added: "Russia will not leave this hostile attack without a response, which will make Polish provocateurs think and will hurt them."

Bulgaria

Bulgaria will recall its ambassador to Russia for consultations in response to "undiplomatic, sharp and rude" comments from the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Thursday.

"We will call back our ambassador from Russia for consultations back to Bulgaria ... Usually when one country calls back its ambassador for consultations, the other should follow and do the same," Petkov said.

Earlier this week in an interview to a Russian TV channel, Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova said that the Bulgarian people did not support the government's rhetoric and position towards what Russia refers to "special operation" in Ukraine.

UN General Assembly overwhelmingly condemns Russia

Almost three-quarters of the UN General Assembly demanded aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine on Thursday, and criticized Russia for creating a "dire" humanitarian situation after Moscow invaded its neighbor one month ago.

It is the second time the 193-member General Assembly has overwhelmingly isolated Russia over what Moscow calls a "special military operation" that is says aims to destroy Ukraine's military infrastructure.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has blasted Russia's "absurd war." Thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine, millions made refugees, and cities pulverized in the past month.

The resolution adopted on Thursday, which was drafted by Ukraine and allies, received 140 votes in favor and five votes against - Russia, Syria, North Korean, Eritrea and Belarus - while 38 countries, including China, abstained.

General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, but they carry political weight. There was a round of applause in the hall after the adoption on Thursday.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia described the resolution adopted on Thursday as a "pseudo humanitarian draft" that took a "one-sided view of the situation." He again accused Western countries of a campaign of "unprecedented pressure" to win votes, a claim that the United States has rejected.

Ukraine and its allies had been looking to match or improve on support received for a March 2 General Assembly resolution that deplored Russia's "aggression" and demanded it withdraw its troops. That received 141 yes votes, the same five no votes, while 35 states - including China - abstained.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield described the vote on Thursday as an "astounding success," telling reporters: "There's really no difference between 141 and 140."

The resolution adopted on Thursday demands the protection of civilians, medical personnel, aid workers, journalists, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. It also demands an end to the siege of cities, in particular Mariupol.

Ukraine and Western allies have accused Moscow of attacking civilians indiscriminately. Moscow denies attacking civilians.

The resolution echoes the March 2 General Assembly text by again demanding that Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

South Africa had proposed a rival draft resolution that focused on the humanitarian situation and did not mention Russia. Russia appealed for countries to support that text.

The General Assembly decided not to act on the South African draft after Ukraine called a vote under a rule covering draft resolutions on the same issue.

The General Assembly vote came one day after a Russian-drafted resolution calling for aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine - and not mentioning Moscow's role - failed at the UN Security Council, with only Russia and China voting yes and the remaining 13 members abstaining.

The Russian Security Council draft was very similar to the text put forward in the General Assembly by South Africa.

Belarus blocked from WTO

The United States, the European Union and largely western allies have blocked Belarus' bid to join the World Trade Organization, saying its complicity in Russia's invasion of Ukraine makes it unfit for membership in the global trade group.

G7 countries and allies have already stripped Moscow of its privileged trade treatment at the WTO, known as "most favored nation" status, clearing the way for them to hit Russian imports with higher tariffs or ban them entirely.

The western group halted work on Belarus' WTO accession process after President Alexander Lukashenko crushed protests following his 2020 re-election that opponents say was fraudulent.

The group on Thursday said in a document filed at the WTO that it strongly condemned Russia's unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine, enabled by Belarus. Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation,” has used Belarusian territory to launch its attack.

"We condemn Belarus for its complicity in Russia's aggression, which is incompatible with the values and principles of the WTO and of a just rules-based order," the filing said.

"For these reasons, we have concluded that Belarus is unfit for WTO membership. We will not further consider its application for accession," the filing said.