Ukrainian prime minister visits White House

The Biden administration announced the same day that there will be a new program for Ukrainians who are interested in immigrating to the United States.

 RUSSIA’S FOREIGN MINISTER Sergei Lavrov shows the way to UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a meeting in Moscow last month. (photo credit: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS)
RUSSIA’S FOREIGN MINISTER Sergei Lavrov shows the way to UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a meeting in Moscow last month.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited the White House on Thursday before President Joe Biden was due to deliver remarks on the next tranche of US aid for Ukraine, a US official said.

It was not clear if the Ukrainian prime minister was meeting with Biden or whether he would be present at the upcoming announcement.

The Biden administration announced the same day that there will be a new program for Ukrainians who are interested in immigrating to the United States.

The program, called “Uniting for Ukraine,” is part of the US president's promise to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. This initiative requires, however, that Ukrainian refugees have a sponsor living in the US who can support them, NBC reported citing a senior administration official, with an online portal opening on Monday to allow sponsors to upload documents "as part of a process to ensure Ukrainians can be sponsored."

Russia decided to close down the consulates general of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in St. Petersburg as a retaliation to the "unfriendly" behavior of their host countries, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported.

Earlier in April, Latvia and Estonia each ordered the closure of two Russian consulates over Russia's actions in Ukraine, while Lithuania told the Russian ambassador to leave.

"The heads of the diplomatic missions of the three countries were summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday, where they were questioned on the closure of the Russian consulates general in Klaipeda, Liepaja, Daugavpils, Nerva and the office of the consular department of the Russian embassy in Tartu, Estonia," a statement on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Estonian President Alar Karis told CNN that the killings near Kyiv were "a crime against humanity."

Employees of closed diplomatic missions were declared persona non grata by the Russian Foreign Ministry effective immediately.

Zelensky says visit to Moscow 'out of the question' right now

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ruled out heading to Moscow for direct talks with Russian leaders on ending the war, he was quoted on Thursday as saying.

"In the name of my country, I would be ready to visit any place on this planet. But certainly not now and certainly not Moscow. That is simply out of the question," he was quoted as telling Russian media outlet Mediazona in an interview republished by Austrian newspaper Der Standard.

"Nevertheless, under different circumstances and with different rulers in Moscow, anything would be possible," he added.

The interview appeared as Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the biggest battle of the Ukraine war.

Zelensky said in the interview that Russia's political leadership had made a "catastrophic mistake" by invading his country and had dragged the Russian people into the leaders' responsibility.

"From now on, many countries will no longer be concerned with the question of whether someone is a good or a bad Russian. All Russians will be treated badly. Russia has achieved that. In the end, it's none of my business, but that should scare the Russian people," he said.

Russia bars entry to US VP Harris, other US officials and figures

Russia on Thursday expanded an entry ban on US officials to include US Vice-President Kamala Harris and 28 other American officials, businesspeople and journalists.

The sanctions list, published by the Russian foreign ministry, included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, among others.

"These individuals are denied entry into the Russian Federation indefinitely," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Japan and New Zealand issue join statement

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will keep piling pressure on Moscow, their joint statement said on Thursday.

The two leaders "will continue to raise the costs for the architects of Russia's illegal and unjustified aggression" against Ukraine, the joint statement said.

Spanish and Danish PMs visit Kyiv

The Spanish and Danish Prime Ministers Pedro Sanchez and Mette Frederiksen will visit the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Thursday to support the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, their respective offices said.

Sanchez had already arrived in Kyiv, his office said in a statement. Denmark's Prime Minister Frederiksen was in Kyiv too on Thursday morning, TV footage released by Sanchez on his Twitter account showed.

The parties would discuss further support for the Ukrainians and the prosecution of "war crimes and human rights violations," the Danish Prime Ministry said in a statement.

Sanchez and Frederiksen follow the footsteps of several other European leaders, including European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, and British and Czech premiers, who have traveled to Ukraine since Russia's invasion of the country in a show of support for its president and its people.

Spain has sent a new batch of 200 tons of ammunition and military supplies to Ukraine, more than doubling the quantity of military aid it has sent so far, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in Kyiv on Thursday.

Sanchez and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen have jointly met Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv.

Sanchez also said his country will also ask the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine and that it plans to send war crimes investigators there.

Biden to announce $800 million military aid package for Ukraine

President Joe Biden will announce an additional $800 million security assistance package for Ukraine on Thursday when he delivers an update on US efforts related to the Russian invasion, a US official said.

Biden is scheduled to address Americans from the White House Roosevelt Room at 9:45 a.m. (1345 GMT). The US official said he will share an update on American efforts to support the people of Ukraine.

The new arms package will be roughly the same size as an $800 million one announced last week but details were still being worked out, another US official told Reuters earlier.

US officials have said Ukraine needs heavy artillery, long-range rocket systems and anti-ship missiles.

On Wednesday, Biden convened US military leaders in an annual White House gathering that took on special significance as the war enters a risky new phase.

Opening the meeting, Biden touted the toughness of the Ukrainian military and said that NATO's unity had shocked Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has said it has entered a new stage of its operation and is methodically seeking to "liberate" the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Western allies anticipate Russia's campaign could last many months, grind to a stalemate and test the battlefield capabilities of Ukrainian fighters.

Russia says it launched what it calls a "special military operation" on Feb. 24 to demilitarize and "denazify" Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext.

US forces are not fighting in Ukraine but are indirectly engaged, arming, training and financing its forces.

The US aid announced last week included artillery systems, artillery rounds, armored personnel carriers and unmanned coastal defense boats, broadening the scope of materiel sent to Kyiv to include new types of heavy equipment.

If this week's aid package is as large as expected, it would bring total US military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in to well over $3 billion.

After Biden's announcement, he is to fly to the Pacific Northwest on a two-day trip to promote his domestic agenda.

Biden to ban Russian-affiliated ships from US ports

President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday the United States will ban Russian-affiliated ships from American ports, the latest step to pressure Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, sources told Reuters.

The White House will release a proclamation with more details. Reuters reported in early March the ban was under consideration by the White House.

The sources said that in 2021 Russian vessels made about 1,800 visits, a small percentage of overall traffic. The issue prompted an extensive Biden administration review to ensure the ban on Russian ships would not seriously impact US supply chains.

Canada on March 1 shuts its ports to Russian-owned ships and barred them from Canadian waters.

The United States previously barred Russian airplanes from US airspace, joining Canada and European nations in the actions.