Russian FM repeats nuclear war rhetoric as invasion of Ukraine continues

Air raid sirens blared throughout Ukraine overnight * At least eight Ukrainians were killed in Russian strikes overnight

 People walk past a destroyed vehicle on a road, amid Russia' ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, Ukraine, March 2, 2022 in this still image taken from video. Video taken March 2, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/via Reuters TV)
People walk past a destroyed vehicle on a road, amid Russia' ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, Ukraine, March 2, 2022 in this still image taken from video. Video taken March 2, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/via Reuters TV)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the West was "hatching" plans for a nuclear war, as Russian forces continued to bombard Ukrainian cities on the eighth day of its invasion into Ukraine.

"Everyone understands that the third world can only be nuclear. But I draw your attention to the fact that it is in the head of Western politicians that a nuclear war is constantly spinning, and not in the head of Russians," said Lavrov, according to TASS.

The Russian foreign minister stressed that Russia would not allow what he called a provocation to make it lose its balance, but warned that "those who hatch such plans" should think about what would happen if a "real war" is unleashed against Russia.

Lavrov claimed that the West was using talk of a nuclear war to "continue Russophobia."

Lavrov additionally stressed that Russia has a military doctrine that does not include an "escalation for the sake of de-escalation."

 Remains of a residential building destroyed by shelling, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, are pictured in Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 2, 2022. (credit: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters) Remains of a residential building destroyed by shelling, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, are pictured in Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 2, 2022. (credit: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

The Russian foreign minister added that Russia would complete the demilitarization of Ukraine, even if peace agreements are reached, according to TASS. "Demilitarization in this sense, in the sense of destroying the weapons infrastructure that threatens us, it will be completed, even if we sign a peace agreement, it will definitely have to include such a clause."

He added that Russia would demand that Ukraine not join NATO.

The Russian foreign minister also repeated claims of "Nazism" in Ukraine, saying that it targeted not only Russians, but also Jews. He pointed to aggressive statements and torch marches as examples of what he called the "many, many simply physical crimes" against Russians and Jews.

Russia confronts Finland, Sweden amid interest in joining NATO

Russia sent letters to Finland and Sweden demanding that they provide security guarantees, according to the Echo of Moscow radio station, as the Nordic countries expressed interest in joining NATO and Russia's invasion of Ukraine entered its eighth day.

The liberal aligned "Echo of Moscow" radio station was taken off the air by Russian authorities on Tuesday. The board of directors of the Echo of Moscow decided to dissolve the station and its website on Thursday morning.

The Russian demands come after surveys in both Finland and Sweden showed rising public support for joining NATO and two citizens' initiatives calling on the Finnish government to hold a referendum on the matter or to join the alliance without a referendum reached the number of signatures needed to require parliament to discuss them.

The latest initiative stated that Finland must join NATO in order to fulfill its constitutional obligation to safeguard human rights.

Four Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace on Wednesday, with Sweden's Air Force commander calling the act "unprofessional and irresponsible."

On Friday, Russia warned neighboring Finland of "serious military and political" repercussions if the Scandinavian nation opts to join NATO following the invasion of Ukraine.

Air raid sirens blare overnight

Air raid sirens were activated a number of times overnight Wednesday throughout Ukraine, with multiple explosions reported in Kyiv overnight.

Eight people, including at least two children, were killed in a Russian airstrike on Izyum, south of Kharkiv, on Wednesday night, according to the deputy chairman of the Izyum city council. A police department building was also hit in the strike.

In Sumy, the area's Regional Military Administration reported that five people were injured in a missile strike on the military department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the 27th Rocket Artillery Brigade and the cadet corps.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday morning that four large Russian landing vessels and three missile boats had been seen in the Black Sea heading towards Odessa.

A Thursday morning intelligence update from the UK Defense Ministry stated that the large Russian column advancing on Ukraine's capital was still 30km away from the center of the city due to staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown and congestion. The update added that little discernible progress had been made in over three days.

The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mairupol were targeted by heavy Russian shelling but remained under Ukrainian control as of Thursday morning.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed on Thursday morning that they had downed a Russian SU-30 fighter jet over Irpin.

The Armed Forces additionally claimed Thursday that it had killed about 9,000 Russian soldiers and destroyed 217 tanks, 11 anti-aircraft systems, 30 aircraft, 31 helicopters and three UAVs.

A million people have fled Ukraine in a week after Russia invaded the country, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Twitter.

"In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi posted.

"For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it's time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided."

The UN nuclear watchdog's board of governors on Thursday passed a resolution criticizing Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and calling on it to let Ukraine control all its nuclear facilities, with just two votes against, diplomats said.

The board said in its resolution that it "deplores the Russian Federation's actions in Ukraine".

Twenty-six countries voted in favor and two voted against with five abstentions, two diplomats said. One diplomat said Russia and China voted against while Pakistan, India, South Africa, Senegal and Vietnam abstained. Mexico and Burundi were absent, they added.

Ukraine asked the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to seek NATO help with closing the air over Ukrainian nuclear sites to prevent act of "nuclear terrorism" by Russia, Kyiv's energy ministry said on Thursday.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors and Russia has already seized the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant during its week-long invasion of its neighbor.

Russians speak out against Putin's war

Over 7,600 Russians have been arrested at anti-war protests throughout the country, since February 24, according to independent monitor OVD-info. Over 720 people were detained in protests around the country on Wednesday alone.

Russian police arrest anti-war protesters including elderly woman in St. Petersburg (Credit: Anadolu Agency via Reuters)

One of the Russians arrested at a protest in St. Petersburg on Wednesday was Yelena Osipova, known as one of the last survivors of the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II.

The Investigative Committee of Russia warned citizens against taking part in protests, saying that they could face up to eight years in prison for participating and up to 15 years for organizing them. Minors can face up to three years in prison.

The Russian State Duma approved an amendment on Thursday setting the punishment for the "public dissemination of deliberately false information" about the Russian Armed Forces to imprisonment for up to 15 years and fines reaching as much as five million roubles, according to TASS.

Foreign aid continues to enter Ukraine

Germany is considering supplying 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine as it seeks to defend itself against an invasion by Russia, a government source said on Thursday.

German news agency DPA reported earlier that the economy ministry had approved supplying the Soviet-made Strela missiles, part of the inventories of the former German Democratic Republic's army.

A source told Reuters that the Federal Security Council had yet to approve the move. "The missiles are ready to be transported," the source said.

That would come on top of 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles that Germany said on Saturday it would supply to Ukraine, in a shift of policy after Russia invaded its neighbor.

Britain on Thursday said it would cut Russian companies out of the London insurance market, the world's largest commercial and speciality insurance center.

Russian companies in the aviation or space industry will be blocked from accessing British-based insurance or reinsurance services directly or indirectly, Britain's finance ministry said.

"The UK Government will bring in legislation to prohibit UK-based insurance and reinsurance providers from undertaking financial transactions connected with a Russian entity or for use in Russia," the Treasury department said. "Further details of the legislation will be available in due course."

Hungary will not veto European Union sanctions against Russia and the unity of the 27-member bloc is paramount given the war in Ukraine, which Hungary condemns unequivocally, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

Orban, who has been strongly criticized by the Hungarian opposition for his friendly ties with Russia, flagged what he called an adjustment in relations because of the war, though adding that should not have an impact on energy deals.

This week, Hungary joined an initiative by eight EU leaders to start membership talks with neighboring Ukraine, but NATO-member Hungary has rejected the transport of lethal weapons through its territory to its eastern neighbor.

"With regard to sanctions, we will not veto them. We will not block the EU from imposing sanctions on Russia. Now the unity of the EU is paramount," the nationalist Orban told the news website mandiner.hu in an interview published on Thursday.

Hungary's ties with Russia had been "balanced and fair" until the very recent past, but this had changed, he said.

"The start of the war has created a new situation for Hungary too," Orban said. "We need to adjust Hungary's objectives and the Hungarian interests in this new situation."

Orban added, however, that there was no reason to cut energy ties with Russia, including a 12.5 billion euro ($13.87 billion) deal for Russian Rosatom to expand Hungary's Paks nuclear power plant, which accounts for about half of its electricity output.

"EU leaders have also declared that the sanctions cannot affect energy shipments from Russia, because that would wreck the European economy," Orban said.

"The same applies to the Paks expansion project. Without Paks, we would have to import even more Russian gas at an even higher cost."

Hungary signed a new long-term gas import agreement with Russia last year to import 4.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year on routes avoiding Ukraine.

The Russian rouble slid further on Thursday, hitting record lows against the dollar and euro, after ratings agencies Fitch and Moody's downgraded Russia's sovereign debt to "junk" status citing the impact of Western sanctions.

At 08:30 GMT, the rouble was more than 10% weaker against the dollar at 117.5 RUBUTSTN=MCX and had lost over 7% against the euro to trade at 124.1 EURRUBTN=MCX on the Moscow Exchange, marking the first time the rouble has traded above 110 to the dollar in Moscow.