LONDON — Britain’s Foreign Office says it is concerned about reports that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich may have been poisoned as he participated in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
The investigative news outlet Bellingcat reported Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian delegates suffered symptoms of nerve agent poisoning after attending peace talks on March 3. Abramovich, whose exact role in the talks hasn’t been confirmed, has now recovered.
The Foreign Office said in a statement Tuesday that “the allegations are very concerning.»
A Bellingcat investigator said the dosage wasn’t lethal and the “most plausible” explanation for the alleged attack is that it was a warning to Abramovich and any other wealthy Russians who might seek to intervene in the negotiations.
“He volunteered to play … this role of (an) honest broker, but other oligarchs had … declared certain independence from the Kremlin position and criticize the war,” Christo Grozev told Times Radio. “So it could well be seen as a warning sign to them to not join the ranks of those who dissent, and to not be too much of an honest broker.”
Abramovich, owner of London soccer club Chelsea, had his British assets frozen by the U.K. government earlier this month as authorities targeted wealthy Russians with close ties to the Kremlin. Those sanctions also cover Chelsea, limiting ticket sales and spending by the club.
Asked about the alleged poisoning and Abramovich’s role in the negotations, a spokesperson for him declined to comment.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— New round of talks aims to stop the fighting in Ukraine
— Many in Mideast see hypocrisy in Western embrace of Ukraine
— After Russian forces pull back, a shattered town breathes
— Pentagon may need more budget funding to help Ukraine
— UN chief launches effort for Ukraine humanitarian cease-fire
— Ukraine’s other fight: Growing food for itself and the world
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lawmakers in Lithuania are debating a ban on using the ‘Z’ symbol to show support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Russian troops in Ukraine have painted the letter Z on the side of vehicles and it has been adopted by some in Russia as a symbol of support for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation.”
Lithuania, which already has outlawed Soviet and Nazi symbols, also wants to ban the black-and-orange ribbon that was originally a military decoration is now used as a of remembrance of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
Lawmaker Monika Osmianskiene said the symbols “are becoming a symbol not only of propaganda but also of aggression.
A vote in Lithuania’s parliament is expected this week. If it passes, people who violate a ban could face a fine of up to 500 euros ($550).
HELSINKI — Finland’s main intelligence agency warns that Russia is likely to carry out cyber and information operations against the Nordic country in the coming months as the government and lawmakers debate possible NATO membership.
The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service said in its annual report published Tuesday that it considers “unlawful intelligence operations of Russia” to be among the main current threats to Finland’s national security.
Director Antti Pelttari said that “Finnish society as a whole should be prepared for various measures from Russia seeking to influence policymaking in Finland on the NATO issue.”
Several polls in recent weeks have shown a majority of Finns now supporting NATO membership, up from 25% at most before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland shares the longest border of any European Union member with Russia.
Moscow has said it would consider Finland and neighboring Sweden joining NATO a hostile move that would have serious military and political repercussions.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s defense minister says the country is “on alert” against naval mines after authorities detected and deactivated two explosive devices floating in the Black Sea.
Hulusi Akar told journalists late Monday that authorities were still trying to determine whether the mines had drifted from Ukrainian waters. He had no information on the number of anti-ship devices that may be floating in the sea.
Akar said in comments released by his ministry Tuesday: “Whether the mines that were laid in Ukraine have arrived, or whether other mines were activated — it would not be right to say anything without being certain about it.”
“Our mine-sweeping vessels and maritime patrol planes are on alert,” he said. “Detected mines are immediately destroyed in a safe manner.”
Akar added that Turkey was cooperating with Romania and Bulgaria to detect mines.
Turkish military teams disabled two naval mines in the past four days, including one on Saturday that forced the temporary closure of the Bosporus Strait. The sighting followed warnings that mines laid at the entrances to Ukrainian ports could break free in heavy weather and cross the Black Sea.
BERLIN — The U.N. nuclear watchdog says its director-general has arrived in Ukraine for talks with senior government officials on delivering “urgent technical assistance” to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that Rafael Mariano Grossi’s aim is to “to initiate prompt safety and security support” for Ukraine’s nuclear sites. That will include sending IAEA experts to “prioritized facilities” and sending “vital safety and security supplies” including monitoring and emergency equipment.
It said that Grossi will travel to one of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants this week, but didn’t say which one. Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four active power plants, and also is home to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl and of the largest active power plant, at Zaporizhzhia.
Grossi said in a statement that “the military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger.”
He added that “there have already been several close calls. We can’t afford to lose any more time.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s foreign minister, called on countries to ban the use of the letter “Z” as a symbol of the Russian war on Ukraine.
In a tweet Tuesday, Dmytro Kuleba said the letter in some contexts “means Russian war crimes, bombed out cities, thousands of murdered Ukrainians.”
Russian troops in Ukraine have painted the letter Z on the side of vehicles and it has been adopted by some in Russia as a symbol of support for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation” in the neighboring country.
A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said Monday that security services are aware the symbol is also being used at rallies in Germany. He said the letter can under certain circumstances be considered a sign of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and could make people “criminally liable.” Several German states have said they will open investigations into the use of the symbol.
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says her country is working toward a ‘de facto’ embargo of Russian oil because of the war in Ukraine.
Germany has long relied on fossil fuels from Russia and Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that suddenly halting imports could have severe economic consequences for his country.
But Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday that Germany is nevertheless aiming for a “complete national exit from Russian fossil fuel dependence.”
She cited recent efforts to diversify Germany’s imports that aim to end the use of Russian oil and coal this year, and natural gas by mid-2024.
“You can (…) call it a national, step-by-step, de facto embargo particularly of oil,” Baerbock said at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue conference.
LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government says it is operating three humanitarian corridors Tuesday to move civilians out of the besieged port of Mariupol and two Russian-occupied cities in the south.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says that besides Mariupol, evacuations will run from Enerhodar and Melitopol. Those cities have both been under Russian control for weeks and have seen protests and alleged kidnappings of pro-Ukraine local politicians.
The routes all converge in the Ukraine-controlled southern city of Zaporizhzhia.
Russia operates its own evacuation routes, which Ukraine has alleged are cover for forcibly deporting Ukrainian civilians to Russia. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of obstructing evacuations.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official says an explosion struck a nine-story administration building in the strategic port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning as talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Istanbul began.
The Telegram channel of the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, showed a gaping hole in the center of the building. Kim said most people escaped the building and rescuers were searching for a handful of missing people.
NEW YORK — Bloomberg News says it has suspended its operations in Russia and Belarus, citing international condemnation and sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The financial news company said customers in both Russia and Belarus will be unable to access any of Bloomberg’s financial products including terminals, data licenses, data feeds and electronic trading platforms.
Trading functions for Russian securities were disabled in line with international sanctions, it said.
Earlier, Bloomberg suspended the work of its journalists in Russia and removed Russian stocks from its global equity indexes. Russian bonds will be removed with the month-end rebalancing, the company said in a statement.
It said Bloomberg Philanthropies had pledged $40 million to the International Rescue Committee and the World Central Kitchen to help Ukrainians and refugees in the region and elsewhere.
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a cease-fire as the Russian and Ukrainian delegations resumed their talks in Istanbul.
In a speech at the start Tuesday, Erdogan said progress in the talks could pave the way for a meeting between the two countries’ leaders.
“We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” Erdogan said. “As members of the delegations you have taken on a historic responsibility. The whole world is awaiting the good news that will come from you.”
The delegations are scheduled to hold two days of talks in a government building adjacent to the 19th-century Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, on the shores of the Bosporus.
Earlier talks between the sides, held in person in Belarus or by video, failed to make progress on ending the monthlong war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.
Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country is prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow has demanded, and is open to compromise on the fate of the Donbas, the contested region in the country’s east.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military says Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war.
In a post Tuesday, the military said the Orthodox church — the country’s majority religion — was the most affected but that mosques, synagogues, Protestant churches and religious schools were also destroyed.
In a map provided by the military, the destruction appears concentrated around Kyiv and in the country’s east.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief has launched an initiative to immediately explore possible arrangements for “a humanitarian cease-fire in Ukraine” in order to allow the delivery of desperately needed aid and pave the way for serious political negotiations to end the monthlong war.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he asked Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths, the head of the U.N.’s worldwide humanitarian operations, to explore the possibility of a cease-fire with Russia and Ukraine. He said Griffiths has already made some contacts.
The 193-member U.N. General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority of about 140 nations, has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine twice — on March 2 and on March 24 — and Guterres told reporters he thinks “this is the moment” for the United Nations “to assume the initiative.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the secretary-general said there has been a “senseless loss of thousands of lives,” displacement of 10 million people, systematic destruction of homes, schools, hospitals and other essential infrastructure, “and skyrocketing food and energy prices worldwide.”
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Monday that Russian forces are still attacking Kyiv, despite being driven out of Irpin, a suburb northwest of the capital that has seen heavy fighting.
He said the Russians remain in control of northern suburbs and are trying to regroup after losing Irpin on Monday. He urged Ukrainians not to let up in the war.
“We still have to fight, we have to endure,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation. “We can’t express our emotions now. We can’t raise expectations, simply so that we don’t burn out.”
He said the situation remains tense in the northeast, around Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and also in the eastern Donbas region and in the south around Mariupol, which remains blockaded by Russian troops.
The president said no humanitarian corridors could be opened Monday out of the besieged city.
Zelenskyy said he spoke Monday with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Britain, Canada and Germany, urging them to strengthen the sanctions against Russia.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon may have to ask Congress for additional money to support Ukraine’s battle against Russia’s invasion, including to replenish America’s arsenal for weapons sent to Kyiv, officials said Monday.
Rolling out the Defense Department’s $773 billion request for fiscal 2023, Pentagon leaders said the budget was finalized before the invasion so it has no specific money for the war. Congress approved a $13.5 billion emergency funding package in early March.
The leaders said it was too early to predict how quickly Ukrainian forces will use up the weapons and ammunition already being provided, and how much the U.S. will need to replace what it sends to Ukraine, such as Stinger and Javelin missiles or body armor and other equipment.