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The U.S. has announced new sanctions against Russia and said it would welcome 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine as President Joe Biden met with world leaders for a series of emergency summits.
The war has caused a humanitarian and refugee crisis, with more than 10 million people displaced, including 4.3 million children — more than half of the country's child population, according to the U.N.
Biden said Thursday that Russia should be removed from the G-20, the group that represents 20 of the world's largest economies, as Western allies gathered in Europe to discuss new support for Kyiv.
That includes imposing further punishment on Moscow one month after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched Europe's biggest conflict since World War II.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged an increase in military aid for his country in an address at the NATO summit in Brussels via video link. His ability to rally countries to Kyiv’s cause in video messages from the capital has served as a symbol of Ukraine’s defiant defense and Russia’s struggling advance.
Biden and U.S. allies were also set to discuss moves to bolster NATO’s eastern flank and how to counter the prospect of escalation from the Kremlin amid fears of a chemical or even nuclear attack.
The White House has established a team of national security officials to plan scenarios should Putin use chemical weapons, a senior administration official said.
Russia has reached 'next level of terror' by 'forcibly deporting' Mariupol residents, Ukraine says
Russian forces have moved to "the next level of terror" by "forcibly deporting" thousands of residents from the besieged city of Mariupol to Russia, Ukraine's ministry of foreign affairs has said.
"Ukrainians (are) already now in Russian camps where they may be used as hostages," Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said in a tweet on Thursday. "This barbarity must end," he said.
His comments came after Mariupol's city council accused Russian forces of deporting thousands of residents in the port city "en masse to Russia."
In total, it said as many as 15,000 people were being "deported illegally." NBC News has not verified the claims.
Armies must agree for civilians to be evacuated from besieged cities safely, Red Cross chief says
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday that agreement between the Russian and Ukrainian armies was needed before civilians could be evacuated properly from Ukraine.
"We think we are confronted with a very complex frontline at the present moment in Ukraine which sees a lot of people trapped and people caught people in between frontlines," Red Cross chief Peter Maurer told a news conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
"It's not possible to think about access or evacuation, either in Mariupol or another place, if we don't have a solid ... and detailed agreement between the militaries on the ground."
Street fighting and bombardments have raged in the besieged city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov as residents remain trapped inside buildings with no access to food, water power or heat.
Zelenskyy calls on NATO for swift military support to Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged NATO to supply it with weaponry and tanks as the Russian invasion in Ukraine entered its second month.
Addressing NATO leaders in Brussels via a video link on Thursday, he said, “Ukraine does not have powerful air defense system, we have far less aviation than Russians do.” He said that Ukraine has been asking NATO for military planes and tanks for weeks and only needed “one percent” of NATO’s arsenal.
“I ask you to reassess your positions and think about security in Europe and in the whole world. You can give us just one percent of all of your airplanes, just one percent of your tanks,” he said.
In besieged cities in Ukraine, including Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been held hostage by Russian forces, without access to food or water, creating an “artificial famine”, he said.
White House sets up team to plan response if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan sent a memo Feb. 28 detailing how the so-called "Tiger Team" would look at what might happen over the next three months of conflict, the senior administration official told NBC News.
Scenarios under discussion have included: Russia using chemical or biological weapons, Russia targeting U.S. convoys carrying weapons to Ukraine, a disruption to the global food supply, and the refugee crisis as millions of Ukrainians flee the country, the official said.
The creation of the team was first reported by the New York Times.
U.K. to double up lethal military aid to Ukraine
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce a major military package to Ukraine at Thursday’s NATO and G7 leader’s meeting.
A total of 6,000 missiles including anti-tank weapons and high explosive weapons will be provided in addition to £25 million ($33 million) in financial aid to the Ukrainian military, the prime minister’s office said, doubling up the total lethal aid provided to more than 10,000 missiles.
The U.K. government also announced additional £4.1 million ($5.4 million) funding for BBC World Service “to tackle disinformation in Russia and Ukraine."
“We cannot and will not stand by while Russia grinds Ukraine’s towns and cities into dust,” said Johnson. “The United Kingdom will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine, strengthening their defences as they turn the tide in this fight," he said.
NATO chief Stoltenberg's term expected to be extended 1 year
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s term is widely expected to be extended for a year as early as today, two people with knowledge of the matter confirm to NBC News.
Stoltenberg’s term is set to expire in September, an inopportune time given NATO’s central role in responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A formal decision on extending Stoltenberg’s term could come as early as today during the urgent NATO summit that President Biden is attending, the individuals said.
The process requires that an extension be put on the table, all allies agree, and then Stoltenberg formally accept the extension. No objections are expected to be raised, they said.
Separately, a U.S. official confirms that there has been discussion among the allies of extending Stoltenberg’s term and says that the U.S. government supports it.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan hinted at that yesterday on Air Force One, telling reporters: “The president thinks very highly of Secretary General Stoltenberg. … We think that Jens Stoltenberg has been doing a fantastic job and, day in and day out, has played a critical leadership role for NATO.”
President Joe Biden listens as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the floor during the summit in Brussels on Thursday.
U.S. expected to announce plans to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians
The United States is expected to announce plans to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the war in Ukraine, a source familiar with the administration's thinking said.
The admissions would be facilitated through a range of pathways, including through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, and other means, including a focus on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members in the United States.
A timeline and further details on the expected announcement have yet to be established.
So far, more than 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine, with more than 2 million fleeing to Poland, while hundreds of thousands have made their way to other neighboring nations.
Russian forces accused of 'forcibly deporting' thousands of Mariupol residents to Russia
Mariupol's city council has accused Russian forces of "forcibly deporting" thousands of residents to Russia.
The city council said on Telegram that residents of the besieged port city were being "deported en masse to Russia," adding that they were forcing people "already exhausted by the war to get on buses."
In total, it said as many as 15,000 people were being "deported illegally."
Mariupol has faced weeks of bombardment, with residents trapped in dire conditions amid ongoing efforts to evacuate people from the besieged city.
U.K. announces new wave of sanctions against Russia
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced 65 new sanctions against a range of strategic Russian industries and individuals on Thursday, adding to the growing list of over 1,000 already sanctioned.
Russian Railways, Kronshtadt, the main producer of Russian drones, Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond producer, and the Wagner Group, which the British government says were “tasked with assassinating President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy," are among those sanctioned.
Six banks and multiple individuals including Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s stepdaughter Polina Kovaleva and Galina Danilchenko, who the U.K. said was “installed by Russia as the ‘mayor’ of Melitopol," were also sanctioned.
“All those sanctioned today will have their assets in the U.K. frozen which means no U.K. citizen or company can do business with them, and individuals subject to travel bans are also prohibited from traveling to or from the U.K.,” Truss said.
Biden arrives for urgent NATO talks
President Joe Biden has arrived for urgent talks with NATO, the G7 leaders and the European Council Thursday.
The president was pictured with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as the pair prepared for discussions on the international response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ahead of the talks, Stoltenberg said leaders would "address this crisis together," calling the war in Ukraine "the most serious security crisis in a generation."
As leaders meet over Ukraine, North Korea launches new ICBM in biggest test since 2017
North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017, Japan said Thursday, in a major escalation of tensions over its weapons program at a time when the world is focused on Ukraine.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the missile was believed to be a new kind of ICBM, and condemned the launch as an “unforgivable outrage” in comments from Brussels, where he landed Thursday to meet with world leaders about Russia's war.
The dramatic move, which officials in the United States had warned might be coming, is the latest in a series of weapons tests that experts say are meant to force the international community to recognize Kim Jong Un's regime as a nuclear power and lift sanctions that have devastated the country's economy.
French carmaker Renault suspends activities at Moscow plant
French carmaker Renault has announced it is suspending “activities at the Renault Moscow plant” with immediate effect.
The Wednesday night move came hours after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke virtually to the French parliament, calling on Renault and other French companies with a Russian presence to stop indirectly supporting the war against Ukraine.
The Renault Group board of directors met Wednesday to decided to halt production at the plant that produces Arkana, Kaptur, Duster and Nissan Terrano SUVs amid mounting criticism of its foothold in the Russian Federation.
However, the lion’s share of the group’s Russian presence goes through its subsidiary AvtoVAZ, through which it sold nearly 500,000 vehicles in Russia in 2021.
Renault said that AvtoVAZ is not immediately withdrawing, but “assessing the available options, taking into account the current environment, while acting responsibly towards its 45,000 employees in Russia.”
Smoke rises near a seaport in Berdyansk, Ukraine, on Thursday after the Ukrainian navy reported that it had destroyed the Russian ship Orsk in the Sea of Asov.
Putin has made 'big mistake' launching war in Ukraine, NATO chief says
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has announced plans of bolstering the alliance’s eastern front, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a ‘big mistake’ of waging a war in Ukraine.
Ahead of the NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday, he said that Putin underestimated the strength of Ukrainian people, “meeting much more resistance than they expected." In the longer term, NATO is establishing four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, he said.
While he ruled out the declaration of a no-fly zone and deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine, he said that the alliance is supplying advanced air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunitions, and fuel to the Ukrainian army. NATO allies will also bolster investment in defense, said Stoltenberg.
U.S. says Russia has rejected its calls amid Ukraine war
Russia's defense minister has refused to speak with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Pentagon has said.
“Over the past month, Secretary Austin and (Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley) have sought, and continue to seek, calls with their Russian counterparts," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
He said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov have "so far declined to engage."
"We continue to believe that engagement between U.S. and Russian defense leaders is critically important at this time," Kirby said.
Four dead in Luhansk after Russian attacks
Russian attacks in the eastern Ukraine region of Luhansk have left four dead, including two children, and six wounded, governor Serhiy Haidi said in a Telegram post on Thursday morning.
“Missile strikes were inflicted on Lysychansk and Novodruzhesk," he said.
Haidi said dozens of buildings were destroyed during the attack, which occurred on Wednesday night with thousands out of electricity and gas supply. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson boards a plane to Brussels to take part in a NATO summit to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at London Stansted airport, on Thursday.
Ukraine says it destroyed Russian large landing ship Orsk
Ukraine's navy said Thursday it has destroyed Russia's large landing ship Orsk, near the port city of Berdyansk.
In a short statement shared on Facebook, the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said the vessel had been "destroyed."
Video shared by the Navy showed thick black smoke appearing over Berdyansk after explosions on Thursday morning.
U.S. calls Russian stock market opening a 'charade'
The White House has called the partial reopening of the Moscow Stock Exchange a "charade" after Russia allowed only 15 percent of its listed shares to trade after a month of complete closure.
"What we’re seeing is a charade: a Potemkin market opening," Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh said in a statement on Thursday.
“Russia has made clear they are going to pour government resources into artificially propping up the shares of companies that are trading,” Singh said.
On Wednesday, The Bank of Russia had announced its decision of resuming trading of 33 shares of Russian Stock Exchange Index. Short selling is banned for these securities and foreigners are not allowed to sell their shares.
“This is not a real market and not a sustainable model—which only underscores Russia’s isolation from the global financial system,” he said.
Russian stock market partially reopens
Russia is reopening its stock market for limited trading nearly one month after shares plunged and the exchange was shut down following the invasion of Ukraine.
There will be heavy restrictions on trading Thursday to prevent the kind of massive selloff that took place on Feb. 24 in anticipation of crushing financial and economic sanctions from Western nations.
The reopening of the Moscow exchange has only minimal significance for investors outside Russia and scant economic impact compared with the barrage of U.S.-led sanctions and withdrawals by foreign corporations.
Stocks last traded in Moscow on Feb. 25.
Russia scrambling to mobilize reservists amid casualties, U.K. says
Russian forces have suffered thousands of casualties during their invasion of Ukraine and are looking to mobilize its reservist corps, according to the British defense ministry.
“Russia is likely now looking to mobilise its reservist and conscript manpower, as well as private military companies and foreign mercenaries, to replace these considerable losses," the ministry said in an intelligence update Thursday.
The ministry said it was not clear how the groups would integrate with the Russian forces on the ground and what impact it would have on their “combat effectiveness."
Estimates of the number of Russian soldiers killed and injured in the conflict have varied, and NBC News has not independently verified the number of casualties.