Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Poland and Romania on Wednesday as the United States and its NATO allies seek to boost Ukrainian fighters while avoiding a wider war with Russia.
While the Polish government said it would give all of its Soviet-built MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. — apparently to allow them to be used by Ukraine’s military — the Pentagon dismissed the idea as not “a tenable one.”
“Poland is not a side in this war … and NATO is not a side in this war,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki Morawiecki said Wednesday during a visit to Vienna. “Such a serious decision like handing over planes must be unanimous and unequivocally taken by all of the North Atlantic alliance.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Poland’s possible plan to provide MiG fighter jets to Kyiv “a very undesirable and potentially dangerous scenario.” Peskov also accused the U.S. of waging an economic war against Russia and said the Kremlin is considering a retaliatory response.
Across much of Ukraine on Wednesday, efforts to rescue civilians from increasingly dire conditions were once again underway. Days of shelling have largely cut residents of the southern city of Mariupol off from the outside world and forced them to scavenge for food and water. In the Ukraine capital of Kyiv, air raid sirens blared as officials bolstered defenses in key cities threatened by Russian forces.
Two weeks into the war, thousands of civilians and soldiers have lost their lives in Ukraine’s fierce struggle to repel the invaders. Russian troops have laid siege to several cities, trapping civilians inside with little or no food, water or medicine.
►Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan deal early Wednesday to provide $13.6 billion to help Ukraine and European allies amid Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
►Most Asian stock markets rebounded Wednesday following Wall Street’s decline and President Joe Biden’s ban on imports of Russian crude.
►China says it is sending humanitarian aid including food and daily necessities worth 5 million yuan ($791,000) to Ukraine while continuing to oppose sanctions against Russia over its invasion.
► The White House announced late Tuesday that the Venezuelan government freed two jailed Americans, including an oil executive imprisoned alongside colleagues for more than four years, as it seeks to improve relations with the Biden administration amid Russia’s war with Ukraine.
►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that dozens of children have been killed in the war: “The scariest figure was the 50 Ukrainian children killed in 13 days of war. But then in an hour it became 52 children. I will never forgive this. And I know that you will never forgive the occupiers.”
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The U.S. is waging a “de facto economic war” and Russia could react with retaliatory actions, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. Peskov was commenting on the U.S. ban on Russian energy imports and a comment on the war by Victoria Nuland, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, that the U.S. “must ensure that this Ukraine gambit is a strategic failure for Putin.”
The U.S., European Union, United Kingdom and a scores of other nations have also introduced sanctions against Russian legal entities and private individuals.
“The US, undoubtedly, declared an economic war against Russia and they are waging this war,” Peskov said. He said Russia will do “what in the best way corresponds to our interests” but gave no details on the possible retaliatory sanctions.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, occupied by Russian troops for several days, has been disconnected from the power grid and is a threat to leak radioactive substances, Ukraine’s Ukrenergo National Power Company said. Repairs are impossible due to enemy fire and the military presence, the utility said.
The state-run nuclear company Energoatom said radioactive substances could be released from the plant because it cannot properly cool spent nuclear fuel. The International Atomic Energy Agency, however, said the spent fuel storage pool and the volume of cooling water are “sufficient for effective heat removal” without access to electricity
The plant, the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters in 1986, has not produced power in several years. Decommissioning has not been completed, however, and authorities say there are about 20,000 spent fuel assemblies at Chernobyl that cannot be kept cool amid a power outage.
What happened at Chernobyl? What to know about nuclear disaster
Poland is offering to turn over its Soviet-made jets to the U.S. and NATO to be given to Ukraine. In return, Poland wants the U.S. to supply the Polish military with U.S.-made jets with “corresponding capabilities.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement that the prospect of jets departing from a U.S.-NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine war is concerning.
The Pentagon said the U.S. will continue to talk to Poland about the matter.
The US is considering a deal to send fighter jets to Ukraine.But will they make a difference?
McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and General Electric – ubiquitous global brands and symbols of U.S. corporate might – all announced Tuesday they were temporarily suspending their business in Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine,” McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski said in an open letter to employees. The Chicago-based burger giant said it will temporarily close 850 stores but continue paying its 62,000 employees in Russia.
McDonald’s is likely to take the biggest financial hit. Unlike Starbucks and other fast food companies, like KFC and Pizza Hut, whose Russian locations are owned by franchisees, McDonald’s owns 84% of its Russian stores.
Starbucks on Tuesday said it would temporarily close 130 Russian stores owned and operated by a franchisee, after earlier saying it would be donating profits from those stores to humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine. Read more here.
— Associated Press
The nation’s main federal cybersecurity agency told USA TODAY on Tuesday it has been encouraging U.S. organizations to up their security.
“While there are not any specific, credible, cyber threats to the U.S., we encourage all organizations – regardless of size – to take steps now to improve their cybersecurity and safeguard their critical assets,” the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency said in a statement.
The Biden administration sought $10 billion last week in emergency funding from Congress in defense aid, including to support Ukraine’s cyber defenses, as well as $28 million to bolster the FBI’s “investigative and operational response to cyber threats stemming from the Russia threat and war on Ukraine,” according to the supplemental funding request.
— Tami Abdollah
As Russia grows increasingly isolated from the Western world as a result of sanctions and bans over its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has, in some ways, embraced the isolation by pushing out non-Russian speech and press.
A bill was quickly passed through both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament and signed by Putin on March 4 that criminalizing the intentional spread of information that goes against the government’s narrative, were certain words like “war” and “invasion” can land someone in prison for up to 15 years.
Experts told USA TODAY that Russia has been clamping down on free speech and independent press for years — even decades — without such momentous reaction. The country has even passed a number of similar laws in the past.
This time, the implications could be much more dangerous. Read more here.
— Celina Tebor
President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday a ban on the U.S. import of all Russian energy products to target “the main artery of Russia’s economy” in the latest effort to ratchet up sanctions over President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Russian oil will no longer be accepted at U.S. ports,” the president said Tuesday at the White House. “We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war.”
Though Biden said the move would deal a “powerful blow to Putin’s war machine,” he warned the decision would be felt at home, where Americans see prices rising at the gas pump.
The president said he made the decision in consultation with European allies but they may not be in a position to join the ban.
— Courtney Subramanian, Maureen Groppe and Bart Jansen
Contributing: The Associated Press