President Joe Biden on Friday called for a removal of normal trade relations with Russia, allowing for new tariffs on Russian imports in yet another effort to ratchet up sanctions over Moscow’s intensifying invasion of Ukraine.
Biden said the move will be another “crushing blow” to Russia’s economy.
“The free world is coming together to confront (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” he said. “We’re going to continue to squeeze Putin.”
Biden’s proposal, which would require congressional approval, would put Moscow’s trade relationship with the U.S. in the same category as North Korea and Cuba. The country was the United States’ 26th largest goods trading partner as of 2019, according to the U.S. Trade Representative, with nearly $6 billion in exports and about $22 billion in imports.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday said the U.S. House will vote next week on a bill revoking normal trade relations with Russia. The change has support from both Democrats and Republicans. But the White House asked lawmakers earlier this week to wait until Biden could coordinate with allies.
European Union and G7 allies are also expected to act as the toll on Ukrainians continues to mount. Among the most recent attacks is an airstrike on a maternity hospital that killed at least three people, including a child. Russian leaders have denied bombing the hospital.
The moves came as Russia expanded its attacks on Ukrainian cities to include new targets in Western Ukraine, moving its convoy north of Kyiv and continuing its siege in Mariupol. The targets included airports and parts of Ukraine’s military infrastructure. Fighting also intensified closer to Kyiv, with apartment buildings hit about 45 miles away in the town of Baryshivka and a school damaged by a missile strike in Dnipro.
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► YouTube announced it has started blocking access globally to channels associated with Russian state-funded media.
► The World Health Organization said Friday it verified 29 attacks on health care facilities, workers and ambulances in Ukraine, which have killed 12 people and injured 34. The U.N. human rights office confirmed 564 civilian fatalities and 982 civilian injuries in the conflict, which is likely an undercount, the office said.
►The U.K. on Friday expanded its economic sanctions against Russia, targeting the 386 Russian lawmakers who recognized two regions of eastern Ukraine as independent.
►Russia’s media regulator said Friday it was restricting access to Instagram. The regulator last week banned access to Facebook, which is owned by the same parent company, Meta.
►Congress passed $13.6 billion in humanitarian aid money for Ukraine and allies as part of a larger spending package that received bipartisan support in the Senate on Thursday.
►The U.N. refugee agency says more than 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country, over 1.4 million of them through Poland. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Thursday that about 100,000 people have fled over the last two days through evacuation corridors.
►The Ukrainian nuclear regulator said Friday the electricity supply at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has yet to be restored, Reuters reported. The news comes after the International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday Ukrainian nuclear regulators informed the agency they had lost all contact with the Chernobyl plant. A Russian shelling also targeted a nuclear research facility in Kharkiv.
State Department: Russia recruiting Syrian mercenaries shows Putin miscalculated
The State Department’s chief spokesman, Ned Price, said Friday that Russia’s reported efforts to recruit Syrian mercenaries and other foreign fighters to help with Moscow’s assault on Ukraine would be a dangerous escalation of the conflict – and a sign of how flawed Russia’s military planning has been.
“If true, this would represent an even further escalation in Russia’s unjustified, unprovoked, premeditated aggression” against Ukraine, Price said at a press briefing. “This also speaks, I think, to the fundamental miscalculations that Putin has made” in deciding to invade Ukraine.
A senior Defense Department official said Monday that Russia had started recruiting Syrian mercenaries to fight in Ukraine but did not give estimates on the scale of that effort.
Price would not comment when asked if the U.S. had seen evidence that Syrians or other foreign fighters were heeding Russia’s call.
“That is not something I could speak to from here,” Price said.
— Deirdre Shesgreen
The newly-established enforcement unit, known as KleptoCapture, is poised to bring a raft of potential criminal charges against known “aiders and abettors” to Russian oligarchs, including money laundering and fraud charges to “cut off funding to the Russian war machine,” a senior Justice official said Friday.
Outlining the task force’s mission, the official said authorities will target “actors who stick their heads in the sand,” as the wealthy allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin attempt to sidestep a sweeping set of sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures the United States has imposed, along with allies and partners, in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine.
The “facilitators,” the official said, have often been key to erecting “layers of sham corporations” used to disguise the accumulation and movement of assets.
The “landscape of assets” includes real estate, bank accounts, private aircraft and yachts.
“All of that is on the table,” the official said.
— Kevin Johnson
The United States’ ambassador to the United Nations on Friday accused Russia of using the Security Council for “lying and spreading disinformation” about the use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also said Russia may be planning a false-flag operation to “fabricate allegations about chemical or biological weapons to justify its own violent attacks against the Ukrainian people.”
Russia requested the U.N. Security Council meeting Friday after its claims of U.S. “military biological activities” in Ukraine, which U.S. and Ukrainian officials said were false accusations.
The U.N.’s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, also told the Security Council she was aware of the recent allegations but was not aware of any biological weapons programs.
Russians won’t have access to high-end watches and luxury vehicles from the United States and Americans won’t be able to buy caviar, diamonds and vodka imported from Russia under an executive order President Joe Biden signed Friday.
Those are some of the additional sanctions Biden announced while backing congressional efforts to revoke normal trade relations with Russia, which would allow for new tariffs on Russian imports.
Biden said the actions – intended to squeeze the Russian economy over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – are “the latest steps we’re taking, but they’re not the last steps.”
The new actions include:
- Ending the exportation of luxury goods frequently purchased by Russian elites, covering a value of nearly $550 million in annual exports.
- Prohibiting the import of goods from signature sectors of Russia’s economy, including seafood, alcohol and diamonds. That will deny Russia more than $1 billion in export revenue, according to the White House.
- Working with the G7 to deny Russia the ability to borrow from leading multinational institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
- Expanding the list of elite Russians and their families being sanctioned to include executives of banks and Russian legislators.
- Allowing the U.S. to extend the previously announced ban on investments in Russian energy to include other sectors of the economy.
Russian airstrikes Friday hit near airports in western Ukraine, including one at Lutsk airfield that left two Ukrainian servicemen dead and six people wounded, according to the head of the surrounding Volyn region, Yuriy Pohulyayko.
Air raid alerts were also sent residents in Ivano-Frankivsk seeking shelters, Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv said. The eastern city of Dnipro was also targeted for the first time. One person was killed as three strikes hit early Friday, Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Heraschenko said.
The strikes came after Russian forces attacked the Ukrainian city Mariupol as civilians face increasingly dire conditions with scarce food, fuel, and electricity. Bodies are being buried in mass graves.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday the country had “reached a strategic turning point,” but did not clarify what he meant. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there are “certain positive developments” in talks between the two countries.
Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday said the rise in inflation and gas prices are a “price to pay for democracy,” as recent energy sanctions on Russia are causing prices to rise globally.
“Gotta stand with your friends,” Harris said when asked how long Americans should brace for the high prices. “And as everybody knows, even in your personal life, being loyal to those friendships, based on common principles and values, sometimes it’s difficult. Often it ain’t easy, but that’s what the friendship is about, based on shared values.”
President Joe Biden earlier this week announced a ban on U.S. import of all Russian energy products. Biden during remarks Tuesday said that while the move would deal a “powerful blow to Putin’s war machine,” Americans will likely see gas prices rising.
Gas prices have reached all-time highs, with the national average at $4.33, according to AAA.
Harris’ comments came after a bilateral meeting with Romania President Klaus Iohannis, where the two discussed concerns in the eastern flank over Russia’s war with Ukraine and the United States’ commitment to protecting NATO countries.
During the press conference, Harris noted that the United States in recent weeks sent a 1,000 member striker squadron “to stand in defense of our commitment to the NATO Alliance and the eastern flank.” She said the new striker squadron brings the total force of 2,000 American troops in the region.
Harris was also asked whether she believes that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine, to which she responded: “I’ll say it again, we are clear that any intentional attack or targeting of civilians is a war crime. Period.”
As Russian troops accumulate on the outskirts of Kyiv, Dr. Vitaliy Krylyuk said an uneasy calm has settled at the city’s largest downtown hospital.
Doctors at the Kyiv Hospital of Emergency Medicine are tending to conventional injuries such as car crashes and gunshot wounds. But Krylyuk, who spoked with USA TODAY over a video call, fears things will soon worsen if Russian missiles target the city or enemy troops close on the heart of Ukraine’s capital.
“The biggest problem we need to think about is a mass casualty situation,” said Krylyuk, who serves at the Ukrainian Scientific and Practical Center of Emergency and Disaster Medicine, a division of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health. “We’ve never had a mass casualty situation. We know this theoretically, not practically.”
Emergency planners have sought to address gaps that would emerge if the number of people with life-threatening wounds outstripped the hospital’s capacity to care for them. They sought to figure out which hospital entrance to direct ambulances to quickly get patients to hospital beds. Government planners have drafted documents on how to prioritize patients, ensure patients can breathe, secure blood transfusions or notify family members if a loved one is killed or wounded.
— Ken Alltucker
The 40-mile Russian military convoy that had been stalled outside Kyiv amid reports of food and fuel shortages moved into the forest and towns, new satellite images showed.
The line of vehicles, tanks and artillery was outside the Ukrainian capital but had been stalled for days before the new movement. The images from Maxar Technologies showed armored units near the Antonov Airport and vehicles in forests with towed howitzers in position to open fire, Maxar reported.
Jack Watling, a research fellow at a British defense think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute, said it appeared the convoy was moving west around the city toward the south as Russian forces likely aim for a “siege rather than assault” in Kyiv. The British defense ministry said Russian troops were likely trying to “reset and re-posture” with new operations in Kyiv probable.
On a night two weeks ago in southwest Ukraine, children inside a Jewish orphanage felt the ground shake and watched lights eerily flicker. Bombs were falling just a mile from their home, shattering their safe world and sending them fleeing into the darkness.
The children, most in their pajamas and without shoes, rushed out of the orphanage and squeezed onto buses to make their way to the Moldova border as the Russian military launched its invasion of Ukraine.
The journey, which eventually took the children to Romania, left them in tears and confusion: Where would they call home now? Read more.
— Gabriela Miranda
The United States has seen “very credible reports” of deliberate attacks by Russians on Ukrainian civilians that would qualify as a war crime under international law, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday.
That could include the recent assault on the maternity and children’s hospital complex that killed 3 people as well as strikes on schools, residential buildings, public buses and ambulances, he said.
Price said the U.S. will do everything possible to hold accountable every Russian political leader, military commander, and service member who participates in a war crime. “Criminal prosecutions are one possibility,” he added.
The U.S. has the ability to conduct its own in-depth investigations and will support the appropriate international investigations, Price said.
— Maureen Groppe
News broke last week that WNBA star Brittney Griner had been detained by Russian authorities and was facing drug-smuggling charges.
Like many WNBA stars, Griner has played overseas in the offseason to earn as much as four times the salary she gets playing for the Phoenix Mercury. She was returning to her team in Russia, UMMC Ekaterinburg, when she was allegedly found with vape cartridges in her carry-on luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. The Russian Customs Service said the cartridges contained oil derived from cannabis, which could lead to a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Friends, family and U.S. officials are trying to get Griner out of Russia, but diplomatic relations between the countries are said to be nearly non-existent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is unknown if Griner’s stature as a well-known international sports figure from the U.S. will help or hurt her situation.
At a State Department press briefing on Friday, spokesman Ned Price did not directly answer a question about whether U.S. diplomats stationed in Moscow have had access to Griner.
“We’ve been working very diligently on this case,” Price said, adding that U.S. officials have been “in close touch” with people around Griner and are providing “all forms of appropriate support.” Read more.
— Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY; Jenna Ortiz, Dana Scott, and Emily Horos, Arizona Republic
Contributing: The Associated Press