MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday that Russia will require “unfriendly” countries to pay for Russian natural gas exports only in rubles from now on.
Putin said in a meeting with government officials that “a number of Western countries have taken illegitimate decisions on the so-called freezing of Russian assets, thereby drawing a line on the reliability of their currencies, undermining confidence in these currencies”.
“It makes no sense,” Putin added, “to supply our goods to the European Union, the United States and receive payment in dollars, euros and a number of other currencies. As a result, he announced that he was announcing “steps” to switch to payment for “our natural gas, supplied to so-called hostile countries” in Russian rubles.
The Russian president did not specify when exactly the new policy will take effect. He instructed the country’s central bank to develop a procedure for natural gas buyers to acquire rubles in Russia.
Economists said the move appeared designed to try to prop up the rouble, which has slumped against other currencies since Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24 and Western countries responded with sweeping sanctions against Moscow. But some analysts have expressed doubts that it would work.
NATO: At least 7,000 Russians killed, 30,000 wounded
WASHINGTON — A senior NATO officer said the alliance estimates Russia suffered between 30,000 and 40,000 battlefield casualties in Ukraine in the first month of the war, including between 7,000 and 15 000 killed. This is NATO’s first public estimate of Russian casualties since the war began on February 24.
The military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with ground rules set by NATO, said the estimate of the number of killed is based on a combination of information from the Ukrainian government, indications from Russia and open source information.
The US government has largely declined to provide public estimates of Russian or Ukrainian casualties, saying the available information is of questionable reliability.
The NATO military officer, during a briefing at the alliance’s military headquarters in Belgium on Wednesday, said the estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian casualties is derived from what he called a standard calculation that in wartime an army suffers three wounded soldiers for every soldier killed. Casualties include those killed in action and wounded in action, as well as prisoners or missing in action, the officer said.
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Russian cyberattacks continue
LIMA, Peru — A senior Ukrainian cyber defense official said a steady stream of Russian cyberattacks continues, most of which were aimed at disrupting communications, aiding refugees and other humanitarian organizations being targeted.
Victor Zhora, vice-president of Ukraine’s special communications service, told reporters in an online press conference on Wednesday that Russian state-backed hackers are in some cases using phishing campaigns to try to gain access to accounting and other systems of European charities helping Ukrainian refugees.
Zhora said hackers “funded and mostly owned by the Russian Federation” were also attacking state and private organizations distributing humanitarian supplies, moving with the characteristic readiness of an army.
He did not specify the humanitarian targets by name. According to the United Nations, more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian attack on February 24.
“Terrible” conditions in Kharkiv
MEDYKA, Poland – A Ukrainian refugee has described horrific conditions in the eastern city of Kharkiv after crossing the border into Medyka, Poland on Wednesday.
“The situation in Kharkiv is terrible,” said Natalia Savchenko, 37. “People are being killed day and night. They shoot with everything they have. There is hardly anyone left in Kharkiv. There is no electricity, no water. The city is almost empty. They do not provide the children with medicine and food. They just kill people.
Savchenko said the military helped her escape by train.
“It’s awful, so awful,” she said. “We left, but in the neighborhood where we lived, my grandmother remained, my mother and my husband. Today our district was bombed, the Shevchenkivsky district. We flee.
NATO sends troops to Eastern Europe
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said the military organization is setting up new multinational battlegroups in Eastern Europe to deter Russia from launching an attack on one of its members.
The battlegroups, which generally number between 1,000 and 1,500 men, will be set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Stoltenberg says they will remain in place “as long as necessary”.
Speaking on Wednesday on the eve of a NATO leaders’ summit, Stoltenberg said Russia’s war on Ukraine means “a new normal for our security and NATO must respond to this new reality.” .
Stoltenberg says the leaders are likely to agree to send more assistance to Ukraine, including “equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.”
The 30 NATO allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fear that Moscow wants to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
Russians kill 264, including 4 children in Kyiv: mayor
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Kyiv said Russian forces have killed 264 civilians, including four children, in the Ukrainian capital since the war began last month.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Wednesday that battles were taking place in the region of Liutizh, a village 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of kyiv and that Ukrainian forces had regained control of areas to the northwest and north -east of the city, including most of Irpin.
He added that the western town of Makariv had also been taken over by Ukrainian troops.
Klitschko spoke to reporters in the capital Kyiv in a central park overlooking the city. Explosions and gunshots could be heard in the background as he spoke.
US official speaks with WNBA star detained in Russia
WASHINGTON — The US State Department said a US Embassy official visited WNBA star Brittney Griner, who remains in detention near Moscow, to check on her condition.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN on Wednesday that the official found Griner “in good condition.” Price did not identify the official who had obtained consular access to Griner, which the United States had demanded.
Griner was arrested after arriving at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vaping cartridges allegedly containing cannabis-derived oil, punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Russian news agency Tass reported last week that a court had extended Griner’s pretrial detention until May 19.
Price says the United States “will do everything in its power to ensure that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”
The EU will help refugees
BRUSSELS — The European Commission has announced measures to help European Union countries provide millions of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine with access to education, healthcare, housing and work .
According to the United Nations, more than 3.5 million people – mostly women and children – have fled Ukraine in the four weeks since Russian tanks crossed the border and towns and villages were shelled by Moscow.
European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said on Wednesday the new set of measures aim to build on a “temporary protection directive” issued earlier this month and ongoing initiatives across Europe to welcome refugees.
The protection system, established in 2001 in response to the fallout from the Balkan wars of the 1990s but never used before, streamlines entry procedures for Ukrainians arriving in the EU and sets out rights such as employment and housing .
Wednesday’s announcement helps EU countries meet those commitments.