Ukraine live: Russian parliament passes bill scrapping age limit for joining military

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Destroyed houses are seen after Russian shelling in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

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Fighting is intensifying around four cities in eastern Donbas, with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accusing Russia of throwing the full might of the Russian army against the cities of Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill removing age limits for professional soldiers joining the military, which could pave the way for the Russian armed forces to expand recruitment.

Russian parliament also gave preliminary approval for a bill that would allow the government to appoint new management of foreign companies that pulled out of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

See a summary of the latest developments in our live coverage below.

08:50

    Russian parliament passes a bill scrapping upper age limit for joining military.

    Russia is ready to set up corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine, says Russian official.

    Italy and Hungary are urging a truce and peace talks, at odds with EU’s hard line against Moscow, Reuters reports.

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he will only talk with Vladimir Putin, not intermediators.

    The US is set to close the last avenue for Russia to pay its debts on Wednesday, making a Russian default on its debts for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution all but inevitable.

    Russian parliament has given preliminary approval to a bill allowing the government to appoint new management of foreign companies that pulled out of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

    Putin is pushing to fast-track Russian citizenship for people from two southern regions of Ukraine.

    Russia is throwing everything it has at four cities in eastern Donbas, says President Zelenskyy, in his nightly address.

    17:32

    Switzerland will help Ukraine seize ex-president’s assets

    The Swiss government on Wednesday said it will initiate proceedings to confiscate more than 100 million francs ($104 million) in assets of a close associate of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

    Switzerland’s governing Federal Council said it is providing support to Ukraine as Kyiv is facing “certain difficulties” in its efforts to confiscate the money, which have been compounded by the current war. But it said the move is unrelated to sanctions imposed on Russia this year.

    The government said the assets of Yanukovych associate Yuriy Ivanyushchenko and family members were frozen in Switzerland following the ouster of the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in 2014. A Swiss federal court will determine whether the assets can be confiscated and, if it agrees, they will be returned to Ukraine.

    (AP)

    17:06

    Vladimir Putin visits soldiers in hospital for the first time

    Russian President Vladimir Putin visited wounded Russian soldiers on Wednesday for the first time, three months after the start of the offensive against Ukraine. 

    According to footage broadcast on Russian television, Putin, dressed in a white coat, spoke to several servicemen, asking about their hometowns and family situations. The soldiers were standing by their beds and their wounds were not visible.

    Speaking to one soldier in blue and white striped pyjamas, the president said his nine-month-old son “will be proud of daddy”. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was also present.

    Russian officials have been guarded about military casualties in Ukraine. The latest figures published on 25 March said 1351 Russian servicemen had been killed, and 3825 wounded.

    Ukrainian and other Western sources say the figures are much higher in reality. 

    (AFP)

    16:10

    Nike to suspend sales in Russia partner stores

    The American sports equipment manufacturer Nike announced on Wednesday the suspension of its sales in partner shops in Russia and the interruption of all its partnerships with retailers in the country, two months after temporarily closing its own shops.

    The Beaverton, Oregon-based company said the decision was due to “operational difficulties in Russia”.

    According to the Russian daily Vedomosti, Nike’s distribution agreements with its two main commercial partners in Russia expire on Thursday, notably with the Inventive Retail Group (IRG), which manages the Up & Run chain of dedicated shops.

    The equipment manufacturer “has taken the decision not to renew commercial agreements or to enter into new ones, including with our Up & Run franchisee,” according to a message sent by Nike to AFP.

    The company said its “operations remain suspended” in Russia but that it was continuing to pay its employees.

    Nike’s announcement means that the brand is suspending sales of its products in all dedicated shops, i.e. those that only carry its products.

    “In the current situation, we cannot continue to support the operations of single-brand shops and will have to close them,” an IRG spokeswoman told AFP.

    According to its website, IRG operated 37 shops selling Nike products.

    However, according to Vedomosti, it will still be possible to buy the American manufacturer’s products through multi-brand stores, which buy from wholesalers.

    When asked for confirmation, Nike did not immediately respond.

    At the beginning of March, a few days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Nike announced the temporary closure of all its directly managed branches in Russia, some 116 stores. 

    (AFP)

    16:08

    Kyiv asks for quick dispatch of new rocket launchers

    Ukraine’s weapons needs can be summed up in two acronyms: MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) and ASAP (as soon as possible), foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has said.

    The situation in eastern Donbas, Kuleba said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, is “extremely bad”. Rocket systems could help Ukrainian forces try to recapture places such as the southern city of Kherson.

    This week, Kuleba, said he had about 10 bilateral meetings with other leaders whose countries possess such systems. “The response I get is, ‘Haven’t the Americans given it to you already?’

    “So this is the burden of being a leader. Everyone is looking at you. Washington has to keep the promise and provide us with multiple launch rocket systems as soon as possible. Others will follow.”

    15:50

    Elders call Russian invasion ‘outrageous’ and ‘unjustifiable’ in call for talks 

    A group of eminent global statespersons known as ‘The Elders’ issued a new statement Wednesday about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it “an outrageous, unjustifiable act, for which there must be accountability and justice.” 

    The group, including former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, said that the people of Ukraine “have the right to defend their territory and independence.” 

    The group said they were “alarmed” that there had been a failure to de-escalate the conflict, and ending the war “based on dialogue must be the international community’s highest priority.”

    “Russia’s aggression is in part enabled by the long-term erosion of the rules-based order underpinning global peace and security.  Successive violations of international law and state sovereignty by great powers have been carried out with impunity, leading to a dangerously polarised world” the group said. 

    The Elders describe themselves as an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights. It was founded by South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela. 

    (Euronews) 

    15:26

    EU wants to confiscate frozen assets from Russian oligarchs

    The European Union’s executive arm entered sensitive legal territory on Wednesday with a proposal to confiscate the frozen assets of oligarchs who try to violate the bloc’s sanctions over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

    The European Commission proposed two EU laws that would require the 27 member states to cede a degree of jealously guarded national sovereignty over criminal matters.

    One piece of draft legislation seeks new European rules on freezing and confiscating the assets of people blacklisted by the EU. The second legislative proposal aims to expand the list of acts deemed to be “EU crimes” by including breaches of European sanctions.

    Both initiatives need the approval of EU governments in a scrutiny process that usually takes many months and can even last for years. The bloc’s heads of government are due to discuss options for using the frozen assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to support the reconstruction of Ukraine during a two-day summit next week.

    “There is no time to lose,” Margaritis Schinas, a European Commission vice-president in charge of security matters, told reporters in Brussels. “Many times we see assets recovery and confiscation of the small fry, whereas the big sharks find ways to evade.”

    While the EU has spent decades crafting common rules on various areas of criminal law, European sanctions against Russian leaders and oligarchs over the past three months have added impetus to calls for a stronger European framework.

    The EU has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on more than 1,000 people, including over 30 oligarchs, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. 

    Almost 10 billion euros of assets have so far been frozen by EU member countries, according to the European Commission. It has established a “Freeze and Seize” task force to coordinate the enforcement of what are unprecedented EU penalties against Russia.

    (AP)

    14:38

    Fighting on the outskirts of Severodonetsk

    A regional governor in eastern Ukraine has told the Associated Press that Russian forces are fighting on the outskirts of the city of Severodonetsk, and that a key supply route is coming under pressure.

    Serhiy Haidai, the Kyiv-backed governor of the Luhansk region, says Ukrainian forces continue to hold Severodonetsk. But he said “the situation is serious. The city is constantly being shelled with every possible weapon in the enemy’s possession.”

    Haidai added in written comments in response to questions from the AP that Russian forces were dropping aerial bombs and accused them of deliberately striking “places where people could be hiding.”

    Severodonetsk and the nearby city of Lysychansk are the largest remaining settlements held by Ukraine in the Luhansk region, of which Haidai is the Kyiv-backed governor. The region is “more than 90%” controlled by Russia, he said.

    The road between Lysychansk and the city of Bakhmut to the southwest is widely considered crucial to keeping Ukrainian troops in the area supplied. Haidai said it was “constantly being shelled” and that Russian sabotage and reconnaissance teams were approaching the area.

    (AP)

    14:35

    Ukraine needs rockets asap, says foreign minister

    Ukraine’s foreign minister says the urgency of his country’s weapons needs can be summed up in two abbreviations: MLRS — multiple launch rocket systems, and ASAP — as soon as possible.

    Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Dmytro Kuleba said he had about 10 bilateral meetings with other leaders whose countries possess such systems.

    “The response I get is, ‘Have the Americans given it to you already?’” he said, alluding to US leadership. “So this is the burden of being a leader. Everyone is looking at you. So Washington has to keep the promise and provide us with multiple launch rocket systems as soon as possible. Others will follow.”

    “If we do not get an MLRS ASAP, the situation in Donbas will get even worse than it is now,” he added. “Every day of someone sitting in Washington, Berlin, Paris and other capitals, and considering whether they should or should not do something, costs us lives and territories.”

    (AP)

    13:51

    Putin pushes to fast-track Russian citizenship for people from two southern regions of Ukraine

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an order to allow a fast track to Russian citizenship for people in two southern regions of Ukraine which are largely held by Russian forces.

    Putin’s decree, dated Wednesday, could allow Russia to strengthen its control over the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. They form part of a land connection between eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.

    Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin last week visited both regions and indicated they could become part of “our Russian family.” A Russia-installed official in the Kherson region has predicted the region could become part of Russia.

    Russia already had a program for fast-track naturalisation of people living in two regions of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists.

    (AP)

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