Ukraine war: Putin says Russia to enforce gas payments in roubles from Friday

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Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 31, 2022.

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Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

With Russia’s war in Ukraine into its second month, Putin’s forces have continued to pound towns and cities from afar as Moscow’s military offensive stalls in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance.

Millions have fled their homes, creating Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed, and the Russian bombardments have left widespread devastation.

The Russian invasion has caused political and shockwaves around the world, deepening the rupture between Moscow and the West.

Follow Thursday’s updates in our blog below and watch our TV coverage in the video player above.

06:39

Thursday’s key points to know: 

    President Putin says “unfriendly” foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from Friday, or else contracts will be halted. Germany and France have reiterated that European countries will continue to pay in euros or dollars.NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said intelligence shows Russian forces are not withdrawing but “repositioning” and regrouping.A Red Cross team has arrived in southeastern Ukraine to help with a planned evacuation from Mariupol. Kyiv is sending 45 buses to get people out during a Russian ceasefire.Ukraine says Russian forces have begun to withdraw from the Chernobyl nuclear site, which they took control of on the first day of the invasion.President Zelensky says his country’s defence is at a turning point, as they brace for a renewed Russian offensive in the east of Ukraine.Demoralised Russian soldiers in Ukraine are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their own equipment, says UK spy chief.The Pentagon and the White House say intelligence suggests Vladimir Putin may not be getting the “full picture” of the war in Ukraine from his advisers.

19:20

ICRC team planning Mariupol evacuation arrives in southeast

A team with the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived in a Ukraine-held city where staff are preparing to take civilians out of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol.

Julien Lerisson, deputy director of operations for the ICRC, said Thursday that the team assembling in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, has medicines, food, water, hygiene items and other essentials.

He said the organization has high-level agreement for the mission but is focused on making sure “the order trickles down the chain of command,” allowing the team to enter and leave Mariupol safely.

The Russian military has said it committed to a cease-fire along the route from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian authorities have said 45 buses would be sent to collect citizens and provide resources to those who remain.

Lucile Marbeau, a staff member with the ICRC team hoping to enter Mariupol, said on Thursday: “We’re here because really, we hope to be able to facilitate safe passage for civilians desperately wanting to flee Mariupol.”

(AP)

19:01

Will Putin cut Europe off if gas payments aren’t made in roubles?

The Russian president said “unfriendly” buyers must pay for gas in roubles from Friday or “contracts will be stopped”. European countries have refused.

Read our explainer here:

Will Putin cut Europe off if gas payments aren’t made in roubles?

17:08

New US sanctions target Russian technology sector

Washington announced new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, this time targeting the technology sector, including Russia’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, in part to prevent the circumvention of Western sanctions.

“OFAC (the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control) is designating 21 entities and 13 individuals as part of its crackdown on the Kremlin’s sanctions evasion networks and technology companies, which are instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine,” says a statement on the US Treasury website.

The Treasury adds via Twitter that it has “also expanded sanctions authorities to include aerospace, marine, & electronics sectors of the Russian economy. Today’s actions are a part of the comprehensive response to restrict sectors that are essential to supplying Putin’s continued invasion of Ukraine.”

16:57

Russian forces ‘begin to withdraw from Chernobyl’ — Ukraine nuclear agency

Russian forces have begun to withdraw from the Chernobyl nuclear site, which they took control of on the first day of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Ukrainian nuclear agency announced on Thursday.

The troops occupying the site left “in two columns towards the border” between Ukraine and Belarus, Energoatom said on Telegram, adding that there are only a “small number” of Russian soldiers left on the spot.

(AFP)

16:49

From Euronews’ international correspondent

16:26

France and Germany reject Putin’s demands on gas payments

European countries will continue to pay for Russian gas in euros and dollars as it is “written in the contracts”, was the response to Putin from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. (see earlier post)

The Russian president says “unfriendly” foreign buyers must pay for gas in roubles from Friday, raising the prospect of Moscow turning off the tap.

“It is written in the contracts that the payments are made in euros and sometimes in dollars”, the German chancellor said during a press conference with his Austrian counterpart, Karl Nehammer.

“I made it clear to the Russian president that it would stay that way” and “companies want to be able to pay in euros and will do so,” he added.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, speaking in Berlin, said Germany and France are “preparing” for a potential stoppage of Russian gas imports, as the Europeans are refusing Moscow’s demands for payment in roubles for gas supplies.

“There may be a situation in which tomorrow, in very specific circumstances, there will be no more Russian gas (…) it is up to us to prepare these scenarios, and we are preparing them”, he said during a press conference with the German Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

(AFP)

16:09

Putin: Russia to enforce gas payments in roubles from Friday

Vladimir Putin says he has signed a decree saying “unfriendly” foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from April 1, and contracts will be halted if such payments are not made.

“In order to purchase Russian natural gas, they must open rouble accounts in Russian banks. It is from these accounts that payments will be made for gas delivered starting from tomorrow,” Putin said in televised remarks.

“If such payments are not made, we will consider this a default on the part of buyers, with all the ensuing consequences. Nobody sells us anything for free, and we are not going to do charity either – that is, existing contracts will be stopped.”

Russia supplies about a third of Europe’s gas, so energy gives Putin some clout as he tries to hit back against sweeping Western sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian currency fell to historic lows after the February 24 invasion but has since recovered.

Western companies and governments have rejected the move as a breach of existing contracts, which are set in euros or dollars.

France’s economy minister said France and Germany were preparing for a possible scenario that Russian gas flows could be halted – something that would plunge Europe into a full-blown energy crisis.

European countries will continue to pay for Russian gas in euros and dollars as it is “written in the contracts”, was the response to Putin from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

(with Reuters, AFP)

15:44

Russian shelling continues in areas where it pledged to reduce combat operations

Heavy fighting raged on the outskirts of Kyiv and other zones Thursday amid indications the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation as cover while regrouping and resupplying its forces and redeploying them for a stepped-up offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces shelled suburbs of the capital that Ukraine recently retook control of, a regional official said, two days after the Kremlin announced it would significantly scale back operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”

In the Kyiv suburbs, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media that Russian forces shelled Irpin and Makariv, and that there were battles around Hostomel. Pavliuk said there were Ukrainian counterattacks and some Russian withdrawals around the suburb of Brovary to the east.

Britain’s Defence Ministry said: “Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units. Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days.”

The UK confirmed “significant Russian shelling and missile strikes” around Chernihiv as well. The area’s governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said Russian troops were on the move but may not be withdrawing.

Russia’s Defense Ministry also reported new strikes on Ukrainian fuel stores late Wednesday, and Ukrainian officials said there were artillery barrages in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv over the past day.

(with AP)

15:40

French intelligence chief sacked over Ukraine failings

The head of French military intelligence, General Eric Vidaud, is being removed for what’s perceived to be his poor performance concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, AFP reports.

It quotes a military source confirming his departure as head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM). The website l’Opinion quotes a defence ministry source in citing “insufficient briefings” and a “failure to master topics”.

General Vidaud was only appointed to his post last summer, from a previous role at Special Operations Command (COS).

In early March, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Thierry Burkhard, admitted in Le Monde newspaper that the French analysis on the question of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine had differed from that of the Americans. The US got it right, the French got it wrong.

“The Americans said that the Russians were going to attack, they were right. Our services rather thought that the conquest of Ukraine would have a monstrous cost and that the Russians had other options” to bring down President Zelenskyy, Burkhard said.

(with AFP)

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