The Russian parliament gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow the government to appoint new management of foreign companies that pulled out of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
According to the state news agency Tass, the new law would transfer control over companies that left Russia not for economic reasons but because of “anti-Russian sentiment in Europe and the U.S. Tass said foreign owners would still be able to resume operations in Russia or sell their shares.
Many foreign companies have suspended operations in Russia. Others have walked away entirely, despite their huge investments.
McDonald’s announced this month that it is selling its 850 restaurants in Russia.
The State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, approved the bill in the first of three readings on Tuesday. After final approval, it would go to the upper house and then to President Vladimir Putin for his signature.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the new law made it even more imperative for foreign companies remaining in Russia to leave. “It’s the last chance to save not only your reputation but your property,” he said in a statement.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
- After 3 months, Russia still bogged down in Ukraine war
- 200 bodies found in Mariupol as war rages in Ukraine’s east
- AP-NORC poll: US economy, not punishing Russia, is top priority
- Pentagon says more high-tech weapons going to Ukraine
- After 3 months of war, life in Russia has profoundly changed
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine - The Ukrainian military said Russia has fired at Ukrainian border guards in the northeastern Sumy region in the latest of a series of alleged cross-border attacks over the past few weeks.
Military officials say observers Tuesday night recorded seven shots from Russian territory toward the village of Boyaro-Lezhachi, most likely mortar fire.
The Ukrainian Operational Command North said on its Facebook post that eight other shots were heard Tuesday afternoon near a neighboring village. There were no reports of any deaths.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Russian shelling continues around Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, even after Russian troops withdrew from its surroundings last week.
Ukrainian regional officials say the city of Derhachi was hit and a 69-year-old woman died and another person was injured.
Derhachi is southwest of the city of Kharkiv and has previously come under Russian shelling.
KYIV, Ukraine - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia is using everything at its disposal in the fight for four cities in the eastern Donbas region.
“The situation in the Donbas now is very difficult,” Zelenskyy said late Tuesday in his nightly address to the nation. “Practically the full might of the Russian army, whatever they have left, is being thrown at the offensive there. Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk – the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian army is fighting back, but “it will take time and a lot more effort by our people to overcome their advantage in the amount of equipment and weapons.”
He told Ukrainians they should be proud of having held off Russia for three months in a war that many in Russia and the West expected to last three days.
Zelenskyy appealed for even more weapons from the West to keep Ukraine in the fight including multiple-rocket launchers and tanks.
In addition, Zelenskyy mocked the statement made Tuesday by the Russian defense minister that Russia was deliberately slowing its offensive to allow residents of encircled cites time to evacuate.
KYIV, Ukraine - The Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region said Tuesday that the area was facing “the most difficult time” since conflict with Russia-backed separatists began in 2014.
“Now, for the Luhansk region, is the most difficult time in the eight years of the war,” Serhii Haidai wrote on Telegram. “The Russians are advancing in all directions at the same time, they brought over an insane number of fighters and equipment.”
He also accused Moscow’s troops of deploying scorched-earth tactics across the region, one of two which make up Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
“It’s only getting worse. What the Russians are doing is hard to describe in words. The invaders are killing our cities, destroying everything around. … The situation is on the verge of being critical. The free Luhansk region is now like Mariupol,” Haidai added, in a reference to the ruined port city captured by Moscow last week.
KYIV, Ukraine - The top military commander who fought until last week to keep Ukrainian control of the southern port city of Mariupol is alive in Russian-controlled territory, his wife said Tuesday after holding a brief telephone conversation.
Kateryna Prokopenko, who is married to Azov Regiment leader Denys Prokopenko, said that her husband asked her how she was, but that the line broke off before he could say anything about himself.
She said the phone call was possible under an agreement between the governments of Ukraine and Russia and thanks to the mediation of the Red Cross, which has been visiting some of the Ukrainian fighters who surrendered.
Earlier this month Russia announced its takeover of Mariupol with the surrender of the fighters holed up at the massive Azovstal steel mill.
Prokopenko, who spoke to The Associated Press in Kyiv together with another wife of a soldier, Yuliia Fedosiuk, said that the Ukraine and Russia agreement guarantees proper burial of dead soldiers and certain conditions for the prisoners of war, including allowing them to hold telephone calls with family members a few times per week.
The two women said several families had received calls in the past two days. They said they could not reveal more details of the agreement but they were hopeful that the soldiers will not be tortured and that they eventually will “come back home.”
BERLIN - Germany has rejected suggestions that it is reneging on a promise to provide Poland with tanks to make up for those that Warsaw has delivered to Ukraine.
Polish President Andrzej Duda told German broadcaster Welt that he was “very disappointed” Berlin had not fulfilled its promise on the delivery of Leopard tanks to Poland.
Speaking after a meeting with her Polish counterpart in Berlin on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the issue had been discussed in order to resolve “misunderstandings.”
She said Germany could not supply heavy weapons “at the press of a button” as there were numerous questions to consider, not least what arms are actually available.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said his country regretted that the situation with regard to arms deliveries to Ukraine was “not as dynamic” as hoped, but acknowledged that “the devil lies in the detail” on the issue.
Poland gave Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Ukraine with the expectation that NATO, the U.S. and Germany would fill that void.
Germany has agreed to several similar circular swaps with allied countries such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic, who in turn are sending older Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine.
DAVOS, Switzerland - European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday accused Russia of deliberately bombarding grain warehouses across Ukraine and weaponizing food supplies.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked disruptions of global food supplies, and the blockade of Ukrainian ports has been particularly harmful. Ukraine accounted for 90% of grain and oilseed exports before the war, according to the EU.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the head of the EU’s executive arm said about 20 million tons of wheat are currently stuck in Ukraine.
“And on top of this, Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail – holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support,” she said. “This is using hunger and grain to wield power.”
Von der Leyen said that fragile countries and vulnerable populations suffer the most. She said bread prices in Lebanon increased by 70%, and food shipments from Odesa have been blocked from reaching Somalia.
LVIV, Ukraine - An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said on Tuesday that workers removing rubble from a collapsed apartment building in the devastated Ukrainian city found about 200 corpses in the building’s basement.
Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram that the bodies were decomposing and that the stench permeated the neighborhood. It’s not clear when they were discovered and the report could not be independently verified.
Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a monthslong siege that finally ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their last stand in the strategic port city.
BRUSSELS - A European Union plan to suspend all tariffs on imports from Ukraine for one year cleared the final political hurdle on Tuesday when EU finance ministers endorsed the move.
Meant to help the Ukrainian economy battered by Russia’s invasion, the removal of the EU duties will apply to Ukrainian industrial products, including steel, and to farm goods such as fruits and vegetables.
The EU has already scrapped most of its tariffs on Ukrainian products as a result of a 2016 free-trade agreement. Ukrainian exports to the EU were worth 24.1 billion euros ($25.8 billion) last year, with the main goods being metals, agricultural products and machinery.
Two top Russian security officials vowed on Tuesday that Moscow will achieve all the goals set for the “military operation” in Ukraine, appearing to address the fact that the invasion, expected by many to be a blitzkrieg, has entered its fourth month this week.
The secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said in an interview published Tuesday that the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.”
“Nazism must either be 100% eradicated, or it will raise its head in a few years, and in an even uglier form,” he said in a response to a question about the war dragging on.
Russia has falsely called the war a campaign to “denazify” Ukraine - a country with a democratically elected Jewish president who wants closer ties with the West.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of security officials that Russia is deliberately slowing down its offensive by arranging cease-fires and humanitarian corridors “in order to avoid casualties among the civilians.”
AP’s reporting on the ground found that the Russian forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, schools and venues where civilians were sheltering.
PARIS - A Ukrainian government minister pushed Tuesday for a quick decision on eventual Ukrainian membership in the European Union, even as France warns that it could be decades before Ukraine joins the bloc.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna met with French Europe Minister Clement Beaune Tuesday in Paris and argued that Ukraine has made deep and difficult reforms aimed at improving its chances at EU membership.
“As politicians, we must find a way for Ukraine to truly become part of this family, both economically and politically,” she told reporters.
The European Commission aims to deliver a first opinion in June on Ukraine’s request to become a member. But the process usually takes many years, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said it could be decades.
In the meantime France is proposing an interim arrangement that would allow more political cooperation with Ukraine and other potential EU members.
DAVOS, Switzerland - European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says Russia can be reintegrated into the orbit of European nations if it finds its way back to “democracy, the rule of law, the respect for the international rules-based order.”
Von der Leyen spoke at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering Tuesday. Insisting on the historical and cultural links between Europe and Russia, the head of the EU’s executive arm said reconciliation is “certainly a distant dream and hope.
“But this also says that our standing up against this brutal invasion is standing up against the leadership in Russia. It is the Russian people who are the ones who decide about the future of their country. They have it in their hands.”
ANKARA, Turkey - The leader of a Turkish nationalist party that is allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey should consider leaving NATO if “circumstances become inextricable” and Turkey is forced to approve Sweden and Finland membership.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, said in a speech to his party’s legislators on Tuesday that Turkey isn’t without alternatives and could be part of a possible security alliance that could be made up of Turkic-speaking states and Muslim nations.
“Turkey is not without options. Turkey is not helpless. Leaving NATO should be put on the agenda as an alternative option if the circumstances become inextricable,” Bahceli said. “We did not exist with NATO, and we will not perish without NATO.”
Turkey is objecting to Sweden’s and Finland’s historic bid to join the alliance, citing as reasons their perceived support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other groups that Turkey considers to be terrorists.
ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a delegation made up of officials from Sweden and Finland are expected to arrive in Turkey later on Tuesday to discuss Ankara’s objection to their membership in NATO.
Cavusoglu told a group of journalists traveling with him on a two-day visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel that the delegation would meet with Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal on Wednesday.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto also confirmed the meeting.
A Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region says the region’s pro-Kremlin administration will ask Moscow to set up a military base there.
“There should be a Russian military base in the Kherson region,” deputy head of the Russia-installed administration in Kherson Kirill Stremousov was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. “We will be asking for it, the entire population is interested in it. It is vitally important and will become a security guarantee for the region and its residents.”
Russian forces took control of the Kherson region in southeastern Ukraine early on in the war and installed its own administration there. Ukrainian officials have speculated that Russia plans to stage a referendum in the region to declare its independence, similar to the ones that took place in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014. Moscow recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics two days before invading Ukraine and used it as a pretext to send troops to its ex-Soviet neighbor.
Stremousov denied such plans earlier this month and said the region will ask the Kremlin to make it part of Russia instead. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said it is up to the people of Kherson to decide how and where they want to live.
LONDON - British military authorities say Russian forces have intensified efforts to encircle and capture Severodonetsk and neighboring cities, the only part of the Luhansk region that remains under Ukrainian government control.
The U.K. defense ministry, in a briefing posted Tuesday morning, says the northern and southern arms of the Russian operation are currently separated by about 25 kilometers (15 miles) of Ukrainian-held territory.
The ministry says Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong resistance from Ukrainian troops that occupy well dug-in defensive positions.
The ministry says the battle for Severodonetsk is only one part of the Russian campaign to take the larger Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, and the fall of the city may cause logistical problems for the Kremlin.
“If the Donbas front line moves further west, this will extend Russian lines of communication and likely see its forces face further logistic resupply difficulties,” the ministry said.
KYIV, Ukraine - Russian shelling of a residential building in Sievierodonetsk killed four people, Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai said Tuesday. He didn’t specify when the shelling took place.
The Russian forces in recent weeks have been trying - so far unsuccessfully - to take control of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the region, subjecting both cities to intensive shelling.
The most recent round of shelling, Haidai said, damaged six houses in each of the two cities.
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