Russia–Ukraine War (May 24): 200 Bodies Found in Mariupol: Mariupol Mayor’s Adviser

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 24. Click here for updates from May 23.

200 Bodies Found in Mariupol: Mariupol Mayor’s Adviser

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.

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Ukrainian Refugee Camp in Mexico’s Capital to Close

Organizers of a camp for Ukrainian refugees who had traveled to Mexico said Tuesday they will soon close it and discouraged Ukrainians still in Europe from traveling to Mexico as they try to enter the United States.

Some 1,000 Ukrainians passed through the camp during the month that it was open on the east side of Mexico City. Now, only about 120 remain, and 98 percent of those already have sponsors lined up in the United States and expect to soon travel there, said Vlad Fedoryshyn, director of United with Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization, that collaborated with the Mexican government to establish the camp.

Anastasiya Polo, United with Ukraine spokeswoman, said Ukrainians still in Europe should register for the U.S. government’s program and not waste money and effort traveling to Mexico. Before the camp was established in Mexico City, Ukrainians were traveling to Tijuana at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We are asking people from Europe, Ukrainians, to go through the program from Europe, do not come to Mexico because it is much more expensive for them, it is a lot of traveling,” Polo said. The camp will close by June 1, but Ukrainians remaining in Mexico will continue receiving support.

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US to End Russia’s Ability to Pay International Investors

The United States will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt back to international investors on Wednesday, making a Russian default on its debts for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution all but inevitable.

The Treasury Department said in a notification that does not plan to renew the license to allow Russia to keep paying its debt-holders through American banks.

Since the first rounds of sanctions, the Treasury Department has given banks a license to process any bond payments from Russia. That window expires at midnight May 25.

There had already been signs that the Biden administration was unwilling to extend the deadline. At a press conference heading into the Group of Seven finance minister meetings in Koenigswinter, Germany, last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the window existed “to allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place, and for investors to be able to sell securities.”

“The expectation was that it was time-limited,” Yellen said.

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Ukraine Gathers Russian Dead in Chilled Train for Prisoner Exchange

Ukraine is gathering the bodies of dead Russian soldiers strewn among the rubble of formerly occupied towns and using everything from DNA to tattoos to verify their identities in the hope of exchanging them for prisoners of war.

Volunteers have helped the military gather 60 bodies in the northeastern region of Kharkiv where Russian forces have retreated in recent weeks, stacking them up in a refrigerated rail carriage.

Bodies are sometimes used as part of prisoner exchanges and other times in exchanges for Ukrainian bodies, said Anton Ivannikov, captain of the military-civil cooperation branch, Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is coordinating the effort. The bodies of those related to high-ranking officials can be especially valuable to an exchange.

“We are gathering all the documents, all the credit cards. Anything which would help us identify the body” including tattoos and DNA, Ivannikov said.

“In the future this will tell us which soldier, which brigade was in this region, for further exchange,” he said.

The bodies will travel on the train to Kyiv where the team negotiating exchanges is based, he said.

The recovery effort has been made possible due to Ukraine’s pushing of Russian forces from towns in the Kharkiv region—and largely out of artillery range of Kharkiv city, the second-largest in the country.

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Russian Parliament Passes Bill Allowing Moscow to Close Western News Bureaus

Russia’s parliament on Tuesday passed a bill giving prosecutors powers to shut foreign media bureaus in Moscow if a Western country has been “unfriendly” to Russian media, following the closure of some Russian state news outlets in the West.

The bill, passed in the first reading by the lower house of parliament, or Duma, also prohibits the distribution of articles or other materials from media that have been closed by the prosecutor’s office. It needs to undergo two more readings, be reviewed by the upper house of parliament, and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.

The journalists of a media organization deemed to be an offender under the bill would have their foreign ministry accreditation withdrawn—meaning they could not work in Russia.

The new bill adds to the challenges facing foreign media after Russia in March adopted a law which penalized what it termed spreading “fake” news about its army.

“In the current geopolitical situation, the mass media has become an instrument of influence on the informational state of society,” the lawmakers said in an official explanatory note on the bill.

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Russian Lawmakers Give Initial Approval to Bill Allowing Foreign Asset Takeover

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday gave the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that have left the market in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, the government’s online portal showed.

Scores of foreign companies have announced temporary shutdowns of stores and factories in Russia or said they were leaving for good since Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The bill, passed in the first reading by the lower house of parliament, or Duma, would allow the state development bank VEB or other entities approved by a commission to act as external administration at companies where foreign ownership, specifically from countries that Moscow deems “unfriendly,” exceeds 25 percent.

While the first reading approves the merits of the proposed law, the bill needs to undergo a second reading dedicated to a detailed discussion and fine tuning, before a third, usually formal reading. It then must be reviewed by the upper house, and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.

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Russia, China Hold Joint Military Exercise in East Asia as Biden Visits

Russian and Chinese military planes conducted joint exercises to patrol the Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday in a pointed farewell to President Joe Biden as he concluded an Asia trip that rankled Beijing.

Japan scrambled jets after Russian and Chinese warplanes neared its airspace while Tokyo was hosting the leaders of the Quad group of countries, which includes the United States, said Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, who called the move a provocation.

Biden stressed during the trip, intended in part to counter China’s growing influence in the region, that the United States will stand with its allies and partners to push for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing and Moscow declared a “no-limits” partnership just weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, and China has refused to condemn the move.

The joint patrol lasted 13 hours over the Japanese and East China seas and involved Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and Chinese Xian H-6 jets, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.

Planes from the Japanese and South Korean air forces shadowed the Russian and Chinese jets for part of the exercise, it said.

Tokyo conveyed “grave concerns” to both Russia and China through diplomatic channels, Kishi said at a news conference.

He characterized the incident as a likely provocation by both Beijing and Moscow on a day when Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Australia’s newly elected leader, Anthony Albanese, were meeting in Tokyo.

“We believe the fact that this action was taken during the Quad summit makes it more provocative than in the past,” he said, adding it was the fourth such incident since November.

China’s defense ministry confirmed the joint aerial patrol over the Sea of Japan, East China Sea, and the Western Pacific and called it part of an annual military exercise.

On Monday, Biden angered China by saying he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan, but he said later U.S. policy toward the self-ruled democratic island had not changed. China considers Taiwan an inalienable part of its territory that should be reunited with the mainland.

South Korea’s military said it scrambled fighter jets after at least four Chinese and four Russian warplanes entered its air defense zone.

The Russian and Chinese aircraft entered and left the Korea Air Defence Identification Zone (Korea ADIZ) in the Sea of Japan, known in Korea as the East Sea, several times through the day, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The aircraft, which included fighter jets and bombers from each side, did not violate South Korea’s airspace, it said.

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Don’t Trade Security for Economic Profit, NATO Tells Countries

Western countries must not trade security for economic profit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Tuesday, referring to debates over the use of Chinese technology in 5G networks and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for Russian gas.

“We must recognize that our economic choices have consequences for our security. Freedom is more important than free trade, the protection of our values is more important than profit,” Stoltenberg told business leaders at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

“I am not arguing against trade with China, but I am saying that for instance the control over 5G networks is of vital security importance,” he said.

“We cannot say that in the interest of profits and free trade we just open up those networks also for suppliers that actually are not reliable when it comes to our security,” Stoltenberg added.

On the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, designed to double the flow of Russian gas through the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, he spoke of a lesson learned.

Berlin halted the project when Russia formally recognized two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent, days before sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in what Moscow describes as a “special military operation.”

Stoltenberg said free trade had brought a lot of prosperity and wealth, but at a price.

“Because some of this trade, some of this interaction with authoritarian regimes, is undermining our security—and then we have to chose security instead of vulnerability and over-reliance on authoritarian regimes,” he said.

The United States has long pressed European and other countries to exclude Chinese technology from 5G networks.

Washington sees Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei as an arm of the Chinese Communist Party’s global surveillance machinery.

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France Reassures Ukraine It Will Be Part of European Union

Ukraine will eventually be part of the European Union, France’s Europe minister said on Tuesday, reassuring Kyiv that an initiative to forge closer ties between the bloc and aspiring members would not replace their bids to join.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month suggested creating a “European political community” that would create a new structure allowing closer cooperation with countries seeking EU membership.

“I am convinced that Ukraine will be part of the European Union,” Clement Beaune told reporters. “We know with honesty that it takes time and in this time we can’t allow ourselves to simply wait. We have to nurture the European hope.”

Beaune, who earlier this week said it could take 15–20 years for Ukraine to join added that the project “was not an alternative.”

Speaking alongside Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, he said the next step would be to discuss the details of the initiative with European partners.

The aim is to create a community of countries who aspire to join the bloc or wish closer ties and adhere to the EU’s core values in areas such as political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment of infrastructure or circulation of people.

The initiative has been received cautiously by some member states given the lack of details. Kyiv has also expressed its concern that it could be used as an alternative to membership.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, will give its opinion on Ukraine’s candidacy request in June, but even if approved the process takes several years and can be vetoed by a member state.

Stefanishyna said after the meeting with Beaune that she had been reassured the idea would not affect Kyiv’s candidacy.

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Russia Not ‘Chasing Deadlines’ in Ukraine, Says Security Official

One of President Vladimir Putin’s top security officials said on Tuesday that Russia would achieve its objectives in Ukraine without being constrained by deadlines.

“All the goals set by the President will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise, because truth, including historical truth, is on our side,” Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in an interview with the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.

“We are not chasing deadlines,” he added.

“Nazism must be 100 percent eradicated, or it will raise its head again in a few years, in an even uglier form,” Patrushev said, doubling down on Russia’s stated aims for the military conflict.

He also said Ukraine was being used by the West to contain Russia, echoing charges laid out by President Vladimir Putin to justify the conflict.

“The ideal scenario for the whole of NATO, led by the United States, seems to be an endless simmering conflict,” Patrushev said.

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Signs Law to Seize and Sell Russian Assets, Bolstering War Efforts

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a new law on May 23 enabling the country to seize and sell assets of people who support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military invasion.

The law focuses primarily on Russian-owned assets and property in Ukraine, particularly those belonging to Russian citizens who have already had their assets blocked by Ukraine’s government, and will help bolster Ukraine’s war efforts, NPR reported.

It also targets individuals who aided the establishment of pro-Russian separatist states in Russian-controlled portions of Ukraine or those who helped to set up elections or referendums in these areas. Eastern Ukraine is home to two pro-Russian separatist states—the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic—recognized by Russia as independent from Ukraine but regarded by Ukrainian forces as occupying terrorist states.

Read the full article here

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Turkish Nationalist Leader Floats Idea of Leaving NATO

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.

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US Confident Finland, Sweden Can Resolve Turkish Concerns: Deputy Defense Secretary

The United States is confident that Finland and Sweden will be able to resolve Turkish concerns about their seeking membership in NATO, Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said on Tuesday.

“[We are] confident that Finland and Sweden will be able to resolve those [concerns] with the Turks directly,” Hicks said while speaking alongside her Norwegian counterpart in Oslo.

Ankara surprised its NATO allies earlier this month by objecting to the two Nordic countries’ accession to the alliance.

Turkey says Sweden and Finland harbor people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.

All 30 NATO states must give their approval before a new member can be admitted and thus benefit from the collective-security guarantee.

On Saturday, the leaders of Turkey, Sweden, and Finland held talks to discuss Ankara’s concerns.

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Russian Forces Seek to Encircle Ukraine’s Severodonetsk, Neighboring Cities: UK

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 UK Defense Ministry, in a briefing posted Tuesday morning, said the northern and southern arms of the Russian operation are currently separated by about 25 kilometers (15 miles) of Ukrainian-held territory.

The ministry said Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong resistance from Ukrainian troops that occupy well dug-in defensive positions.

The ministry said 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.

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Russia Will Strengthen Economic Ties With China, Cooperate With Beijing on Technology: Russian Foreign Minister

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country will focus on strengthening ties with China, saying the two neighboring countries have common interests and can make technological advances together.

“Now that the West has taken the position of a ‘dictator,’ our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript published by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on May 23.

According to Russia’s state-run media RT, Lavrov made the remarks while speaking to students at a high school in Moscow.

Read the full article here

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US Still ‘a Ways Away’ From Sending Troops Back Into Ukraine: General

The United States is still “a ways away” from any possible decision on whether to reintroduce U.S. troops into Ukraine, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday, even as he acknowledged low-level planning underway.

President Joe Biden decided to withdraw American troops from Ukraine before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion in order to avoid a direct conflict with a nuclear-armed adversary.

But changing circumstances including a reopening of the U.S. embassy have raised questions about whether U.S. troops may be required to return to help ensure security of diplomats in a country at war.

At a news conference, Milley acknowledged some degree of staff planning ahead of a potential decision to send U.S. troops back into Ukraine. That planning hasn’t made it to his level for review or to the level of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Then, ultimately, it would be up to Biden.

“At the end of the day, any reintroduction of U.S. forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision. So we’re a ways away from anything like that,” Milley said.

“We’re still developing courses of action, and none of that’s been presented yet to the secretary.”

Milley did not specify whether he was referring to low-level planning for U.S. troops to potentially secure a U.S. diplomatic presence in Ukraine or potentially for other activities as well.

The Pentagon is helping Ukraine battle Russian troops by sharing intelligence and sending it weaponry.

On Monday Austin announced new security assistance packages from 20 countries for Ukraine after hosting a virtual meeting with allies.

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Finland, Sweden to Hold Talks With Turkey

Finland’s foreign minister said at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos that a delegation from his country and Sweden will travel to the Turkish capital amid pushback from Turkey on the Nordic nations’ application to join NATO.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Tuesday during a geopolitical outlook panel that the representatives will head to Turkey on Wednesday for talks.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed the negotiations. Turkey is objecting to Sweden’s and Finland’s historic bid to join the military alliance, citing their perceived support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other groups that Turkey considers to be terrorists. Turkey also points to their arms exports restrictions against it.

Haavisto says he understands Turkey has “security concerns” regarding terrorism and that Finland has “good answers for those because we are also part of the fight against the terrorism. So, we think that this issue can be settled.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at Davos that NATO will do “what we always do” and “that is to sit down and address concerns when allies express concerns.”

He said he’s confident that the group will be able to “solve these issues and to agree and then to welcome Finland and Sweden as full-fledged members of our alliance.”

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Urges Allies to Pressure Moscow on Prisoner Swap

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late on Monday that Kyiv was ready for an exchange of prisoners with Russia “even tomorrow” and called on his allies to put pressure on Moscow.

“The exchange of people—this is a humanitarian matter today and a very political decision that depends on the support of many states,” Zelenskyy said in a question-and-answer video link with audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“It is important … to pressure politically on any level, through powerful business, through the closure of businesses, oil embargo … and through these threats actively intensify the exchange of our people for Russian servicemen.”

Zelenskyy said that Ukraine has involved the United Nations, Switzerland, Israel, and “many, many countries,” but the process was very complicated.

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EU Commission Chief Vows More Ukraine Aid

The head of the European Union’s executive arm said Russia’s war in Ukraine should end with a “strategic failure” for the invading country as she pledged Tuesday that the bloc will continue to invest massively in support of the war-torn nation.

In addition to the economic sanctions imposed on Russia and the military aid provided to Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the 27-nation EU has proposed over 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) in macro-financial assistance, the largest package ever offered to a third country.

Von der Leyen added that reconstruction efforts also should aim to modernize Ukraine’s administration. It will be required if the country wants to join the 27-nation bloc in the future.

She said the reforms should “firmly establish the rule of law and the independence of [Ukraine’s] judiciary” and help tackle corruption.

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Russia Launches All-Out Assault to Encircle Ukraine Troops in East

Russian forces were launching an all-out assault to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin cities straddling a river in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, a battle which could determine the success or failure of Moscow’s main campaign in the east.

The decisive battles of the war’s latest phase are raging further south, where Moscow is attempting to seize the Donbas region of two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets river and its twin Lysychansk on the west bank have become the pivotal battlefield there, with Russian forces advancing from three directions to encircle them.

Russia is now in control of an unbroken swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine, but has yet to achieve its objective of seizing all of Luhansk and Donetsk.

President Joe Biden, meeting the leaders of Japan, India, and Australia in Tokyo, said the war showed the importance of defending international law and human rights around the world. The previous day he broke with convention to say openly that the United States would use its military to protect Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by China.

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Danish Anti-Ship Missiles Expected to Help Ukraine Control Its Black Sea Coast

Copenhagen’s pledge of Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a launcher to Ukraine, announced by the United States on Monday, is the first sign since the Russian invasion in February that Kyiv will receive U.S.-made weapons that significantly extend its striking range.

Ukraine has been seeking more advanced weapons such as air defenses, anti-ship missiles, and longer-range rockets, but so far the majority of aid has been in short-range systems like Javelin anti-tank weapons and artillery.

The Harpoons, made by Boeing Co., could be used to push the Russian navy away from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, allowing exports of grain and other agricultural products to resume.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was “especially grateful to Denmark which announced today that it will provide a Harpoon launcher and missiles to help Ukraine defend its coast.”

“This is an important and measured step to increase the Ukrainians’ capability and operational intensity against the Russians,” Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the director of the Missile Defense Project, said.

With the Harpoon missiles, Ukraine will likely depend on other nations for targeting data to use the systems effectively against ships at longer ranges, Karako noted.

The Danish Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Moscow Not Sure It Needs Ties With West, Will Work on Ties With China: Lavrov

Russia’s foreign minister said on Monday that Moscow would consider offers from the West to reestablish ties and determine whether that is needed, but will focus on developing relations with China.

Sergei Lavrov, in a question and answer session at an event in Moscow, said Western countries had espoused “russophobia” since Russia launched its incursion into Ukraine—described by Moscow as a “special military operation.”

Russia was working to replace goods imported from Western countries, he said, and in the future, would rely only on “reliable” countries not beholden to the West.

“If they [the West] want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.

“We must cease being dependent in any way on supplies of absolutely everything from the West for ensuring the development of critically important sectors for security, the economy, or our homeland’s social sphere,” he said.

Lavrov said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.

“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position,’ our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov said Russia would count on “only ourselves and on countries which have proved themselves reliable and do not ‘dance to some other piper’s music.’ If Western countries change their minds and propose some form of cooperation, we can then decide.”

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Pentagon Says More High-Tech Weapons Going to Ukraine

Nearly 50 defense leaders from around the world met Monday and agreed to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including a Harpoon launcher and missiles to protect its coast, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Austin declined to say if the United States will send Ukraine high-tech mobile rocket launchers, which it has requested. But Austin said that some 20 nations announced Monday that they will send new packages of security assistance to Ukraine, as its war with Russia reaches the three-month mark.

“We’ve gained a sharper, shared sense of Ukraine’s priority requirements and the situation on the battlefield,” Austin told reporters at the close of the virtual meeting with the defense leaders. “Many countries are donating critically needed artillery ammunition, coastal defense systems, and tanks and other armored vehicles. Others came forward with new commitments for training.”

The U.S. and other countries have been training Ukrainian forces in nearby European countries.

Austin added that the Czech Republic recently donated attack helicopters, tanks, and rockets, and that Italy, Greece, Norway, and Poland announced new donations Monday of artillery systems and ammunition.

“The nature of the fight, as you’ve heard us describe a number of times is … really shaped by artillery in this phase,” said Austin. “And we’ve seen serious exchanges of artillery fires over the last several weeks.”

Austin said that during the virtual meeting, Ukraine officials made clear their security needs. And he said those are consistent with what has been identified in recent weeks—long-range artillery and rocket systems, armored personnel carriers, and drones.

Milley provided the greatest detail to date on the increased U.S. presence in Europe since Russia invaded in late February. Last fall there were roughly 78,000 U.S. troops in the region, and that has gone up to 102,000—including 24 surface ships, four submarines, 12 fighter jet squadrons, two combat aviation units, and six Army brigade combat teams, along with their division and corps leaderships.

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says He Would Meet With Putin to End the War

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that President Vladimir Putin was the only Russian official he was willing to meet with to discuss how to end the war.

Zelenskyy, addressing by video link an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, also said that arranging any talks with Russia was becoming more difficult in light of what he said was evidence of Russian actions against civilians under occupation.

Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to degrade Ukraine’s military capabilities.

“The president of the Russian Federation decides it all,” said Zelenskyy through an interpreter. “If we are talking about ending this war without him personally, that decision cannot be taken.”

Zelenskyy said the discovery of mass killings in areas occupied by Russian troops earlier in the war, particularly outside Kyiv, made it more difficult to arrange talks and he would rule out any discussions with other officials.

“I cannot accept any kind of meeting with anyone coming from the Russian Federation but the president,” he said. “And only in the case when there is one issue on the [table]: stopping the war. There are no other grounds for any other kind of meeting.”

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have held sporadic talks since Russian forces poured into Ukraine at the end of February, but both sides say the talks have stalled.

Zelenskyy told Ukrainian television last week that it was impossible to halt the war without some sort of diplomacy involved.

Frank Fang, Katabella Roberts, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.