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NATO nations have ‘green light’ to send jets to Ukraine; cease-fire in Mariupol collapses: Live updates – USA TODAY

NATO countries supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion have a “green light” to send fighter jets as part of their military aid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.

The push for more air support comes as Russia battered a string of southern cities in Ukraine, throttling evacuation efforts and leading to rising numbers of civilian deaths and displacement. Ukraine’s military has used fighter jets, drones and anti-aircraft systems largely supplied by NATO to down the Russian aircraft bombing the area.

“We’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians,” Blinken said during an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call for a no-fly zone over his country continues to draw no support. Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday that “the world is strong enough to close our skies.”

NATO countries have ruled out policing a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as “participation” in the armed conflict.

Blinken also said the U.S. and its allies are in talks to ban Russian oil imports, a move that would require successful efforts to provide an “appropriate supply of oil on world markets.” Russia supplies about 30% of Europe’s oil and 40% of its natural gas.

Over the weekend, the Russian military continued seeking to isolate Ukraine’s major cities, including Kyiv, a senior Defense Department official said Sunday. But forces attacking near Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv in northern and eastern Ukraine are facing strong resistance, the official said.

The airspace over Ukraine remained contested, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook

Latest developments:

TikTok said it will start labeling content from accounts used by state-controlled media and will suspend livestreaming and new content to its video service as it examines the meaning of Russia’s new “fake news” law.

►The State Department is urging Americans to leave Russia immediately, citing the “unprovoked and unjustified attack” against Ukraine and the potential for harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government security forces.

►Gas in the U.S. has topped $4 a gallon for the first time in over a decade as the price continues to soar in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The national average of a regular gallon of gas is $4.009, according to AAA, up 8 cents from Saturday and up 40 cents from last week. 

►Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from a surprise trip to Russia where he discussed the war with Putin. The trip was “in coordination and with the blessing” of the Biden administration, the latest attempt at diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Israel is one of few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine.

Quick links:

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VISUALS: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

UKRAINE WAR DIARY:Illarion Pavliuk checks in with his family. He’s ready to fight

Cease-fire in Mariupol collapses as Russians keep up offensive

A second attempt at a cease-fire meant to allow civilians and the wounded to be evacuated from besieged Mariupol in southern Ukraine came apart under shelling from Russian forces Sunday, leaving the port city in dire need of food, water, medicine and other supplies.

Ukrainian officials said Russian attacks quickly closed the humanitarian corridor that had been negotiated, dashing hopes that more people could escape the fighting.

“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom,“ Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.

Although Ukrainian forces were putting up stiff resistance and ruining Russian plans for a quick takeover, the conflict has taken a heavy toll.

Russian airstrikes damaged the Donetsk-Mariupol gas pipeline, likely leaving dozens of Ukrainian towns and villages in the area without gas or heat, officials in the Donetsk region said. A Russian missile strike hit a gas line in Irpin, 15 miles west of Kyiv, cutting off gas and heat to local residents, the government said.

Also, Ukraine notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that regular staff operates the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, but that plant management is now under orders from the commander of the Russian forces that took control of the site last week. Ukraine reports that any action of plant management – including measures related to the technical operation of the six reactor units – requires prior approval by the Russian commander.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi expressed “grave concern” about the reorganization, saying professional staff must have the “capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure.”

Ukraine defense minister: ‘Myth’ of Russian might destroyed

Ukraine Defense Minister Alexei Danilov said his country has survived the first wave of  Russia’s large-scale offensive but Russia is preparing a second wave. Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Odesa remain strategically important cities for Russia’s war, he said. Russian troops want to encircle key cities, bleed the Ukrainian army and create a humanitarian catastrophe, Danilov said.

“The myth of Putin’s most modern and powerful army in the world has been destroyed and burned on the roads of Kyiv and Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mykolaiv,” Danilov said. “But the enemy is still dangerous.”

American Express suspends operations in Russia

American Express said Sunday that it is is suspending all operations in Russia “in light of Russia’s ongoing, unjustified attack on the people of Ukraine.” Globally issued American Express cards will no longer work at merchants or ATMs in Russia. Additionally, cards issued in the country by Russian banks will no longer work outside of Russia on the American Express global network. The company said it is also terminating all business operations in Belarus. 

On Saturday, Visa and Mastercard said they will drop any cards issued by Russian banks off their networks and not allow their cards issued outside of Russia to work with Russian vendors or ATMs.

More than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine 

Over 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine into neighboring nations, the U.N. refugee agency said, making it the worst such crisis in Europe since World War II. The Polish prime minister’s office said 922,400 people had crossed its border alone since fighting began 11 days ago. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Moldova to discuss security and humanitarian assistance for the refugees, said officials have seen “very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians” that could constitute war crimes.

Blinken said the U.S. is investigating and documenting the reported attacks to determine whether war crimes are being committed.

‘We have to stop Putin all together’: Kyiv mayor says world must unify

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Sunday urged the world to rally around Ukraine as it fights to remain independent amid Russia’s invasion of the country.

“We see our future as a democratic, modern European country, and we expect support from (the) whole world, because we are fighting not just for Ukraine, we are fighting for wellness,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We are fighting for all (the) world. We have to stop Putin all together.”

In addition to global unity and the weapons Ukraine has requested from its global allies, Klitschko said the country needs more pressure and sanctions on Russia, and that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat made Saturday to eliminate Ukraine, the country has “great ambition” to remain independent from Russia. 

“Our country is not just buildings; people (are our) main power,” he said. “Ukraine was always a friendly nation, we (were) always a friendly country. We never (were) aggressive to anyone. But right now we have a huge motivation to defend our future and our country.” 

– Ella Lee

Rubio warns ‘no-fly’ zone over Ukraine means World War III

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Sunday warned that those calling for a “no-fly” zone over Ukraine may not fully understand the ramifications of the act. 

“That means flying AWACS 24 hours a day. That means the willingness to shoot down and engage Russian airplanes in the sky. That means, frankly, you can’t put those planes up there unless you’re willing to knock out the anti-aircraft systems that the Russians have deployed, and not just in Ukraine, but in Russia, and also in Belarus,” Rubio said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Basically, a no fly zone – if people understand what it means – means starting World War III,” he continued. 

The Florida senator also responded to online criticism he faced Saturday for sharing pictures of a Zoom call with Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy after the Ukrainian ambassador asked Congress to refrain from doing so for security reasons, saying the ambassador made that request late into the call and that he does not believe he put Zelenskyy at risk.

– Ella Lee

ENTERING UKRAINE:Thousands of people are fleeing the fighting in Ukraine. Here’s who is trying to get in.

People just evacuated from Irpin rush through the checkpoint on March 6, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

UN ambassador: Offer to negotiate with Putin is ‘still on the table’

U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Sunday doubled down on the United States’ position that it will not be enacting a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“President Biden has been very, very clear that American troops will not be put on the ground or in the air to escalate this war and make this an American war against the Russians,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But we’ve also been very clear that we will support Ukraine in every other way possible.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. is in talks with Poland and NATO to provide jets to Ukraine or crack down on tougher sanctions for Russia but stopped short of confirming that help is guaranteed. She added that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine, negotiation is still on the table.

“We have been working since the beginning of this to bring the Russians to the negotiating table, and that offer is still on the table – not just by us but also by our European colleagues,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

– Ella Lee

UK: Russian tactics mimic Syria, Chechnya

Defense officials in the United Kingdom said they believe Russia is targeting populated areas in multiple locations, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol in an effort to break Ukrainian morale, according to a statement released early Sunday. 

“Russia has previously used similar tactics in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016, employing both air and ground-based munitions,” the statement said. It also credited the scale and strength of the Ukrainian resistance for targeting Russian supply lines and slowing the advance of ground forces.

“There is a realistic possibility that Russia is now attempting to conceal fuel trucks as regular support trucks to minimise losses,” the statement read. 

Moody’s slashes Russia’s credit rating

Moody’s on Sunday again slashed Russia’s credit rating and listed its future outlook as “negative.” The financial services company downgraded Russia’s rating based on expectations that the Central Bank will further restrict payments across borders, including debt service on government bonds. 

The rating – Ca – is now closer to junk status, “driven by severe concerns around Russia’s willingness and ability to pay its debt obligations,” Moody’s said in a statement issued early Sunday.

“Concerns around the government’s willingness to pay and the unpredictability of government actions could result in larger than historical average losses for investors,” the statement said. 

– Katie Wadington

Radio Free Europe suspends operations in Russia

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is suspending operations in Russia because of government pressures since the start of the war in Ukraine.

RFE/RL, which describes itself as an editorially independent media company supported by a grant from Congress and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, issued a statement late Saturday saying it had stopped operating in Russia “after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists.”

The media entity also referenced a law signed Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that could subject journalists to prison sentences if they deviate from Kremlin-approved descriptions of the war. It said RFE/RL journalists would “continue to tell the truth about Russia’s catastrophic invasion of its neighbor,” reporting on developments from outside Russia.

“This is not a decision that RFE/RL has taken of its own accord, but one that has been forced upon us by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth,” President and CEO Jamie Fly said.

Russia’s federal communications agency announced Friday that it would block the websites of RFE/RL, the BBC, Voice of America and other foreign outlets for spreading what it termed “fake” information.

RFE/RL, which has maintained a physical presence in Russia since 1991, said nine of its Russian language websites have been blocked in the last week after it refused to comply with demands to delete information about the invasion of Ukraine.

– Bill Keveney

Contributing: The Associated Press

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