By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Russia’s newly appointed battlefield commander in Ukraine made his reputation crushing resistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad during that country’s devastating civil war.
Russian forces led by Gen. Alexander Dvornikov destroyed whole cities while dropping barrel bombs that targeted civilians. With Moscow supporting Assad, the war in Syria has killed more than 350,000 people.
Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush, a Syrian army defector, said Sunday he expects a similar “scorched-earth” strategy under the commander in Ukraine. Speaking by telephone from Turkey, al-Bayoush said he believes the aim of naming Dvornikov as Ukraine war commander is to cause widespread destruction in many places at once.
“He has very good experience in this policy,” al-Bayoush said. “This commander is a war criminal.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— US: Russia’s new battlefield commander has history of brutality
— Ukraine digs in to fight Russia’s looming eastern offensive
— Analysis: War, economy could weaken Putin’s place as leader
— Biden, Modi to speak as India avoids hard line on Russia
— Zelenskyy, in AP interview, says he seeks peace despite atrocities
— Poland-Ukraine ties seen as target of Russian disinformation
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Kyiv and his brother said the visit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to their capital shows who Ukraine’s real friends are at this critical time. But they understand if security concerns keep U.S. President Joe Biden from visiting for now.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir have been professional boxers and now outspoken defenders of Ukraine. Interviewed Sunday on ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” they said they expect Russia’s military to return and target Kyiv again. And when they do, they said they can’t defend Ukraine with their fists — they need weapons.
Wladimir Klitschko also pleaded for the world to isolate Russia economically, saying “every cent that Russia is getting, they’re using for weapons to kill us.”
Vitali Klitschko said everyone was shocked when the Russians who pushed on Kyiv retreated after killing hundreds of civilians during their occupation. He called it genocide to kill women, children, old people and teenagers for no reason.
To defend Ukraine now, the mayor said, is to defend democracy and peace in Europe.
WILMINGTON, Del. — The White House said President Joe Biden will press Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a hard line against Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the leaders plan a virtual meeting on Monday.
India’s neutral stance in the war has raised concerns in Washington and earned praise from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who lauded India this month for judging “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.”
India abstained when the U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council over allegations of war crimes. India continues to purchase Russian energy despite Western pressure to avoid buying Russian oil and gas. And the U.S. has considered sanctions on India for its recent purchase of advanced Russian air defense systems.
Psaki’s statement says Biden will discuss how Russia’s war against Ukraine is destabilizing the global food supply and commodity markets, and the need to strengthen the global economy while ”upholding a free, open, rules-based international order to bolster security, democracy, and prosperity.”
BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.
The Austria Press Agency reported that Nehammer told reporters in Vienna on Sunday that he plans to make the journey. It follows a trip on Saturday to Kyiv, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
APA reported that Nehammer aims to encourage dialogue between Ukraine and Russia and also address “war crimes” in his meeting with Putin.
Austria is a member of the European Union and has backed the 27-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia, though it so far has opposed cutting off deliveries of Russian gas. The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.
Nehammer said he was taking the trip on his own initiative, and that he had consulted with the European Union’s top officials. He said that he also informed Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
BERLIN — The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Ukraine said the staff at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant has been rotated for the first time in three weeks after Russian troops left the area.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern about the well-being of the workers since the Russian military took control of the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster at the beginning of the war.
The agency said Ukraine informed it on Sunday that it has now rotated the staff, but the situation remains far from normal. They had to be transported to and from the site by water, with the Pripyat River being the only way for people living in the city of Slavutych to currently reach the plant.
The IAEA said Ukraine has informed it that analytical laboratories for radiation monitoring at the site were destroyed, with analytical instruments “stolen, broken or otherwise disabled.” The automated transmission of radiation monitoring data has been disabled.
KYIV, Ukraine — The governor of the region that includes Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, Dnipro, says the airport was hit twice by missile attacks on Sunday. The Ukrainian military command said Russian forces also keep shelling Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and have kept up their siege of Mariupol, the key southern port city that has been under attack for nearly six weeks.
The Russian Defense Ministry says it’s air-launched missiles hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in two locations, while sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed a Ukrainian unit’s headquarters in the Dnipro region. Neither side’s military claims could be independently verified.
The Pentagon said Russia has a clear advantage in armored forces for its next phase in its war on Ukraine. Press secretary John Kirby said Friday that the Russians spread themselves too thin to take the capital, but now they’re more focused on a smaller region, and still have the vast majority of their combat power. A major effort by Ukrainian defenses and more Western assistance will be needed to push them back.
WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. official said Russia has appointed a new commander to oversee its war on Ukraine.
The official speaking on condition of anonymity said Russia has turned to one of its most experienced military officers, Gen. Alexander Dvornikov. U.S. officials say the 60-year-old general has a record of brutality against civilians in Syria and other theaters of war.
The White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN on Sunday that “this general will just be another author of crimes and brutality against Ukrainian civilians.” And he said “no appointment of any general can erase the fact that Russia has already faced a strategic failure in Ukraine.”
The new battlefield leadership comes as Russia gears up for what is expected to be a large and more focused push to expand Russian control in the Donbas after failing to conquer the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Sullivan reiterated support for the Ukrainian government, saying the United States is determined to do all it can to help Ukrainians resist this general and the forces he commands.
— Robert Burns and Hope Yen
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s border guard agency says that about 2,200 Ukrainian men of fighting age have been detained so far while trying to leave the country in violation of martial law.
The agency said Sunday that some of them have used forged documents and others tried to bribe border guards to get out of the country.
It said some have been found dead while trying to cross the Carpathian mountains in adverse weather, without specifying the number.
Under martial law, Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 are barred from leaving the country so that they can be called up to fight.
WARSAW, Poland — Sirens have sounded in some Polish cities to mark the anniversary of a 2010 plane crash that killed the country’s president, despite protests that their sound would be unnecessarily traumatic for refugees from the war in Ukraine.
The sirens early Sunday were intended to add to the significance and the plaintive character of observances honoring the late President Lech Kaczynski, the first lady and 94 other prominent Poles killed 12 years ago in the crash of the presidential plane in Russia. Kaczynski was the twin of Jaroslaw Kaczynski — the leader of the main governing Law and Justice party.
Provincial governors ignored calls not to use the sirens out of concern for refugees from neighboring Ukraine, traumatized by air raid alarms. Authorities sent text messages to refugees’ phones that the sirens would mean no danger.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military says Russia has been beefing up its forces and trying to probe Ukrainian defenses.
The Ukrainian military command said Sunday that the Russian troops have continued attempts to break Ukrainian defenses near Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv. It reported that Russia was sending reinforcements to Izyum while continuing the shelling of Kharkiv.
The military added that the Russians also continued their attempts to take control of Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port that has been besieged by Russian forces for nearly 1 ½ months.
After Russia’s attempt to capture Kyiv and other big cities in northeastern Ukraine quickly failed, Ukrainian and Western officials expect Moscow to launch a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he focused on the need to track down perpetrators of war crimes in a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Zelenskyy said on Twitter that in Sunday’s call “we emphasized that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished.”
Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other places near Kyiv, where hundreds of slaughtered civilians, many with their hands bound and signs of torture, were found after Russian troops retreated.
Zelenskyy also said he and Scholz “discussed anti-Russian sanctions, defense and financial support for Ukraine.”
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has opened Holy Week with a call for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make room for a negotiated peace, highlighting the need for leaders to “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”
Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass before crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the pandemic, Pope Francis called for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”
Francis did not refer directly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the reference was clear. He has repeatedly denounced the war and the suffering brought to innocent civilians.
HELSINKI — Finland says that a shipment of art works from Russian museums has been returned to Russia after it was seized under European Union sanctions against Moscow.
Finland’s customs service said late Saturday that the Foreign Ministry granted a special permit to return the consignment with a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million). It said that trucks carrying the art works from the Hermitage Museum and the Pavlovsk State Museum in St. Petersburg, among others, left Finnish territory on Saturday afternoon.
The shipment was seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing at the beginning of April. The works were en route to Russia after loan to museums in Europe and Japan. Experts say that art works loaned from Russia typically travel overland via Finland.
Russia has demanded the return of all works on loan to “unfriendly” nations that imposed sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has struck Ukrainian air defense batteries in the country’s south and east.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that the military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in Starobohdanivka in the southern Mykolaiv region and at an air base in Chuhuiv in the eastern Kharkiv region.
Konashenkov also said that sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit near Zvonetske in the Dnipro region.
The Russian military claims couldn’t be independently verified.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says more civilians are expected to leave Mariupol Sunday in their personal vehicles.
Evacuations are also planned from Berdyansk, Tokmak and Enerhodar in the south and Sieverierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna and Rubizhne in the east.
Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, has been besieged by Russian forces for nearly 1 ½ months, cut from food, water and power supplies and pummeled by relentless bombardment that has killed at least 5,000, according to local officials.
Ukrainian authorities have urged civilians in the east to evacuate in the face of an imminent Russian offensive. They accused Russia of killing 52 people on Friday at the train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk as they were preparing to evacuate.
GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says the number of people who have left Ukraine since the beginning of the war has reached 4.5 million.
A regular update Sunday of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ online portal on numbers of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Feb. 24 brought the total to some 4.504 million.
About 2.6 million of those fled at least initially to Poland and more than 686,000 to Romania. However, UNHCR notes that there are very few border controls within the European Union and it believes “a large number of people” have moved on from the first country they arrived in.
LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says that Russia’s armed forces are seeking to respond to mounting losses by boosting troop numbers with personnel who had been discharged from military service since 2012.
In an intelligence update on Twitter, the ministry also said Sunday that the Russian military’s efforts to “generate more fighting power” also include trying to recruit from Trans-Dniester, a breakaway region in Moldova that borders Ukraine.
Russia maintains some 1,500 troops in the region, which is not internationally recognized.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Associated Press on Saturday that he is committed to seeking peace despite Russian attacks on civilians that have stunned the world.
He said no one wants to negotiate with people who tortured their nation — “as a man, as a father, I understand this very well.” But he said “we don’t want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution.”
Zelenskyy said he’s confident Ukrainians would accept peace despite the horrors they have witnessed in the war. But meanwhile, Russian troops are regrouping for an expected surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine, including the besieged port city of Mariupol that Ukrainian defenders are battling to retain.
So Zelenskyy renewed his plea for countries to send more weapons. He says they have to fight for life — not “for dust when there is nothing and no people. That’s why it is important to stop this war.”
KYIV, Ukraine — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, promising so much support that his nation might never be bullied again.
Johnson’s surprise visit included a pledge of 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems, part of another 100 million pounds ($130 million) of high-grade military equipment. Johnson also confirmed an additional $500 million in World Bank lending, taking Britain’s total loan guarantee up to $1 billion.
Johnson said Ukraine defied the odds pushing Russian forces “from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century.″
The prime minister credits “Zelenskyy’s resolute leadership and the invincible heroism and courage of the Ukrainian people” for thwarting what he calls the “monstrous aims” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Johnson says Britain and its partners “are going to ratchet up the economic pressure … not just freezing assets in banks and sanctioning oligarchs but moving away from use of Russian hydrocarbons.”
Johnson also described a vision for a future Ukraine so fortified and protected by the equipment, technology and know-how of Britain and its partners that it can never be threatened in the same way again. In the meantime, Johnson said, “there is a huge amount to do to make sure that Ukraine is successful, that Ukraine wins and that Putin must fail.”
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