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Latest on Russia-Ukraine crisis: Ukraine attacked from 3 sides, official says

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The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:

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KYIV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian presidential adviser says that Russian forces have launched an attack on Ukraine from the north, east and south. The adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said "the Ukrainian military is fighting hard."

Podolyak said Thursday that "our army is fighting back inflicting significant losses to the enemy." He said that there have been civilian casualties, but didn't give details.

He said that "Ukraine now needs a greater and very specific support from the world -- military-technical, financial as well as tough sanctions against Russia," he said.

Another adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia has targeted air bases and various other military infrastructure.

Oleksii Arestovich said the Russian strike hasn't achieved its goal to rout the country's military. He said that "we suffered casualties, but they aren't significant," adding that the Russian strikes "haven't eroded the combat capability of the Ukrainian military."

He said that the Russian troops moved up to 5 kilometres deep into the Ukrainian territory in the Kharkiv and Chernihiv regions, and, possibly in other areas.

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BEIJING -- China's customs agency on Thursday approved imports of wheat from all regions of Russia, a move that could help to reduce the impact of possible Western sanctions imposed over Moscow's attack on Ukraine.

The two governments announced an agreement Feb. 8 for China to import Russian wheat and barley after Russian President Vladimir became the highest-profile foreign guest to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics.

China's populous market is a growth area for other farm goods suppliers, but Beijing had barred imports until now from Russia's main wheat-growing areas due to concern about possible fungus and other contamination.

Russia is one of the biggest wheat producers but its exports would be vulnerable if its foreign markets block shipments in response to its attack on Ukraine.

Thursday's announcement said Russia would "take all measures" to prevent contamination by wheat smut fungus and would suspend exports to China if it was found.

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BERLIN -- Germany's foreign minister says that "we woke up in a different world today."

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a televised statement that "after months of preparing lies and propaganda, President Putin decided today to let his threats be followed with terrible deeds."

Baerbock said that "the Russian government is breaking the most elementary rules of the international order in front of the eyes of the world."

Baerbock said German diplomats remaining in Kyiv would leave the capital. A decision would be made whether the embassy could resume its work from Lviv.

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MOSCOW -- Security camera footage shows a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine from Russian-annexed Crimea.

Russian troops launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday. President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to "consequences you have never seen."

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KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging global leaders to provide defence assistance to Ukraine and help protect its airspace from the "aggressor."

Zelensky said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has unleased a war with Ukraine and the entire democratic world." He added that the Russian leader "wants to destroy our state, everything that we have built."

He praised the nation's soldiers, hailing their courage and urged civilians not to panic.

"We are starting the creation of an anti-Putin coalition," he said. "I have already urged global leaders to slam Putin with all possible sanctions, offer large-scale defence support and close the airspace over Ukraine for the aggressor."

"Together we must save Ukraine, save the democratic world, and we will do it," Zelensky said.

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BEIJING -- World stock markets have plunged and oil prices surged by nearly US$6 per barrel after President Vladimir Putin launched Russian military action in Ukraine.

Market benchmarks tumbled in Europe and Asia and U.S. futures were sharply lower. Brent crude oil jumped to over $100 per barrel Thursday on unease about possible disruption of Russian supplies.

The ruble sank 7.5% to more than $87 to the U.S. dollar. Earlier, Wall Street's benchmark S&P 500 index fell 1.8% to an eight-month low after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked for military assistance.

Investors already were uneasy about the possible impact of the Federal Reserve's plans to try to cool inflation.

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BEIJING -- China's Foreign Ministry is repeating calls for talks to resolve the worsening crisis in Ukraine, while refusing to criticize Russia's actions and accusing the U.S. and its allies of worsening the crisis.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Thursday that "the Ukraine issue is complex in its historical background ... what we are seeing today is the interplay of complex factors."

Hua said China still hopes "that the parties concerned will not shut the door to peace and engage instead in dialogue and consultation and prevent the situation from further escalating,"

Although China has not endorsed Russian President Vladimir Putin's declaration of independence for Ukraine's separatist areas or his decision to send Russian forces there, Hua said China "called on parties to respect others' legitimate security concerns."

Hua said that "all parties should work for peace instead of escalating the tension or hyping up the possibility of war" -- repeating the language China has consistently used to criticize the West in the crisis.

Hua asked: "Those parties who were busy condemning others; what have they done? Have they persuaded others?"

Hua did not describe Russia's actions as an invasion or directly refer to the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine.

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PARIS -- French President Emmanuel Macron, who had laboured until the last minute for a diplomatic solution, says that "France firmly condemns Russia's decision to wage war" and is promising support for Ukraine.

Macron said Thursday that "Russia must end its military operations immediately." He spoke by phone to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who demanded "united European support" for Ukraine, according to a statement from the French presidency.

Macron said France is "working with its partners and allies to end the war."

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BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romania's defence ministry says that two F-16 aircraft from the Romanian military on a NATO air policing mission intercepted a Ukrainian Air Force plane that had entered Romanian airspace, and escorted it to an airbase in Bacau.

The ministry wrote that the Romanian planes "strictly applied national procedures and international rules applicable in such situations, through the interception and visual identification of the aircraft entering the Romanian airspace."

The ministry said that the Ukrainian military pilot made himself available to Romanian authorities on Thursday morning.

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BRUSSELS -- The European Union says it is planning the "strongest, the harshest package" of sanctions it has ever considered at an emergency summit Thursday, as the Russian military attacked Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that "the target is the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order, and we will hold President (Vladimir) Putin accountable for that."

"We will present a package of massive and targeted sanctions to European leaders for approval," she said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called it the "strongest, the harshest package" ever considered.

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LONDON -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Western allies will not stand by as Russia attacks Ukraine.

In an early morning call, Johnson told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he was appalled by events in Ukraine, according to a statement released by the prime minister's office.

"The Prime Minister said the West would not stand by as President Putin waged his campaign against the Ukrainian people," Johnson's office said in the statement.

Johnson added that Ukraine was in the thoughts of everyone in the U.K. "during this dark time."

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are condeming the Russian operation in Ukraine as a "crime against Ukrainian people."

In a joint statement, the three countries' foreign ministers condemned strongly "the open large scale Russian aggression against the independent, peaceful and democratic Ukraine."

They called it "a blatant violation of the international law, of all international norms and a crime against Ukrainian people that we condemn."

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto said the Russian move is "an attack on the security order throughout Europe."

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TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned Russia's military actions in the Ukraine and said his country will respond in a speedy fashion in concert with the United States and other allies.

"This Russian invasion stands to put at risk the basic principle of international order that forbids one-sided action of force in an attempt to change the status quo. We strongly condemn Russia, and we will respond speedily in cooperation with the U.S. and other Western nations," he said at his official residence in Tokyo.

Spain, France, Australia and Italy were among others condemning the attack. Germany and Turkey also warned their citizens in Ukraine to stay in a safe place.

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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is ending his two-day visit to Moscow hours after Russia began a military operation in Ukraine.

Pakistani government officials have offered few details on the substance of Khan's visit, which was planned more than a month ago and was expected to focus on Pakistan's energy needs. It was the first visit to Moscow by a Pakistani leader in more than 20 years.

Khan was to have met with Russian President Vladimir Putin following his arrival on Wednesday, though the foreign ministry has not spoken of it. Khan's decision to still go ahead with the visit despite a growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine surprised some analysts.

In recent years Pakistan has grown closer to Russia, which has traditional ties with Islamabad's long-time foe and neighbour India. Russia and Pakistan have shared military exercises and grown closer as peace was sought to the relentless conflict in Afghanistan.

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BRUSSELS -- NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has convened a meeting of NATO ambassadors to assess the invasion of Ukraine, which borders several NATO members.

The meeting Thursday morning will "address the situation in Ukraine and the consequences of Russia's unprovoked attack."

Earlier, Stoltenberg had already condemned Russia's invasion. "Despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression," Stoltenberg said.

He also warned Moscow that the alliance will will "do all it takes to protect and defend" NATO members.

He called the invasion a "grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security. I call on Russia to cease its military action immediately."

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MOSCOW -- The Russian military says it has knocked out Ukraine's air defence assets and airbases.

The Russian Defence Ministry said the Russian strikes have "suppressed air defence means of the Ukrainian military," adding that the infrastructure of Ukraine's military bases has been incapacitated. It denied the claims that a Russian warplane was shot down over Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, reported that it has shot down five Russian aircraft while fending off the Russian attack on the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he unleashed an attack on Ukraine in a televised address early Thursday, drawing international condemnation.

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BEIJING -- China is advising its people in Ukraine to stay home because of ongoing military actions and chaos but made no mention of Russian forces.

The notice issued on its Kyiv embassy's social media account Thursday said: "Social order is chaotic and out of control, especially in the cities where at times of serious unrest."

It said a person walking on the streets could be a target of attack and traffic could be stopped at any time. It added that people should remain calm and contact local authorities if they come into danger.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the military operation in eastern Ukraine early Thursday.

China has denounced sanctions against Russia, with which it has increasingly aligned its foreign policy to challenge the West, and blamed the U.S. and its allies for provoking Moscow.

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BRUSSELS -- The top European Union chiefs said the invasion of Ukraine "will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia" and that more sanction will be in the offing.

The 27-nation bloc already issued sanctions on Russia for its recognition of breakaway republics in Ukraine earlier this week, and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and foreign policy chief Josep Borrell "will outline a further sanctions package."

The 27 EU leaders will discuss them later Thursday at a summit meeting and they could be imposed soon after.

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KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's border guard agency says that the Russian military has attacked the country from neighbouring Belarus.

The agency said that the Russian troops unleashed artillery barrage as part of an attack backed by Belarus. They said the Ukrainian border guards were firing back, adding that there was no immediate report of casualties.

Russian troops have deployed to its ally Belarus for military drills, a move that the West saw as a prelude to an invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is about 75 kilometres (50 miles) south of the border with Belarus.

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BERLIN -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has sharply condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine calling it "a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe."

The chancellor said Thursday morning that "the Russian attack on Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law. It cannot be justified by anything."

He added that "Germany condemns this reckless act by President Putin in the strongest possible terms."

Scholz said in a written statement that "our solidarity is with Ukraine and its people. Russia must stop this military action immediately."

He added Germany would coordinate closely with others within the framework of the Group of Seven, NATO and the European Union.

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BERLIN -- The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is telling air operators of a high risk to civilian aircraft over Ukraine, reminding air operators that "this is now an active conflict zone."

In the bulletin issued early Thursday, EASA said that "airspace and critical infrastructure, including airports, are exposed to military activities which result in safety risks for civil aircraft. In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft."

It added: "The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a HIGH risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels."

It recommended that, "additionally, as a precautionary measure, operators should exercise extreme caution and avoid using the airspace" within 100 nautical miles of the Belarusian- and Russia-Ukraine border.

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UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Russia's attack on Ukraine -- as he appealed for President Vladimir Putin to stop his troops -- was "the saddest moment" of his five-year tenure.

The UN chief opened the emergency Security Council meeting late Wednesday by urgently appealing to Putin: "In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia."

But during the meeting, Putin announced that he was launching a "special military operation" in eastern Ukraine.

Guterres later urged the Russian president to withdraw his troops and added: "In the name of humanity do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century, with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation, but with an impact we cannot even foresee in relation to the consequences for the global economy."

A war would cause deaths and displacement and people will lose hope in the future, Guterres said, adding Russia's actions would harm the global economy.

"What is clear for me is that this war doesn't make any sense," Guterres said, stressing that it violates the UN Charter and will cause a level of suffering if it doesn't stop that Europe hasn't know since at least the 1990s Balkans crisis.

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BEIJING -- Asian stock markets have plunged and oil prices surged after President Vladimir Putin announced Russian military action in Ukraine.

Market benchmarks in Tokyo and Seoul fell 2% and Hong Kong and Sydney lost more than 3% Thursday. Oil prices jumped nearly US$3 per barrel on unease about possible disruption of Russian supplies.

Earlier, Wall Street's benchmark S&P 500 index fell 1.8% to an eight-month low after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked for military assistance.

Investors already were uneasy about the possible impact of the Federal Reserve's plans to try to cool inflation by withdrawing ultra-low interest rates and other stimulus that boosted share prices.

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UNITED NATIONS -- Ukraine's ambassador at the United Nations has told the Security Council that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "declared war on Ukraine." He also pressed his Russian counterpart to state that Russia will not shell and bomb Ukrainian cities.

Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said Wednesday night that if Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia was not in a position to give a positive answer, he should relinquish the presidency of the Security Council, which Russia holds this month.

The Ukrainian then asked for another emergency meeting of the Security Council, calling on the UN body "to stop the war because it's too late to talk about de-escalation."

Kyslytsya then asked if he should play the video of Putin announcing military operations being launched in Ukraine.

Nebenzia replied: "This isn't called a war. This is called a special military operation in Donbas."

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Joe Biden is condemning Russia for an "unprovoked and unjustified attack" on Ukraine. He promises that the U.S. and its allies "will hold Russia accountable."

Biden says he plans to speak to the American people Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders. More sanctions against Russia are expected to be announced Thursday.

In a written statement, Biden adds: "President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable."

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MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a military operation in eastern Ukraine, claiming it's intended to protect civilians.

In a televised address early Thursday, Putin says the action comes in response to threats coming from Ukraine.

He adds that Russia doesn't have a goal to occupy Ukraine. Putin says the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian "regime."

Putin also is warning other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action will lead to "consequences they have never seen."

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UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is telling Russian President Vladimir Putin to not send Russian troops against Ukraine and "give peace a chance."

Guterres opened an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council late Wednesday saying the day was full of rumors and indications that an offensive against Ukraine is imminent.

In the recent past, Guterres says, he never believed rumors that Russia would invade Ukraine and was "convinced that nothing serious would happen."

But, he adds: "I was wrong, and I like not to be wrong again. So if indeed an operation is being prepared I have only one thing to say from the bottom

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WASHINGTON -- Airspace over all of Ukraine has been shut down to civilian air traffic, according to a notice posted to air crews early Thursday.

A commercial flight tracking website shows that an Israeli El Al Boeing 787 from Tel Aviv to Toronto turned abruptly out of Ukrainian airspace before detouring over Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

The only other aircraft tracked over Ukraine is a U.S. RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane that began flying westward out of Ukraine after Russia put in place flight restrictions over Ukrainian territory

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WASHINGTON -- The Ukrainian government is closing airports in eastern Ukraine from midnight through 7 a.m. because of the confrontation with Russia.

Ukrainian aviation authorities also have declared some airspace in the east to be "danger areas" because of attempts by Russian aviation authorities to seize control of the airspace.

Ukraine acted after Russia issued a ban on civilian air traffic in airspace over eastern Ukraine.

The announcement Wednesday night establishes buffer zones for traffic controlled by Ukrainian authorities to avoid coming into potentially hazardous conflict with air traffic controlled by Russian authorities.

Last week, Ukrainian aviation officials warned pilots in the region to be on the lookout for Russian authorities trying to take control of the airspace and to only recognize Ukraine's controllers.

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UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the request of Ukraine, which says there is an immediate threat of a Russian invasion.

The meeting comes two days after the 15-member council held an emergency open meeting also requested by Ukraine. That session saw no support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's declaration of independence for two separatist areas in Ukraine's east and his announcement that Russian troops would be heading there to keep the peace.

The meeting Wednesday night comes as council diplomats are finalizing a draft resolution that they say would make clear that Russia is violating the UN Charter, international law and a 2015 council resolution endorsing the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace in eastern Ukraine.

They say the resolution would urge Russia to get back into compliance immediately,.

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KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president is rejecting Moscow's claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warns that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.

President Volodymyr Zelensky made the comments in a video address early Thursday.

Speaking emotionally in Russia, he said: "The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back."

Zelensky says he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.

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WASHINGTON -- The White House says the request by Ukrainian separatists for Russian military assistance in the face of supposed "aggression" by Ukraine's government is an example of the "false flag" operations the West has consistently warned against.

The U.S. and allies have alleged for weeks that Russia would try to create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine through the use of such operations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Kremlin's announcement Wednesday that the separatists are seeking help "is an example" of such an operation.

Psaki adds that "we'll continue to call out what we see as false flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual status is on the ground."

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MOSCOW -- The Kremlin says the rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military assistance to fend off the Ukrainian "aggression."

The appeal raises the prospect of Russia's direct military involvement in eastern Ukraine amid Western fears that Moscow is poised to launch an all-out invasion of its neighbour.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the rebel chiefs wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him that shelling by the Ukrainian military has caused civilian deaths and forced many people to flee.

The move comes after Putin recognized the independence of Russia-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine and signed friendship treaties with them. On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers gave Putin permission to use military forces outside the country.

KYIV, Ukraine -- Lawmakers in Ukraine have approved a nationwide state of emergency amid fears of an all-out Russian invasion.

The parliament approved Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's decree that imposes the measure for 30 days starting Thursday. The state of emergency allows authorities to impose restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations "in the interests of national security and public order."

The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin's move Monday to recognize the independence of two rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, where a nearly eight-year conflict with the pro-Russia rebels has left over 14,000 dead. Putin has sanctioned the deployment of Russian troops there to "maintain peace" and received a parliamentary approval to use military force outside the country.

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly voiced concerns that Russia could try destabilize Ukraine by relying on Moscow supporters inside the country, including a pro-Russia political party in parliament.

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WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Russian aggression toward Ukraine is "an attack on democracy," vowing that the U.S. will stand united with its allies around the world in swiftly imposing sanctions on Russia and ensuring financial and political support for an independent Ukraine.

Pelosi, who returned to the Capitol from a diplomatic overseas trip, compared the aggression to Russia's intervention in the United States' own democratic process during the 2016 election.

"There will be a price to pay for Vladimir Putin," she said, flanked by lawmakers who had joined her delegation at the annual security conference in Munich.

Pelosi said the Russian president is one of the richest men in the world and warned that the sanctions being imposed by the U.S. and its allies are only the start of what is possible to inflict financial pain on his regime. "We're doing this together," she said.

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Joe Biden is allowing sanctions to move forward against the company that built the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and against the company's CEO for its actions against Ukraine.

Biden said Wednesday "I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers. These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate."

Germany said Tuesday that it was indefinitely suspending the project, after Biden charged that Russia President Vladimir Putin had launched "the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine" by sending troops into two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.

The pipeline is completed but had not yet begun operating. Critics, including the U.S., have said the pipeline is a geopolitical move that will only increase Europe's dependency on Russian natural gas.

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WASHINGTON -- There's little support among Americans for a major U.S. role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to a new poll, even as President Joe Biden imposes new sanctions and threatens a stronger response that could provoke retaliation from Moscow.

Biden has acknowledged a growing likelihood that war in Eastern Europe would affect Americans, though he has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine. Gas prices in the U.S. could rise in the short term. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has a range of tools he could use against the U.S., including cyberattacks hitting critical infrastructure and industries.

"Defending freedom will have costs for us as well, here at home," Biden said. "We need to be honest about that."

Just 26% of Americans polled say the U.S. should have a major role in the conflict, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Fifty-two percent say a minor role; 20% say none at all.

The findings are a reminder for Biden and fellow Democrats that while the Ukraine crisis may consume Washington in the coming months, pocketbook issues are likely to be a bigger priority for voters heading into the midterm elections.

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WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. defence official in Washington says the Russian forces arrayed along Ukraine's borders are "as ready as they can be" for an invasion, if ordered to launch it.

U.S. authorities have estimated that Russia has more than 150,000 troops along Ukraine's borders with Russia and Belarus.

About 80% of those forces are now in "what we would consider forward positions, ready to go," the official said, adding that they are within 5 to 50 kilometres (3 to 31 miles) of the border. The official added "we still cannot confirm that Russian forces have moved into the Donbas (a rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine)."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

The official said the U.S. has indications -- based on intelligence as well as visual evidence -- that "they (Russian forces) have advanced their readiness to a point where they are literally ready to go now, if they get the order to go."

-- AP military writer Robert Burns.

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UNITED NATIONS -- China's United Nations ambassador is urging a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis, stressing Beijing's "consistent" position "on safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states" and upholding the UN Charter.

In brief remarks to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose country is usually allied with Russia at the United Nations, did not mention Russia by name or in any way endorse President Vladimir Putin's declaration of independence for Ukraine's separatist areas or Putin's decision to send Russian forces there as what he called "peacekeepers."

The Chinese ambassador noted that the current situation in Ukraine "is rooted in a complex web of historical and present day factors" and said "all parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid taking any action that may aggravate tensions."

"China calls on all parties to recognize the importance of implementing the principle of indivisible security, to continue to engage in dialogue and consultation and to seek reasonable solutions that address each other's concerns. through peaceful means on the basis of equality and mutual respect," Zhang said.

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GENEVA -- The Swiss government is condemning Russia's recognition of two regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states and is vowing to make sure that Switzerland isn't used to evade European Union and other international sanctions.

The executive Federal Council, a seven-member body, said Wednesday it decided not to adopt the EU sanctions -- as it often does -- but criticized the "violation of international law and Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty." Switzerland is not among the members of the 27-country EU, but is all but surrounded by four of them: Austria, France, Germany and Italy.

The Swiss government does not recognize the independence of the two territories, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Switzerland is a major international banking centre, and its generally stable hard currency -- the Swiss franc -- and high-tech financial institutions have lured many international investors and elites, including those from Russia.

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UNITED NATIONS -- Russia's UN ambassador is urging the world's nations to rein in what he called Ukraine's ongoing violence and "blatant genocide" in eastern separatist regions of the country that Moscow has declared independent.

The eastern Donbas region of Ukraine is a flashpoint in the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as the United States warns Moscow is seeking a pretext to invade its neighbour. Ukraine has denied any aggression against pro-Russian forces in the eastern area, including Luhansk and Donetsk, which borders Russia.

Russian President Vladmir Putin has declared those republics independent and plans to send Russia troops there as what he called "peacekeepers."

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's UN ambassador, warned the 193-member UN General Assembly on Wednesday that "no one intends to go softly, softly with any violators" of the peace in those eastern areas of Ukraine.

He said the departure of tens of thousands of people from Luhansk and Donetsk to Russia -- including 96,000 people on Wednesday -- shows Ukraine's disparaging treatment of people there, including dubbing them "terrorists."

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UNITED NATIONS -- U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is telling countries around the world that "now is the time to get off the sidelines" and speak out against Russia's actions toward Ukraine.

"There is no middle ground here. Calling for both sides to de-escalate only gives Russia a pass. Russia is the aggressor here," Thomas-Greenfield said at a UN General Assembly meeting Wednesday.

She called on Russia "to come back to the negotiating table and to work toward peace."

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BERLIN -- The head of the German parliament's foreign policy committee says the government is considering providing further protective equipment to Ukraine.

Michael Roth said after a special meeting of the committee Wednesday with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that there are talks with the Ukrainian government on delivering night-vision devices, for example, German news agency dpa reported.

He said it's also possible that protective equipment no longer needed after the German military withdrew from Afghanistan last year could be provided.

Germany has refused to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine, a stance that has irked some allies, but has said it would deliver 5,000 helmets.

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BOSTON -- Ukrainian government and banking websites have been knocked offline with another wave of distributed-denial-of-service attacks.

The targets Wednesday included the defence, foreign and interior ministries, as well as Privatbank, the country's largest commercial bank.

Many of the same sites were similarly hit in Feb.13-14 attacks that the U.S. and U.K. governments quickly blamed on Russia's GRU military intelligence agency. Such attacks barrage websites with junk traffic, rendering them unreachable.

Wednesday's DDoS attacks appeared to be less impactful than the previous onslaught, with targeted sites soon reachable again as emergency responders blunted them.

Cyberattacks have been a key tool of Russian aggression in Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Crimea and hackers tried to thwart elections.

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BRUSSELS -- European Union sanctions against Russia have taken effect.

They are the first steps in a planned series of retaliatory measures devised to be cranked up if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack or pushes his troops deeper into Ukraine.

The sanctions that took effect Wednesday targeted senior Russian government officials, several companies and hundreds of lawmakers who voted in favour of recognizing the independence of separatist parts of Ukraine.

The sanctions are mostly a freeze on the assets of those listed and a ban on them travelling in the 27-nation EU.

The measures come on top of a slew of economic and other sanctions slapped on Russia since it annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Those sanctions already targeted Russia's financial, energy and defence sectors, as well as goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

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UNITED NATIONS -- Ukraine's foreign minister wants the world to stand together against Russia, arguing that Moscow's aggression toward his country will have wider repercussions for the international order.

Dmytro Kuleba told the UN General Assembly that the deployment of Russian troops in rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine and Moscow's recognition of the rebel regions as independent amounts to an "attack on the United Nations."

He said: "If Russia does not get a severe swift and decisive response now, this will mean a total bankruptcy of the international security system and international institutions."

Kuleba urged countries to use tough economic sanctions, strong messages and "active diplomacy" to get Russia to back off from Ukraine.

"We are at a critical juncture of world history, and our actions today define it for years to come," he said, drawing parallels with the leadups to the last century's two world wars.

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WARSAW -- Polish leaders are pushing for harsh sanctions against Russia for its military intimidation of their joint neighbour Ukraine, noting that past penalties have had questionable effect.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that sanctions slapped on Moscow after Russia's 2014 snatching of Crimea from Ukraine were too soft.

President Andrzej Duda, who visited Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine, said: "I deeply believe ... that we will be able to achieve this through peaceful means ... but I am also aware that the sanctions will have to be very tough."

The lower house of Poland's parliament, the Sejm, unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the international community to adopt harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions against Moscow.

Poland, which is EU and NATO member, borders on its eastern side with Ukraine and Belarus, where Russian troops are stationed.

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BRUSSELS -- European leaders plan an in-person emergency summit on Thursday evening in Brussels to discuss the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

European Union Council president Charles Michel said in his invitation letter to the 27 leaders that the "use of force and coercion to change borders has no place in the 21st century."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had already planned to hold a 90-minute virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Thursday afternoon. That meeting was announced last week.

Michel praised the heads of states and government for the unity shown by the bloc in recent days to ensure the adoption of sanctions against Russia and deter its suspected plans to invade Ukraine.

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ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Turkey does not recognize Moscow's steps taken against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russia has formally recognized the independence of pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, in a move that increased tension.

A statement from the Turkish president's office said Erdogan renewed a call for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis in Ukraine in a telephone conversation with Putin on Wednesday.

The statement said Turkey, a member of NATO and a Black Sea neighbour of Russia, wants talks to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

MOSCOW -- Russia has started evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, as fears mount that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be about to order an invasion of Ukraine.

Russian state news agency Tass reported that Russia began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The move came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats against Russians in Ukraine.

At the same time, Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia as the region braced for a military confrontation, with some 150,000 Russian troops deployed around Ukraine's borders.

Putin on Tuesday received authorization to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.

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JERUSALEM -- After keeping a low profile in the military and diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Kyiv due to its close ties with both, Israel says it supports the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine.

A statement Wednesday from Israel's foreign ministry expressed concern about the "serious escalation" in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow is formally recognizing the independence of two pro-Russian breakaway regions.

The statement made no mention of Russia, which the United States and its NATO fear is poised to launch a full-blown attack on Ukraine.

The statement said Israel "hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked."

The foreign ministry voiced concern about the welfare of its citizens in Ukraine and the country's Jewish community.

Israel is home to a large population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine.

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BRUSSELS -- The deputy chairman of Russia's State Duma claims Russians are unimpressed by the sanctions slapped on their country by the European Union.

Pyotr Tolstoy, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that Moscow is planning a response to the sanctions. He did not give details.

Tolstoy told Belgian broadcaster RTBF the EU sanctions were "worthless."

The EU on Tuesday announced sanctions against the 351 Duma legislators who voted in favour of formally recognizing pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine, among others.

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ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey is torn between Russia and Ukraine as tensions between its Black Sea neighbours escalate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says of those two countries, "It is not possible for us to give up on either of them."

He told reporters: "We have economic, military and economic ties with Russia. We also have political, military and economic ties with Ukraine ... Our aim is to take such a step that we can solve this problem without having to give up on neither of them."

Turkey has repeatedly offered to mediate as fears mount that Russia could order its troops to invade Ukraine any day now.

Turkey lies on the south coast of the Black Sea, with Ukraine and Russia to the north and northeast, respectively.

Erdogan's comments were reported by Hurriyet newspaper and other media on Wednesday.

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BEIJING -- China is accusing the United States of creating "fear and panic" over the crisis in Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday that China opposes new sanctions on Russia, reiterating a longstanding Chinese position.

She said the U.S. was fuelling tensions by providing weapons to Kyiv in response to Russia's large troop deployment around Ukraine's borders and fears of an invasion.

China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at talks in Beijing earlier this month.

The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow's opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China's claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan -- key foreign policy issues for Beijing and Moscow.

Hua said Beijing wants multilateral talks to ease the mounting international tension over Ukraine. She did not mention efforts by the U.S., France and others to engage Russia diplomatically.

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MOSCOW -- Ukraine's top diplomat wants to see tougher sanctions slapped on Russia over its aggressive posture toward his country.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday on Twitter: "To stop Putin from further aggression, we call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now."

He expressed thanks for international sanctions imposed on Moscow the previous day. But he asked countries to crank up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kuleba wrote: "Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now."

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LONDON -- Britain's foreign secretary has defended the speed and scale of sanctions against Russia, saying the government is holding some measures in reserve for use in the event of a full-scale incursion into Ukraine.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News that western powers want to keep some sanctions "in the locker" to deter Russian leader Vladimir Putin's ambitions. British authorities have said they were seeking to verify troop movements before deciding how to proceed.

"We've heard from Putin himself that he is sending in troops," Truss told Sky. "We don't yet have the full evidence that that has taken place. What we are expecting ... is a full-scale invasion, including potentially of Kyiv."

Truss's comments came as she defended the government's decision to impose sanctions on just five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals following Putin's decision to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions of Ukraine and to send troops into the area as "peacekeepers."

U.K. opposition leaders and defence experts have criticized the government for not imposing tougher sanctions, especially after the U.S. and European Union moved more aggressively to punish Putin.

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VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis is urging all sides in the Russia-Ukraine dispute to examine their consciences before God and pull back from threats of war.

In an appeal at the end of his weekly general audience Wednesday, Francis said he was pained and alarmed by developments in Ukraine, which he said "discredit international law."

He didn't single out Russia's massing of troops at Ukraine's borders or its recognition of two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine. But he noted: "Once again, the peace of everyone is threatened by vested interests."

The Vatican is toeing a fraught diplomatic and ecumenical line, given its efforts to reach out to the Russian Orthodox Church and convene a second meeting between Francis and its leader, Patriarch Kirill.

Francis called for believers and non-believers alike to mark March 2, Ash Wednesday in the Catholic calendar, as a day of fasting and prayer.

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CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia has announced additional sanctions on Russia and is warning businesses to prepare for retaliation through Russian cyberattacks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday that targeted financial sanctions and travel bans will be the first batch of measures in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine.

Australia and Russia have imposed sanctions on each other since 2014. The sanctions were initiated by Australia in protest of Russian involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

The National Security Committee in Morrison's Cabinet approved sanctions and travel bans that target eight members of the Russian Security Council. They also agreed to expand previous sanctions and to align with the United States and Britain by targeting two Russian banks.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand's government summoned Russian Ambassador Georgii Zuev to meet Wednesday with top diplomatic officials who are urging Russia to return to diplomatic negotiations over Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta is currently out of the country but said in a statement that the ambassador was called in "to hear New Zealand's strong opposition to the actions taken by Russia in recent days, and condemn what looks to be the beginning of a Russian invasion into Ukraine territory."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to The Associated Press that the meeting had taken place but declined to provide any further details.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has no plans to send troops or other types of military support to Ukraine amid an escalating crisis, but says it may join a U.S.-led economic pressure campaign against Russia.

A South Korean presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing on Wednesday, said Seoul was considering its possible actions but that "military support or troop deployment aren't included."

When asked whether the U.S. has asked Seoul to join in sanctions against Russia, the official said Washington has been sharing with allies its plans to impose stringent trade controls and punitive financial measures against Moscow.

"Major Western nations have expressed intent to participate in the sanctions against Russia," the official said. "We are also looking into (the matter) while keeping various possibilities open."

South Korea's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday expressed "grave concern" over the Ukraine crisis and called for related nations to respect the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine, while seeking a diplomatic solution.

The ministry didn't directly criticize Russia, but said Seoul has consistently supported Ukraine's sovereignty and territory.

--- Tong-hyung Kim

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TOKYO -- Japan's prime minister has announced sanctions targeting Russia and two separatist Ukrainian regions recognized as independent by Russian President Vladimir Putin, joining an international effort seeking to pressure Russia to return to diplomatic talks.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday that his government will ban the new issuance and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan in response to the "actions Russia has been taking in Ukraine."

He said Japan will also suspend visa issuance to people linked to the two Ukrainian rebel regions and freeze their assets in Japan, and will ban trade with the two areas.

Kishida expressed his "strong condemnation" of Russia, saying it has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as international law.

"We strongly urge Russia to return to a diplomatic process in resolving the developments," he said.

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UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations chief says the world is facing "the biggest global peace and security crisis in recent years" and is calling Russia's declaration of the "so-called `independence"' of separatist areas in eastern Ukraine a violation of its territorial integrity, and accusing Moscow of "the perversion of the concept of peacekeeping."

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Tuesday he is proud of the achievements of the UN's far-flung peacekeepers, but when troops of one country enter the territory of another country without its consent, as Russian forces have done, "they are not impartial peacekeepers -- they are not peacekeepers at all" as Moscow has called them.

Guterres said Russia's unilateral actions "conflict" with the UN Charter and are "a death blow to the Minsk Agreements" aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine.

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