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Live updates: Ukraine leader skeptical of Russian scale back

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed skepticism Tuesday night about Russia’s announcement that it would significantly scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city.

“Yes, we can call those signals that we hear at the negotiations positive. But those signals don’t silence the explosions of Russian shells,” Zelenskyy said. “Of course we see the risks. Of course we don’t see any basis for trusting the words voiced by those or other representatives of the state that is continuing to fight for our destruction.”

Negotiations are expected to resume Wednesday, five weeks into what has devolved into a bloody war of attrition, with thousands dead and almost 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

“Ukrainians are not naïve people,” Zelenskyy said. “Ukrainians have already learned during the 34 days of the invasion and during the past eight years of war in the Donbas that you can trust only concrete results.”

Ukraine’s delegation at the conference, held in Istanbul, has laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia says it will scale back near Kyiv as talks progress

— Many in Mideast see hypocrisy in Western embrace of Ukraine

— After Russian forces pull back, a shattered town breathes

Pentagon may need more budget funding to help Ukraine

— UN chief launches effort for Ukraine humanitarian cease-fire

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— Ukraine’s other fight: Growing food for itself and the world

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the “demilitarization of Russia is well under way.”

Since the beginning of the invasion into Ukraine, Kyslytsya said the Russian occupiers have lost more than 17,000 military personnel, over 1,700 armored vehicles and almost 600 tanks.

He also said Russia also has lost 300 artillery systems, 127 planes and 129 helicopters, almost 100 rocket launchers systems, 54 air defense systems and seven ships.

Kyslytsya said that is “an unprecedented blow to Moscow, where the numbers of Soviet losses in Afghanistan pale in comparison.”

Earlier Tuesday, Russia announced it will significantly scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city, as the outlines of a possible deal to end the grinding war came into view at the latest round of talks.

Negotiations are expected to resume Wednesday, five weeks into what has devolved into a bloody war of attrition, with thousands dead and almost 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

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Ukrainian military officials said they distrust Russia’s announced withdrawal from around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Earlier Tuesday, Russia announced it will significantly scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city, as the outlines of a possible deal to end the grinding war came into view at the latest round of talks.

“There are indications that the Russian forces are regrouping to focus their efforts on eastern Ukraine,” the Ukrainian general staff said in a statement late Tuesday. “At the same time, the so-called ‘withdrawal of troops’ is most likely a rotation of individual units and is aimed at misleading the Ukrainian military leadership” by creating the misconception that the Russians have decided not to try to encircle Kyiv.

Ukraine’s delegation at the conference, held in Istanbul, laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.

Negotiations were expected to resume Wednesday, five weeks into what has devolved into a bloody war of attrition, with thousands dead and almost 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

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The U.N. food chief is warning that the war in Ukraine has created “a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe” and will have a global impact “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II” because farmers from the country which was the breadbasket of the world are on the front lines fighting Russia and already high food prices are skyrocketing.

David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that his agency, which was feeding 125 million people before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, was already beginning to cut rations because of rising food, fuel and shipping costs for millions of families around the world. In war-torn Yemen, he said, 8 million people just had their food allotment cut to 50% “and now we’re looking at going to zero rations.”

The war in Ukraine is decimating the country, “turning the breadbasket of the world to breadlines” for millions of its people, Beasley said. But it is also devastating countries around the world like Egypt which is 85% dependent on Ukraine grain and Lebanon which was 81% dependent in 2020.

Ukraine and Russia produce 30% of the global wheat supply, 20% of the global maize supply and 75-80% of the sunflower seed oil.

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Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations about the naval mines that have been set adrift in the Black Sea, threatening shipping.

The Russian military has alleged that the Ukrainian military has used old naval mines to protect the coast against a Russian landing and some of them have been ripped off their anchors by a storm and left adrift.

Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev reaffirmed Tuesday that “the threat of Ukrainian mines drifting along the coastline of Black Sea states remains.”

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry responded in a statement Tuesday, accusing Russia of using Ukrainian mines it seized after the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and setting them adrift to “discredit Ukraine before international partners.”

The Turkish Defense Ministry said Saturday that a naval mine was spotted near the Bosporus and neutralized. It said the mine was of an old type but didn’t say to whom it belonged.

The conflicting claims by Russia and Ukraine couldn’t be independently verified.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he wasn’t yet convinced that Russia’s announcement that it would scale back military operations near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv will lead to a fundamental shift in the war.

During an appearance with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong following bilateral talks at the White House, Biden said he was waiting to see what Russia offers in ongoing talks with Ukraine and how Moscow readjusts its troop presence.

U.S. and Western officials have expressed skepticism about Russia’s announcement earlier on Tuesday that it would dial back operations in an effort to increase trust in ongoing talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Turkey.

“We’ll see,” Biden said. “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.”

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield later expressed an even greater skepticism, saying the administration views any movement of Russian forces as a “redeployment and not a withdrawal” and “no one should be fooled by Russia’s announcement.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russia announced Tuesday it will significantly scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city, as the outlines of a possible deal to end the grinding war came into view at the latest round of talks.

Ukraine’s delegation at the conference, held in Istanbul, laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.

Moscow’s public reaction was positive, and the negotiations are expected to resume Wednesday, five weeks into what has devolved into a bloody war of attrition, with thousands dead and almost 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

The apparent goodwill gesture comes as Russia’s troops have become bogged down and struggled to make major advances on the ground recently in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance. Ukraine’s military said it had noted withdrawals around Kyiv and Chernihiv, though the Pentagon said it could not corroborate Russia’s claim.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the talks with Russian negotiators have given some positive signals but warned Russia can’t be trusted.

Russia announced after Tuesday’s talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegation in Istanbul, Turkey that it will significantly reduce military operations near Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

The U.S. and others earlier expressed skepticism in Russia’s announcement.

In a video address Tuesday night, Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops’ “courageous and effective actions” forced Russia to scale down its action around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

He said Ukraine will continue the negotiation process “to the extent depending on us” but emphasized mistrust in “the words coming from representatives of the country that continue fighting to destroy us.”

Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s negotiators won’t compromise “on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says it has detected “small numbers” of Russian ground forces moving away from the Kyiv area.

Spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the movement appears to be a repositioning of forces, “not a real withdrawal.” He said it was too soon to say how extensive the Russian movements may be or where the troops will be repositioned.

“It does not mean the threat to Kyiv is over,” he said. “They can still inflict massive brutality on the country, including on Kyiv.”

He said Russian airstrikes against Kyiv are continuing.

Asked whether the Pentagon assesses that Russian military campaign in Ukraine has failed, Kirby said the Russian forces have failed in their initial objective of conquering Kyiv but remain a threat to the country, including the eastern Donbas region where Russian forces now appear to be focusing more fully.

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WASHINGTON — Members of the Ukrainian parliament visiting the U.S. Congress are urging their American allies to send more military supplies — air support, tanks and other equipment – to push the Russians out of their country.

As the Ukrainian legislators spoke Tuesday at a Capitol Hill press conference, one of their cell phones blared with the sound of an air raid siren going off in the country back home.

The Ukrainians spoke at a roundtable with members of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, a longstanding group from the U.S. House focused Ukrainian issues.

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MILAN — Italian Premier Mario Draghi has met with Italy’s president after a key coalition partner put in question support for Italy’s commitment to raise its military spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A government official confirmed the meeting Tuesday evening, after Draghi met privately with the head of the 5-Star Movement, former Premier Giuseppe Conte. Conte reportedly has balked at Italy’s intention to raise military spending to 2% of GDP in line with other NATO members.

Draghi’s message to Conte was that it would be difficult to sustain the coalition agreement backing the current government if the 5-Star movement puts international commitments into question, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

The official noted that while Conte was premier Italy increased its military spending 17%, from 21 billion euros to 24.6 billion euros.

Conte told reporters Monday that he did not want to put the government at risk but added ’’we are the largest party and we have a right to be heard.”

— Associated Press writer Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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WARSAW — Poland’s government has decided to block imports of coal from Russia, part of an overarching strategy to reduce energy dependence that gained new urgency after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Poland will impose financial penalties on any private entities importing Russian coal into Poland, with Polish customs officials carrying out checks, government spokesman Piotr Mueller said as he announced the new policy on Tuesday.

He added that Poland could no longer wait for the whole 27-nation European Union to embrace the policy.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU, the United States and some other powers imposed a range of economic sanctions on Russia. But Europe has historically been dependent on Russian energy sources.

And while Poland produces much of its own coal, it also relies on imports. Russian coal makes up 13% of the fuel used each year, according to Piotr Lewandowski, the president of the Institute for Structural Research in Warsaw.

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HORDYNIA, Ukraine — A second front line in Russia’s war runs through the farmland in western Ukraine, far from the daily resistance against the invasion. It is an uphill battle for farmers to feed not only their country but the world.

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, leaving millions across North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia facing the potential loss of access to the affordable supplies they need for bread and noodles.

The war has raised the specter of food shortages and political instability in countries reliant on Ukrainian wheat, including Indonesia, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon.

It is unclear how many farmers in Ukraine will be able to plant or tend to their harvests with the war raging, forcing many to the front lines. Damage to infrastructure also makes it difficult to get critical supplies and export products.

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LONDON — Britain’s government has seized a superyacht owned by a Russian billionaire with ties to Vladimir Putin — the first vessel to be detained in the U.K. under sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.

U.K. officials, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, boarded the vessel at Canary Wharf in east London on Tuesday. The name of the vessel’s owner was not made public.

The 58.5-meter (192-foot) yacht is bright blue and features an “infinite wine cellar” and freshwater swimming pool, according to the National Crime Agency. It is valued at 38 million pounds ($50 million).

The Phi, named after a mathematical concept, was in London for a “refit” but “won’t be going anywhere,” Shapps said.

The yacht is registered in St. Kitts and Nevis but carried Maltese flags to hide its origins, the crime agency said.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s authorities have updated the death toll from the Russian strike on the regional government’s building in Mykolaiv to 12.

Mykola Ponasenko, a spokesman for the state emergencies service, said 12 bodies have been recovered from the debris of the nine-story regional administration headquarters in Mykolaiv, a key Black Sea port and shipbuilding center.

He said the search for more bodies was continuing. The authorities previously reported that seven people were killed by a Russian strike on the building on Tuesday.

At least 22 people have been wounded.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says he’s waiting to see how Russia adjusts its troop presence in Ukraine before assessing the intent behind them.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden was asked whether the withdrawal was a sign that negotiations to rein in the month-long invasion might be showing progress, or an indication that Russia was merely trying to buy time to continue its assault on Ukraine.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.”

As for the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, Biden said the consensus of Western allies is to “see what they have to offer.”

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LONDON — Western officials say Russia is building up troops in eastern Ukraine, but it’s too soon to say whether Moscow’s claim to be scaling back operations around Kyiv is true.

Officials familiar with the intelligence picture said Tuesday that Moscow is reinforcing troops in the Donbas in an attempt to encircle Ukraine’s best-trained and best-equipped forces, which are concentrated in the eastern region. Moscow has said gaining control of the Donbas is now its main military goal in Ukraine.

A Western official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence said it’s clear that Russia’s “tactics and strategies are changing” but it’s not yet clear what that prefigures.

The British government also expressed skepticism about Russia’s claims to be scaling back and its commitment to ending the war through talks.

“We will judge Putin and his regime by his actions, not by his words,” said Max Blain, spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

— Associated Press writer Jill Lawless contributed from London.

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WASHINGTON — The White House is rejecting as “false” and “disinformation” assertions by Russia that the U.S. government is launching cyber operations against Moscow that include the theft of personal data and the spreading of false information about the Russian military.

The Russian Foreign Ministry made the assertions in a statement Tuesday. It alleged that the U.S. and other NATO members had trained Ukrainian hackers and blamed what it said was an effort by Ukraine to recruit international hackers.

Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, responded by calling the claims “false” and said the U.S. government has “not engaged in the activity described by Russia.” She says “Moscow’s statements to the contrary amount to disinformation.”

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. will likely need to add more permanent or rotational forces in Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. European Command leader told Congress Tuesday, without detailing when or how many.

Gen. Tod Wolters, who also serves as NATO’s supreme allied commander, said decisions will be based on what European nations do, particularly in response to the need to build four additional NATO battlegroups, which are being set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. The groups are an effort to protect and reassure nations on Europe’s eastern flank.

“My suspicion is we’re going to still need more,” Wolters told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Questioned about early U.S. intelligence that suggested Russia would overwhelm Ukraine quickly, Wolters said that there may have been an “intel gap.” He said broader reviews of the U.S. response to the war will consider that element.

On Russia’s use of hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, Wolters said there have been “multiple” launches that appeared to be an attempt by Putin to demonstrate his military’s capabilities..

“I don’t think they were successful,” he said.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin-backed leader of the Russian province of Chechnya has called for storming the Ukrainian capital.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s statement came Tuesday as the Russian military announced after a round of talks with Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul, Turkey that it would scale back its combat operations near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

Speaking to about 10,000 troops in Chechnya’s regional capital of Grozny, Kadyrov said that “we need to complete what we have started and shouldn’t stop.” He said if Moscow had allowed his fighters to press the offensive, “I’m more than confident that we would have entered Kyiv and established order there.”

Kadyrov has posted numerous videos on a messaging app allegedly featuring himself and Chechen fighters on the outskirts of Kyiv and in the besieged Sea of Azov port of Mariupol. Those videos couldn’t be independently verified.

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ISTANBUL, Turkey — The head of the Russian delegation in talks with Ukraine says that Moscow sees the latest meeting as a step toward compromise.

Vladimir Medinsky said on Russian RT television that Russia sees Ukrainian proposals made Tuesday during the talks in Istanbul as a “step to meet us halfway, a clearly positive fact.”

He added that the two parties have a long way to go to reach an agreement.

Medinsky said that Russia made “two big steps toward peace” during the talks, first by agreeing to reduce military activities around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. He said Russia agreed to a prospective meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy once a prospective peace treaty is ready for signing.

The Ukrainian delegation earlier Tuesday said it had laid out a possible framework for a future peace deal based on legally binding security guarantees that would provide for other countries to intervene if Ukraine is attacked.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — In what appeared to be a coordinated action to tackle Russian espionage, at least four European allies expelled a total of dozens of Russian diplomats on Tuesday.

The expulsions come against a backdrop of relations between Russia and the West that have been plunged into a deep freeze following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Netherlands said it was expelling 17 Russians who it described as intelligence officers masquerading as diplomats. Belgium said it was ejecting 21 Russians. The Czech Republic gave one Russian diplomat 72 hours to leave the country. Ireland told four senior Russian officials to leave the country because of activities deemed not “in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour.”

Poland last week expelled 45 Russians whom the government identified as intelligence officers using their diplomatic status as cover to operate in the country.

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