WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu on Friday, marking the highest level American contact since the war began in late February.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication.” Kirby provided no other details of the call.
Over the past several months, Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that Russian leaders declined to take calls from Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is the first conversation between Austin and Shoygu since February 18, a week before the war started.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with General Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, in mid-March. The White House said at the time that Sullivan reiterated America’s “firm and clear opposition to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Russian soldier on trial in first Ukraine war-crimes case
— Facility for disabled on Ukraine front line mulls evacuation
— Finland’s leaders in favor of applying for NATO membership
— ‘This tears my soul apart’: A Ukrainian boy and a killing
— Ukrainian circus comes to town, and stays in Italy, amid war
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
BERLIN — Natural gas prices rose Friday after Russian state-owned exporter Gazprom said it would no longer send supplies to Europe via a pipeline in Poland, citing new sanctions that Moscow imposed on European energy companies. The move doesn’t immediately block large amounts of natural gas to Europe but intensifies fears that the war in Ukraine will lead to wide-ranging cutoffs.
Gazprom said Thursday that it would ban the use of the Yamal pipeline that reaches Germany through Poland. While that cuts off a supply route to Europe, the pipeline’s entry point to Germany has not been used in recent months. Plus, Gazprom has already cut off gas to Poland for refusing to meet Moscow’s demand to make payments in rubles.
“A ban is in place on making transactions with and payments to persons under sanctions. In particular, for Gazprom, this means a ban on the use of a gas pipeline owned by (the Polish company) EuRoPol GAZ to transport Russian gas through Poland,” Gazprom representative Sergey Kupriyanov wrote in a Telegram post.
The fear is that gas disputes and cutoffs will keep escalating amid the war in Ukraine. Last month, Gazprom said it had completely cut off natural gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria over the rubles dispute.
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s pipeline operator shut down a pipeline that carries gas from Russia to Europe, saying Russian forces were interfering with a compressor station in Russian-held territory and diverting gas. It asked Gazprom to move gas through another pipeline, which the company said it could not do. By itself, the shutdown was not expected to cut off major amounts of gas.
Energy tensions ramped up when Russia imposed sanctions Wednesday on Gazprom Germania, a subsidiary of the Russian supplier that the German government took control of in April.
KYIV, Ukraine — A 21-year-old Russian soldier went on trial Friday in Kyiv for the killing of an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, marking the first war crime prosecution of a member of the Russian military from 11 weeks of bloodshed in Ukraine.
The soldier, a captured member of a tank unit, is accused of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka during the first days of the war.
Scores of journalists and cameras packed inside a small courtroom at the Solomyanskyy district court in Ukraine’s capital, where the suspect, Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, sat in a glassed-off area wearing a blue and grey hoodie, sweatpants and a shaved head.
He faces up to life in prison under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor, with help from foreign experts, is investigating allegations that Russian troops violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and abusing possibly thousands of Ukrainian civilians.
Friday’s hearing in Shyshimarin’s case was brief. A judge asked him to provide his name, address, marital status and other identifying details. He also was asked whether he understood his rights, quietly replying “yes,” and if wanted a jury trial, which he declined.
The judges and lawyers discussed procedural matters before the judges left the courtroom and then returned to say the case would continue on May 18.
WEISSENHAUS, Germany — Moldova’s foreign minister says the small eastern European country is on alert for any signs the conflict in neighboring Ukraine could spill across the border.
Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu told reporters Friday on the sidelines of a G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Germany that “the situation is of course fragile, but it is nonetheless relatively calm. We do not face an acute military crisis today.”
At the same time the government has been preparing for “the full spectrum of options,” he said.
“Our interior ministry, defense ministry, intelligence services are on high alert,” Popescu said, citing the presence of Russian troops in the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria.
Transnistria is a disputed, Russian-backed breakaway state that borders southwestern Ukraine.
Popescu said the Moldovan government was in regular contact with the de facto authorities in Transnistria “because we all have a commitment and an obligation and a duty to keep peace in the entire Moldova, which includes the Transnistrian region.”
VIENNA — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone, the first time the two have spoken since late March.
The 75-minute call on Friday “focused on the ongoing war in Ukraine and efforts to end it,” according to German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.
Scholz urged Putin to reach a ceasefire agreement with Ukraine as soon as possible and to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground, he said
The German leader also “clearly rejected the (Kremlin) accusation that Nazism was widespread in Ukraine,” according to Hebestreit.
When the two leaders spoke about the global food situation, Scholz “reminded (Putin) that Russia has a special responsibility” with regard to the issue as a major world supplier, Hebestreit said in a statement.
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey’s president says his country is “not favorable” to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, as they are considering doing.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited as a reason for his stance the alleged support by Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for Kurdish militants and other groups considered by Ankara to be terrorists.
“Scandinavian countries are acting like a guesthouse for terrorist organizations, including the PKK and the DHKP-C,” he said Friday, in reference to the Kurdish and leftist militant groups.
He also accused fellow NATO Greece of using the alliance against Turkey, saying Ankara did not want a repeat of that “mistake.”
— This item has been corrected to change the name of the alleged terror group to DHKP-C, not DHPC-C.
WEISSENHAUS, Germany — Ukraine’s foreign minister says his country remains willing to engage in diplomatic talks with Russia to unblock grain supplies and achieve a political solution to the war.
But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says his country won’t accept ultimatums from Moscow.
Kuleba told reporters in Germany on the sidelines of a meeting Friday of top diplomats from the Group of Seven major economies that Kyiv has received “no positive feedback” from Russia. He said the Kremlin “prefers wars to talks.”
“We are ready to talk, but we are ready for a meaningful conversation based on mutual respect, not on the Russian ultimatums thrown on the table,” he said.
Kuleba said talks with his counterparts from the G-7 had been “helpful, fruitful, very honest and results-oriented,” but he urged countries to provide Ukraine with more weapons and put further pressure on Russia’s economy.
Kuleba said he hoped the European Union would agree on a Russian oil embargo next week. He urged allies to follow Canada’s lead in seizing Russian sovereign assets to pay for rebuilding Ukraine.
LONDON — Britain has added Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife and his alleged girlfriend to its sanctions list over the invasion of Ukraine.
The British government says its latest asset freezes and travel bans target the “shady network” of friends and allies who “owe Putin their wealth and power, and in turn support Putin and his war machine.”
The sanctioned individuals include Putin’s ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya; former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, who is “alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin,” according to the government; and several businessmen who are cousins of the Russian president.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the United Kingdom is “exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle.”
Britain says it has sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and 100 entities since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
HELSINKI — A Swedish government report says the Nordic country can expect to be the target of Russian cyberattacks and other aggressive measures if it opts to join NATO.
The Swedish government’s security policy analysis, which will be used as a basis for a decision on NATO membership by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s Cabinet later this month, was presented in parliament Friday.
While it sees obvious security advantages in NATO membership, it also lists numerous operations likely to be undertaken by Russia if Sweden joins the alliance.
Those include different kinds of hybrid attacks, violations of Swedish airspace or waters, and threats to increase and even possibly use nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea region.
The report states that Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine limits the possibilities for attacks on other countries but notes that Russia still has the capacity for a limited number of hostile measures against countries like Sweden.
WEISSENHAUS, Germany — The European Union is planning to give Ukraine almost 500 million euros ($520 million) to buy heavy weapons that will help fend off Russia’s invasion.
The bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell announced the funds at a gathering of top diplomats from the Group of Seven wealthy nations Friday.
But EU diplomats cautioned that any disbursement still requires ratification by all member states. Some countries are expressing misgivings, and approval is unlikely before next week.
Borrell said the money would be earmarked for the purchase of heavy weapons, taking the bloc’s total financial support for Ukraine to 2 billion euros (more than $2 billion) for the purchase of lethal and non-lethal support.
EU Council president Charles Michel, who represents the EU’s 27 governments in Brussels, threw his “full support” behind the plan. “Time is of the essence,” Michel wrote in a message posted on Twitter.
Borrell also expressed hope of soon getting the bloc’s member states to agree an oil embargo against Russia, despite the misgivings of some countries.
The G-7 meeting is also being attended by Germany, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. Ukraine and neighboring Moldova have been invited as guests.
LONDON — British military officials say the heavy losses suffered recently by a column of Russian armor demonstrate the pressure Moscow’s commanders are under to make progress in eastern Ukraine.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense on Friday confirmed news reports that Ukrainian forces prevented the Russian column from crossing the Siverskyi Donets river, west of Severodonetsk, on a pontoon bridge.
Russia lost “significant” elements of at least one battalion tactical group, as well as equipment used to quickly deploy the floating bridge, the ministry said.
“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.
The Ministry said Russia has failed to make any significant advances, despite concentrating forces in the Luhansk and Donbas regions of eastern Ukraine after withdrawing troops from other areas.
WEISSENHAUS, Germany — Britain’s top diplomat has called for further international efforts to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told reporters at a meeting with her counterparts from the Group of Seven powerful economies on Friday that “it’s very important at this time that we keep up the pressure on Vladimir Putin by supplying more weapons to Ukraine and by increasing the sanctions.”
“G-7 unity is vital during this crisis to protect freedom and democracy,” she added.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military says that Russian forces staged assaults on multiple villages in eastern Ukraine as they try to expand control there, but not all were successful.
In its daily operational note on Friday, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia’s military continued to launch artillery and air strikes on the embattled port of Mariupol, focusing on blocking Ukrainian fighters at their last holdout at the Azovstal steelworks.
In the Russian campaign in the east, villages were targeted near Donetsk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Kurakhiv, the Ukrainian military said.
It said Russian forces also fired artillery on Ukrainian troops in the direction of Novopavlovsk and Zaporizhzhia, a major industrial city that has become a haven for refugees fleeing Mariupol.
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces are transferring additional artillery units to border areas near Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region, where deadly Russian strikes hit a school and dormitory Thursday.
KHARKIV, Ukraine — The war has shuttered Ukraine’s schools and upended life for millions of children. But teachers are trying to restore some sense of normalcy — including by holding lessons in a subway station used as a bomb shelter in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
“It helps to support them mentally. Because now there is a war, and many lost their homes … some people’s parents are fighting now,” said teacher Valeriy Leiko. In part thanks to the lessons, he said, “They feel that someone loves them.”
Primary school-age children joined Leiko around a table for history and art lessons in the subway station, which has become home for many families and where children’s drawings line the walls.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a strategic target near the Russian border, has faced heavy bombardment by Russian forces.
Kharkiv professor Mykhailo Spodarets has been delivering lectures on Ukrainian literature online from his basement. His student Anna Fedoryaka said her friends were finding it difficult to keep up with learning because of internet access problems, as well as the psychological pressures of the war.
“It is hard to concentrate when you have to do your homework with explosions by your window,” Fedoryaka said.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say their forces took out another Russian ship in the Black Sea.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said late Thursday the Vsevolod Bobrov logistics ship was struck as it was trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island. He said the ship was badly damaged but was not believed to have sunk.
A spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration said the vessel caught fire after the strike. There was no confirmation from Russia and no reports of casualties.
The British Ministry of Defense said this week that Ukraine has been targeting Russian air defenses and supply vessels on Snake Island in an effort to disrupt Moscow’s efforts to expand its control over the Black Sea coastline.
The Ukrainian military last month sank the Moskva cruiser, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. In March, the military destroyed the landing ship Saratov.
MUNICH — German industrial giant Siemens AG says it is exiting Russia, where it has operated for almost 170 years.
“We condemn the war in Ukraine and have decided to carry out an orderly process to wind down our industrial business activities in Russia,” Roland Busch, the Munich-based company’s CEO, said Thursday.
Siemens had been one of the first companies to put all new business in Russia, along with international deliveries to the country, on hold following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The company said it had been evaluating the situation with the eye of ensuring the safety of its 3,000 employees in Russia.
The maker of trains and industrial equipment said the Russia sanctions shaved off about 600,000 euros ($623,000) from its fiscal second-quarter results, which were reported Thursday.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces on Thursday night struck the Chernihiv region and hit schools.
“Of course, the Russian state is in such a state that any education only gets in its way. But what can be achieved by destroying Ukrainian schools? All Russian commanders who give such orders are simply sick, and incurable.”
He condemned what he suggested were senseless attacks on the refinery in the central Ukrainian industrial hub of Kremenchuk, on the Zaporizhzhia region and the Donbas.
“They are cowards, and they try to hide the truth behind missiles, airstrikes and artillery shelling,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “Therefore our task is to fight until we achieve our goals in this war: to free our land, our people and secure our security.”
Noting that Thursday is International Nurses Day, Zelenskyy thanked Ukraine’s nurses and other medical workers for their part in the fight and urged all Ukrainians to do the same. He said since the invasion began on Feb. 24, the Russian military had damaged 570 medical facilities, fully destroying 101 hospitals.
“What is that? It’s stupidity. It’s barbarity. It’s the self-destruction of Russia as a state that anyone in the world could see as a cultured nation.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Rocket attacks on Ukraine’s central Poltava region on Thursday were “perhaps the most intense for the duration of the war,” the regional governor said that same day.
“Today’s shelling of the Poltava region is perhaps the largest during the course of this full-scale war,” Dmitry Lunin wrote in a Telegram post. “12 Russian missiles hit the infrastructure in (the city of) Kremenchuk; most of them hit an oil refinery that was not operational anyway.”
“Rescuers are putting out a fire at the refinery. Luckily, no one was hurt,” Lunin added.
Kremenchuk is on the Dnieper River, south of Kyiv and north of Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia. The river, flowing north to south, divides Ukraine in half. In the south, it flows through Kherson before emptying into the Black Sea.
KYIV, Ukraine — At least two civilians died Thursday as a result of a shelling attack on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, local authorities said that same day.
“As a result of the shelling, two people were killed, four more were injured, two of whom are doctors. All these people are civilians,” Vyacheslav Zadorenko, the mayor of the suburban town of Derhachi, wrote in a Telegram post.
He added that the attack also damaged a building housing a humanitarian aid unit, municipal offices, and hospital facilities.
“None of the sites that came under shelling, not to mention private houses that are destroyed daily, had anything to do with military infrastructure,” Zadorenko said.