MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday that Russia will demand that “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian natural gas exports only in rubles from now on.
Putin told a meeting with government officials that “a number of Western countries made illegitimate decisions on the so-called freezing of the Russian assets, effectively drawing a line over reliability of their currencies, undermining the trust for those currencies.”
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Putin added, “to supply our goods to the European Union, the United States and receive payment in dollars, euros and a number of other currencies. As a result, he said he was announcing “measures” to switch to payments for “our natural gas, supplied to so-called unfriendly countries” in Russian rubles.
The Russian president didn’t say when exactly the new policy will take effect. He instructed the country’s central bank to work out a procedure for natural gas buyers to acquire rubles in Russia.
Economists said the move appeared designed to try to support the ruble, which has collapsed against other currencies since Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and Western countries responded with far-reaching sanctions against Moscow. But some analysts expressed doubt that it would work.
NATO: At Least 7,000 Russians Killed, 30,000 Injured
WASHINGTON — A senior NATO military officer says the alliance estimates that Russia has suffered between 30,000 and 40,000 battlefield casualties in Ukraine through the first month of the war, including between 7,000 and 15,000 killed. It is NATO’s first public estimate of Russian casualties since the war started Feb. 24.
The military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO, said the estimate of the number killed is based on a combination of information from the Ukrainian government, indications from Russia, and open-source information.
The U.S. government has largely declined to provide public estimates of Russian or Ukrainian casualties, saying available information is of questionable reliability.
The NATO military officer, in a briefing from the alliance’s military headquarters in Belgium on Wednesday, said the estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian casualties is derived from what he called a standard calculation that in war an army suffers three wounded soldiers for every soldier killed. The casualties include killed in action and wounded in action, as well as those taken prisoner or missing in action, the officer said.
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Russian Cyberattacks Continue
LIMA, Peru — A top Ukrainian cyber defense official says a steady stream of Russian cyberattacks continues, much of it intending to disrupt communications, with refugee assistance and other humanitarian organizations being targeted.
Victor Zhora, deputy chair of Ukraine’s special communications service, told reporters in an online news conference Wednesday that state-backed Russian hackers were in some cases using phishing campaigns to try to get access to accounting and other systems of European charities helping Ukrainian refugees.
Zhora said hackers “financed and basically owned by the Russian federation” were also attacking state and private organizations distributing humanitarian supplies, moving with an alacrity characteristic of a military.
He did not specify the humanitarian targets by name. The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked on Feb. 24.
Conditions ‘Terrible’ in Kharkiv
MEDYKA, Poland — A Ukrainian refugee described the horrid conditions in the eastern city of Kharkiv after crossing the border at Medyka, Poland, on Wednesday.
“The situation in Kharkiv is terrible,” said Natalia Savchenko, 37. “People are being killed day and night. They are shooting with everything they have. There is almost no one left in Kharkiv. There is no electricity, water. The city is almost empty. They do not supply children with medicine and food. They are just killing people.”
Savchenko said the military helped her escape by train.
“It is horrible, so horrible,” she said. “We left, but in the district where we lived, my grandmother stayed, my mum and my husband. Today our district was bombed, Shevchenkivsky district. We are running away.”
NATO Sending Troops to Eastern Europe
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military organization is setting up new multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe to deter Russia from launching an attack on any of its members.
The battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, will be set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Stoltenberg says they will remain in place “as long as necessary.”
Speaking Wednesday on the eve of a summit of NATO leaders, Stoltenberg said that Russia’s war on Ukraine means “a new normal for our security and NATO has to respond to that new reality.”
Stoltenberg says the leaders are likely to agree to send more assistance to Ukraine, including “equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.”
NATO’s 30 allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fears that Moscow might want to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
Russians Kill 264, Including 4 Children in Kyiv: Mayor
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Kyiv says Russian forces have killed 264 civilians, including four children, in the Ukraine capital since the war started last month.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Wednesday that battles were being waged in the area of Liutizh, a village 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of Kyiv and that Ukrainian forces have wrested back control of areas to the north-west and the north-east of the city, including most of Irpin.
He said the western town of Makariv has also been taken back by Ukrainian troops.
Klitschko spoke to reporters in the capital Kyiv in a central park overlooking the city. Explosions and gunfire could be heard in the background as he spoke.
US Official Speaks to WNBA Star Detained in Russia
WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department says a U.S. Embassy official has visited with WNBA star Brittney Griner, who remains detained near Moscow, to check on her condition.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN on Wednesday that the official found Griner “to be in good condition.” Price did not identify the official who had been granted consular access to Griner, something the United States had been demanding.
Griner was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that a court had extended Griner’s pretrial detention to May 19.
Price says the U.S. “will do everything we can to see that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”
EU Will Help Refugees
BRUSSELS — The European Commission has announced measures to help European Union countries provide the millions of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with access education, health care, accommodation and work.
The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people — mainly women and children — have fled Ukraine in the four weeks since Russian tanks rolled across the border and Moscow began bombarding towns and cities.
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said Wednesday the new raft of measures aims to build on a “Temporary Protection Directive” issued earlier this month and on initiatives happening across Europe to welcome refugees.
The protection system, established in 2001 in response to the fallout from the 1990s Balkan wars but never previously used, streamlines entry procedures for Ukrainians arriving in the EU and outlines entitlements such as employment and housing.
Wednesday’s announcement provides support for EU countries in meeting those commitments.