Ukraine roundup: German weaponry, fleeing refugees, spreading protests

Germany had long stuck to a policy of not exporting deadly weapons to conflict zones, including Ukraine. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire post-war order,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
A Polish border guard assists refugees from Ukraine as they arrive in Poland at the Korczowa border crossing, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries in the wake of the Russian invasion, the United Nations said Saturday.

In a significant shift, the German government said Saturday it will send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine and supports some restrictions of the SWIFT global banking system for Russia.

Germany’s chancellery announced it will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 “Stinger” surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine “as quickly as possible.”

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire post-war order,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement. “In this situation, it is our duty to help Ukraine, to the best of our ability, to defend itself against Vladimir Putin’s invading army.”

In addition, the German economy and climate ministry said Germany is allowing the Netherlands to ship 400 German-made anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

Germany had long stuck to a policy of not exporting deadly weapons to conflict zones, including Ukraine. As recently as Friday, government officials said they would abide by that policy.

The country has faced criticism from Ukrainian officials and other allies that it has not acted decisively enough to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion. Previously, Germany contributed 5,000 helmets to Ukraine’s defense. In addition, Germany will send 14 armored vehicles and up to 10,000 tons of fuel to Ukraine.

A U.S. snapshot of combat

UNITED STATES: A senior U.S. defense official says the United States estimates that more than 50% of Russian combat power arrayed along Ukraine’s borders has entered Ukraine. That is up from a U.S. estimate Friday that one-third of the Russian force had been committed to the fight.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. assessments, would not say how many Russian troops that amounts to inside Ukraine, but the U.S. had estimated the total Russian force arrayed near Ukraine at more than 150,000.

The official said advancing Russian forces were roughly 30 kilometers outside Kyiv as of Saturday, and that an unspecified number of Russian military “reconnaissance elements” had entered the capital.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that “the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.”

“Russian forces are bypassing major Ukrainian population centers while leaving forces to encircle and isolate them,” the ministry said.

Baltic states closing airspace to Russia

LITHUANIA: The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have decided to close their airspace to Russian airlines, transport officials in the three countries say.

The legal formulation for the measure is underway and it wasn’t immediately clear when precisely the ban would take effect.

Lithuanian Transport Marius Skuodis told media outlets that the goal of the Baltic countries is to issue the ban at the same time.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted on Saturday that Western nations should isolate Russia both economically and politically after its invasion on Ukraine, saying “there is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies.”

Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits told local news agency LETA that the country’s decision to close its airspace to Russian airlines will be made in coordination with Estonia, Lithuania, and the EU.

Slovenia and the Czech Republic also have closed down their airspaces for Russian planes. Saturday’s decision was announced by Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka a day after the Czech Republic banned all Russian airlines from using Czech airports.

Border crossings clogged

POLAND: Lines of vehicles miles long are clogging border crossings out of Ukraine, as tens of thousands rush to neighboring countries to escape danger from invading Russian troops.

Nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries in the wake of Russian invasion, the U.N. refugee agency said Saturday. The largest numbers were arriving in Poland, where 2 million Ukrainians have already settled to work in recent years. Poland’s government said Saturday that more than 100,000 Ukrainians had crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border in the past 48 hours alone.

One family from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine waited 20 hours before being able to cross the border into Siret in northern Romania.

At the Polish border town of Medyka, the line of vehicles waiting to enter Poland stretched many miles into Ukraine.

Thousands protest in Hungary

HUNGARY: For the second time in three days, several thousand protesters gathered Saturday in Hungary’s capital to demonstrate against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to urge world leaders to apply sanctions on Moscow.

The protest, organized by Budapest’s Ukrainian community, was attended by Hungarians, Ukrainians, Russians and others and filled one of the city’s main avenues in front of the Russian Embassy.

Dasha Ivashuk, who fled Ukraine into Hungary on Friday night, said she attended the protest to call for an end to the violence.

“I’m here to say we just want to live in peace,” she said. “We don’t want to run from the bombs that are taking place all over Ukraine for the last several days.”

Many signs demanded Russia be cut off from the SWIFT international bank payment system, a sanction measure being debated by European leaders.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has told a news conference that Hungary is accepting all citizens and legal residents of Ukraine, regardless of whether they are subject to military conscription into the Ukrainian armed forces.

“We’re letting everyone in,” Mr. Orban said in the border town of Beregsurany. “I’ve seen people who have no travel documents, but we’re providing them too with travel documents. And we’re also allowing in those who have arrived from third countries after the proper screening.”

Russian cargo ship seized

FRANCE: The captain of a Russian cargo ship intercepted early Saturday in the English Channel was formally advised that his vessel breaks European Union sanctions levied days ago for its invasion of Ukraine, France’s finance ministry said.

Customs officials examined the Baltic Leader after it was escorted to the port of Boulogne-Sur-Mer before a written contravention was handed to the captain, a ministry statement said.

A spokesperson for the Maritime Prefecture, Veronique Magnin, said the seizure of the ship apparently was the first such action in the English Channel.

The vessel, which was carrying cars, is owned by PSB Lizing, which an official close to Public Affairs Minister Olivier Dussopt said is among Russian companies listed in the EU sanctions.

The approximately 130-meter ship was headed from Rouen, in Normandy, to Saint Petersburg, and was stopped near Honfleur,

Russian warning over nuclear pact

RUSSIA: A senior Russian official has warned that Moscow could react to Western sanctions over its attack on Ukraine by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact and freezing Western assets.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, shrugged off a set of crippling sanctions that the U.S., the European Union and other allies slapped on Russia as a reflection of Western “political impotence.”

In comments posted on his page on Russian social media VKontakte, Mr. Medvedev said the sanctions could offer Moscow a pretext for a complete review of its ties with the West, suggesting that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Mr. Medvedev also raised the prospect of cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries, saying “we may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights.”

He pointed at the possibility of freezing Western assets in the country if the West proceeds with threats to freeze Russian assets.

Poland: Ukraine deserves EU membership

POLAND: Poland’s President Andrzej Duda says the European Union should grant Ukraine the group’s membership in an express way.

Mr. Duda said on Twitter that Poland is for immediately granting Ukraine the status of a candidate to the 27-member EU. He added that Ukraine should have access to EU funds, to help it rebuild from damage caused by Russia’s armed invasion. “Ukraine deserves that,” Mr. Duda tweeted.

In Rome, the Ukrainian ambassador to Rome backed that sentiment, insisting that “Ukraine earned and has the right to be a member of the European Union.”

Ambassador Yaroslav Melnyk said Saturday on Italian state TV that “the destiny of Ukraine is the destiny of Europe” and that “when bombs fall in Ukraine that means bombs fall in Europe.”

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