Live updates | Key Ukrainian city mostly Russian controlled The Denver Post

By The Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — A regional Ukrainian governor on Wednesday said Russian troops have taken control of about 80 percent of the key city of Sievierodonetsk.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Russian troops were advancing amid fierce street battles with Ukrainian defenders of the city. He noted that in some districts the Ukrainian troops managed to push the Russians back.

Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, has been the focus of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. It has come under relentless Russian bombardment, and Haidai said Tuesday that Russian air strike hit a tank with nitric acid at a chemical factory, releasing toxic fumes.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Report: China bars Russian airlines with foreign planes

— US sending medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine

— Italy imports more Russian oil despite impending embargo

— High prices, Asian markets could blunt EU ban on Russian oil

— Sanctioned Russian oligarch’s megayacht hides in a UAE creek

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Two exit polls by Danish broadcasters show that around two thirds of voters in Wednesday’s referendum backed abandoning Denmark’s 30-year-old opt-out from the European Union’s common defense policy.

TV2 broadcaster said that 66.6% voted in favor of ending the opt-out — which would have limited practical effect for either Denmark or the EU — and 33.4% against.

Public broadcaster DR had the figures at 69% for and 30.9% against. The polls were published just after voting ended.

The referendum was the latest example of European countries seeking closer defense links with allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The main effect of abandoning the opt-out will be that Danish officials could stay in the room when EU colleagues discuss defense topics and Danish forces can take part in EU military operations.

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PARIS — The head of Interpol on Wednesday raised alarms about a possible uptick in weapons trafficking once the war in Ukraine ends.

Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock told the Anglo-American Press Association that he has “no doubt” illegal arms trafficking will increase.

“We have seen that in the Balkans region,” Stock said. “We have seen that in theaters in Africa that, of course, organized crime groups try to exploit this chaotic situation, availability of weapons and even weapons that are used by the military.”

Small weapons are the main concern, he said.

Stock encouraged Interpol’s 195-member countries to “intensively use available databases that can help trace and track weapons, for instance those stolen in another country.”

“No country in our region can deal with it in isolation because the criminals I’m talking about are operating globally,” Stock said.

Interpol, based in Lyon, France, does not carry out investigations but provides training for police and customs officers to, for instance, identify trafficking routes, Stock said.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday thanked Poland for its military support.

Speaking at a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Zelenskyy hailed what he described as “unprecedented defense support” from Warsaw.

He also voiced gratitude to Poland for hosting Ukrainians who were forced to leave the country during the war, praising its “warm and humane attitude to our people.”

“Our relations have progressed through the war of Russia against Ukraine from warm and good-neighborly relations to another stage of strong and historic ties,” Zelenskyy said.

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WASHINGTON — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said he’s convening a meeting of senior officials from Finland, Sweden and Turkey to try to overcome Ankara’s objections to the two Nordic countries joining the alliance.

Stoltenberg told reporters that the talks will be held in Brussels “in a few days with senior officials,” but provided no further details.

“I’m confident that we will find a way forward,” he said.

Roused by security concerns over Russia’s war on Ukraine, Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO last month. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is blocking their path. He has said they’re not doing enough to fight Kurdish extremism.

Asked how long it might take to end the standoff, Stoltenberg said his goal is before the NATO summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden, Erdogan and their NATO counterparts are meeting in Madrid from June 28-30.

“We want to make sure that all allies have their security concerns taken into account, and that includes Turkey,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government on Wednesday announced what it is calling the biggest boost in its military spending since the end of the Cold War as war rages in Ukraine.

Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said “threats in the world and the war in Ukraine show that peace and security cannot be taken for granted.”

Ollongren unveiled 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) a year in increased military spending.

The extra money will fund military hardware purchases in coming years including six new F-35 fighter jets and a doubling of the military’s fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones from four to eight.

The Defense Ministry said the investment means the Netherlands will meet the NATO agreed defense spending of 2% of its gross domestic product in 2024 and 2025.

It also aims to ease shortages in military supplies and equipment. That will enable military personnel to “work with the best equipment and train a lot without constant shortages of spare parts, transport and ammunition,” the ministry said.

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said international sanctions are affecting Russia’s ability to export its own grain amid fears of a global food shortage.

Speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Lavrov said Russian grain exports may not be directly under sanctions, but the ships carrying the grain face extra hurdles.

“Although the West very loudly reminds that grain was not subject to sanctions, for some reason they shyly keep silent that ships that carry Russian grain did fall under the sanctions,” he said.

“They are not accepted in foreign ports, in European ports, and they are not insured. And, in principle, all the logistical and financial chains related to the supply of grain to world markets, they were under the sanctions of our Western colleagues.”

Russia has also been accused of preventing Ukraine from exporting its grain harvest and of looting Ukrainian grain supplies for Russian use.

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BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says the West must give Ukraine long-term support, and is defending the time it’s taking to deliver weapons systems to Kyiv.

Annalena Baerbock told the German parliament that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “fundamentally changed” his strategy after failing to take Ukraine quickly. She said that “he is now counting on having more staying power than we who support Ukraine.”

Baerbock said Wednesday that “we need staying power in supporting Ukraine.”

The minister fended off criticism of perceived delays in fulfilling promises to send weapons, telling lawmakers that “the stuff has to arrive and above all the soldiers must be able to use it.” Her comments came hours after Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany will send modern air-defense missiles. Baerbock said those were originally supposed to go to another country, which she didn’t identify.

She said that “we need these medium- and long-term signals that we haven’t given up on Ukraine in three months, but that we are defending it durably as we can without participating in this war ourselves.”

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STOCKHOLM— United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says there is “progress” in talks to allow the export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports and ensure Russian food and fertilizer have unrestricted access to global markets.

“I think that there is progress, but we are not yet” there, Guterres said Wednesday, adding “these are very complex things,” because “everything is interlinked.”

Russia’s war on Ukraine has closed the country’s Black Sea ports, halting food exports to many developing countries.

Guterres reiterated that the world should have access to the Russian production of fertilizers and foods “that is also essential for global markets in the present situation.”

Guterres spoke in Stockholm where he met with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson ahead of a climate and environment conference Thursday and Friday.

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MOSCOW — A leading Russian scientist has urged Moscow not to shut itself off from scientific cooperation with “unfriendly” countries such as the United States.

Alexander Sergeev, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a state-backed body linking research institutes and labs across the country, said ties between scientists in Russia and abroad “certainly must continue,” in comments reported by the Interfax news agency Wednesday.

The Russian government has drawn up an official list of “unfriendly” countries, including those which have issued sanctions against Russia such as the U.S., Britain, Japan and European Union members like France and Germany.

“We should not in any case, on our own initiative, perhaps following the slogans of various hotheads, break off relationships with our colleagues in ‘unfriendly countries,’” Sergeev said.

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MOSCOW — A Kremlin spokesman says Moscow “negatively” views U.S. plans to supply more weapons to Ukraine.

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it will send Ukraine a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems. Ukrainian leaders have begged for rocket launchers as they struggle to stall Russian progress in the Donbas region.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during his daily conference calls with journalists on Wednesday that Moscow doesn’t trust Kyiv’s assurances that the multiple-launch rocket systems supplied by the U.S. will not be used to attack Russia.

U.S. officials say the aid package expected to be unveiled Wednesday tries to strike a balance between the desire to help Ukraine battle ferocious Russian artillery barrages while not providing arms that could allow Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia and trigger an escalation in the war.

Peskov nonetheless accused the U.S. of “deliberately and diligently pouring fuel into the fire.

“The U.S. sticks to the line of fighting with Russia until the last Ukrainian (left standing),” he said.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says the European Union member country will serve as an “economic hub” for neighboring Ukraine, helping it export grain and other products while Russia blocks Ukraine’s export routes, chiefly its ports.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke Wednesday in the Ukrainian town of Borodyanka, near Kyiv. Morawiecki was in the heavily damaged settlement to inaugurate a series of container houses for homeless residents that was funded by Poland.

Morawiecki said Poland is working on expanding its infrastructure and capacity to facilitate the export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and other agriculture products. Poland is receiving EU funds for the purpose, Morawiecki said.

He stressed that North Africa’s countries rely heavily on Ukraine grain and could face problems feeding their populations without it.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has sent 146 Marines to join a NATO force stationed in Lithuania as part of efforts to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The deployment includes divers specializing in deactivating mines and other explosive devices.

Portugal’s defense ministry said the aim of the mission is to “support high levels of readiness and discourage direct or indirect threats” against NATO members, especially in the Baltic Sea region.

The detachment which departed Wednesday is to remain in Lithuania for three months.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Polling stations are open in Denmark for voters to decide whether to abandon their country’s 30-year-old opt-out from the European Union’s common defense policy.

The referendum on Wednesday is the latest example of European countries seeking closer defense links with allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It follows Sweden and Finland’s historic bids to join NATO.

Some 4.2 million Danish voters are eligible to cast ballots in the referendum. The “yes” side – in favor of getting rid of the 1992 opt-out – has been ahead in recent months. Polls showed it with around 40% support and the “no” side with 30%.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in southern Ukraine says Russian troops are retreating and blowing up bridges to obstruct a possible Ukrainian advance.

Mykolayiv region governor Vitaliy Kim claimed Wednesday on the Telegram messaging app that Russia was on the defensive.

“They are afraid of a breakthrough by the (Ukrainian Armed Forces), but we are not afraid and we support our troops,” he wrote.

Kim didn’t specify exactly where the retreat he described was happening. The parts of the Mykolayiv region which have been held by Russian forces in recent days are close to the large Russia-occupied city of Kherson.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Tuesday that Ukrainian fighters had seen “some success in the Kherson direction.”

Russia is concentrating most of its military power on trying to capture all of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s asylum agency says the number of people from former Soviet countries seeking international protection in Europe has skyrocketed since Russia launched its war in Ukraine.

The agency said Wednesday that about 14,000 Ukrainians sought asylum in March, a figure some 30 times higher than before the war that started Feb. 24.

The number is on top of the estimated 3 million Ukrainians who have applied for emergency protection under an EU program that provides shelter, access to jobs, medical treatment and education to war refugees.

The biggest increases in asylum-seekers were recorded among citizens from Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But the EU agency says it’s not clear whether these people came from their home countries or were living in Ukraine when the war started.

The number of Russians seeking asylum in the EU also rose to 1,400 in March, the highest level since 2018.

Asylum is usually granted to people in danger of suffering serious harm due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a social group, and to those fleeing war, torture and degrading treatment.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says his country will supply Ukraine with modern anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems, stepping up arms deliveries amid criticism that Germany isn’t doing enough to help Kyiv.

Scholz told German lawmakers on Wednesday that the government has decided to provide Ukraine with IRIS-T missiles developed by Germany together with other NATO nations.

He said Germany will also supply Ukraine with radar systems to help locate enemy artillery.

The announcements come amid claims at home and abroad that Germany has been slow to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russia.

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