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Russia Ukraine conflict live updates: Moscow recruiting Syrians for urban combat

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Moscow has begun bringing in foreign fighters skilled in urban combat, in a grim sign the Ukraine conflict is about to enter a bloody new phase.

Russia has begun bringing in foreign fighters skilled in urban combat, in a grim sign the Ukraine conflict is about to enter a bloody new phase.

The Wall Street Journal reports Moscow has been recruiting Syrians, some of whom have already arrived in Russia, hoping their expertise can help it take Kyiv.

Chechen forces under leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Vladimir Putin, have already been deployed in the invasion, while foreign fighters are also pouring into the country to fight on the side of Ukraine.

“The Russia deployment of foreign fighters from Syria into Ukraine internationalises the Ukraine war, and therefore could link the war in Ukraine to broader cross regional dynamics, particularly in the Middle East,” Jennifer Cafarella, national security fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, told the newspaper.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now into its 12th day, has seen more than 1.5 million people flee the country in what the United Nations has called “Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II”.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands wounded, with hundreds of thousands of mostly women and children pouring into neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania or Moldova for refuge.

Read on for the latest updates.

Attacks on Ukrainian cities intensify

Russia stepped up shelling of Ukrainian cities in the centre, north and south of the country late Sunday, the Associated Press reports.

“The latest wave of missile strikes came as darkness fell,” presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said on Ukrainian television.

Mr Arestovich said areas that came under heavy shelling included the outskirts of Kyiv, Chernihiv in the north, Mykolaiv in the south, and Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city 400km east of the capital.

Moscow ‘recruiting Syrians for urban combat’

Moscow is recruiting Syrians skilled in urban combat to fight in Ukraine, US officials have told The Wall Street Journal.

Russia has been operating in Syria since 2015, and in recent days has been recruiting fighters hoping their expertise can help it take Kyiv, according to the report, which adds that some are already in Russia preparing to enter the conflict. Volunteers have reportedly been offered $US200-300 “to go to Ukraine and operate as guards” for six months at a time.

Chechen forces under leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Vladimir Putin, have already been deployed in the invasion, while foreign fighters are also pouring into the country to fight on the side of Ukraine.

Putin ‘not irrational’: Israeli PM

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly found Vladimir Putin to be in a rational state of mind during their meeting in Moscow on Saturday, contrary to Western assessments that he may have become unhinged, The Times of Israel reports.

A source close to the PM was quoted by Israel’s Channel 13 news as saying the Russian President was “not conspiracy theorising or irrational, nor is he suffering from rage attacks”.

Mr Bennett, who afterwards flew to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, was the first Western leader to sit down with Mr Putin since the invasion began. Few details were provided of either meeting. “I went there to assist the dialogue between all of the sides, of course with the blessing and encouragement of all players,” he told a weekly cabinet meeting on Saturday.

Six hundred missiles fired into Ukraine

Russia has launched an estimated 600 missiles at Ukrainian targets since the war began, a senior defence official has told Fox News and CNN, adding Russia has committed approximately 95 per cent of its amassed combat power inside Ukraine.

The official said the attacks have so far not cut off civilian communications. They added that Ukrainian air space remains contested, noting Ukraine’s air and missile defence has so far been effective and remains in use.

Russia says it has destroyed “practically all” of Ukraine’s combat-ready aircraft and warned its neighbours including NATO member Romania not to host Kyiv’s military aircraft, saying it would drag them into the war.

‘Tell Russian mothers’ children are dying

Ukraine’s first lady has asked the international media to share the “terrible truth” of how Russian forces are killing children.

“I appeal to all the unbiased media in the world! Tell this terrible truth – Russian invaders are killing Ukrainian children,” Olena Zelenska posted on Instagram below photos of five children killed by Russian attacks, per the NY Post. At least 38 children have died in the conflict so far.

“Tell it to Russian mothers — let them know what exactly their sons are doing here, in Ukraine,” the photo caption read. “Show these photos to Russian women – your husbands, brothers, compatriots are killing Ukrainian children! Let them know that they are personally responsible for the death of every Ukrainian child because they gave their tacit consent to these crimes.”

UK officer says Russian morale plunging

The UK’s top military officer says morale in Russian forces is plunging after units have been “decimated” by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

“Russia hasn’t operated at this scale since World War II, and to do what’s called combined arms manoeuvre is incredibly complex and incredibly difficult, and we’re seeing Russia failing to do that in a competent fashion,” Admiral Sir Tony Radakin told the BBC.

“Now you’re seeing that whole convoy (near Kyiv) stuck, it continues to be attacked, at that is impacting on morale. There are stories of the troops in those vehicles, they don’t want to stay in those vehicles so they’re camping out in the forest.”

Russia ‘prepares to disconnect from internet’

Russia has reportedly begun “active preparations to disconnect from the global internet”. The country has already banned Facebook and throttled other Western social media services and news sites, as fears grow the nation could soon fall behind a Chinese-style censorship firewall.

“No later than March 11, all servers and domains must be transferred to the Russian zone,” wrote Telegram-based news outlet Nexta, which shared a copy of a notice purportedly issued by Russia’s deputy minister of digital development Andrei Chernenko on March 5.

“If you turn off the internet in Russia, then this means cutting off 140 million people from at least some truthful information,” Mikhail Klimarev from Russia’s Internet Protection Society told The Washington Post on Friday. “There will be no internet – all people in Russia will only listen to propaganda.”

Russian strike destroys Ukrainian airport

A barrage of Russian missiles destroyed a civilian airport in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message as he repeated calls for a Western-imposed no-fly zone.

“I have just been informed about a missile strike on Vinnytsia,” he said. “Eight rockets. The airport was completely destroyed. They continue total destruction of our infrastructure. We repeat every day, ‘Close the sky over Ukraine!’ … If you do not do that, if you at least do not give us aircraft for us to be able to protect ourselves, there can be only one conclusion – you also want us to be slowly killed.”

Russia’s defence ministry later confirmed the strikes. “On March 6, an airfield of the Ukrainian Air Forces in Vinnytsia was put out of action with long-range high-precision weapons,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video briefing.

Netflix shuts down Russian service

Streaming giant Netflix has announced it is shutting its operations in Russia, where it has more than one million customers.

The company, which operates in Russia through a joint venture with National Media Group, said no new customers would be able to sign up and it was unclear what will happen to existing accounts, Bloomberg reported.

Major corporations across a range of industries have halted business in Russia since its troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, including everything from US-based tech firms such as Intel and Airbnb to French luxury giants LVMH, Hermes and Chanel.

‘Nation of liars’: Ukrainian soldier slams US

A furious Ukrainian national guard soldier has slammed the US as a “nation of liars” for not doing more to assist against Russia’s invasion, including imposing a no-fly zone – which Western leaders have emphatically ruled out as it would lead to World War III.

“You are afraid to clear our skies because you are afraid of Russia,” the soldier told Fox News in Kyiv. “You are a nation of f**king liars. We give our nuclear power and our nuclear weapons for your guarantees – your guarantees is nothing.”

Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall said the soldier’s comments were “very much the sentiment over here”. “The West is helping, yes, they’re grateful for everything the US is doing, but more needs to be done,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger over here.”

Russia detains 4600 at protests

More than 4600 people in cities across Russia were detained at protests on Sunday against Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, a monitoring group says.

A police spokeswoman said 1700 people were detained in Moscow after around 2500 took part in an “unsanctioned protest”, while 750 were detained at a smaller rally of around 1500 people in the second largest city of Saint Petersburg, Russian news agencies reported.

OVD-Info, which monitors detentions at opposition protests, put the figure of detainees in 65 towns and cities across Russia at 4644 people. It said police had used electric shockers on protesters, and posted witness photos and videos on Telegram showing riot police beating protesters with batons and demonstrators with blood running down their faces.

Fears of food crisis as wheat shipments halt

With shipments from ports on the Black Sea grinding to a halt as a result of the invasion, wheat prices have soared to record highs, overtaking the food crisis of 2007-08 – sparking fears of worsening inflation and civil unrest.

Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter while Ukraine is the fifth-largest. Together the two countries export about one third of the world’s wheat, and are major suppliers for countries including Lebanon and Turkey.

“If farmers in Ukraine don’t start planting any time soon there will be huge crisis to food security,” Kees Huizinga, a Dutch national who runs a farm in central Ukraine producing wheat, barley and corn, told the Financial Times. “If Ukraine’s food production falls in the coming season the wheat price could double or triple.”

Russia warns against hosting aircraft

Russia on Sunday warned Ukraine’s neighbours including NATO member Romania against hosting Kyiv’s military aircraft, saying they could end up being involved in an armed conflict.

“We know for sure that Ukrainian combat aircraft have flown to Romania and other neighbouring countries,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video briefing.

“The use of the airfield network of these countries for basing Ukrainian military aviation with the subsequent use of force against Russia’s army can be regarded as the involvement of these states in an armed conflict.”

US gives ‘green light’ for fighter jets to Ukraine

The US has given the “green light” to NATO countries if they choose to provide fighter jets to Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says.

Mr Blinken made the comments to CBS News’ Face the Nation program on Sunday, after reports the US was considering a deal with Poland to send US warplanes to Warsaw to replace any Soviet-era fighter jets the NATO country sends to Ukraine.

“Does that get a green light from the US, or (are you) afraid that will escalate tension?” host Margaret Brennan asked. Mr Blinken replied, “No that gets the green light. In fact we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.”

American Express suspending ‘all operations’

American Express is suspending its operations in Russia and Belarus over Moscow’s “unjustified” attack on Ukraine, the latest financial services blow to Russia over its invasion.

“In light of Russia’s ongoing, unjustified attack on the people of Ukraine, American Express is suspending all operations in Russia,” the company said in a statement on Sunday, noting that American Express cards will no longer work at merchants or ATM money machines in Russia.

The move follows card payment titans Visa and MasterCard, which had announced Saturday they will suspend operations in Russia.

Ukrainian port city evacuation fails again

A fresh attempt by Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol to evacuate its civilians failed again Sunday as Moscow and Kyiv traded blame for ceasefire breaches for a second consecutive day.

Vladimir Putin blamed Kyiv for not keeping to “agreements reached on this acute humanitarian issue”, the Kremlin said in a readout of a phonecall between the Russian President and French President Emmanuel Macron.

But the governor of the eastern region Donetsk, Pavlo Kirilenko, said “the column to evacuate the population could not leave Mariupol … because the Russians regrouped their forces and started to bombard the city”.

TikTok bans posting videos from Russia

Social media giant TikTok announced Sunday it is suspending the posting of all video content from Russia in order to keep its employees safe and comply with the country’s new “fake news” regulations.

“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend lifestreaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” the company said in a Twitter message, adding that its in-app messaging service will not be affected.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed into law a bill introducing jail terms of up to 15 years for what is deemed fake news about the Russian army, as Moscow pushes forward with its invasion of Ukraine.

Putin likens sanctions to ‘declaration of war’

Vladimir Putin has likened the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West to a “declaration of war”.

The Russian President made the comments on Saturday to a group of female flight attendants, as he warned that NATO imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be a red line.

“That very second, we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are,” he said during a meeting with Aeroflot employees outside Moscow. “These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war – but thank God it has not come to that.”

— with AFP





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