Live updates | European Commission: Russia weaponizing food

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Rodrigo Duterte

In this photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, speaks during a meeting with government officials at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Monday May 23, 2022. Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sharply criticized Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the killings of innocent civilians in Ukraine, saying while the two of them have been tagged as killers, “I kill criminals, I don’t kill children and the elderly.” (King Rodriguez/ Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division via AP)

DAVOS, Switzerland — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday accused Russia of deliberately bombarding grain warehouses across Ukraine and weaponizing food supplies.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked disruptions of global food supplies, and the blockade of Ukrainian ports has been particularly harmful. Ukraine accounted for 90% of grain and oilseed exports before the war, according to the EU.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the head of the EU’s executive arm said about 20 million tons of wheat are currently stuck in Ukraine.

“And on top of this, Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail – holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support,” she said. “This is using hunger and grain to wield power.”

Von der Leyen said that fragile countries and vulnerable populations suffer the most. She said bread prices in Lebanon increased by 70%, and food shipments from Odesa have been blocked from reaching Somalia.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— After 3 months, Russia still bogged down in Ukraine war

— 200 bodies found in Mariupol as war rages in Ukraine’s east

— AP-NORC poll: US economy, not punishing Russia, is top priority

— Pentagon says more high-tech weapons going to Ukraine

— After 3 months of war, life in Russia has profoundly changed

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

LVIV, Ukraine — An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said on Tuesday that workers removing rubble from a collapsed apartment building in the devastated Ukrainian city found about 200 corpses in the building’s basement.

Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram that the bodies were decomposing and that the stench permeated the neighborhood. It’s not clear when they were discovered and the report could not be independently verified.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a monthslong siege that finally ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their last stand in the strategic port city.

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BRUSSELS — A European Union plan to suspend all tariffs on imports from Ukraine for one year cleared the final political hurdle on Tuesday when EU finance ministers endorsed the move.

Meant to help the Ukrainian economy battered by Russia’s invasion, the removal of the EU duties will apply to Ukrainian industrial products, including steel, and to farm goods such as fruits and vegetables.

The EU has already scrapped most of its tariffs on Ukrainian products as a result of a 2016 free-trade agreement. Ukrainian exports to the EU were worth 24.1 billion euros ($25.8 billion) last year, with the main goods being metals, agricultural products and machinery.

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Two top Russian security officials vowed on Tuesday that Moscow will achieve all the goals set for the “military operation” in Ukraine, appearing to address the fact that the invasion, expected by many to be a blitzkrieg, has entered its fourth month this week.

The secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said in an interview published Tuesday that the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.”

“Nazism must either be 100% eradicated, or it will raise its head in a few years, and in an even uglier form,” he said in a response to a question about the war dragging on.

Russia has falsely called the war a campaign to “denazify” Ukraine — a country with a democratically elected Jewish president who wants closer ties with the West.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of security officials that Russia is deliberately slowing down its offensive by arranging cease-fires and humanitarian corridors “in order to avoid casualties among the civilians.”

AP’s reporting on the ground found that the Russian forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, schools and venues where civilians were sheltering.

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PARIS — A Ukrainian government minister pushed Tuesday for a quick decision on eventual Ukrainian membership in the European Union, even as France warns that it could be decades before Ukraine joins the bloc.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna met with French Europe Minister Clement Beaune Tuesday in Paris and argued that Ukraine has made deep and difficult reforms aimed at improving its chances at EU membership.

“As politicians, we must find a way for Ukraine to truly become part of this family, both economically and politically,” she told reporters.

The European Commission aims to deliver a first opinion in June on Ukraine’s request to become a member. But the process usually takes many years, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said it could be decades.

In the meantime France is proposing an interim arrangement that would allow more political cooperation with Ukraine and other potential EU members.

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DAVOS, Switzerland — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says Russia can be reintegrated into the orbit of European nations if it finds its way back to “democracy, the rule of law, the respect for the international rules-based order.”

Von der Leyen spoke at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering Tuesday. Insisting on the historical and cultural links between Europe and Russia, the head of the EU’s executive arm said reconciliation is “certainly a distant dream and hope.

“But this also says that our standing up against this brutal invasion is standing up against the leadership in Russia. It is the Russian people who are the ones who decide about the future of their country. They have it in their hands.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — The leader of a Turkish nationalist party that is allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey should consider leaving NATO if “circumstances become inextricable” and Turkey is forced to approve Sweden and Finland membership.

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, said in a speech to his party’s legislators on Tuesday that Turkey isn’t without alternatives and could be part of a possible security alliance that could be made up of Turkic-speaking states and Muslim nations.

“Turkey is not without options. Turkey is not helpless. Leaving NATO should be put on the agenda as an alternative option if the circumstances become inextricable,” Bahceli said. “We did not exist with NATO, and we will not perish without NATO.”

Turkey is objecting to Sweden’s and Finland’s historic bid to join the alliance, citing as reasons their perceived support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other groups that Turkey considers to be terrorists.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a delegation made up of officials from Sweden and Finland are expected to arrive in Turkey later on Tuesday to discuss Ankara’s objection to their membership in NATO.

Cavusoglu told a group of journalists traveling with him on a two-day visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel that the delegation would meet with Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal on Wednesday.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto also confirmed the meeting.

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A Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region says the region’s pro-Kremlin administration will ask Moscow to set up a military base there.

“There should be a Russian military base in the Kherson region,” deputy head of the Russia-installed administration in Kherson Kirill Stremousov was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. “We will be asking for it, the entire population is interested in it. It is vitally important and will become a security guarantee for the region and its residents.”

Russian forces took control of the Kherson region in southeastern Ukraine early on in the war and installed its own administration there. Ukrainian officials have speculated that Russia plans to stage a referendum in the region to declare its independence, similar to the ones that took place in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014. Moscow recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics two days before invading Ukraine and used it as a pretext to send troops to its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Stremousov denied such plans earlier this month and said the region will ask the Kremlin to make it part of Russia instead. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said it is up to the people of Kherson to decide how and where they want to live.

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LONDON — British military authorities say Russian forces have intensified efforts to encircle and capture Severodonetsk and neighboring cities, the only part of the Luhansk region that remains under Ukrainian government control.

The U.K. defense ministry, in a briefing posted Tuesday morning, says the northern and southern arms of the Russian operation are currently separated by about 25 kilometers (15 miles) of Ukrainian-held territory.

The ministry says Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong resistance from Ukrainian troops that occupy well dug-in defensive positions.

The ministry says the battle for Severodonetsk is only one part of the Russian campaign to take the larger Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, and the fall of the city may cause logistical problems for the Kremlin.

“If the Donbas front line moves further west, this will extend Russian lines of communication and likely see its forces face further logistic resupply difficulties,” the ministry said.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russian shelling of a residential building in Sievierodonetsk killed four people, Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai said Tuesday. He didn’t specify when the shelling took place.

The Russian forces in recent weeks have been trying — so far unsuccessfully — to take control of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the region, subjecting both cities to intensive shelling.

The most recent round of shelling, Haidai said, damaged six houses in each of the two cities.

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MANILA, Philippines — Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sharply criticized Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the killings of innocent civilians in Ukraine, saying while the two of them have been tagged as killers, “I kill criminals, I don’t kill children and the elderly.”

Duterte, who openly calls Putin an idol and a friend, voiced his rebuke for the first time over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in remarks aired Tuesday where he blamed the three-month old war for the spike in global oil prices that has battered many countries, including the Philippines.

While stressing he was not condemning the Russian president, Duterte disagreed with Putin’s labeling of the invasion as a “special military operation,” and said it was really a full-scale war waged against “a sovereign nation.”

Addressing Putin “as a friend” and the Russian Embassy in Manila, Duterte urged them to stop bombing and firing artillery rounds on residential areas and allow innocent civilians to safely evacuate before launching a bombardment.

“I’m on the way out and I don’t know how to solve the problem,” Duterte said. “You have to solve the war between Ukraine and Russia before we can talk of even returning to normalcy.”

Duterte, who steps down on June 30 when his turbulent six-year term ends, has presided over a brutal anti-drugs crackdown that has left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United States and Britain are accusing Russia of spreading disinformation online and manipulating public opinion about the war in Ukraine and vehemently rejecting Russian claims that the West is aiming to control all information flows and define what is true or not true.

Britain’s deputy ambassador James Roscoe told a U.N. Security Council meeting on the use of digital technologies in maintaining peace that Russia has conducted cyber-attacks and used “an online troll factory to spread disinformation and manipulate public opinion about their war.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Russian government “continues to shut down, restrict and degrade internet connectivity, censor content, spread disinformation online, and intimidate and arrest journalists for reporting the truth about its invasion.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused countries that call themselves a “community of democracies” of building “a cyber-totalitarianism” and along with technology giants like Meta of shutting down Russian TV channels, expelling Russian journalists and blocking access to Russian websites.

Nebenzia again accused Western governments and media of fabricating the story of the Russian military killing civilians in Bucha near Kyiv. He claimed the civilians died from injuries caused by artillery projectiles fired from outdated hardware used by the Ukrainian army.

Britain’s Roscoe countered Russia’s claims of a “staged provocation” and suggestion that the Ukrainians were responsible for the civilian deaths after retaking the town, saying satellite images prove the bodies were there for several weeks when Russia controlled Bucha.

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Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai says police are continuing daily evacuations due to the war with Russia and the number of those willing to leave is increasing.

Haidai posted a video Monday on Facebook taken from a vehicle that he said was traveling along a highway near Sievierodonetsk. The vehicle is racing down the road, dodging debris, mounds of earth, barricades and destroyed vehicles as shells explode in the fields just yards away.

A photo in the post shows about a dozen civilians and their luggage packed tightly inside what appears to be the back of a vehicle.

Haidai wrote that people “are agreeing to the risk because what is happening in the cities is much worse.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia is waging “total war” on his country, and that includes inflicting as many casualties and as much infrastructure destruction as possible.

Zelenskyy made the comments in his nightly address Monday, the eve of the three-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In it, he noted that since Feb. 24, the Russian army has launched 1,474 missile strikes on Ukraine, using 2,275 different missiles. He said the vast majority hit civilian targets. There have been more than 3,000 Russian airstrikes over that period.

“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” he said.

Zelenskyy said an attack on the town of Desna, 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of Kyiv, resulted in 87 deaths.

The Russians have now concentrated their forces on Donbas cities like Bakhmut, Popasnaya and Sievierodonetsk, Zelenskyy said.

He called on Ukrainians who are not on the battlefield to help in whatever way they can and said his own task was working to increase international pressure on Russia. “The absolute priority is weapons and ammunition for Ukraine.”

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