The latest details about Russia’s attack on Ukraine:
Blinken says US considering a “backfill” of Polish combat jet stock
7:50 a.m. EST March 6
The U.S. government is considering sending fighter jets to Poland, should that country decide to provide Ukraine with Soviet-era combat jets, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland choose to supply those planes,” Blinken said in Moldova, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The statement came after a desperate plea by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for more aircraft — especially those his pilots can fly — and a no-fly zone as his nation faces an increasingly devastating Russian onslaught. Blinken made his comments during a stop through Europe to reassure allies there about U.S. support in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Blinken, according to the Wall Street Journal, said the U.S. is working with Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials to get an “up-to-the-minute assessment of their needs.”
Poland’s prime minister’s office, however, on Sunday dismissed reports that an arrangement was in the works to provide Ukraine combat aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“Poland won’t send its fighter jets to #Ukraine as well as allow to use its airports,” the chancellery of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted, calling one synopsis of that report “Fake News.”
Poland flies MiG-29 combat jets that were produced by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s, along with U.S. Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighter jets, as well as other aircraft types, according to published reports.
NBC reported that the deal would involve Poland donating its old Russian-made MiG fighters to Ukraine, and then selling Poland U.S.-made F-16 jets to replace the Soviet-era fighters.
“We are working with the Poles on this issue and consulting with the rest of our NATO allies,” a White House spokesperson told NBC. “We are also working on the capabilities we could provide to backfill Poland if it decided to transfer planes to Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” to U.S. senators on Saturday to send more planes to help the country fight the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy made the request on a call joined by more than 300 people, including senators, some House lawmakers and aides.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement that Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine.”
“I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer,” Schumer said.
Schumer told Zelenskyy the U.S. lawmakers are inspired by him and by the strength and courage of the Ukrainian people, according to another person on the call who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
Zelenskyy’s focus “was on control of Ukrainian airspace, asking either for a [no-fly zone] or sending Ukraine Russian-made airframes and drones so that they can protect themselves,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat and former acting assistant Defense Secretary and CIA analyst, said in a Tweet Saturday morning,
The U.S. Congress also is working on a $10 billion package of military and humanitarian aide, and Schumer told Zelenskyy that lawmakers hope to send it quickly to Ukraine, the person said.
Zelenskyy told senators he needs planes and drones more than other security tools, according to a senior Senate aide granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
-Howard Altman, Military Times, Associated Press reporter Lisa Mascaro in Washington
Russians shell Ukraine cities as safe passage again promised in south
7:30 a.m. EST March 6
On Day 11 of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Russian troops shelled encircled cities and a pro-Russian official said safe-passage corridors would open again for residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol.
The number of Ukrainians forced from their country increased to 1.5 million and the Kremlin’s rhetoric grew, with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy. He likened the West’s sanctions on Russia to “declaring war.”
Here’s a look at key things to know about the conflict Sunday:
Promise of safe passage from two cities — again
A pro-Russian official said safe-passage corridors would open again for residents of Mariupol on Sunday, a day after a promised cease-fire in the besieged port city collapsed.
Ukrainian officials confirmed that evacuations from the city would take place starting from 12 p.m. local time.
Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and airstrikes had prevented residents from leaving before the agreed-to evacuations got underway Saturday. Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort.
Russia has sought to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Avrov in the south. Capturing Mariupol could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the military in separatist-held Donetsk territory, said safe passage corridors for residents would also be opened for residents of Volnovakha.
What else is happening on the ground?
Russian forces launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks across the country, including dropping powerful bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of the capital of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said. But a mileslong Russian armored column threatening the capital was still stalled outside Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in the central and southeastern part of the country, while the Russians were trying to block and keep encircled Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
Ukrainian forces were also defending Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port city, from Russian ships, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.
Russian troops took control of the southern port city of Kherson last week. Ukrainian forces have managed to keep control of key cities in central and southeastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy pushes for a no-fly zone
Zelenskyy pushed his call for foreign countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Establishing a no-fly zone would risk escalating the conflict by involving foreign militaries directly. Although the United States and many Western countries have backed Ukraine with weapons shipments, they have sent no troops.
Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday that “the world is strong enough to close our skies.”
NATO countries have ruled out policing a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine. Putin said Saturday that Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as “participation in the armed conflict.”
Directly witnessed by The Associated Press
Onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they watched a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash, according to video released by the Ukrainian government. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and shouted, “Go home.”
In Mariupol, Associate Press journalists witnessed doctors make unsuccessful attempts to save the lives of wounded children, pharmacies ran bare and hundreds of thousands of people faced food and water shortages in freezing weather.
In Irpin, near Kyiv, a sea of people on foot and even in wheelbarrows trudged over the remains of a destroyed bridge to cross a river and leave the city. Assisted by Ukrainian soldiers, they lugged pets, infants, purses and flimsy bags stuffed with minimal possessions. Some of the weak and elderly were carried along the path in blankets and carts.
Kyiv’s central train station remained crowded with people desperate to leave, and frequent shelling could be heard from the center of the capital city.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Moldova pledging America’s support to the small Western-leaning former Soviet republic. The country is coping with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and keeping an eye on Russia’s intensifying war with its neighbor.
A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place Monday, according to Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. He gave no additional details.
Previous meetings were held in Belarus and led to the failed cease-fire agreement to create humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians from besieged cities.
Putin continued to blame the war on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the invasion. He said if they continued to resist, “They are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood.” His comments came as Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” on Saturday to the U.S. Congress for more planes as Russian forces continued to batter strategic locations.
Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister returned Sunday from a trip to Russia where he met Putin and discussed the war.
Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, where he met the Russian leader for three hours. Bennett spoke to Zelenskyy after his meeting with Putin.
Bennett’s trip was the latest attempt at diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine.
The humanitarian situation
The death toll of the conflict has been difficult to measure. The U.N. human rights office said at least 351 civilians have been confirmed killed since the Feb. 24 invasion, but the true number is probably much higher.
The U.N. World Food Program says millions of people inside Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, will need food aid “immediately.”
Ukrainian refugees continued to pour into neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania and Moldova. The number of people who have left since fighting began has now reached 1.5 million, according to U.N. refugee agency..
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