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Zelenskyy claims new Russian war crimes, asks for help as Biden joins NATO partners for emergency summit on Ukraine war

Biden touts unity at historic NATO summit
Biden touts European unity at historic NATO summit 03:54

Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on people worldwide to gather in public Thursday to show support for his embattled country before addressing President Biden and other NATO leaders gathered in Brussels on the one-month anniversary of the Russian invasion.

"Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard," Zelenskyy said in English during an emotional video address late Wednesday. "Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters," he urged in the message, recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. 

Zelenskyy asked that the alliance provide "effective and unrestricted" support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian onslaught.

"Yes, it is true — we are not in the alliance," Zelenskyy said in prepared remarks. "It feels like we are in the 'gray zone' between the West and Russia. But we defend all our common values. And we are bright people! And we have been defending all these values for a month now! A month of heroic resistance. A month of the darkest suffering." 

Mr. Biden arrived Thursday morning at NATO headquarters to discuss new sanctions against Russia and how to coordinate such measures, along with more military aid for Ukraine, with fellow NATO leaders. The White House soon announced a new round of sanctions targeting Russian defense companies and hundreds of Russian elites, including all 328 members of the Duma, Russia's parliament. 

A senior administration official also said the U.S. is "consulting" with allies to provide anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, something Zelenskyy requested in his remarks. 

NATO summit on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels
French President Emmanuel Macron, President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrive at a meeting during a NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

On the eve of a meeting with Mr. Biden, European Union nations signed off on another $550 million in military aid for Ukraine. The White House announced Thursday it was committing another $1 billion in humanitarian aid to help Ukrainians displaced by the conflict, and said the U.S. would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians to help alleviate the refugee crisis in Europe.

The president also met with G7 industrialized nations and the European Council in a series of meetings later Thursday. The G7 leaders said they are "united in our resolve to restore peace and stability and uphold international law."

Four new NATO battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, are being deployed in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Only Ukraine stands between all of those Eastern European nations' borders, and Russia.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday as Mr. Biden and other leaders arrived that Russian President Vladimir Putin had "made a big mistake, and that is to launch a war against an independent sovereign nation." Putin, Stoltenberg said, has underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces." 

Stoltenberg said NATO is increasing both the size and readiness of its military presence in eastern Europe to account for "a new security reality." He listed force enhancements, in broad terms, to be taken in the air, at sea and on the land, including "significant numbers of combat ships" deployed "on a persistent basis." He said the alliance would "enhance exercises, focusing on collective defense and interoperability." 

NATO allies announced Thursday they have extended Stoltenberg's term until September 30, 2023. It was supposed to expire at the end of the summer. Stoltenberg said NATO allies are doubling down to meet defense spending agreements. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. had formally assessed that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, and he said Washington and its NATO allies would work to hold them accountable. Mr. Biden had already said he believes Putin is a war criminal

U.S. declares Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine 03:23

"We've seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities," Blinken said. "Russia's forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centers, and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded. Many of the sites Russia's forces have hit have been clearly identifiable as in-use by civilians."

Zelenskyy told the NATO summit on Thursday of another alleged Russian breach of the laws of war, claiming Putin's forces had again used banned weapons.  

"This morning, by the way, phosphorus bombs were used. Russian phosphorus bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again," Zelenskyy said, referring to destructive incendiary munitions banned by the Geneva Convention, to which Russia, like virtually all other large nations, is a signatory. 

The Biden administration announced Thursday the U.S. will accept up to 100,000 displaced Ukrainian refugees. 

Russia's military still underperforming

When Russia unleashed its invasion in Europe's biggest military offensive since World War II, a swift toppling of Ukraine's government seemed possible. But a month into the fighting, Moscow is bogged down in a grinding military campaign of attrition.

In its last update, Russia said March 2 that nearly 500 soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. NATO estimates, however, that between 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed; the latter figure is about what Russia lost in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.

A senior NATO military official said the alliance's estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released — intentionally or not — and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO. 

Ukraine also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.

Ukraine's navy said Thursday that it had sunk the Russian ship Orsk in the Sea of Azov, near the port city of Berdyansk. It released photos and video of fire and thick smoke coming from the port area. Russia didn't immediately comment on the claim.

Russia has held the port since Feb. 27, and the Orsk had debarked armored vehicles there on Monday for use in Moscow's offensive, the Zvezda TV channel of the Russian Defense Ministry said earlier this week. According to the report, the Orsk was the first Russian warship to enter Berdyansk, which is about 50 miles west along the coast from the besieged city of Mariupol.

Mr. Biden warned earlier this week that with Putin's back "against the wall," there had been a "clear sign" that the Russian leader is considering unleashing chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.  

Biden warns of potential Russian chemical attack ahead of NATO summit 07:24

Ukraine has released little information about its own military losses, and the West hasn't given an estimate, but Zelenskyy said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed.

With its ground forces slowed or stopped by hit-and-run Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Putin's troops are bombarding targets from afar, falling back on the tactics they used in reducing cities to rubble in Syria and Chechnya.

A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions 9 to 12 miles outside Kyiv, the capital, as they make little to no progress toward the city center. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said it appears the forces are no longer trying to advance into the city, and in some areas east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian soldiers farther away.

Instead, Russian troops appear to be prioritizing the fight in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the Donbas, in what could be an effort to cut off Ukrainian troops and prevent them from moving west to defend other cities, the official said. 

Moscow again raises nuclear specter

Despite evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is going "strictly in accordance" with plans.

In an ominous sign that Moscow might consider using nuclear weapons, senior Russian official Dmitry Rogozin said the country's nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine.

"The Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or any aggressor group within minutes at any distance," said Rogozin, who heads the state aerospace corporation, Roscosmos, and oversees missile-building facilities. He noted in his televised remarks that Moscow's nuclear stockpiles include tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on battlefields, along with far more powerful nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.

U.S. officials long have warned that Russia's military doctrine envisages an "escalate to deescalate" option of using battlefield nuclear weapons to force the enemy to back down in a situation when Russian forces face imminent defeat. Moscow has denied having such plans.

Russian forces' control of Ukraine nuclear facilities a "safety threat," expert says 07:18

Rogozin, known for his bluster, didn't make clear what actions by the West would be seen as meddling, but his comments almost certainly reflect thinking inside the Kremlin. Putin has warned the West that an attempt to introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would draw it into a conflict with Russia. Western nations have said they wouldn't create a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine.

Zelenskyy noted in his national address that Ukraine hasn't received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.

"It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the Earth," he said.

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