MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry reported the first launch of its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile. President Vladimir Putin said this weapon is unique and will make those who threaten Russia “think twice.”
The ministry said the missile was launched Wednesday from the Plesetsk launch facility in northern Russia and its practice warheads hit designated targets at the Kura firing range on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Sarmat is a heavy missile, intended to replace the Soviet-made Voyevoda missile which was code-named Satan by the West. Putin and his officials said it’s capable of penetrating any prospective missile defense.
Putin called this “a big, significant event” for Russia’s defense industry. He said the Sarmat will ensure Russia’s security from external threats and make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice.”
Russia relies on land-based ICBMs as the core of its nuclear deterrent and is counting on the Sarmat for decades to come.
The U.S. has its own ICBMs, but postponed and then called off an intercontinental nuclear-capable missile test to avoid escalating tensions with Russia.
Russia Bombs Steel Plant in Mariupol
KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces tightened the noose around diehard Ukrainian defenders holed up at a Mariupol steel plant Wednesday amid desperate new efforts to open an evacuation corridor for trapped civilians in the ruined city, a key battleground in Moscow’s drive to seize the country’s industrial east.
Ukraine’s military said Moscow continued to mount attacks across the east, probing for weak points in the Ukrainian defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missile and air attacks on Ukrainian targets, including concentrations of troops and vehicles.
The Kremlin’s stated goal is to capture the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking eastern region that is home to coal mines, metal plants, and heavy-equipment factories vital to Ukraine’s economy. Detaching it would give Putin a badly needed victory two months into the war.
More Than 100,000 Trapped in Mariupol
More than 100,000 people were believed trapped in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000.
“Do not be frightened and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can receive all the help you need — food, medicine, essentials — and the main thing is that you will be in safety,” the mayor said in a statement.
A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, remained holed up in the steel plant. The Russian side issued a new ultimatum to the defenders to surrender Wednesday, but the Ukrainians have ignored previous demands to leave the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers.
Biden Expected to Announce More Military Aid
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new security assistance package in the coming days that will include additional artillery and ammunition, according to a U.S. official.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said details of the latest package are being finalized.
Last week, in anticipation of Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine, Biden approved an $800 million package including additional helicopters and the first provision of American artillery. The U.S. has sent about $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded.
Asked by reporters whether he’d be sending more artillery, Biden said, “Yes.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “providing more ammunition and security assistance to Ukraine” was discussed by Biden and other allied leaders during a video call on Tuesday.
Russia Presents Peace Demands to Ukraine
MOSCOW — The Kremlin’s spokesman says Russia has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of peace talks and is now awaiting a response from Kyiv.
Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Russia has passed on a draft document containing “absolutely clear, elaborate wording” to Ukraine and now “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.”
Peskov didn’t give further details. He blamed Ukraine for the slow progress in negotiations and claimed that Kyiv constantly deviates from previously confirmed agreements. “The dynamic of work on the Ukrainian side leaves much to be desired, the Ukrainians do not show a great inclination to intensify the negotiation process,” he said.
Ukraine presented Russia with its own draft last month in Istanbul, where the two sides held talks aimed at ending the conflict. It has been unclear how regularly the two sides have spoken to each other since then.
Wimbledon Bans Players From Russia, Belarus
LONDON — Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to play at Wimbledon this year because of the war in Ukraine, the All England Club announced Wednesday.
Prominent players affected by the ban include reigning U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who recently reached No. 1 in the ATP rankings and is currently No. 2; men’s No. 8 Andrey Rublev; Aryna Sabalenka, who was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2021 and is No. 4 in the WTA rankings; Victoria Azarenka, former women’s No. 1 who has won the Australian Open twice; and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the French Open runner-up last year.
Wimbledon begins on June 27.
Russian athletes have been banned from competing in many sports following their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarus has aided Russia in the war.
Ukrainian Refugees Now Total More Than 5 Million
BERLIN — The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million.
More than half of the total, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. Although many have stayed there, an unknown number have traveled onward. There are few border checks within the European Union.
UNHCR said on March 30 that 4 million people had fled Ukraine. The exodus was somewhat slower in recent weeks than at the beginning of the war.
In addition to the refugees, the U.N. says that more than 7 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.
Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million.
Norway Donates 100 Air Defense Systems
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is donating about 100 air defense systems to Ukraine with the Scandinavian country’s defense minister saying that “the country is depending on international support to resist Russian aggression.”
Bjørn Arild Gram said Norway had donated French-made Mistral short-range missile systems which currently are being phased out by the Norwegian Armed Forces, “but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great benefit to Ukraine,” Arild Gram said.
The weapons have already left Norway which previously has donated 4,000 anti-tank missiles, protective equipment, and other military equipment to Ukraine, he added.
UN Leader Calls for Holy Week Halt to War
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for a four-day halt in fighting in Ukraine, starting Thursday to coincide with Orthodox Christians’ Holy Week observances.
Noting that Orthodox Easter is coming amid an intensifying Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the U.N. chief said Tuesday that the need for a “humanitarian pause” is all the more urgent.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya called on Russia to heed Guterres’ call. But Russian deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said Tuesday he was “a bit skeptical” about the idea.
Guterres said the goal is to allow for evacuating civilians from “current or expected areas of confrontation” and getting more humanitarian aid into desperately needy places such as Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. More than four million people in those areas need assistance, Guterres said.
The proposal comes after the U.N. recently helped to foster a two-month truce in Yemen’s civil war, halting fighting as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.