RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the war in Ukraine has already weakened Russia’s military capability.
Austin said after meeting allies and partners at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Tuesday that, since Russia began the invasion, its land forces have sustained “pretty substantial” casualties, as well as lost a lot of equipment and used a lot of precision-guided munitions.
He said that “they are, in fact, in terms of military capability, weaker than when they started, and … it’ll be harder for them to replace some of this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been placed on them.”
Austin reiterated that “we would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
He criticized Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s warning that the threat of a nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated.”
Austin said that “it’s unhelpful and dangerous to rattle sabers and speculate about the use of nuclear weapons.”
The defense secretary also said that the U.S. and other Ukraine allies will “keep moving heaven and earth” to fulfill Kyiv’s defense requirements as the war enters a new phase.
Key Developments in Russia-Ukraine War
— Putin gets what he didn’t want: Ukraine army closer to West
— Top Russian diplomat warns Ukraine against provoking WWIII
— France’s victorious Macron boosts weapons, stakes in Ukraine
— Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra organized by Met, Polish operas
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Kremlin Talks About Splitting up Ukraine
MOSCOW — A senior Kremlin official says that Ukraine may split into several parts.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, said in remarks published Tuesday that “the policies of the West and the Kyiv regime controlled by it would only be the breakup of Ukraine into several states.”
The statement comes as Russia says it has focused on expanding control over Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland called Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian troops there since 2014 when conflict erupted following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow launched military action in Ukraine on Feb. 24, days after recognizing the separatist regions’ independence.
Last week, a senior Russian military officer said that along with taking control over Donbas, Russia also wants to overtake southern Ukraine, saying such a move would also open a land corridor between Russia and the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova.
Is Moldova Next for Russian Invaders?
MADRID — Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Tuesday he was “very worried” by the explosions this week in the separatist region of Trans-Dniester, adding that they reminded him too much of occurrences in the Donbas region immediately prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine late February.
“I remember before Feb. 21, there have been some series of ‘false-flag’ operations in Donbas region, so-called people republics, that were used as the pretext by Russia to recognize and then to sign the so-called friendship and assistance treaties and then to start the military operation,” Rinkevics told reporters in Madrid.
“I’m very worried about the current trend in Trans-Dniester because that resembles a little bit that pattern that we have seen,” he added.
Police in Trans-Dniester say two explosions Tuesday in a radio facility close to the Ukrainian border knocked two antennas out of service. On Monday, several explosions were reported to have hit the Ministry of State Security in Tiraspol, the region’s capital.
Trans-Dniester, a strip of land in Moldova, has been under the control of separatists since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops there. The United States has warned that Russia could launch “false-flag” attacks in nearby nations as a pretext for sending in troops to those nations.
Rinkevics was in Madrid to meet his Spanish counterpart and discuss the Ukraine war and the upcoming NATO summit in the Spanish capital.
Russia Warns It Could Strike Government Buildings in Kyiv
The Russian military has warned it could strike Ukrainian “decision-making centers” in the Ukrainian capital and said wouldn’t be stopped by the possible presence of Western advisers there.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday accused the U.K. of making statements encouraging Ukraine to use Western weapons to carry out strikes on the Russian territory, warning that if it happens the Russian military could retaliate by hitting government structures in Kyiv.
It directly pointed at U.K. Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey, who told Times Radio that it was “not necessarily a problem” if Ukraine British-donated weapons were used to hit sites on Russian soil.
The ministry said in a statement that “the Russian armed forces are ready to deal retaliatory strikes with long-range precision-guided weapons on Kyiv centers that would make such decisions.” It noted that “the presence of citizens of one of Western countries in the Ukrainian decision-making centers won’t necessarily pose a problem for Russia in making a decision to launch retaliatory action.”
The Russian military so far has avoided striking presidential, government, and military headquarters in Kyiv during its campaign in Ukraine that has entered a third month.
Japan Unveils Inflation Relief Package
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday announced a $48.7 billion emergency package to reduce the impact of rising prices of gasoline, grains, and other raw materials due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The package includes additional gasoline subsidies, financial support for small and medium-scale businesses hit by the pandemic, as well as support for low-income households.
At a time when the pandemic still impacts people’s daily lives and the economy, the Russian invasion of Ukraine heightened global uncertainty while triggering rising costs of oil and grains, disrupting the stable supply of seafood and raw materials, and causing insecurity to people’s lives, Kishida said. “We need to ensure sense of security among the people.”
About one-quarter of the package will be used to address soaring crude oil prices. To limit gasoline price increases, the government will raise subsidies to oil distributors and extend the program until the end of September.
The package will also support small and medium-size businesses hit by the pandemic and provide support for low-income households, as well as fisheries, lumber, and wheat companies.
Kishida also said Japan will maximize renewable energy and promote nuclear energy following a decision to phase out coal imports from Russia. He said the government will ensure the stability of energy, materials, and food supply by diversifying exporters.
Russians Strike Bridge Linking Ukraine and Romania
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has hit a strategic bridge linking the southern Odesa region with neighboring Romania.
Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, said the bridge across the Dniester Estuary where the Dniester River flows into the Black Sea was damaged in Tuesday’s missile attack by Russian forces. He said there were no injuries.
The strike has cut off the railway connection to areas of the Odesa region west of the estuary and Romania.
The Russian attack follows a series of strikes on key railway facilities in Ukraine unleashed by the Russian military on Monday.
It comes after last week’s claim by a senior Russian military officer that Russia aims to take control of the entire south of Ukraine and build a land corridor to the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova, where tensions have escalated in recent days.
Poland Sanctions 50 Russian Companies, Oligarchs
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government says it is imposing sanctions on 50 Russian entities and individuals over Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Tuesday that the Polish measures come on top of European Union sanctions and target many Russian individuals and companies that do business in Poland.
Kaminski said the targeted companies will have their assets frozen and will be excluded from participation in public tenders, while Russian oligarchs on the list will be banned from entering Poland.
Gas giant Gazprom and Moshe Kantor, who owns a share of Poland’s state-owned chemicals group Azoty, are on the new list.
Kantor recently resigned as head of the European Jewish Congress after Britain imposed sanctions on him over his alleged ties to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Poland, a strong supporter of Kyiv, has taken in millions of refugees and on Monday announced plans to send an unspecified number of tanks to Ukraine.
Erdogan Wants Direct Talks With Putin to End War
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to direct talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.
The call comes in the wake of Turkish diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis over Russia’s war in Ukraine, including by hosting Ukrainian and Russian negotiators for talks in Istanbul late last month.
The Turkish presidency said in a statement Tuesday that Erdogan proposed taking the “Istanbul process to the level of leaders, a crucial threshold in the Russia-Ukraine negotiations.” It sought to continue the “positive progress of the Istanbul talks” toward peace.
Talks stalled after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of committing war crimes. Putin later said peace efforts were at a dead end.
Ankara, which maintains close ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, has presented itself as a neutral broker in a bid to end the fighting.
UN Leader Meets Lavrov, Calls for Cease-Fire
MOSCOW — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a cease-fire in Ukraine at his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Guterres is visiting Moscow and is then scheduled to visit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, this week.
“We are extremely interested in finding ways in order to create the conditions for effective dialog, create the conditions for a cease-fire as soon as possible, create the conditions for a peaceful solution,” Guterres said, speaking in televised comments at the start of the meeting.
Guterres also said he wanted to reduce the impact of fighting in Ukraine on food security in other parts of the world. Lavrov said they would discuss “the situation around Ukraine that acts as a catalyst for a great number of problems which had piled up over recent decades in the Euro-Atlantic region.”
Guterres is also expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Tuesday.
UN Says 8.3 Million Have Fled Ukraine
GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency is launching a new appeal for funds for the crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine that projects up to 8.3 million people will have to flee the country by year-end.
The projection was announced Tuesday as part of a new $1.85 billion regional response plan from UNHCR aimed at supporting refugees from Ukraine after Russia’s war began on Feb. 24. It far outstrips the agency’s previous refugee estimates, which now stand at just over 5.2 million.
The exodus has exceeded the worst-case predictions of the Geneva-based agency, which it has called the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
The response plan would help refugees who have fled to neighboring countries including Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, but also other countries in the region, including Belarus, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic.
The U.N. estimates that nearly 8 million people are displaced within Ukraine, and another 13 million people are believed to be trapped in war-affected areas of Ukraine. The country had a pre-war population of about 44 million.
Germany Will Supply Anti-Aircraft Guns
BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister says her country will enable the delivery of self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht made the announcement at a U.S.-hosted meeting on arming Ukraine at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany, according to the text of her remarks Tuesday provided by her ministry.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced mounting pressure, including from within his governing coalition, to approve the delivery of heavy weapons such as tanks and other armored vehicles to Ukraine. Germany has already delivered other equipment.
Lambrecht also reiterated plans for eastern European allies to send Soviet-era material to Ukraine, and then have Germany fill the resulting gaps. She said Germany is working together with the U.S. to train Ukrainian troops on artillery systems on German soil.
Germany decided on Monday to clear the delivery of Gepard anti-aircraft guns, Lambrecht said, without providing details. German media reported that defense company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann would get the green light to deliver technically upgraded guns from former German military stocks.