Ukraine morning briefing: US will ‘respond’ if Russia uses chemical or biological weapons

US President Joe Biden has said there will be an “in-kind response” if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders the use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. He said, “We would respond. We would respond if he used it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.”

NATO leaders have already agreed that Russia using chemical weapons would mark a “fundamental shift” in the conflict that would be met with a “very harsh response”. However, a Western official declined to describe what the answer would say “we have to keep Putin guessing.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned against letting chemical, biological and nuclear weapons threats become a “distraction”. He said: “It’s meant to be a distraction from what’s really going on and it’s a savage attack with conventional means against innocent people in the urban centers of Ukraine, an absolutely barbaric use of artillery, mortars and rockets as I described, thermobaric bombs included, it seems now is what is happening.

Zelensky says Europe acted too late to stop Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told European leaders they acted too late against Russia. In a speech to a European Council meeting, President Zelensky thanked the EU for its support – but said he was “a bit late too”.

He said: “You applied sanctions. We appreciate that. These are powerful measures. But it was a bit late. Because if it had been preventive, Russia would not have gone to war. a chance.

“You blocked Nord Stream 2. We are grateful to you for that. And rightly so. But it was also a bit late. Because if it had been in time, Russia would not have created a gas crisis. At the least, there was a chance.”

Mr Zelensky asked the Council “not to be late” as it “prepares for Ukraine’s accession to the European Union”. He continued: “Here I ask you – don’t be late. Please.

“Because during this month you have compared these worlds, and you see everything. You have seen who is worth what. And you have seen that Ukraine should be in the EU in the near future. At least you have everything for that . And we have this chance.”

President Zelensky appeared to target Hungary for criticism. He said: “Hungary…I want to stop there and be honest. Once and for all. You have to decide for yourself who you are with.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a European Council meeting

Biden promises new aid to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden and his Western allies have pledged new sanctions and humanitarian aid in response to Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine. Mr Biden also announced that the US would take in up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine and provide an additional $1bn (£760m) in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he needs far more than Western allies are currently prepared to provide. “One percent of all your planes, one percent of all your tanks,” Zelensky told members of the NATO alliance. “We can’t just buy them. When we have all of this, it will give us and you 100% security.

Mr Biden said more aid was on the way, but Western leaders were treading carefully so as not to further escalate the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders. French President Emmanuel Macron said: “NATO has chosen to support Ukraine in this war without going to war with Russia. We have therefore decided to intensify our ongoing work to prevent any escalation and organize ourselves in the event of an escalation.

A young baby watches people depart on a train for Poland as they flee their hometowns which are under attack by the Russian military
A young baby watches people depart on a train for Poland as they flee their hometowns which are under attack by the Russian military

Russian ship destroyed in occupied Ukrainian port city

The Ukrainian Navy claims to have sunk a large landing ship near the port city of Berdyansk which had been used to supply Russian forces with armored vehicles. Photos and video showed fire and thick plumes of smoke.

Russian TV reported earlier this week that the ship the Ukrainians claimed to have sunk, the Orsk, was the first Russian warship to enter Berdyansk. The port was going to be used to deliver military equipment to the Russians, according to the report. Ukraine said two other ships were damaged and a 3,000-tonne fuel tank was destroyed when the Orsk sank, sparking a fire that spread to nearby ammunition stores.

The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Ukraine would likely continue to target logistical assets in areas under Russian control. The latest intelligence update from the MoD said: “This will force the Russian military to prioritize the defense of its supply chain and deprive them of much needed resupply for the forces. This will reduce Russia’s ability to conduct offensive operations and will further damage already dwindling morale.”

In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, several civilian buildings burn amid Russian strikes on the Livoberezhnyi district of Mariupol, Ukraine
In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, several civilian buildings burn amid Russian strikes on the Livoberezhnyi district of Mariupol, Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine “arrange the first official exchange of prisoners since the beginning of the war”

Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Officials say this is the first official prisoner exchange since the war began.

Ms Vereshchuk described details of some of the exchanges in a Facebook post on Thursday. She said: “Today, by order of President Zelensky, the first full exchange of military prisoners took place. In exchange for 10 captive occupiers, we withdrew 10 of our soldiers.

“In addition, today we sent 11 Russian civilian sailors to the Russians we rescued from a flooded ship near Odessa. As a result of this exchange, 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors are returning home from the rescue vessel Sapphire, which were captured by the occupiers in an attempt to take our military from the island of Zmíiny.According to the terms of the exchange, the rescue ship itself will also be returned to Ukraine and will be sent to the port in Turkey.

Ukraine can definitely win, says Boris Johnson

Ukraine can “certainly win” against Russia, Boris Johnson has said. Mr Johnson said ‘the situation for Ukrainians is grim, miserable’, but he praised ‘Churchilian’ leader Volodymyr Zelensky and said: ‘I think Ukraine can definitely win’.

In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight, after a day of intense diplomacy with NATO and G7 allies in Brussels, Mr Johnson said: “There is a sense in which Putin has already failed or lost because I think he literally had no idea that the Ukrainians were going to mount the resistance that they are and he totally misunderstood what Ukraine is. And far from extinguishing Ukraine as a nation, it solidifies it.

Mr Johnson also said he ‘totally agrees’ that Brexit and Ukraine’s resistance to Russian invasion are not the same after appearing to compare the UK’s vote to leave the EU. EU and the Ukrainian struggle against Russia. Speaking at the Conservative Party’s Spring Forum over the weekend, he said it was ‘the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom’, with the Brexit vote a “famous recent example”.

But he told Newsnight: ‘It wasn’t an analogy I was making. I’m afraid that was very misinterpreted. I said, I think in the same passage, there’s nothing like what we’ve seen in Ukraine since 1945 and it’s a horror, and it can’t be compared to anything since 1945.”

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