Live updates: Putin praises troops at huge rally in Moscow | Health & Fitness

Live updates: Putin praises troops at huge rally in Moscow | Health & Fitness

President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge patriotic rally Friday at a Moscow stadium on the eighth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Putin, speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags at the Luzhniki Stadium, praised the Russian military for its actions in Ukraine.

“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” Putin said in a rare public appearance. “We have not had unity like this for a long time,” he added to cheers from the crowd.

Before Putin spoke, bands played patriotic Soviet songs about national identity and speakers praised Putin as fighting “Nazism” in Ukraine, a claim flatly rejected by leaders across the globe.

Some people, including presenters at the event, wore T-shirts or jackets with a “Z” — a symbol seen on Russian tanks and military vehicles in Ukraine and embraced by supporters of the war.

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ROME — Pope Francis has denounced the “perverse abuse of power” on display in Russia’s war in Ukraine. He is calling for aid to Ukrainians who he said had been attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and were “defending their land.”

Francis’ comments, in a message Friday to a gathering of European Catholic representatives, marked some of his strongest yet in asserting Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state and to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

It came just days after Francis told the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, that the concept of a “just war” was obsolete since wars are never justifiable and that pastors must preach peace, not politics.

WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s border agency says that the 2 million mark for the number of Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland was reached Friday morning.

A European Union nation of some 38 million people, Poland has become the main destination for people fleeing war in neighboring, non-EU Ukraine, with which Poland shares almost 540 kilometers (335 miles) of border.

The first refugees came Feb. 24, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine. They are chiefly women and children, because men aged 18-60 have been banned from leaving Ukraine to be available to fight in the country’s defense.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said Friday that more than 3.27 million people have fled Ukraine, a nation of some 44 million, since Russia’s attack.

GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says it’s noticing a slowdown in the number of people fleeing Ukraine, though its estimate of internally displaced people from the fighting has soared in the wake of evacuations from embattled cities like Mariupol and Sumy.

Speaking by video conference from Poland, UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh said the number of refugee arrivals, “particularly here in Poland, has been falling in recent days.” Some of those fleeing the violence may have been “recuperating” in the western city of Lviv and “waiting to see whether they should cross the border or not.”

Saltmarsh said UNHCR’s latest estimate of people internally displaced in Ukraine was now above 2 million. He said it was not possible to estimate how many of those might travel abroad. UNHCR has previously projected that 4 million people, or more, could flee Ukraine.

In Poland, which has taken about two-thirds of the some 3.2 million refugees from Ukraine, those arriving in recent days appear “more traumatized” and “in shock,” Saltmarsh said, and often come without a plan for where to go.

More than 93,000 people fled Ukraine on Thursday, according to UNCHR, the lowest single-day figure since fighting began on Feb. 24. That was down from peaks of more than 200,000 daily on two consecutive days in early March.

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Three Baltic countries have ordered the expulsion of Russian embassy staff members in a coordinated action taken in solidarity with Ukraine.

Lithuania’s foreign ministry said on Friday that four Russian embassy staff are no longer welcome in the country, while in neighboring Latvia, three Russian staff were declared persona non grata.

Russia’s ambassador to Lithuania, Aleksei Isakov, was informed that their activities were incompatible with the status of a diplomat, according to the official statement of the Lithuanian foreign ministry.

“Lithuania has made such a decision in solidarity with Ukraine, which is experiencing unprecedented Russian military aggression” the statement reads.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that the expulsion of the embassy staff was a coordinated action of the Baltic States, which include former Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Estonia also announced on Friday that it was ordering three staff of the Russian Embassy in the capital Tallinn to leave the country.

BUCHAREST, Romania — A 35-year-old Romanian soldier died in an accident Friday during a tank driving exercise at the country’s western Smardan military facility, Romania’s ministry of defense said.

“The soldier coordinated maneuvers in order to start moving a tank,” the ministry’s statement reads, “at which point he was caught between the moving tank.”

Emergency services were called to the scene but the soldier, who was married and had been employed by the Romanian military since 2008, died of his injuries.

Romania’s Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca sent condolences to the deceased soldier’s family, writing online that “a routine training activity turned into a tragedy” and that a “young man lost his life in the line of duty.”

The Smardan military base in Galati County has been used for NATO training exercises as recently as March 8, after the alliance bolstered forces in response to Russian aggression in neighboring Ukraine.

County police are conducting on-the-spot investigations and military prosecutors have been informed about the fatal accident.

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria says it has declared 10 Russian diplomats “persona non grata” and demanded their expulsion.

In a statement on Friday, Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said that Bulgaria’s prime minister Kiril Petkov had been consulted on the expulsions.

An official note was handed to Russia’s ambassador in the capital Sofia requiring that the diplomats leave Bulgaria within 72 hours over their alleged involvement in “activities incompatible with their diplomatic status,” the statement said.

European Union and NATO member Bulgaria, which was one of Moscow’s closest allies in the Soviet bloc, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has expelled 10 other Russian diplomats suspected of espionage since October 2019.

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says that Poland will formally submit a proposal for a peacekeeping and humanitarian mission on Ukraine’s territory at next week’s extraordinary NATO summit.

Morawiecki stressed Friday that Poland had already made the proposal during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. Denmark has expressed readiness to join such a mission.

The idea for a NATO or wider international peacekeeping mission under military protection was launched by Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski during a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday by the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

Kaczynski, who is Poland’s ruling party leader and the country’s key politician, stressed in Kyiv that the mission would be in line with international law and would not constitute any form of hostile action.

NATO leaders have been opposed to the alliance’s presence in Ukraine over concerns it could escalate the conflict.

Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov said Wednesday that “if it comes to that, Denmark is ready to contribute. We have decades of experience in this field of work, and I definitely think that Denmark can contribute to this and make a difference.”

President Joe Biden is to attend the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday that will focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and European security.

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Friday that NATO’s entire defense of its eastern flank “must be rewritten strategically,” and that few had thought Russia “had aggressive intentions at the level we see now.”

Landsbergis said that NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg had already announced a review of the military alliance’s security strategy in the east in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lithuania, a Baltic nation which is a member of NATO, shares land borders with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, and with Belarus, a Moscow ally.

Landsbergis said that Russia “has proven that it is a country willing to cross all borders.” He added that before the invasion, “many of us were sure that deterrence was enough.”

BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has indicated that her country should consider imposing an oil embargo on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

In a security policy speech Friday, she said it was important to take a stance and not remain silent due to economic or energy dependency.

“Even if it’s difficult, including on questions now with regard to oil or other embargoes,” said Baerbock.

Germany receives about a third of its oil from Russia and half of its coal and natural gas.

Baerbock also warned against China’s growing influence over energy infrastructure in Africa and Asia, saying Germany will soon propose a new strategy on dealing with Beijing.

BERLIN — A spokesman for Olaf Scholz says the German chancellor spoke Friday by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and urged him to agree to an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine.

During the hour-long call, Scholz also called for an improvement to the humanitarian situation and progress in efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre wants an extra allocation of 3.5 billion kroner ($400 million) for 2022 to strengthen NATO member Norway’s Armed Forces and civil preparedness.

Gahr Støre told Norway’s parliament that the money will be used to “strengthen our ability to prevent, deter and deal with digital attacks.”

“These are necessary measures because we are facing a more unpredictable and aggressive Russian regime,” Gahr Støre said, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has raised the alert of his nuclear weapons forces. It contributes to more uncertainty in an already tense situation.”

He said Norway “is NATO’s eyes in the north.”

In a speech to the Scandinavian country’s parliament about Ukraine, Gahr Støre said Norway was gearing up “to handle an extraordinary situation with up to 100,000 refugees.”

“We do not know how long the war will last, or how many will come here. But in any case, it will put us to a historical test,” he said.

LVIV, Ukraine — Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said Friday on Telegram that several missiles hit a facility used to repair military aircraft and damaged a bus repair facility, though no casualties were immediately reported.

The plant had suspended work ahead of the attack, the mayor said.

The missiles that hit Lviv were launched from the Black Sea, but two of the six that were launched were shot down, Ukrainian air force’s western command said on Facebook.

NEW DELHI — An Indian official says the state-run Indian Oil Corp. bought 3 million barrels of crude oil from Russia earlier this week to secure its energy needs, resisting Western pressure to avoid such purchases.

The official said India will be looking to purchase more oil from Russia despite calls not to from the U.S. and other countries due to the invasion of Ukraine. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with a reporter, said India has no such sanctions.

Imports make up nearly 85% of India’s oil needs. Its demand is projected to jump 8.2% this year to 5.15 million barrels per day as the economy recovers from the devastation caused by the pandemic.

Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was thankful to U.S. President Joe Biden for the additional military aid but said he would not say specifically what the new package included because he didn’t want to tip off Russia.

“This is our defense,” he said in his nighttime video address to the nation. “When the enemy doesn’t know what to expect from us. As they didn’t know what awaited them after Feb. 24,” the day Russia invaded. “They didn’t know what we had for defense or how we prepared to meet the blow.”

Zelenskyy said Russia expected to find Ukraine much as it did in 2014, when it seized Crimea without a fight and backed separatists as they took control of the eastern Donbas region. But Ukraine is now a different country, with much stronger defenses, he said.

He said it also was not the time to reveal Ukraine’s tactics in the ongoing negotiations with Russia. “Working more in silence than on television, radio or on Facebook,” Zelenskyy said. “I consider it the right way.”

UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s U.N. ambassador says he is not asking for a vote Friday on its resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which has been sharply criticized by Western countries for making no mention of Russia’s responsibility for the war against its smaller neighbor.

Vassily Nebenzia told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that Russia decided at this stage not to seek a vote because of pressure from the United States and Albania on U.N. members to oppose it, but he stressed that Moscow is not withdrawing the resolution.

Nebenzia said Russia plans to go ahead with a council meeting Friday to discuss again its allegations of U.S. “biological laboratories” in Ukraine, claiming new documents. His initial charge was made without any evidence and repeatedly denied by U.S. and Ukrainian officials.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded to Nebenzia’s announcement by saying “their farcical humanitarian resolution … was doomed to fail.”

“We know if Russia really cared about humanitarian crises, the one that it created, it could simply stop its attacks on the people of Ukraine,” she said. “But instead, they want to call for another Security Council meeting to use this council as a venue for its disinformation and for promoting its propaganda.”

At last Friday’s council meeting on Russia’s initial allegations of U.S. “biological activities,” Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of using the Security Council for “lying and spreading disinformation” as part of a potential false-flag operation by Moscow for the use of chemical or biological agents in Ukraine.

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. health chief decried the devastating consequences of war on the Ukrainian people who are facing severe disruption to services and medication and stressed that “the life-saving medicine we need right now is peace.”

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that WHO has verified 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities with 12 people killed and 34 injured.

In a virtual briefing, Tedros said “the disruption to services and supplies is posing an extreme risk to people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB, which are among the leading causes of mortality in Ukraine.”

The WHO chief said displacement and overcrowding caused by people fleeing fighting are likely to increase the risks of diseases such as COVID-19, measles, pneumonia and polio.

In addition, more than 35,000 mental health patients in Ukrainian psychiatric hospitals and long-term care facilities face severe shortages of medicine, food, health and blankets, he said.

So far, WHO has sent about 100 metric tons (110 tons) of medical supplies — enough for 4,500 trauma patients and 450,000 primary health care patients for a month — to Ukraine along with other equipment. Tedros said the agency is preparing a further 108 metric tons (119 tons) for delivery.

Tedros urged donors to support the immense and escalating humanitarian needs in Ukraine and fully fund the U.N.’s $1.1 billion humanitarian appeal.

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