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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

West works to put Ukraine pledges into action

Evacuees arriving in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

By Marc Santora, Shashank Bengali and Matina Stevis-Gridneff

As the first large-scale evacuation of civilians continued from the ruined, Russian-controlled city of Mariupol, Western leaders were working Monday to put their increasingly aggressive promises of aid to Ukraine into action.

European Union energy ministers were discussing how to help their countries switch away from Russian energy sources urgently, as the bloc prepares this week to impose an embargo on Russian oil. Despite some reservations within Europe, countries such as Hungary appear ready to accept an embargo, a once-unthinkable step for a bloc whose members have long depended on Russian energy.

The growing determination to punish Moscow came as a senior American diplomat warned that Russia appeared to be preparing to annex two regions in eastern Ukraine and possibly a third in the country’s south, citing “highly credible” reports of Moscow’s plans. Michael Carpenter, the American ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that the Kremlin would likely stage “sham” elections in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk territories in mid-May, and could follow with a similar referendum in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, days after becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Kyiv since the war began, met with Poland’s president in Warsaw on Monday and said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be punished by the “strongest possible military response, the strongest sanctions,” despite Moscow’s threats of retaliation against the West.

Although the Biden administration has ruled out direct U.S. military intervention in the war, the Senate is expected this week to take up President Joe Biden’s request for an additional $33 billion in military aid for Ukraine — a significant escalation of U.S. support that would put the United States on track to spend as much this year to help Ukraine as it did each year fighting the war in Afghanistan.

In other developments:

— Ukrainian officials vowed to continue a large-scale evacuation from Mariupol, despite early-morning shelling. The evacuation is seen as the best and possibly last hope for hundreds of civilians trapped for weeks in bunkers beneath the wreckage of what was once one of Europe’s largest steel plants.

— A British intelligence agency said that Russian losses in the war have been staggering and that a quarter of the invasion units deployed to Ukraine have been “rendered combat ineffective.”

— Russian missiles struck the city of Odesa on Monday, targeting infrastructure and at least one religious building hours after authorities in the Black Sea port imposed a curfew, fearful that recent events in neighboring Moldova could signal Russia is seeking to open a new front in the war.

— The CIA is seeking Russians with information to share, and on Monday posted instructions on YouTube and various social media platforms on how would-be informants could securely contact the agency via the dark web.

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