Ukraine war: Putin orders martial law in annexed regions – USA TODAY

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law Wednesday in the four regions of Ukraine that Moscow illegally annexed as Ukrainian troops continue their unrelenting drive to retain control of the occupied territories.
Putin provided few details of what martial law would entail, but restrictions on travel and public gatherings, tighter censorship and broader authority for law enforcement agencies are likely.
President Joe Biden called the tactic an intimidation attempt by Putin – the “only tool available to him” – and said it won’t work.
Putin gave additional emergency powers to the Russia-appointed heads of the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia provinces. Ukrainian troops have retaken land in all four of them. Putin also ordered the establishment of a Coordination Committee to increase interaction between government agencies in dealing with his struggling “special military operation.”
The Russian leader also signed a decree restricting movement in and out of Crimea and Russian regions bordering Ukraine, including Krasnodar, Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Kursk and Rostov. Security will be heightened at government buildings, transportation and communication hubs and other locations.
“I think that Vladimir Putin finds himself in an incredibly difficult position,” Biden told reporters Wednesday, “and what it reflects to me is it seems his only tool available to him is to brutalize individual citizens in Ukraine – Ukrainian citizens – to try to intimidate them into capitulating.
“They’re not going to do that.”
– Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY
Other developments:
►EU member countries agreed Wednesday on a new round of sanctions against Iran for providing Russia with drones used to attack Ukrainian targets.
►Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said heat would be pumped into urban buildings starting Thursday – several days earlier than usual – to encourage residents not to turn on electric heaters and overload a power supply system compromised by Russian attacks.
►Ukrainian authorities said the Russian army attacked nine southeastern regions of Ukraine on Wednesday using drones, rockets and heavy artillery. The attacks once again focused on destroying energy facilities, the presidential office said. Six civilians were reported killed.
►The Russian military says it has defeated a Ukrainian attempt to seize control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
►The deputy chief of Norway’s domestic security agency, Hedvig Moe, said there’s “an elevated intelligence threat from Russia” after drone sightings were reported near key infrastructure sites.
Nearly a dozen people and two companies were charged in two cases Wednesday with attempting to help the Russian military through unlawful schemes to export dual-use technologies, some of which were used by Russian troops in Ukraine, the Justice Department said.
Five Russians nationals and two Venezuelan oil traders were charged in the Eastern District of New York with money laundering and evading sanctions in their efforts to share American military technology with Russian enterprises.
In the other indictment, unsealed in the District of Connecticut, three Latvians, a Ukrainian who lives in Estonia and two companies were charged with conspiring to smuggle a machine used in nuclear proliferation and defense programs from the U.S. to Russia. The so-called “jig grinder” never made it to Russia.
“This week’s indictments and arrests highlight the FBI’s work countering Russia’s flagrant evasion of U.S. sanctions and violation of export regulations,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
There is no point in Russia maintaining a diplomatic presence in the West since Europe decided to sever any economic cooperation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday. Lavrov, speaking to college graduates admitted to Russia’s diplomatic service, said working conditions for Russians in Western nations “can hardly be called human.” Russian diplomats often face physical threats, he said.
“There is neither point nor desire to maintain the previous presence in Western states,” Lavrov said. “You can’t force love.”
Most Western nations have saddled Russia with severe sanctions since its invasion of Ukraine. Russian diplomats have been accused of spying or other misbehavior and been expelled from some Western countries.
Lavrov said developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America need additional attention. Deals are being worked out that require diplomatic support, including business, cultural, humanitarian and educational projects, he said.
The top Russian military commander in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, acknowledged on Russian TV on Wednesday that the situation for Russian troops in Kherson region is “quite difficult.” Ukraine is pressing its offensive in that southern province without regard for casualties, Surovikin said.
A top Ukraine official, however, said Russian forces in Kherson are trying to scare residents with warnings that Ukraine will bomb the city and by arranging an evacuation “propaganda show.” 
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said Wednesday in a message on Telegram that bombing Ukrainian cities “is done exclusively by Russian terrorists.” Ukraine forces are expected to soon begin efforts to retake the city of Kherson, pop. 250,000.
Local officials said Wednesday that 5,000 of an expected 60,000 had left the city, amid reports that residents are getting texts messages urging them to evacuate. Though the evacuations are supposed to be voluntary, oftentimes the only route out is to Russia or territory it controls.
Those same Iran-built drones that have deeply damaged Ukraine’s energy sector and terrorized its population could endanger Israel, as well as the difficult balance it has tried to maintain in its stance on the war.
Israel has sent Ukraine humanitarian aid, but declined repeated requests for air defense systems and other military equipment as it seeks to preserve its strategic relationship with Moscow. The growing ties between Russia and Iran – which has threatened using those Shahed drones on Israel, its sworn enemy – complicate that relationship.
On Monday, Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs, Nachman Shai, said on Twitter the country should side with Ukraine and provide military aid.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the drone attacks in Ukraine raised new concerns in Israel. 
“We’re looking at it closely and thinking about how these can be used by the Iranians toward Israeli population centers,” he said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to discuss House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments that Ukraine will get no “blank check” in its efforts to oust invading Russian troops if the Republicans take over the House in the midterm elections. Jean-Pierre instead thanked congressional leaders for the bipartisan effort to “support Ukraine to defend itself from Russia’s war crimes and atrocities.”
McCarthy has the inside line on becoming speaker if the GOP, as expected, wins control of the House. Any significant decrease in American backing would represent a major blow for Ukraine, which has gained ground and momentum in its attempt to repel the Russian invasion thanks in large part to a HIMARS rocket launchers and other U.S.-supplied weaponry. 
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News.
Contributing: The Associated Press


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