/Russia denies its flagship cruiser sinks in Black Sea and warns Sweden, Finland on NATO: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

Russia denies its flagship cruiser sinks in Black Sea and warns Sweden, Finland on NATO: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

Russia denied a report Thursday that the flagship of its Black Sea fleet sank following a fiery explosion that the Ukraine military said was the result of a missile strike.

Odesa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said on Telegram that Ukrainian forces struck the guided-missile cruiser Moskva  with two missiles. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, later said the ship sank, calling it an event of “colossal significance.”

Hours later, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said ammunition had exploded on Moskva as a result of a fire, according to the state news agency Tass. “The ship was seriously damaged. The crew was completely evacuated,” the ministry added. The cruiser usually has about 500 officers and crew.

The ministry said the fire had been contained and that the ship would be towed to port with its guided missile launchers intact.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia “had to kind of choose between two stories: One story is that it was just incompetence, and the other was that they came under attack, and neither is a particular the good outcome for them.”

The event is the latest in a series of wobbly outcomes for Russian forces since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 with the goal, according to Western officials, of taking Kyiv, toppling the government and installing a Moscow-friendly one. The ground advance slowly stalled and Russia lost potentially thousands of fighters before redirecting its focus to eastern Ukraine.

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Latest developments

►Five Ukraine military officers, 17 enlisted soldiers and eight civilians – including one woman – were freed in a prisoner exchange with Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. “A total of 30 of our citizens are going home today,” she said.

►The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it hopes to help more than 2 million people in Ukraine and neighboring countries, targeting 360,000 people within the first three months. “Longer-term financial assistance will address the needs of affected people as the crisis evolves,” the agency says. 

►Ukraine’s bid to qualify for the Word Cup will resume June 1 against Scotland after its playoff semifinal in Glasgow was postponed in March because of the war. A final qualifier will be played June 5 to determine the final European team  for the World Cup in Qatar.

►In one of the most crucial battles of the war, Russia said more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops had surrendered in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces have been holding out in pockets of the city. A Ukrainian official denied the claim, which could not be verified.

A woman cries inside a bunker in Popasna, Donbas region, on April 14, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia threatens to move nukes  closer if Finland, Sweden join NATO

The entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO would force Russia to strengthen its northwestern borders and place nuclear weapons in the region, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday. Medvedev noted on his Telegram channel that the length of Russia’s land border with the NATO alliance would more than double. One of Russia’s explanations for its invasion of Ukraine was concern over possible NATO expansion there.

“Naturally, these borders will have to be strengthened. The grouping of ground forces and air defense will be seriously strengthened, and significant naval forces will be deployed in the waters of the Gulf of Finland,” Medvedev wrote, adding that keeping the region’s non-nuclear status is “out of the question.”

China dismisses US warning on Russia

China said Thursday that it will reject “any pressure or coercion” over its relationship with Russia. A day earlier Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that China and other nations that subvert the West’s sanctions against Russia could face future economic fallout for failing to help end Russia’s “heinous war” in Ukraine.

 “Let’s be clear, the unified coalition of sanctioning countries will not be indifferent to actions that undermine the sanctions,” Yellen said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said his nation had “made considerable efforts to de-escalate the situation, defuse the crisis and rebuild peace.” China has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine by strategic partner Russia, or even refer to the conflict as a war. It has abstained or sided with Moscow in votes at the U.N. following the start of the war in February.

Biden commits another $800M in assistance during call with Zelenskyy

President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for almost an hour Wednesday, one day after Zelenskyy praised Biden for accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of “genocide.”

Biden said in a statement that he has authorized an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including weapons and ammunition.

“The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect,” Biden said. “As Russia prepares to intensify its attack in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself.”

Zelenskyy tweeted that he and Biden discussed the new weapons shipment, enhanced sanctions against the Russians and seeking justice for their war crimes. In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy said he’s “sincerely thankful” for the new U.S. military aid.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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