The latest on the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
The Ukrainian government is closing airports in eastern Ukraine from midnight through 7 a.m. because of the confrontation with Russia.
Ukrainian aviation authorities also have declared some airspace in the east to be “danger areas” because of attempts by Russian aviation authorities to seize control of the airspace.
Ukraine acted after Russia issued a ban on civilian air traffic in airspace over eastern Ukraine.
The announcement Wednesday night establishes buffer zones for traffic controlled by Ukrainian authorities to avoid coming into potentially hazardous conflict with air traffic controlled by Russian authorities.
Last week, Ukrainian aviation officials warned pilots in the region to be on the lookout for Russian authorities trying to take control of the airspace and to only recognize Ukraine’s controllers.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the request of Ukraine, which says there is an immediate threat of a Russian invasion.
The meeting comes two days after the 15-member council held an emergency open meeting also requested by Ukraine. That session saw no support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for two separatist areas in Ukraine’s east and his announcement that Russian troops would be heading there to keep the peace.
The meeting Wednesday night comes as council diplomats are finalizing a draft resolution that they say would make clear that Russia is violating the U.N. Charter, international law and a 2015 council resolution endorsing the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace in eastern Ukraine.
They say the resolution would urge Russia to get back into compliance immediately,.
Australia extends visa deadlines for Ukrainians
Australia’s prime minister says Ukrainians in Australia whose Australian visas will expire by the end of June will be allowed to stay an additional six months.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said Thursday that Ukrainians applying for Australian visas will be given priority over other nationalities, Morrison said.
Morrison made the announcement a day after Australia imposed sanctions on eight members of Russia’s Security Council in response to Russia’s actions against Ukraine.
Sanctions have also been placed on a series of banks and financial institution. Sanctions that have existed since 2014 on the transport, energy, minerals and telecommunications sectors have been extended to rebel-held areas of Ukraine that Russia recognizes as independent.
Zelenskyy addresses Ukraine
Ukraine’s president is rejecting Moscow’s claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warns that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the comments in a video address early Thursday.
Speaking emotionally in Russia, he said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back.”
Zelenskyy says he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.
‘False Flag’ accusation by White House
The White House says the request by Ukrainian separatists for Russian military assistance in the face of supposed “aggression” by Ukraine’s government is an example of the “false flag” operations the West has consistently warned against.
The U.S. and allies have alleged for weeks that Russia would try to create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine through the use of such operations.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Kremlin’s announcement Wednesday that the separatists are seeking help “is an example” of such an operation.
Psaki adds that “we’ll continue to call out what we see as false flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual status is on the ground.”
Rebels ask Moscow for help
The Kremlin says the rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military assistance to fend off the Ukrainian “aggression.”
The appeal raises the prospect of Russia’s direct military involvement in eastern Ukraine amid Western fears that Moscow is poised to launch an all-out invasion of its neighbor.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the rebel chiefs wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him that shelling by the Ukrainian military has caused civilian deaths and forced many people to flee.
The move comes after Putin recognized the independence of Russia-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine and signed friendship treaties with them. On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers gave Putin permission to use military forces outside the country.
State of emergency in Ukraine
Lawmakers in Ukraine have approved a nationwide state of emergency amid fears of an all-out Russian invasion.
The parliament approved Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decree that imposes the measure for 30 days starting Thursday. The state of emergency allows authorities to impose restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”
The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move Monday to recognize the independence of two rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, where a nearly eight-year conflict with the pro-Russia rebels has left over 14,000 dead. Putin has sanctioned the deployment of Russian troops there to “maintain peace” and received a parliamentary approval to use military force outside the country.
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly voiced concerns that Russia could try destabilize Ukraine by relying on Moscow supporters inside the country, including a pro-Russia political party in parliament.
Ukraine hit by more cyberattacks
Ukrainian government and banking websites have been knocked offline with another wave of distributed-denial-of-service attacks.
The targets Wednesday included the defense, foreign and interior ministries, as well as Privatbank, the country’s largest commercial bank.
Many of the same sites were similarly hit in Feb.13-14 attacks that the U.S. and U.K. governments quickly blamed on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. Such attacks barrage websites with junk traffic, rendering them unreachable.
Wednesday’s DDoS attacks appeared to be less impactful than the previous onslaught, with targeted sites soon reachable again as emergency responders blunted them.
Cyberattacks have been a key tool of Russian aggression in Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Crimea and hackers tried to thwart elections.
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