Live Updates | Slovakia denies air defense is destroyed

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has denied its S-300 air defense missile system it transported to Ukraine has been destroyed by the Russian armed forces.

“Our S-300 system has not been destroyed,” Lubica Janikova, spokeswoman for Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

She said any other claim is not true.

Earlier on Monday, the Russian military said it destroyed a shipment of air defense missile system provided by the West on the southern outskirts of the city of Dnipro.

The Russian side said Ukraine had received the air defense system from a European country that he didn’t name. Last week, Slovakia said it has handed over its Soviet-designed S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine, which has pleaded with the West to give it more weapons, including long-range air defense systems.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukrainian defenders dig in as Russia boosts firepower

— Biden, Modi to speak as US presses for hard line on Russia

— Ukrainian nuns open their monastery doors to the displaced

— US doubts new Russian war chief can end Moscow’s floundering

— Analysis: War, economy could weaken Putin’s place as leader

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Latvia has arrested a citizen of Belarus, who is suspected of spying for Belarusian special service by allegedly gathering information about the Baltic country’s Armed Forces and critical infrastructure facilities, news report said Monday.

The Baltic News Service, the region’s main new agency, said Latvia’s State Security Service (VDD) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service detained the man in February.

The Belarusian suspect had been secretly filming and taking photos, BNS said, adding that the state security service had seized technical equipment and data carriers.

Latvian public broadcaster LSM said criminal proceedings were initiated on Feb. 15.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia is expelling 24 Russian diplomats and other embassy staff, joining other European nations that have done so.

The Croatian Foreign Ministry on Monday said they have summoned Russia’s ambassador in Zagreb and conveyed the “strongest condemnation of the brutal aggression on Ukraine and numerous crimes that have been committed.”

The Russian side has been urged to halt military activities, withdraw its troops and ensure evacuation of civilians and delivery of humanitarian aid, the Croatian ministry said. Croatia expects that those responsible of crimes be brought to justice, said the statement.

Several EU countries have expelled Russian diplomats following the killings in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns. Croatia says it has asked 18 diplomats and 6 Russian embassy staff to leave the country.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican says a Ukrainian and a Russian family will be among those taking turns carrying a cross as part of the traditional Good Friday procession presided over by Pope Francis at the Colosseum.

The Vatican released some details on Monday about the torchlit Way of the Cross ceremony at the ancient arena that draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists in Rome during Holy Week. In the procession, participants pass a tall, lightweight cross to other participants, and prayers and meditations are read aloud.

The meditations composed for this year’s nighttime procession “have been inspired by the life of each family,” the Vatican said without elaborating. The families include a Ukrainian nurse and a Russian nurse who work at the same hospital in Rome, Italian state TV said. Family members of the two women nurses will join together in helping to carry the cross.

Handing the Ukrainian and Russian families the cross will be a family that has dealt with the loss of a child. The Ukrainians and Russians in turn will pass the cross to a family of migrants.

Repeatedly decrying the loss of civilian life, the pope has sounded increasingly anguished calls for an end to what he calls “the folly of war” in Ukraine and for a return to negotiations. But he has stopped short of denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin for his role in launching the invasion on Feb. 24.

The Colosseum procession solemnly recalls the crucifix of Jesus.

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BRUSSELS — Ireland’s foreign minister says the European Union should consider imposing sanctions on Russia’s oil industry but cautions that it’s most important for the 27-nation bloc to remain unified.

Several EU countries are dependent on Russian oil and gas imports. After much debate, the bloc agreed last week to a phase in of restrictions on imports of coal over Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says that “we need to take a maximalist approach to sanctions to offer the strongest possible deterrents to the continuation of this war and brutality.”

Speaking as EU foreign ministers gathered Monday in Luxembourg, Coveney said “that should include, in our view, oil. We know that that’s very difficult for some member states and we have to keep a united position across the EU.”

The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, is assessing what more can be done with a fresh package of sanctions.

Coveney says “the European Union is spending hundreds of millions of euros on importing oil from Russia. That is certainly contributing to financing this war. And in our view, we need to cut off that financing of war.”

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MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has destroyed a shipment of air defense missile systems provided by the West.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the military used sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles to destroy four S-300 air defense missile launchers on the southern outskirts of the city of Dnipro. He said about 25 Ukrainian troops were also hit by the strike on Sunday.

Konashenkov said in a statement Monday that Ukraine had received the air defense systems from a European country that he didn’t name. Konashenkov’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.

Last week, Slovakia said it had handed over its Soviet-designed S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine, which has pleaded with the West to give it more weapons, including long-range air defense systems.

Slovakia’s prime minister office issued a statement late Sunday calling the news that the S-300 system given to Ukraine was destroyed “disinformation.” It was unclear, however, whether both sides are referring to the same airstrike. The Russians have targeted missile defense systems in three different locations in recent days.

SEOUL, South Korea — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday called for South Korea to provide military arms to help his country fight back against invading Russian forces.

Zelenskyy’s video address to South Korean lawmakers came hours after Seoul’s Defense Ministry confirmed it rejected a Ukrainian request for anti-aircraft weapons. The ministry cited the government’s principle on limiting military help to non-lethal supplies.

“The Republic of Korea has tanks, ships and various equipment that can block Russian missiles and we would be grateful if the Republic of Korea could help us fight back against Russia,” Zelenskyy said, referring to South Korea’s formal name.

Zelenskyy, whose comments were dubbed over by a translator during the televised speech, thanked South Korea for participating in U.S.-led economic sanctions against Moscow, but said sanctions alone aren’t enough.

He highlighted the Russia’s brutal takeover of Mariupol, briefly stopping his speech to play a video showing buildings hit by rockets, Russian tanks firing as they rolled through destroyed streets and people wailing over dead relatives at overwhelmed hospitals. “Russia is aiming to eliminate Ukraine independence and separate the country. It is trying to eliminate the culture and language of the Ukrainian nation,” Zelenskyy said.

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ROME — Nearly 90,000 refugees from the war in Ukraine have arrived in Italy. The Italian Interior Ministry, in providing the data on Monday, said most of them go to Milan, Rome, Naples and Bologna. The majority of those who arrive stay in relatives or friends among the nearly 250,00 Ukrainians who have been living and working in Italy for years, according to the Italian government. The refugees include some 46,000 women and 33,000 minors. Of those who haven’t a place to stay previously arranged, many are being hosted by charity groups, church organizations and towns throughout Italy.

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BRUSSELS — Austria’s foreign minister says Chancellor Karl Nehammer is taking “very clear messages of a humanitarian and political kind” to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said Monday that Nehammer decided to make the trip after meeting in Kyiv on Saturday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and following contacts with the leaders of Turkey, Germany and the European Union.

Schallenberg said ahead of a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg that “we don’t want to leave any opportunity unused and must seize every chance to end the humanitarian hell in Ukraine.”

He added that “every voice that makes clear to President Putin what reality looks like outside the walls of Kremlin is not a wasted voice.”

Schallenberg said that Nehammer and Putin will meet one-on-one without media opportunities. He insisted that Austria has done everything to ensure that the visit isn’t abused, “and I think he (Putin) himself should have an interest in someone telling him the truth and really finding out what’s going on outside.”

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BRUSSELS — Germany’s foreign minister says Ukraine needs heavy weapons to defend itself and this is no time for “excuses.”

Ukraine’s president has warned that his country faces a crucial time and that Russian troops will step up operations in the east.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for a meeting with her European Union counterparts Monday: “What is clear is that Ukraine needs further military material, above all heavy weapons, and now is not the time for excuses — now is the time for creativity and pragmatism.”

Germany broke with a foreign policy tradition after Russia’s invasion to supply arms to Ukraine but has faced criticism from Kyiv for perceived hesitancy and slowness in providing material.

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BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers are meeting to weigh the effectiveness of the bloc’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine amid concern about Moscow’s preparations for a major attack in the east.

The ministers will hold talks with the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor-General Karim A.A. Khan as Western pressure mounts to hold to account those responsible for any war crimes in Ukraine.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing Monday’s meeting in Luxembourg, deplored what he called the “brutal, brutal aggression” of Russian troops.

Borrell, who was in Ukraine over the weekend, says further EU sanctions against Russia “are always on the table.”

He says he’s “afraid the Russian troops are massing on the east to launch an attack on the Donbas,” region in the east after Moscow withdrew its forces from around the capital Kyiv last week.

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LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says Ukraine has beaten back several assaults by Kremlin forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.

In an intelligence update released Monday morning, the ministry says Russian shelling in the two eastern regions is continuing.

“Russia’s continued reliance on unguided bombs decreases their ability to discriminate when targeting and conducting strikes, while greatly increasing the risk of civilian casualties,” the ministry said.

The ministry also said Russia’s “prior use” of phosphorus munitions in the Donetsk region raises the possibility they may be used in Mariupol as the battle for the city on Ukraine’s south coast intensifies.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will send a military transport plane and a support team of 50 to Europe, as well as give money to Britain to buy weapons, as it significantly steps up its response to the war in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that the C130 Hercules plane would travel throughout Europe to carry much-needed equipment and supplies to key distribution centers. She said the plane wouldn’t fly directly into Ukraine as most military equipment is transported into the country by land.

Ardern said her government would also spend an additional 13 million New Zealand dollars ($9 million) on military and human rights support, including NZ$7.5 million for Britain to buy weapons and ammunition.

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