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UN nuclear watchdog chief in Ukraine to provide 'urgent technical assistance'

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The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director-general arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday for talks with senior government officials on delivering “urgent technical assistance” to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities, the agency said.The International Atomic Energy Agency said Rafael Mariano Grossi’s aim is to “to initiate prompt safety and security support” for Ukraine’s nuclear sites. That will include sending IAEA experts to “prioritized facilities,” which it didn’t identify, and sending “vital safety and security supplies” including monitoring and emergency equipment.BIDEN ADMINISTRATION MAY ALLOW RUSSIA TO BUY IRAN’S EXCESS ENRICHED URANIUM UNDER NEW NUCLEAR DEALIt said that Grossi will travel to one of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants this week, but didn’t say which one. Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four active power plants, and also is home to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl and of the largest active power plant, at Zaporizhzhia.The IAEA chief has been pressing for weeks for an agreement with Ukraine and Russia on the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. He met the two countries’ foreign ministers in Turkey earlier this month.He said Tuesday that Ukraine has requested his agency’s assistance and “we will now start delivering it.”
FILE – IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference in the headquarters of the IAEA in the Vienna International Center, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, March 7, 2022. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday, March 29, 2022 its director-general has arrived in Ukraine for talks with senior government officials on delivering “urgent technical assistance” to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, file)
(AP)”The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger,” Grossi said in a statement. “We must take urgent action to make sure that they can continue to operate safely and securely and reduce the risk of a nuclear accident that could have a severe health and environmental impact both in Ukraine and beyond.””There have already been several close calls. We can’t afford to lose any more time,” he added. “This conflict is already causing unimaginable human suffering and destruction. The IAEA’s expertise and capabilities are needed to prevent it from also leading to a nuclear accident.”RUSSIAN FORCES BOMBED UKRAINIAN ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, 8 CIVILIANS MISSINGThe IAEA has, among other things, expressed concern about a lack of regular staff rotations at the Chernobyl site, questions over the ability of staff to work without undue pressure and interruptions to power supplies. It says it isn’t receiving data transmission from its monitoring systems installed at Chernobyl, but is getting data from Ukraine’s other plants.CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPAs of Monday, the IAEA said, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator told it that eight of Ukraine’s 15 reactors were continuing to operate, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia. The others were shut down for regular maintenance, it said.

Russia backs off threat of using nuclear force amid Ukraine war

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Moscow appeared to walk back its imminent threat of deploying a nuclear weapon as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on.”No one is thinking about using — about even the idea of using a nuclear weapon,” chief spokesman to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said in a Monday night interview with PBS.Peskov’s comments are a reversal to veiled threats he and other Kremlin officials issued in recent weeks.
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov looks on during the annual press conference of President Vladimir Putin.
(Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE: LIVE UPDATES”Any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon,” Peskov said. “We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat.”The spokesman said he is confident that Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine will be “completed” but drew a distinction between the ongoing conflict and a threat of nuclear war.”Let’s keep these two things separate,” he said. “[The] existence of the state and special military operation in Ukraine – they have nothing to do with each other.”Putin threatened “consequences you have never seen in history” in an attempt to warn off the international community from interfering in his campaign when he first announced his invasion last month.Peskov said he did not think Putin was threatening nuclear warfare but said, “He was quite bold in saying that – do not interfere.”The threat of a nuclear strike has been at the forefront of international concerns since Russian forces invaded its neighbor and fighting ensued around two of Ukraine’s nuclear sites. 
Radioactivity sign in Chernobyl Outskirts 2019 closeup

Ukraine, Russia hold new talks aimed at ending the fighting

KYIV, Ukraine — The first face-to-face talks in two weeks between Russia and Ukraine began Tuesday in Turkey, raising flickering hopes there could be progress toward ending a war that has ground into a bloody campaign of attrition.An adviser to the Ukrainian president said the meeting in Istanbul was focused on securing a cease-fire and guarantees for Ukraine’s security — issues that have been the focus of previous unsuccessful negotiations.Ahead of the talks, the Ukrainian president said his country was prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow has demanded, and was open to compromise over the contested eastern region of Donbas — comments that might lend momentum to negotiations. But he warned the “ruthless war” continued, and even the negotiators assembled, Russian forces hit an oil depot in western Ukraine and a government building in the south.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the two sides that they had a “historic responsibility” to stop the fighting.“We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” Erdogan said, as he greeted the two delegations seated on opposite sides of a long table.Putin’s aim of a quick military victory has been thwarted by stiff Ukrainian resistance — but still hopes were not high for a breakthrough. Reflecting skepticism among Ukraine’s Western allies, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she thought the Russian president was “not serious about talks.”In fighting that has devolved into a back-and-forth stalemate, Ukrainian forces retook Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Monday. But he warned that Russian troops were regrouping to take the area back.“We still have to fight, we have to endure,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation. “This is a ruthless war against our nation, against our people, against our children.”He also lashed out at Western countries, which he has repeatedly accused of not going far enough in either sanctioning Moscow or supporting Ukraine with weapons. As a result, Ukrainians were paying with their lives, he said.“If someone is afraid of Russia, if he or she is afraid to make the necessary decisions that are important to us, in particular for us to get planes, tanks, necessary artillery, shells, it makes these people responsible for the catastrophe created by Russian troops in our cities, too,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”A missile struck an oil depot in western Ukraine late Monday, the second attack on oil facilities in a region that has been spared the worst of the fighting. On Tuesday morning, an explosion blasted a hole in a nine-story administration building in Mykolaiv, a southern port city that Russia has unsuccessfully tried to capture.A gaping hole could be seen in the center of the building in a photo posted on the Telegram channel of the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim. He said most people escaped the building and rescuers were searching for a handful of missing people.“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before striking the building, he said. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”Earlier Russia-Ukraine talks, held in person in Belarus or by video, failed to make progress on ending a more than month-long war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.Russia has long demanded that Ukraine drop any hope of joining the western NATO alliance, which Moscow sees as a threat. Zelenskyy indicated over the weekend he was open to that, saying Ukraine was ready to declare its neutrality, but he has stressed that the country needs security guarantees of its own as part of any deal. Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said ending the war was contingent on “international security guarantees for Ukraine.”Also in the room at the Istanbul talks was Roman Abramovich, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been sanctioned by Britain and the EU. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Chelsea Football Club owner has been serving as an unofficial mediator approved by both countries — but mystery about his role has been deepened by reports that he may have been poisoned during an earlier round of talks.The investigative news outlet Bellingcat reported Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian delegates suffered eye pain and skin irritation consistent with chemical weapons poisoning after attending peace talks on March 3. The British government said the allegations were “very concerning,” but Peskov said the reports ”do not correspond to reality.”As well as Irpin, Ukrainian forces also seized back control of Trostyanets, south of Sumy in the northeast, after weeks of Russian occupation that has left a landscape devastated by war.Arriving in the town Monday shortly afterward, The Associated Press saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers lay abandoned in the woods and Russian tanks lay burned and twisted. A red “Z” marked a Russian truck, its windshield fractured, near stacked boxes of ammunition. Ukrainian forces piled atop a tank flashed victory signs. Dazed residents lined up amid charred buildings seeking aid.It was unclear where the Russian troops went, under what circumstances they fled and whether the town will remain free of them.Ukraine, meanwhile, said it would try to evacuate civilians from three southern cities on Tuesday. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said humanitarian corridors would run from heavily bombed Mariupol as well as Enerhodar and Melitopol. The latter two cities are under Russian control, but Vereshchuk didn’t address to what extent Moscow had agreed to the corridors, except for saying 880 people fled Mariupol a day earlier without an agreement in place.In other developments:— The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities. Russian forces have taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear accident, and of the active Zaporizhzhia plant, where a building was damaged in fighting. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said the war “is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger.”— Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war, with most of the damage concentrated near Kyiv and in the east, Ukraine’s military said in a post Tuesday.— Bloomberg News said it has suspended its operations in Russia and Belarus. Customers in both countries won’t be able to access any Bloomberg financial products and trading functions for Russian securities were disabled in line with international sanctions, it said. Bloomberg Philanthropies pledged $40 million, meanwhile, in support for Ukrainians and refugees.Putin’s ground forces have become bogged down because of the stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, combined with what Western officials say are Russian tactical missteps, poor morale, shortages of food, fuel and cold weather gear, and other problems.In response, Russia appeared to be concentrating more on Donbas, the predominantly Russian-speaking region where Moscow-backed rebels have been waging a separatist war for eight years, the official said.While that raised a possible face-saving exit strategy for Putin, it has also raised Ukrainian fears the Kremlin aims to split the country, forcing it to surrender a swath of its territory. Still, Zelenskyy’s comments that he was open to compromise on the region indicated a possible path for negotiations.———Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.———Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

EXPLAINER: What would paying for natural gas in rubles mean?

BERLIN — Europe’s already high gas prices have gyrated since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to have importers pay for Russian natural gas in rubles instead of dollars and euros.Here’s a look at some of the implications of such a move:WHAT IS PUTIN PROPOSING?Europe imports large amounts of Russian natural gas to heat homes, generate electricity and fuel industry, and those imports have continued despite the war in Ukraine.Around 60% of imports are paid in euros, and the rest in dollars. Putin wants to change that by requiring foreign gas importers to purchase rubles and use them to pay state-owned supplier Gazprom.Putin told the Russian central bank last Wednesday to come up with a workable system.WHAT EFFECTS COULD THAT PLAN HAVE?Importers would have to find a bank that would exchange euros and dollars for rubles. That could be cumbersome because some Russian banks have been either blocked or cut off from the SWIFT messaging system that facilitates international payments.Still, there are some banks that haven’t been cut off, and for now, sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury barring bank transactions contain exceptions for energy payments. That’s a concession to European allies that are much more reliant on Russian oil and gas and fear a total cutoff could throw their economy into recession.Russia getting paid for gas in their currency would at best help marginally in getting around financial sanctions, propping up the ruble’s value or protecting the Russian economy, said Eswar Prasad, professor of trade policy at Cornell University and a former official at the International Monetary Fund.“Either Putin is getting terrible economic advice or he is going further off the rails in his hatred for the West,” Prasad said. “It would be cheaper for foreign importers to pay for Russia’s exports in a currency that is collapsing in value, but it is difficult to acquire rubles and make payments in a manner that avoids the sanctions.”He warned that the move “could further roil global energy markets by exacerbating current supply disruptions and adding to uncertainty about future supplies, which could all add up to more price spikes.”HOW IS PUTIN’S DEMAND BEING RECEIVED IN EUROPE?European governments and energy companies are rejecting the idea, saying gas import contracts specify the currency and that one side can’t change it overnight. They say they intend to keep paying in euros and dollars.More broadly, the Group of Seven major economies including Japan, the U.S. and Canada as well as Germany, France, Italy and Britain have agreed to reject Moscow’s demand. The European Union’s energy commissioner also agreed, a G-7 statement said.German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck told reporters Monday that “all G-7 ministers agreed completely” that such a step would be “a one-sided and clear breach of the existing contracts.”WHAT’S PUTIN’S MOTIVE?In theory, requiring ruble payments could support demand for the currency and its exchange rate. But not by much, Prasad says. As it stands, euros and dollars are already being used to purchase rubles when Gazprom exchanges its foreign earnings.The Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw has suggested that by moving the flow of foreign currency from Gazprom to the largely state-controlled banking system, the Kremlin will gain added control over foreign currency that has become scarcer since Western countries froze much of Russia’s reserves abroad.However, that would leave Gazprom without hard currency to make foreign debt payments or purchase supplies abroad. As it stands, the gas supplier already has to sell 80% of its foreign currency to Russia’s central bank.The ruble dispute has raised concerns it could lead to an interruption in natural gas supply. That could open Russia to charges of not adhering to long-term energy contracts, which it has done so far.Europe’s pipeline system is highly connected, so any attempt to restrict flows to some countries would affect the others, according to analysts at Rystad Energy. Beyond that, energy sales are a key source of revenue for Russia.Asked by reporters if Russia could cut gas supplies to European customers if they reject the demand to pay in rubles, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call Monday that “we clearly aren’t going to supply gas for free.”“In our situation, it’s hardly possible and feasible to engage in charity for Europe,” Peskov said.HOW REAL IS THAT THREAT?The ruble proposal led Germany’s utilities association, the BDEW, to call on the government to declare an “early warning” of a severe energy shortage.That’s the first of three stages of energy emergency in EU and German law, the highest being a shortage so severe that the government must shut off gas to industry to protect households.The German government does not see the need for such a declaration, a spokeswoman said Monday.It’s possible Putin is bluffing. This month, Russia threatened to use rubles to pay foreign investors who hold government bonds dominated in dollars. It went through with a dollar payment after ratings agencies said paying in rubles would put Russia in default.When it comes to gas payments, “Putin may demand rubles, but the contracts are clear,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “His only option to force change is to refuse to deliver products, and that cannot happen: He can’t keep oil and gas from coming out of the ground without capping wells, and storage capacity will get filled very fast if shipments stop cold. ”“So let’s call it a bluff,” Weinberg said. “Russia cannot stop shipping product any more than Germany and the EU can stop buying it.”WHY IS ENERGY AN IMPORTANT FACTOR IN THE WAR?The European economy remains heavily dependent on Russia for 40% of its gas imports and 25% of its oil.While the U.S. and the United Kingdom have said they will stop buying Russian oil, European leaders have shied away from a total boycott of Russian oil and gas. Instead, they have focused on reducing their imports over the next several years through conservation, other sources and switching to wind and solar as fast as they can.Estimates vary of the impact of a total gas shutoff in Europe, but they generally involve a substantial loss of economic output.

Protest in India's capital on 2nd day of nationwide strike

Hundreds of workers are holding a demonstration in India’s capital against the government’s economic policiesBy RISHABH R. JAIN Associated PressMarch 29, 2022, 9:09 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNEW DELHI — Hundreds of workers marched with the red flags of the labor unions and chanted anti-government slogans in India’s capital on Tuesday as part of a two-day nationwide strike that began Monday.The demonstration was held at Jantar Mantar, an area of New Delhi close to Parliament that is often used for protests. Protesters said economic policies under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government were hurting workers and the country’s vast unorganized sector.“Modi government has only one point, that it wants to hide its economic criminality under the garb of communalism and religion,” said Swadesh Dev Roye, a top official with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.About a dozen labor unions that organized the strike want the government to provide universal social security coverage for workers in the vast unorganized sector, hike the minimum wage under a flagship employment guarantee program and scrap a new labor law that gives employers greater leeway in setting wages and working hours. The demonstrators included contract health workers who wore protective robes and demanded increased wages and regulation of their services.Strikers are also demanding that the government halt plans of privatization of some public-sector banks and the sale of public assets.Modi’s government says privatizing some state-owned banks would overhaul the banking industry and that asset sales would help raise money to spur economic growth.The two-day strike was felt nationwide, and essential services related to banking, transportation, railways and electricity were impacted in several states.Elsewhere in the country, protests were held in eastern West Bengal state where demonstrators stopped trains at several locations. In southern Kerala, where the state government led by the opposition Communist Party of India backed the protest, streets were empty and shops shuttered.India’s economy has bounced back after experiencing a major blow during the first two years of the pandemic. But many jobs have disappeared, with unemployment rising to 8% in December.

India plans Sri Lanka power project after China's is shelved

India has agreed to set up power projects on northern Sri Lankan islands in a deal seen as a strategic victory in its competition with China for influence in the Indian OceanBy KRISHAN FRANCIS Associated PressMarch 29, 2022, 10:26 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLOMBO, Sri Lanka — India signed an agreement to set up hybrid power projects on northern Sri Lankan islands Tuesday in a deal seen as a strategic victory in its competition with China for influence in the Indian Ocean.India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who was visiting Colombo, witnessed the signing along with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris, the Indian embassy said.In December, China announced it was suspending its own plan to build power plants on three Sri Lankan islands due to security concerns.An Indian official said Tuesday he couldn’t confirm if the plants in the new agreement are to be built on the same islands earmarked for the Chinese project. The power source and other details about the projects weren’t available.India considers Sri Lanka, just across the narrow Palk Strait off India’s southeastern coast, to be within its sphere of influence. The island nation is in the middle of a key sea route connecting East and West and is important to China’s ambitious “One Belt One Road” global infrastructure initiative.India and China are rivals for influence in the region and have border disputes that have flared in recent years.“It is kind of a substantial victory for India,” said Lynn Ockersz a senior journalist and foreign relations analyst in Sri Lanka.He said it would put India in a position to influence Sri Lanka regarding policy decisions that might affect it.The cancelled Chinese power plant project would have been near India’s southern coast.Jaishankar was taking part in the BIMSTEC summit, a meeting on economic cooperation between Bay of Bengal nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.India also signed agreements on a maritime rescue coordination center and a fisheries project in Sri Lanka.Sri Lanka faces daunting problems with debt and is enduring its worst economic crisis in recent memory with shortages of medicine, fuel, fertilizer and milk power. Daily power outages are lasting for hours.The debt crisis partly stems from infrastructure projects that were financed with Chinese loans but are not making money. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are dwindling while it needs to repay $7 billion in foreign debts this year.It has approached both India and China for help. India provided a $1 billion credit line to buy essentials and $500 billion to buy fuel. China is considering a request for $2.5 billion in economic assistance but has been non-committal about restructuring billions in debt.China and Chinese businesses have invested heavily in building a sea port, airport, roads and a port city on reclaimed land near Colombo harbor, which Sri Lanka’s government aims to develop into a financial city.Sri Lanka’s government previously scrapped a plan to allow China outright ownership to land on the Colombo Port City. It instead provided 62 hectares (153 acres) on a 99-year lease.

Renewable energy chief: climate goals need 'radical action'

The head of the International Renewable Energy Agency says “radical action” is needed to shift away from fossil fuels and ensure global warming doesn’t pass dangerous thresholdsBy FRANK JORDANS Associated PressMarch 29, 2022, 10:10 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBERLIN — The world needs to take “radical action” to shift away from fossil fuels and ensure global warming doesn’t pass dangerous thresholds, the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency said Tuesday.The agency’s 348-page report concluded that investments of $5.7 trillion in renewable energy are needed globally each year until 2030 to reduce emissions and meet the goals of the Paris climate accord. Currently those emissions are going up, not down.“The energy transition is far from being on track and anything short of radical action in the coming years will diminish, even eliminate chances to meet our climate goals,” said Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA.Countries agreed seven years ago in Paris to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5C (2.7F), to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire planet. A recent report by a U.N. science panel found that with temperatures already more than 1.1C above the pre-industrial average, billions of people around the world are vulnerable to impacts from climate change.La Camera told an energy conference in Berlin that “not only the 1.5C, the 2C goal is really in danger if we don’t act and don’t make a dramatic change in the way we produce and consume energy.”Abu Dhabi-based IRENA suggested that investments of $700 billion should be diverted away from the fossil fuel sector annually to avoid creating wells, pipelines and power plants that can’t be used anymore.This was echoed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called for an end to private sector financing for coal power, which surged to record highs last year.“Lenders need to recognize that coal and fossil fuels are futile investments that will lead to billions of dollars in stranded assets,” he said.With some countries ramping up domestic fossil fuel production amid energy price hikes and fears of supply shortages because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Guterres urged governments not to delay the shift away from fossil fuels.“The current crisis shows that we must accelerate, not slow, the renewable energy transition,” he said. “This is the only true path to energy security.”———Follow AP’s coverage of climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate