U.S. President Joe Biden will travel next week to Brussels, where he will join an “extraordinary” NATO summit set to take place on March 24 — one month after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Biden’s travel plans hours after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for the meeting, tweeting that alliance members “will address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO’s deterrence & defense.”
Biden told reporters Tuesday afternoon, “Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has united people all across America.”
The administration is expected to announce additional aid measures Wednesday following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to the U.S. Congress.
“It’s exceedingly difficult to get supplies into Ukraine while the Russian onslaught continues,” Biden said.
Russian shelling hit Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, early Tuesday, including one that struck an apartment building, killing four people and starting a fire that sparked a frenzied rescue effort, officials said. Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko announced a 35-hour curfew for the city beginning Tuesday night.
Despite the continued shelling, Russian ground forces are making “limited to no progress … in achieving their objectives” in Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday in an assessment shared with VOA.
The official said Kyiv “remains under heavy bombardment by long-range fire, with civilian targets to include residential areas being struck with increasing frequency. But leading elements of Russian forces have not appreciably advanced on the city.”
Fox News reported that video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski was killed when the vehicle in which he was traveling was struck by incoming fire on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and State Department officials have been in touch with Fox News’ management regarding correspondent Ben Hall, who was injured while on assignment with Zakrzewski. Spokesperson Ned Price said, “All of us here at the department are rooting for Ben and rooting for his speedy recovery.”
“We have engaged at multiple levels with Fox News. We’ve made very clear that we will do everything we possibly can to help Ben and any others who may have been involved and injured in this horrific attack.”
Despite Russia’s attacks on Kyiv, three European leaders headed to the capital as Russian forces bombarded the area and other cities nearly three weeks into the invasion.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said he was traveling to Kyiv on Tuesday along with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa to represent the European Council in a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
“The purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” Fiala said. “The aim of this visit is also to present a broad package of support for the Ukraine and Ukrainians.”
The European Union announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, including bans on transactions with certain state-owned companies or new investments in Russia’s energy sector, as well as tighter trade restrictions on iron, steel and luxury goods.
There are also sanctions targeting “key oligarchs, lobbyist and propagandists pushing the Kremlin’s narrative on the situation in Ukraine, as well as key companies in the aviation, military and dual use, shipbuilding and machine-building sectors.”
Much of the international response has been focused on punishing Russia through economic sanctions. Japan on Tuesday announced new asset freezes for 17 Russians, including 11 members of the Russian parliament, billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and family members of banker Yuri Kovalchuk.
Russia on Tuesday announced that Biden and a dozen other senior officials have been banned from entering the country, in response to the sanctions from Western countries.
“We’ve made President Putin’s war of choice a strategic failure,” Psaki said Tuesday. “The unprecedented costs we’ve imposed with allies and partners have reversed 30 years of economic progress, something President Putin himself pushed for.”
Negotiators from Russia and Ukraine began more talks Tuesday following a meeting on Monday, held by video rather than in person in neighboring Belarus like previous sessions, which yielded no major signs of a breakthrough.
But Zelenskyy suggested a compromise on Tuesday, saying in a video message that Kyiv was ready to accept security guarantees that fall short of its goal to join NATO.
“If we cannot enter through open doors, then we must cooperate with the associations with which we can, which will help us, protect us … and have separate guarantees,” Zelenskyy said.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was premature to predict whether the peace talks will lead to progress.
“The work is difficult, and in the current situation, the very fact that (the talks) are continuing is probably positive,” Peskov said.
Psaki told reporters the United States supports the negotiations, but that it is looking for signs that Russia is willing to pair talks with a pullback in violence.
“We’re not seeing any evidence, at this point, that President Putin is doing anything to stop the onslaught or de-escalate,” Psaki said.
Meanwhile, Biden on Tuesday signed an appropriations package that includes $13.6 billion for emergency military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. That will be followed Wednesday by an address to Congress by Zelenskyy, who has appealed for international help, including a no-fly zone over Ukraine, that the Biden administration has ruled out.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the government hoped to be able to open nine humanitarian corridors Tuesday to evacuate civilians and deliver aid to those in areas besieged by Russian forces, including the southern city of Mariupol where Russian shelling prevented deliveries on Monday.
In a rare positive development Monday, Ukrainian officials in Mariupol said a convoy of civilian cars was able to leave after many previous attempts to evacuate civilians collapsed. Officials said 160 cars left in the first two hours that the corridor was open. On Tuesday, the city council said 2,000 civilian cars had left, but it was not immediately clear if the 160 cars that left on Monday were included in the tally.
Also Tuesday, Ukraine’s parliament voted to extend martial law for another month until April 24, barring men between 18 and 60 from leaving the country so they can be called to join the military.
The United Nations said Tuesday the number of people who have fled Ukraine since the invasion began had reached 3 million.
Eastern European chief Myroslava Gongadze, White House correspondent Anita Powell, senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine, national security correspondent Jeff Seldin, U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer, State Department correspondent Nike Ching, and Mandarin service reporters Lin Yang and Si Yang contributed to this report.
Some information also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.