War rages in Ukraine for the 23rd day on Friday as Russian troops besiege and bombard cities in the biggest attack on a European nation since World War Two, which has also led to the biggest refugee crisis since then. Follow the latest developments from the war zone:
Ukraine's Zelensky says it is time for meaningful security talks with Moscow
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday called for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow, saying Russia would otherwise need generations to recover from losses suffered during the war.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine had always offered solutions for peace and wanted meaningful and honest negotiations on peace and security, without delay.
“I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk,” he said in a video address released in the early hours of Saturday.
“The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover.”
The two sides have been involved in talks for weeks with no sign of a breakthrough.
Russia to start work on own Mars mission
Russia will start work on its own Mars mission given that the European Space Agency (ESA) has suspended a joint project in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, Interfax news agency quoted a top official as saying on Friday.
The ESA announced on Thursday that it would be impossible to continue cooperating with Russia on the ExoMars mission. A Russian rocket had been due to transport a European-made rover to Mars later this year.
"In the very near future we will start working on the implementation of a mission to Mars," said Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roskosmos, Russia's space agency.
In video call, Biden presses China's Xi on Russia support
Key figures for a war half a world away, President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours on Friday as the White House looked to deter Beijing from providing military or economic assistance for Russia's attack of Ukraine. China's Foreign Ministry was the first to issue a readout of the video conversation, deploring "conflict and confrontation" as "not in anyone's interest," without assigning any blame to Russia. Ahead of the call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would question Xi about Beijing's "rhetorical support" of Putin and an "absence of denunciation" of Russia's attack.
Xi Jinping said war is "in no one's interest" during the call with Biden, but he showed no sign of giving in to US pressure to join Western condemnation of Russia's attack of Ukraine.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi said during the call that "state-to-state relations cannot go to the stage of military hostilities."
And in a longer readout published by the Chinese foreign ministry, Xi said "all sides" need to support "dialogue" between Russia and Ukraine.
He also appeared to put some responsibility for Russia's attack of its neighbour on the West, saying "the US and NATO should also have dialogue with Russia to address the crux of the Ukraine crisis and ease security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine," the foreign ministry noted.
Macron asks Putin to lift siege of Mariupol
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to lift the siege of Mariupol, allow humanitarian access and order an immediate cease-fire, Macron's office said.
Macron spoke with the Russian leader on the phone for 70 minutes. Earlier in the day, Putin had a conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who also pressed for an immediate cease-fire.
Macron, who has spoken numerous times with Putin, revisited complaints over repeated attacks on civilians and Russia's failure to respect human rights in Ukraine, the presidential Elysee Palace said.
It said that Putin, in turn, laid the blame for the war on Ukraine.
Macron, who is campaigning to renew his mandate in April elections, said during a town hall-style meeting shortly before the call that he talks to Putin because he believes there is a way toward peace, between the Ukrainian resistance, tough Western sanctions and diplomatic pressure. "We must do everything to find it," he said.
Putin vows Russia will prevail in Ukraine but glitch hinders TV
Russian President Vladimir Putin justified the attack of Ukraine before a packed soccer stadium on Friday but coverage of his speech on state television was unexpectedly interrupted by what the Kremlin said was a technical problem with a server.
Speaking on a stage at the centre of Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, Putin promised to tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags and chanting "Russia, Russia, Russia" that all of the Kremlin's aims would be achieved.
"We know what we need to do, how to do it and at what cost.
And we will absolutely accomplish all of our plans," Putin, 69, told the rally from a stage decked out with slogans such as "For a world without Nazism" and "For our president".
Dressed in a turtleneck and coat, Putin said the soldiers fighting in what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine had illustrated the unity of Russia.
"Shoulder to shoulder, they help each other, support each other and when needed they shield each other from bullets with their bodies like brothers. Such unity we have not had for a long time," Putin said.
As he was talking, state television briefly cut away from his speech and showed earlier pre-recorded footage of patriotic songs, but he later appeared back on state television.
RIA news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying a technical fault on a server was the reason state television had suddenly cut away from Putin.
Putin says the operation in Ukraine was necessary because the United States was using the country to threaten Russia and Russia had to defend against the "genocide" of Russian-speaking people by Ukraine.
Before Putin spoke, Russia's stirring national anthem, with the words "Russia is our sacred state" boomed out across the stands of the stadium used in the 2018 Soccer World Cup along with more modern pop hits such as "Made in the U.S.S.R.".
Pan-Slavist poetry by Fyodor Tyutchev, whose verses warned Russians that they would always be considered slaves of the Enlightenment by Europeans, was read out.
Putin quoted Russia's brilliant 18th century naval commander, Fyodor Ushakov.
"He once said that these thunderstorms will go to the glory of Russia," Putin said. "That is the way it was then, that is the way it is now and it will always be that way. Thank you."
Putin appears at big rally as troops press attack in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge flag-waving rally in Moscow and praised his country's troops Friday as they pressed their lethal attacks on Ukrainian cities with shelling and missiles.
Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki stadium for the rally and concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine.
The event included well-known singer Oleg Gazmanov singing "Made in the U.S.S.R.," with the opening lines "Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, It's all my country."
As Putin prepared to take the stage, speakers praised him as fighting "Nazism" in Ukraine, a claim flatly rejected by leaders across the globe.
Baltic countries expel Russian embassy staff
Three Baltic countries have ordered the expulsion of Russian embassy staff members in a coordinated action taken in solidarity with Ukraine.
Lithuania's foreign ministry said on Friday that four Russian embassy staff are no longer welcome in the country, while in neighboring Latvia, three Russian staff were declared persona non grata.
Russia's ambassador to Lithuania, Aleksei Isakov, was informed that their activities were incompatible with the status of a diplomat, according to the official statement of the Lithuanian foreign ministry.
"Lithuania has made such a decision in solidarity with Ukraine, which is experiencing unprecedented Russian military aggression" the statement reads.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that the expulsion of the embassy staff was a coordinated action of the Baltic States, which include former Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Estonia also announced on Friday that it was ordering three staff of the Russian Embassy in the capital Tallinn to leave the country.
Russian strikes hit Ukrainian capital and outskirts of Lviv
Russian forces pressed their assault on Ukrainian cities Friday, with new missile strikes and shelling on the capital Kyiv and the outskirts of the western city of Lviv, as world leaders pushed for an investigation of the Kremlin's repeated attacks.
The early morning barrage of missiles on Lviv's edge was the closest strike yet to the center of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or fight.
Putin discusses Ukraine with Russian security council
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Moscow's conflict with Ukraine and its international repercussions with his security council on Friday, the Kremlin said on its website.
Unlike some of the previous meetings with the council, Putin's video conference was not televised on Friday.
"The current international situation was discussed at the meeting and the exchange of views on the ongoing special operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine continued," the Kremlin said in a statement.
"The president informed the participants in great detail about his numerous international telephone calls," it read.
Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a phone call earlier on Friday that Kyiv was attempting to stall peace talks with Russia but that Moscow was still keen to continue negotiations.
More than two million Ukraine refugees in Poland
Poland's border guards said on Friday that more than two million refugees had crossed into the EU member from neighbouring Ukraine since the February 24 Russian attack.
"At 9 am the number of refugees from Ukraine exceeded two million. It is mainly women with children," the guards said on Twitter.
Russian missiles hit area near airport in Ukraine's Lviv, mayor says
Russian missiles struck an area near the airport of Ukraine's western city of Lviv on Friday, its mayor Andriy Sadovy said, though he added that the airport itself had not been attacked.
Authorities are assessing the situation and will issue updates, he said.
Earlier, television station Ukraine 24 said at least three exposions had been heard in the city.
Ukrainian actor Oksana Shvets killed in rocket attack
Ukrainian actress Oksana Shvets has been killed in a rocket attack on a residential building in Kyiv.
Confirming the demise of Oksana, her troupe, the Young Theater, issued a statement that read, "During the rocket shelling of a residential building in Kyiv, a well-deserved artist of Ukraine Oksana Shvets was killed."
As per The Hollywood Reporter, Oksana was 67. She had been awarded one of Ukraine's highest artistic honours, the title of which roughly translates as 'Honored Artist of Ukraine'.
Zelensky mum on specifics of new US aid
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was thankful to US President Joe Biden for the additional military aid but said he would not say specifically what the new package included because he didn’t want to tip off Russia.
“This is our defence,” he said in his nighttime video address to the nation. “When the enemy doesn’t know what to expect from us. As they didn’t know what awaited them after Feb. 24,” the day Russia atatcked. “They didn’t know what we had for defense or how we prepared to meet the blow.”
Zelensky said Russia expected to find Ukraine much as it did in 2014, when it seized Crimea without a fight and backed separatists as they took control of the eastern Donbas region. But Ukraine is now a different country, with much stronger defenses, he said.
He said it also was not the time to reveal Ukraine’s tactics in the ongoing negotiations with Russia. “Working more in silence than on television, radio or on Facebook,” Zelensky said. “I consider it the right way.”
Russia won't ask UN council vote on its Ukraine resolution
Russia plans to go ahead with a council meeting to discuss again its allegations of US.
Russia’s UN ambassador says he is not asking for a vote Friday on its resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which has been sharply criticised by Western countries for making no mention of Russia’s responsibility for the war against its smaller neighbour.
Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council Thursday that Russia decided at this stage not to seek a vote because of pressure from the United States and Albania on UN members to oppose it, but he stressed that Moscow is not withdrawing the resolution.
Nebenzia said Russia plans to go ahead with a council meeting Friday to discuss again its allegations of US. “biological laboratories” in Ukraine with claiming new documents. His initial charge was made without any evidence and repeatedly denied by US and Ukrainian officials.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded to Nebenzia’s announcement by saying “their farcical humanitarian resolution ... was doomed to fail.”
“We know if Russia really cared about humanitarian crises, the one that it created, it could simply stop its attacks on the people of Ukraine,” she said. “But instead, they want to call for another Security Council meeting to use this council as a venue for its disinformation and for promoting its propaganda.”
At last Friday’s council meeting on Russia’s initial allegations of US “biological activities,” Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of using the Security Council for “lying and spreading disinformation” as part of a potential false-flag operation by Moscow for the use of chemical or biological agents in Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia: Key developments
* Japan and Australia impose new sanctions on Russian entities as punishment for the attack on Ukraine, which the West says has been stalled by staunch resistance but continues to take a devastating toll on civilians.
* US President Joe Biden will speak with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at 1300 GMT to discuss "managing the competition between the two countries as well as Russia's war against Ukraine and other issues" as part of efforts to "maintain open lines of communication", the White House said.
* More than 350,000 people are sheltering in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, officials said.
* Rescuers are combing the rubble of a theatre in Mariupol bombed on Wednesday for survivors. Russia denies striking it. Italy said it will rebuild it.
* The governor of the northern Chernihiv region said 53 civilians had been in killed in the past 24 hours. The dead included a US citizen as he waited in a bread line, his family said. Russia denies targeting civilians.
* The UN said it had recorded 780 confirmed civilian deaths since the attack began, and 3.2 million have fled.
Russia's attack has largely stalled on all fronts in recent days amid heavy losses, British military intelligence and the Ukrainian armed forces said.
* A "very, very big gap" remains between Ukraine and Russia, Western officials said after another day of peace talks.
* Russian President Vladimir Putin shows little desire to compromise, they said, while Ukraine wants to retain sovereignty over areas occupied since 2014 by Russia and pro-Russian forces.
* Russia accused the United States of stoking "Russophobia" and said it had the power to put its "brash enemies into place".
* The UN Security Council pulled a vote on a Russian-drafted call for aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine.
* Diplomats said the measure was set to fail because it does not push for an end to the fighting or withdrawal of Russian troops.
Economy and markets
* The OECD estimates the war could knock more than 1 percentage point off global growth this year.
* Some creditors have received payment of Russian bond coupons which fell due this week, market sources said, meaning Russia may for now have averted a debt default.
* Germany-based Scope Ratings has become the first EU rating agency to withdraw its Russian sovereign credit score after a move by the bloc to ban their provision. S&P, meanwhile, lowered Russia's rating.