BRUSSELS/KYIV: US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Nato would “respond” if Russian President Vladimir Putin used a chemical weapon in his war on Ukraine.
“We will respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” Biden said after a Nato summit in Brussels.
The United States and allies upped the pressure on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine at summits in Brussels Thursday, warning Moscow its costs will keep rising the longer the war continues.
Washington unveiled fresh sanctions on Russian lawmakers and defence contractors, and outlined a push by the G7 to freeze Russia out of international organisations and to cut it off from its gold reserves.
US President Joe Biden was the central figure of the summits, which gathered, in succession, the 30 Nato member countries, the G7 powers and then the EU’s 27-nation bloc.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky also participated by videolink. He pleaded with NATO leaders to send his forces weapons “without restrictions”.
“The alliance can still prevent the deaths of Ukrainians from Russian strikes, from Russian occupation, by giving us all the weapons we need,” he said.
Kyiv, Moscow exchange prisoners
Russia and Ukraine have exchanged prisoners, Kyiv and Moscow confirmed on Thursday, in what Ukraine said was the first swap of soldiers since Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine one month ago.
“Following an order from President Volodymyr Zelensky, the first fully-fledged exchange of prisoners of war has taken place,” Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Facebook.
“In exchange for 10 captured occupiers we rescued 10 of our servicemen,” she said, referring to Russian and Ukrainian troops.
Vereshchuk also said that 11 Russian civilian seamen rescued near the Black Sea port city of Odessa were exchanged for 19 Ukrainian civilian ship crew members held by Moscow.
“I confirm the information regarding the exchange of 10 Russian servicemen detained on Ukrainian territory for 10 Ukrainian servicemen. And there was also an exchange of Russian civilian sailors for Ukrainian civilian sailors”, said Russian human rights ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova.
Russia’s foreign ministry said earlier this week that Moscow had completed two prisoner swaps since it launched its invasion of Ukraine late last month.
Moskalkova said nine Russian prisoners were exchanged for the mayor of Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine captured by the Russian army. Vereshchuk on Wednesday confirmed the Melitopol swap but denied any others had taken place.
UNGA demands end of war
The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted by an overwhelming majority a new non-binding resolution that demands an “immediate” halt to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
At UN headquarters in New York, 140 countries voted in favour, 38 abstained and five voted against the measure, with applause ringing out afterwards.
The vote came after the adoption of a similar non-binding resolution on March 2 that demanded Russia immediately cease its use of force — a vote that was approved by 141 countries.
On Wednesday Ukraine put forward the new resolution, originally prepared by France and Mexico, at an emergency session of the General Assembly.
A competing text by South Africa, which never mentioned Russia by name, received only 50 votes for, 67 against and 36 abstentions, and was therefore not adopted.
The approved resolution specifically implicates Moscow and “demands an immediate cessation of the hostilities by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, in particular of any attacks against civilians and civilian objects.”
The same five countries voted against the resolution on Thursday and March 2 — Russia, Syria, North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea.
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, welcomed the “strong majority” of member states that approved the resolution.
The countries made clear that “Russia bears sole responsibility for the grave humanitarian crisis and violence in Ukraine,” she said.