Live: Major Russian warship ‘seriously damaged’ in explosion as Ukraine claims strike

Russia said on Thursday the flagship of its Black Sea fleet was seriously damaged and its crew evacuated following an explosion that a Ukrainian official said was the result of a missile strike. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

9:42 am: Russia warns NATO over Sweden and Finland membership

Russia on Thursday warned NATO that if Sweden and Finland joined the military alliance then Russia would have to bolster its defences and that there could be no more talk of a "nuclear free" Baltic.

"There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored," said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council.

"Until today, Russia has not taken such measures and was not going to," Medvedev said.

9:39 am: Irish foreign minister to visit Kyiv

Irish foreign and defence minister Simon Coveney is to travel to Kyiv on Thursday, his office said, where he will meet his two Ukrainian counterparts.

Coveney's visit is the first by a foreign minister from a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to Kyiv since Russia's invasion began.

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His talks with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov will focus on "how Ireland can continue to provide political, security and humanitarian support to Ukraine," a statement said.

The ministers will also discuss how Ireland can "assist Ukraine in its application for EU candidate status, take forward further EU sanctions on Russia and hold Russia to account for its brutal and unjustified invasion."

9:23 am: Ukrainian towns Kramatorsk, Kostiantynivka likely to be Russian targets, UK says

The Ukrainian towns of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka are likely to be targeted by Russia for levels of violence seen in other urban centres since Moscow invaded Ukraine in late February, British military intelligence said on Thursday.

In an update on the war, Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that "widespread missile and artillery strikes and efforts to concentrate forces for an offensive" showed a reversion to traditional Russian military doctrine.

The MoD added that Ukraine's continued defence of Mariupol was currently tying down significant numbers of Russian troops and equipment.

9:07 am: Ukraine says restarting civilian evacuations

Ukraine said Thursday it was reopening humanitarian corridors allowing for the evacuation of civilians from war-scarred regions after a day-long pause that Kyiv attributed to Russian violations.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media that nine routes in the east and south of the country would be operating a day after they were shut because routes, she had said, were "too dangerous".

"Humanitarian corridors in the Lugansk region will be run under the condition of cessation of shelling by the occupying forces," Vereshchuk said Thursday.

8:22 am: Ukraine wants as many security guarantors as possible

Ukraine wants as many countries as possible to act as security guarantors, but Russia does not want their number to increase, a Ukrainian negotiator in peace talks with Russia, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Thursday in televised comments.

5:10 am: Expert team works to clear Kyiv region of landmines

Our colleagues at France 2 meet the team working to defuse thousands of undetonated explosives across a broad swath of territory around the Ukrainian capital:

2:40 am: US weighing high-level official visit to Ukraine, says source

Senior US officials are weighing whether to send a top cabinet level official to Kyiv as a high profile representative in a show of solidarity with Ukraine, a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken or Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd are potential candidates to pay a surprise visit to Kyiv, the source said.

President Joe Biden is unlikely to make the trip, the source said.

No final decision has been made on sending an official, the source said. The discussions were first reported by Politico.

Other Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have made trips to Ukraine in show of support following Russia's invasion in February.

Meanwhile, Western governments are sending more military aid to bolster Ukraine's defence against a major offensive expected by Russia in eastern and southern Ukraine.

>> War in Europe gives the UK new momentum for a role on the world stage

1:42 am: Zelensky calls for European embargo on Russian oil

"First of all, we need an oil embargo, and Europe's clear readiness to give up all Russian energy. The European Union must stop sponsoring Russia's military machine," the Ukrainian president said, calling for Western countries to step up sanctions against Russia.

1:05 am: Russia says flagship of Black Sea fleet badly damaged by blast

Russia on Thursday said the flagship of its Black Sea fleet was seriously damaged and its crew evacuated following a fire that caused an explosion, as a Ukrainian official said the vessel had been hit by missiles.

The incident on the Moskva missile cruiser occurred after ammunition on board blew up, Interfax news agency quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.

"As the result of a fire on the Moskva missile cruiser, ammunition detonated," it said in a statement.

Maksym Marchenko, governor of the region around the Black Sea port of Odesa, said in an online post that the 12,500 tonne ship was hit by two missiles, without providing evidence.

"Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage," he said in an online post.

Rob Parsons, FRANCE 24's Chief International Affairs Editor, provides more details below.

12:45 am: US gives Ukraine $800 million more in military aid, adds heavy weapons

US President Joe Biden announced an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine on Wednesday, expanding the scope of the systems provided to include heavy artillery ahead of a wider Russian assault expected in eastern Ukraine.

The package, which brings the total military aid since Russian forces invaded in February to more than $2.5 billion, includes artillery systems, artillery rounds, armoured personnel carriers and unmanned coastal defence boats, Biden said in a statement after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Biden said he had also approved the transfer of additional helicopters, saying equipment provided to Ukraine "has been critical" as it confronts the invasion.

"We cannot rest now. As I assured President Zelensky, the American people will continue to stand with the brave Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom," Biden said in a written statement.

The new package includes 11 Mi-17 helicopters that had been earmarked for Afghanistan before the US-backed government collapsed last year. It also includes 18 155mm howitzers, along with 40,000 artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, 200 armoured personnel carriers and 300 additional "Switchblade" drones.

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(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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