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Russia-Ukraine live updates: Ukraine claims it destroyed Russian cruise missiles in Crimea

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(NEW YORK) -- More than a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the countries are fighting for control of areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have liberated nearly 30,000 square miles of their territory from Russian forces since the invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, but Putin appeared to be preparing for a long and bloody war.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Mar 21, 11:49 AM EDT
Japanese PM visits Ukraine for 1st time during war

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Ukraine on Tuesday for the first time since the start of Russia's invasion.

In Kyiv, Kishida laid a wreath at the memorial for fallen Ukrainian soldiers. In Bucha, where Ukrainian officials said more than 400 civilians were killed last year by Russian forces, he laid a wreath outside a church before observing a moment of silence and bowing.

"The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago," Kishida said. "I really feel great anger for all the atrocious acts."

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Mar 20, 6:33 PM EDT
Ukraine claims it destroyed Russian cruise missiles in Crimea drone attack

Ukrainian forces destroyed Russian Kalibr-NK cruise missiles in a drone strike in Crimea as the weapons were being transported by rail, the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate said on their official Telegram channel Monday.

Sergey Aksyonov, an adviser to the head of the Republic of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, confirmed a drone attack on his official Telegram channel.

Debris from the aerial object damaged a household and a shop and one person was injured from the explosions, Aksyonov said.

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Mar 19, 6:44 PM EDT
Indications China could be supplying electrical components to Russia military use, senior Ukrainian official says

Ukraine has been monitoring multiple flights between Russian and Chinese cities during which the aircrafts' transponders are temporarily switched off, according to a senior Ukrainian official, who called it a cause for concern.

The official said the belief is that China could be supplying Russia with electrical components that Moscow needs for military equipment, thus diminishing the impact of Western sanctions.

The senior official, who spoke exclusively to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, added that Ukraine currently has "no proof" that China is supplying weaponry or ammunition to Ukraine.

The official also dismissed the notion of a Chinese-brokered peace plan in the near future and said Ukraine is focused on retaking more land from Russia and is preparing for a fresh offensive "in the spring or early summer."

-ABC News' Tom Burridge

Mar 19, 1:13 AM EDT
Putin arrives in Mariupol, marking first visit to newly annexed territories

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Mariupol to inspect a number of locations in the city and talk to local residents, the Kremlin press service said on Sunday.

Putin travelled by helicopter to the Ukrainian city, which has been occupied since last year by Russians. He drove a vehicle along the city's streets, making stops at several locations.

The visit was Putin's first to newly annexed territories.

Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin reported to Putin about construction and restoration work. In the Nevsky area, a newly built residential area, Putin talked with residents. He went inside a home at the invitation of one of the families.

Putin also inspected the coastline of the city in the area of a yacht club, a theater building that was heavily bombed with civilians sheltering inside and other memorable places of the city.

-ABC News' Tanya Stukalova

Mar 18, 11:04 AM EDT
Putin visits Crimea on anniversary of annexation

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine on Saturday, one day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.

Putin visited an art school and a children's center.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.

Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin's gains. Instead, he stressed Friday the importance of holding Crimea. "Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now," he said, referring to Crimea's largest city. "We will do everything needed to fend off any threats."

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres

Mar 17, 8:03 PM EDT
Biden calls Putin arrest warrant 'justified'

President Joe Biden called the arrest warrant issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday by the International Criminal Court "justified," though acknowledged it might not have strong teeth.

"Well, I think it's justified," Biden told reporters Friday evening. "But the question -- it's not recognized internationally, by us either. But I think it makes a very strong point."

In a earlier statement on the warrant, the White House said it supports "accountability for perpetrators of war crimes."

"There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in the statement.

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett and Davone Morales

Mar 17, 2:35 PM EDT
Turkey agrees to start ratifying Finland's NATO bid

Turkey is beginning the process of ratifying Finland's application to join NATO, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, 10 months after both Finland and Sweden applied to become NATO members in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

"At a critical time for our security, this will make our alliance stronger and safer," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The breakthrough came as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Ankara, Turkey, to meet with Erdogan.

Erdogan said Finland fulfilled its part of the agreements and therefore he saw no reason to further delay the ratification process. Erdogan did not provide an update on Sweden's bid.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement, "We encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s accession protocols as well. In addition, we urge Hungary to conclude its ratification process for both Finland and Sweden without delay. … The United States believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible."

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 17, 11:54 AM EDT
ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying in a statement Friday that Putin is "allegedly responsible for the war crime of" unlawfully deporting children from occupied areas of Ukraine and bringing them to Russia.

The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's presidential commissioner for children's rights, alleging she carried out the same war crime.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that the arrest warrants "have no meaning for the Russian Federation" and "are legally null and void."

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, tweeted that the arrest warrants are "just the beginning."

Mar 16, 12:15 PM EDT
Russia has committed 'wide range of war crimes' in Ukraine: UN-backed report

Russia has committed a "wide range of war crimes" and possible crimes against humanity in Ukraine, according to a new United Nations-backed investigation.

"The body of evidence collected shows that Russian authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in many regions of Ukraine and in the Russian Federation," the human rights report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine stated. "Many of these amount to war crimes and include willful killings, attacks on civilians, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, and forced transfers and deportations of children."

Additionally, Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy-related infrastructure and use of torture "may amount to crimes against humanity," the report concluded.

The commission said it conducted interviews with nearly 600 people, inspected graves, destruction and detention sites and consulted satellite imagery and photographs as part of its investigation.

Mar 16, 11:51 AM EDT
Poland to deliver MiG-29 jets to Ukraine 'in the coming days'

Poland plans to deliver four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine "in the coming days," Polish President Andrzej Duda said at a press conference on Thursday.

The latest news shortens the timeline announced earlier this week by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had said they might send the Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine in the next four to six weeks.

Mar 16, 11:08 AM EDT
225 Russians killed in last 24 hours in Bakhmut

Ukrainian forces have killed 225 Russian fighters and injured another 306 in the past 24 hours in the Bakhmut area, according to Serhiy Cherevaty, the spokesman for the Eastern Group of Forces of the Ukraine army.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a brutal battle for the city in eastern Ukraine for months, with both sides seeing high rates of casualties.

Cherevaty said that in the last day, the occupiers in the area of Bakhmut and nearby villages -- including Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka and Ivanivskoho -- tried to attack Ukrainian positions 42 times. There were 24 combat clashes in the Bakhmut area alone.

In total, in the Bakhmut direction, the occupiers shelled Ukrainian positions 256 times with various types of artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, Cherevaty said. Of them, 53 shellings were in the area of Bakhmut itself.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 15, 12:08 PM EDT
Putin says effort underway to increase weapons production

Russia is working to increase its weapons production amid an "urgent" need, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

"Prosecutors should supervise the modernization of defense industry enterprises, including building up capacities for the production of an additional volume of weapons. A lot of effort is underway here," Putin said at a meeting of the Collegium of the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation.

Putin added that the weapons, equipment and ammunition are "urgently" needed.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 13, 4:04 PM EDT
White House welcomes Xi Jinping speaking to President Zelenskyy

The White House is welcoming reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to soon speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time since Russia’s invasion began, while cautioning that after speaking with Ukrainian counterparts, "they have not yet actually gotten any confirmation that there will be a telephone call or a video conference."

"We hope there will be," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a briefing on Air Force One. "That would be a good thing because it would potentially bring more balance and perspective to the way that the new PRC is approaching this, and we hope it will continue to dissuade them from choosing to provide lethal assistance to Russia."

"We have been encouraging President Xi to reach out to President Zelenskyy because we believe that PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this," Sullivan continued. "So, we have in fact, advocated to Beijing that that connection take place. We've done so publicly and we've done so privately to the PRC."

Sullivan said the U.S. has “not yet seen the transfer of lethal assistance of weapons from China to Russia," after previously warning it was being considered.

"It's something that we're vigilant about and continuing to watch carefully," he added.

-ABC News' Justin Gomez

Mar 13, 12:27 PM EDT
Russia agrees to 60-day extension of Black Sea Grain Initiative

Russia said Monday it will extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative after it expires on March 18, but only for 60 days. The announcement came after consultations between U.N. representatives in Geneva and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin.

"The Russian side, noting the package nature of the Istanbul agreements proposed by UN Secretary General António Guterres, does not object to another extension of the Black Sea initiative after the expiration of the second term on March 18, but only for 60 days," Vershinin said, according to Russian media reports.

Russia's consultations in Geneva on the grain deal were not easy, Vershinin said. Russia will rely on the effectiveness of the implementation of the agreement on the export of its agricultural products when deciding on a new extension of the grain deal, according to reports.

Ukraine, which is a key world exporter of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and fertilizer, had its shipments blocked in the months following the invasion by Russia, causing a worldwide spike in food prices. The first deal was brokered last July.

Mar 12, 4:13 PM EDT
More than 1,100 Russians dead in less than a week, Zelenskyy says

Russian forces suffered more than 1,100 dead in less than a week during battles near the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the focal point of fighting in eastern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday.

During his nightly address, Zelenskyy described the battles as "Russia's irreversible loss."

Russian forces also sustained about 1,500 "sanitary losses," meaning soldiers were wounded badly enough to keep them out of further action, Zelenskyy said.

Dozens of pieces of enemy equipment were destroyed, as were more than 10 Russian ammunition depots, Zelenskyy said.

-ABC News' Edward Seekers

Mar 10, 3:17 PM EST
Russia says Nord Stream explosion investigation should be impartial

The investigation into who was behind the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline explosion should be "objective, impartial and transparent," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agency Interfax.

"I do not want to threaten anyone. I do not want to hint at anything either. I just know that this flagrant terror attack will not go uninvestigated," Lavrov added.

Russia also said it will distribute its correspondence with Germany, Denmark and Sweden on the investigation of the Nord Stream explosion among the members of the United Nations Security Council soon.

Russia claimed the three countries are denying Russia access to information and participation in the investigation, first deputy permanent representative to the U.N. Dmitry Polyansky said in an interview, according to Russian news agency TASS.

-ABC News' Anastasia Bagaeva and Tanya Stukalova

Mar 10, 3:03 PM EST
Russia says Nord Stream explosion investigation should be impartial

The investigation into who was behind the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline explosion should be "objective, impartial and transparent," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agency Interfax.

"I do not want to threaten anyone. I do not want to hint at anything either. I just know that this flagrant terror attack will not go uninvestigated," Lavrov added.

Russia also said it will distribute its correspondence with Germany, Denmark and Sweden on the investigation of Nord Stream explosion among the members of the United Nations Security Council soon.

Russia claimed the three countries are denying Russia access to information and participation in the investigation, first deputy permanent representative to the U.N. Dmitry Polyansky said in an interview, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Mar 10, 9:46 AM EST
Zelenskyy says Ukraine had nothing to do with Nord Stream explosions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied that Ukraine had anything to do with the Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions last year.

"As for the Nord Stream, we have nothing to do with it," Zelenskyy said Friday.

The New York Times published a report that U.S. intelligence suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged the pipeline.

Zelenskyy also suggested that the information being spread about the involvement of pro-Ukrainian groups in the attack could be done to slow down aid to his country.

-ABC News' Natalia Shumskaia

Mar 09, 2:45 PM EST
Power returns to Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after attacks

Electricity supply has been fully restored in Kyiv after Russia's overnight barrage of missile attacks on Ukraine, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said in a Telegram post Thursday.

Also, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is now "receiving electricity for its own needs from the Ukrainian grid after power supply was cut," Russian news agency Interfax reported.

-ABC News' Tatiana Rymarenko and Natalia Shumskaia

Mar 09, 7:25 AM EST
Russia 'brutalizing' Ukrainian people, White House says

Russia's overnight barrage of missiles aimed at civilian infrastructure may have knocked heat out to as much as 40% of Ukrainians, the White House said on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to "brutalize" the people of Ukraine, John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America on Thursday.

"It also appears, George, that they were definitely targeting civilian infrastructure," Kirby said. "I would agree with the Ukrainians. He's just trying to brutalize the Ukrainian people"

Russian forces early on Thursday launched 81 missiles from land and sea, Ukrainian officials said. Eight uncrewed drones were also launched in what officials described as a "massive" attack.

Eleven regions and cities were targeted in an attack that lasted at least seven hours, officials said.

Kirby said on Thursday that the White House expects to see more fighting on the ground in Ukraine for at least the "next four to six months."

"We know that the Russians are attempting to conduct more offensive operations here when the weather gets better," he said.

Mar 09, 3:59 AM EST
Zelenskyy decries Russia's 'miserable tactics'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said Russian officials had returned "to their miserable tactics" as they launched at least 81 missiles at Ukrainian sites overnight.

"The occupiers can only terrorize civilians. That's all they can do. But it won't help them," he said on Telegram. "They won't avoid responsibility for everything they have done."

He added, "We thank the guardians of our skies and everyone who helps to overcome the consequences of the occupiers' sneaking attacks!"

Mar 09, 3:34 AM EST
81 missiles launched in 'massive' Russian attack, Ukraine says

Waves of missiles and a handful of drones were launched overnight by Russia, targeting energy infrastructure and cities across Ukraine, officials said.

The attack on "critical infrastructure" and civilian targets lasted throughout the night, Verkovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, said on Twitter. Energy was being gradually restored on Thursday morning, the body said.

Ukraine's parliament and military said at least 81 missiles were fired from several bases. Eight Iranian-made drones were also launched, the military said.

Ukraine destroyed 34 cruise missiles and four drones, military officials said on Facebook.

"Russia's threats only encourage partners to provide long-term assistance to Ukraine," said Yehor Chernev, deputy chairman of the Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence.

Russia "will be sentenced as a terrorist state" for its attacks, Ruslan Stefanchuk, Rada's chairperson, said on Twitter.

Mar 09, 12:35 AM EST
Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant now running on diesel generators, energy minister says

The last line that fed the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has been damaged following missile strikes, and the plant is now working on diesel generators, according to the Ukrainian energy minister, Herman Galushchenko.

Mar 09, 12:16 AM EST
Emergency power outages nationwide due to missile attacks, provider says

DTEK, the largest private grid operator in Ukraine, said emergency power outages are in effect due to the missile attacks in the Kyiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv and Dnipro regions.

Mar 09, 12:27 AM EST
Multiple missile strikes reported across Ukraine

Multiple explosions have been reported in city centers all over the country, including Dnipro, Odesa, Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia, Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi and Kharkiv.

Residents in multiple areas are being asked to shelter in place, and communication and electricity has been impacted.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said multiple explosions were reported in the Holosiiv district.

The governor of Kharkiv, Oleh Syniehubov, said Russia struck the city at least 15 times overnight.

The head of the Odesa Regional Military Administration said there had been no casualties and that the power supply is being restricted.

Mar 08, 2:05 PM EST
Ukraine says it was not involved in Nord Stream Pipeline bombings

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov denied Ukraine was involved in the bombing of the Nord Stream pipeline, which carries natural gas from Russia to Germany. While the pipeline was not active at the time of the bombing last September, it was filled with fuel.

The denial comes after The New York Times reported that intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the Nord Stream bombings last year.

After the story broke, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned against “jumping to conclusions” about who carried out the explosion, suggesting it could have been a “false flag” operation to blame Ukraine.

German authorities were reportedly able to identify the boat used for the sabotage operation, saying a group of five men and one woman using forged passports rented a yacht from a Poland-based company owned by Ukrainian citizens. The nationalities of the perpetrators are unclear, according to a separate report by Germany’s ARD broadcaster and Zeit newspaper.

“We have to make a clear distinction whether it was a Ukrainian group, whether it may have happened at Ukrainian orders, or a pro-Ukrainian group [acting] without knowledge of the government. But I am warning against jumping to conclusions,” Pistorius said on the sidelines of a summit in Stockholm.

A Russian diplomat said Russia has no faith in the U.S.‘s “impartiality” in the conclusions made from intelligence.

-ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Japan's Prime Minister Kishida bound for Ukraine, Zelenskyy meeting


(TOKYO) -- Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is en-route to the Ukrainian capital for face-to-face talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Kishida, who just wrapped a two-day state visit to India's leader Narendra Modi, arrived by car at Poland's Przemysl station just after 1 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

Broadcaster NHK showed images of the leader exiting a black car then boarding a Ukraine-bound train which departed minutes later. The leader was accompanied by two other high-ranking government officials.

Japan's prime minister had been the only G7 leader who had not visited the war-torn country since the Russian invasion began. Zelenskyy extended an invitation to Kishida in January when the two leaders spoke by telephone.

Since World War II, no Japanese prime minister has visited a country or region with an active combat zone.

In Kyiv, Japan's leader is expected to convey support for the embattled nation.

"Prime Minister Kishida will resolutely reject Russia's aggression against Ukraine and unilateral changing of the status quo by force, and reconfirm his determination to uphold the international order based on the rule of law," said a statement issued by Japan's government soon after news of the trip broke.

The two leaders are expected to discuss humanitarian assistance and support for post-war reconstruction, including landmine removal. Japan has offered $1.5 billion to Ukraine and neighboring countries that have accepted evacuees displaced by the war.

Kishida recently warned that "Ukraine may be the East Asia of Tomorrow," as fears mount over China possibly forcibly reunifying with democratic Taiwan. The Japanese leader has urged like-minded countries which share the same values to unite in order to prevent the invasion of Ukraine from being repeated.

Despite the nation's pacificist past, Japanese officials have said they're seeking to grow their military spending, aiming for a defense budget equal to 2% of GDP by 2027, putting the nation on par with NATO's defense spending standard.

Following the face-to-face talk with Zelenskyy, Kishida will head to Poland for talks with President Andrej Duda.

"The leaders will confirm their commitment to strengthen the bilateral cooperation as well as that of the international fora, including response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine, based on the strategic partnership with Poland, which is the frontline of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine," said Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kishida is expected to arrive back in Japan's capital, Tokyo, on Thursday.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Notre Dame's iconic spire being rebuilt 'as it was' ahead of 2024 reopening

Institution to Rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris

(PARIS) -- A team in northeastern France is busy rebuilding Notre Dame's famous spire, with construction ramping up ahead of next year's reopening.

With the cathedral's grand reopening to the public set for Dec. 8, 2024 at 11:15​ a.m.​, the first step in the restoration of the cathedral's spire is underway in Briey, a city in northeastern France.

The collapse of this iconic part of the Paris landmark in a 2019 fire left an indelible mark on the minds of millions around the world.

The stakes are high as the reconstruction of the spire relies on the success of a very rare operation which has not been repeated since 1842.

The crux of this project is to build the stool, located on the lower bottom of the structure, on top of which the spire will stand at almost 100 meters high.

"This is a critical operation," General Georgelin said, telling ABC News the reconstruction team is "now on track to have the spire finished in December 2024."

Underway since last autumn, the rebuilding process has been years in the making, according to Rémi Fromont, chief architect of Historical Monuments, who coordinates the work and rescue of Notre Dame.

The first challenge was to understand how this technical achievement of its time was made possible in order "to rebuild as well as it was."

Since last autumn, a team of 40 carpenters has been at work selecting and shaping the blocks of oak that made the final 110 pieces composing the stool.

Carpenter Paul Poulet, 27, who started his career at age 15, is one of them.

"For me, working on this project is really interesting," he said, adding he is "really proud" to be part of the efforts to rebuild Notre Dame.

Finding the best oak and artisans with the know-how needed was another complex task.

"We are very lucky in France because we have excellent carpenters" who "are still able to work as the carpenters worked in the 19th century," Fromont told ABC News.

Now, these artisans have the tough mission to fine tune the last details of this operation by making sure all the wood pieces fit perfectly, and then disassembling them without damage.

In mid-April, the stool will travel to Paris, where it will be reassembled again, with the help of an additional 20 carpenters.

"All these operations are very, very delicate," and will take "more or less 3 or 4 weeks," the architect said.

The wood and the structure will be the most vulnerable so "we have to be just perfect," he said.

By the summer, onlookers will get a first glimpse of the scaffolding at the crossing of the cathedral's transept, which will progressively grow to reach a height of 100 meters, as the progress on the restoration of the spire moves forward.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Putin hosts China's president Xi in Moscow amid Ukraine war

Soltan Frédéric/Getty Images

(HONG KONG and LONDON) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has held the first day of talks with Vladimir Putin during a closely watched state visit to Moscow, with the two leaders presenting a united front against the West just days after the Russian president was issued" target="_blank">indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

Xi's three-day state visit is the strongest show of support from China to Russia since the latter's invasion of Ukraine, representing a significant boost for Putin, and comes as Xi has sought to frame Beijing as a possible peace-maker in the conflict, even as Western countries have warned he is considering providing weapons to Moscow.

Xi landed at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Monday afternoon, greeted by a Russian military band, telling camera crews on the tarmac that China and Russia were ready "to stand guard over the world order based on international law." A motorcade then whisked Xi to the Kremlin, where he was welcomed by Putin.

Speaking ahead of initial informal talks, both men described each other as "dear friends." Putin spoke admiringly of China's "colossal leap forward," adding: "All over the world, this is of genuine interest, and we even envy you a little."

Xi also praised Putin's leadership, noting he had chosen to make Russia his visit after being proclaimed president for an unprecedented third term.

Putin said the two would discuss a peace initiative that China put forward last month. Putin said he had "acquainted himself in detail" with the proposal, praising it for following the "principles of fairness." The two met for 4.5 hours afterward, sharing a dinner together, according to Putin's spokesman, ahead of formal talks on Tuesday.

China has sought to present itself as neutral, but in reality has provided Russia with an economic lifeline amid Western sanctions and helped it source sanctioned components, such as semiconductors, for its war machine. The 12-point peace proposal China published follows the Kremlin's narrative of the war and calls for an immediate cease-fire, without demanding Russia withdraw its troops.

The Biden administration on Monday said such a cease-fire would "would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest," by freezing the conflict and allowing the Kremlin to keep the territory it has seized from Ukraine, while giving Russia time to regroup for a fresh attack.

"It would recognize Russia's attempts to seize a sovereign neighbor's territory by force. A ceasefire now, without a durable solution, would allow President Putin to rest and refit his troops and then restart the war at a time more advantageous to Russia," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

Any plan that does not prioritize Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity "is a stalling tactic at best, or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome," Blinken said. "The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been careful not to criticize the Chinese proposal, but his senior advisers have repeatedly warned that they believe a cease-fire that doesn't call for Russia to withdraw its forces is a trap designed to favor the Kremlin. Xi is expected to have a call with Zelensky following his meeting with Putin, the first since the war started.

Xi did not mention Ukraine in his remarks with Putin Monday, but in an article published under his name in Russian state media, Xi touted the plan, claiming it reflected the consensus views of the international community.

China's peace proposal is a "fig leaf," Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, told ABC News. The plan is intended to give Xi diplomatic cover for his visit to Moscow, allowing him to present China as a responsible power to countries in the Global South and counter criticism that it's abetting Putin in the war, Gabuev said.

Xi's visit underscored how strongly China views Russia as a partner for its long-term goal of challenging the United States' dominance in the international order, a point driven home by Xi's warm words for Putin just days after the ICC war crimes indictment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday said ICC officials should "respect the jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by the head of state in accordance with international law," and that the court should attempt to avoid "politicization and double standards."

Xi is staying at the Soluxe Hotel in northern Moscow. Formal talks between the presidents' delegations are scheduled to be held Tuesday, as well as a state dinner, according to the Kremlin.

Western countries have warned that China may be considering supplying Russia with lethal aid, such as weapons and ammunition, going beyond the assistance it has already provided. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday said the U.S. did not believe China has decided yet to send weapons, saying U.S. officials had reiterated warnings to Chinese officials that it would "not be in their best interest" to do so.

China has denied it is planning to send weapons. Experts say that while aid such as artillery ammunition and attack drones would be highly valued by the Kremlin, the economic support and components already being supplied by China are significant in allowing Russia to continue its war.

ABC News' Joe Simonetti and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

American Jeffery Woodke, who was held hostage in Niger, has been released

FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- An American missionary who was kidnapped in Niger has been released, U.S. officials said Monday.

Jeffery Woodke, a Christian humanitarian aid worker, was released on Monday after more than six years in captivity, the White House said.

"I'm gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity," U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted. "The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him."

Woodke, who had been kidnapped in October 2016, was released outside of Niger, "in the Mali-Burkina" Faso area, according to a senior Biden administration official.

He had been captured by a hostage-taking network after working for years in the region, according to the official, who declined to say which specific terrorist organization had been holding the American.

"There are a number of kind of intersecting, overlapping terrorist networks in that part of West Africa that, unfortunately, see kidnapping and hostage-taking as part of their business model, frankly, and as a source of revenue and support for them," the official said. "And unfortunately, he has spent six-and-a-half years enduring that."

Woodke's wife, Els, told ABC News in 2021 that her family had come to believe that her husband had been held by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS) to an al-Qaida affiliate in northwest Africa known as JNIM.

In a call with reporters, the official didn't say where Woodke was now, although a White House official said Woodke had been transferred to U.S. government custody.

The senior official said the U.S. didn't know where Woodke had actually been held over the years, and that officials hoped to learn more from Woodke himself.

The official declined to provide details of how Woodke was freed, deferring to Niger's government to provide more information. He noted Woodke would be offered an array of medical services, including psychiatric support.

While the official declined to provide details about how Woodke was released, he emphasized "there was no quid pro quo" with Woodke's captors.

"There was no direct negotiation here between the U.S. government and a terrorist organization," the official said. "It's worth making that clear. Certainly, we did not pay a ransom or make a concession to a terrorist organization here."

He credited Niger's government and said that the U.S. worked through Niger, which he said had "their own engagements."

Woodke's wife appeared in the 2021 ABC News documentary 3212 UN-REDACTED, which focused on an ill-fated U.S. Special Forces mission in 2017 that left four Green Beret soldiers dead.

A former commanding general of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) had claimed publicly that the mission had been tied to finding Woodke.

On Monday, the Biden administration official said the U.S. had invested intelligence and military resources over the years to find Woodke, who had worked for years helping nomadic people in the Sahel region.

"We owe a great deal of thanks to the government of Niger for its critical role in securing Jeff's release," the senior administration official said.

The official said the Woodke family had been notified first, the administration had also notified members of Congress, and the U.S. was notifying "foreign partners," as well.

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Greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to increase, making climate mitigation more challenging: UN report

Alexandros Maragos/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to increase, exacerbating the challenge world leaders face in preventing the impacts of climate change from worsening, the United Nations warns in its latest climate report.

Emissions in 2019 were about 12% higher than they were in 2010 and 54% higher than they were in 1990, largely due to increases in fossil fuel production, industrial activities and methane emissions, the report, released Monday by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, states.

As a result, human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, leading to widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, according to the report.

The window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future is "rapidly" closing, the report states. It will take a "quantum leap in climate action" to mitigate global warming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.

"Humanity is on thin ice -- and that ice is melting fast," Guterres said.

Continued greenhouse gas emissions will lead to increased warming, and every increment of increased warming will intensify hazards, but deep and rapid reductions in emissions would slow warming down within about two decades, the report states. However, some future changes, like sea level rise, are unavoidable or irreversible but can be limited with deep, rapid and sustained cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report.

The authors emphasized, again, that the world must reach net zero by the early 2050s to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which means any manmade carbon or greenhouse gas emissions would be eliminated or removed.

The report also lays out why that goal is so important, saying that any incremental warming beyond that amount will worsen hazards such as extreme heat and severe precipitation and increase the risks of species loss, more extreme heat days that could be dangerous to human health, and decreased yields from crops or fisheries.

"The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years," the U.N. advised in the report.

The report synthesizes nearly a decade of work from the IPCC, which brings together the best climate scientists around the world to create definitive reports to guide international and domestic climate policies and goals. The language has been accepted by every country that participates in the Paris Agreement and will be used as the backdrop for climate negotiations for the rest of the year when countries are expected to submit critical updates in their plans to reduce emissions.

The literature is being framed by civil society groups as the last U.N. climate report before the world starts to run up against these critical deadlines to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit -- cutting global emissions nearly in half by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

The report, which encompasses about 200 years of warming, is extremely important because it "represents the most comprehensive collection of the knowledge on climate change," Stephanie Roe, global climate and energy lead scientist for the World Wildlife Foundation, told ABC News.

"It clearly lays out, essentially, the main causes and drivers of climate change, impacts from climate change and also the solutions to climate change in a way that is much more accessible and clear and succinct for policymakers, decision-makers and the general public," Roe said.

Many groups see the report as yet another call to action rather than a reason to despair.

"This IPCC report is both a blistering condemnation of major emitters' inaction and a sound blueprint for a much safer and more equitable world," Ani Dasgupta, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement.

The IPCC remains "hopeful" despite the dire warnings of the report, which offers a "narrow" path to secure a livable future if the world corrects course in a rapid manner, Dasgupta added.

"This involves deep emission reductions from every sector of the economy, as well as much greater investments to build resilience to climate impacts and support for people facing unavoidable climate losses and damage," Dasgupta said.

The report was approved by all 195 countries that participate in the Paris Agreement, making it the definitive summary of climate science and solutions going into the next few years of global climate talks.

Guterres has proposed a "Climate Solidarity Pact" to G-20 countries, which would require all big emitters to make extra efforts to cut emissions, and wealthier countries mobilize financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in a common effort to keep the goal of staying below 1.5 degrees of warming "alive."

"Every country must be part of the solution," Guterres said. "Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last."

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Palace celebrates Mother's Day with new photos of Princess Kate, royal kids

Stephen Pond/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The Prince and Princess of Wales celebrated Mother's Day on Sunday by sharing new photos of Princess Catherine alongside Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

Kensington Palace shared the photos in honor of Mother's Day in the U.K., celebrated on March 19.

The photos, snapped by royal family photographer Matt Porteous, showed the princess relaxed in a tree with her three children: Prince George, 9; Princess Charlotte, 7; and Prince Louis, 4.

Another photo of Kate swinging around her youngest child, Prince Louis, dressed casually in an eyelet white top and blue jeans.

China's Xi to meet with Putin in Moscow Monday in show of support

Ju Peng/Xinhua via Getty Images

(MOSCOW) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow on Monday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin will be a significant moment, punching a hole in the international isolation that's surrounded Putin since the start of his invasion of Ukraine and signaling China now sees far less need to publicly distance itself from Putin amid the war.

The two-day state visit will be Xi's first trip to Russia since the war began and comes as Western countries are increasingly concerned China is moving to more actively support Moscow and play a more assertive role in shaping the conflict, at a moment when Ukraine is readying for a much-anticipated spring counteroffensive.

"This state visit in the middle of the war shows that Xi Jinping sees the relationship with Russia as absolutely quintessential, he will not be deterred or embarrassed by the fact that Russia conducts a genocidal war against Ukraine," Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told ABC News. "It's a significant visit."

Three weeks before the invasion Putin travelled to Beijing where he and Xi declared a "partnership with no limits." But during the war, China in practice has observed substantial limits on the level of its support for Russia. It has pursued a difficult line: trying to present itself as neutral, while largely backing Putin's narrative of the war, and quietly helping Russia weather sanctions and prop up its military with technology and parts.

But China has never abandoned its partnership with Russia, Gabuev said, and the visit in "a way is a step up" in its support.

"Throughout last year China has demonstrated that ties with Russia are absolutely normal and unabated despite Russia's aggression against Ukraine," said Gabuev. He noted joint military exercises, as well as visits by senior Chinese and Russian officials, had taken place as scheduled.

A senior Kremlin aide on Friday said Xi and Putin would sign two joint declarations announcing "the deepening of relations of an all-round partnership and strategic cooperation, entering into a new era."

China's commitment to Russia will face fresh pressure following the International Criminal Court's announcement Friday of an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges. The announcement casts an uncomfortable shadow over Xi's trip: China is not party to the ICC and does not recognize the warrant, but an enthusiastic public embrace of Putin will again undermine Beijing's efforts to present itself as neutral, just as it is pushing to be seen as a potential peacemaker.

The United States last month began warning it believes China is considering providing Russia with lethal aid for the war for the first time. The U.S. and its allies have already accused China of helping Russia source components under Western sanctions, such as computer chips, needed to keep its war machine going. China has denied it is considering sending lethal aid.

China in recent weeks has mounted a diplomatic offensive seeking to present itself as a potential peacemaker. Last month, China published a so-called "peace proposal" and after meeting Putin, Xi is reportedly expected to speak with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time by video call.

But the Chinese proposal in reality was not a plan but largely a vague restatement of principles that support Moscow's framing of the conflict, experts said. Its key point was an immediate ceasefire that experts say would currently favor the Kremlin by locking in its territorial gains seized from Ukraine.

"China's vague plan is aimed not at actually ending the war, but at impressing the developing world and rebutting accusations that Beijing has become a silent accomplice to Moscow," Gabuev wrote in an article for Carnegie.

Gabuev said the peace proposal in reality was meant to provide "diplomatic cover" for Xi's Moscow trip and support for Russia. The proposal, he said, also was intended to allow China to present itself to countries in the Global South as seeking peace, while in fact continuing to back Putin.

It's "really just a fig leaf," he said.

Ukrainian officials have said they believe the Chinese proposal follows Kremlin efforts to freeze the conflict as it stands that would leave it control of occupied areas without making concessions.

"I believe that all peace plans that provide for an immediate ceasefire and preservation of the current territorial status quo are exclusively a game in favor of the Russian Federation," Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Zelenskyy told a Ukrainian media outlet in February.

"The 12-point 'plan' does not present any actual solutions. In fact, it merely reiterates Beijing's standard talking points on the war in Ukraine – which are closely linked to its Russia-friendly perspective and its own strategic interests," Alicja Bachulsk, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote last month.

"Beijing is not a neutral actor," she wrote. Western countries have warned China it will face heavy sanctions if it moves to providing Russia with lethal aid. But experts said the economic support China is already providing is important in allowing the Kremlin to continue the war.

"For Beijing, the worst-case scenario for the end of the war in Ukraine is Russia's complete failure and subsequent regime change. The Chinese leadership will go to great lengths to prevent this from happening."

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He was freed from a Nicaraguan prison and now urges Biden admin to protect migrants like him

Str/picture alliance via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Last month, the door to Yubrank Suazo's cell in a Nicaraguan prison flung open in the middle of the night as officers told him to put on his clothes and gather his personal items. Recalling that moment in a recent interview, Suazo said the officers did not tell him or the other 221 prisoners they gathered in similar fashion where they were going, even as they put them on busses with covered windows.

"I thought I was going to be transferred to another cell or another prison," Suazo told ABC News this week. "I never imagined I was going to be liberated."

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government released those 222 people and sent them to the U.S. on Feb. 9.

The group included political prisoners like Suazo, an opposition leader who was detained after organizing protests. A senior Biden administration official said at the time that the Nicaraguan government had "decided unilaterally" to end their detention and the U.S. "facilitated transportation of those individuals once released."

The release of the prisoners has reignited calls from advocates for President Joe Biden's administration to redesignate and extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for thousands of Nicaraguans who may be at risk of being deported back to their country at a time of political turbulence there.

Suazo was jailed in Nicaragua in 2018 after participating in and organizing anti-government protests. He was released nine months later but was arrested again in 2022 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for undermining national integrity and spreading misinformation.

He told ABC News he was subjected to physical and psychological torture in detention.

In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, at least 272 organizations and Suazo have urged the administration to protect Nicaraguans through TPS.

"I'm going to continue to raise my voice for the Nicaraguan community that has had to leave home because of oppression and persecution," Suazo said. "I've lived through that pain, and that's why I'm calling on the Biden administration to approve TPS for Nicaraguans who have no guarantee of returning to our county safely."

TPS is issued by the secretary of Homeland Security when countries are deemed too unsafe for their citizens to return -- like in Afghanistan, after the Taliban took control of the national government there in 2021.

The protections, which prevent deportation but don't lead to citizenship, were first granted to Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998. In 2017, the Trump administration moved to end TPS for Nicaragua and several other countries, saying it wasn't necessary any longer because those countries were recovering.

That prompted a series of legal challenges on behalf of current TPS holders and the designation for Nicaragua, Sudan, Haiti, and El Salvador has been extended while a preliminary injunction in the case remains in place pending further judicial review.

Only those Nicaraguan immigrants who physically resided in the U.S. before Jan. 5, 1999, are shielded under the program from the threat of deportation. There were 4,250 Nicaraguan TPS beneficiaries in the U.S. as of 2021, according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services congressional report.

Suazo and others who support extending the protections are calling on the Biden administration to redesignate the program with a later eligibility cutoff date, which they say would extend it to thousands of more Nicaraguans.

In a February letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 16 Republican and Democratic lawmakers from multiple states noted that more than 500 Nicaraguans have been killed in Nicaragua since 2018 and tens of thousands have fled the country, which the lawmakers linked to the opposition to Ortega and resulting crackdown.

The lawmakers warned that failure to protect Nicaraguans through TPS would mean some would have to leave the U.S. for life under "President Ortega's authoritarian regime," which they called an "unconscionable reality."

Both the White House and Department of Homeland Security declined to comment when asked if they're considering redesignating TPS for Nicaragua.

Biden's immigration policies have been a point of contention, among Republicans and some advocates, as the administration has sought to mitigate a record number of migrants arriving in the country at the southern border.

While the White House says it wants to roll back the hardline stances of predecessor Donald Trump, conservatives have assailed some of its policies as "reckless" and immigration supporters have criticized other decisions, such as restrictions to asylum claims.

In fiscal year 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered migrants over 2.7 million times. At the southern border, CBP had 163,876 encounters with Nicaraguan migrants, more than triple the year before.

The Biden administration recently announced a new parole program to accept up to 30,000 total asylum-seekers each month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. However, the program was coupled with an agreement from Mexico to accept migrants who are expelled by the U.S. when they fail to meet the strict parole requirements, such as having a sponsor in the U.S. who can be financially responsible for them.

Some Republican-led states are challenging the parole program, saying it incentivizes more migrants to come to the U.S.

Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney representing TPS holders under the preliminary injunction, said that if the Biden administration thinks immigrants fleeing a specific country warrant parole, they should also warrant protection through TPS.

"The administration obviously recognizes that Nicaragua is not safe for, at least, many people," Arulanantham said.

Advocates argue that with ex-President Trump running for reelection, Biden is running out of time to act on an issue that has for decades stymied Congress.

"In the absence of congressional action, this is one of the most valuable tools that they can use at this moment to offer protections to people who really call America their home at this point and can't return to some to these countries which are in deteriorating conditions," said Beatriz Lopez, chief political and communications officer at Immigration Hub.

Now in the U.S., Suazo has humanitarian parole for about two years but may be at risk of removal if the administration does not redesignate TPS for Nicaragua.

The fear of not being able to safely return to his homeland to see his elderly parents is what worries him the most, he said.

"I pray each day that I'll return one day and find them alive waiting to give me a hug," he said. "All of us who have left our country due to a cowardly dictatorship share that feeling."

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US military releases video from Russian fighter jet crash with drone

U.S. European Command

(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. European Command has released dramatic declassified video taken by the MQ-9 Reaper drone that shows the moment that a Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with it after attempting to spray the drone with jet fuel.

The video was taken from a camera on the drone’s underside and shows two different passes taken by the jets to spray the drone, the second one being the collision with the propeller at the rear of the drone, which is visible in the footage.

Communications were lost with the drone as the image can be seen pixelating into color bars.

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Defense Secretary Austin speaks to Russian counterpart about US drone incident

Alex Wong/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that he spoke with Russia's defense minister about what he called "risky" behavior by Russian fighter jet pilots who the U.S. says caused an American drone to crash into the Black Sea near Ukraine.

"This hazardous episode is a part is part of a pattern of aggressive, risky, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace," Austin said at a news conference with Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.

"I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, Minister Shoigu. As I've said repeatedly, it's important that great powers be models of transparency and communication. And the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate as military aircraft in a safe and professional manner," he said.

Austin would not get into the content of his call with Sergei Shoigu, but emphasized the importance of keeping lines of communication open.

"I think it's really key that that we're able to pick up the phone and engage each other," he said.

Asked if the incident -- during which the U.S. says one Russian jet collided with the MQ-9 Reaper drone's propeller -- constitutes an act of war, Milley said he would not go that far, saying the U.S. does not know if the collision itself was deliberate.

"We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional. We also know it was very unprofessional and very unsafe," Milley said. "The actual contact of the fixed-wing Russian fighter with our UAV, the physical contact of those two, not sure yet, that remains to be seen."

Russia has denied any collision.

"As far as an act of war goes, I'm not gonna go there. Incidents happen. And, and clearly, we do not seek armed conflict with with Russia. And, and I believe that at this point, we should investigate this incident and move on from there, but we will continue to exercise our rights in international airspace," he continued.

The drone is about 4,000-5,000 feet under the Black Sea, and recovery will be "very difficult," according to Milley. He said that while the U.S. doesn't have any ships in the region, "we do have a lot of allies and friends in the area. And we'll work through recovery operations."

Austin said the Pentagon is still working to declassify images of the interception, but would not say when that might happen.

"We are still going through videos and photographs to ascertain what we can release, what we can provide. But in terms of what the video shows, we remain confident in the facts that we have conveyed thus far," Austin said.

Earlier, in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the incident between a Russian jet and a U.S. drone over the Black Sea "at the very least looks like this was just reckless behavior by a Russian pilot."

Asked by co-anchor George Stephanopoulos if this was just a "dumb" move as one U.S. Air Force official stated, Kirby said, "that's what it looks like right now."

He said the message from the U.S. to the Russian ambassador called into the State Department Tuesday was, "don't do this again."

"We're not minimizing this. I mean, you don't bring in the Russian ambassador because you're failing to take something seriously, we are taking it seriously and the message was don't do this again. We're going to continue to fly in international airspace over international waters. Where this drone was, that's going to continue and we expect the Russians to observe international law and to not interfere with our legal operations," Kirby said.

Kirby wouldn't go into details when asked if he's concerned if the drone technology could fall into Russian hands, but that the U.S. is working to recover the drone from the Black Sea, admitting that will be a challenging task.

"I can tell you we're comfortable that should anything be taken by the Russians, their ability to exploit useful intelligence will be highly minimized. That said it's our property and obviously we're looking – we're looking to see what we can do to maybe recover -- that will be challenging in the Black Sea, it's very, very deep water, but it's our property," he said.

Asked how the U.S. can prevent this kind of incident from happening again, Kirby said it comes down to "lines of communication staying open."

"We have ways of communication with the Russians directly, and that's a good thing. That's one way to try and minimize the risk of miscalculation," he said.

Kirby said the White House is "absolutely" concerned about the Russians escalating in other ways while its forces are stalled in Ukraine.

"Escalation concerns have been with us since the beginning of this war, George. And you don't know exactly what Mr. Putin will do on any given day or how he will react to any outcomes on the battlefield," Kirby said.

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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War reporter who nearly died in Ukraine writes memoir to heal

Will Bremridge

(NEW YORK) -- Moments after a bomb explosion by a Russian drone in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, Benjamin Hall found himself on the ground covered in his own blood, his right leg barely hanging from his body. His colleagues were similarly injured, lying nearby and close to death.

Despite the chaos, instinct kicked in and Hall, a war correspondent for Fox News, fumbled to find his phone to film a video.

"In one sense, it’s inherent" in all journalists to report the news, he told ABC News.

"SAVED: A War Reporter’s Mission to Make it Home," a book Hall later wrote to document his experience, is a continuation of that instinct. It's been 12 months since the explosion that claimed the lives of his colleagues and left 17% of his body burned. The book, he said, became part of his personal catharsis to confront what had happened to him.

"I knew I had to face it," he said. "Writing the book was part of the recovery."

The book began in the form of voice notes he made on his phone while hospitalized and undergoing major surgery. Ten percent of his burns are third degree and his right leg required amputation. He lost his left foot and sight in one eye. Eventually, Hill required prosthetics for both legs and would need to learn to walk again.

Up to that point, being close enough to danger to report on it with accuracy had become a way of life. He covered conflicts all over the world between 2007 and 2015 when he joined Fox News as a correspondent out of the network’s London bureau. He began to feel less comfortable at home than being in the field.

"No other work really felt satisfying or really important," he said.

It wasn’t until marriage and children forced him to balance the two worlds. "The work of covering wars is very important. I do understand the need to keep doing it and I also understand the need to stay home and be safe," he said.

Fox offered him a respite from the battlefield in 2021 when he became the channel’s U.S. State Department correspondent and moved to Washington. In February 2022, at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said he felt called to report from the field.

"It was a decision I made quickly," he said. "I never had a moment of regret making that decision to go."

Journalists becoming targets

The war in Ukraine has proven deadly for journalists. According to a 2022 report by Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit, about 1,700 journalists have been killed globally over the last 20 years, an average of more than 80 a year. Eight journalists were killed last year alone in Ukraine, compared with 12 deaths in that country over the last two decades. After Russia, the organization ranks Ukraine as the most dangerous country in Europe for journalists, followed by Turkey.

According to international law, the intentional killing of civilians, which includes journalists, is considered a war crime. Hall, however, said the "press is targeted more than the way it used to be."

He also said the number of journalists covering conflicts has increased, raising the likelihood of danger. Over his career, at least six of his colleagues have died in their work, which includes Fox cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and producer Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova who were with him on the day of the attack. Zakrzewski was a kind of mentor, he said.

"You can only work in those parts of the world if you totally, 100% trust each other and we developed a relationship that was incredibly deep. You have conversations you might not have with anyone else," he said. "[Pierre] was someone who wanted to explore as many cultures and societies as much as he could. I learned that from him."

This week Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch announced a $1 million donation to the American Red Cross to support ongoing global Ukrainian relief efforts.

Finding optimism

Today, while based in London, Hall is dealing with daily medical care, upcoming operations and learning "to live with a bit of pain." It remains a struggle to walk and serious burns cover the bottom half of his body. Despite those challenges, he said he is driven to "find my own optimism" and to "pass it on to those who don’t have it."

"I try to enjoy the small things in life: sunlight, a beautiful walk, great music. Maybe the attack made me realize the many things I once thought were problems don’t feel like problems anymore," he said. "Nothing else matters. That’s what I want every day."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Only 13 countries and regions achieved normal air quality standards last year: Report

Pongmanat Tasiri/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- In 2022, only 13 countries, territories and regions globally have met the World Health Organization's guidelines for healthy air quality, according to a report from Swiss technology company IQAir.

The company, which has worked with the United Nations Environmental Program, UN-Habitat and Greenpeace to combat air pollution, examined air data from more than 30,000 stations and sensors that monitor air quality from 7,323 cities across 131 countries, regions, and territories.

According to the report, Australia, Bermuda, Bonaire, Estonia, Finland, French Polynesia, Grenada, Guam, Iceland, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Sint Eustatius and Saba, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have all achieved the target air quality guidelines of PM2.5, or five micrograms per cubic meter or less.

PM2.5 is a fine particulate matter that is an air pollutant that can harm people's health when the levels are high, according to the New York State Department of Health.

When high, those particles can decrease visibility and make the air seem hazy, according to the NYS Department of Health.

"The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems," the Environmental Protection Agency said. "Small particles less than ten micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream."

Last year, countries and territories in Africa and Central and South Asia had the highest yearly average of PM2.5 concentrations by population, according to IQAir.

Chad has the highest concentration of PM2.5, with 89.7 micrograms per cubic meter; followed by Iraq with 80.1; and Pakistan with 70.9, according to the report.

Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Kuwait, India, Egypt and Tajikistan comprise the rest of the report's top 10 most polluted countries.

Despite growth in recent years, procuring air quality data in Africa continued to be an issue. Only 19 out of the continent's 54 countries had necessary data available, according to the report.

According to the report, 118 countries, or about 90%, exceed the World Health Organization's guidelines on good air quality.

The WHO's air quality guidelines, implemented in 2021, were created for governments around the world to use as targets to reduce air pollution and ultimately improve people's health, the organization said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russian fighters collide with US drone, force it down close to Ukraine

U.S. Air Force, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- A Russian fighter jet collided with the rear propeller of an unmanned U.S. military drone over the international waters of the Black Sea on Tuesday morning, forcing the U.S. to bring the drone down off the coast of Ukraine, U.S. officials said.

The incident, which involved two Russian jets, was denounced as "unsafe and unprofessional" by the U.S. State Department. A spokesman called it a "brazen violation of international law" that led to the summoning of Russia's ambassador for a diplomatic meeting in Washington.

Afterward, the ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, insisted that the Russian jets had not hit or fired on the drone.

The Russians claimed Tuesday that the drone was acting as an "intruder" and flying toward Russia's borders.

U.S. European Command, or EUCOM, labeled the incident as "dangerous" and said in a statement that it could "lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation."

A U.S. official was equally blunt -- telling ABC News that the Russian pilot who hit the drone, seemingly unintentionally, was acting "reckless and juvenile."

"At approximately 7:03 AM [local time], one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters," EUCOM said in its statement.

EUCOM said the incident "demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional."

"Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner," EUCOM added.

The incident is apparently the latest in what EUCOM described as "a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace, including over the Black Sea."

"Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9," U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, said in a statement. "In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash."

"U.S. and Allied aircraft will continue to operate in international airspace and we call on the Russians to conduct themselves professionally and safely," Hecker added.

The unarmed MQ-9 drone had taken off from Romania and was flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet in international airspace southwest of Crimea with its transponder on when it was intercepted by the two Russian fighter jets, which were Su-27s, a U.S. Air Force official told ABC News.

Over a span of at least 30 minutes, the two jets executed 19 close passes by the drone, spraying some of their jet fuel on the craft during the last three or four of those passes, the official said.

The collision occurred on the last pass as one of the Su-27s approached the drone at a high rate of speed from behind, according to the official: As the jet pulled up, it collided with the MQ-9's rear propeller.

One of the MQ-9's propeller blades was bent in the collision and though there was a momentary loss of contact, controllers were able to glide the drone into the Black Sea "a fair distance" from where the collision had occurred.

"There's no concern for sensitive information being obtained from the drone but the U.S. is looking at all options at this time as it considers next steps," said another U.S. official.

The first official described the collision as resulting from "the pure incompetence" of the Russian pilot whose actions were "flat-out dumb."

The official said that Russian fighters had sprayed their jet fuel at manned aircraft during previous encounters, but Tuesday's incident was the first time that an attempt had been made to spray an unmanned U.S. military drone.

Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder separately said Tuesday that the Russian aircraft were able to land after the collision though he did not provide details. He said that Russia had not recovered the drone.

White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that "it is not uncommon" for Russian aircraft to intercept U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea but this is "the first time" such a run-in "resulted in the splashing of one of our drones."

President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident by his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, Kirby said.

The U.S. regularly flies manned and unmanned surveillance flights in international airspace close to Ukraine without entering its 12-mile territorial limit.

The flights are part of the overall U.S. intelligence effort to obtain information about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has dragged on for 13 months.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a Tuesday afternoon briefing that the U.S. was "engaging directly with the Russians" to communicate objections to what he called the country's "unsafe, unprofessional intercept."

"We are summoning the Russian ambassador to the department where we will convey this message," he said, adding, "In Moscow, meanwhile, Ambassador [Lynne] Tracy has conveyed a strong message to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

Sources subsequently told ABC News that Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., came to the State Department on Tuesday afternoon and met with Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried "to discuss Russia's unsafe and unprofessional operations over the Black Sea, which resulted in the downing today of an unmanned U.S. aircraft."

Their meeting lasted the better part of an hour.

Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the American drone was flying "in the direction of the state border of the Russian Federation" and that fighter jets were sent to intercept it.

"As a result of sharp maneuvering, the U.S. drone went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface," according to the Russian statement.

At his briefing, Price countered the Russian version of events. "We are not in a position to speak to what the Russians intended to do. We are not in a position to speak to what their motivations might have been. We are in a position to speak to what happened," he said.

Speaking outside the State Department after his meeting, Antonov maintained to reporters that Russia had operated carefully while responding to what it suspected could have been a threat.

"What will be the reaction of the United States if you see such Russian drone very close, for example, to San Francisco or New York?" Antonov asked rhetorically, later saying he mentioned the same analogy to Assistant Secretary Donfried.

Of his meeting with Donfried, Antonov said, "We have exchanged our remarks on this issue, because we have some differences what has happened today, but it seems to me it was a constructive conversation."

"I hope she has understood what I have mentioned," Antonov said.

ABC News' Shannon Crawford and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Two dead, several injured after driver hits pedestrians in Quebec, Canada

Sheila Paras/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Two people are dead and several others are injured after a driver hit pedestrians in Amqui, a town in the Québec region of Canada, authorities confirmed to ABC News.

The driver turned himself in to police, Amqui police said.

Police are investigating whether the act was deliberate, they told ABC News.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his "heart is with the people of Amqui, Quebec," in a tweet after the incident.

"As we learn more about the tragic events that have taken place, I'm keeping everyone affected in my thoughts. And to my first responders: Thank you for acting quickly, courageously and professionally," Trudeau said in the tweet.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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