Vitaliy Kim, head of the regional administration in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, says there is a standoff between Ukrainian and Russian troops around the city.
“We don’t shoot anymore. They do not shoot,” he said on his Telegram account.
Kim said the Russians had left the military airfield but were still “right near the city.”
“In general, not a fun situation — they seem to be here, but it seems like they are not in the city, sometimes they shoot, protect themselves,” he said.
“I can’t call it a victory, because the enemy was not knocked out, not burned, they retreated,” he continued.
Earlier on Friday: Kim said Russian forces had been driven out of the city.
“We kicked them out a bit, but the fighting goes on,” he said, “But they are on the outskirts now. We kicked them out of the city.”
The White House is assessing the impact of cutting off imports of Russian oil, Council of Economic Advisors Chair Cecilia Rouse told reporters at a Friday news briefing.
“We are looking at options that we can take right now, if we were to cut the U.S. consumption of Russian energy – but what’s really most important is that we maintain a steady supply of global energy,” she said.
While Rouse said the US doesn’t import a lot of Russian oil, she added that “energy is the global market and we do not want to disrupt that market.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back against calls to sanction Russian energy directly, arguing it wasn’t in the “strategic interest” of the West because it would raise gas prices domestically as well as increase Russian profits through rising energy prices.
Recently, there have been bipartisan calls on Capitol Hill for US President Joe Biden to sanction Russian gas and ban importing Russian energy to the US.
While Blinken said nothing is “off the table,” he argued that the sanctions the US and Europe have put into place intend to have the maximum impact on Russia and President Vladimir Putin while minimizing harm to the US and its allies. The goal, Blinken said at a news conference following meetings in Brussels Friday, was to degrade Russia’s status as a global energy supplier over time.
“There’s no strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy. The immediate effect would be to raise prices at the pump for Americans and also to pad Russian profits with rising prices,” Blinken said. “So we’ve been carving out payments for energy, trade, and transport from the sanctions that we’ve been implementing.”
The top US diplomat pointed to sanctions that were already implemented, including shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany and denying technologies to Russia for energy exploration through export controls.
As war rages, Blinken was asked how long the sanctions would take to change Russia’s behavior. The secretary of state declined to put a timeframe on it.
“What’s happened in record time, as we’ve seen, are sanctions and other measures that a few weeks ago, people would have said we’re never going to happen,” Blinken said, adding that when the US began raising the prospect of devastating sanctions in November, “I know some people thought that that was more rhetoric than reality.”
“I think we’ve demonstrated already how strong that reality is,” he said. “We’re looking every day at measures to increase the extraordinary pressure we’re already exerting.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the establishment of a no-fly zone in Ukraine by the United States and its NATO allies could lead to a “full-fledged war in Europe.” He said Washington would continue to work with its allies to provide Ukrainians with the means to defend themselves from Russian aggression.
“The only way to actually implement something like a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes into Ukrainian airspace and to shoot down Russian planes, and that could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe. President Biden has been clear that we are not going to get into a war with Russia,” Blinken said during a news conference Friday in Brussels, where he is meeting with European allies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“But we are going to tremendous lengths with allies and partners to provide Ukrainians with the means to, to effectively defend themselves, and of course, we’re seeing every single day their extraordinary heroism, as well as very, very real results in what they’re doing to achieve that,” he said.
“We are looking every day at what technologies, what capacities we can effectively deliver to, to Ukraine to defend itself, and that’s an ongoing conversation, literally happening on a daily basis both with Ukraine and government officials, as well as among allies and partners. And so, the main focus is on making sure that anything we provide can be used, used effectively and in a timely way,” Blinken said.
More background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been calling for NATO and Western allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing invasion and aerial bombardment of its cities.
European Council President Charles Michel said on Thursday that enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine is a NATO decision, but that it would be “one step too far” with a “real risk of escalation and a real risk of a possible third international war.”
NATO’s chief said Friday that a no-fly zone over Ukraine is not an option being considered by the alliance.
“We’ve agreed that we should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels.
There has been “no leakage of radioactive material” from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that was attacked by Russian forces, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Friday.
The Pentagon cannot speak to “what operational status” the power plant is in now or if Russians have control of the plant, Kirby said.
The Department of Defense is helping the Department of Energy in the US response to the incident, Kirby said.
“Because we have experience running nuclear power plants in the Department of Defense, we’re a part of that effort providing some advice and counsel to the Department of Energy,” Kirby said.
Kirby called the attack “exceedingly dangerous.”
“Attacking a nuclear power plant is exceedingly dangerous and could have visited a lot more damage and destruction to the people of Ukraine and perhaps even to neighboring countries had this gone a different way,” he said.
Actions by Ukrainians have “stalled” the large Russian military convoy headed in the direction of Kyiv, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Friday.
“We do have reports that a bridge was blown up that we believe was in the path there. We also have indications that the Ukrainians have struck the convoy elsewhere and on vehicles,” Kirby said.
“We do believe that the actions of the Ukrainians have stalled that convoy, certainly slowed it down, stopped it in some places,” he added.
The US also believes Russian forces’ own challenges with sustainment, logistics and fuel have slowed the movement of the convey, Kirby said.
The deconfliction line established this week between the US and Russia is a bilateral “US to Russia deconfliction level,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Friday.
The line is being managed by US European Command under Gen. Tod Wolters, the Commander of US European Command,
“It’s being administered as a bilateral US to Russia deconfliction level, that’s why it’s being handled out of US European Command headquarters and not Gen. Wolters under his NATO hat,” Kirby said.
Kirby said the deconfliction line is valuable “to reduce the risks of miscalculation and to be able to communicate in real-time, if need be, particularly now the airspace over Ukraine is contested by both Russian and Ukraine aircraft.”
The phone line is “at a lower operational level,” Kirby said.
“It’s basically staffed by staff-level officers there at European Command headquarters,” he continued.
More background: The deconfliction phone line that was set up this week between the US and Russia did work in its initial setup, a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday.
The phone line worked in the initial test call the US made to Russia, the official said.
“It is in place, the Russians have acknowledged it, in our initial test of it, they answered the phone, so we know that they know who’s calling and that they will at least, in terms of the initial initiation of it, the setting up of it, it worked, and they did answer the line,” the official said.
The establishment of the agreement was particularly noteworthy because until now Pentagon officials have said they have not had any direct communications with Russian counterparts since the invasion.
There had been an effort to establish the communications line since late last month. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Feb. 18. The two also spoke one week earlier. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley last spoke to the Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov on Feb. 11th.
The US has specifically rejected any no-fly zone over Ukraine saying it would put US pilots into a combat scenario in order to enforce such a plan. But the door is not shut on a potential future air humanitarian corridor to guarantee safe flight of relief supplies hostilities cease, officials say.
A deconfliction protocol has existed for several years between US and Russian forces in Syria. For the most part it has worked, although US officials have complained on several occasions the Russians have not given enough advance warning of their operations. The US does not give Russia detailed information but did notify them recently when US aircraft would be operating in a broad area northeast Syria.
Russia announced Friday it is blocking Facebook in the country, according to its communications regulator.
“In March 2022, a decision was made to block access to the Facebook network (owned by Meta Platforms, Inc.) in the Russian Federation,” the statement said.
Meta president Nick Clegg responded to the ban, saying the company was doing “everything we can to restore our services” but that soon Russian users would be cut off from reliable information.
The White House also responded to the move, saying it was “deeply concerned.”
“This is a pattern,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday, referring to Russia’s effort to restrict information about the war in Ukraine by independent journalists, state-backed media, and now social media platforms.
“This is not necessarily a new approach that they have taken, but to crack down on information in their country to reach the people. So, certainly, we are deeply concerned about this and concerned about the threat to freedom of speech in the country,” Psaki said.
During a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on Ukraine, the Ukrainian ambassador called for an urgent discussion on banning flights through air space in Ukraine and said there was damage to the nuclear plant attacked by Russian forces.
Sergiy Kyslytsya said Russia “committed an act of nuclear terrorism while shelling and seizing” the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
He also said his Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia, had lied in his remarks. Nebenzia told the council that the nuclear plant is fully operational and there is no threat of a release of radioactive material.
Several employees responsible for maintaining nuclear security at the site have reportedly been killed by Russian soldiers, Kyslytsya said, and there has been no rotation of personnel since yesterday morning.
CNN cannot independently confirmed any number of deaths.
“The building of unit 1, main building, is damaged. The overpass of the special building is damaged; the telephone line is disrupted and not available at the moment,” Kyslytsya said.
He said state nuclear safety inspectors are not allowed access to the site, and changes in the radiation situation have not been registered. Data from the automated radiation monitoring system of the power plant “does not work.”
In a statement Friday morning local time, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRI) confirmed the power plant was occupied by Russian military forces, but said officials remained in contact with plant management.
The plant’s six reactors remained intact, though the compartment auxiliary buildings for reactor unit 1 had been damaged, the SNRI said in its statement. Four of the remaining units were being cooled down while one unit is providing power, the statement said.
He demanded clear and decisive action from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
A top International Atomic Energy Agency official earlier told the council that “no security or safety systems have been compromised near the reactors themselves” at the plant.
Kyslytsya also said “urgent discussion” of a no-fly zone “should be a top priority for the security council.”
“Today, I have sent a letter to the UNSC president reminding of the council’s decisions on no-fly zone during previous conflicts in order to prevent further civilian casualties,” he said.
“In this regard we request to consider the issue of protection of nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructure in Ukraine,” he added.