Russia has earned $66 billion in fuel exports since war began, report says; Americans, British face Russian sanctions: April 27 recap

This page recaps the news on the war in Ukraine for Wednesday, April 27. Click here for the latest updates on Russia's invasion in Ukraine from Thursday, April 28.

At a time when Russia's wielding its energy industry like a hammer (and sickle), a new report illustrates how powerful that weapon is.

A study published Wednesday by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air calculates that Russia earned $66.5 billion from fossil fuel exports since its troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, with Germany as the biggest buyer.

Using data on ship movements, real-time tracking of gas flows through pipelines and estimates based on historical monthly trade, the researchers figured Germany paid Russia about 9.1 billion euros ($9.65 billion) for fossil fuel deliveries in the first two months of the war.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia shut off gas shipments to Poland and Bulgaria over their support of Ukraine in the war and threatened other countries with similar measures. Germany's Economy Minister Robert Habeck called that an example of “the reality where energy is used as a weapon” and said his country is trying to diversify its supplies, reduce consumption and switch to renewable energy “so that we are not defenseless.”

At an international forum on offshore wind energy in Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stressed the importance of the world turning its back on Russian energy and find other, cleaner sources.

“Russia is waging a war in Ukraine and the imperative (is) to move away from Russian oil and gas,'' Granholm said. "For the world to move away from Russian oil and gas screams that there is an imperative that we electrify.”

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Latest developments:

► More than half of the 90 howitzers the U.S. promised to send Ukraine have been delivered, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Wednesday.

►Trevor Reed, a Marine held captive in Russia for nearly three years, will be allowed to return home to the U.S. in an extraordinary prisoner exchange between the countries at a time of heightened tensions.

►State-backed hackers in Russia have often timed their attacks to coincide with physical assaults on Ukraine infrastructure, destroying data across dozens of organizations and creating “a chaotic information environment,” Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.

►The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the safety level at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, now under Russian occupation in Ukraine, is like a “red light blinking.” Rafael Grossi said the agency has tried in vain to get access for repairs.

►Germany’s economy minister said the government is considering “all scenarios” and did not reject the possibility that a Russian-owned oil refinery in Schwedt could be nationalized. Robert Habeck said Russia’s decision to stop supplies of gas to Poland and Bulgaria was an example of “the reality where energy is used as a weapon.”

►Italian Premier Mario Draghi’s office says he will meet President Joe Biden in Washington on May 10 and Ukraine will be at the center of discussions. Energy security will also be discussed, the statement said.

A woman embraces a serviceman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic militia near a damaged apartment building in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 26, 2022.

Russia shuts off gas supply to Poland, Bulgaria

Russia said Wednesday that it was shutting off gas supplies to two European Union nations that staunchly back Kyiv. The action came one day after the U.S. and dozens of allies announced plans to increase military support to embattled Ukraine – and two days after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed his nation had sent tanks to aid its neighbor's battle to repel invading Russian forces.

State-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it had cut natural gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria until payments are made in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded. Gas prices in Europe rose sharply on the news, and European leaders denounced the move as "blackmail.''

“We should do the same with other countries that are unfriendly to us,” Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's state Duma, said in a Telegram post. However, Russia pays a heavy price for the shutoff by forsaking income it needs to fund its war effort.

Morawiecki said Poland was safe thanks to years of efforts aimed at securing gas from other countries. Bulgaria's Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said Wednesday that Bulgaria can meet the needs of users for at least one month.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of using gas "as an instrument of blackmail" and said the region’s 27 countries are prepared to weather Russia’s cutoffs. She also said Poland and Bulgaria are receiving gas from their neighbors in the bloc.

Russian sanctions of Americans, Brits a 'badge of honor'

Russia’s foreign ministry imposed sanctions Wednesday on 287 members of the British parliament, accusing them of "demonizing" Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

The list includes members of both major parties and some former lawmakers, banning them from entering Russia. The ministry statement cited “hostile rhetoric and far-fetched accusations coming from the mouths of British parliamentarians ... aimed at demonizing our country." It accused the lawmakers of promoting Russia's international isolation and undermining "the foundation of bilateral cooperation.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was unmoved by Russia's rhetoric.

“All those 287 should regard it as a badge of honor,” Johnson told parliament.

Dozens of Americans have been sanctioned in recent weeks, from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton posted a tongue-in-cheek response on Twitter last month: "I want to thank the Russian Academy for this Lifetime Achievement Award."

Explosions in Kherson temporarily knock Russian channels off air

In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, a series of explosions boomed near the television tower late Wednesday and at least temporarily knocked Russian channels off the air, Ukrainian and Russian news organizations reported.

The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said missiles and rockets were fired at the city from the direction of the Ukrainian forces to the northwest.

Kherson has been occupied by Russian forces since early in the war.

Ukrayinska Pravda, an online newspaper, said the strikes set off a fire and knocked Russian television channels off the air.

RIA Novosti said the broadcast later resumed. It said Russian channels began broadcasting from Kherson last week.

Russia has been determined to strengthen its control over the city, but residents have continued to come out onto the streets to protest the occupation.

Putin unbowed: Goals of war 'will be unconditionally fulfilled'

Russian leader Vladimir Putin vowed Wednesday that the goals of Russia's military operation in Ukraine will be achieved. In an address to both houses of parliament, Putin emphasized that "all the tasks of the special military operation we are conducting in the Donbas and Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, will be unconditionally fulfilled.” Putin has declined to describe the invasion as a war, instead repeatedly referring to it as a "special military operation."

An injured man waits for emergency workers following a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) ORG XMIT: XFD101

Putin said he will "guarantee the security of the residents” of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia recognized as independent shortly before launching its invasion of Ukraine, as well as Crimea – which Russia annexed in 2014 – “and our entire country in the historical perspective.”

Russia may 'starve out' holdouts at Mariupol steel plant

Russian forces continue to make slow but steady progress near the cities of Izyum and Rubizhne, but offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine remain unsuccessful, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment. The assessment provided a bleak forecast for an estimated 2,000 Ukraine soldiers and an unknown number of civilians in and around a steel plant in Mariupol considered the last legitimate holdout from the Russian advance into the city.

"Russian forces will likely attempt to starve out the remaining defenders of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol and will not allow trapped civilians to evacuate," the assessment warned. 

On Wednesday, the U.N. humanitarian office began coordinating the evacuation of civilians from the steel plant after Secretary-General António Guterres reached an agreement in principle with Russian President Vladimir Putin the day before. The Russians have reneged on previous deals for safe corridors, some of them in Mariupol.  

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Wednesday that the organization is trying to translate the Guterres-Putin deal “into an agreement in detail and an agreement on the ground. ... Ultimately what we want is to make sure that a cease-fire would be respected that would allow us to move people safely.”

Haq also said Guterres will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.

Silenced by Putin: A USA TODAY investigation

During Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and fortune, he and his associates are suspected of silencing some of those who raised questions about the source of his apparent wealth. Potentially dozens of people have been killed or survived poisonings and other assassination attempts or have had their investigations blocked or shut down, according to USA TODAY interviews and a review of documents and reports. Untold numbers of others have long looked the other way for fear of similar retribution.

You can read about some of the more high-profile victims here and how Putin became one of the richest men in the world here. Details on sanctions now faced by his family and associates are here.

Josh Meyer

Russia suspended from UN tourism agency

Russia announced its intention Wednesday to withdraw from the United Nations World Tourism Organization – hours before the agency voted on a proposal to suspend the country’s membership over the invasion of Ukraine. The agency's assembly, meeting in Madrid, voted in favor of suspending Russia anyway. The resolution included a clause saying the suspension could be reversed if Russia alters its behavior.

"UNWTO Members have made their voices heard and decided to suspend Russia from UNWTO membership," Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the agency, said on Twitter. "The message is clear: Actions will always have consequences. Peace is a fundamental human right. Guaranteed to all. Without exception."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision would not hinder Russian tourism.

Why Moldova and Transnistria are becoming key factors in the war

The Russian-aligned Transnistria region of Moldova sits on the Ukraine border, and its neighbors have long worried that Russia would use it as a staging area for an invasion either east into Ukraine or west into Moldova. Border guards in the breakaway region wear Russian-style camouflage, and even the Soviet-style hammer and sickle is on the flag.

On Monday night, explosions rocked the headquarters of Transnistria security forces, who are paid by Russia. More explosions Tuesday destroyed transmission towers used for Russian broadcasts. Moldovan officials said the Monday explosions were caused by grenade launchers and that the attacks were designed "to create pretexts for tensioning the security situation" in the disputed area.

"Most of those troops are people who are born in Transnistria and have Russian citizenship. They're not really Russian troops," said Keith Harrington, an Irish scholar who studies the area about the troops stationed in Transnistria. "And from what I've heard, there's no appetite for those armed forces to get involved in the Ukraine conflict." Read more here.

Trevor Hughes

US diplomats begin returning to Ukraine

U.S. diplomats are starting to return to Ukraine, the Department of State said, the latest sign pointing toward heightened American diplomacy in the country. According to the State Department, diplomats on Tuesday started making day trips to temporary offices in the western city of Lviv. The first group crossed from Poland to Lviv in the morning and returned to Poland later Tuesday.

The return of American diplomats to Ukraine follows Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. In addition to saying the United States would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition to Ukraine, Blinken said American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country as soon as this week.

President Joe Biden also announced his nomination of Bridget Brink to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a position that's been empty for three years.

UN Secretary-General and Putin agree 'in principle' UN should help evacuate Mariupol citizens

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin met one-on-one Tuesday, a U.N. spokesperson said.

During their meeting, Guterres and Putin “discussed the proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, namely in relation to the situation in Mariupol,” according to Stephane Dujarric.

They agreed "in principle" that the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be involved in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian officials had previously criticized the meeting between Guterres and Putin. Ukrainian ambassador Igor Zhovkva told NBC News that Guterres was "not really" authorized to speak for Ukraine and that “we did not understand his intention to travel to Moscow and to talk to President Putin."

Contributing: The Associated Press