The Ukraine war is on the eve of its 100th day.
Russian forces have stepped up attacks in the east of Ukraine, and has reportedly captured most of the key eastern city of Sievierodonetsk.
Meanwhile President Zelenskyy has warned that "dark times will come for everybody" if Russia prevails in its war against Ukraine.
**Follow our live coverage for Thursday as it unfolded below: **
Thursday's key points
- On the 99th day of the war, Russia controls 20% of Ukraine's territory, says Kyiv.
- President Zelenskyy tells Luxembourg's parliament that if Russia prevails, then "dark times will come for everybody."
- The European Parliament has banned Russian representatives from entering the building, saying it will stop them spreading "propaganda and false, toxic narratives."
- Germany, the US, UK, Slovakia and Sweden will send more weapons to Ukraine. In a Thursday Op-ed, President Biden said the latest shipments from America would allow Ukrainian forces "to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine."
- 243 children have been killed so far in the war, says Zelenskyy.
- The Kremlin has warned of 'rather unpleasant scenarios' should Western weapons be used to hit Russia.
- Denmark has set a date for joining the EU's common defence policy, after voters overwhelmingly supported it in a referendum.
That's our live blog wrapping up for Thursday night.
We're back early on Friday morning with all the latest developments.
Angela Merkel urges allies to stop Russia's 'barbaric war'
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel has slammed Russia’s attack on Ukraine and suggested a possible return to the limelight in her first semi-public comments since leaving office, the country’s dpa news agency reported Thursday.
Speaking at a trade union event late Wednesday, Merkel reportedly said she felt the need to address the war in Ukraine despite not wanting to provide any commentary from the sidelines, having stepped down as chancellor last December.
Dpa quoted the former long-time leader saying she supported “all efforts by the German government as well as the European Union, the United States, our partners in the G-7, in NATO and the UN to stop the barbaric war of attack by Russia."
Merkel also expressed solidarity with Ukraine and said she supported Kyiv’s right to self-defense, dpa reported.
It was unclear whether Merkel addressed the criticism directed at her by Ukrainian officials for backing energy deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin even after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a request for a transcript of the speech.
The 67-year-old also emphasized the importance of unity within the European Union’s 27 nations, saying everyone should contribute to the goal of unity on the continent, according to dpa.
Merkel hinted that she herself might play a role in that at the European level going forward.
“I will have to disappoint those who are counting on me disappearing,” dpa quoted her as saying.
Istanbul meeting to discuss 'grain export corridors' from Ukraine
Turkey’s state-run news agency on Thursday said officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations will meet in Istanbul soon to discuss plans for the establishment of a “corridor” that would allow the export of Ukrainian agricultural products.
The Anadolu Agency said the sides are set to discuss a possible route for the corridor, insurance issues and security for the corridor. They are also slated to take up the need to clear the route of mines as well as the creation of a command center that would oversee the mechanism.
Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is preventing the supply of millions of tons of grain around the world.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the need for a corridor for the export of agricultural products during telephone calls with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week.
NATO: West should prepare for a 'long-term war of attrition' in Ukraine
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Western countries must prepare for a "long-term war of attrition" in Ukraine.
He made the comments after a meeting on Thursday afternoon with US President Joe Biden.
"We have to be prepared for the long term. Because what we see is that this war has now become a war of attrition," Stoltenberg told reporters.
Jens Stoltenberg is in the US capital to prepare for the NATO summit scheduled for 28-30 June in Madrid and said he intended to achieve results before the event.
Reiterating that NATO did not want to enter into direct confrontation with Russia, the Secretary General said the Western military alliance had a "responsibility" to support Ukraine.
"Most wars - and certainly this war - end at some point through negotiations, but what we know is that what happens at the negotiating table is very closely linked to the situation on the ground, on the battlefield," he added.
Asked about potential Western pressure on Ukraine to accept territorial cessions in order to reach a peace agreement, Stoltenberg said: "It is not for us to decide or to have an opinion on what Ukraine should or should not accept.
Jens Stoltenberg would not comment on whether there were any discussions within NATO about maritime corridors to move grain out of Ukraine.
"The easiest way to get more grain out and reduce the pressure on food prices is for President Putin to end the war," he said, while expressing support for initiatives by NATO allies, in coordination with the UN, to develop new export routes by land or sea.
Since the start of the invasion, Russian troops have taken control of parts of southern Ukraine - most of Kherson and part of Zaporizhia - and have made slow progress in the eastern Donbas region, including the capture of Mariupol.
US slaps new sanctions on Russian financier
The United States on Thursday announced a new round of sanctions to pressure Vladimir Putin to abandon the war in Ukraine, targeting his close friend and "financier" Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin and a superyacht brokerage firm for Russian oligarchs.
The US Treasury, State Department and Commerce Department are targeting a range of new oligarchs or members of the Moscow "elite", including Russian diplomatic spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. Several yachts regularly used, according to Washington, by the Russian president are also on the US blacklist, including "Graceful", "Olympia", "Shellest" and "Nega".
"The United States will continue to work with our allies and partners to make the government of the Russian Federation pay a high price for its aggression against Ukraine and blatant disregard for human rights and fundamental freedoms," US diplomatic chief Antony Blinken warned in a statement.
In a separate statement, the Treasury said it was going after "key networks used by Russia's elites, including President Vladimir Putin himself, to attempt to hide and move money and anonymously enjoy their luxury possessions around the globe" -- thereby evading unprecedented Western sanctions imposed since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
Among the most prominent figures in this new round of US sanctions is cellist Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin, a close friend of the Russian head of state "for more than forty years" but also presented as his "fund manager", "member of a system that manages" his "offshore fortune". He was sanctioned by the European Union at the end of February.
Moldova bans Russian news broadcasts
Moldova's parliament passed a law on Thursday banning the broadcasting of Russian news programmes in the country, where the tug-of-war between pro-Western and pro-Russian interests has intensified with the conflict in Ukraine.
According to the law on "information security", "the broadcasting on radio and television of news, military, political and analytical programmes from countries that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television" is forbidden.
In addition, 50% of the foreign programmes broadcast on television must come from the European Union, the United States or the signatories of this European convention.
In concrete terms, Moldovan television channels will only be able to broadcast Russian films, series, music programmes or entertainment programmes.
Russian authorities have been highly critical of Moldova, a country with a Romanian-speaking majority but a large Russian-speaking minority, especially as it has strongly supported Kyiv since the start of the war.
The government has taken in war refugees, applied for EU membership, and been promised a significant increase in military aid from the West.
Lithuania gets 'free' drone from Turkish manufacturer
Inspired by an act of generosity by Lithuanians, a Turkish manufacturer is donating a drone that will go to the war-torn country of Ukraine, Lithuania's defense minister said Thursday.
Last week, Lithuanians raised €5.9 million in several days to buy a drone for Ukraine. Lithuanian officials had travelled to Turkey to sign a contract with the producer to acquire it.
But Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas wrote on Facebook that the Turkish manufacturer was so “impressed” by the Lithuanian people that it is “donating a drone Bayraktar TB2 to Lithuania.”
The Lithuanian government plans to send the drone to Ukraine later this month.
Some €1.5 million of the money raised by Lithuanians will be spent on drone munition, while the remaining €4.4 million would be earmarked for humanitarian and other assistance to Ukraine, Anusauskas said.
Von der Leyen urges EU help for Ukraine to become a member
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says it's in the European Union's strategic interest but also “our moral duty” to make it possible for Ukraine to join the 30-nation bloc.
Von der Leyen made her remarks on Thursday at an international security conference in Slovakia’s capital. She spoke after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s gave a video address at the annual gathering.
Zelenskyy has asked for more weapons for Ukraine’s armed forces to be able to prevail over the invading Russian military, called for more EU sanctions against Russia, and repeated his country’s request to become “a full-fledge member of the united Europe.”
Von der Leyen says Ukraine must meet all necessary standards and conditions to be able to join but she has called on the EU to help Ukraine achieve its goal.
She said: “Supporting Ukraine on its path to the European Union, it is not a burden, it is our historic responsibility.”