Live Updates | Russia lowers interest rates to pre-war levels | world news

Russia’s central bank cut interest rates back to pre-war levels, saying inflation and economic activity were developing better than expected despite sweeping Western sanctions imposed in response to the war in Ukraine.

The bank lowered its key rate on Friday by 1.5 percentage points to 9.5%. It had reached 20% following the invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions that restrict dealings with Russian banks, individuals and businesses.

Economists say that over time the sanctions will corrode growth and productivity, but the central bank has managed to stabilize Russia’s currency and financial system through drastic measures such as high interest rates, restrictions on the flow of money out of the country and the obligation for importers to sell their foreign currency earnings for rubles.

These measures helped push the Russian currency’s exchange rate to 58.12 against the dollar on Friday, from 78.8 rubles to the dollar on February 23, the day before the invasion.

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The central bank said inflation was 17% a year in May, but appeared to have passed its post-invasion peak of 17.8% and was heading lower amid declines prices in May and June.

KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIAN-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine fears that a long war will cause the West to lose interest

— Ukraine: Drivers risk everything to deliver aid, help civilians flee

— Ukraine: 100 to 200 soldiers die every day, new plea for heavy weapons

– Ukrainian football club Shakhtar survives its 9th year in exile

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urging the European Union to put his country on the path to membership.

In a video address Friday at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Zelenskyy said the EU should move quickly to offer Ukraine candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc.

He said the “grey zone” in which Ukraine was left encouraged Russian aggression. He urged the EU to show “that its words about the Ukrainian people being part of the European family are not hollow sound”.

Zelenskyy lamented that “there are still political skeptics who doubt that we should be allowed to move to join the EU.”

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland plans to send more defense equipment to Ukraine but does not specify what it is or when it will be delivered.

The government said Friday that President Sauli Niinistö had agreed to its request to send more military aid. He said he was not giving more information in order “to make sure help arrives”.

The Nordic nation has already sent anti-tank rifles and weapons to Ukraine, among others.

Finland, a member of the European Union that has a long border with Russia, applied for NATO membership after Russia invaded Ukraine.

VATICAN CITY — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with Pope Francis to discuss efforts to end the war in Ukraine and alleviate the global food crisis it has exacerbated.

In a tweet after the 20-Minute hearing on Friday, von der Leyen wrote, “We stand with those who suffer the destruction in Ukraine. This war must end and bring peace to Europe.

Von der Leyen also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who recently returned from Ukraine. The Vatican said their talks focused on “the common commitment to work to end the war in Ukraine, paying particular attention to the humanitarian aspects and the food consequences of the continuation of the conflict”.

GENEVA — The UN human rights office has expressed concern over death sentences handed down by pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine against three captured foreigners fighting on the Ukrainian side.

A court in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk has found two Britons and a Moroccan guilty of seeking to overthrow power by violence. The men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.

The spokeswoman for the UN rights office, Ravina Shamdasani, noted on Friday that according to the Ukrainian military, all three were part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. She said if so, they ‘shouldn’t be considered mercenaries’

Shamdasani said that since 2015, the office has observed that the justice system in rebel-ruled separatist areas “has failed to uphold essential fair trial guarantees, such as open court, independence and the impartiality of the court and the right not to be compelled to testify.”

She added that “such trials against prisoners of war constitute a war crime”.

ZAGREB, Croatia – Croatian public television HRT has reported that a Croatian citizen injured in fighting in Ukraine has been transferred to his home and hospitalized in the capital, Zagreb.

HRT reported on Friday that the man is in stable condition after sustaining serious arm and leg injuries. Doctors say they are assessing his condition to determine if and when to perform surgery.

The man fought alongside Ukrainian forces against Russia. Another Croatian citizen was arrested by Russian troops last month after fighting in the port city of Mariupol.

HRT identified the injured fighter as Jozinović Vuković.

KYIV, Ukraine – A regional governor said Ukrainian soldiers were fighting for every house in street battles in a key city in eastern Ukraine.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press on Friday that Ukrainian forces had retained control of the industrial zone on the outskirts of the city of Sievierodonetsk and also controlled other sections.

He said “battles are going on for every house and every street”.

Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of Lugansk province in the industrial Donbass region, has been at the center of Russia’s offensive in recent weeks.

LONDON — The British government says Russia must take responsibility for the “mock trial” of two Britons who were sentenced to death for fighting Russian forces in Ukraine.

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were convicted along with a Moroccan by a court run by Russian-backed rebels in the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, which is not internationally recognised.

The two Britons were members of a Ukrainian military unit and were captured in the southern port of Mariupol.

Government Minister Robin Walker said it was “an illegal tribunal in a fictitious government”, but the UK would use “all diplomatic channels to argue that this is prisoners of war who should be treated accordingly”.

He said “Russia must assume its responsibilities, its responsibilities under the Geneva Convention, for the treatment of prisoners of war.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to speak to her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Friday about the case. The UK has not announced any plans to speak to Russian officials.

KYIV, Ukraine — As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth month, officials in Kyiv have expressed concern that the specter of “war fatigue” could erode the West’s resolve to help the country to repel Moscow’s aggression.

The United States and its allies have given billions of dollars in arms to Ukraine. Europe has taken in millions of people displaced by war. And there was unprecedented unity in post-World War II Europe to impose sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and his country.

But as the shock of the Feb. 24 invasion wears off, analysts say the Kremlin could exploit a protracted, entrenched conflict and possible waning interest from the West that could lead to pressure on the Ukraine to find a settlement.

ZAPORIIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Volunteer drivers are risking everything to bring humanitarian aid to Ukrainians behind the front lines of war — and to help many of them escape.

The journeys are dangerous and long and the drivers risk being arrested, injured or killed. Ukrainian activists say more than two dozen drivers have been arrested and detained for more than two months by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.

In Donetsk and the Luhansk region, volunteer vans and minibuses drive through towns and down country roads, rushing to evacuate civilians as artillery shells whiz through the air. Russian forces are doubling their offensive in the regions.

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