MOSCOW — The Russian defense minister has warned that Moscow will see any Western transports carrying weapons into Ukraine as legitimate targets.

Sergei Shoigu’s statement Wednesday comes as the U.S. and other Western allies have increased shipments of weapons to Ukraine. Speaking at a meeting with top military officials, Shoigu denounced the West for “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”

“Any NATO transports carrying weapons or resources for the Ukrainian military that arrives in the country’s territory will be seen by us as a legitimate target to be destroyed,” he said.

The Russian military has repeatedly reported strikes on Ukrainian depots containing Western weapons. Striking Western transports delivering them would mark a significant escalation in the conflict. ___

KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia storms Mariupol steel plant as some evacuees reach safety

— Pope Francis struggles to make progress in Ukraine peace effort

— Debt drama far from over for Russia even though it dodges default

— Biden visit highlights strain on US weapons stockpile

— Fiji says US can seize Russian superyacht but not right away

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: MOSCOW — Belarus has announced snap military exercises amid the Russian war in Ukraine, while insisting it would not threaten any neighbors.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said the exercises that began Wednesday would be used to assess the readiness and capability of the country’s armed forces, and the military’s ability to operate on “unknown terrain in a rapidly changing situation.”

The ministry did not say how many troops are involved in the exercises but noted that their number would be gradually increased.

It said the maneuvers “do not threaten the European community in general and any neighboring countries in particular.”

Belarus allowed its ally Russia to use its territory as a staging ground before Moscow launched its military action in Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say evacuations from the besieged port of Mariupol will continue on Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said evacuations from Mariupol and three other locations to Zaporizhzhia, a city in southeast Ukraine, would take place “if the security situation permits.”

The governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, confirmed that evacuation buses had already left Mariupol and would stop at three other locations to pick up more passengers.

Kyrylenko said the effort is supported by the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union plans to sanction the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, in its next round of measures against Russia, according to several EU diplomats.

The three people with direct knowledge of the discussions were not authorized to speak publicly as negotiations on the sixth EU package of sanctions between the 27-nation bloc’s ambassadors were ongoing Wednesday.

Kirill is a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has justified his country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kirill has also echoed Putin’s unfounded claims that Ukraine was engaged in the “extermination” of Russian loyalists in Donbas, the breakaway eastern region of Ukraine held since 2014 by Russian-backed separatist groups.

If the sanctions proposed by the EU’s executive arm are approved by EU member countries, Kirill would be added to the EU’s updated list of individuals facing travel bans and a freeze of assets.

A total of 1,093 individuals, including Putin and oligarchs, as well as 80 entities, are already subject to the punishing measures.

— Reported by Samuel Petrequin

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s chief executive is proposing that the bloc ban oil imports from Russia over its war on Ukraine, and target the country’s biggest bank and major broadcasters in a new round of sanctions.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers Wednesday that the sanctions should involve “a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined.”

She says the aim is to “make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets.”

The sanctions proposals are to be debated by the 27 EU member countries. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they would not take part. The two are landlocked and heavily dependent on Russia for their energy supplies.

Banks are also in the EU executive arm’s sights, notably the giant Sberbank. Von der Leyen says the aim is to “de-SWIFT Sberbank,” as well as two other banks. SWIFT is the major global system for financial transfers.

Von der Leyen says those alleged to be spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine should be targeted, notably three big Russian state-owned broadcasters. She did not identify any of the outlets.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say that scores of civilians have been killed and wounded in the latest attacks in the country’s east.

Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that 21 civilians were killed and another 27 were wounded in Russian attacks Tuesday.

He said in a statement on a messaging app early Wednesday that it marked the highest number of civilian victims in the region since April 8 when a Russian missile attack on a railway station in the city of Kramatorsk killed at least 59 people.

In the neighboring Luhansk region, Gov. Serhiy Haidai said at least two civilians were killed in Russian shelling during the last 24 hours and two others were wounded.

The Russian military has intensified attacks in eastern Ukraine as part of its offensive in the region.

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LVIV, Ukraine — The British military believes Russia will make a push to try to seize the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine.

The British made the comment Wednesday in a daily briefing it posts on Twitter about the war.

The Defense Ministry said Russia had some 22 battalion tactical groups near Izium in its attempt to advance in the area. Russia uses so-called battalion tactical groups — units of infantry typically reinforced with tanks, air defenses and artillery — in its operations. Each group typically has around 800 troops.

The British said: “Despite struggling to break through Ukrainian defenses and build momentum, Russia highly likely intends to proceed beyond Izium to capture the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk.”

Analysts have been watching eastern Ukraine, now the site of the country’s heaviest fighting, expecting Russia to try to encircle Ukrainian forces. However, the going has been slow as Ukrainian fighters dig in and use long-range weapons, like howitzers, to target the Russians.

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MEXICO CITY — Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees are camping out in Mexico City and waiting for the U.S. government to allow them into the country.

About 500 evacuees were waiting Tuesday in large tents under a searing sun on a dusty field on the east side of Mexico’s sprawling capital. The camp has been open only a week and from 50 to 100 people are arriving every day.

Some refugees have already been to the U.S. border in Tijuana where they were told they would no longer be admitted. Others arrived at airports in Mexico City or Cancun.

The U.S. government announced in late March that it would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Hundreds entered Mexico daily as tourists in Mexico City or Cancun and flew to Tijuana to wait for a few days to be admitted to the U.S. at a San Diego border crossing on humanitarian parole.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s national security adviser met Tuesday with a Swedish foreign affairs officials and committed to continuing “close coordination” on security issues, a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said.

NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Oscar Stenström, state secretary for foreign affairs to Sweden’s prime minister, discussed the security situation in Europe in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The topics included ongoing efforts to support Ukraine and impose costs on Russia, Watson said.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the war in Ukraine has worsened problems in the Western Hemisphere caused by the coronavirus pandemic, such as rising poverty.

Concerns about the war decreasing the availability of food and increasing prices have sparked fears of increasing hunger and starvation in other nations. Blinken told the annual Conference of the Americas Luncheon on Tuesday that the effects of the war are being felt after the pandemic inflicted “massive economic harm throughout the region.”

Blinken plans to chair two United Nations meetings later this month aimed at spotlighting how the war in Ukraine and other conflicts is affecting the availability of food and prices.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has struck railroad infrastructure across the country.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the Ukrainian railways, said the Russian strikes on Tuesday hit six railway stations in the country’s central and western regions, inflicting heavy damage.

Kamyshin said at least 14 trains were delayed because of the attacks.

Dnipro region Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian missiles struck railway infrastructure in the area, leaving one person wounded and disrupting train movement.

The Ukrainian military also reported strikes on railways in the Kirovohrad region, saying there were unspecified casualties.

Ukraine’s railroads have played an important role in moving people, goods and military supplies during the war as roads and bridges have been damaged.

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TROY, Alabama — President Joe Biden on Tuesday credited the assembly line workers at a Javelin missile plant for doing life-saving work in building the antitank weapons that are being sent to Ukraine to stifle Russia’s invasion.

Biden visited the workers at the Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama as he made a pitch for Congress to approve $33 billion so the U.S. can continue to hustle aid to the front lines in Ukraine.

“You’re allowing the Ukrainians to defend themselves,” the president told the workers, his podium flanked by Javelin missile launchers and shipping containers. “And, quite frankly, they’re making fools of the Russian military in many instances.”

The U.S. has provided at least 7,000 Javelins, including some transferred during the Trump administration, or about one-third of its stockpile, to Ukraine in recent years, according to an analysis by Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies international security program.

The Biden administration says it has committed to sending 5,500 Javelins to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion. Analysts also estimate that the United States has sent about one-quarter of its stockpile of shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to Ukraine.