Russia imposes sanctions on US vice-president, Meta CEO

People walk past the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow on April 5, 2022. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON/KYIV – Russia has imposed personal sanctions on 29 US citizens, including US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and 61 Canadian citizens, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

A total of 29 US citizens are included in Russia's "stop list" in response to the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the US Joe Biden administration, the ministry said.

Russia has also included a group of Canadian government, defense, and media representatives in the country's "stop list" in response to "the Russophobic course" pursued by Canada. Sixty-one Canadian citizens will be prohibited from entering Russia

"Top US leaders, businessmen, experts and journalists, who are pursuing a Russophobic agenda, as well as the spouses of a number of high-ranking officials" are among those added to the list, and they will be denied entry to Russia for an indefinite term.

Russia has also included a group of Canadian government, defense, and media representatives in the country's "stop list" in response to "the Russophobic course" pursued by Canada. Sixty-one Canadian citizens will be prohibited from entering Russia.

The foreign ministry said the "stop list" would be expanded in the near future, in response to the hostile actions carried out by the United States and Canada.

Meanwhile, Russia has ordered the closure of Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian consular missions in St. Petersburg in a tit-for-tat move, the ministry said in a statement.

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The ambassadors of Latvia and Estonia and the Lithuanian charge d'affaires were summoned to the foreign ministry Thursday in protest over the closure of Russian consulates and expulsion of staff in these countries.

On the basis of reciprocity, and taking into account the military assistance that these countries are providing to Ukraine, Russia decided to "withdraw consent to the activities" of the three countries' consulate generals in St. Petersburg, as well as Latvia's consulate and Estonia's office in Pskov, a city close to the border with Estonia, according to the statement.

Russia has ordered the closure of Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian consular missions in St. Petersburg in a tit-for-tat move, Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement

"The heads and other consular officials of the Estonian and Latvian consular missions are declared 'personae non gratae,'" the ministry added.

US additional security aid to Ukraine

Also on Thursday, Biden announced that the US will provide Ukraine with an additional package of security assistance worth $800 million to help it defense against Russia's military operation.

The announcement came as Russia said the military operation had entered the second phase, focusing on Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.

ALSO READ: Russia: NATO military aid to Ukraine only heightens tension

US President Joe Biden announces that the United States will be releasing a record amount of oil from the US strategic oil reserves to help bring down the cost of oil in the South Court Auditorium, next to the White House in Washington DC on March 31, 2022. (NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP)

In remarks delivered from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Biden said the package "includes heavy artillery, weapons, dozens of howitzers and 144,000 rounds of ammunition to go with those howitzers," as well as "more tactical drones," adding that his country will continue to share "significant timely intelligence" with Ukraine.

In addition to security assistance, Biden also announced that Washington will provide Kyiv with 500 million dollars' worth of direct economic assistance to help the Ukrainian government support civilians devastated by the war and those providing essential services during the conflict.

US President Joe Biden also announced that Washington will provide Kyiv with 500 million dollars' worth of direct economic assistance to help the Ukrainian government support civilians devastated by the war and those providing essential services during the conflict

Out of the 3.5 billion dollars in direct presidential drawdown authority with regard to Ukraine that Congress has approved for fiscal year 2021, the Biden administration has used over 2.4 billion dollars so far.

 "Next week I'm going to have to be sending to Congress a supplemental budget request to keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption" to Ukraine, Biden said.

ALSO READ: Russia says to continue operation in Ukraine until goals achieved

According to him, the US will ban all Russian-affiliated ships from docking in US ports, "another critical step" to stop Russia from benefiting from the international economic system.

Martial law extended

The Ukrainian parliament voted to extend the martial law in the country for another 30 days, until May 25, lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak said.

The presidential proposal on the prolongation of the martial law was supported by 300 lawmakers in the 450-seat assembly, Zheleznyak wrote on Telegram.

Ukraine imposed martial law on Feb 24 in the wake of the conflict with Russia.

On March 15, the Ukrainian parliament voted to extend the special regime till April 25.

On April 19, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky submitted to the parliament a bill to further extend martial law in the country.

A man walks next to a fire in Kharkiv, Ukraine on April 21, 2022. (FELIPE DANA / AP)

In another development, Ukraine and Russia on Thursday conducted their sixth prisoner exchange since the start of the conflict, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Ten Ukrainian soldiers, including two officers, and nine civilians held by the Russian military were released as a result of the exchange, Vereshchuk said on Telegram.

READ MORE: Russia begins 2nd phase of military operation in Ukraine

There are wounded among those released and they now can obtain treatment and rehabilitation, Vereshchuk said.

Ukraine and Russia conducted their first prisoner exchange on March 24. Since then, more than 200 Ukrainians held by Russian forces have returned home.

On Wednesday, Zelensky said his country stands ready for any format of prisoner exchange with Russia to free people from the besieged city of Mariupol.