(Bloomberg) -- Russia plans to sign treaties Friday to absorb four occupied regions of Ukraine after annexation votes condemned by the United Nations as illegal. President Vladimir Putin also plans to address legislators on Friday, his spokesman said.
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NATO allies on Thursday said damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 natural gas pipelines appear to be "the result of deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage." The Swedish Coast Guard's Command Center also identified a new pipeline leak in the Baltic Sea.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an eighth package of sanctions to target Russia over its attempt to annex more territory in Ukraine. The measures will include a price cap on Russian oil exports.
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On the Ground
Russia struck the city of Dnipro with missiles overnight, including residential areas, local authorities said on Telegram. Three people, including a child, were killed. More than 60 private houses and several high-rise buildings were damaged. On Wednesday evening Russia launched five missiles toward the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, four of which were destroyed by air-defense forces, while one hit a grain-processing facility in Kryvorizka district, the Ukrainian military's southern command said on Facebook. More than 28 settlements, including Mykolaiv, Kryvyi Rih and Siversk, incurred Russian strikes over the past day, Ukraine's General Staff said. Russian forces shelled the Kryvorizka district Thursday morning, hitting industrial infrastructure and wounding 13 workers, according to regional authorities.
All times CET:
Russia to Hide Over $110 Billion in Secret Budget Spending (3:59 p.m.)
Russia will hide the purpose of almost a quarter of its planned spending next year, as it redraws the budget for a longer war in Ukraine and prepares to annex parts of its neighbor's territory.
A draft 2023 budget allocates approximately 6.5 trillion rubles ($112 billion) in classified or unspecified outlays, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the document.
The level of secrecy is unprecedented and reflects Russia's increasing reluctance to open up its books to scrutiny since Putin's invasion of Ukraine. The government has already stopped publishing key statistics including a detailed breakdown of trade.
Estonia Rattled by UK Troop Scale-Down Plan (3:45 p.m.)
Estonian leaders were alarmed by a report that Britain would scale down its troop presence in the Baltic nation before Christmas.
The number of British soldiers in Estonia was doubled to about 2,000 in February as an additional safeguard after Russia invaded Ukraine. The UK plans to pull out a 700-strong battalion at the end of the year, as reported by the Times on Wednesday.
Ukraine Gets Back More POWs from Mariupol (1:41 p.m.)
Ukraine negotiated the release of six more prisoners of war from Russia, including four soldiers who were captured defending the port city of Mariupol, Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff, said on Telegram.
"Our goal is to get all of our people back," Yermak said. "We are working on this non-stop."
EU Says Ready to Make Russia Pay 'Heavy Price' (1:22 p.m.)
The European Commission doesn't accept Russia's "sham" referendums aimed at annexing Ukrainian territories, spokeswoman Dana Spinant said in Brussels.
"We will never accept any annexation of territory or any land-grabbing by Russia," Spinant said. "We are ready to make the Kremlin pay a hefty price for this new escalation in the conflict."
Finland to Mostly Halt Russian Tourist Arrivals (12:48 p.m.)
Finland's government decided to heavily curtail Russian tourist arrivals into the country, including putting an end to people transiting through the Nordic nation to elsewhere in Europe.
Finland will stop issuing tourist visas to Russians and plans to invalidate their tourist visas at the border, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters. The decision will come into force on Friday.
Putin to Push Ahead With Annexing Ukraine Regions (12:02 p.m.)
Russia's president will sign treaties on Friday to absorb four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine following annexation votes condemned as illegal by Kyiv's government and the United Nations.
Putin will hold a ceremony and later make an address to legislators and other officials, his spokesman said. The final formalities of annexation are expected to be completed next week.
The move puts the Kremlin on a fresh collision course with the US and its allies. Putin has threatened to use "all the means at our disposal" to defend Russia, a signal he may use nuclear weapons to defend the lands he's annexing.
Read more: Putin to Push Ahead With Annexing Ukraine Lands After Sham Votes
Regulator Says Germany Using Too Much Gas (11:43 a.m.)
Germany's network regulator warned that households and companies used too much gas over the past week as temperatures dropped, and said savings of at least 20% are needed to avert a shortage of the fuel this winter.
Klaus Mueller, Bundesnetzagentur president, called the figures "sobering," while cautioning that they provide only a "snapshot" and that the situation can quickly change.
Read more: Germany's Network Regulator Sounds Alarm on Gas Consumption
Three Ships Leaves Ukraine's Odesa-Area Ports (11:20 a.m.)
Three ships carrying Ukrainian agriculture products left the ports of Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi on the Black Sea on Thursday, the government said.
The ships are bound for Africa and Asia, with cargoes including 27,500 tons of wheat to Tunisia. Ukraine has exported almost 5.5 million tons of agriculture products from three Black Sea ports since a safe-transit deal was reached with Russia in late July.
NATO Promises 'Determined' Response to Infrastructure Attacks (11:09 a.m.)
NATO allies warned that any deliberate attack against allies' infrastructure would be met with a "united and determined response," following gas pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea discovered this week.
In a joint statement, the North Atlantic Council echoed other officials, saying information currently indicates the leaks are the result of "deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage." They added they are committed to defending against any "coercive use of energy or hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors."
Even as Poland has blamed Russia for the damage, the NATO statement refrained from naming any names as a joint investigation by Denmark, Sweden and Germany is under way.
Albania Says It Welcomes Russians, Lithuania Urges Citizens to Leave (11 a.m.)
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said Russians fleeing the country are "welcome" in Albania, according to Tirana-based portal Albanian Daily News. When it comes to the Balkan region, the Russian exodus so far has been focused on Serbia.
In Lithuania, Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas reiterated advise for the country's citizens to leave Russia, saying it's "becoming a state where foreign citizens can simply become hostages" to the Kremlin regime. "No one can rule out that they won't use foreign citizens as shields," he said.
Finland Sees Russia Turning More to Cyber-Spying (10:14 a.m.)
The war in Ukraine and the expulsions of Russian diplomats that followed have hampered Moscow's espionage operations, causing the country increasingly to turn to the cyber environment for intelligence gathering, the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service, Supo, said in a national security overview.
Russia's traditional method of spying is to use human intelligence under diplomatic cover and that has now "become substantially more difficult," SUPO said.
The security agency said authoritarian states "can secure access to or influence over critical infrastructure" via corporate acquisitions or investments. It identified China as a potential perpetrator, alongside Russia.
Read more: Finland Sees Russia Moving Espionage to Cyber Environment
Russian Stocks Brush Off New Sanctions Threat (9:32 a.m.)
Russia's equity benchmark gained for a third day, trimming this month's losses, as investors disregarded the threat of additional international sanctions and took advantage of the cheapest valuations on record.
The MOEX Russia Index gained as much as 2.1% on Thursday; it traded up 0.7% as of 10:30am in Moscow.
Retailer H&M Takes Earnings Hit From Russian Exit (9:03 a.m.)
Retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB plans to cut costs by 2 billion Swedish kronor ($180 million) annually after its exit from Russia and higher garment and transport costs caused earnings to slump.
Operating profit dropped 86% in the three months through August. The figure includes a previously communicated one-time charge of 2 billion kronor for winding down operations in Russia.
Fourth Nord Stream Leak Found by Sweden's Coast Guard (8:30 a.m.)
A new leak has been discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, bringing the total number of ruptures to four, according to the Swedish Coast Guard's Command Center.
Gas has been bubbling up from the pipelines since earlier this week, with Denmark estimating that the links would empty by Sunday. Several governments have called the actions "deliberate" and "sabotage."
Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landesbergis said the news was more evidence that the leaks are deliberate and "fit to be called a terrorist act."
Read more: Nord Stream Gas Pipes Now Have Four Leaks With Another Found
Finland Reports Clear Drop in Russian Arrivals (8:21 a.m.)
Finland's Border Guard said about 4,700 Russians crossed the border into the Nordic country on Wednesday, a "clear drop" compared with Tuesday, when more than 7,000 entered.
Wednesday's arrivals are comparable with the numbers from a week ago, when Vladimir Putin's expanded military mobilization was announced.
The UK defence ministry said that the Russian exodus in the past week "likely exceeds the size of the total invasion force Russia field in February," with the better-off and well educated over-represented.
(A previous version of this story was corrected to remove an erroneous "Thursday" from the headline.)
(Corrects headline to remove erroneous "Thursday".)
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