BELGRADE, Serbia — Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has praised Serbia for refusing to impose sanctions against Moscow over its aggression in Ukraine, saying the Balkan ally has made “a smart choice.”

“We deeply respect the Serbian people, Serbian culture, Serbian history and commitment to traditional friends,” Lavrov told a group of Serbian journalists in a video conference. “We are sure that they will continue to make smart choices in this situation.”

Although Serbia voted in favor of a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, Belgrade has refused to join the United States and the European Union in imposing wide ranging sanctions against Moscow.

Lavrov said the sanctions are “an attempt by the United States to impose its hegemony” in the Balkans and added that the West “is trying to isolate Russia” in the region that has seen a devastating war in the 1990s.

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Although formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been forging close political, economic and military ties to Russia.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine could declare neutrality to secure peace, Zelenskyy says

RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR
Russia shifts focus to try to grind Ukraine’s army in east
Ukraine war threatens food supplies in fragile Arab world
Holocaust survivors flee from Ukraine to Germany for safety
Live updates: Russia praises Serbia for refusing sanctions
— Russia is shifting its focus to grinding down Ukrainian forces in the east

— Holocaust survivors flee from Ukraine to Germany for safety

— Ukrainian welders turn donated vehicles into army transport

— Ukraine war threatens food supplies in fragile Arab world

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— ‘My personal tragedy’: Ukrainians brace for an attack on Odesa

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

ANKARA, Turkey —A plane carrying members of a Russian delegation has landed in Istanbul ahead of talks with Ukrainian negotiators aimed at ending the month-long war.

Turkey’s private DHA news agency said the Russian government plane landed at Istanbul Airport on Monday. The face-to-face talks between the two sides are scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine could declare neutrality, potentially accept a compromise on contested areas in the country’s east, and offer security guarantees to Russia to secure peace “without delay.” He said only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader could end the war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet, but only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.

Earlier talks have failed to make progress on ending the war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.

NATO-member Turkey has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia. Earlier this month, it hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers.

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MOSCOW — Russian shares have slumped as its stock market resumed trading of all companies after a monthlong halt following the invasion of Ukraine.

The benchmark MOEX index slid 2.2% Monday after the Moscow Exchange reopened for all of its several hundred listed companies, but with restrictions still in place to limit volatility.

The last full trading session in Moscow was on Feb. 25, a day after the index tumbled by a third after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Prices whipsawed last week when the exchange tentatively reopened for two days of limited trading, with investors allowed to trade only 33 of the MOEX index’s 50 companies.

Some restrictions remained in place Monday to prevent another big selloff. The daily session is shortened to four hours and there is a ban on short-selling, which essentially involves betting on stock prices to go down. Foreigners also are unable to sell shares until Friday.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Russia uses local level corruption as a tool of influence in the Balkan region, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said after a meeting of leaders from southeast Europe NATO members.

The prime ministers of Bulgaria, Romania, the Republic of North Macedonia, and Montenegro condemned Russia’s military aggression and voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Petkov said the leaders discussed “eradicating money laundering and helping each other fight corruption,” which he said was “used by Russia to influence the region.”

Talks also focused on strengthening the cooperation as NATO allies on the bloc’s eastern flank, as well as on reducing the dependence on Russian energy supplies, countering Russia’s fake news, improving cyber protection and widening mutual trade.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish brewery group Carlsberg says it has decided to pull out of Russia, saying it’s “the right thing to do in the current environment.”

The announcement came hours after its competitor, Dutch brewing giant Heineken, said it was doing the same.

The Copenhagen-based Carlsberg said Monday it “will have no presence in Russia.” Its business in Russia will no longer be included in the Danish brewer’s revenue and operating profit, and the business “will be treated as an asset held for sale until completion of the disposal.”

In 2021, Carlsberg reported revenue and operating profit in Russia of 6.5 billion kroner ($959 million) and 682 million kroner ($101 million) respectively. The Danish brewer generates around 10% of its sales in Russia, where it operates several breweries and has about 8,400 staff which would be laid off.

Heineken said earlier Monday that it was seeking an “orderly transfer of our business to a new owner in full compliance with international and local laws.”

Heineken will continue to pay its 1,800 staff in Russia through the end of the year. The company says it will not profit from the sale of its Russian operations and expects to take a 400 million-euro ($438 million) charge as a result.

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MOSCOW — Leading independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is edited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, says it is suspending operations after receiving warnings from Russian authorities.

The newspaper reported being warned by Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator.

“After this we are stopping the release of the newspaper on the website, on (social) networks and on paper — until the end of the ‘special operation on the territory of Ukraine,’” the newspaper said in a statement Monday.

Russia strictly limits how media can describe events in Ukraine, which it labels a “special military operation.” Several other Russian media outlets have already opted for suspending operations rather than face heavy restrictions on what they can report, and the Kremlin has also blocked multiple foreign news outlets.

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BERLIN — Germany’s energy minister says the Group of Seven major economies have agreed to reject Russia’s demand to pay for Russian energy imports in rubles.

Robert Habeck told reporters Monday that “all G-7 ministers agreed completely that this (would be) a one-sided and clear breach of the existing contracts.”

Habeck said after an online meeting with G-7 energy ministers that “payment in ruble is not acceptable and we will urge the companies affected not to follow (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s demand.”

Asked by reporters earlier Monday if Russia could cut gas supplies to European customers if they reject the demand to pay for the Russian gas in rubles, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “we clearly aren’t going to supply gas for free.”

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BERLIN — German authorities are considering whether to prosecute people who use the “Z” symbol to show support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Russian troops in Ukraine have painted the letter Z on the side of vehicles and it has been adopted by some in Russia as a symbol of support for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation” in the neighboring country.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said Monday that security services are aware the symbol is also being used at rallies in Germany.

The spokesman, Marek Wede, told reporters in Berlin that the letter can under certain circumstances be considered a sign of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine is a crime and whoever publicly approves of this war can thereby become criminally liable,” Wede said.

He added that federal authorities welcomed announcements by some German states to investigate whether individual instances of the “Z” use constitute criminal acts.

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia says it has reinstated a diplomatic representative in Kyiv and reopened the country’s embassy in Ukraine.

The ministry says Slovenia’s embassy in Kyiv reopened on Monday after the arrival of the interim charge d’affaires Bostjan Lesjak. Slovenia’s ambassador to Ukraine remains in Rzeszow, a town on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Slovenia’s move comes after Prime Minister Janez Jansa urged European Union countries to restore their presence in Kyiv in support for Ukraine. Jansa visited Kyiv this month along with the prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic.

He said on Twitter on Monday that “we are back.” Jansa adds that “the Slovenian and European flags flutter again in front of the Slovenian Embassy in Kyiv.”

Slovenia’s Foreign Ministry said that Lesjak said upon arrival that the city was deserted, and that alarms and detonations could be heard in the distance.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne has quoted the mayor of Mariupol as saying that around 160,000 people remain in the besieged port city, and that a “humanitarian catastrophe” would ensue if more evacuations are not possible.

Vadym Boychenko said Monday that Russian forces were preventing civilians from evacuating from the city and had been turning back some who tried to make it out.

The city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000, has seen some of the worst conditions since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb.24. Russian forces have pounded the city, and scores of civilians have been unable to escape, with no access to essentials and cut off from communication with the shelling of cell, radio and TV towers.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin has voiced concern about U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment about the Russian President Vladimir Putin and said it will carefully follow his rhetoric.

Capping a four-day trip to Europe Saturday, Biden said of Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” words the White House immediately sought to downplay.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Biden’s statement “undoubtedly causes alarm.” He added that the Kremlin will carefully monitor the U.S. president’s statements.

Peskov said previously that “it’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”

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MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister says the presidents of Russia and Ukraine could meet for talks only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.

Sergey Lavrov said Monday that “the meeting is necessary once we have clarity regarding solutions on all key issues.”

Lavrov’s comments follow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s statement that he’s ready to discuss Ukraine’s neutrality and security guarantees with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure peace “without delay.” Zelenskyy added that only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader could end the war.

Russian and Turkish negotiators are set to hold another round of talks in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday to try to draft an agreement.

Speaking in an online interview with Serbian media, Lavrov alleged that Ukraine only want to “imitate talks” while Russia needs specific results that would be secured by the countries’ leaders.

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BEIJING — China says the U.S. should take seriously Beijing’s concerns about punishing economic sanctions against Russia.

China, which has what it calls a “no limits” partnership with Moscow, has strongly objected to the sanctions, saying they will worsen the global economic outlook without bringing an end to the conflict.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Monday that China and other nations believe “people of all countries have no responsibility to pay for geopolitical conflicts and great power games.”

“The problem now is not about who wants to help Russia bypass sanctions, but about the normal economic and trade relations between countries, including China, and Russia have been unnecessarily damaged,” Wang said.

“We urge the U.S. to take China’s concerns seriously when dealing with the Ukraine issue and relations with Russia, and not to damage China’s legitimate rights and interests in any way,” Wang said.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — European Union judicial coordination agency Eurojust says it has helped Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine to establish a joint investigation team to probe war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes committed in Ukraine.

The Hague-based agency said Monday that the three nations signed an agreement on Friday establishing the team. Eurojust says it provided legal and technical support.

Eurojust says the main aim of the team is to “support the gathering of evidence and its swift and secure exchange between partners, as well as the transmission of information and evidence.”

Eurojust adds that the team will help the three nations cooperate with International Criminal Court prosecution office, which also has opened an investigation in Ukraine.

Within the first month of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Polish prosecutors said they had collected some 300 witness testimonies from refugees pouring over the border.

Joint investigation teams help nations pool resources and knowledge during complex international investigations. The Netherlands and other countries set up such a team to investigate the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.