European leaders on Thursday rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that “unfriendly countries” pay for natural gas in rubles, an apparent bid to help stabilize the Russian currency amid sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

The once-plummeting ruble is already rebounding, buoyed in part by oil and gas exports — despite Western countries’ moves to halt or reduce their use of Russian energy. President Biden on Thursday announced an unprecedented release of 1 million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an effort to curb rising gas prices, for which Biden has blamed Putin.

Meanwhile, Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and others have balked at Putin’s new decree on gas purchases, set to take effect Friday. Leaders of the Group of Seven major economies agreed earlier this week that they would defy Moscow and continue paying in euros or dollars.

Here’s what to know

  • Officials and aid workers say they are preparing to evacuate more civilians from the port city of Mariupol on Friday.
  • Ukrainian and Russian negotiators are set to resume talks online Friday, head Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said.
  • The Russian general some call the “Butcher of Mariupol” earned a reputation for brutality in Syria.
  • A Ukrainian official said Russian soldiers are withdrawing from the “main part” of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant site…..