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European markets cautiously higher amid Ukraine-Russia tensions

LONDON — European stocks nudged higher on Thursday as tensions remained high over the Russia-Ukraine crisis, with oil and material prices continuing to spike.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 added 0.5% in early trade, with basic resources jumping 2.9% and oil and gas stocks climbing 1.5% to lead gains. Media stocks slid 0.4%.

The cautiously positive open for European stocks comes despite heightened fears for Ukraine’s future with more reports of explosions in the capital Kyiv overnight.

Earlier this week a huge column of Russian military vehicles was making its way towards the capital prompting concerns that Russia would soon launch a large-scale attack on the city.

Ukraine’s second biggest city, Kharkiv, suffered heavy bombardment on Wednesday, while Kherson’s mayor said Russian forces have seized control of the key port city in southern Ukraine. If confirmed, it marks a military victory for Russia.

Russia’s week-long invasion was denounced by the United Nations in a historic vote and dozens of countries referred Moscow to be probed for potential war crimes.

Shares in Asia-Pacific were largely higher in Thursday trade after U.S. stocks bounced back on Wednesday although U.S. stock index futures were flat during overnight trading.

Oil prices, however, continued to move higher following a price surge in recent days. In the morning of Asia trading hours, international benchmark Brent crude futures surged 4.4% to $117.80 per barrel, after earlier rising as high as $118.22 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also climbed 4% to $115 per barrel.

OPEC and its allies decided Wednesday to hold production steady despite the recent dramatic spike in oil prices.

Earnings came from Merck, Telecom Italia, Prudential and Aviva. Data releases include the euro zone unemployment rate and producer prices for January.

Kion Group was the biggest climber in early trade, the German warehouse equipment manufacturer gaining more than 11% after its full-year earnings report.

At the bottom of the European blue chip index, Anglo-Russian miner Polymetal International continued to slide due to its Russian exposure, shedding more than 20%.

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— CNBC’s Eustance Huang contributed to this market report.

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