Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Russia’s foreign minister comes to the UN as Moscow faces war crimes accusations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a press conference during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on September 24, 2022 in New York City.

Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov takes the helm of the United Nations Security Council on Monday it will be against a backdrop of mounting allegations of Russian war crimes reported across Ukraine.

Lavrov, who flew from Moscow to New York to preside over the Security Council, will chair a meeting on the importance of defending the U.N. Charter, a founding document that binds the 193 member states and vows to preserve sovereignty, peace, justice and the prevention of war.

The last time Russia held the presidency of the U.N. body tasked with preserving international security was a little over a year ago, when Moscow ordered its troops to invade Ukraine in the largest air, sea and ground assault in Europe since World War II.

Since then, the war has claimed the lives of more than 8,500 civilians, led to nearly 14,000 injuries and displaced more than 8 million people, according to United Nations’ own estimates.

Ukraine Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin told U.S. lawmakers last week that regional authorities have registered more than 80,000 Russian war crimes since Moscow’s conflict began nearly a year ago.

A report commissioned by the United Nations last month found that Russian forces in Ukraine committed an array of war crimes, including summary executions, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian civilians.

The Kremlin has previously denied that its forces commit war crimes or deliberately target civilians. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

10 ships depart Ukraine’s port under Black Sea Grain Initiative

Ships, including those carrying grain from Ukraine and awaiting inspections, are seen anchored off the Istanbul coastline on November 02, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

Over the weekend, ten ships left Ukrainian ports over the weekend carrying 269,490 metric tons of agricultural goods under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and reopened three key Ukrainian ports.

Five ships departed the port of Chornomorsk for Turkey and China carrying barley, corn, wheat and sunflower meal. Four ships left Ukraine’s port of Odesa for Italy and Spain carrying corn, barley and wheat. Another vessel left the port of Yuzhny-Pivdennyi for Lebanon carrying wheat.

Ukraine and the U.N. pushed for a 120-day extension of the deal in March, but Russia said that it may only acknowledge the extension for 60 days.

— Amanda Macias

Families of Ukrainian medics held as POWs rally in Kyiv

Families of Ukrainian medics held as prisoners of war (POW) attend a rally in Kyiv.

Families of Ukrainian prisoner of war (POW) medics attend a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 24, 2023. 

Vladimir Shtanko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Families of Ukrainian prisoner of war (POW) medics attend a rally in front of the British Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 24, 2023.

Vladimir Shtanko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Families of Ukrainian prisoner of war (POW) medics attend a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 24, 2023. 

Vladimir Shtanko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

China says it respects sovereignty of ex-Soviet states, after EU uproar over Ukraine comment

China respects the status of former Soviet member states as sovereign nations, its foreign ministry said on Monday, after comments by its envoy to Paris triggered an uproar among European capitals.

Several EU foreign ministers had said earlier that comments by ambassador Lu Shaye – in which he appeared to question the sovereignty of Ukraine and other former Soviet states – were unacceptable and had asked Beijing to clarify its stance.

China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye in 2019.

Guillaume Souvant | Afp | Getty Images

Asked about his position on whether Crimea was part of Ukraine or not, Lu said in an interview aired on French TV on Friday that historically it was part of Russia and had been offered to Ukraine by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

“These ex-USSR countries don’t have actual status in international law because there is no international agreement to materialize their sovereign status,” Lu added.

Lu has earned himself a reputation as one of China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats, so called for their hawkish and abrasive style.

His latest comments were “totally unacceptable”, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky told reporters ahead of a Luxembourg meeting of EU foreign ministers. “I hope the bosses of this ambassador will make these things straight.”

Several other EU ministers also called the comments unacceptable, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the three Baltic countries – all formerly part of the Soviet Union – would summon Chinese representatives to officially ask for clarification and check if its position had changed.

Asked if Lu’s stance represented China’s official position, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that Beijing respected the status of the former Soviet member states as sovereign nations following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mao told a regular news briefing that it was her remarks on sovereignty that represented China’s official government stance. Her statement appeared to be an effort to distance Beijing from Lu’s comments and ease the tension with Brussels. China has been “objective and impartial” on issues of sovereignty, she said.


Russia steps up missile production ahead of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, official says

Russia is increasing its production of missiles ahead of the anticipated launch of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the head of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, told news outlet RBC-Ukraine.

Budanov said Russia was increasing its production of missiles and accumulating them “to disrupt our offensive operation” and that it would aim to “hit the groups of troops that will be formed,” he said, according to a translation of his comments by Google. Budanov did not give any details of the intelligence supporting his comments.

Ukrainian rescuers work on the five-storey residential building destroyed after a missile strike in Zaporizhzhia on March 2, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Katerina Klochko | Afp | Getty Images

As for the timing of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, military officials are tight-lipped despite a significant amount of press coverage and speculation over when and where the counteroffensive might begin.

Budanov said “we are approaching a landmark battle for the recent history of Ukraine. This is a fact, everyone understands it” but said that “when it will start is a mystery. But everyone understands that we are getting closer to it.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Finland foreign minister: Russia’s Wagner group could benefit from Sudan crisis

The PMC (Private Military Company) Wagner Center logo on the new building.

Maksim Konstantinov | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Finland Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday that there was a risk that Russia’s Wagner group could benefit from the current crisis in Sudan and that the European Union should do more regarding the situation in Sudan.

“It’s not fair that all foreigners are leaving the country in these circumstances. If we leave, we also leave some space for Wagner troops and Russia to play this game,” he said as he arrived at an EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg.


Ukrainians still holding ‘strategic lines’ in Bakhmut

The head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Monday that his forces continue to hold strategic positions in the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

Bakhmut has been largely reduced to rubble and ruins but Ukraine has refused to surrender the town, despite an onslaught by Russian forces and mercenary fighters in the Wagner Group for over eight months now. The western part of the town is still believed to be tentatively held by Ukraine.

Syrskyi said on Telegram that he had visited the Bakhmut area and met with commanders there, saying: “Here we work together with commanders and soldiers to plan operations, assaults and defenses, monitor the situation directly on the ground.”

“We hit the enemy … and continue to hold strategic lines.”

A Ukrainian armored vehicle drives on a muddy road near Bakhmut in the Donbas region, on March 9, 2023. 

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

On Sunday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense issued an update in which it claimed that assault detachments had “liberated” two more parts of western Bakhmut, a town Russia calls “Artemovsk.”

“The units of the Airborne Forces supported the actions of the assault detachments to capture the city on its northern and southern outskirts. In the interests of the Russian grouping in this area, aviation carried out six sorties, and artillery carried out 72 fire missions,” the ministry said.

Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine war spurs record global spending on military, Stockholm think tank says

Global military spending rose to a record last year as Russia’s war in Ukraine drove the biggest annual increase in expenditure in Europe since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, a leading conflict and armaments think tank said on Monday.

World military expenditure rose by 3.7% in real terms in 2022 to $2.24 trillion, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a statement.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February last year following years of growing tensions, has prompted European countries to rush to bolster their defenses.

Moscow claims its “special military operation” was necessary to safeguard it against what it sees as a hostile and aggressive West. Ukraine and its Western allies say Russia is waging an unprovoked war aimed at grabbing territory.

A Ukrainian tank opens fire on targets to support infantry units on the frontlines amid the Russia-Ukraine war in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on April 17, 2023. 

Muhammed Enes Yildirim | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

European military spending shot up 13% last year, primarily due to increases by Russia and Ukraine, but with many countries across the continent also ramping up military budgets and planning for more amid the surging tensions.

“This included multi-year plans to boost spending from several governments,” SIPRI Senior Researcher Diego Lopes da Silva said. “As a result, we can reasonably expect military expenditure in Central and Western Europe to keep rising in the years ahead.”

Ukraine’s military spending rose 640% in 2022, the largest annual increase recorded in SIPRI data going back to 1949, with that total not including the vast amounts of financial military aid provided by the West.

SIPRI estimated that military aid to Ukraine from the United States accounted for 2.3% of total U.S. military spending in 2022. Though the United States was the world’s top spender by far its overall expenditure rose only marginally in real terms.

Meanwhile, Russia’s military spending grew by an estimated 9.2%, though SIPRI acknowledged figures were “highly uncertain given the increasing opaqueness of financial authorities” since its war in Ukraine began.

“The difference between Russia’s budgetary plans and its actual military spending in 2022 suggests the invasion of Ukraine has cost Russia far more than it anticipated,” said Lucie Beraud-Sudreau, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.

— Reuters

Kremlin spokesman’s son claims he joined Russian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine

The son of the Kremlin’s high-profile spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed in an interview with a Moscow-based newspaper that he joined Russian mercenaries and fought in Ukraine for around six months.

In an article published by Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda on Sunday, 33 year-old Nikolai Peskov said that he served as an artilleryman in the Wagner Group, a private military company that is fighting alongside regular Russian units in Ukraine.

He served under an assumed name and said the decision to join Wagner fighters was his own initiative, but that his father Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary had supported his decision after some concerns, and had helped him contact the Wagner Group.

Nikolai Peskov said he considered it his “duty” to serve, saying “I just had to participate, I had to help everyone who was there. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch friends and other people go there,” adding that other friends had gone to fight in Ukraine.

Peskov was awarded a medal for bravery but declined to say what courageous act he and his comrades had performed. The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Telegram that he had been approached by Peskov senior who asked for his son to join the group.

A recruiting on-screen advert of the Wagner Group in Moscow. The Wagner Group is a private military company that came to prominence during the war in Ukraine. The text on the screen reads: Private military company Wagner. Join the team of the winners. Together we will win..

Vlad Karkov | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The interview has raised some eyebrows, however, given as it comes as Russia launches a major recruitment drive to attract new voluntary recruits into the armed forces. The war shows no signs of ending soon with an Ukrainian counteroffensive expected any time now.

Some commentators have also expressed doubts that the son of a member of Russia’s political elite would fight in Ukraine or that Peskov had done so.

Reuters noted that in 2022, an associate of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny phoned up Nikolai Peskov and pretended to be a Russian military official. He demanded that Peskov junior report to a draft office but Nikolai Peskov told him that he would not be going anywhere and would solve the situation at a different level, according to a recording of the call posted online.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia steps up major recruitment drive with war set to enter next phase

An ad in Saint Petersburg, Russia, promoting the army. The ad says ”serve Russia, with a real work.”

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Russia’s Ministry of Defense launched a major new drive for volunteers with an advertising campaign telling potential recruits, “you’re a real man. Be one.”

The U.K.’s defense ministry noted Sunday that “a pervasive campaign” has seen advertising appear on Russian social media sites, billboards and on TV.

“The new adverts appeal to potential recruits’ masculine pride, appealing for ‘real men’, as well as highlighting the financial benefits of joining up.” The ministry said it was highly unlikely that the campaign will attract the Russian defense ministry’s reported target of 400,000 volunteers.

One ad, Reuters noted, invited men to sign a contract with the Russian defense ministry for a salary starting at 204,000 Russian rubles ($2,495) a month. The ad showed men in everyday jobs and situations and alternatively as soldiers, concluding with the phrase: “You’re a real man. Be one.”

The public recruitment drive comes as both Russia and Ukraine prepare to step up the pace of fighting, with Kyiv expected to launch a counteroffensive imminently.

Regular Russian units, and the private military company called the Wagner Group, are now “competing for the limited pool of Russian fighting-age men,” the ministry said.

The authorities are almost certainly seeking to delay any new, overt mandatory mobilization for as long as possible to minimize domestic dissent, it added.

The Wagner Group had been allowed to recruit prisoners from Russian jails last year, with freedom offered to those who completed six months’ service in the private military company fighting in Ukraine. That avenue to recruits was closed recently, however.

— Holly Ellyatt

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