Sun, 04 Jun 2023

Ukraine is probing about 13,000 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said Monday. Some 20 countries including Italy, Greece and Denmark announced new security assistance packages for Kyiv during a virtual meeting with allies, according to US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded.

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

05:00am: Ukraine's Zelensky urges allies to pressure Moscow on prisoner swap

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Monday that Kyiv was ready for an exchange of prisoners with Russia "even tomorrow" and called on his allies to put pressure on Moscow.

"The exchange of people - this is a humanitarian matter today and a very political decision that depends on the support of many states," Zelensky said in a question-and-answer video link with audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"It is important ... to pressure politically on any level, through powerful business, through the closure of businesses, oil embargo ... and through these threats actively intensify the exchange of our people for Russian servicemen."

"We do not need the Russian servicemen, we only need ours," Zelensky said. "We are ready for an exchange even tomorrow."

Zelensky said that Ukraine has involved the United Nations, Switzerland, Israel and "many, many countries", but the process was very complicated.

Several thousand people are in captivity after Russia captured the port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine and as a result of the battle in the eastern Donbas region, he said.

12:05am: US still 'a ways away' from sending troops back into Ukraine, says general

The United States is still "a ways away" from any possible decision on whether to re-introduce U.S. troops into Ukraine, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday, even as he acknowledged low-level planning underway.

President Joe Biden decided to withdraw American troops from Ukraine before Russia's Feb. 24 invasion in order to avoid a direct conflict with a nuclear-armed adversary.

But changing circumstances including a reopening of the U.S. embassy have raised questions about whether US troops may be required to return to help ensure security of diplomats in a country at war.

At a news conference, Milley acknowledged some degree of staff planning ahead of a potential decision to send US troops back into Ukraine. That planning hasn't made it to his level for review or to the level of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Then, ultimately, it would be up to Biden.

"At the end of the day, any reintroduction of US forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision. So we're a ways away from anything like that," Milley said.

"We're still developing courses of action, and none of that's been presented yet to the Secretary."

10:56pm: Russia not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China, Lavrov says

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow will consider offers of re-establishing ties with the West and think about whether that is needed, but will focus on developing ties with China.

"If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not," Lavrov said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry's website.

He also said Moscow's goal now is to further develop ties with China.

"Now that the West has taken a 'dictator's position', our economic ties with China will grow even faster," Lavrov said.

9:53pm: German economy minister expects EU embargo on Russian oil 'within days'

The EU will likely agree an embargo on Russian oil imports "within days", German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told broadcaster ZDF on Monday.

Habeck warned that an embargo would not automatically weaken the Kremlin as rising prices were enabling it to rake in more income while selling lower volumes of oil. Therefore, one consideration was to no longer pay "any price" for oil, but to agree on upper limits, he said. For that to work, however, many countries would have to get on board.

9:49pm: Russians 'trying to encircle' Ukrainian forces in Luhansk region

"I believe that there is shelling at various places along the eastern front line - artillery battles going on in a variety of locations, not only Luhansk region, but also Donetsk region," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv. "But the Russians' main targets at the moment are [...] two cities in the Luhansk region."

"What they seem to be trying to [do], the Russians, is to encircle the Ukrainian forces there."

9:45pm: Colombia to train Ukrainian military on landmine removal

A team of Colombian soldiers will travel to Europe to train their Ukrainian counterparts on de-mining techniques, the South American country's defence minister said on Monday.

Colombia's nearly 60 years of internal conflict between its armed forces, leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels has made it one of the world's most-mined countries, according to the United Nations. Landmines have killed 2,342 people in Colombia and injured close to 10,000 since 1990, according to the government.

Russian soldiers and Ukrainian authorities have both said they will clear landmines from various locations in Ukraine amid the ongoing invasion launched by Russia on February 24.

8:40pm: Zelensky says he would meet Putin to discuss end to war

Zelensky said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was the only Russian official he was willing to meet with a single issue on the agenda - to stop the war.

Zelensky, addressing by video link an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, also said that arranging any sort of talks with Russia was becoming more difficult in light of what he said was evidence of Russian actions against civilians under occupation.

He also said that any notion of recovering by force the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, would cause hundreds of thousands of casualties.

8:14pm: Zelensky tells business leaders world must increase pressure on Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told global business leaders on Monday the world must increase sanctions against Russia to deter other countries from using "brute force" to achieve their aims.

Zelensky spoke to the World Economic Forum as the Ukrainian military claimed to have held off a Russian assault on Sievierodonetsk, an eastern city that has become the main target of a Russian offensive after the surrender of the southern city of Mariupol last week.

6:56pm: Lithuania calls on EU to provide cash for Ukrainian refugees

Lithuanian Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste urged the European Union on Monday to set up a fund that would help countries welcoming thousands of Ukrainian refugees manage the financial burden, just like the EU did for Turkey in 2016.

The United Nations estimates that some 6.5 million Ukrainians have left their country since the Russian invasion began on February 24. Most of them, some 3.5 million, have entered Poland, and almost 1 million went to Romania.

"In Lithuania, Ukrainians are now about 2 percent of the population," Skaiste told Reuters. "In Estonia it is about 2.5 percent and in Poland about 6-7 percent, so the numbers for supporting them are quite big. We are asking for some additional funds, which would be helpful in this situation," she said.

6:48pm: Twenty countries announce new security assistance for Ukraine, US defence chief says

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that some 20 countries had announced new security assistance packages for Ukraine during a virtual meeting with allies aimed at coordinating arms for Kyiv.

"Today was a very successful meeting," Austin said. "Many countries are donating critically needed artillery ammunition, coastal defence systems and tanks and other armoured vehicles."

Those who announced new packages include Italy, Denmark, Greece, Norway and Poland, Austin told reporters. Denmark would provide a harpoon launcher and missiles to defend Ukraine's coast, he added.

5:36pm: Lithuania to withdraw its ambassador to Russia from June 1

Lithuania will withdraw its ambassador to Russia from June 1, according to a presidential decree signed on Monday. No replacement has been named.

The Baltic country expelled Russia's envoy on April 4. The Lithuanian government said at that time it intended to lower the level of diplomatic representation between the two countries.

5:28pm: Ukraine says gas supplies to eastern regions suspended after pipeline shelled

Ukraine's gas system operator said on Monday supplies to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk had been suspended after the main gas pipeline was damaged by Russian shelling.

5:21pm: EU extends budget rules suspension because of Ukraine war

The EU has moved to prolong looser limits on spending by member countries for an extra year in a bid to counter the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine.

The EU Commission recommended on Monday suspending the EU's regular rules on national budget discipline through 2023. The 27-nation bloc's executive arm said member countries need the fiscal flexibility to tackle heightened economic risks since the Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The EU deactivated its full controls on national debt levels in 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. That laxer framework was due to end at the end of this year. The planned extension until the start of 2024 comes as EU countries face a drop in energy trade with Russia, a surge in inflation and many disruptions to supply chains.

"Our economy is living through a second external shock - the second in two years," European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters in Brussels. "The outlook is subject to downside risks and very high uncertainty."

5:16pm: Ukraine says investigating 13,000 alleged Russian war crimes

Ukraine Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said there were about 13,000 cases of alleged Russian war crimes being probed as of Monday.

"As of this day, we have more than 13,000 cases (being probed) only about war crimes," Venediktova said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Kyiv has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has denied targeting civilians or being involved in war crimes.

4:38pm: Russian-controlled Ukraine region declares rouble official currency

Authorities in the Moscow-controlled Ukrainian region of Kherson announced Monday the introduction of the rouble as an official currency alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia. The region's capital Kherson was the first major city to fall to Russian forces after the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

"Today a decree will be issued that formalises the introduction in the Kherson region of dual currency," the pro-Moscow head of the regional administration, Vladimir Saldo, said in a video address.

"This means all traders have the right to - and later will be obliged to - display prices in two currencies, in hryvnias and Russian roubles," he said. "The Russian rouble exchange rate will be twice that of the hryvnia, two Russian roubles for one hryvnia."

4:15pm: Starbucks says it will completely exit Russia

Starbucks said Monday it will cease operations in Russia, shuttering its 130 cafes in the country.

The coffee chain, which suspended its operations in early March following the invasion of Ukraine in late February, said it will "exit" Russia and "no longer have a brand presence in the market". The move follows a similar action last week by another giant US brand, McDonald's.

4:15pm: Russian rouble leaps to near seven-year high against euro

The Russian rouble firmed more than 6 percent against the euro on Monday to a near seven-year high, boosted by capital controls, strong oil prices and an upcoming month-end tax period.

By 1338 GMT, the rouble had gained 6.3 percent to trade at 58.75 versus the euro, its strongest point since early June 2015.

It was 4.6 percent stronger against the dollar at 57.47, not far from 57.0750, its strongest mark since late March 2018, hit on Friday.

The rouble has firmed about 30 percent against the dollar this year despite a full-scale economic crisis in Russia, making it the world's best-performing currency - albeit artificially supported by controls imposed in late February to shield Russia's financial sector after its decision to invade Ukraine prompted unprecedented Western sanctions.

4:05pm: Kremlin accuses Ukraine of 'terror attack' on pro-Moscow official

The Kremlin on Monday accused Ukrainian nationalists of carrying out a "terror attack" against an official installed by Moscow in southern Ukraine.

Andrey Shevchik was appointed as mayor of Energodar in the Zaporizhzhia region after Russian troops took control of the town, the site of Europe's largest nuclear power plant, during Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine.

On Sunday, Shevchik and his two guards were wounded in an explosion as they were entering a building.

Ukrainian "nationalist elements are using such methods", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow. "Of course, this forces our military to be on the alert, to take preventative measures to make sure such terror attacks will not happen again," he said.

2:50pm: Russian diplomat to UN in Geneva resigns over war in Ukraine

A veteran Russian diplomat to the UN Office at Geneva says he handed in his resignation before sending out a scathing letter to foreign colleagues inveighing against the "aggressive war unleashed" by President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.

Boris Bondarev, 41, confirmed his resignation in a letter delivered Monday morning at the Russian diplomatic mission after a diplomatic official passed on his English-language statement to The Associated Press.

"For twenty years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on Feb. 24 of this year," he wrote, alluding to the date of Russia's invasion.

2:45pm: Putin jokes about being blamed for all the world's woes

Russian President Vladimir Putin quipped on Monday that he would have a serious talk to the West about its assertions that he was to blame for all the economic chaos sown by the conflict in Ukraine and the West's crippling sanctions.

At a televised meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that Russia's economy was doing well, despite the Western sanctions. Lukashenko said the sanctions had given both countries the impetus to focus on self-development, and that the elites of the West were deluded about the causes of their economic woes.

"On the economy, thanks are really due to them (in the West) as they have given us such a push to our own development," Lukashenko told Putin, who smiled and nodded. "What is happening over there is that they really underestimated it by reading their own media. They got inflation yet the truth is 'Putin is to blame', 'Putin is to blame for everything'," Lukashenko said.

Putin pursed his lips and nodded. "We will have a serious talk to them," Putin said with a forced smile. Lukashenko chuckled and said "Yes".

2:38pm: Zelensky urges 'maximum' sanctions on Russia in Davos talk

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for "maximum" sanctions against Russia during a virtual speech Monday to corporate executives, government officials and other elites on the first day of the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos.

He said sanctions need to go further to stop Russia's aggression, including an oil embargo, blocking all of its banks and cutting off trade with Russia completely. He said that it's a precedent that would work for decades to come.

"This is what sanctions should be: They should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbour would clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions," Zelensky said through a translator.

2:36pm: Four EU countries call for use of Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine

Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia will call on Tuesday for the confiscation of Russian assets frozen by the European Union to fund the rebuilding of Ukraine after Russia's invasion, a joint letter by the four showed on Monday.

On May 3, Ukraine estimated the amount of money needed to rebuild the country from the destruction wrought by Russia at around $600 billion. But with the war still in full swing, the sum is likely to have risen sharply, the letter seen by Reuters said.

"A substantial part of costs of rebuilding Ukraine, including compensation for victims of the Russian military aggression, must be covered by Russia," said the letter, which will be presented to EU finance ministers on Tuesday.

2:19pm: Russia says studying Italy peace plan for Ukraine

Russia said Monday it was looking over an Italian peace plan proposal to end the conflict in Ukraine.

"We have received it recently and are studying it," Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko told reporters. He declined to provide any details, saying Russia would comment at a later stage.

2:14pm: Erdogan says Sweden must bolster Turkish security

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has objected to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, called on Stockholm on Monday to take "concrete steps" to alleviate Turkey's security concerns.

Turkey has said it opposes the two Nordic states' membership in the alliance, citing their alleged support to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and other groups that Turkey views as terrorists. The country is also demanding a lifting of military export bans on Ankara.

"We can in no way ignore the fact that Sweden is imposing sanctions against us," Erdogan said Monday during a ceremony marking the docking of a submarine. "Turkey's rightful expectations concerning (an end to the) support to terrorism and sanctions must be met."

1:51pm: Zelensky reveals 87 people killed in Russian strike last week

Eighty-seven people were killed in a Russian air strike in the town of Desna last Tuesday, said President Zelensky, in what could be Ukraine's biggest military death toll in a single strike of the war so far.

On the day of the attack, a Russian military spokesman said high-precision, long-range missiles had hit Ukrainian reserves forces at a training centre near Desna, in the northern Ukrainian region of Chernihiv, and at one other site.

Zelensky did not specify if the casualties from the attack in Desna were military or civilian. There is a military barracks and training base near the town.

"Today we completed work at Desna. In Desna under the rubble there were 87 casualties. 87 corpses," said Zelensky in his address via videolink to business leaders at Davos.

1:39pm: Lukashenko accuses West of trying to 'dismember' Ukraine

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he was concerned about what he called moves by the West to "dismember" Ukraine. He also accused Poland of seeking to seize western Ukraine.

At a televised meeting with Putin, Lukashenko said Kyiv would eventually have to ask for help in preventing the seizure of western Ukraine.

He offered no evidence for his assertions.

1:11pm: War in Ukraine dominates Davos meeting

Reporting from Davos, Switzerland, FRANCE 24's Kate Moody said the war in Ukraine was dominating the agenda at the World Economic Forum.

In his virtual address, Ukrainian President Zelensky called for an embargo on Russian oil imports and spoke about rebuilding his country "after what he believed would be a victory. He was speaking much more to the business leaders gathered here in Davos," explained Moody.

12:47pm: Russia's Avtovaz names ex-transport minister as CEO after Renault exit

Russia's top carmaker Avtovaz has announced that it has appointed former transport minister Maxim Sokolov as its new president and CEO after its main shareholder Renault withdrew from the Russian market.

Sokolov, who served as Russia's transport minister from 2012-2018, is replacing Nicolas Maure, who began his tenure in May 2021. The board's decision to appoint Sokolov came into effect on Monday.

12:07pm: Russian soldier found guilty of war crimes

A Ukrainian court has sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia's invasion on Ukraine.

Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, pleaded guilty to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28 after being ordered to shoot him.

Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin, carrying out a "criminal order" by a soldier of higher rank, had fired several shots at the victim's head from an automatic weapon.

11:04am: Russia 'inspires other potential actors': Zelensky tells Davos

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for "maximum" sanctions against Russia during a virtual speech on the first day of the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland.

He said sanctions need to go further to stop Russia's aggression, including an oil embargo, blocking all of its banks and cutting off trade with Russia completely.

"This is what sanctions should be: They should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbor would clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions," Zelensky said.

10:54am: More than 6.5 million people have fled Ukraine: UN

More than 6.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion in late February, the UN refugee agency said.

Since Russia's invasion on February 24, 6,538,998 refugees have left Ukraine, with the majority of them entering Poland.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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