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Live blog: UN accuses Russia, Ukraine of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners

Friday, March 24, 2023

The United Nations has said it was “deeply concerned” by what it described as summary executions of prisoners of war carried out by both Russian and Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.

The head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said her organisation had documented killings, often on the battlefield, by both sides in recent months.

“We are deeply concerned about summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons hors de combat by the Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” Bogner said at a press conference in Kiev.

“This was often perpetrated immediately upon capture on the battlefield. While we are aware of ongoing investigations by Ukraine authorities into five cases involving 22 victims, we are not aware of any prosecution of the perpetrators,” she added.

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1907 GMT —  Creditors group vows to help Ukraine as it seeks IMF credit

The Group of Creditors of Ukraine (GCU) body said on Friday that it had provided financing assurances to support the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) approval for an upper credit tranche programme to help restore Ukraine’s economy.

The Group of Creditors of Ukraine includes Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Britain and the United States. 

1726 GMT — ‘Not easy’ to seize billions of Russia assets: EU task force head

EU plans to seize Russian assets following Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, prioritising state assets of around $350 billion, are unprecedented and tricky, the EU task force head told AFP news agency on Friday.

“Nothing is simple” when it comes to finding the massive sums intended to be diverted to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction, Swedish career diplomat Anders Ahnlid said in an interview in Stockholm.

But Europe plans to be “innovative”, he said.

From oligarchs’ yachts to the Russian central bank’s foreign reserves, there is a mountain of wealth to be had, but seizing it in a legal manner is easier said than done.

“It is a challenge to find legal means that are acceptable,” Ahnlid said, a week after the EU working group’s first meeting.

1332 GMT — Russia wants demilitarised buffer zones in Ukraine: Putin ally

Former President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia needed demilitarised corridors around the areas it is claiming – and which Ukraine says it will never accept Russian control of.

We need to “throw out all the foreigners who are there in the broad sense of the word, create a buffer zone which would not allow the use of any types of weapons that work at medium and short distances, that is 70-100 kilometres, to demilitarise it,” Medvedev, who is deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said in an interview with Russian media posted on Telegram.

Russia would have to push further into Ukraine if such zones were not established, he said, taking Kiev the capital or even the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv. 

1331 GMT — World must listen to China’s voice to end war in Ukraine: Spain

The world should listen to China’s voice in order to find a way out of the war in Ukraine, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said, ahead of his state visit to Beijing next week.

“China is a global actor, so obviously we must listen to its voice to see if between all of us, we can put an end to this war and Ukraine can recover its territorial integrity,” Sanchez told a news conference in Brussels following a meeting of the European Council.

1327 GMT — Poland to get millions in compensation from EU for arms for Ukraine

The European Peace Facility, which is used to fund arms for Ukraine, will amount to at least $3.76 billion in the coming years, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels.

“Poland’s compensation from the facility for transferring arms to Ukraine will amount to some 300 million euros next month and 500-600 million in the following months,” Morawiecki told reporters.

1310 GMT — Thousands of civilians ‘at the limit of existence’ in Ukraine’s Bakhmut: Red Cross

Some 10,000 Ukrainian civilians, many elderly and with disabilities, are clinging on to existence in horrific circumstances in and around the besieged city of Bakhmut, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

Several thousand are estimated to remain in the city itself, said the ICRC’s Umar Khan, who has been providing them with aid in recent days.

“For the civilians that are stuck there, they are living in very dire conditions, spending almost the entire days in intense shelling in the shelters,” he told a Geneva press briefing by video link from Dnipro in Ukraine.

“All you see is people pushed to the very limits of their existence and survival and resilience.”

1242 GMT — Ukraine pushes for continued Russian Olympic exclusion

Ukraine renewed its push to keep Russian athletes out of the Olympics on Friday ahead of an International Olympic Committee board meeting next week which is expected to set the framework for their return to international sports events.

Vadym Guttsait, who is Ukraine’s sports minister and leads the national Olympic committee, was sharply critical of the IOC’s push to reintegrate Russia and its ally Belarus into world sports. Any return, Guttsait said, would highlight the inequality caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

“We do not have normal conditions for training and preparation for the Olympic Games. At the same time, the Russians have all the essentials to train and perform inside their country. They sleep at night, but we don’t sleep at night,” he told reporters.

The IOC is expected to set out criteria for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete next week as qualifying events for the Paris Olympics ramp up. The IOC recommended excluding Russia and Belarus on safety grounds soon after the offensive began last year but now argues for letting the two countries’ athletes compete as neutrals without national symbols.

1214 GMT — At least seven killed in overnight Russian attacks on Ukraine

A Russian strike on a humanitarian support centre in an eastern Ukraine town has killed five people, emergency services said, as Moscow’s forces push to capture the entire industrial Donetsk region.

“The town of Kostyantynivka came under rocket fire during the night of March 24. One of the rockets hit a one-storey building,” the emergency services said on Telegram, specifying that three women and two men had died.

Emergency services said the three women killed were internally displaced from Bakhmut, Chasiv Yar and Opytne.

Kostyantynivka lies about 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Bakhmut, an industrial city that has seen the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

Two more people were killed in heavy Russian shelling of the Sumy region of northern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said.

0951 GMT Zelenskyy tells EU victory will be gained with cooperation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that his country will be victorious in its war with Russia if there are no “delays” or “stagnation” in cooperation between Kiev and the EU.

“No one knows for sure how long the war will last and which battles will bring us success faster… but what is clear is that if there are no delays or stagnation in out cooperation, and if our joint efforts are resolutely focused on Ukrainian victory, the victory will be gained this year,” he said in a video address to the European Council.

Zelenskyy also said that despite the growth in cooperation between Ukraine and the EU, delays in the supply of long-range missiles and modern aircraft affected Ukrainian military actions, especially in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

He sought reasons behind the delay, namely in the case of modern aircraft.

Zelenskyy further said that Europe’s “procrastination” regarding new sanctions on Russia is becoming “more and more unpleasant,” noting that global efforts against Russia are not yet enough while the EU has not shown that sanctions on Moscow will increase.

0924 GMT Ukraine scrambles for ‘game-changer’ drone fleet

As Ukraine seeks to narrow the yawning gap between its own military capabilities and Russia’s, Kiev says it is expanding its drone programme for both reconnaissance and attacking enemy targets over an increasing range.

It is hoping that domestic drone makers like AeroDrone will help it meet its ambitious goals.

AeroDrone, which made crop-dusting drones prior to the war and now supplies Ukraine’s armed forces, makes unmanned aircraft that can carry up to 300 kilograms or fly up to several thousand kilometres in certain configurations.

The government is now working with more than 80 Ukraine-based drone manufacturers, Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Reuters.

He said Kiev needs hundreds of thousands of drones, many of which it is looking to source from a rapidly-expanding domestic industry. Currently, the military operates dozens of models of domestic and foreign drones that fulfil a “wide spectrum” of roles, Reznikov said, in written responses to questions.

0901GMT Russia’s Medvedev: We don’t want direct conflict with NATO

Russian ex-President Dmitry Medvedev has said that Russia was not planning to enter into a direct conflict with NATO and was interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis through talks, the Interfax news agency reported.

However, he warned that any Ukrainian attempt to take the Crimean peninsula – which Moscow annexed in 2014 – would be grounds for Russia to use “absolutely any weapon” against Kiev in response.

0701 GMT — Ukraine prepares counteroffensive as Russia’s assault flags

Ukrainian troops, on the defensive for months, will soon counterattack as Russia’s offensive looks to be faltering, a commander said, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that without a faster supply of arms, the war could last years.

The Ukrainian military said early on Friday that 1,020 Russian troops had been killed over the previous 24 hours as they launched unsuccessful attacks on the towns of Lyman, Avdiivka, Mariinka, and Shakhtarske. But their main focus was still the mining town of Bakhmut.

Russian forces have for months been trying to capture Bakhmut as they seek to extend their control over eastern Ukraine.

There was no immediate word from Russia on the latest fighting and Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

Ukraine’s top ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said earlier his forces would soon begin a counter-offensive after withstanding Russia’s winter campaign.

0518 GMT — Moscow forces may go to Kiev or Lviv: ex-Russian president

Russian forces may have to advance as far as Kiev or Lviv in Ukraine, Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev has said in an interview with Russian news agencies.

“Nothing can be ruled out here. If you need to get to Kiev, then you need to go to Kiev, if to Lviv, then you need to go to Lviv in order to destroy this infection,” RIA Novosti quoted Medvedev as saying.

0107 GMT — Russia reacts to UK decision to send uranium-based ammo to Ukraine

Russia has threatened to escalate attacks in Ukraine after the British government announced it would provide Ukraine with a type of munition that Moscow claims has nuclear components.

The British defence ministry on Monday confirmed it would provide Ukraine with armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

Such rounds were developed by the US during the Cold War to destroy Soviet tanks, including the same T-72 tanks that Ukraine now faces in its push to break through a stalemate in the east.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process needed to create nuclear weapons. The rounds retain some radioactive properties, but they can’t generate a nuclear reaction like a nuclear weapon would, RAND nuclear expert and policy researcher Edward Geist said.

23:12 GMT — Russia hits out at Council of Europe as Ukraine fight grinds on

Russia understood the decision to quit the Council of Europe was right and will not return to it in the future, a Russian senior diplomat has said, accusing the council of being Russophobic [dislike or fear of Russia].

In an interview with TASS news agency, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of European Cooperation Nikolay Kobrinets said, “Our ‘divorce’ with Strasbourg is not a whim, it’s a well-thought decision that took a few years to ripe. The Council of Europe of the present day is far from what it used to be back in 1996. Double standards, hypocrisy and Russophobia are its distinctive traits now. Clearly, with the Council of Europe of this kind, our ways have parted.”

Kobrinets went on to say that unification principles and democratic ideals, proclaimed by the Council of Europe’s Charter were “sacrificed to bloc interests.”

In his words, the West turned the organisation into its ideological appendage and used it to “impose its dubious ‘progressivist’ values” on Russia and to put pressure on its government and people.

“The page has been turned. There is nothing to regret,” the Russian diplomat added.

2044 GMT — Russia takes a dig at ‘biased’ German media 

A report by the German government to the parliament, showing that the country’s media are not “just biased, but receive a salary from the government,” confirms what Russia “was aware of” long ago, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Maria Zakharova told the Anadolu Agency that the German authorities “have done this [interfered in the work of the media] historically and are doing it now.”

“We learned nothing new, we’ve been saying all the time that the German media … are biased, paid for by German political forces, prone to propaganda and self-censorship.

“Now the German media themselves published relevant materials provided officially by the German side, from which it follows that the German government, contrary to the [previous] statements not only interfere but pays and moderates the content,” she said.

Zakharova said Russia is open to “constructive settlement” of conflicts, but if its voice is not heard, then “it learned to take mirror measures.”

For our live updates from Thursday (March 23), click here.

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