Russia expelling over 20 German diplomats
The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman on Saturday announced the expulsion of “more than 20” German diplomats as a retaliatory measure for “mass expulsion” of Russian embassy staff from Berlin.
Maria Zakharova told state-run television Zvezda that Moscow had decided to expel “more than 20” diplomats after her ministry denounced “another mass expulsion of employees of Russian diplomatic missions in Germany.”
About 3,000 people evacuated after bomb found in Russian city of Belgorod
Around 3,000 people in the Russian city of Belgorod were evacuated Saturday after a bomb was found near the area where a Russian warplane dropped an explosive late Thursday, Russian state media TASS reported, citing local emergency services.
The evacuees cleared out of 17 residential buildings as explosives specialists assessed the ammunition found Saturday, according to TASS. Officials eventually stated there was no danger of explosion.
Belgorod’s regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on his Telegram channel that the bomb has been removed from the area and people are gradually returning to their apartments.
The explosion on Thursday left a crater about 20 meters (65 feet) across, blowing a car onto a roof and damaging buildings, in what state media called an “accidental” or “emergency” release of air ordnance by a Russian fighter jet.
Belgorod is 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) north of the border with Ukraine
Ukraine: 11 Russian warships are in combat readiness in Black Sea
Ukraine’s operational command has reported that 11 Russian warships are in combat readiness in the Black Sea, including two submarines armed with Kalibr cruise missiles.
According to Ukrinform, the press service of Ukraine’s Operational Command South reported this on Facebook.
“The situation in the southern area of responsibility of the defence forces remains difficult, but we continue our combat work. The enemy ship grouping in the Black Sea consists of 11 units, including two submarine missile carriers armed with eight Kalibrs,” it said.
US warns EU of Russia’s alleged attempts to bypass sanctions: Reports
The United States has handed four EU countries a list of expensive dual-use goods that Russia allegedly seeks to purchase in circumvention of sanctions, the Financial Times reported, citing US officials.
Brian Nelson, the US treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has recently traveled to Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland to discuss with the countries’ authorities methods Russia allegedly uses to bypass export restrictions to acquire goods valuable for its military-industrial complex, the report said.
“Russia is throwing a lot of resources at circumventing our sanctions,” a US official told the Financial Times, adding that even some nations that had officially joined the sanctions were “falling short on actions to ensure that Russia can’t exploit their companies and banks to equip its military.
The list of goods Moscow allegedly seeks to purchase in circumvention of sanctions includes optics, semiconductor converters, voltage and power measuring equipment, as well as user-programmable gate arrays, the news outlet reported. At the same time, Washington did not specify in production of what weapons these items were used, according to the Financial Times.
In late February, EU sanctions envoy David O’Sullivan told the news outlet that the European Union was deeply concerned over the recent increase in exports to Russia’s neighboring countries and its allies, adding that goods supplied to them might end up in Moscow. In this regard, O’Sullivan reportedly visited these countries to discuss the issue and convey the Western position on the unacceptability of sanctions evasion.
Russia says NATO statements about Ukraine joining alliance are “dangerous”
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a warning Friday about NATO’s “dangerous” statements regarding Ukraine joining the alliance.
“NATO sets itself the goal of ‘defeating’ Russia in Ukraine, and to motivate Kyiv, it promises that after the end of the conflict, the country can be accepted into the alliance,” ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.
It comes after NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg visited Kyiv on Thursday and stressed that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO”.
Stoltenberg said he discussed a “multiyear support initiative” with President Volodymyr Zelensky, adding that it would help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era equipment and doctrines to “NATO standards.”
This would “ensure full interoperability with the alliance,” Stoltenberg stated.
His visit and the statements about Ukraine joining NATO were met with pushback from Russia. The Kremlin reiterated on Thursday that preventing Kyiv from joining NATO is one of its key goals.
“Such statements are short-sighted and downright dangerous. This can lead to the final collapse of the European security system,” Zakharova continued.
Stoltenberg also reaffirmed Friday during a meeting of allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany that Ukraine will join the military alliance. He told reporters all NATO allies have agreed Ukraine should be a member — but did not give a definitive date of when this would happen.
Top US general says Russian forces have “eroding” discipline and “poor” morale against Ukraine
While the Ukrainian military “continues to perform very well” in its fight against Russia, the Russian military lacks will and morale, US Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.
“Unlike Ukrainian forces, who are highly motivated to fight for their country, to fight for their freedom, their democracy, and their way of life, the Russians lack in leadership, they lack will, the morale is poor, and the discipline is eroding,” Milley stated in Germany alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting.
Milley noted that Russia is “expending significant manpower for very little gain,” and tightening its conscription laws as they “indiscriminately feed their citizens into the chaos of war.”
“Over the past year, Russia’s temporary territorial gains have come with enormous losses. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their country in addition to the casualties,” he continued, adding, “They are trying to avoid fighting in Putin’s war.”
Situation in city of Bakhmut ‘under control’: Ukraine
Ukraine announced that Russian forces had made some advances in fierce fighting for the eastern city of Bakhmut but that the situation was under control.
Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar made her comments shortly before Russia’s defence ministry said its assault troops were now fighting in western parts of Bakhmut, the last part of the city held by Ukrainian forces.
“The situation is tense, but under control,” Malyar wrote on the Telegram messaging app, adding, “Decisions are being made according to military expediency.”
Russian troops have reportedly moved into western Bakhmut, the last part of the city still held by Kyiv’s troops.
The Russian defence ministry claimed that its assault troops had begun fighting in the area.
Earlier this week, the Wagner group reportedly captured two districts in the centre and northwest of Bakhmut, Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed.
Nuclear experts at Zaporizhzhia power plant have heard shelling “almost every day” this week
International Atomic Energy Agency experts at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have heard shelling nearly every day over the past week, the agency said in an update on Friday.
At one point, they were told to shelter at the site because of the potential dangers, according to an update from IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi.
“I saw clear indications of military preparations in the area when I visited the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant just over three weeks ago. Since then, our experts at the site have frequently reported about hearing detonations, at times suggesting intense shelling not far from the site. I’m deeply concerned about the situation at the plant,” Grossi said.
The plant still relies on one functioning power line “for the external electricity it needs for reactors cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions,” Grossi added.
Prior to the war, the plant had four such power lines.
In addition, due to the “significant reduction” of staff at the site, the plant “currently does not have a systematic maintenance and in-service inspection schedule,” Grossi continued.
Russian forces continue to control the plant, which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe and sits in a part of the Zaporizhzhia region that Russia occupied after its invasion of Ukraine last February. The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense Russian shelling in the area, raising fears across Europe of a nuclear accident.
The IAEA announced in January that it would establish a continuous presence of nuclear safety and security experts at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities, significantly stepping up its efforts to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current military conflict.
Ukraine receives “green light” for cooperation with NATO’s procurement agency: DM
Ukraine has received a “green light” for close cooperation with NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Friday.
“I’m happy to have a green light for our close cooperation with NSPA, NATO’s procurement agency. This will include the National Procurement Review and best-in-the-league advice to [Ukraine’s Defense Ministry],” Reznikov tweeted following a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The meeting in Ramstein on Friday brings together Ukrainian officials and their counterparts from the coalition known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
“We need excellent defense procurement both to win the war and to be efficient in the future,” he continued.
“Ukraine has reached unprecedented levels of interoperability with NATO. We are, de facto, already a part of the Alliance’s security space. I expressed my hope that this would expedite political decisions regarding our country’s NATO integration,” he added.
Reznikov’s comments come on the heels of Stoltenberg’s remarks, reaffirming that Ukraine will eventually “become a NATO member.”
Ukraine’s FM calls for second portion of EU aid for procuring ammunition
One week after the European Union approved a fund of approximately $1.1 billion to reimburse states that have sent ammunition to Ukraine, Ukraine’s foreign minister has asked the EU to expedite a second tranche of aid.
In a tweet Friday, Dmytro Kuleba said that during a call with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, he thanked him “for all the EU’s defence assistance, including the latest €1 billion for immediate ammo needs.”
Kuleba stated that he called on Borrell “to help finalise discussions on the 2nd €1 billion ($1.12 billion) joint procurement tranche as soon as possible to ensure security in Europe.”
In turn, Borrell said in a tweet Friday that “the urgency is clear” and that the EU is looking to deliver ammunition quickly.
The EU’s decision earlier this month implemented the first part of an agreement made by its members on March 20 to speed up the delivery and joint procurement of artillery ammunition, which Ukraine is burning through rapidly in its defense against Russia’s invasion.
The measure covers existing stocks “or from the reprioritisation of existing orders” in the period from February 9 to May 31, 2023, the EU announced.
Ex-Russia’s president says Britain is “our eternal enemy,” following latest UK sanctions
Former Russian President and deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, called Britain “our eternal enemy” after the UK government imposed sanctions on Russian individuals.
“Who gives a damn about their decisions? Britain has been and always will be our eternal enemy, at least until their arrogant and miserably damp island is swept into the murky depths of the sea by a wave created by a state-of-the-art Russian arms system,” Medvedev wrote on Telegram Friday.
The UK government sanctioned a Russian judge and two other individuals it says are connected to the arrest of jailed Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza. The sanctions involve asset freezes and a travel ban.
On Monday, Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of high treason and other charges.
It came after he publicly condemned Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Kara-Murza was initially detained one year ago, hours after an interview with CNN in which he criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “regime of murderers.”