Russia-Ukraine war live: ‘Absurd and destructive’ for Russia to chair security council, says Zelenskiy | Ukraine

Key events

The US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was freed from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner exchange last year, has urged the Biden administration to keep using “every tool possible” to win Gershkovich’s release.

Reuters reports that Griner and her wife Cherelle said on Instagram that “our hearts are filled with great concern” for the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested by Russia’s FSB security service last week in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

The Kremlin claims Gershkovich was using journalism as a cover for spying activity – something his newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, has vehemently denied.

Russia has not made public any evidence to support the charges, under which Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in jail. The White House has described the accusations as “ridiculous” and the president Joe Biden has called on Moscow to release him.

The Griners said they were grateful for Biden’s “deep commitment to rescue Americans”. They cited the cases of aid worker Jeff Woodke, freed last month after being kidnapped for more than six years in West Africa, and Paul Rusesabagina, a permanent US resident who returned home last week after being released from prison in Rwanda. The couple added:

We call on all of our supporters to both celebrate the wins and encourage the administration to continue to use every tool possible to bring Evan and all wrongfully detained Americans home.

Brittney Griner, a WNBA star and double Olympic gold medallist who played for a Russian team in the off-season, was arrested at a Moscow airport one week before Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

She was found with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony after being convicted on drug smuggling and possession charges, a verdict that Biden called “unacceptable”.

She was freed in December in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who spent 14 years in jail in the United States for arms trafficking, money laundering and conspiring to kill Americans.

Hours before Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, came for him, my best friend, Evan Gershkovich, sent me a text. How will Arsenal, the football team we both passionately supported from childhood, perform after the international break? he asked. Was Gabriel Jesus finally ready to start his first game after injury? I texted back. Evan’s reply never came. His phone had gone silent.

Pjotr Sauer, a Russian affairs reporter for the Guardian, writes about his friend Evan Gershkovich, who has been arrested in Russia over allegations of espionage; a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

A year ago, when Russian tanks were already marching toward Kyiv, the whole world wondered why there were no mass anti-war protests in Russia, why only loners took to the streets. I attributed it to fear. Silence is a Russian survival strategy. Those who protested back then were in jail. This is how Russians have survived by silence for generations. Pushkin formulated this Russian way of life in the last line of his historical drama Boris Godunov: “The people are silent.” And with the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine, the people were “keeping silent”. But then mass mobilisation began in the autumn, and it is no longer possible to explain away the fact that hundreds of thousands of Russians obediently went to kill Ukrainians and be killed. This is something else, something deeper, something scarier.

A year after Putin’s invasion, the award-winning novelist Mikhail Shishkin reflects on the silence of his compatriots, the betrayal of his mother tongue, and his hopes for the future:

The Wall Street Journal has demanded the immediate release of Moscow-based correspondent Evan Gershkovich after his arrest by Russia’s FSB security service on suspicion of spying.

“Evan’s case is a vicious affront to a free press, and should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world, the newspaper said on Twitter.

A top Ukrainian cleric from a church with alleged Moscow ties was sentenced to house arrest on Saturday after a hearing into whether he glorified invading Russian forces and stoked religious divisions, the church said.

Kyiv is cracking down on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) on the grounds it is pro-Russian and collaborating with Moscow, a charge the church denies.

In a statement, the UOC said a Kyiv court also ordered Metropolitan Pavlo to wear an electronic bracelet. The Interfax Ukraine and Ukrinform news agencies said Pavlo had been given 60 days of house arrest.

“I haven’t done anything. I believe this is a political order,” Pavlo told reporters after the ruling.

Russia’s TASS state news agency said the court ordered Pavlo to live in a village some 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Kyiv. Pavlo said the house was not fit for inhabitation.

“There is nothing to sleep on, no heat and no light. There is no kitchen, no spoon. But it’s okay, I’ll endure it all,” he said.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has claimed the lives of 262 Ukrainian athletes and destroyed 363 sports facilities, the country’s sports minister, Vadym Huttsait, said on Saturday.

Meeting the visiting president of the International Federation of Gymnastics, Morinari Watanabe, Huttsait said no athletes from Russia should be allowed at the Olympics or other sports competitions.

“They all support this war and attend events held in support of this war,” Huttsait said, according to a transcript on president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s website.

The International Olympic Committee has recommended the gradual return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition as neutrals. It has not decided on their participation in the 2024 Paris Olympics.


Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine. We’ll be bringing you the latest developments as they happen.

Our top story this morning:

Russia assumed charge of the UN security council on Saturday – causing fury inside Ukraine with its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, labelling the situation “absurd and destructive … It’s hard to imagine anything that proves more the total bankruptcy of such institutions.”

In his daily video address, Zelenskiy pointed out that Russian shelling had killed a five-month-old boy on Friday, and said it was time for a general overhaul of global institutions.

Earlier, a top Ukrainian official has criticised the “symbolic blow” of Russia assuming the rotating presidency. Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, wrote: “It’s not just a shame. It is another symbolic blow to the rules-based system of international relations.”

The Kremlin has said it will “exercise all its rights” in the role.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will chair the meeting when Russia assumes the council presidency. “As of 1 April, they’re taking the level of absurdity to a new level,” said Sergiy Kyslytsya, Kyiv’s permanent representative.

There’s more to come on this story. In the meantime here are the key recent developments:

  • An intelligence update from the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) says the performance of the Russian chief of the general staff, General Valery Gerasimov, is “pushing the limits of how far Russia’s political leadership will tolerate failure”. It adds: “Gerasimov’s tenure has been characterised by an effort to launch a general winter offensive with the aim of extending Russian control over the whole of the Donbas region. Eighty days on, it is increasingly apparent that this project has failed.”

  • Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, has promised to increase the supply of munitions to Russian forces during a visit to the headquarters of Moscow’s troops fighting in Ukraine, according to footage published by the defence ministry.

  • The International Monetary Fund’s executive board has approved a four-year $15.6bn loan programme for Ukraine, part of a global $115bn package of economic support. The decision clears the way for an immediate disbursement of about $2.7bn to Kyiv, and requires Ukraine to carry out ambitious reforms, especially in the energy sector, the fund has said.

  • The top US general, Mark Milley, has said Ukraine is unlikely to expel all Russian troops from its territory this year, the Kyiv Independent reports, citing an interview with Defense One. Milley said: “I don’t think it’s likely to be done in the near-term for this year.”

  • At least five people, including a baby, have been killed in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, according to the Kyiv Independent.

  • Prosecutors have asked a court to put the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, Metropolitan Pavel, under house arrest. He is accused of supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and inciting religious hatred. Pavel denies wrongdoing.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote online that he had talks with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, to discuss “defence interaction” and “further steps to implement #PeaceFormula”.

  • Russia has lost at least six Zoopark-1M counter-battery radar and will struggle to regenerate them because of sanctions, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said. The MoD added: “Regenerating counter-battery radar fleets is likely a key priority for both sides, but Russia will likely struggle because the systems rely on supplies of high-tech electronics which have been disrupted by sanctions.”

  • Vladimir Putin has signed off on a new Russian foreign policy strategy aimed at curtailing western “dominance” and identifying China and India as key partners for the future. The document cements the deep cold war-style rupture between Russia and the west over Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

  • North Korea’s Kim Yo-jong, the sister of leader Kim Jong-un, has accused Ukraine of having nuclear ambitions, state media KCNA has reported – basing her assertion on an online petition with fewer than 1,000 signatures.

  • Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, said he had intensified talks with Russia about deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus, alleging there were plans for neighbouring Poland to invade. There is no evidence Poland is planning to invade.

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