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Kyiv urges ICC probe of Bucha ‘war crimes’; Odesa rocked by blasts

Kyiv urges ICC probe of Bucha ‘war crimes’; Odesa rocked by blasts
A Ukrainian serviceman walks in the debris of Ukraine’s damaged largest transport plane, an Antonov An-225 Mriya ‘Dream’, on 3 April 2022 after a heavy battle at the Gostomel airfield near Kyiv. Some cities and villages surrounding the capital have recently been recaptured by the Ukrainian army from Russian forces. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Ukraine asked the International Criminal Court to gather evidence of alleged war crimes by Russian soldiers in towns near Kyiv, notably Bucha. Graphic images triggered a push in Europe for new sanctions.

Germany, France and Italy were among those condemning alleged war crimes by Russian soldiers in towns near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said many of the images were faked.

The strategic Black Sea city of Odesa was rocked by a series of explosions early on Sunday; Russia’s defence ministry said it targeted an oil refinery and fuel depots. Transnistria, a pro-Russian enclave in neighbouring Moldova, on Saturday denied Ukraine’s claim that Moscow’s forces are redeploying in its territory to prepare for an assault on the Odesa region from the northwest.

Moscow’s chief negotiator said Russia and Ukraine will resume talks by video on Monday; Kyiv hasn’t confirmed the discussions.

Key developments

Italian party chief calls for full Russian energy embargo

The leader of Italy’s Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, called for a “full oil and gas” embargo against Russia. The party is Italy’s largest, according to the latest polls, and among key backers of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government.

Italy is trying to reduce its dependency on Russian gas imports, which accounted for 38% of its gas consumption last year.




Russia dismisses ‘staged’ war crimes accusations

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Ukrainian claims of war crimes having been committed by Russian troops in towns near Kyiv.

“It’s clear to the naked eye that there are a lot of fakes and staged shots,” Peskov said by text message when asked to comment on images released by Ukrainian officials of dead civilians in towns recently vacated by Russian soldiers.

Russia’s defence ministry denied involvement in any murders of civilians in Bucha, calling the accusations “provocations.” It said Russian troops left the town on 30 March and “not a single local resident suffered from any violent action” during their presence there. It accused Ukrainian officials of “staging” photos and videos of bodies.

European leaders respond to graphic imagery from Ukraine

Officials across Europe condemned Russia as graphic images emerged of dead civilians in Ukrainian towns recently under Moscow’s control.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the images “unbearable,” and said the Russian authorities “will have to answer for these crimes”.  Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Italy “condemns these horrors with absolute firmness,” and in a tweet, his foreign minister Luigi Di Maio decried “cruelty, death, horror”.

Earlier, European Council president Charles Michel tweeted that “further EU sanctions & support are on the way,” and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK would “fully support any investigations by the International Criminal Court” on possible crimes in Ukraine.

US stops short of genocide label

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called images of alleged Russian atrocities against civilians in the Kyiv region a “punch to the gut”, but stopped short of labelling them genocide.

The US already has been helping document war crimes since the Russian invasion, he said on CNN. “The most important thing is, we can’t become numb to this,” he said. “This is the reality of what’s going on every single day, as long as Russia’s brutality against Ukraine continues.”

Separately, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said the US will continue to send weapons and support to Ukraine. While it appears Ukrainian forces are winning the war around Kyiv, the conflict “sadly is far from over” as Russian forces redeploy, Klain said on ABC.

Germany’s Scholz demands investigation into Bucha

Chancellor Olaf Scholz demanded access for organisations such as the International Red Cross to document what happened in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and said the perpetrators and their superiors must be brought to justice.

In a statement, Scholz reiterated a call for Russia to agree to a ceasefire and end its military action. “This is a terrible, a senseless and an unjustifiable war that is causing a great deal of suffering and is of no use to any one,” Scholz said. “It has to stop.”

Separately, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the actions revealed at Bucha “must have an impact on the fifth package of sanctions. And we will support Ukraine even more in its defence.”

UN estimates 1,417 civilian deaths in Ukraine

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated civilian deaths in Ukraine at 1,417 up until 2 April, with another 2,038 injured. Among those killed were 121 children. The actual figures are likely to be considerably higher, the UNHCR said.

Most of the casualties were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, the agency said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky renewed charges that Russia was committing genocide in Ukraine, telling CBS News in the US that the country’s citizens were “being destroyed and exterminated. And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century.”

Ukraine calls for ICC to send ‘war crimes’ mission

Ukraine wants the International Criminal Court to send a mission to investigate “war crimes” committed by Russian troops against civilians uncovered in Bucha and other formerly occupied towns near Kyiv, said Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“We are still collecting bodies, uncovering graves, but the count is already in hundreds,” he told the UK’s Times Radio on Sunday. “Dead bodies are just all across the streets.”

Separately, Kuleba again called for a full oil and gas embargo of Russia by the Group of Seven nations, and for ports to be closed to all Russian vessels and goods.

Europe warns of new sanctions over Russian ‘war crimes’

Some European Union governments are pushing for the bloc to quickly impose new sanctions in response to reports that Russian troops executed unarmed civilians in Ukrainian towns, said diplomats familiar with the discussions.

The European Commission was already honing measures that would mostly focus on closing loopholes, strengthening existing actions and expanding the list of sanctioned individuals.

Some countries argue there’s now a trigger for fresh penalties to be put in place with speed, according to a diplomat familiar with the discussions. There is no consensus yet on all the details for a new package, or when to implement it.

Oil hasn’t priced in enough supply risk, Vitol says

Oil prices don’t fully reflect the risk of disruptions to Russian exports, according to the world’s biggest independent crude trader.

While Brent surged to almost $140 a barrel soon after Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February, it sank 13% last week to about $104.

“Oil feels cheaper than most would have predicted,” Mike Muller, Vitol Group’s head of Asia, said Sunday.

Azerbaijan to boost gas exports to Italy

Azerbaijan will increase gas exports to Italy to 9.5 billion cubic metres this year from seven billion cubic metres after a weekend visit by Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio to Baku, Corriere della Sera reported.

Higher energy prices and declining sentiment are weighing heavily on Italy’s economy. The business lobby Confindustria estimates that gross domestic product will grow 1.9% this year, or as low as 0.3% if the war continues for the whole year and oil and gas prices remain at present levels.

Humanitarian corridors open in Donbas, deputy premier says

Fighting and shelling continues in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, yet humanitarian corridors were open on Sunday to try to bring civilians to safety, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. Buses will attempt to move closer from Berdyansk to the besieged city of Mariupol, she said.

Ukraine’s General Staff said it had regained full control of the region around Kyiv, while the Chernihiv region was gradually being freed of Russian forces. Civilian casualties have been reported during shelling in the occupied Kherson region, it said.

More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, either moving internally or leaving the country. Some 2.46 million people have crossed into Poland since 24 February, Polish border authorities said. Another 23,800 travellers were admitted on Saturday and 4,300 early on Sunday.




Ukrainian officials ‘held hostage,’ deputy premier says

Russian troops are holding 11 Ukrainian local government leaders hostage in occupied territories, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video statement from the presidential office in Kyiv. Olha Sukhenko, a representative of Motyzhyn village west of Kyiv, had been killed, she said.

Ukraine is continuing negotiations with Russia to release civilians as a part of a prisoner exchange, Vereshchuk said.

Russian army accused of war crimes in occupied areas

Bodies of civilians who’d been shot by Russian forces and had their hands tied were found in the streets of Bucha, a town in the Kyiv region, after Ukraine recaptured it, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Twitter. Russia hasn’t commented on the accusation so far.

A Human Rights Watch statement said it had documented cases of apparent Russian military war crimes against civilians in occupied areas of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv, including a case of repeated rape and summary executions between 27 February and 14 March.

The Biden administration made a formal determination on 23 March that Russian troops had committed war crimes. At the time Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US had seen “credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities”. President Joe Biden has said he considered Vladimir Putin a war criminal.

Russia says remote talks to resume Monday

Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said Ukraine is becoming “more realistic” about adopting a neutral and nuclear-free status, though a draft treaty between the two sides isn’t ready for submission to a leaders’ summit, Interfax reported.

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators will resume remote talks on Monday, he said, adding that Moscow’s position on Crimea and the Donbas remains unchanged. Ukraine hasn’t confirmed the talks.




Odesa targeted by Russian missile strikes

Odesa city council deputy Petro Obuhov said a missile strike targeted infrastructure during a two-hour air raid alert from 4:30 am local time. Russia’s defence ministry said it hit an oil refinery and fuel depots with missiles fired from ships and planes. Thick black smoke billowed near the city after the sounds of bombs falling was heard. No casualties were reported.

Ukrainian army officials said that overall, the intensity of missile strikes has declined, although attacks continue on military and civilian facilities.

Russian troops continued withdrawing from northern Ukraine into Belarus and Russia, and were planting mines along their routes and in some towns and villages, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Greek foreign minister visits Odesa

Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias was to visit Odesa on Sunday to transport humanitarian aid, which will be delivered to the municipal authorities of the city, the ministry said in an emailed statement. Greece aims to create a permanent mechanism for aid distribution, and plans to reopen its consulate in the Black Sea port city.

Sweden revives forces to shield Baltic from Putin

Sweden’s top army officer has been waiting a long time to get back to the windswept Baltic Sea island of Gotland.

Karl Engelbrektson was a unit commander on Gotland in 2005 when Sweden withdrew its military from the crucial perch in the centre of the Baltic, taking advantage of the post-Cold War peace. Even then, he thought the move was ill judged.

“Disbanding large parts of the armed forces, in the peace euphoria of that time, may have made sense to a lot of people,” Engelbrektson, clad in army fatigues next to a German-made Stridsvagn 122 tank, said in an interview at the Gotland base in late March. “History proves that this was a mistake.” DM


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