Biden says Russia committed major war crimes; new sanctions announced

Biden says Russia committed major war crimes; new sanctions announced
Police officers and forensic personnel check bodies brought to the cemetery in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, on 6 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ROMAN PILIPEY)

The US will impose sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters as part of a new package of measures that will also target two of its largest banks following allegations of atrocities against Russian forces.

Full blocking sanctions will be imposed on Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution, and Alfa-Bank, the country’s largest private bank, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s wife and daughter will also be added to the sanctions list. 

President Joe Biden accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine, while his top diplomat said probes of apparent atrocities could take years. China’s envoy to the United Nations expressed dismay at the killing of unarmed civilians without condemning Putin. Russia has repeatedly denied killing civilians, dismissing the documentation of the deaths.  

Key developments

Biden says major war crimes were committed by Russia 

Biden said that Russia has committed “major war crimes” in Ukraine and that US sanctions are crushing its economy.

“There’s nothing less happening than major war crimes. Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators responsible,” Biden said in a speech to a convention of construction unions in Washington on Wednesday.

He said that sanctions already imposed by the US and allies are predicted to shrink the Russian economy by “double digits this year alone” and added that “we’re going to stifle Russia’s ability to grow its economy for years to come”. 

US says war crimes probe will be relentless 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said war crime probes just getting under way as Russian troops withdraw from parts of Ukraine could take years, but added, “I can guarantee you there will be a relentless effort to make sure that those responsible for what we’re seeing are held accountable.”

Blinken said in an interview with NBC News in Brussels that the scenes of civilian killings in Bucha and other areas where Russian troops have pulled back are worse than expected. Russia has denied committing atrocities. 

Ukrainians in US get Switchblade drone training 

A small number of Ukrainians who were already in the US for military education have been trained on how to use dive-bombing Switchblade drones and will soon return to their country with that expertise, a senior US defence official told reporters.

The US is sending Ukraine more than 100 of the armed drones, including 10 of the newest model equipped with tank-busting warheads.

EU budget chief calls for Marshall Plan for Ukraine 

Ukraine needs a new version of the Marshall Plan to rebuild the country in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, a senior EU official said.

EU budget chief Johannes Hahn told reporters on Wednesday that a loan programme under conditions would help Kyiv to recover quickly and “it might lead to a faster approximation to the EU”.

The bloc is assessing Ukraine’s request to join the club. Hahn said that some of the conditions imposed by the EU could be addressed with this new instrument “provided it is well-designed”.

Luxembourg’s top diplomat says cutting gas imports won’t stop war 

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said he believed that, of the fossil fuel imports from Russia, coal and oil were “not impossible” to sanction.

Speaking ahead of a gathering of Nato foreign ministers, Asselborn said with relation to gas imports, countries like Austria and Germany have less flexibility and that he “accepted” that. He added that cutting off gas imports would be unlikely to stop the war.

“I’m still convinced that even if this were done that Putin, who still has substantial reserves through the high oil price, would continue on as if nothing happened,” he said.

EU sanctions debate extends into Thursday 

The EU debate on sanctions is ongoing, with approval by the bloc’s ambassadors now expected as early as Thursday, according to an EU diplomat. The framework of the sanctions, including the coal ban, is largely agreed, and the remaining discussion focuses mostly on technical issues, the diplomat said.

“The biggest battle over oil is moving into the next package, preparations for which will begin right away,” Lithuanian Ambassador Arnoldas Pranckevicius told radio LRT.

US indicts Russian oligarch Malofeev for sanctions violations  

The Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealed an indictment against Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev and said it froze millions of dollars linked to him at a US bank. Attorney-General Merrick Garland said Malofeev was a key source of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea and provided backing for separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

After being sanctioned by the US in 2014, following Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Garland said Malofeev sought to use co-conspirators to acquire and run media outlets in Europe.

“The Justice Department will continue to use all of its authorities to hold accountable Russian oligarchs and others who seek to evade US sanctions,” Garland said. Garland also said the DOJ is assisting international efforts to hold those accountable for apparent war crimes in Ukraine accountable. 

US tells India that supporting Putin will have consequences  

US officials warned the Indian government of “significant and long term” consequences if it continues to pursue a partnership with Russia despite the Ukraine war.

“Our message to the Indian government is that the costs and consequences for them of moving into a more explicit strategic alignment with Russia will be significant and long term,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told reporters in Washington.

Deese said a US delegation led by Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh delivered that message to Indian officials last week during a two-day visit to the country. His comments are some of the strongest to date from a US official expressing frustration with India’s relationship with Russia.

Ukraine urges mass evacuation of three regions 

Ukraine’s government urged people living in the regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk to immediately leave the areas as military officials prepare for a new assault by Russian forces.

“It’s necessary now because people will be under fire and the threat of death,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement. “It’s necessary to evacuate while it’s still possible.”

Rouble erases invasion loss, bucking default risks, sanctions 

The Russian rouble has wiped out the steep losses it incurred in the weeks after Putin invaded Ukraine. The currency advanced past 81.16 per US dollar in Moscow trading, the level it closed at on February 23 – the day before Putin launched his attack.

The rouble’s gains on Wednesday came even as the European Union and the US coordinated a new raft of sanctions against Russia, while the Finance Ministry said its attempt to service debt in dollars had been blocked, potentially moving the country closer to default. 

Hungary doesn’t rule out paying roubles for Russian gas 

Hungary wouldn’t have a problem paying in roubles for Russian natural gas, Premier Viktor Orban said at a news conference in Budapest. Orban spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday and called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine. He also said Hungary is opposed to sanctions on Russian oil and gas, as well as to sending weapons to neighbouring Ukraine.

Hungary hasn’t halted a Russian-backed nuclear project because the EU hasn’t sanctioned nuclear power contracts, even though the project faces years of delay past its original 2023 target date, he said. Orban, whose Fidesz party won a crushing victory in Sunday’s general elections, said Hungary intends to remain in the European Union.

UN to vote on suspending Russia from Human Rights Council 

The United Nations General Assembly will vote on Thursday on suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council, AFP reported, citing an official it didn’t identify.

Scholz condemns ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine 

Scholz condemned what he called “war crimes” committed by Russian troops in Ukraine and said Europe will continue to increase pressure on Moscow with more sanctions.

“We are working on tightening the current sanctions again and the fifth package is in the final stages of debate,” Scholz said in the lower house of Parliament in Berlin. “That will make another precise contribution to making Russia feel the consequences of this war.”

He also reiterated a pledge to end Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, and said this would happen “with a speed never before seen”, but didn’t address an EU proposal announced on Tuesday for a phased-out end to Russian coal imports. 

Mariupol says Russia using crematoriums to hide bodies 

The international outcry over the atrocities in the city of Bucha that Ukraine and its international partners say were committed by Russian troops has prompted Moscow to order its forces to collect dead bodies in the besieged port of Mariupol and burn them in crematoriums, the Ukrainian city’s leadership council said.

The number of civilians killed by Russian attacks on Mariupol may be “much greater than 5,000”, the council said in a statement. Because of that, Russia may be hesitating to allow a Turkish-led relief mission and other initiatives and evacuations from the city, it added.

Mariupol had 450,000 people before the February 24 invasion. Russian forces have encircled the city since March 1.

Social bond market to help refugees displaced by Russia’s war  

Refugees fleeing Ukraine following Russia’s invasion are set to receive a new source of support from Europe’s debt market. The Council of Europe Development Bank is raising $1.1-billion via social inclusion bonds to aid countries taking in large numbers of refugees, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

The offering dwarfs the almost €2.6-million of additional grants already handed to its member states to help them deal with the massive displacement of people from Ukraine. It had earlier approved a €150,000 grant to the International Organization for Migration Slovakia to support refugees and third-country nationals from Ukraine.

Ukraine says invasion has damaged energy production sites  

The Russian invasion has damaged Ukraine’s ability to produce natural gas and coal after fighting damaged deposits and mines, Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said in an interview with Ukraine’s RBK. Gas production fell about 15%, while state-run coal mines cut their output by 30% due to the war, he said.

While Russian troops are deliberately targeting Ukraine’s fuel storage the ministry will replenish reserves with foreign assistance, Halushchenko said. Earlier, the head of Ukraine’s natural gas network said it had suffered damages totalling “hundreds of millions of euros”.

Russian art worth $46m seized in Finland under sanctions

Finland seized more than $46-million worth of art, including paintings, statues and antiques that were en route to Russia under EU sanctions.

The art was being returned from museums in Italy and Japan where the works had been on loan, the Finnish Customs told reporters in Helsinki on Wednesday. Three shipments of artworks, which are still owned by Russia, were taken into custody at the Finnish-Russian border on April 2 and 3.

EU to build stockpile to shield against WMD threats 

The European Union will build up a €540.5-million strategic stockpile of equipment, medicine and vaccines to help boost its response to public health risks such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. 

In the first step, the bloc is procuring potassium iodine tablets used to protect people from the effects of radiation, with almost three million delivered to Ukraine, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Zelensky says Russia’s ambitions are undimmed 

Russia hasn’t yet abandoned its plans to “subdue and occupy all of the Ukrainian people,” Zelensky said in an address to the Irish Parliament on Wednesday. Some Russian forces have pulled back from near Kyiv to focus on the eastern part of the country.

Ten million Ukrainians have been left without shelter and at least 167 children killed in Ukraine as a result of the war, he said, with educational institutions, hospitals, ambulances, churches and shelters targeted. 

“The country which is doing this is not, doesn’t deserve to be in the circle of the civilised countries. It should be held responsible for everything they have done on the Ukrainian soil,” he said. 

Yellen to warn of ‘enormous’ economic effects from war 

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was to warn on Wednesday that the war in Ukraine threatens to inflict “enormous economic repercussions” globally, just as governments impose fresh sanctions on Russia and economists cut growth forecasts. She appeared before the House Financial Services Committee.

EU ‘may need to sanction Russian oil, gas’ 

The European Union will probably need to consider measures to restrict Russian oil or gas at some point, European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament.

“I think that measures on oil and even gas will also be needed sooner or later,” he said, condemning reports of atrocities by retreating Russian forces in Ukraine. He also said that the bloc should consider granting asylum to deserting Russian soldiers.

Russia to face new US, EU, G7 sanctions 

The US, European Union and Group of Seven are coordinating on a fresh round of sanctions on Russia, including a US bar on investment in the country and an EU ban on coal imports, following the discovery of civilian murders and other apparent atrocities in Ukrainian towns abandoned by retreating Russian forces.

The governments plan to increase penalties on Russian financial institutions and state-owned enterprises and will sanction unspecified Russian officials and their family members, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. 

Read the story: Russia to face fresh US, EU, G7 sanctions amid rising outrage 

EU diplomat says Xi summit a ‘deaf dialogue’ 

The European Union’s foreign policy chief described a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “deaf dialogue”, casting doubt on how much cooperation the Asian nation will offer to end the war.

“China wanted to set aside our difference on Ukraine,” said Josep Borrell, who accompanied European leaders in talks with Xi last week. “They didn’t want to talk about Ukraine. They didn’t want to talk about human rights and other issues, and instead focused on the positive things.”

Read the story: EU’s top diplomat calls summit with China’s Xi a ‘deaf dialogue’

China envoy calls violence ‘disturbing’ 

China’s envoy to the United Nations expressed dismay at the killing of unarmed civilians in Bucha, while calling on all sides to refrain from judgment until a probe establishes who is responsible.

Still, Ambassador Zhang Jun stopped short of condemning Putin for the violence. China has come under increased pressure from Washington and Brussels to take a clear stance on the conflict, as its diplomats and state media play down civilian casualties and cast Putin as a victim of a US-backed eastward expansion of Nato.

Read the story: China’s UN envoy calls violence in Bucha ‘deeply disturbing’ DM


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