Blinken, Lavrov speak about detained US reporter; Russia ‘boosting production of ammunition’

Blinken, Lavrov speak about detained US reporter; Russia ‘boosting production of ammunition’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Alexander Zemlianichenko / Pool)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov about Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested by Russia last week and charged with spying.

Russia is boosting its production of conventional and high-precision ammunition, defence secretary Sergei Shoigu said on Saturday, days after he visited munitions factories in two regions to inspect the production of artillery and missiles. “Necessary measures” are being taken to ramp up output, Shoigu said.

“Massive” Russian shelling of the town of Kostyantynivka in Ukraine’s east left at least six civilians dead and others injured. Several high-rise apartment buildings were among the targets.

Key developments

Blinken, Lavrov speak by phone about detained WSJ journalist 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov about Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested by Russia last week and charged with spying, Tass reported.

Blinken conveyed the United States’ grave concern over “Russia’s unacceptable detention of a US citizen journalist” and called for his immediate release, according to a statement from the State Department.

The call also comes as Russia takes over the rotating leadership of the UN Security Council for April. Lavrov, who is under US sanctions, intends to spend part of the month in meetings at UN headquarters in New York.

Civilian death toll in Kostyantynivka rises to six

Russian troops “massively” used Multiple Rocket Launch systems and cluster munitions to shell the city of Kostyantynivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region overnight, killing at least six civilians, said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s presidential office.

Eight others were wounded in the rocket and artillery attacks on the town, less than 30km southwest of Bakhmut. At least 16 apartment buildings were damaged along with private houses, a kindergarten and a government tax office.

Moscow suspends operations at Anglo-American school for 90 days

A court suspended operations at the Anglo-American School of Moscow for 90 days, saying it had violated certain rules that govern how education activities can be conducted in Russia, RBC news outlet reported, citing the press office of the Tushinsky district court of Moscow.

The determination was based on an inspection made in February and concerned documents needed by some teachers to confirm their qualifications, among other issues, according to the RBC report.

The school, founded in 1949, teaches students from more than 30 countries, including the children of many diplomats and international business leaders.




EU to ‘stand against any abuse’ of UN Security Council presidency by Russia, says Borrell

Ukraine and many of its Western allies have expressed concern or outrage about Russia holding the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for April.

Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s stint — which the US has said there are no legal means to stop — showed “the complete bankruptcy of such institutions.” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, tweeted that the EU “will stand against any abuse” by Moscow of its month-long role.

Russia, one of five permanent members of the UNSC, is scheduled to preside over a council meeting on Monday. Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov is expected to be in New York for at least part of April.

More than 200 miners evacuated in Russian Rostov region

The evacuation of more than 200 people was under way at the Obukhovskaya coal mine in Russia’s Rostov region after smoke was reported in the vicinity, Interfax reported, citing the press office of the regional unit of the emergencies ministry.

The unit received information about smoke in the mine’s central intermediate substation, located at a depth of 199m at 10.40am. Moscow time, according to Interfax. There were no reports of injuries.

Exhibits from de-occupied regions on display in shadow of UN 

An exhibition entitled Ukraine. Crucifixion. Tribunal, focused on alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, opened on Friday a few steps from the United Nations headquarters in New York, according to a post on the presidential website.

The display was organised by the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War with backing from Volodymyr Zelensky’s office.

More than 1,000 exhibits were collected during field expeditions to areas recaptured by Ukrainian forces. The exhibition opened to coincide with the first anniversary of the liberation of Bucha, the town northwest of Kyiv that endured a brutal weeks-long occupation by Kremlin troops — and a day before Russia takes on the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for April.

Finland may unseat PM Marin days after getting Nato nod 

Sanna Marin, Finland’s 37-year-old prime minister, was fighting to stay in power as voters headed to polls on Sunday to decide on a nail-biter race.

The election comes days after the Nordic country got the go-ahead to join Nato in what’s been a security-policy U-turn for a nation that guards a border with Russia roughly 1,300km long.

Russia’s war adds to chaos as EU’s poorest country votes again  

Bulgarians voted on Sunday in their fifth election in two years, seeking to end the turmoil that has paralysed the political system and put at risk European Union unity over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine has added to the chaos in the EU’s poorest country, which is on Nato’s eastern flank less than 482km from Crimea across the Black Sea. Parties led by former prime ministers Boyko Borissov and Kiril Petkov are running neck and neck with the backing of more than a quarter of voters, according to opinion polls.

Most power in the past two years has been in the hands of interim cabinets appointed by President Rumen Radev, a former fighter pilot who’s taken pro-Moscow stances, including saying Crimea is Russian and labelling opponents who support arming Ukraine as warmongers.




Grain glut strains goodwill Ukraine badly needs

Poland and other neighbouring states agreed to help get grain out of Ukraine and on to global markets after Russia’s invasion blocked exports. Part of that supply is now piling up in eastern Europe, and it’s threatening local livelihoods.

Many growers held on to their crops in anticipation of higher prices. Instead, a broader global downturn has pushed grain values down, leaving farmers in Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria facing lower revenue.

Zelensky aide calls Russia’s presidency at UN Security Council ‘symbolic blow’

Russia, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, took over the rotating presidency of the body for April. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who’s under US sanctions, intends to spend part of the month in New York.

On Twitter, Andriy Yermak, head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, called the rotation “another symbolic blow to the rules-based system of international relations”. Russia last held the post in February 2022, the month its troops invaded Ukraine.

The US, which has said it has no legal pathway to blocking Russia from the role, this week called on Russia to conduct itself professionally for the month. Moscow takes on the presidency days after detaining a US citizen, Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, on charges of spying.

Russian ammunition output on the rise, says Shoigu

Russia has boosted its production of conventional and high-precision ammunition “many times over,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting at the headquarters of troops involved in its war in Ukraine.

Manufacturing volumes had multiplied “due to the expansion of production capabilities and increased labour productivity,” Shoigu said. Earlier in the week, the minister visited munitions factories in the Chelyabinsk and Kirov regions, watching as “artillery, tank, mortar shells of various calibres and unguided aircraft missiles” rolled off the assembly lines.

Shoigu said that makes it possible to fulfil tasks in what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Earlier in the week, the defence ministry said the production of certain types of products would increase by seven to eight times by year-end. DM


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