Russia returns POWs in Easter exchange; China’s defence minister meets Putin

Russia returns POWs in Easter exchange; China’s defence minister meets Putin
A handout photo made available by Andrii Yermak, the Head of the President's Office of Ukraine, shows Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) after a prisoner exchange, at an undisclosed location in Ukraine-controlled territory, Ukraine, 16 April 2023, amid Russia's invasion. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Security Service of Ukraine Handout)

About 130 Ukrainian POWs were returned by Russia over the Orthodox Easter weekend. Russia said on Saturday that mercenaries in the Wagner Group captured two districts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where fierce battles have raged for months.

China’s new defence minister, Li Shangfu, headed to Russia on Sunday on his first official foreign trip since being appointed in March. Li held talks on global and regional security with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the visit. 

Ukraine’s foreign minister will travel to Baghdad on Monday, according to Iraqi media. The visit comes a week after President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by phone with Iraq’s prime minister. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, will travel to Latin America in the coming week. 

Key developments

Ukraine foreign minister to visit Iraq

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba would visit Baghdad on Monday, Iraq’s Shafaq news agency reported, citing an Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman. Ukraine’s ministry had no immediate comment. 

An Iraqi government “insider” who the news service didn’t identify said Baghdad was exploring a potential role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine in the almost 14-month-long war. 

Kuleba’s reported visit follows a 10 April phone call between Ukraine’s president and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani focused on “bilateral cooperation”. Kuleba previously met with his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, in February.  

Russia’s Lavrov heading for Latin America 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would visit several Latin American countries starting on Monday, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Sunday.

The top Russian diplomat was expected to visit Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba for talks with the leaders of those countries and his peers. 

A stop in Brazil would come days after President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited Beijing, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said the US needed to stop “encouraging war”. 




Russia’s deputy PM will lead massive business delegation to India  

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov will lead a delegation to India made up of more than two dozen deputy ministers and chief executives of private firms, India’s Economic Times reported. 

Among Manturov’s meetings over two days will be ones with India’s external affairs minister, national security adviser and commerce minister. He may also meet with Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s finance minister, the newspaper reported. 

Economic ties between Moscow and New Delhi are on the rise. Above all, India has emerged as one of the key buyers of Russian crude, and India has stood out among major democracies for its reluctance to criticise President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.  

EU assails Poland, Hungary halts on Ukraine grain 

The European Union slammed moves over the weekend by Poland and Hungary to ban imports of grain from Ukraine, saying “unilateral actions” were unacceptable and a potential breach of the bloc’s trade policy. 

Ukraine’s neighbours said on Saturday they would halt the imports of grain and certain other foods because the ample supplies had depressed domestic prices and were threatening the livelihood of local farmers.

India could buy Russian crude past cap 

India will explore buying Russian crude oil near or past the price cap imposed by the G7, said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. 

“We have a large population and we also therefore have to look at prices which are going to be affordable for us,” Sitharaman said in an interview on Saturday in Washington, where she attended the IMF/World Bank spring meetings. 

The South Asian nation needs to constantly look for the “best deal” since it imports almost 80% of its crude oil requirements, Sitharaman said. India, along with China, has emerged as one of the key buyers of Russian crude. 

At least 130 Ukrainian prisoners returned in Easter exchange 

Among those returned in an Easter POW swap were members of the military, border guards, national guardsmen and sailors, including personnel captured in Bakhmut, Soledar, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s president. 

“The quintessence of the Easter holiday is hope. This is exactly what the relatives of the prisoners felt. They had been waiting for them for so long,” Yermak said. There was no immediate word from Russia on the latest exchange.

The previous big swap came on April 10, when 106 Russians and 100 Ukrainians were freed. Many of the Ukrainians were reported to have serious injuries or illnesses.   

Chinese defence minister heads to Russia 

China’s new defence minister, General Li Shangfu, travelled to Russia on Sunday on his first official foreign trip since he was appointed in March. He met with Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latest signs of close ties between Moscow and Beijing. 

Announcing the visit on Friday, Russia’s defence ministry said the pair would “discuss the status and prospects of bilateral cooperation in the defence sphere as well as topical global and regional security issues”. The statement made no mention of the war in Ukraine.   

Teenagers killed in missile attack in Mykolayiv region 

Two teenagers were killed in a Russian S-300 missile attack on Snihurivka in the Mykolayiv region of southeastern Ukraine, the local governor said on Telegram. 

Missile strikes were also launched on the Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, with at least four injuries reported. The focus of hostilities remained the Donetsk towns of Bakhmut and Mariyinka.   

Russia’s General Teplinsky making a comeback, says UK 

General Colonel Mikhail Teplinsky, commander of Russia’s corps of airborne troops, or the VDV, “has highly likely returned to a major role in Ukraine” after being removed from action in January, the UK defence ministry said. 

“Teplinsky is likely one of the few senior Russian generals widely respected by the rank-and-file,” the ministry said in a Twitter thread. “His recent turbulent career suggests intense tensions between factions within the Russian General Staff about Russia’s military approach in Ukraine.”

The VDC has resumed a key mission in the battle for Bakhmut in Ukraine’s east in recent days, the UK said. 

Hungary, Poland block Ukrainian farm imports as accord falters  

Hungary joined Poland in announcing a halt in Ukrainian agricultural imports, saying that duty-free imports from its neighbour in the face of Russia’s invasion were putting Hungarian farmers at risk.

The suspension will be in effect until June 30 “in the absence of substantive EU measures”, the Agriculture Ministry in Budapest said in a statement. Poland halted imports of grain and some other food products from Ukraine to avert a “crisis of agriculture”, said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the governing Law and Justice party, earlier on Saturday. 

Prigozhin says Russia should declare it has met its goals  

Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russia could simply declare victory if it ended its more than year-old invasion of Ukraine today, reasoning that its forces have seized a “fat chunk” of territory.

“The ideal scenario is to declare an end to the ‘special military operation’, and tell everyone that Russia has achieved the results it planned to,” he said in an article published by his press service and on Telegram. The thing to do now, he wrote, is to “firmly hold onto the territories that we already gained”. 

Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, later clarified his remarks. He said the main point was to underline his support for “an honest fight and no back deals” and alert to the risk of what he called the “deep state” hindering that fight. DM   


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