UN moving to suspend Russia from human rights council, US ambassador says: Live Ukraine updates

UN moving to suspend Russia from human rights council, US ambassador says: Live Ukraine updates

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The U.S. is imposing sweeping new sanctions on Russia that include targeting Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters in response to atrocities in Ukraine that the White House has called war crimes, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.

Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, two daughters of the Russian leader and his ex-wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva Putina, face full blocking sanctions that will cut them off from the U.S. financial system and freeze any assets they may hold in the U.S. The administration believes many of Putin’s assets are hidden with family members.

Sanctions also target Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his wife and daughter. The new wave of sanctions on Russian elites add to the 140 other oligarchs and Kremlin officials already hit with sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Other new measures include full blocking sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank  – moves that a White House official called “the most severe financial sanctions” the U.S. can take on Russia’s largest financial entities. 

The administration will impose a ban on U.S. investment in Russia that will come from an executive order signed by President Joe Biden.

The new sanctions have been made in coordination with the Group of Seven nations and European Union allies, which are expected to take similar actions, and follows disturbing reports and images of civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha near the capital of Kyiv.

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Latest developments

►A North Dakota farmer jailed in Ukraine since November has been moved from Kyiv to Lviv, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said. Kurt Groszhan, 50, is charged with plotting to assassinate Ukraine’s then-agriculture minister, Roman Leschenko. The two had gone into business together after Groszhan moved to Ukraine in 2017.

►Ukraine’s military said it has retaken the settlements of Dobryanka, Novovoznesenske and Trudolyubivka in the Kherson region just north of Crimea.

►The Russian military killed more than 320 civilians in Bucha, Mayor Anatolii Fedoruk said Wednesday.

►$100 million worth of Javelin anti-tank missiles will be sent to Ukraine to meet an urgent need, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. The “transfer” comes amid a shift of fighting to eastern Ukraine.

►Greece is expelling 12 Russian diplomats. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Western countries have expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats.

Russian who supported Crimea separatists indicted

The Justice Department unsealed an indictment Wednesday against Russian oligarch Konstantinos Malofeyev for alleged sanction violations, the first such criminal charges brought by the U.S. since Russia’s invasion. The Treasury Department previously identified Malofeyev as one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea and for providing material support for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Malofeyev attempted to evade the sanctions by using co-conspirators to acquire and run media outlets across Europe, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a Justice briefing. 

“We are also announcing the seizure of millions of dollars from an account at a U.S. financial institution, which the indictment alleges constitutes proceeds traceable to Malofeyev’s sanctions violations,” Garland said.

Kevin Johnson

Russian forces exit Kyiv, Chernihiv

Russian forces have completely retreated from Kyiv and Chernihiv, moving those invading forces into neighboring Belarus and Russia after facing fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces, a senior Defense official said Wednesday. The Ukrainians hit Russian forces as they retreated from Kyiv, the official said.

Kyiv remains under threat, although it has not been hit by airstrikes in the last 24 hours, the official said. The threat of a ground invasion to Kyiv has dissipated for now, the official said.

The Russian forces – up to 40,000 troops or almost one-third of the force Russian President Vladimir Putin sent to invade Ukraine – are being resupplied, according to intelligence assessments the official described on condition of anonymity. It’s unclear when the withdrawal of Russian troops from those cities was completed. The Russians appear to have seeded some of the ground left behind with mines.

The Pentagon believes the troops will be sent back into fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists have clashed with Ukrainian troops since 2014.

Investigators search for proof of Russian atrocities

Days after Russian forces retreated from the Kyiv area, investigators and volunteers are beginning the long, grim work of chronicling what U.S. officials have described as a “troubling campaign” of brutality against civilians. Ukrainian officials say the bodies of more than 400 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv after Russian forces withdrew. United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet said preserving, exhuming and identifying bodies would be critical for an independent investigation into possible war crimes. Read more here.

“Everything was like in fog – a lot of crying, a lot of happiness to see Ukrainian people, a lot of fear in eyes, a lot of anger,” Kyiv resident Vladimir Basovskyi, 35, told USA TODAY. “Next what I remember, I am sitting at home and crying like a child.”

– Grace Hauck and Chris Kenning

Dutch put 14 Russian yachts under ‘special supervision’

Dutch customs officials placed 14 yachts at five shipyards under “special supervision” on Wednesday because they are being built or repaired for wealthy Russians. Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said 12 yachts are under construction and two are undergoing maintenance. The boats will not be allowed to leave the country because of the export ban and sanctions imposed on hundreds of wealthy supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Netherlands has been criticized for its slow start to enforcing sanctions.

Russian owners made up 9% of all superyacht owners in 2021, making Russia the second largest ownership country behind the United States, according to Superyacht Times. The U.S. government on Monday seized a 254-foot yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to Putin. Other countries also have seized the luxury boats.

China calls for probe of Bucha slayings, does not condemn Moscow

The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are “deeply disturbing” and should be thoroughly investigated, China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said Wednesday Thursday. But Zhang placed no blame on Russia and urged all sides to “exercise restraint and avoid unfounded accusations” until more details are known. China supports all measures conducive to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,  Zhang said. 

China has been walking a diplomatic tightrope, declining to condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and suggesting sanctions will only accelerate the crisis and create global economic problems. China has chastised the U.S. and NATO, saying they provoked the war with NATO’s expansion and fueled it by arming Ukraine.

UN to vote on Russia’s spot in Human Rights Council

The United Nations will vote Friday on whether Russia should be removed from the Human Rights Council. The United States and United Kingdom called for Russia’s removal from the council in recent days as evidence of atrocities by the Russian military emerge. To remove Russia from the council, at least two-thirds of the UN General Assembly would need to vote for the ouster.

“Given the growing mountain of evidence, Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose is to promote respect for human rights,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at a Security Council meeting Tuesday. “Not only is it the height of hypocrisy – it is dangerous.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia denied that Russian troops were committing war crimes, blaming Ukrainians for the deaths and defending the invasion by claiming the “Nazi malignant tumor that is devouring Ukraine would have eventually begun to devour Russia.”

Ella Lee

Pope Francis kisses Ukrainian flag, pleads for end to war

Pope Francis kissed the Ukrainian flag and renewed his appeal Wednesday for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. During his weekly audience in the Vatican’s auditorium, several Ukrainian children – now refugees in Italy – joined him on the stage. The pope furled the faded, stained flag and held it up, saying the flag “came from war, from that martyred city of Bucha.”  He condemned “the massacre” in that city outside Kyiv.

“Ever more horrendous cruelties, even against civilians, women and helpless children,” the pope said. “They are victims whose innocent blood cries out to heaven and implores.”

White House to announce more sanctions on Russia

The Biden administration will announce a ban on new investment in Russia and other new sanctions Wednesday in response to atrocities such as recent revelations of barbaric acts in the town of Bucha. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the measures are designed to “degrade key instruments of Russian state power, impose acute and immediate economic harm on Russia and hold accountable the Russian kleptocracy that funds and supports Putin’s war.”

The penalties, made in coordination with G-7 and European Union allies, also involve increased sanctions on financial institutions and state-owned enterprises and also on Russian government officials and their family members.

As a result of sanctions on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s economy is forecast to contract as much as 15% or more in 2022, according to the Institute for International Finance.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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