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Court arrests Russian deputy defence minister on bribery charges

A Russian court on Wednesday formally arrested Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov and charged him with bribery, the court said, following his detention on Tuesday.

The court remanded Ivanov in custody for two months and said that according to the charges he had put himself in a position to benefit from hiring contractors for the ministry where he oversaw construction activities.

— Reuters

Relief in Ukraine as U.S. Senate approves $61 billion aid package

The U.S. Senate approved a $61 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine on Tuesday night, paving the way for President Joe Biden to sign the legislation into law on Wednesday.

The overall package, which including aid for Israel and Taiwan is worth $95 billion, is a lifeline for Ukraine, whose forces have been running short on artillery and ammunition on parts of the front line. Kyiv has been pleading for more air defense systems and long-range missiles for months.

Flags for the United States and Ukraine billow in the wind off an activist’s bicycle on the East Front Plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building on April 23, 2024 in Washington, DC. 

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

The Democratic-controlled Senate was always expected to pass the aid package but it has taken months for it to be approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives amid opposition to ongoing aid for Ukraine. The bill finally received enough bipartisan support last Saturday, however, despite ongoing resistance from many Republican lawmakers.

The Pentagon has promised that supplies of weapons and equipment will reach Ukraine within days of Biden signing the bill into law.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to the U.S., Kyiv’s biggest backer, commenting on X Wednesday, “I am grateful to the United States Senate for approving vital aid to Ukraine today … This vote reinforces America’s role as a beacon of democracy and the leader of the free world.”

Zelenskyy said he looked forward to the bill being signed soon “and the next military aid package matching the resoluteness that I always see in our negotiations.” 

“Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner,” he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian deputy defense minister detained on bribe allegations, officials say

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C), Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Timur Ivanov (L) visit the military Patriot Park in Kubinka, outside Moscow, on September 19, 2018. Russian law enforcement have detained Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov on suspicion of taking bribes, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on April 23, 2024. 

Alexey Nikolskiy | Afp | Getty Images

A Russian deputy defense minister in charge of military construction has been detained on Tuesday on suspicion of “large-scale” bribe-taking, in one of the highest-profile corruption cases since Moscow launched its war in Ukraine.

A brief statement by the Investigative Committee, Russia’s top investigative body, said late on Tuesday that Timur Ivanov had been taken into custody and an investigation into his case was proceeding.

The statute that the investigators cited for the detention of Ivanov, who has been in his job for eight years, is for accepting bribes “on a particularly large scale”.

In 2022, Russia’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, headed by the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, alleged that Ivanov and his family led a lavish lifestyle filled with spending on real estate, luxurious trips and designer clothing.

Russian media reported that Ivanov was in charge, among other things, of large construction projects rebuilding the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was heavily bombarded and taken by Russia as part of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, quoted by Russian news agencies, said a report on Ivanov’s detention had been presented to President Vladimir Putin. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had been informed in advance of his detention, he said. Russian news reports said that Ivanov, if convicted, could face up to 15 years in prison.

Russian news reports also said Ivanov was likely the most senior Russian official to face such charges since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

— Reuters

Russia is preparing ‘unpleasant surprises’ for summer offensive, commander says

Russia is preparing “unpleasant surprises” in unexpected places when its forces launch an offensive in early summer, the commander of Ukraine’s National Guard told a Ukrainian news agency.

Oleksandr Pivnenko echoed comments by other senior military officials, warning that Ukraine will face a difficult few months when the Russian offensive begins, with the launch expected in mid-May.

“Now they will not cause such problems that the commanders of the defense forces will run in panic and not know what to do. We are preparing,” Pivnenko told Tuesday.

“Yes, the enemy will make unpleasant surprises for us. He will act in directions that we do not expect. But he will not achieve his goal,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week gave one of the clearest indications yet that Russia intends to try to capture Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine when it launches its offensive. Pivnenko said any attempts to seize the city would cost Russia thousands of personnel.

Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine. 

Future Publishing | Future Publishing | Getty Images

“In order to capture Kharkiv, they [will] have to fight for years. Remember how long Bakhmut and Avdiivka held out. It is easier for the Russians to change the leadership of the Russian Federation and abandon their plans than to take the city by putting thousands more of their soldiers [into the fighting there],” he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

It could take weeks for Ukraine to receive U.S. weapons — time it doesn’t have

A $61 billion U.S. military aid package for Ukraine is close to being approved by the U.S. Senate before being signed into law by President Joe Biden, but it could take weeks for supplies to reach Ukrainian forces on the frontline.

A grateful Ukraine has urged officials to speed up the passage of the aid and the transfer of weapons, particularly long-range weapons systems including ATACMs (Army Tactical Missile Systems) and air defense systems, as Russia retains an advantage on the battlefield.

Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe advisor at consultancy firm Teneo consultancy, commented that while the first shipments of military supplies are expected to reach Ukraine within days after the signing of the bill, it will likely take weeks to sufficiently replenish heavily-depleted Ukrainian forces across the more than 1,000km (621 mile) frontline.

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman aims with a Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (NLAW) Swedish-British anti-aircraft missile launcher during a drill at the firing ground of the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security, near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on January 28, 2022.

AFP | Getty Images

“The Russian forces will likely attempt to exploit this period of vulnerability on the Ukrainian side and intensify offensive actions around the strategically important town of Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut),” Tursa said in emailed comments.

“The occupation of Chasiv Yar would facilitate future Russian advances deeper into the Donetsk region and give Russian President Vladimir Putin an important victory during his inauguration on 7 May and Victory Day celebrations on 9 May,” he added.

Ukrainian officials have commented publicly that Russian forces are aiming to capture Chasiv Yar, which lies on high ground, given Russia a potential strategic advantage as it looks to fully occupy the wider Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military said Monday that Russia has a force of 20,000-25,000 troops trying to storm Chasiv Yar and surrounding villages. Russian forces have claimed several advances in Donetsk in recent days, although Ukraine disputed claims on Monday that Russia had seized the village of Novomykhailivka.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia will intensify attacks on Ukraine’s Western weapons, defense minister says

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends an expanded meeting of the Defence Ministry Board at the National Defence Control Centre in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2023. 

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his forces will look to target storage bases containing Western weapons given to Ukraine.

“We will increase the intensity of attacks on logistics centers and storage bases for Western weapons,” Shoigu said at a meeting of senior ministry officials Tuesday, news agency Interfax reported.

“The Russian Armed Forces will continue to carry out assigned tasks until the objectives of the special operation are fully achieved,” he added. Despite more than two years of war with Ukraine, Russia continues to characterize its invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine suspends consular services for military-age men abroad

Ukraine has suspended consular services for military-age male citizens living abroad except for those needed to return to Ukraine, a government helpline said on Tuesday, in what appeared to be a measure to boost conscription for the war with Russia.

Ukraine is on the back foot on the battlefield facing a shortage of troops against a larger, better equipped foe nearly 26 months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement on X that he had ordered measures to be taken to restore what he described as “fair treatment” for men of mobilization age. He criticised those who had left Ukraine before or during the war.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a joint press conference with Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot, (not pictured) amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, December 5, 2023. 

Alina Smutko | Reuters

“How it looks like now: a man of conscription age went abroad, showed his state that he does not care about its survival, and then comes and wants to receive services from this state,” he said.

“It does not work this way. Our country is at war.”

He said the foreign ministry would clarify the procedure for military-age men to obtain consular services soon. “Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” he added.

In a separate statement, the state passport service said: “Unfortunately, due to technical reasons, the issuance of ready-made documents in foreign branches of SE (State Enterprise) Document has been suspended.”

The Eurostat database estimated about 4.3 million Ukrainians were registered in European Union countries as of January 2024 of whom about 20% are adult men, roughly 860,000 people.

— Reuters

Russia warns it will retaliate if West seizes frozen assets

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Tuesday that Russia is ready to retaliate if almost $300 billion of frozen Russian assets are seized by the West and used to assist Ukraine.

“The Europeans know that there will be a very tough response on our part, and an adequate response,” Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Russian upper house of parliament, told state news agency RIA Novosti.

Matviyenko, a member of Russia’s Security Council, said in an interview that a draft law on response measures had already been prepared. She did not specify what the retaliatory measures would be but said Europe “will lose more than we do.”

People hold a giant Russian flag during a patriotic concert dedicated to the upcoming Defender of the Fatherland Day in Saint Petersburg on February 22, 2023.

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Western officials are not fully decided on the controversial proposal to seize frozen Russian assets abroad, the majority of which around $224 billion are in the European Union, a Russian lawmaker said Monday, noting that only $5 to $6 billion worth of assets were in the U.S.

Supporters of the proposal say Russia needs to be punished for its invasion of Ukraine beyond sanctions on high-profile Russian individuals, entities and industries, and that Russian assets should be used to fund Ukraine’s war effort and eventual multi-billion dollar reconstruction.

Critics of the move warn that seizing Russian assets will only escalate tensions and create a dangerous precedent.

The Kremlin has thundered against the proposal, describing it as illegal and illegitimate. Some Russian officials have warned that Moscow could, in turn, confiscate Western assets if the proposal goes ahead.

— Holly Ellyatt

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