April 1, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Amarachi Orie, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 5:43 p.m. ET, April 1, 2023
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12:22 p.m. ET, April 1, 2023

Russia runs the UN Security Council this month. Ukraine says it’s the "world's worst" April Fools’ joke

From CNN's Richard Roth

People carry Ukraine flags outside the United Nations office in Brussels, Belgium, on Saturday, April 1.
People carry Ukraine flags outside the United Nations office in Brussels, Belgium, on Saturday, April 1. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

A country led by an accused war criminal is in charge of the United Nations Security Council, as it’s now Russia’s turn to assume presidency of the powerful body that is charged with maintaining global peace and security.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Russia assuming the council presidency on April 1 as its brutal invasion of Ukraine stretches into a second year as “the world’s worst April Fool’s joke.”

The country which systematically violates all fundamental rules of international security is presiding over a body whose only mission is to safeguard and protect international security,” Kuleba said.

Presidency of the Security Council rotates alphabetically among its 15 member nations. The body is controlled by its five permanent members, including the US and Russia.

The UN diplomatic corps is well aware of the public skepticism about Russia leading the council while its troops occupy parts of Ukraine, a fellow UN member country. Few remember that Russia was last president of the council in February 2022 – during the run-up to its invasion of Ukraine.

A Security Council president is supposed to stay neutral. But in its new role, Russia can maneuver meetings on Ukraine and use the month to portray the US and other Western countries as making false accusations against Russia.

Read the full story here.

8:12 a.m. ET, April 1, 2023

Russia's chief general is "pushing the limits" of Putin's tolerance of failure in Ukraine, UK says

From CNN's Amarachi Orie

Valery Gerasimov in Moscow on June 23, 2021.
Valery Gerasimov in Moscow on June 23, 2021. (Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images/FILE)

The chief of the Russian General Staff (CGS), Valery Gerasimov — who became the overall commander of President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine on January 11 — "is pushing the limits" of the Kremlin's tolerance of failure in the war, the UK Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.

"Gerasimov’s tenure has been characterised by an effort to launch a general winter offensive with the aim of extending Russian control over the whole of the Donbas region. Eighty days on, it is increasingly apparent that this project has failed," the defence ministry said in a statement.

"On several axes across the Donbas front, Russian forces have made only marginal gains at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties, largely squandering its temporary advantage in personnel gained from the autumn’s ‘partial mobilisation’," it continued.

"After ten years as CGS, there is a realistic possibility that Gerasimov is pushing the limits of how far Russia’s political leadership will tolerate failure," it added.

Gerasimov was the fourth commanding general appointed by Putin to oversee the campaign in Ukraine since the war began.

Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling called the appointment of the 67-year-old general "bizarre," telling CNN on the day of the announcement: "It's troubling to me and it's confusing to me why Mr. Putin did this other than potentially to place blame on Gerasimov, who is considered an insider in the Kremlin."

Some context: Russian forces have suffered steep losses in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, and made only incremental gains, Ukrainian officials said earlier this week.

Russia has been pushing hard to capture the city and land a rare if largely symbolic victory.

After failing to make gains elsewhere in the country, Moscow has been focusing its efforts on the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

8:12 a.m. ET, April 1, 2023

A Wagner soldier returned home after fighting for Russia. Days later, he was a murder suspect

From CNN's Josh Pennington, Tim Lister and Ivana Kottasová

A convicted murderer who was allowed to leave prison in Russia to join the Wagner private military company and fight in Ukraine was arrested within days of returning home on suspicion of killing an elderly woman.

Ivan Rossomakhin was already a repeat-offender when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder in 2020. He was released last year after signing up to fight for Wagner.

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has recruited heavily from Russian prisons, with inmates such as Rossomakhin promised a pardon and other benefits in exchange for a contract.

Rossomakhin did an indeterminate stint with Wagner in Ukraine – the normal contract is for six months – before returning to his home town of Novyj Burets in the Kirov region this month.

Almost immediately, according to local accounts, there was trouble. He was placed under arrest for five days after making a number of threats.

His presence led to a town hall meeting on Monday, which was filmed by a local TV channel.

One resident, Galina Sapozhnikova, said Rossomakhin was seen holding a pitchfork, an ax and a knife, threatening to kill everyone.

The District Police Chief Vadim Varankin told the meeting that Rossomakhin was a “known troublemaker” and was being dealt with.

But before that could happen, an elderly woman in the town was murdered. Rossomakhin was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the crime but has not been formally charged.

Read the full story here.

8:29 a.m. ET, April 1, 2023

Zelensky welcomes "important" IMF aid for Ukraine

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Victoria Butenko and Rob North

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has thanked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its managing director for approving a $15.6 billion loan to Kyiv to help rebuild his country's devastated economy.

“I'm thankful to the IMF and Kristalina Georgieva for approving a new four-year support program for Ukraine for the total of $15.6 billion,” Zelensky tweeted on Friday. “It is an important help in our fight against Russian aggression.”
“Together we support the (Ukrainian) economy. And we are moving forward to victory,” he added.

The loan is part of a support package for Ukraine that totals $115 billion.

“The overarching goals of the authorities’ program are to sustain economic and financial stability at a time of exceptionally high uncertainty, restore debt sustainability on a forward-looking basis in both a baseline and downside scenario, and promote reforms that support Ukraine’s recovery on the path toward EU accession in the post-war period,” a statement the fund released on Friday read.

IMF First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath complimented Ukrainian authorities for their work managing the country’s finances despite the ”devastating economic and social impact” of the Russian invasion. 

“Activity contracted sharply last year, a large swathe of the country’s capital stock has been destroyed, and poverty is on the rise,” Gopinath said. “The authorities have nevertheless managed to maintain overall macroeconomic and financial stability, thanks to skilful policymaking and substantial external support.”


8:27 a.m. ET, April 1, 2023

Russian plan to send nuclear weapons to Belarus proves Putin-Xi talks failed, Zelensky says

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin

President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with local residents in the town of Bucha on Friday.
President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with local residents in the town of Bucha on Friday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

Russia’s stated plan to place nuclear weapons in Belarus is proof that talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in March failed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday.

Though China had appeared to position itself as a peace broker between Russia and Ukraine in the weeks leading up to Xi’s three-day state visit to Moscow, the meetings between the two leaders did not yield a meaningful breakthrough on resolving the conflict.

“The signal that Russia wants to place their nuclear weapons in Belarus tells me that the meeting with China was unsuccessful, it’s failed,” Zelensky told reporters during a visit to Bucha.

The Ukrainian president also said Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has “lost any importance,” claiming he “doesn’t decide anything about what kind of weapons are based in his country.”

Some background: Putin announced last week that Moscow will construct a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, completing it by the start of July. Lukashenko welcomed the move in a national address Friday, adding that Russia could also station strategic nuclear weapons in his country.

The mentioning of strategic nukes, which can decimate entire cities, is an escalation in rhetoric from Lukashenko. Russia has not publicly announced any plans to send strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Global reaction: While there is no guarantee Putin will follow through on his plans for Belarus, any nuclear signaling by Putin causes concern in the West.

Ukraine, NATO and the European Union's top diplomat have condemned the plan. The US has downplayed the move, saying there are no indications Russia will use nuclear weapons.

The nuclear announcement comes as Putin faces mounting problems elsewhere. Read CNN analysis on the decision here.

CNN's Andrew Carey, Ivana KottasováLindsay Isaac and Anna Chernova contributed to this report.

4:34 a.m. ET, April 1, 2023

American detainee Paul Whelan's family concerned after he missed his usual daily call

From CNN's Pierre Meilhan and Laura Ford

Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on August 23, 2019.
Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on August 23, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

The family of Paul Whelan, an American the US says is wrongfully detained in Russia, is concerned for his well-being after he didn't make his usual daily call to his parents, his brother told CNN’s Paula Newton Friday.

"Normally our parents are able to speak to him on an almost daily basis. He (is) allowed a 15-minute phone call once a day, and so he speaks to our parents just to stay up to date on what's going on at home and share what's going on with him and if he has any problems. He was unable to call yesterday; that's unexpected. He was supposed to be able to speak to the US embassy consular staff yesterday, and that didn't happen, either. So we're a little bit concerned that there may be something else going on," David Whelan told CNN.

On the detention of another American: The Whelan family issued a statement Thursday, saying they were sorry to hear about the arrest of American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who works for the Wall Street Journal.

David Whelan spoke out against a Wall Street Journal editorial calling for retaliation for the reporter's arrest.

"I think retaliation is wrong, and I was very disappointed to see the Wall Street Journal's editorial board suggest that we should expel the Russian ambassador. The one thing you shouldn't do, is do anything that would cause the Russians to reduce the consular support," he said.

He also pointed to a similarity between his brother's case and Gershkovich's arrest, saying the two are part of Russia’s attempt to get a concession from the US.

"Having two cases that are identical espionage charges that are obviously bogus to American citizens. It might make it easier," he said.

"To the extent that they're using this for extortion — to get a concession from the US government — that may make it simpler," Whelan added.

He said he worries the US is struggling to deter these types of detentions.