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April 10, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news
By Jessie Yeung, Helen Regan, Aditi Sangal, Jack Guy, Mike Hayes and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN
US State Department designates journalist Evan Gershkovich as "wrongfully detained by Russia"
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who is being held in Russia, has been designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department.
“Today, Secretary Blinken made a determination that Evan Gershkovich is wrongfully detained by Russia,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement Monday.
The designation underscores the United States government’s statements that the espionage charges against the reporter are baseless, and it will empower the US government to explore every avenue to try to secure his release.
Gershkovich’s case will now be handled at the State Department through the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
Both of the Americans who have been recently brought home from Russia — Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner — had been designated as wrongfully detained, and were freed in prisoner swaps.
Paul Whelan, who remains imprisoned in Russia, also has been declared wrongfully detained.
In his statement, Patel said the “U.S. government will provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family.”
“We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich,” he said. “We also call on Russia to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.”
Businessman Richard Branson meets with Zelensky as he becomes new ambassador of Ukraine's fundraising platform
From Svitlana Vlasova and Jennifer Hauser
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv Monday. Branson became a new ambassador for UNITED24, Ukraine's official fundraising platform.
Zelensky thanked Branson for his support of the country during the war, saying "it is very important that famous and influential personalities keep joining this platform. One of our key tasks is to keep the world's focus on Russia's war against Ukraine, which has been going on for over a year."
Branson told Zelensky that on the way to Kyiv, he stopped in Lviv and met some soldiers, including one "who lost both arms and a leg and he was still smiling and positive and wanted to get back to the frontline."
Earlier Branson was in Bucha, outside Kyiv, with American philanthropist Howard Buffett, supporting the building of a kitchen that will help feed children in educational facilities. The kitchen will help communities in Bucha, Nemishaevo and Borodianka.
Branson attended an event for the kitchen with Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, and Deputy Head of the Presidential Office Oleksiy Kuleba.
"More than 10,000 hot meals will be cooked here every day for our children. Another similar factory will be built in the Kharkiv region with Mr. Howard's support as well," Mayor Fedoruk said on Telegram Monday.
This isn't the first time Branson went to Ukraine. He also met with Zelensky in June.
Biden is staying briefed on leaked documents, White House says
From CNN's Nikki Carvajal and Jasmine Wright
US President Joe Biden is staying briefed on the highly classified Pentagon documents leaked in recent weeks, the White House said Monday.
“The president has been briefed, he was first briefed late last week when we all got word that there were some documents out there,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters at a White House press briefing Monday afternoon. “He has stayed briefed and in contact with national security officials throughout the weekend.”
Kirby said the Department of Defense had referred the case to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation and directed questions to them when asked if the government has any sense of who leaked the documents,
“I'm not aware that they've come to any conclusions at this point about where they're coming from,” Kirby said.
Asked if the administration believed the leak is contained or if there’s an ongoing threat, Kirby responded: “We don't know. We truly don't.”
CNN previously reported that the documents provided a rare window into how the US spies on allies and foes alike, deeply rattling US officials, who fear the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise important foreign relationships.
In response to questions about whether Biden has contacted foreign allies in response, Kirby said US officials “have been in touch with relevant allies and partners over the last couple of days at very high levels.”
Kirby said “we know that some of them have been doctored,” but that he didn’t want to “speak to the validity of all the documents.”
“We're still working through the validity of all the documents that we know are out there,” Kirby said.
Pressed on if the US believes that some of the documents are valid, Kirby said the administration “cannot speak to the veracity and the validity of any of those documents at this point.”
Kirby added that there is, “no excuse for these kinds of documents to be in the public domain" and he said the bigger concern was that the documents had become public at all.
US State Department deputy head tapped to lead diplomatic response to classified documents leak, official says
From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler
US State Department Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has been tapped to lead the diplomatic response to the leak of highly classified Pentagon documents, according to a US official familiar with the matter.
US government officials “are engaging with allies and partners at high levels over this including to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and the fidelity of securing our partnerships” following the mass leak of highly classified documents, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Monday.
Patel would not go into details about which countries they had engaged, saying “that work is ongoing.”
Asked by CNN if the State Department is taking the lead on those conversation, Patel said that “as the main diplomatic branch and agency of this administration, of course the Department of State would have a role in communicating with our allies and partners, but these conversations are happening across the administration.”
“US officials are engaging with allies and partners at the highest level over this,” he said.
Patel would not say if any steps had been taken to restrict access to classified information at the State Department as a result of the leak, saying he did not want to discuss policy decisions.
CNN has reported that some of the leaked documents included intelligence related to the war in Ukraine.
International response: Patel would not speak on specific comments from South Korean and Israeli officials reacting to leaked documents. South Korea’s presidential office said it will hold “necessary discussions with the US” regarding the document leak, which comes as the relationship between Seoul and Washington is already strained due to South Korean anger over the Inflation Reduction Act harming South Korea’s electronic vehicle industry and concerns related to the US CHIPS Act.
“There is a lot of frustration towards the Yoon administration for being too committed to the US alliance so every aspect of the US-South Korea relationship is under the microscope,” said a former US Ambassador to South Korea.
The South Korean president is scheduled to visit the White House later this month, making the timing around this incident particularly unfortunate the former diplomat said.
“Does Yoon have to raise this during the State Visit? We don’t know yet,” the diplomat said
More broadly, one diplomat from a NATO country told CNN that they do not believe Moscow was overly surprised by the most of the intel that was revealed in the leaked documents, noting Russia has robust intelligence gathering operations.
They also said that they were not frustrated that there was US intelligence that was not widely shared with allies. This diplomat said most nations do not share everything with their allies nor is there an expectation that they do so.
“That’s not the way it works,” the diplomat said.
Imprisoned Putin critic tells Moscow court he is "proud" of his political views in final hearing
From Darya Tarasova in London
Russian opposition politician, Vladimir Kara-Murza, told a Moscow court that he was “proud” of his political views during his final hearing on Monday.
Kara-Murza was arrested in April 2022 after returning to Moscow to campaign against Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russian prosecutors have requested a 25-year sentence in prison for criminal offenses that include treason, spreading fakes about the Russian army, and facilitating activities of an undesirable organization, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Kara-Murza delivered closing remarks before the court.
“I’m in jail for my political views; for speaking out against the war in Ukraine, for many years of struggle against Putin’s dictatorship, for facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators. Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it,” Kara-Murza said
The opposition politician said he blamed himself for not being able to convince enough of his “compatriots” and politicians of democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and the world.
Kara-Murza said he hoped “that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate,” adding, “even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people. I believe that we can walk this path.”
Kara-Murza confirmed on Twitter that the verdict for his case would be announced on April 17.
Last month, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on a number of Russian individuals connected to the arbitrary detention of Kara-Murza.
Pentagon says it's still working to determine scale of intel leak, which included information on Ukraine
From CNN's Haley Britzky
The Pentagon is still working to determine the scale of a leak of classified information that has occurred in recent weeks, Chris Meagher, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said Monday.
CNN has reported that some of the leaked documents included intelligence related to the war in Ukraine.
“The Department of Defense is working around the clock to look at the scope and scale of the distribution, the assessed impact, and our mitigation measures,” Meagher said. “We're still investigating how this happened, as well as the scope of the issue. There have been steps to take a closer look at how this type of information is distributed and to whom. We’re also still trying to assess what might be out there.”
Meagher said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was first briefed on the leak on April 6 and began “convening senior leaders on a daily basis” the next day.
Over the weekend, US officials engaged with allies and partners — some of whom were also implicated in the document leak, Meagher said.
The Pentagon team is also working to determine if the leak of classified material includes the Defense Department’s legislative affairs, public affairs, policy, general counsel, intelligence and security, and joint staff offices, Meagher said.
Meagher said the team is a “coordinated effort amongst several different components of DOD” who were all working to “get our arms around everything that has to do with” the leak.
Meagher declined to say who specifically was in charge of that team and overseeing those efforts.
A border guard from Azovstal who lost her husband to war is among the prisoners returning to Ukraine
From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova
Valeria Karpylenko, a border guard from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, is among the military personnel released during Monday's prisoner swap.
She is visible in videos released by the Ukrainian government showing prisoners of war returning home.
Karpylenko fought alongside her husband in the besieged Azovstal steel plant. On May 5, 2022, she and her husband were married in an Azovstal bunker — but just three days later, he was killed, according to a Facebook post by Karpylenko at the time. She had promised that she would survive the siege and live for them both.
Some background: CNN reported earlier that Russia and Ukraine exchanged more than 200 prisoners of war in their latest swap.
Ukraine's presidential office head, Andriy Yermak confirmed that 100 Ukrainians were returned home. They included "military, sailors, border guards, and National Guard servicemen."
Ukraine is repelling Russian attacks in the eastern region, general staff says
From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova
Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said Monday evening that its main focus is repelling Russian forces in Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivak and Marinka in the east.
It said over twenty attacks were repelled in the last 24 hours in those areas.
Russia launched 21 airstrikes and five missile strikes across Ukraine, including four in Kramatorsk from S-300 air defense systems.
Russia is also increasing the number of checkpoints and patrols in several occupied areas, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Over the last day, Ukrainian Defense Forces say they shot down a Russian Mi-24 helicopter and six UAVs.