April 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Helen Regan, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 10:05 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023
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12:08 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

White House says it remains to be seen if Xi-Zelensky call leads to any "meaningful peace movement"

From CNN's Allison Malloy

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a daily briefing at the White House on April 20.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a daily briefing at the White House on April 20. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The White House welcomed the news that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday for the first time since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, but expressed caution about whether the call could lead to "some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan."

"We welcome the news that there was a phone call between President Xi and President Zelensky. We think that’s a good thing. We’ve been saying for quite some time that we believe it’s important for President Xi and PRC officials to avail themselves of the Ukrainian perspective on this illegal and unprovoked invasion by Russia," John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters. 

“Whether that’s gonna lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan or proposal, I just don’t think we know that right now,” Kirby added. 

Asked whether China can help broker a peace deal, Kirby reiterated that it has to be on Zelensky’s terms, saying an agreement won’t be "sustainable or credible unless the Ukrainians and President Zelensky personally is invested and supportive of it."  

Kirby said the White House did not have advanced knowledge that the call between Xi and Zelensky would take place, adding "nor would we necessarily expect to."

Some more context: Wednesday’s phone call is the first time Xi has spoken to Zelensky since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. In comparison, Xi has spoken to Russian leader Vladimir Putin five times since the invasion – including a face-to-face meeting at the Kremlin when the Chinese leader visited Moscow last month and another in-person meeting at a regional summit in Central Asia last September.

China has claimed neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Beijing calling for peace in the conflict. But it has also refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or make any public call for Russia to withdraw its troops.

9:55 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Russia must be stopped from using nuclear power to blackmail the world, says Zelensky on Chernobyl anniversary

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is pictured a few weeks after the disaster occurred, in May 1986.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is pictured a few weeks after the disaster occurred, in May 1986. (Igor Kostin/Laski Diffusion/Getty Images)

The Chernobyl disaster has left a "huge scar" and Russia must be prevented from using nuclear power to blackmail the world, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday on the 37th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in history.

"We must do everything to prevent the terrorist state from using nuclear power facilities to blackmail Ukraine and the world," Zelensky tweeted.

Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said "the silence and lies of the Soviet totalitarian regime about the tragedy led to terrible consequences that went far beyond the borders of modern Ukraine."

"Today, Russia's barbaric attacks near Ukraine's nuclear facilities, the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP [Nuclear Power Plant] and its transformation into a military base put the world at risk of a new disaster, the scale of which may exceed the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant," he added.

Russian forces continue to control the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense Russian shelling in the area, raising fears across Europe of a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], said Wednesday he spoke with Zelensky to mark the anniversary, adding the organization continues its efforts to protect the Zaporizhzhia NPP.

Zelensky reiterated his belief that return of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) to his country's control is the best way to prevent a nuclear disaster like the one that took place in Chernobyl.

"On the anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy, I had a phone call with IAEA Director Rafael Grossi," Zelensky said in a telegram post on Wednesday. "I stressed that only the return of Ukraine’s full control over ZNPP will protect the world from a new disaster."

"I also thanked for the IAEA's special program on medical support of Ukrainian nuclear workers," Zelensky added.

What happened at Chernobyl? When an explosion tore through Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor on April 26, 1986, more than 30 people were killed near Pripyat, Ukraine. Countless others have died from radiation symptoms since, according to the IAEA and the World Health Organization.

The disaster sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over hundreds of thousands of square miles of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The radioactive effects of the explosion were about 400 times more potent than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

CNN's Olga Voitovych contributed to this post.

9:28 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

France "encourages all dialogue" over Ukraine

From CNN's Joseph Ataman in Paris

France "encourages all dialogue that contributes to a resolution of the conflict [in Ukraine] in accordance with the fundamental interests of Ukraine and international law," the Elysee Palace said Wednesday, following a call between the Ukrainian and Chinese presidents.

The Elysee said this was the same message French President Emmanuel Macron conveyed to his Chinese counterpart during his visit to China this month.

During this visit, Macron told Chinese President Xi Jinping he was counting on him to “reason” with Russia and help end the war in Ukraine.

At the time, Macron said Russia had “put an end to decades of peace in Europe” and that finding a “lasting peace” that respected internationally recognized borders was “an important issue for China, as much as it is for France and for Europe.”

Macron also stressed a need for discussion “with everyone” including Russia. “We do not simply want an end to the conflict, but respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is the only condition for lasting peace,” he said.

Speaking to reporters alongside Macron, Xi said China was ready to “issue a joint call” with France for the international community to “exercise restraint” and “avoid taking actions that might cause the crisis to further deteriorate.”

9:11 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Moscow says it has noticed China's negotiation efforts following Xi and Zelensky call

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Moscow has taken notice of China’s willingness to facilitate negotiations with Ukraine following the phone conversation between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

“We note the readiness of the Chinese side to make efforts to establish the negotiation process,” Zakharova said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

However, she also noted that under current conditions negotiations are unlikely and blamed Kyiv for rejecting Moscow’s initiatives. 

Ukraine has repeatedly said peace in the conflict will only be achieved if Russia restores the country's borders and Kyiv takes back Crimea.

Earlier on Wednesday, Xi and Zelensky held their first phone conversation since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Zelensky said he had a "long and meaningful phone call.

8:35 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Chinese foreign ministry names envoy to visit Ukraine

From CNN's Steven Jiang and Nectar Gan 

In a briefing on Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry said its envoy to Ukraine and "other countries" will be Li Hui, special representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs. 

Li is the former Chinese ambassador to Russia, who served in the post from 2009 to 2019. 

In a call with Zelensky, Xi said the envoy would travel to Ukraine and other countries to help conduct "in-depth communication" with all parties for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis. 

The ministry did not provide further details as to when Li would make the trip and which other countries he would be visiting. 

Wednesday’s phone call is the first time Xi has spoken to Zelensky since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year. 

In comparison, Xi has spoken to Russian leader Vladimir Putin five times since the invasion – including a face-to-face at the Kremlin when the Chinese leader visited Moscow last month and another in-person meeting at a regional summit in Central Asia last September.

9:40 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Navalny faces terrorism charges over Russian blogger's death while he was in prison, foundation director says

From CNN’s Clare Sebastian

Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny now faces "two big trials," one on extremism charges and the other on terrorism charges, his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter Wednesday. 

The extremism charges carry a total of up to 30 years in prison, while Navalny could face up to 35 years in prison on the terrorism charges, Yarmysh said.

Terrorism case: Navalny first mentioned on Twitter earlier Wednesday that he had been informed of a new "terrorist case" against him, which would be heard by a military court. The accusation, in that case, was that "I, while in prison, commit terrorist attacks," Navalny said. 

The director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, alleged on Twitter that part of the terrorism case against Navalny involves comments that Navalny's chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, made on "Popular Politics" – a Russian-language YouTube channel – on July 10 last year about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zhdanov also said that the investigator in the terrorism case would consider "the Tatarsky episode" as part of the terrorism investigation. 

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee claimed earlier this month that an explosion that killed military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky at a cafe in St. Petersburg on April 2 was planned by Ukraine with the participation of Navalny’s supporters, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on April 3. Navalny’s foundation denies the claims. 

Extremism case: A judge ruled that Navalny has 10 days to "familiarize himself" with documents in the extremism case against him, Yarmysh added.

The ruling was made in a closed hearing at Moscow’s Basmanny district court in Russia. Russian state news agency TASS said there were 196 volumes of documents related to this case and that the court would consider the issue again after May 5.

Navalny’s daughter Daria Navalnaya told CNN's Jim Sciutto on Tuesday that in "each volume, there are 250 double-spaced pages."

Key background: Navalny is the best-known opposition politician in Russia. He survived an attempt on his life after being poisoned with Novichok nerve agent in 2020.

Last March, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security jail, according to TASS, after being convicted on fraud charges over allegations that he stole from his Anti-Corruption Foundation. At the time, he was already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a detention center east of the Russian capital after being arrested in February 2021 for violating probation terms — a verdict he said was politically motivated.

He was relocated in June 2022 to a maximum-security prison, according to TASS, which cited Sergey Yazhan, chairman of the regional public oversight commission.

8:08 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Local resident Ludmyla, 76, stands in front of a heavily damaged residential building in the frontline town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, on April 25.
Local resident Ludmyla, 76, stands in front of a heavily damaged residential building in the frontline town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, on April 25. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

On the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Wednesday that Russia must be prevented from using nuclear power to blackmail the world.

Meanwhile, jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny is facing additional criminal charges, his team has said, which could see him sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Zelensky's Russia nuclear warning: Ukrainian President Zelensky tweeted Wednesday: "We must do everything to prevent the terrorist state from using nuclear power facilities to blackmail Ukraine and the world." This comes as Russian forces continue to control the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense Russian shelling in the area, raising fears across Europe of a nuclear accident.
  • Navalny in court: A judge has ruled that jailed Russian opposition figure Navalny has 10 days to familiarize himself with documents in the extremism case against him, in a ruling was made in a closed hearing at Moscow’s Basmanny district court, according to his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh. Navalny said he's been told he faces a new “terrorist case,” which is alleged to have happened while he was in prison and is separate from the extremism case against him.
  • Russian military aircraft intercepted over the Baltic Sea: German and British fighter jets have intercepted three Russian aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the German Armed Forces said on Wednesday, adding that two Su-27 military aircraft and one Il-20 were "again flying without transponder signal."
  • Putin signs decree on retaliatory measures on sanctions: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a decree introducing possible retaliatory measures if Russian assets abroad are seized, Russian state news agency TASS reported. The decree outlines that if Russian assets are seized by “hostile countries” Moscow will place foreign assets in Russia under its temporary control.
  • Missiles moratorium in question: Russia may end its self-imposed moratorium on the use of its ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles, according to Vladimir Ermakov, the Russian foreign ministry's head of nuclear nonproliferation. Russia would continue to adhere to the moratorium based on the US missiles deployed, their characteristics and their ability to reach the Asia-Pacific region, Ermakov told TASS.
  • Cultural sites destroyed: Zelensky said that “more than 60 museums and galleries in different regions of our country have also been destroyed or damaged by the occupiers” since the invasion began. Two women were killed in a Russian attack using S-300 missiles, which hit a museum in Kupyansk earlier this week.
  • Assault on Bakhmut: Russia is targeting its assault on the already-battered eastern city of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said. The situation in Bakhmut keeps changing, as “there is a positional war going on,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the eastern grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

6:21 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Navalny says he faces new terrorism case

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from a penal colony during a hearing at the Basmanny district court in Moscow on Wednesday.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from a penal colony during a hearing at the Basmanny district court in Moscow on Wednesday. (Yulia Morozova/Reuters)

Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny said he's been told he faces a new “terrorist case,” in comments posted to one of his official Twitter accounts on Wednesday.

He said the “terrorist case,” alleged to have happened while he was in prison, was separate from an extremism case against him, for which there was a hearing at Moscow’s Basmanny district court on Wednesday.

Navalny said he had been told the case would be heard “by a military court.”

Key background: Navalny is the best-known opposition politician in Russia. He survived an attempt on his life after being poisoned with Novichok nerve agent in 2020.

Last March, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security jail, according to Russia’s state media outlet Tass, after being convicted on fraud charges over allegations that he stole from his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

At the time, he was already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a detention center east of the Russian capital after being arrested in February 2021 for violating probation terms -- a verdict he said was politically motivated.

He was relocated in June 2022 to a maximum-security prison in Melekhovo in the Vladimir Region, according to TASS citing Sergey Yazhan, chairman of the regional public oversight commission.

5:27 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

3 Russian military aircraft intercepted over the Baltic Sea, German Armed Forces say

From Chris Stern in Berlin

Germany's air force tweeted pictures of Russian aircraft intercepted in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
Germany's air force tweeted pictures of Russian aircraft intercepted in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. (German Air Force/Reuters)

German and British fighter jets have intercepted three Russian aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the German Armed Forces said on Wednesday.

Two Su-27 military aircraft and one Il-20 were "again flying without transponder signal," the German Armed Forces tweeted.

Since NATO countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don't have their own fighter jets, the military alliance has secured the Baltic airspace in northeastern Europe since 2004. To this end, the allies regularly deploy fighter jets and personnel to the Baltic Sea states bordering Russia.

At the beginning of April, after eight months, the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, handed over command of the NATO air surveillance mission to Great Britain. However, the German Air Force will continue to support it until the end of the month.