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April 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news
By Kathleen Magramo, Helen Regan, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN
Chinese president gives "words of support" to Ukraine’s grain deal, Zelensky says
From CNN's Mariya Knight
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky provided additional details of his earlier phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.
According to Zelensky, Xi gave "words of support for our Black Sea Grain Initiative and its extension, as well as support for our humanitarian efforts, in particular the Grain from Ukraine program.”
Some context: The comments come days after Russia threatened to scrap the Grain Initiative, which enables the safe export of grain from Ukrainian ports onto the world market.
Ukrainian Naval Forces in a Facebook update on Wednesday said, “the Black Sea grain corridor is once again suspended by the Russian side,” without elaborating.
As a result, four vessels were unable to leave the Ukrainian ports including one vessel that is waiting for transit, the naval forces said.
Expelled diplomats, a deadly Russian strike and other headlines you should know
From CNN staff
Ukrainians are in what a senior US military commander called "a good position" for a counteroffensive against the Russian military.
On Wednesday, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, head of the US European Command, told a congressional committee the US has worked with the Ukrainians on a possible surprise attack.
If you're just now reading in, here's what you should know:
Ukrainian journalist killed: A Ukrainian journalist who was working as a fixer for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica was killed Wednesday in a suspected Russian strike in Kherson that injured his Italian colleague, according to Ukrainian officials. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani earlier described the incident as a drone attack, but the first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, Yurii Sobolievskyi, told CNN that authorities in Kherson are still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the attack.
Russian submarines: Russian submarine patrols have increased throughout the Atlantic ocean despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, according to Gen. Cavoli.
Expelled diplomats: Ten diplomats working at Norway's embassy in Moscow have been told to leave Russia, a spokesperson for Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday. According to the spokesperson, Oslo considers Moscow's move to be a reaction to Norway’s expulsion of 15 Russian embassy workers earlier this month on accusations of spying.
Airline restriction: Lot, Poland's state-owned airline, refused to board Russian tennis player Vitalia Diatchenko in line with restrictions introduced following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the carrier said in a statement to CNN Wednesday. Diatchenko told CNN she is now back in Moscow.
Russia emptied out a base in northern Crimea, satellite imagery shows
From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv
Russian forces have emptied out a key base in northern Crimea, recent satellite imagery reviewed by CNN shows. The facility, near the village of Medvedivka and close to the border of Kherson, housed a significant number of Russian armor.
Imagery from the European Union’s Sentinel 2 satellite from January 21 shows a large footprint of Russian equipment. Higher resolution Maxar images from February 11 reveals dozens of armored vehicles, including tanks and artillery pieces.
Newer imagery taken by the EU’s Sentinel 2 satellite reveals most of those vehicles are no longer present at the base.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Moscow relocated the equipment or where to, but earlier in the month, Russian-installed officials in Crimea signaled that they expected a Ukrainian counteroffensive to target the peninsula.
“I think the decision to build defensive structures in Crimea and on the approaches to the peninsula was correct and justified,” the Russian-appointed Crimean governor Sergei Aksyonov said on April 11.
Maxar imagery from February 11 to February 16 shows a large concentration of defensive structures near Medvedivka, including a network of trenches and wedge-shaped anti-tank concrete barriers known as dragon’s teeth. One Maxar image from January 3 shows the fortifications were much smaller at the beginning of the year.
“In general, I can say that our armed forces have built a modern, deeply echeloned defense,” Aksyonov said. “This does not mean that they will necessarily be used for their intended purpose.”
“We had to prepare for any scenario, and we did,” he added.
In light of Aksyonov’s comments, experts have suggested the withdrawal of Russian military equipment from the base in Medvedivka may be related to defensive operations ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Ukrainian journalist killed in suspected Russian attack that injured Italian colleague, officials say
From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London, Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Nick Paton Walsh in southern Ukraine
A Ukrainian journalist who was working as a fixer for Italian newspaper La Repubblica was killed Wednesday in a suspected Russian strike in Kherson that injured his Italian colleague, according to Ukrainian officials.
"The moment I heard the news about this inauspicious event, I contacted our military forces, who provided me with details on the case. I have been in touch with the journalist (Corrado Zunino), and I will do everything that I can to help him," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with Italian broadcaster SkyTG24.
Kuleba said the Ukrainian had been killed in the incident, adding that Russian fighters "don't care if it's Russian, Italian or Ukrainian, they always shoot."
The first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, Yurii Sobolievsky, also confirmed to CNN that the Ukrainian journalist was killed and the body taken to the local morgue for examination.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani earlier described the incident as a drone attack, but Sobolievskyi told CNN that authorities in Kherson are still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the attack.
CNN has reached out to journalist Corrado Zunino and to Ukrainian authorities for additional information.
The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the incident.
CNN is not reporting the identity of the deceased journalist for the time being to allow time for Ukrainian authorities to notify his next of kin.
Russia expels 10 Norwegian diplomats from embassy in Moscow
From CNN's Catherine Nicholls and Uliana Pavlova
Ten diplomats working at Norway’s embassy in Moscow have been told to leave Russia, a spokesperson for Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
“Norway’s Ambassador to Moscow was today informed by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that 10 of our diplomats at the Embassy in Moscow have been declared personae non gratae in Russia. The diplomats must leave Russia within a short time,” said the spokesperson, Ragnhild Simenstad.
According to the spokesperson, Oslo considers Moscow's move to be a reaction to Norway’s expulsion of 15 Russian embassy workers earlier this month on accusations of spying.
The Norwegian ambassador was summoned by Russia on Wednesday, when "a strong protest was expressed" in connection with Oslo's decision to expel the 15 Russian diplomats, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
"This hostile step further aggravated the situation in bilateral relations, which are already at a critically low level," the ministry said.
The Norwegian ministry's Simenstad said the Russian decision is considered "an act of revenge," adding that "all our diplomats in Russia carry out ordinary diplomatic work. The Russian authorities know this well."
Russian submarines are "more active" in the Atlantic despite ongoing Ukraine conflict, US general says
From CNN's Haley Britzky
While Russia continues its fight in Ukraine, the US military is seeing that Russian forces elsewhere have "not been affected negatively" by the war in Ukraine.
The top US general in Europe said Wednesday that Russian submarine patrols have increased throughout the Atlantic.
"One of those forces is their undersea forces. It's hard to talk in public, as you well know, sir, about undersea warfare and our efforts in that regard. But I can say that the Russians are more active than we've seen them in years, and their patrols into the Atlantic, and throughout the Atlantic, are at a high level, most of the time at a higher level than we've seen in years," Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of US European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
“And this is, as you pointed out, despite all of the efforts that they’re undertaking inside Ukraine,” he said.
Ukraine is "in a good position" for a counteroffensive, senior US military official says
From CNN's Haley Britzky
The Ukrainians are "in a good position" for a counteroffensive against the Russian military, the senior US military commander in Europe told a congressional committee on Wednesday.
"According to the modeling that we’ve very carefully done with them, the Ukrainians are in a good position," United States European Command head Gen. Christopher Cavoli said, adding that the US has worked with them on a possible surprise attack.
Cavoli also said Russia’s ground force today is larger "than it was at the beginning of the conflict," despite suffering numerous losses in its war against Ukraine.
"The Russian ground force has been has been degenerated somewhat by this conflict, although it is bigger today than it was at the beginning of the conflict," Cavoli told the House Armed Services Committee.
Aside from its ground forces, Russia has a number of options left to them, he said.
The Air Force "has lost very little; they've lost 80 planes," he said. "They have another 1,000 fighters and fighter bombers."
"So they still use all of that conventional power as well, and they mix them all together," Cavoli said.
Poland’s state-owned airline refuses boarding to Russian tennis player
From CNN's Sammy Mncwabe in London
Poland’s state-owned airline Lot refused to board a Russian tennis player in line with restrictions introduced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the carrier said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
Vitalia Diatchenko — whom the airline did not name in their statement – was denied boarding a Lot flight departing from Cairo on Monday as she was traveling to Calvi in Corsica via Warsaw and Nice to play at a tournament.
The airline confirmed to CNN that it "could not accept a citizen of the Russian Federation on its flight," citing the restrictions introduced by Poland’s interior ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic and updated in March 2022 following the Ukraine invasion.
"The provisions of the regulation introduce restrictions at certain border crossings, including airport crossings, in relation to citizens of the Russian Federation traveling from outside the Schengen area,” the airline said.
Diatchenko told CNN on Wednesday that she was unable to reach her destination after being denied flying due to her Russian passport and is now back in Moscow.
According to Reuters, the 32-year-old also said she attempted to purchase a ticket from German airline Lufthansa but was advised that she could only enter the Schengen area through Spain, which had issued her visa. CNN was not able to independently verify this.
Some background: Tennis has continued to welcome Russian and Belarusian athletes at international competitions, despite the International Olympic Committee executive board’s initial recommendation in February 2022 that they be banned.
In January, the IOC outlined a multi-step plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at the upcoming 2024 Summer Games in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Milan. The IOC's plan met criticism from the United States, Canada and several European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland.
According to the latest IOC recommendations released in March, athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport must compete only as individual neutral athletes and meet all anti-doping requirements. Those who support the war or are contracted to military or national security agencies cannot compete.
IOC president Thomas Bach defended the latest recommendations, citing tennis as an example that participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes "works" despite the war. Bach also blasted some European governments for what he called their "negative reactions" to the organization’s stance on Russia.