Biden cites "genocide" in Ukraine when talking about rise in gas prices
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Americans' budgets shouldn't depend on whether a dictator "commits genocide" in another country.
"Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away," Biden said in Iowa, where he was unveiling a new rule on ethanol.
"To help deal with this Putin price hike, I've authorized the release of one million barrels per day from the strategic petroleum reserve," Biden went on.
Biden has previously stopped short of calling what is underway in Ukraine a genocide. His aides have said it doesn't yet rise to the level.
"We have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes, we have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this month.
On Sunday, Sullivan told CNN's Jake Tapper that calling it "genocide" isn't as important as calling out the atrocities.
"In my opinion, the label is less important than the fact that these acts are cruel and criminal and wrong and evil and need to be responded to decisively," he said.
4:48 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk detained in "special operation," Zelensky says
From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Olga Voitovych and Kostan Nechyporenko
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Tuesday on Telegram that Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch, had been detained in a "special operation."
Zelensky posted a photo of a handcuffed and disheveled-looking Medvedchuk wearing fatigues, with the caption, "A special operation was carried out thanks to the SBU [the Security Service of Ukraine]. Well done! Details later."
Prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Medvedchuk had faced allegations of treason in Ukraine and had been under house arrest. His whereabouts had been unknown in the weeks following the invasion. Some observers speculated that Medvedchuk or one of his allies might be the Kremlin's preference to lead a puppet government in Ukraine if the Feb. 24 invasion succeeded in toppling Zelensky.
Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the US in 2014 "for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes."
But the wealthy businessman also served as a go-between for Moscow and Kyiv after the outbreak of the Donbas conflict in 2014 by leveraging his personal ties with Putin. In a 2019 interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone, Putin acknowledged that he was godfather to Medvedchuk's daughter.
"I would not say that we are very close but we know each other well," Putin said. "He was [former Ukrainian] President [Leonid] Kuchma’s chief of staff, and it was in this capacity at the time that he asked me to take part in the christening of his daughter. According to Russian Orthodox tradition, you can't refuse such a request."
Medvedchuk also had notoriety in Ukraine for his role as the Soviet state-appointed defense attorney for the Ukrainian dissident poet Vasyl Stus, who died in a Soviet labor camp in 1985.
In a statement, SBU head Ivan Bakanov said, "You may be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may hide from justice lately. You may even wear a Ukrainian military uniform for camouflage… But will it help you to escape punishment? Not at all! Shackles are waiting for you. And for the same traitors of Ukraine as you!"
Bakanov added, "Pro-Russian traitors and agents of the Russian intelligence services, remember — your crimes have no statute of limitations. And there are no hiding places where we wouldn’t find you!"
CNN was not immediately able to reach a legal representative for Medvedchuk.
4:23 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
Ukrainian-born US lawmaker urges State Department to restore diplomatic presence in Ukraine
From CNN's Kylie Atwood, Jennifer Hansler and Jeremy Herb
Rep. Victoria Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress, is urging the State Department to send its diplomats back into Ukraine.
Spartz, a Republican from Indiana, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday saying that the US should consider redeploying US diplomats to Lviv in Western Ukraine to provide better coordination with Ukraine. Spartz pointed to the actions of the European Union, which returned its diplomatic corps to Kyiv.
“As the single largest provider of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, it is past time that the United States follow our European allies in kind,” Spartz wrote.
The US and other countries pulled their diplomats and evacuated embassies and consulates from Kyiv in the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, shifting them to the western city of Lviv. Those officials were soon moved to Poland, commuting into Lviv, and the State Department suspended all diplomatic services in Lviv just before Russia’s invasion began.
In recent days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged more countries to restore their diplomatic presence in the country.
“We need your support, even at the level of symbols and diplomatic gestures. Please come back, everybody who is brave, please come back to our capital and continue working,” Zelensky said last week.
But given the ongoing fighting and the concerns about renewed Russian aggressions in Eastern Ukraine the Biden administration is not making moves to open their embassy in Ukraine in the near term despite other countries beginning to do so, according to two US officials familiar with the matter.
What other lawmakers are saying: Spartz’s letter marks a public push for the US to reconsider that position. One Democratic lawmaker who supports re-establishing a diplomatic presence in Ukraine said there have been questions from the region about why the Americans aren’t there as other countries have gone back in.
Another Democrat, however, said the State Department has good reason to be cautious about moving Americans back onto Ukraine soil. While Russia has refocused its war efforts into the east and southern regions of the country, Russia’s air power can still strike Kyiv and Lviv. While any civilian deaths from NATO countries in Ukraine could threaten to escalate the conflict with Russia, there are significantly different implications for the United States, the lawmaker said: “It’s a very different security situation and escalatory posture.”
Ukrainian officials and activists are watching other countries move to reopen their embassies and they are frustrated by the tentative US posture. The European Union announced last week that it would resume its diplomatic presence in the Ukrainian capital.
Daria Kaleniuk, the co-founder and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, are also urging the US to re-open its embassy “urgently.” Kaleniuk believes that the embassy is symbolically significant but it is also important because it enables congressional visits and incoming shipments to occur more easily.
“What I learned that part of the reason why politicians are not coming because there is no embassy. So the embassy cannot provide them support in coming,” Kaleniuk said after spending last week on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers. “The lack of — an American Embassy in Ukraine also has negative impact on the possibility to purchase advanced weapons. Contractors who are building these advanced weapons, they see that there is not even an embassy in Ukraine and they are not able to work on the contracts with Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Congress may need to approve additional funds for military and humanitarian support to Ukraine in its war with Russia, signaling early backing for more aid that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also said will be needed.
“At the rate we’re shipping them weapons and ammunition, we may need to do another supplemental” spending bill to continue to arm the Ukrainians and “backfill” weapons to other NATO countries that have sent their stockpiles to Ukraine,” McConnell said at an appearance at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Louisville.
“My attitude about this from the very beginning is that our goal ought to be to win. To win. And I think the administration has been reluctant to say the goal is to win,” he said. “I think our definition of winning is whatever Zelensky says it is. In other words, as long as they want to fight, we ought to give them everything we possibly can to win the fight.”
3:59 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
The Netherlands detained additional Russian owned yachts, Dutch government says
From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels
The Dutch government said Tuesday that a total of 20 yachts with Russian ownership are now unable leave the Netherlands after customs officials placed a further six vessels under “increased surveillance,” as part of the sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
While authorities investigate the ownership of the yachts, they are not allowed to be delivered, transferred, or exported, the Dutch finance ministry said in a statement.
As part of their investigations, Dutch customs confirmed that "two yachts have been found to be linked to a person on the EU sanctions list.”
The vessels are allowed to make take part in sea trials within a defined area. During one trail “the Coast Guard and Customs kept an eye on the yacht, both physically and electronically,” the statement explained.
Of the 20 yachts, which range from 8.5 meters (30 feet) to 120 meters (390 feet) in length. Fourteen are in construction, two are in storage and four are under maintenance according to the ministry.
4:13 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
German president says his offer to visit Ukraine was "not wanted" by Kyiv
From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday that he had offered a visit to Ukraine with Baltic leaders, but the trip was “not wanted” by Kyiv.
Steinmeier said Polish President Andrzej Duda suggested the two leaders travel to the Ukrainian capital together with the heads of state of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to “send a strong signal of common European solidarity with Ukraine.”
“I was ready for it. But apparently […] that was not what was wanted in Kyiv,” Steinmeier told reporters while visiting Warsaw.
The German president is considered to have had close relations with Russia in his previous political roles. Ukraine has previously been critical of Steinmeier over his links with Russia and the leading role he played as former foreign minister in improving relationships with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The German president's comments come as other European leaders have made visits to Kyiv. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer made separate visits to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday.
4:31 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
Top US intelligence official says US still watching in case Russia intelligence disclosures "burned" sources
From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis
The intelligence community continues to monitor whether its disclosures of previously-classified information surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine have compromised any of its closely-guarded “sources and methods,” the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, said Tuesday.
“We are cautious, but continue to look to see whether or not we made the right calculation in doing that, because it's a long term thing to see whether or not you actually burn your sources and methods through disclosures,” Haines said during public remarks at the Meridian International Center.
The intelligence community “took a little bit of additional risk than I think we might otherwise take” in releasing information related to Russia’s planning for the invasion, Haines said, but “we all agreed to it and achieved consensus” within the intelligence community.
Her remarks provide a rare window into the closely-guarded deliberations within the Biden administration and the intelligence community around a series of remarkable intelligence disclosures made over the past four months.
Since December, the Biden administration has released a series of previously classified intelligence revealing Russian moves as Moscow massed troops on the Ukrainian border.
Officials have previously told CNN those releases were carefully coordinated among the National Security Council, the intelligence community and other national security agencies in an effort to disrupt Russian planning, blunt the effectiveness of any “false flag” operations and, ultimately, deter military action.
Although the tactic earned broad bipartisan support, some former intelligence officials did express surprise about the level of detail that the administration was providing publicly and raise questions about how that could be done without compromising sources and methods.
US officials told CNN at the time that the decision to downgrade any one piece of information went through normal processes, led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and that no disclosure was made that could expose the means by which the United States gathered the information in the first place.
“The intelligence community used its standard declassification procedures, which are in place to protect sources and methods,” a US intelligence official said in February.
Haines said on Tuesday that she and other intelligence officials were also initially concerned that the tactic might draw the intelligence community — which is designed to operate apolitically and independent of policymakers — too far into the realm of dictating policy.
“You as an intelligence community want to maintain your distance from policy to some extent,” Haines said. “And one of the concerns that was raised… was that we not be perceived as a tool of policy and that our credibility would stand on its own, and we tried to be careful about that too.”
2:54 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
Blinken: US can't confirm use of chemical weapons, but had info Russia could use chemical agents in Mariupol
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
The United States could not confirm the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, but noted that they “had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents."
Blinken said these include "tear gas mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians, as part of the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol.”
“We're in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what, what actually has happened,” Blinken said at the State Department.
“So this is a real concern. It's a concern that we had from before the aggression started. I think I pointed to the possibility that these kinds of weapons would, would be used and it's something that we're very, very focused on,” he added.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the US has provided equipment to Ukraine “to protect them from the potential use of chemical weapons.”
Price also said the US is ready to help Ukraine with investigating the potential use of chemical agents.
“We have been in direct conversations with our Ukrainian partners as they are collecting facts and evidence. We do stand ready to assist in case we can be useful in terms of that investigation, whether it is any sort of technical capability or anything else,” he said in response to a question from CNN’s Kylie Atwood.
More background: After reports emerged Monday of a possible strike involving chemical substances of some kind in Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned the possibility should be taken seriously, though a Mariupol official said any such attack remained unconfirmed.
Other nations such as the UK said they are working to verify details. CNN cannot independently verify that there has been any kind of chemical strike in Mariupol.
2:16 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022
Ukrainian first lady warns no one in Ukraine is safe from Russian forces: "The number one target is all of us"
From CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Emmet Lyons
When Russian troops invaded their homeland, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska refused to flee or to give in, opting instead — like many of their countrymen and women — for defiance in the face of aggression.
While the President's focus has been on the military fightback against Russian forces, the First Lady has concentrated on humanitarian and children's issues, working to raise global awareness of ordinary Ukrainians' suffering as a result of the war.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed Zelenska over email. Her responses have been translated from Ukrainian.
It's Tuesday evening in Kyiv. Catch up on the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine war
From CNN staff
Speaking at a news conference earlier Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said talks with Ukraine had hit a "dead end." He appeared next to his ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
In response, a presidential adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement that "negotiations are extremely difficult" but "they are ongoing." The official's statement on negotiations came as Ukrainians respond with outrage to the uncovering of widespread killing of civilians by Russian troops and an expected Russian offensive.
"It is clear that the Ukrainian delegation works exclusively within a framework that is pro-Ukrainian and transparent. It is also clear that the Russian side adheres to its traditional tactics of public pressure on the negotiation process, including through certain public statements," Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine and a lead negotiator, said in a statement released by the Ukrainian presidential office.
If you're just joining us, here's what else you should know:
Ukraine issues stamps saying "Russian warship, go ****!": Ukrposhta, Ukraine's postal service, announced Tuesday it had issued a postage stamp with the slogan, "Russian warship, go ****!" that was put into circulation today. The stamps immortalize the words by Roman Hrybov, who told a Russian warship to "go f**k yourself!" on the opening day of the war when he was ordered to surrender. The phrase has become a popular Ukrainian slogan during the war with Russia.
Russian military-linked hackers target Ukrainian power company: A Russian military-linked hacking group has attempted to infiltrate Ukrainian power substations and deploy malicious code capable of cutting electricity, Ukrainian government officials and private investigators said Tuesday. The cyberattack appears to have been thwarted.
Meanwhile,Russian troops start pouring into east: A large column of Russian military vehicles facing the Donbas region was seen in a video shared on social media that CNN has geolocated in Russia’s Rostov region. The vehicles are seen facing north-west, in the direction of the Donbas region.
Unconfirmed reports of chemical attacks: After reports emerged Monday of a possible strike involving chemical substances of some kind in Mariupol, Zelensky warned the possibility should be taken seriously, though a Mariupol official said any such attack remained unconfirmed. Other nations such as the UK said they are working to verify details. CNN cannot independently verify that there has been any kind of chemical strike in Mariupol. Separately, the military governor of the Donetsk region cited preliminary estimates Tuesday, saying that as many as 22,000 people had died in the city since the beginning of the invasion.
Where things stand in Mariupol: The Pentagon assesses that Mariupol remains contested amid Russia’s bombardment of the strategically important port city, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. “Our assessment today is that Mariupol is still contested and that the Ukrainians are still fighting to defend Mariupol from the Russian seizure of it,” Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. “You’ve seen images yourself, you’ve seen the devastation that Russian airstrikes have wrought on Mariupol and the city, but our assessment is the Ukrainians are still fighting for it.”
Tuesday's evacuations: Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced that nearly 3,000 people have been evacuated Tuesday from areas in southern and eastern Ukraine affected by fighting. Vereshchuk said that only 208 people had been able to leave Mariupol, which has been devastated by weeks of fighting. A total of 2,135 people had been able to leave the Russian-occupied cities of Berdiansk and Melitopol, as well as two other towns in the Zaporizhzhia region.