April 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Travis Caldwell, Jessie Yeung, Matias Grez and Jeevan Ravindran, CNN

Updated 4:58 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022
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1:09 p.m. ET, April 13, 2022

Biden says it's "become clearer" that Putin is committing "genocide" in Ukraine

From CNN's DJ Judd

US President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media prior to boarding Air Force One in Des Moines, Iowa on April 12.
US President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media prior to boarding Air Force One in Des Moines, Iowa on April 12. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden reiterated his assessment that Russia has committed genocide in Ukraine, telling reporters gathered on the tarmac in Des Moines, "I called it genocide because it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian.”

“And the evidence is mounting, it’s different than it was last week, the more evidence that’s coming out,” he continued, “Literally the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine, and we’re going to only learn more and more about the devastation — and we’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me.”

Earlier Tuesday, in remarks from Menlo, Iowa, the President first cited the possibility Russia had committed genocide, in remarks on rising gas prices.

"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," he said.

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.

4:58 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022

France has frozen more than $25 billion worth of Russian assets, French Finance Ministry says

From CNN's Simon Bouvier

People walk past the Central Bank headquarters in Moscow in this 2019 file photo.
People walk past the Central Bank headquarters in Moscow in this 2019 file photo. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

On Tuesday, France's Finance Ministry published a detailed list of Russian assets worth 23.7 billion euros — or $25.6 billion USD — which it has frozen since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Assets belonging to the Russian Central Bank, which the ministry says are worth 22.8 billion euros, make up the bulk of the frozen assets.

The list of assets also includes 33 real estate properties with a combined acquisition value of 573.6 million euros, including a number of addresses in Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera, and 178 million euros in frozen banking assets were also listed, along with three yachts worth more than 125 million euros, six helicopters worth more than 60 million euros, and three works of art worth 7 million euros.

Correction: A previous version of this post overstated the value of seized bank assets and yachts.

6:32 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

 International chemical weapons watchdog "concerned" by unconfirmed reports of chemical weapon use in Mariupol

From CNN's Jorge Engels and Nathan Hodge

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Howard University Founders Library in Washington on Tuesday, April 12.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Howard University Founders Library in Washington on Tuesday, April 12. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AP)

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Tuesday in a statement it is “concerned by the recent unconfirmed report of chemical weapons use” in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol that emerged Monday.

“All 193 OPCW Member States, including the Russian Federation and Ukraine, are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention,” said the OPCW in a statement. “In doing so, they have solemnly and voluntarily committed never to develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, transfer or use chemical weapons.”

“The use of chemical weapons anywhere by anyone under any circumstances is reprehensible and wholly contrary to the legal norms established by the international community against such use,” said the statement.

CNN cannot independently verify that there has been any kind of chemical strike in Mariupol. CNN teams on the ground have so far not seen evidence of such an attack, or any imagery from Mariupol sources to verify this.

On Monday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned the possibility should be taken seriously, though a Mariupol official said any such attack remained unconfirmed. 

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States could not confirm the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine but noted that they “had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents."

The US had previously warned the Ukrainians that Russia could use chemical agents in the southeastern Ukrainian city, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an interview with CNN Monday.

6:04 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Ukrainian military reports 5-hour battle in central Zaporizhzhia region as forces try to liberate area

From CNN's Tim Lister and Mariya Knight

The Ukrainian military has reported heavy fighting in the central region of Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday. 

The Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration said a five-hour battle took place in the Polohy district as Ukrainian forces tried to liberate the area.

After units of the region's territorial defense brigade occupied part of the district, Russian reinforcements forced them to withdraw, according to Col. Ivan Arefyev, spokesperson for the military administration.

Polohy is northeast of the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, where Arefyev said Russian troops continued to "use terrorist methods to intimidate the local population and persuade them to their side."

Arefyev alleged the Russians were forcing businesses "to give part of their income in exchange for a work permit. Similar actions are taking place in the Berdiansk district of the region."

Berdiansk is on the coast, some 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) west of Mariupol.

Ukrainian authorities have accused the Russians of repeatedly blocking humanitarian convoys in the same region, at Vasylivka.

Russian forces in the south have made more significant territorial gains than elsewhere in Ukraine, holding Melitopol and Kherson despite Ukrainian counter-attacks in the area. From there, they have pushed northwards.

5:29 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

OSCE will publish findings of investigation into human rights abuses in Russian war tomorrow 

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Wednesday will publish the findings of its investigation into human rights abuses and atrocities committed in the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, according to the spokesperson for the US Mission to the OSCE.

It is unclear what the findings of the report will be at this point.

The report is the product of a weeks-long fact-finding mission led by three experts chosen by Ukraine from an OSCE list of experts. That investigation was triggered after 45 countries invoked a rare OSCE mechanism —the Moscow Mechanism — that is used to investigate human rights concerns

The report was shared with OSCE members on Tuesday and with Ukraine last week, the spokesperson said. 

Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the OSCE, will brief the press following a special Permanent Council meeting on Wednesday.

According to the OSCE, the aim of the expert mission was to “establish the facts and circumstances surrounding possible contraventions of OSCE commitments, and violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” and “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including due to deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure; and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms, as well as national, regional, or international courts or tribunals that have, or may in future have, jurisdiction.”

More context: The OSCE does not have the authority to legally punish Russia if it finds evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but their facts can be given to other bodies that do have that authority.

The Moscow Mechanism, which was used to launch the fact-finding mission, is a serious step, and according to the OSCE, it has been triggered only nine other times since its establishment in 1991. It was most recently used in 2020 to investigate human rights abuses in Belarus.

Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are all members of the OSCE.

5:23 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Pentagon will convene meeting with weapons makers to determine the industry's capacity to support Ukraine

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Barbara Star

The Pentagon is set to convene a meeting of its top weapons makers Wednesday to discuss the industry’s capacity to support Ukraine in a protracted war with Russia, according to a defense official and an industry official.

The classified discussion will include proposals to speed up the production of existing systems and develop new systems critical to the Defense Department’s assistance to Ukraine and to allies, the defense official said.

The meeting, first reported by Reuters, will bring together the top eight prime defense contractors, including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and others.

It is “part of our ongoing, frequent dialogue with industry partners to ensure a resilient industrial base that is responsive to the department’s needs,” the official said.

The meeting between the defense contractors and the Pentagon was organized just a few days ago, according to the defense industry official with direct knowledge of the arrangements. The official said the contractors have been told the focus of the meeting is on the “capacity of the industry” to support Ukraine if the war goes on for several years. 

The sense of things, the official said, is that the US is “assuming this is going to be a years-long endeavor” in a scenario where, at a minimum, Ukraine will not able to safely manufacture weapons in its own country.

But in the meeting, the official said, the contractors are likely to bring up the serious challenges still facing defense manufacturing in the US including ongoing and severe supply chain issues and a lack of affordable labor. 

All of this continues to constrict defense manufacturing capacity right now, and could grow worse as increased defense spending in the budget and Ukraine contracts vie for manufacturing capacity, the official said.

The issue of capacity is also impacting the manufacture of critical ammunition supplies, even though most of it is done in government-owned contractor-operated facilities.

The US has already authorized more than $2.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than $1.7 billion since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24th.

5:19 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Biden cites "genocide" in Ukraine when talking about rise in gas prices

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden speaks at POET Bioprocessing in Menlo, Iowa on Tuesday, April 12.
President Joe Biden speaks at POET Bioprocessing in Menlo, Iowa on Tuesday, April 12. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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

Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch sits in a chair with his hands cuffed after a "special operation." was carried out in Ukraine on April 12.
Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch sits in a chair with his hands cuffed after a "special operation." was carried out in Ukraine on April 12. (Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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 speaks with other members prior to the start of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1. 
Rep. Victoria Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress speaks with other members prior to the start of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1.  (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/AP/Getty Images)

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.  

Congress approved about $14 billion in aid to Ukraine just last month. McConnell said the Ukrainians can win the war if properly supported.

“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.”