Biden and Zelensky spoke today, the White House confirms
From CNN's Kaitlan Collins
US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday to update him on ongoing US support for Ukraine, according to the White House.
They spoke from 11:41 a.m. ET to 12:39 p.m. ET, a White House official said.
Zelensky tweeted about the call, writing that they “assessed Russian war crimes" and "agreed to enhance sanctions.”
See Zelensky's tweet:
1:50 p.m. ET, April 13, 2022
WHO director urges Russia to work for peace "for the sake of humanity"
From CNN’s Naomi Thomas
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday urged Russia to work for peace “for the sake of humanity.”
“Tomorrow marks 50 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. In that time, 4.6 million refugees have left the country. Thousands of civilians have died, including children. There have been 119 verified attacks on health care. Health services continue to be severely disrupted, particularly in the east of the country,” Tedros said, during a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.
“For the sake of humanity, I urge Russia to come back to the table and to work for peace,” he said.
Until then, evacuation corridors need to be established so that civilians can move to safety and medical supplies, food and water can be delivered, he said.
WHO has verified nearly 120 attacks on health care since the invasion of Ukraine began.
Tedros also noted that WHO has received almost 53% of its funding requirement for Ukraine for the first three months. He thanked countries and organizations for both timely contributions and for committing to additional support. However, additional resources will be needed to cover long-term needs, he said.
12:57 p.m. ET, April 13, 2022
A legal review is underway after US President Biden called atrocities in Ukraine a "genocide"
From CNN's Kylie Atwood
US President Joe Biden described the atrocities in Ukraine as "genocide" for the first time Tuesday, adding "we'll let the lawyers decide, internationally, whether or not it qualifies."
In doing this, Biden made a “clear moral determination," Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said Wednesday, adding that a legal review is underway and that is “going to take some time to be completed.”
“As President Biden concluded it will be up to the international law experts to determine if the actions meet the legal definition of genocide, under the Genocide Convention. And the legal review based on meticulous collection of evidence is underway. That's going to take some time to be completed," Carpenter told reporters in an off-camera briefing Wednesday.
Remember: The Geneva Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” and lays out some examples of how that could be done.
Carpenter pointed to increasing evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.” He cited images of Russians’ barbaric treatment of Ukrainian civilians, speeches by Russian government officials and Russian media reports that “deny Ukraine the right to exist as an independent state.”
The US is aware of reports of women and children being forcibly taken to Russia and enforced disappearances, Carpenter also said, adding that those reports will require “thorough investigation and follow up” since such action would be a violation of international law or crimes against humanity if they are systematic.
12:25 p.m. ET, April 13, 2022
Defense official: US military looking at options to train Ukrainians on Switchblade drones and other systems
From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Michael Conte
The Pentagon is examining options for how it can train more Ukrainian forces to use Switchblade drones that the US is providing to the Ukrainian military, according to a senior defense official.
Future trainings might occur with the US troops who have deployed to bolster NATO’s eastern flank over the past several months amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the official told reporters Wednesday.
The Pentagon was looking at “a range of options” for training Ukraine on the Switchblade drones and other weapons systems, the official said, on top of the trainings that occurred with Ukrainians who already were in the United States for previously scheduled engagements.
One option would be the troops that are on NATO’s eastern flank, the official said, adding that no decisions had been made yet.
“We have absolutely added to our ability in these eastern flank countries,” the official said. “Soldiers with various sets of capabilities and various professional skills, whether it’s artillery, long-range missiles, air defense, infantry, armor — you name it. And so if there’s a need for additional training to be done on any systems that are provided to Ukraine, we will look at a range of options for how that training would have to be delivered.”
Additionally, the official said that the US continues to see “significant morale issues” anecdotally among Russian forces, a senior US defense official said Wednesday.
The official said that the US has recent evidence that Russian troops “have been disillusioned by this war, weren’t properly informed, weren’t properly trained, weren’t ready, not just physically, but weren’t ready mentally for what they were about to do.”
The US also has indications that Russian officers are “frustrated with their troops’ performance, frustrated with their colleagues’ performance,” said the official.
The official also reminded reporters on a background call that “almost half” of the invading Russian forces are “conscripts who don’t receive a lot of training.”
“So, there still are morale and unit cohesion problems that are bedeviling the Russians even as they now try to refit, resupply, and focus on a more concentrated geographic area,” the official said.
11:50 a.m. ET, April 13, 2022
Russia could relaunch offensive to "conquer" Donbas region in days, French military spokesperson says
From CNN’s Camille Knight and Joseph Ataman in Paris
The Russian military is potentially preparing for a “large-scale offensive” in the east of Ukraine in the coming days, French military spokesperson Col. Pascal Lanni said on Wednesday.
“Within the next few days, 10 days or so maybe, Russia could relaunch its efforts with a large-scale offensive in the east and south to conquer the Donetsk and Luhansk regions […] or even to push as far as the Dnipro [river] if its capacities allow it,” Lanni told journalists.
The spokesperson said that the Russian forces were carrying out air strikes and bombings in Ukraine not only “to weaken the coherence of the Ukrainian defense system, but also to disrupt Ukrainian logistical movements and capacity,” which explained the “total destruction” of Dnipro's airport by Russian troops.
He also noted that there were “no significant advances at this stage in terms of territorial gains for the Russian forces on the eastern front.”
11:40 a.m. ET, April 13, 2022
Italy will not veto sanctions on Russian energy, but wants EU ceiling on gas prices
From CNN's Abby Baggini
Italy will continue its efforts to lower its dependency on Russian oil and gas as a response to the invasion of Ukraine despite concerns about rising fuel costs, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has told CNN.
"The cost of energy is our first worry at the moment," but Italy "is not going to put up any veto to these sanctions that affects energy," Di Maio said Wednesday.
"There are businesses, for example, that are paying 400% more for electric energy. At this moment in time, we have to stop that speculation which is happening by putting a ceiling on energy prices," Di Maio told CNN. "We are trying to get that through the EU and if we can do that through the European energy stock exchange, we will be able to at least stabilize the increase in prices for families. We are going to certainly put that forward before the next European Council."
Di Maio's comments come after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced Monday that an initial deal had been struck to increase energy imports from Algeria after a meeting with the country’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algeria.
11:22 a.m. ET, April 13, 2022
European Union approves further military aid to Ukraine, taking total to $1.63 billion
From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels
The European Union on Wednesday approved a further $543 million in military aid for Ukraine. In total, the EU has allocated $1.63 billion of aid to help the country defend itself against Russian forces.
The new package would finance the provision of equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which includes “personal protective equipment, first aid kits and fuel, as well as military equipment designed to deliver lethal force for defensive purposes," the European Council said in a statement.
“As Russia prepares for an offensive on the east of Ukraine, it is crucial that we continue and step up our military support to Ukraine to defend its territory and population and prevent further suffering,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in a statement.
10:38 a.m. ET, April 13, 2022
Finnish government publishes security report with assessment of possible NATO membership amid Ukraine invasion
From CNN's James Frater in Brussels
The Finnish government presented a report Wednesday to the country’s parliament on the fundamental security changes that have occurred following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The wide-ranging report included an assessment on whether Finland should purse closer cooperation with NATO and considered the effects of a possible NATO membership.
If Finland and Sweden become full NATO members, the report said “the threshold for using military force in the Baltic Sea region would rise,” enhancing “the stability of the region in the long term.”
Membership would include signing up to NATO’s founding principle of collective defense — commonly referred to as Article 5 — which means that an attack against one NATO ally is considered as an attack against all allies.
For Finland, the report outlined that “the most significant effect of its possible NATO membership would be that Finland would be part of NATO’s collective defence, and be covered by the security guarantees enshrined in Article 5.”
The deterrent effect of being a NATO member would be “considerably stronger than it is at present, as it would be based on the capabilities of the entire Alliance,” the report said, and “Finland would be prepared to support other NATO member countries in a possible Article 5 situation.”
The report outlined that possible membership in NATO “would significantly expand the area of the Alliance, double its land border with Russia, and move the Alliance closer to strategically important areas in Russia,” such as the Kola Peninsula and St. Petersburg.
Finland “would aim to continue to maintain functioning relations with Russia in the event it becomes a NATO member,” it added.
The report cautioned that given Russia’s “negative view towards NATO enlargement,” if Finland applied for NATO membership, it should be prepared for “risks that are difficult to anticipate, such as increasing tensions on the border between Finland and Russia.”
And the country would have to “strengthen its preparedness for becoming a target of wide-ranging hybrid influence activities,” it said.
The report added that “close cooperation between Finland and Sweden during possible accession processes would be important,” saying that a “simultaneous accession processes” from the two countries could also “facilitate preparation for and response to Russia’s possible reaction.”
As part of accession talks to the alliance, the Finnish government said it would raise NATO’s military presence in the country, saying that “membership would not oblige Finland to accept nuclear weapons, permanent bases or troops in its territory."
This, the report said, is similar to the agreement that Norway and Denmark have, which does not permit “permanent troops, bases or nuclear weapons of the Alliance in their territory during peacetime.”
Finland’s “contribution to the collective defence of the Alliance” would be negotiated during the accession process.
12:14 p.m. ET, April 13, 2022
Austria's Nehammer says he visited Putin to look him in the eyes and confront him
From CNN’s Adam Pourahmadi in Abu Dhabi
Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday he decided to go to Moscow to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin with what he saw in Ukraine.
“I made the decision to go to Moscow, to look in President Putin’s eyes and confront him with what I saw,” the chancellor said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson.
When asked about Putin’s mindset during the meeting, Nehammer said Putin was “very tough” and “clear” in his messages.
“In his point of view, he has to defend the Russian Federation, the Russians living in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
The Austrian chancellor went on to say that “it’s not easy for Putin to talk about war crimes,” adding that he confronted Putin about war crimes and told him “it’s necessary to have international justice, the United Nations there.”
Asked whether Putin accepted there are war crimes bring committed, Nehammer responded, “Well, you know, it’s President Putin. In this position, he was not clear.”
Nehammer said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told him to tell Russian President Putin that evacuation corridors are needed in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
Nehammer said Zelensky told him: "Please, if you go there, tell him that it's now needed to have safe corridors, humanitarian corridors for the people in Mariupol. They don't have water, no electricity. We have to think about the wounded there."
Nehammer also said he consulted with Zelensky on whether it would be useful to visit Putin.
“These were the messages I confronted to Putin,” Nehammer added.