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U.S. to invest $20 million in oversight and transparency efforts in regard to Ukraine assistance

Volunteers help to bring food rations to a food aid distribution center, managed by different NGOs and called “Everything is going to be allright,” in the city center of Kramatorsk on July 11, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, will invest $20 million to bolster oversight and transparency efforts in regard to the U.S. budget for Ukraine. 

“This new funding, which has been made possible by Congress, will further reinforce oversight and accountability of the Ukrainian government’s management of assistance funds that help lay the groundwork for Ukraine’s recovery,” USAID wrote in a statement.

“USAID has built a comprehensive and robust level of oversight and accountability into this assistance to monitor the use of funds and prevent and counter corruption to ensure funding reaches Ukrainians in need,” the agency added.

— Amanda Macias

Biden’s top diplomat in Russia met with detained WSJ reporter in prison

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, said she visited detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in a Russian prison, the first time since his arrest nearly three weeks ago.

Tracy said that he is “in good health and remains strong” at Lefortovo prison.

Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 on espionage allegations and, if convicted, the 31-year-old journalist could face a 20-year prison sentence under Russian law.

The Biden administration and The Wall Street Journal have denied allegations that Gershkovich has ever worked on behalf of the U.S. government as a spy.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine says Black Sea grain deal at risk of shut down

The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni, carrying Ukrainian grain, is seen in the Black Sea off Kilyos, near Istanbul, Turkey August 3, 2022.

Mehmet Caliskan | Reuters

A U.N.-brokered initiative allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was in danger of being shut down after Russia blocked inspections of participating ships in Turkish waters, Reuters reported.

Ukrainian Black Sea ports were blocked after Russia’s invasion last year, but access to three of them was cleared last July under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.

The deal between Moscow and Kyiv was extended last month, but Ukraine said the number of cargo ships passing through the Bosporus carrying Ukrainian agricultural products was critically low, according to the Reuters report.

“For the second time in 9 months of operation of the Grain Initiative, an inspection plan (for participating vessels) has not been drawn up, and not a single vessel has been inspected,” Ukraine’s restoration ministry said on Facebook under the headline “Grain initiative under threat of shutdown,” according to Reuters.

Russia did not respond to Brink’s or the ministry’s comments, but the Kremlin said prospects for a renewal of the grain deal were “not so bright”, Reuters reported.

— Melodie Warner

International outcry over 25-year sentence for Kremlin critic

A screen set up at a hall of the Moscow City Court shows live feed of the verdict in the case against Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is accused of treason and spreading “false” information about the Russian army, in Moscow on April 17, 2023.

Kirill Kudryavtsev | Afp | Getty Images

There’s been an international outcry after a Russian court sentenced Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for treason, and other charges including spreading “false” information about the Russian army.

The U.S., U.K. and Germany condemned the sentence with London calling the conviction of Kara-Murza, an opposition politician, journalist, and human rights activist in Russia and a British dual national, “politically motivated.”

The U.K’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has summoned the Russian ambassador Andrey Kelin, and said it would “make clear that the U.K. considers Mr Kara-Murza’s conviction to be contrary to Russia’s international obligations on human rights, including the right to a fair trial.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said “Russia’s lack of commitment to protecting fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is alarming. We continue to urge Russia to adhere to its international obligations including Vladimir Kara-Murza’s entitlement to proper healthcare.”

The U.S. embassy in Russia said in a statement that “the court’s decision today to sentence Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for expressing an opinion critical of the policies of his government is another terrible sign of the repression that has taken hold in Russia. We call for his immediate release.”

Elsewhere, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement that the 25-year prison sentence was “another blow to the rule of law and civic space in the Russian Federation.”

“No one should be deprived of their liberty for exercising their human rights, and I call on the Russian authorities to release him without delay,” Turk said.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. has never abandoned attempts to spy on Russia, Kremlin says

The Kremlin claimed Monday that the U.S. had “never abandoned” attempts to spy on Russia and said a recent Pentagon document leak demonstrated this.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov waits to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2022.

Kirill Kudryavtsev | Afp | Getty Images

When the Kremlin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov was asked whether the Kremlin is concerned about “the level of penetration of U.S. intelligence agencies into Russian structures” following a recent leak of purported intelligence collected by Washington, Peskov said:

“Our special services and counterintelligence units are performing their functions. The United States has never abandoned work and attempts to conduct intelligence activities with us. This is met with appropriate opposition, and in this case, our special services are doing their job,” Peskov told reporters on Monday, news agency Interfax reported.

Peskov’s comments come after a trove of Pentagon documents were leaked and published online, appearing to show intelligence Washington had collected on Russia, the war in Ukraine and other nations.

— Holly Ellyatt

Slovakia hands over MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine

An army MiG-29 aircraft exhibited at the presentation of the aircraft AWACS E-3A Component from the Geilenkirchenand the F-16 and MiG-29 from the 31. and 33.

Darek Majewski | Gallo Images | Getty Images

Slovakia transferred 13 Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, the country’s defense minister said Monday.

Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nagy said on Twitter that “all 13 Slovak MIG-29 have been safely handed over to Ukrainian Air Force. Proud to be on the right side, doing the right thing to help protect lives. We Stand with Ukraine.”

The Slovak government approved the delivery of the jets to Ukraine in March, with several aircraft delivered last month. Poland has also offered MiG-29s to Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin critic sentenced to 25 years in prison

Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza sits on a bench inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at the Basmanny court in Moscow on October 10, 2022.

Natalia Kolesnikova | AFP | Getty Images

A Moscow court on Monday jailed outspoken Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza for a quarter of a century after it found him guilty of treason and other offenses he denied, Reuters reported.

Kara-Murza, 41, a father of three and an opposition politician who holds Russian and British passports, spent years speaking out against President Vladimir Putin and sought to have Western governments impose sanctions on Russia and individual Russians for purported human rights violations, Reuters reported.

State prosecutors had accused him of treason and of discrediting the Russian military after he criticized what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

In his final speech to the court last week, Kara-Murza had compared his own trial, which was held behind closed doors, to Josef Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s and had declined to ask the court to acquit him, saying he stood by and was proud of everything he had said, according to Reuters.

— Melodie Warner

Russia’s Putin, Shoigu, discuss Pacific Fleet drills

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on April 17, 2023.

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Monday reported to President Vladimir Putin about drills conducted by the Pacific Fleet.

In footage broadcast on state television, Shoigu was shown saying that the drills included “imitation strikes on enemy navy groups” in the Pacific.

Putin responded by saying that snap checks had shown the Pacific Fleet, which is based in Far Eastern Russia, was at a high level of readiness, and that Russia’s priority was Ukraine.

The drills are occurring while Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu is visiting Moscow. On Sunday, he held a meeting with Putin.

Read the full Reuters report.

— Reuters

Russia’s foreign minister embarks on Latin American tour

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is beginning a tour of Latin America on Monday, with scheduled visits to Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Russian State Duma | Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is beginning a tour of Latin America on Monday, with scheduled visits to Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

The trip, which lasts until Friday, will see Russia’s top diplomat hold talks with the leaders and foreign ministers of those countries, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

It added that Lavrov has a “specific agenda aimed at strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation of our countries in the political, trade, economic, educational, humanitarian, cultural and other spheres,” the ministry said.

The key goal of Lavrov’s tour is to strengthen cooperation between the countries in the political, economic, trade and humanitarian and cultural spheres, it said.

“For us, Latin America is a friendly region, one of the centers of the formation of a multipolar world, with which Russia intends to maintain a dynamic dialogue, develop constructive cooperation, not subject to any dictate from outside,” the ministry said on Telegram.

Russia frequently promotes the concept of a “multipolar world” and criticizes the perceived hegemony of the West in global affairs. Since its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has stepped up efforts to strengthen alliances and friendships abroad, such as with China, Brazil and India.

— Holly Ellyatt

Mine-clearing in Ukraine could take at least a decade, UK says

A member of the de-mining department of the Ukrainian Emergency Services prepares to survey an area of farmland and electric power lines for land mines and other unexploded ordnance for electricians to access power towers damaged by Russian strikes in order to repair them, in Korovii Yar, in the Eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, on March 20, 2023.

Violeta Santos Moura | Reuters

Mine-clearing in Ukraine, an activity that is taking place in regions previously occupied by Russian forces in the northeast and south of Ukraine, could take at least a decade, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Monday.

“Mine-related civilian casualties continue to be reported daily in Ukraine. The most affected areas are Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts [regions]: areas Russia has previously occupied,” the ministry said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

With the arrival of spring, and more people involved in agricultural work, the risk of civilian mine incidents will increase, the ministry warned.

“Over 750 mine related casualties among civilians have been reported since the start of the invasion – one in eight has involved a child. It will likely take at least a decade to clear Ukraine of mines,” the ministry said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Putin meets Chinese defense minister, deepening military ties further

Russian President Vladimir Putin does the sign of the cross during the Easter Orthodox service at the Christ The Savior Cathedral, on April 16, 2023, in Moscow, Russia.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu on Sunday, marking the latest high-profile meeting between Russian and Chinese officials in recent months.

Footage of the meeting showed Putin shaking hands with Li and then sitting down at a table at which Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was also seen.

“We are working actively through our military departments, regularly exchange useful information, work together in the field of military-technical cooperation, and hold joint exercises,” Putin said, Reuters reported.

Recent joint drills, he said, strengthened “the extremely trusting, strategic nature of our relations.”

Russia’s defense ministry said Friday that Li would make his first foreign trip to Russia on April 16-18 since his appointment to the post. The ministry said negotiations between Li and Shoigu would take place during the visit, which concludes Tuesday, and that the officials would discuss cooperation in the defense sphere and issues of global and regional security.

Putin’s latest meeting with a senior Chinese official comes almost a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow in March in which the leaders reaffirmed their strategic cooperation. Putin also met one of China’s top diplomats, Wang Yi, in February.

China’s State Council released a statement Sunday saying Beijing is willing to work with Russia to deepen “strategic communication between the two militaries, strengthen multilateral coordination and cooperation, and make new contributions to the maintenance of world and regional security and stability.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Dozens of POWs freed as Ukraine marks Orthodox Easter

Ukrainian prisoners of war pose for a picture after a swap, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, at an unknown location, Ukraine. 

Ukrainian Armed Forces | Via Reuters

More than 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released as part of a major Easter exchange with Russia, a top official said Sunday, as Orthodox Ukrainians marked the holiday for a second time since Moscow unleashed its full-scale war more than a year ago.

While celebrations were subdued because of security risks, with a curfew barring the faithful from customary all-night services, Ukrainian authorities and ordinary people shared messages of hope, linking the story of Jesus’ resurrection to their longing for peace and a Ukrainian victory.

Dozens of families had special reasons to rejoice, as presidential adviser Andriy Yermak announced that 130 soldiers, sailors, border guards and others captured by Moscow were on their way back home following a “big Easter prisoner exchange.”

Yermak said in a Telegram post on Sunday that those released included troops who fought near Bakhmut, the eastern mining city which has for months been the focus of Russia’s grinding offensive.

“The lives of our people are the highest value for us,” Yermak said, adding that Kyiv’s goal was to bring back all remaining POWs.

Read the full Associated Press report.

— The Associated Press