Ukraine war: Outrage over 'war crimes' pushes West towards more actions against Russia

A neighbor comforts Natalya, whose husband and nephew were killed by Russian forces, as she cries in her garden in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022.
A neighbor comforts Natalya, whose husband and nephew were killed by Russian forces, as she cries in her garden in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda
By Alasdair Sandford  & David Mac Dougall  with Euronews, AP, AFP

The EU is looking to impose more sanctions against Russia, amid mounting evidence that Russian troops killed civilians near Kyiv -- which Joe Biden and others condemn as "war crimes."

There have been calls for an international probe into alleged Russian atrocities against civilians as Vladimir Putin's forces retreated from the Kyiv region.

Moscow is concentrating its offensive on eastern and southern Ukraine. Thousands have died since Russia invaded the country on February 24, causing widespread devastation. Millions have fled their homes, creating Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The war has deepened the rupture between Russia and the West, where there are calls for more sanctions against Moscow.

**Watch our TV coverage in the video player above, and follow Monday's events as they unfolded below: **


Monday's key points:

  • EU and UK leaders have promised further sanctions against Moscow in the wake of mounting evidence of Russian atrocities against civilians amid the withdrawal from the outskirts of Kyiv.
  • US President Joe Biden has called for a "war crimes trial" in light of the allegations.
  • The Polish and Spanish prime ministers, speaking separately, have echoed the Ukrainian president's allegations of "genocide", urging an international investigation. France's President Macron says there's clear evidence of Russian war crimes.
  • Russia has described the images from Bucha as a Ukrainian "hoax". Moscow asked for a special meeting of the UN Security Council but the UK that currently chairs it refused to convene it.
  • Germany, France and Lithuania have all taken action on Monday to expel Russian diplomats.
  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy says a special justice unit will be set up to investigate Russian crimes in Ukraine, involving national and international investigators, prosecutors and judges.
  • Ukraine’s prosecutor-general says the bodies of 410 civilians have been removed from Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken from Russian troops.
  • Hungary's newly re-elected leader Viktor Orban, who has refused arms shipments to Ukraine across Hungarian territory, listed Brussels and President Zelenskyy among his enemies in a victory speech.


Washington approves sale of F-16s to Bulgaria

The US government announced Monday that it has approved the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Bulgaria to "strengthen the security" of this member of NATO, against the backdrop of the war led by Russia in Ukraine.

The US State Department said in a statement that it had notified the United States Congress of its intention to sell these fighters and ammunition to Bulgaria for $1.67 billion.

According to US, the sale of the F-16s "will improve Bulgaria's ability to meet current and future threats, allowing the Bulgarian Air Force to regularly deploy modern fighter aircraft in the region of the Black Sea" of which Ukraine also borders.

Strengthening NATO's eastern flank is part of Washington's strategy to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. .

This sale could revive speculation about a transfer to Ukraine of Soviet-made combat aircraft, which Bulgaria has.

But the Pentagon seemed to dismiss this idea.

Spokesperson John Kirby cautioned against drawing any "conclusions."

"That would be a misinterpretation" Kirby said.

Kyiv has been asking Western partners for the Mig-29s that its personnel already know how to fly, and which several Eastern European countries have.

A possible transfer of such Russian planes from Poland had been discussed at the beginning of March, before the United States opposed it, fearing that Russia could see too much direct involvement of NATO in the conflict.

FILE: Danish Royal Air Force F-16 fighter at Siauliai military base, Lithuania, January 2022 -- AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

White House warning that eastern offensive "could last for months or more" 

The White House is warning that an expected offensive in eastern Ukraine "could last for months or more". 

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that Russia "is in the process of repositioning its forces to focus its offensive on eastern and parts of southern Ukraine."

"Russia tried to subjugate all of Ukraine and failed. Now it will try to impose itself in certain parts of the country" he added. 

Earlier on Monday the governor of Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine said that Russia was sending equipment and troops "from all different directions [...] preparing for a massive attack." 

Already last Saturday Ukrainian authorities said that Russian forces were withdrawing from regions in north Ukraine, and in particular from around the capital, to redeploy towards the east and south. 

Russia recently announced that it would focus its offensive on Donbass, where the Lugansk region is located, largely already in the hands of the Russian military and its separatist allies.


Russia reacts to German expulsion of diplomats

The Russian embassy in Berlin has reacted to a decision by the Germans to expel dozens of Russian diplomats, saying relations would "deteriorate" even more after the "unfriendly" decision. 

"The unfounded reduction of diplomatic personnel in Russian missions in Germany will narrow the space for maintaining dialogue between our countries, which will lead to a further deterioration of Russian-German relations" the Russian Embassy posted in a statement on Telegram.

Germany announced the massive expulsion of Russian diplomats amid European outrage over Moscow's offensive in Ukraine, and in particular the recent discovery of the bodies of dozens of civilians in the town of Bucha. 

The Kremlin has decided the accusations that civilians were killed, and said the bodies were staged there. 

The Russian embassy in Berlin confirmed that 40 diplomatic staff had been ordered to leave by German authorities. 


Russia preparing "massive attack" in east Ukraine

The governor of Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine says Russian forces are preparing a "massive attack" against Ukrainian forces there. 

In a video message, Sergei Gaïdaï said: "We see that equipment is coming from different directions, that they (the Russians) are bringing men, that they are bringing fuel (...). We understand that they are preparing for a massive attack."

"The shelling is getting heavier and heavier. Last night, there was an attempt to break through to Rubizhne, our defenders repelled it, disabled several tanks, there were dozens of corpses” of Russian soldiers, continued Gaïdaï said.

"Yesterday, unfortunately, in the explosion of a mine or an artillery shell, two volunteers died" and "a church was bombed", "two priests were injured", he added, without providing further details.

The governor also called on local residents to leave the area.

"Don't hesitate, please. Today, a thousand people have been evacuated. Please don't wait for your homes to be bombed," he urged in his message.

Ukrainian authorities had previously said that Russian forces were withdrawing from northern areas of the county, including from around Kyiv, to redeploy towards the east and the south of this country.

Russia for its part recently announced that it would focus its offensive on Donbass, where the Lugansk region is located, largely already in the hands of the Russian military and its separatist allies.



France to expel dozens of Russian diplomats

France has become the latest EU country to take action against Russian diplomats. 

On Monday evening the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would expel "many Russian personnel with diplomatic status" whose activities are "contrary to our security interests."  

The AFP news agency reports that 35 diplomats will be expelled, citing a source, 

"This action is part of a European approach" the ministry says in its press release. 

"Our first responsibility is always to ensure the safety of French people and Europeans."

On Monday morning Lithuania announced it would expel the Russian ambassador and close down a consulate. On Monday afternoon Germany said it was also expelling a large number of Russian diplomats. 

(Euronews, AFP) 


UK and US push for Russian suspension from UN Human Rights Council

The United Kingdom and United States are pushing for Russia to be suspended from the UN Human Rights council.

The move comes in response to the situation in Ukraine and specifically the town of Bucha, where the bodies of dozens of civilians were discovered after Russian forces left their positions. 

“We cannot allow a member state that is undermining all the principles that we hold dear to participate in the UN Human Rights Council” the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, tweeted.

Thomas-Greenfield addressed the 140 countries that have "already voted to condemn" the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in a UN General Assembly resolution, saying: "the images of Bucha and the devastation across the Ukraine are forcing us to walk the talk."

"In close coordination with Ukraine and other UN member states and partners, the United States will work to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council," the diplomat added. 

"Russia cannot be allowed to use its seat on the Council as a propaganda tool to suggest that it has a legitimate concern about human rights," she added.

Such a suspension must be decided by the General Assembly of the United Nations, in a two-thirds majority vote of the 193 member states of the world organization.

The United Kingdom immediately supported the American move.

"Russia cannot remain a member of the UN Human Rights Council", it "must be suspended", declared on Twitter the head of British diplomacy Liz Truss, citing a "strong presumption of crimes of war" and reports of "mass graves and atrocious killings in Bucha".


Germany to expel "a large number" of Russian diplomats

Germany has become the latest country to expel Russian diplomats in connection with the war in Ukraine. 

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday "a large number" would be ordered back to Moscow, with the AFP news agency reporting 40 diplomats are involved. 

Baerbock stressed that the expelled Russian diplomats constituted "a threat to those who seek protection with us". Germany is hosting more than 300,000 Ukrainian refugees who have fled the fighting in their country-

"We will not tolerate it any longer" she added in a short written statement. 

The diplomats facing deportation are suspected by German authorities of working for Russian intelligence services and now have five days to leave Germany, AFP has learned.

This decision by Germany comes hours after Lithuania, expelled the Russian ambassador to Vilnius. Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, dozens of Russian diplomats have been expelled from countries in Europe and the US.

(Euronews, AFP)


Two-thirds of Russian troops have left region around Kyiv

Two-thirds of the Russian forces that had occupied the area around Kyiv since the start of the invasion have retreated to Belarus, a senior Pentagon official said on Monday, saying it is likely that there will be a reorganisation of troops ahead of an assault elsewhere in Ukraine.

The senior official said about a third of the forces Russia had deployed remained and that they were now reorganising in Belarus.

The official, who requested anonymity, said they continue to think the Russian forces will re-equip, re-supply and then be sent back to Ukraine to fight elsewhere.

He warned that they could be sent to the eastern Donbas region, though the troops have not yet started to move.



Why isn't Europe banning Russian energy?

As pressure mounts for further sanctions against Russia, European importers are still paying hundreds of millions of euros for Russian oil and natural gas every day.

Europe gets around 40% of its natural gas from Russian and 25% of its oil. Russia supplies some 14% of diesel, S&P Global analysts said, and a cutoff could send already high prices for truck and tractor fuel through the roof.

With production declining in Europe, the bloc is now more dependent on imports.

Currently, there isn't the infrastructure to get natural gas supplies to places in Germany and eastern Europe that are heavily dependent on it.

Lithuania announced on Saturday that they were no longer dependent on Russian gas -- a move that they were able to do after building an LNG terminal in 2014.

Germany, the continent’s biggest economy, still gets 40% of its gas from Russia, even after cutting its reliance. Estimates vary about what a ban on Russian energy would do to the European economy.

“We will likely continue to see resistance from Germany and a select few others as they’re simply far more reliant on Russian imports of oil, gas and coal,” said Craig Erlam, senior markets analyst for the U.K., Europe, Middle East and Africa at currency broker Oanda.

Economists Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram Wolff at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels propose an EU import tariff on Russian oil and gas. That would reduce Russia's revenue while avoiding a major hit to Europe's growth, with the legal advantage of leaving contracts intact.

While the army that invaded Ukraine is already paid for, the tariff would put the Kremlin in "a more difficult economic position, in which they might possibly start having difficulties buying stuff from the outside world, including armaments, and paying the salaries of the public sector,” Tagliapietra said. “All this will happen in months, but can have strong effects on the sustainability of Russian domestic politics.”


For a summary of Sunday's developments, click here.

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