As many as 15,000 Russian troops have been killed since the invasion of Ukraine began four weeks ago, according to NATO’s first estimate.
Russia has suffered 30,000 to 40,000 battlefield casualties, including 7,000 to 15,000 killed, a senior NATO military officer said in a briefing Wednesday from the alliance’s military headquarters in Belgium.
Also Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. has determined Russian military forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
The senior military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO, said the estimated deaths are based on information from the Ukrainian government, indications from Russia and open-source information. The officer said the number of fatalities came from a calculation of three wounded soldiers for every soldier killed. Casualties include killed, wounded or missing in action as well as those taken prisoner.
Earlier this week, a senior Pentagon official estimated the Russian military had lost more than 10% of the combat force in Ukraine.
Russia is beginning to dig into defensive positions outside Kyiv in the face of fierce Ukrainian opposition, a senior Defense official said. The Russian advance from the north remains stalled about 10 miles from the city center, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments. To the east of Kyiv, the Ukrainians have pushed back the front line about 15 miles to 30 miles outside the city.
The Russians appear to be attacking more aggressively in eastern Ukraine, the official said. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has been ongoing in the region since 2014.
The Ukraine Defense Ministry claims its forces have driven occupying Russian troops out of Makariv – a small Kyiv suburb that’s crucial because it provides control of a highway to the west. The effort also blocked Russian troops from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest and provided the Ukrainian military with a much-needed success story.
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President Joe Biden embarked Wednesday on a multi-day trip to Europe, where he’ll talk with allies about the ongoing response to Russia’s invasion, including military assistance for Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president is working on long-term efforts to boost defenses in Eastern Europe and reduce the continent’s reliance on Russian energy.
►Putin aide Anatoly Chubais resigned, left Russia because of the war and has no intention of returning, according to multiple media outlets. Chubais, a special envoy for ties with international organizations, is the highest-profile figure to step down since the war began, Reuters reported.
►Oksana Baulina, a journalist with the independent Russian outlet The Insider, was killed by shelling Wednesday in Kyiv while documenting the damage of Russian bombardment in the capital, the news organization said.
►European Union nations signed off on another 500 million euros ($550 million) in military aid for Ukraine, a previously announced commitment that doubles the EU’s military contributions to the country since Russia invaded Feb. 24.
►Poland says it’s seeking to expel 45 Russian intelligence officers using diplomatic status as cover to stay in country. Tweeted Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński: “We are breaking up the agents of the Russian secret services in our country.”
►In a nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 100,000 civilians remained in the port city of Mariupol, which has also come under naval attack after weeks of air and land strikes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the United States has determined Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement.
He said the assessment is based on “a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources.”
Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has unleashed “unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Ukraine.” He cited reports of indiscriminate attacks, including those deliberately targeting civilians, among other atrocities.
“Russia’s forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centers and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded,” Blinken said, pointing to the attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, among other incidents.
“As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” Blinken said. “The U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information we gather with allies, partners and international institutions and organizations, as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions.”
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Russia has begun the process to expel several American diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Moscow, the State Department said Wednesday.
The department said it received a list of diplomats on who have been declared “persona non grata” by the Russian foreign ministry. It didn’t say how many diplomats were affected by the order, which generally results in the expulsion of those targeted within 72 hours.
The State Department called Wednesday’s move “Russia’s latest unhelpful and unproductive step” in relations between the countries. It urged Russia “to end its unjustified expulsions of U.S. diplomats and staff.”
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants the whole world to acknowledge the four-week mark of the Russian invasion.
In a video address shot near his offices in Kyiv late Wednesday, Zelenskyy urged citizens around the globe to take to the streets Thursday and demonstrate support for his country, which has been under a brutal, unprovoked attack since Feb. 24.
“Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities,” Zelenskyy said. “Come in the name of peace. Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life. Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard. Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea soccer club in the British Premier League, has been sanctioned by the U.K. and the European Union because of his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But so far Abramovich has avoided penalties from the United States, and the reason stems from a request made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who sees Abramovich as a potential key figure in negotiating a peace deal, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper said Zelenskyy made the request to President Joe Biden shortly before the U.S. was about to impose sanctions on Abramovich, a former oil tycoon.
A spokesperson for Abramovich declined to offer details but said in a statement to the WSJ that, “Based on requests, including from Jewish organizations in Ukraine, he has been doing all he can to support efforts aimed at restoring peace as soon as possible.”
NATO leaders will pressure China to condemn Russia’s invasion and not provide military support to its ally, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.
“I expect leaders will call on China to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference previewing Thursday’s emergency NATO meeting on Ukraine in Brussels, which President Joe Biden will attend.
Stoltenberg said Beijing has joined Moscow in questioning the right of independent nations to choose their own path. And he charged China with providing political support to Russia by “spreading blatant lies and disinformation” about the war.
“China has not been able to condemn the invasion,” he said.
Stoltenberg said China should do so now and “engage in diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful way to end this war as soon as possible.”
– Maureen Groppe
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. lawmakers are discussing the possibility of freezing Russia’s gold reserves, estimated at a value of $130 billion, after legislators introduced a bill targeting Russia’s ability to sell its gold to avoid the impact of sanctions.
President Vladimir Putin has for years built Russia’s stockpile of gold, which is not subject to the sanctions imposed by the West since the early stages of the Ukraine invasion.
“We cannot allow Putin to take advantage of a loophole that could help finance his unconscionable attack on Ukraine,” said Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said U.S. Embassy officials in Russia were finally granted consular access to Brittney Griner and that the WNBA star was in “good condition.” Griner, who also plays professionally in Russia, has been in custody since last month after Russian officials accused her of trying to enter the country with vape cartridges containing hashish oil. A conviction could keep her in a Russian prison for 10 years. Griner has been ordered held in pre-trial detention until May 19.
The Russian assault on Kharkiv has left the northeastern city with Ukraine’s second-largest population in a “terrible” situation. That’s the assessment of Natalia Savchenko, 37, a Ukrainian who left the city and sought refuge in Medyka, Poland.
“People are being killed day and night,” Savchenko said. “They are shooting with everything they have. There is almost no one left in Kharkiv. There is no electricity, water. The city is almost empty. They do not supply children with medicine and food. They are just killing people.”
Savchenko said the military helped her escape by train.
“It is horrible, so horrible,” she said. “We left, but in the district where we lived, my grandmother stayed, my mom and my husband. Today our district was bombed, Shevchenkivsky district. We are running away.”
President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders meeting Thursday in Brussels will likely agree to strengthen the alliance’s position on land, at sea and in the air, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.
Stoltenberg said NATO will deploy four new battlegroups, which usually involved more than 1,000 troops each, in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Added to existing forces in the Baltics and Poland, NATO will have eight multinational NATO battlegroups along the eastern flank from the Baltic to the Black Sea, he said.
“We face a new reality for our security,” Stoltenberg said. “So we must reset our deterrence and defense for the longer term.”
Amid the more than 3.5 million refugees who have left their homes in Ukraine for the safety of other countries because of the Russian invasion, a small but growing number are heading back.
Many plan to stay only briefly, to check on their homes or to collect clothing more suited for the coming spring weather. Others say they’re tired of living in fear and are confident the Ukrainian military will ultimately prevail, thanks in part to the weapons, supplies and intelligence being provided by the United States and its allies.
International aid workers said the number of eastbound returnees to Ukraine is increasing daily, most of them women and children because men of fighting age had to stay behind to defend the country.
“Everything we have is there,” said Karina Hoderan, an engineer who was heading home to Odesa with her family to pick up clothes and wasn’t sure whether they would go back to Moldova for refuge. “And we are too tired to be nervous.”
President Joe Biden warned Wednesday of the threat of chemical warfare in Ukraine as he departed for a four-day trip to Europe for meetings with key U.S. allies.
“I think it’s a real threat,” Biden told reporters on the White House South Lawn.
Biden is heading to Brussels for a summit of NATO leaders and a meeting with the European Council as leaders seek to reaffirm their unity amid Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine. Biden is expected to coordinate with allies on military assistance for Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia.
On Friday, Biden will travel to Warsaw, Poland, for a bilateral meeting with President Andrzej Duda. The two leaders are expected to discuss how allies are responding to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the war.
– Michael Collins
Ukrainian leaders accused Russia of seizing 15 rescue workers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy of 11 buses that had been expected to evacuate residents.
“Employees of the state emergency service and bus drivers have been taken captive,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. “We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling or deliberate terror.”
He estimated 100,000 civilians remained in Mariupol, once home to more than 400,000 people, after weeks of shelling that have battered the city.
“They bombed us for the past 20 days,” said Viktoria Totsen, 39, who fled into Poland. “During the last five days, the planes were flying over us every five seconds and dropped bombs everywhere – on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”
A laboratory at the Chernobyl nuclear plant that works to improve the management of radioactive waste was destroyed, according to the Ukrainian agency in charge of the area surrounding the plant.
The laboratory contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world,” the agency said in its statement.
Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency also said Monday that radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.
Russia seized control of the Chernobyl plant early in its invasion of Ukraine, along with the Zaporizhzhia plant. Chernobyl is the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 when a reactor exploded. The exclusion zone is the contaminated area around the plant.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not ruled out the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the nearly four-week-long war with Ukraine, his longtime spokesman said Tuesday in a CNN interview.
Asked by CNN’s chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, whether he’s convinced Putin won’t take that drastic step, press secretary Dmitry Peskov declined to dismiss that option.
“Well, we have a concept of domestic security, and, well, it’s public,” Peskov responded. “You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used, in accordance with our concept.”
It’s not the first time a high-ranking Russian official has dangled a nuclear threat, likely to sow fear among adversaries. Three days after launching the Ukraine invasion Feb. 24, Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert in response to tough sanctions from the West.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism