US reopens embassy in Kyiv; Russian soldier pleads guilty at first war crimes trial in Ukraine: Live updates

A Russian sergeant pleaded guilty Wednesday at Ukraine’s first war crimes trial to fatally shooting an unarmed civilian in the northeastern Sumy region four days after the invasion began.

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, could get life in prison for shooting the 62-year-old Ukrainian man. Shishimarin was among a group of Russian troops that fled Ukrainian forces on Feb. 28, prosecutors say. The Russians allegedly fired at a private car and seized the vehicle, then drove to Chupakhivka, a village about 200 miles east of Kyiv.

On the way, prosecutors say Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the sidewalk and talking on his phone. Shishimarin was ordered to kill the man so he could not report them to Ukrainian military authorities. Who gave the order was not revealed.

“I was ordered to shoot,” Shishimarin told investigators on video. “I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.”

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.

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Latest developments:

►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that Russia has already fired more than 2,000 missiles during the war and that most hit civilian infrastructure, such as ones that recently struck the southern cities of Mikolaiv and Dnipro.

►The European Union on Wednesday urged member countries to quickly replenish their depleted stocks of ammunition and military equipment to replace materiel sent to Ukraine. The EU’s executive branch is offering $526 million over two years to countries willing to work in groups of at least three to replenish their stocks.

►The Kremlin may have agreed to a conditional surrender of the Azovstal steel mill defenders to hasten Russia’s ability to declare full control of Mariupol, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment. Russia may also be seeking to deflect criticism at home for the overall slow pace of the invasion, the institute said.

►The Russian parliament was scheduled to consider a resolution to ban the exchange of any Azov Regiment fighters but didn’t take up the issue Wednesday.

►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces fired missiles at the western Lviv region and the Sumy and Chernihiv regions in the northeast. He said the border regions of Ukraine saw Russian “sabotage activity.”

US flag flying in embassy again as diplomats return to Kyiv

U.S. diplomats are back in Kyiv.

Three months after shutting down its embassy in the Ukrainian capital as the Russian invasion loomed, the U.S. has reopened the facility.

The State Department said U.S. embassy operations in Kyiv resumed Wednesday, with diplomats returning on a permanent basis to the city. They had previously been temporarily relocated to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and neighboring Poland.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “the Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again.”

Other Western countries have also been reopening their embassies.

Russian military, unable to coordinate attack, settling for smaller goals

The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has been reduced to small units taking limited objectives such as towns, villages, even crossroads, a senior Defense Department official said Wednesday.

The shrunken aims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion reflect the Russian army’s inability to coordinate its offensive, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe battlefield intelligence. Putin launched the invasion Feb. 24 with the goal of toppling the Ukrainian government.

The Russian war effort continues to suffer from poor communication between commanders, the official said. The smaller units involved in the fighting are not fully manned or equipped, limiting their ability to wage a wider war.

Russian commanders continue to stick with a traditional doctrine that emphasizes artillery assaults followed by a frontal attack with ground forces, the official said. The Ukrainians continue to rebuff many of the Russian movements, which have made limited progress in the east.

Near Kharkiv, the Ukrainian army continues to push back Russian forces farther from the city, Ukraine’s second largest, the official said. Russian forces have retreated to within two to six miles of their border. U.S.-supplied M777 howitzer cannons have been used in the fighting there, the official said.

Military supplies continue to flow into Ukraine, the official said. More than 156,000 rounds of 155mm shells for the howitzers have arrived in the country. Of the 90 howitzers sent to Ukraine, 79 are being used in combat.

— Tom Vanden Brook

EU plan would create energy independence from Russia by 2030

The European Union on Wednesday unveiled a $316 billion plan to become independent of Russian energy by 2030. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the plan will also save energy and phase out fossil fuels. The plan calls for easing approval procedures for renewable energy projects and requiring solar panels on some roofs, among other things.

In the short term, conventional coal and nuclear power generation would be increased in the EU to ease the demand for Russian fuel. The EU government leaders agreed to set up a platform for the joint purchase of gas, liquified natural gas and hydrogen.

“We must now reduce as soon as possible our dependency on Russian fossil fuels,” von der Leyen said.

Amnesty international: Red Cross should get access to Ukraine fighters

Ukraine’s soldiers deployed in Mariupol have been “dehumanized” by Russian media and portrayed as “neo-Nazis” throughout the war, raising concerns over their fate as prisoners of war, Amnesty International said Wednesday. About 1,000 soldiers have surrendered since Monday, both sides say.

The advocacy group said it has documented summary killings of captives by Russia-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, as well as the extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces in recent weeks.

“The soldiers who surrendered today must not meet the same fate,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “Prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment, and should be given immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

After holding out for weeks in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the soldiers are regarded as heroes in Ukraine, which hopes to negotiate their return home in a prisoner swap. However, Russia has threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.

Biden applauds NATO membership requests from Finland, Sweden

President Joe Biden expressed strong support for the “historic” applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in NATO. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson are both scheduled to visit Washington on Thursday, the White House said.

“NATO guarantees the security of 1 billion people in Europe and North America, united by our shared commitment to democratic principles and our vision of peace and prosperity in Europe and around the world,” Biden said in a statement.

He added that NATO’s all-for-one-and-one-for-all security commitment was “ironclad.”

While the applications are being considered, the U.S. will work with both countries “to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression.”

Turkey reveals demands for accepting Sweden, Finland into NATO

A pro-government Turkish newspaper listed 10 demands reportedly sought from Sweden and Finland before the Turkish government would approve their NATO membership. The list published by Sabah newspaper on Wednesday calls on the two countries to stop any financial support to groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurdish fighters, and also to halt contact with members of the latter. Sabah said Turkey furthermore wants the two countries to “expedite” extradition proceedings for suspects wanted by Turkey on terrorism charges.

All 30 NATO countries have to approve the admission of new members, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to use that leverage to extract concessions and guarantees from the rest of the alliance. 

Talks aimed at expediting Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO will continue, and U.S. President Joe Biden sounded optimistic Wednesday, saying, “I think we’re going to be OK.”

Russia has said its military and political reactions to Sweden’s decision will depend on “the deployment on Swedish territory of foreign military bases and offensive weapons systems.”

US pushing for regular contact with Brittney Griner, detained WNBA star 

The U.S. has yet to establish regular contact with Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia for almost three months.

Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, has been detained – wrongfully, the Biden administration says – in Russia since February after marijuana was allegedly found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

The 31-year-old faces drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Last week, her pre-trial detention in Russia was extended for a month. At that point, an American consular official was able to meet with Griner.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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