International court joins war crimes probe


The International Criminal Court in The Hague will join the investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in Ukraine as Russia’s destructive invasion of its resolute neighbor stretched into a third month.

A Joint Investigative Team was set up by Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine to prepare possible prosecutions within countries and before the international court. ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan and the prosecutors general of the three countries signed an agreement Monday.

The agreement sends a “clear message that all efforts will be undertaken to effectively gather evidence on core international crimes committed in Ukraine and bring those responsible to justice,” the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation said in a statement.

Ukraine authorities have accused Russian leadership and the military of targeting civilians, claiming mass graves have been found with hundreds of victims. Russia has denied the allegations, accusing the Ukraine military of faking photos of the dead or of committing the murders and blaming Russia in a bid to strengthen international support.

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Latest developments:

►Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a tweet Sunday, thanked President Joe Biden for his leadership and support of the Ukrainian people, saying the friendship and partnership between the two countries are “stronger than ever.”

►Russia is planning a staged referendum in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war, aimed at justifying its occupation, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said. 

►Reporters who accompanied Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Poland were barred by Pentagon and State Department officials from reporting the Kyiv visit until the two men physically left Ukraine. U.S. officials cited security concerns.

►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said new evidence is emerging that shows Russian troops killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol and then tried to cover it up.

Biden administration upped its financial pledge and nominated a new ambassador for Ukraine following a quasi-clandestine meeting in Kyiv between two top U.S. Cabinet officials and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The announcements came hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin provided the highest-level visit to Kyiv by an American delegation since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine has repeatedly pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces are laboring to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port city of Mariupol.

Blinken and Austin told Zelenskyy and his advisers that the United States would provide an additional $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition. Blinken said American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country as soon as this week.

“We had an opportunity to demonstrate directly our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” Blinken said.

President Joe Biden announced Monday that he will appoint Bridget Brink as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, filling a position that has been vacant for three years. Brink is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and currently serves as ambassador to Slovakia. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first U.S. ambassador to Ukraine since Donald Trump removed Marie Yovanovitch from the post in 2019. Yovanovitch’s dismissal was one of the factors in Trump’s first impeachment.

Brink, a Michigan native, previously served as senior adviser and deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and was responsible for issues related to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. She also served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassies in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and Tbilisi, Georgia.

The USA’s latest financial commitment to Ukraine represents just a small fraction of the total spending on the embattled nation of 45 million people. Since the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, the United States has committed roughly $3.7 billion in “security assistance,” the White House said Monday. The U.S. has provided more than $4.3 billion since the start of the Biden administration.

The United States is providing more than guns and ammo, announcing last week it will give Ukraine another $500 million in to help its government fund critical operations. The U.S. provided $500 million in similar aid last month.

“Ukrainians are standing up, they’re standing strong, and they’re doing that with the support that we have coordinated from literally around the world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr  Zelenskyy.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will travel to Moscow and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, his office said in a statement last week. Some Ukrainian officials say the meeting isn’t a good idea.

Igor Zhovkva, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Guterres and the U.N. are “not really” authorized to speak on behalf of Ukraine and attempt peace talk negotiations with Russia on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“This is not a good idea to travel to Moscow. We did not understand his intention to travel to Moscow and to talk to President Putin,” he said, adding: “Any peace talks are good if they end with the result. I really doubt if those peace talks organized by the secretary-general of the U.N. would end up with any result.”

He criticized the U.N. for “lagging behind” in providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, saying Guterres should concentrate on that as well.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said he was “not sure” whether Guterres’ trip would produce a diplomatic breakthrough with Russia on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Multiple U.S. governors announced their state National Guards will send armored vehicles to Ukraine at the request of the Department of Defense.

Both Ohio and West Virginia will send an undisclosed number of M-113 APCs to Ukraine, which is used to move soldiers and equipment across the battlefield while providing protection from small arms fire and the effects of artillery. 

“As we continue to learn about Russian war crimes in Ukraine, those of us in Ohio stand ready to help the Ukrainian people in any way possible,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in a statement. “Ohio has a strong Ukrainian community, and we stand behind them and their families overseas.”

The announcement came the same week as President Joe Biden announced $800 million more in military support for Ukraine.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

2022-04-25 14:37:30