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Three foreign fighters sentenced to death as Russia lashes out

Smoke and dirt rise from shelling in the city of Severodonetsk on Tuesday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
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With death sentences, criminal probes and aggressive rhetoric, Russia on Thursday lashed out at Western businesses, the Ukrainian government and three foreign fighters in separate moves that alarmed human rights advocates and underlined Moscow’s defiant stance 15 weeks into the war.

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In Ukraine’s Russian-backed Donetsk region, two Britons and a Moroccan man who fought for the Ukrainian military were accused of acting as mercenaries and sentenced to death in what one British lawmaker deemed a “Soviet-era style show trial.” The case sets a foreboding precedent for other foreign soldiers captured by Russia, which has signaled that they would not be afforded the protections granted to prisoners of war by the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwhile, Russian investigators said they have opened more than 1,100 criminal cases against the Ukrainian government, accusing it of crimes “against the peace and security of mankind” and raising fears that captured soldiers will face mass sham trials. In a speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared himself to Russia’s first emperor, Peter the Great, and he said businesses that left the country after his invasion of Ukraine “will regret it.”

Here’s what else to know

  • Zelensky said the fight for the strategic city of Severodonetsk has turned into “probably one of the most difficult throughout this war.” About 10,000 civilians remain stuck in the city and evacuations are “impossible” for most because of the intensity of Russian attacks, the city’s mayor said Thursday.
  • The foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey said they held “substantial” talks on opening a shipping corridor for wheat from Ukraine but did not announce any agreement, with tensions high over a looming global food crisis.
  • The U.S. military has devised a plan to train Ukrainian soldiers a platoon at a time on how to use sophisticated multiple-launch rocket artillery, the Pentagon’s top general said Wednesday, raising the likelihood that more of the weapons could be sent to Ukraine.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel.
8:03 p.m.
Headshot of Reis Thebault
National and breaking news reporter
Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted businesses that have cut ties with Russia, criticizing the decision and saying the companies will “regret it.” Speaking at a gathering of entrepreneurs in Moscow on Thursday, Putin acknowledged that businesses have “preferred to jump off, to pull out, to curtail some activity here” rather than face international sanctions violations. Nearly 1,000 companies have withdrawn from Russia since its invasion began, according to a Yale University tally.“Eventually they will regret it,” Putin said. “This is not a threat. They will regret it not because we threaten someone. We do not threaten anybody. They will regret it, because Russia is a country of vast opportunities.”
2:28 a.m.
Headshot of Reis Thebault
National and breaking news reporter
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday laid out in stark terms the stakes of the battle for Severodonetsk, the eastern city where the war’s most intense fighting has lately been focused. “In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” he said in his nightly address, referring to the contested region that includes the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.Zelensky and local leaders have said they will not surrender the city, but have acknowledged that troops may need to reposition to continue fighting effectively. If ceded now, Zelensky has said, the territory would be difficult and dangerous to win back. “Severodonetsk remains the epicenter of the confrontation in Donbas,” he said. “We defend our positions, inflict significant losses on the enemy. This is a very fierce battle, very difficult. Probably one of the most difficult throughout this war.”