Ukraine live briefing: Russia takes U.N. Security Council presidency; calls mount for release of U.S. reporter

Soldiers raise the Ukrainian flag during a ceremony near Bucha on Friday to mark the first anniversary of the town's liberation from Russian troops. (Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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Russia took up the presidency of the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, a rotating role that it will hold for one month. Moscow last held the position in February 2022 — the month it invaded Ukraine.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week that “a country that flagrantly violates the U.N. Charter and invades its neighbor has no place on the U.N. Security Council,” but added that there is “no feasible international legal pathway” to change Moscow’s status in the organization. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Russia’s presidency “a stark reminder that something is wrong with the way international security architecture is functioning,” while Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said it was a “symbolic blow.”

Pressure is mounting on Moscow to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen who was detained in Russia this week on espionage charges. The Journal denied the charges and said the “minimum” it expects of the Biden administration is to expel Russia’s ambassador and Russian journalists working in the United States. Biden called on Russia to “let him go,” but told reporters expelling diplomats is “not the plan right now.”

Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the globe.

Key developments

  • The Wall Street Journal accused Russia of taking Gershkovich hostage on “phony espionage charges.” He is the first U.S. journalist arrested in Russia on spying allegations since the Cold War and his detainment has drawn condemnation from governments and organizations around the world including The Washington Post. Reporters Without Borders called for Gershkovich’s release and said there was no indication he was “doing anything other than legitimate investigative reporting.”
  • Ukrainian officials lambasted Russia’s U.N. Security Council presidency. Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s permanent representative at the United Nations, likened the decision to an April Fool’s Day joke. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said “an entity that wages an aggressive war, violates the norms of humanitarian & criminal law, destroys the UN Charter, neglects nuclear safety can’t head the world’s key security body.”
  • Finland will formally join NATO “in the coming days,” the alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, finalizing what he described as “the fastest ratification process in NATO’s modern history.” Finland and Sweden applied for membership on the same day last year, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey and Hungary are holding out on Sweden’s bid. Stoltenberg said he hopes Sweden can join “as soon as possible.”
  • The International Monetary Fund approved a $15.6 billion economic program for Ukraine, allowing around $2.7 billion to be immediately disbursed to Kyiv, the organization announced Friday. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement that the four-year program “will support economic growth, strengthen good governance and anti-corruption efforts, and set the foundation for longer-term reconstruction.”
  • Russia will boost munition supplies to its forces on the front line in Ukraine, its Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Saturday, Reuters reported. “The volume of supplies of the most demanded ammunition has been determined. Necessary measures are being taken to increase them,” he said. Shoigu has faced criticism from Russian mercenary group Wagner for a lack of support and supplies to front-line troops.

Global impact

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new “foreign policy concept,” bolstering ties to China and India. The 42-page document strikes a confrontational tone regarding the West and says the measures aim to eliminate “rudiments of domination” by the United States and other “unfriendly countries in world affairs.” Moscow will also work to “counter Russophobia,” it adds.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron in an hourlong conversation, he said on Twitter. The two leaders discussed the Ukraine-France “defense interaction” and Zelensky “briefed in detail on the situation at the front,” he said.
  • Wimbledon has reversed its ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis players and will allow them to compete under a neutral flag. The ban — which was also imposed in other sports — came into effect in after Russia’s invasion last year. Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee recommended that athletes from Russia and Belarus also be allowed to return to competition, a move that angered Ukraine.
  • Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez encouraged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss peace plans with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Reuters reported. Speaking at a news conference in Beijing, Sánchez said he told Xi — who carried out a grand state visit to Moscow in March — that Madrid supported Zelensky’s peace proposals, including restoring Ukrainian territory to borders predating Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Battleground updates

  • Ukraine is unlikely to expel Russian forces this year, U.S. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Defense One in an interview. “Zelensky has publicly stated many times that the Ukrainian objective is to kick every Russian out of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he said. “And that is a significant military task. Very, very difficult military task,” he warned, but noted that Kyiv had the “moral high ground” over Moscow.
  • Russia has squandered its advantage with its “failed” winter offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas, according to a daily intelligence update Saturday from Britain’s defense ministry. It apportions blame to Russia’s Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who took command of the Ukraine mission in January. “On several axes across the Donbas front, Russian forces have made only marginal gains at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties,” it said, “largely squandering its temporary advantage in personnel gained from the autumn’s ‘partial mobilisation.’”
  • “Severe violations” of human rights and international humanitarian law have become “shockingly routine” during Russia’s war in Ukraine, Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Friday. Since the war began, Türk’s office has verified more than 8,400 civilian deaths, a figure he called the “tip of the iceberg.”
  • Kremlin rejects Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s calls for a cease-fire in Ukraine, which he made in an annual address to lawmakers in Minsk. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday such a move would not allow Moscow to achieve its goals, Russian state media reported.

From our correspondents

The stuffed animals comforting Ukraine’s children in wartime: For children throughout Ukraine, plush animals, security blankets and other comfort items have served as lifelines amid the devastation of war, especially for those who escaped their homes taking only what they could carry, The Post’s Siobhán O’Grady and Kamila Hrabchuk report.

These belongings are now being slowly collected by the War Childhood Museum, a project dedicated to documenting the experiences of children raised in war by cataloguing and displaying their most personal memories and possessions.

When children offer a toy or book for the collection, Viktoriia Nesterenko, 30, a Kharkiv-based researcher for the Bosnian museum, tells them: “‘Your pain is in this object and this object will be in a museum … Your pain is here. Not in you, but here.’”