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Ukraine updates: Putin visits troops in Kherson, Luhansk

Published April 18, 2023last updated April 18, 2023

A video released by the Kremlin shows Vladimir Putin meeting with commanders in the Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the G7 has vowed to intensify sanctions against Moscow. DW has the latest.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sitting alongside Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky and Colonel General Oleg Makarevich
This is the first time Vladimir Putin has visited Kherson and Luhansk since announcing their illegal annexation last yearImage: Kremlin.ru via REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited headquarters of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

A video broadcast by Russian state television showed Putin arriving in the southern Kherson region in a helicopter and meeting top military commanders. He was then seen visiting the headquarters of the Russian National Guard in the eastern Luhansk region. 

The Kremlin said the visit took place on Monday. The footage could not be independently verified.

While this was Putin's second visit to regions under Russia's control, it was the first time the Russian leader visited Kherson and Luhansk — regions that are partly controlled by Russian troops.

It comes as Ukrainian troops prepare for a fresh counteroffensive to reclaim the occupied territories.

Last month, Putin visited the Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol which came under Russia's control in May last year.

While meeting troops in Luhansk and Kherson, Putin wished them a happy Easter, which Orthodox Christians celebrated on Sunday, the Kremlin said.

In September last year, Russia annexed the regions of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia in a move that was internationally condemned as illegal. 

Zelenskyy, Putin visit troops

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Tuesday, April 18:

Ukraine and Poland strike deal to restart transit of grain

Poland and Ukraine struck a deal to allow Ukrainian grain to transit through Poland after Warsaw banned imports in response to protests from farmers.

"We have managed to set up mechanisms that will mean that not even a tonne of grain remains in Poland. The goods will transit through Poland," agriculture minister Robert Telus said following talks in Warsaw with Ukrainian officials.

Polish and Ukrainian officials say convoys of Ukrainian grain transiting Poland for export abroad will be sealed, guarded and monitored to ensure the produce stops flooding the Polish market and playing havoc with prices. 

Russian parliament votes to introduce life sentences for treason

Russian lawmakers adopted amendments toughening penalties for criminal charges often used to silence critics, including a possible life sentence for high treason. 

The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, also voted to increase maximum sentences for a range of terrorism and sabotage offenses and introduced a new law that punishes those who help execute the legal decisions of international organizations that do not include Russia with up to five years in prison.

That move was a direct response to the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin last month in connection to the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

The amendments — which need to be approved by Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, before being signed into law by Putin — come as rights groups say Russian authorities are ramping up a campaign to quash the few voices of opposition that remain in the country. The previous maximum sentence for treason was 20 years.

Poland building electronic barrier on border with Russia

Poland has begun building a state-of-the-art electronic barrier at its land border with Russia's Kaliningrad exclave to monitor and counteract any illegal activity, the Polish interior minister said.

The barrier, which will be equipped with 24-hour monitoring cameras and motion detectors, will run for 210 kilometers (130 miles) and is due to be completed in the fall.

"We will have full monitoring of the border with Russia," Mariusz Kaminski told a news conference. "I am sure that this will be the best secured EU border," he said.

In February, Poland put up anti-tank barriers on roads leading to border crossings with Kaliningrad. Last year, it put up a razor-wire barrier there. Poland feels threatened by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and is a strong supporter of Kyiv in the 14-month-old conflict.

China's military chief vows to bolster ties with Russia

China's defense minister Li Shangfu held formal talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and vowed to take military cooperation with Moscow to a new level, a statement that reflects increasingly close Russia-China ties amid the fighting in Ukraine.

"The armed forces of China and Russia will implement the agreements reached by the heads of state and expand military cooperation, military-technical ties and arms trade," Li said in opening remarks at meeting with Shoigu. "We will certainly take them to a new level."

Li's trip follows last month's three-day state visit to the Russian capital by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, reflecting China's
strengthening engagement with Russia. Moscow and Beijing have closely aligned their policies in attempt to reshape the world order to diminish the influence of the United States and its Western allies.

Zelenskyy visits frontline town of Avdiivka in Donetsk region

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited troops in the small city of Avdiivka in Donetsk region and was briefed by commanders on the battlefield situation, his office said.

Avdiivka has been one of the main targets of a Russian winter offensive which was intended to reinvigorate Moscow's full-scale invasion, launched in February 2022, but has made only small territorial advances in the east.

A video released by the president's office showed Zelenskyy addressing troops in combat gear and handing them awards in what appeared to be a large industrial warehouse with sandbags packed against at least one of the high walls.

The video footage released by the president's office also showed heavily damaged high-rise residential buildings in Avdiivka, where Ukrainian officials say about 1,800 civilians still remain.

Zelenskyy has repeatedly visited troops near the frontline several times in recent weeks.

Romanian ruling party supports Ukrainian grain import ban

Romania's ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) said it will ask the coalition government to approve an emergency decree enforcing a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports.

It comes after similar moves by countries in central and eastern Europe like Poland and Hungary.

On Monday, Slovakia also banned grain imports from Ukraine.  

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, exports of grains and other food stuffs from the war-torn nation have transited through neighboring European states.

But the imports have caused silos to fill and driven down local prices, resulting in discontent among farmers in these countries. The rising domestic pressure to shield their agricultural markets has forced their governments, some of which are Kyiv's staunchest allies, to slap the bans.

The European Commission has denounced the bans, saying that trade policy is EU competence and unilateral national actions are "not acceptable."

Three EU countries ban imports of Ukrainian grain

Moscow uses facial recognition cameras to track down draft evaders, says report

Authorities in the Russian capital are using the vast system of facial recognition cameras in the city to track down young men eligible for military service, the state-owned new agency TASS reported.

The measures will make life harder for those trying to avoid being drafted for service in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin last week signed a law tightening restrictions on draft evaders and providing for call-up papers to be delivered electronically, rather than in-person by an enlistment officer or employer.

"To determine the place of residence of the conscript, video surveillance systems in the city of Moscow are being used," Moscow's chief enlistment officer Maxim Loktev told TASS.

In 2017, Moscow's Department of Information Technologies said more than 3,000 surveillance cameras in the city had been connected to a facial recognition system.

Retired general Ben Hodges: 'Bakhmut is all about Crimea'

As Ukrainian authorities reported increased Russian use of heavy artillery and airstrikes around the contested town of Bakhmut on Tuesday, DW spoke to retired US General Ben Hodges. 

"Bakhmut is actually all about Crimea," Hodges said. "Ukraine has managed for nine months to stop Russian forces from capturing Bakhmut. In the meanwhile, they have been building up forces that they're going to use in their offensive, which I think happens in several more weeks, that will be aimed at isolating the Crimean Peninsula and then eventually making Crimea untenable for Russian forces."

The former commanding general of US Army Europe said he believed the counteroffensive might be likely to commence around June: "It was never going to be a spring offensive, it needs to be when they're ready to attack, and when the weather conditions are better, the ground specifically," he said. 

If Ukraine could break through Russian lines to the Sea of Azov and isolate the peninsula off the southern coast, Hodges said that would be "the beginning of the end for Russians in Crimea."

It would then be possible to isolate Russian forces there and use long-range weaponry to target sites like the major naval base at Sevastopol, he said.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, years before its full-scale invasion. Sevastopol provides its navy with valuable access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Russia intensifies assault on Bakhmut

G7 vows stricter sanction against Russia

Top envoys of the Group of Seven (G7) developed nations have pledged to join hands against Russia's war in Ukraine and intensify sanctions against it.

Ending their three-day summit in Karuizawa, Japan, on Tuesday, the G7 members said that they are committed to intensify, coordinate and "fully" enforce sanctions on Russia for its war in Ukraine.

"There can be no impunity for war crimes and other atrocities such as Russia's attacks against civilians and critical civilian infrastructure," the ministers said in a joint statement.

"We reiterate our call on third parties to cease assistance to Russia's war, or face severe costs," the statement said.

"Russia's irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and its threat to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus are unacceptable," the ministers said.

The meeting comes after French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that the European Union should reduce its reliance on the United States and warned against being drawn into Taiwan's crisis.

The meeting, where the G7 members also discussed Chinese and North Korean aggression in Northeast Asia, comes ahead of a full summit of G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, in May.

G7 ministers meet in Japan

Brazil welcomes Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Brazil and thanked the country for its controversial efforts to mediate the Ukraine conflict.

"As for the process in Ukraine, we are grateful to our Brazilian friends for their excellent understanding of this situation's genesis. We are grateful (to them) for striving to contribute to finding ways to settle it," Lavrov said, sitting alongside his Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Vieira.

Lavrov also met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has drawn Western criticism for his recent comments on Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

President Lula, on a recent trip to the United Arab Emirates, said Kyiv shares the blame for the conflict.

He has also proposed establishing a group of countries not involved with the war to broker peace, saying he had discussed the idea with the leaders of China and the United Arab Emirates.

The US has described Brazil's approach to Russia as "deeply problematic."

Following the meeting between Lavrov and Vieira, US national security spokesman John Kirby said, "Brazil is parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda without at all looking at the facts."

The Kremlin, meanwhile, said that Brazil's efforts to mediate in the conflict in Ukraine "deserved

dh, mf, sri/nm (AP, AFP, dpa)

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