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Ukraine updates: Russia to expel German diplomats

April 22, 2023

Russia said the move was in response to a similar decision by Germany, which the latter has not confirmed. Meanwhile, Spain has shipped its first Leopard 2 batch to Ukraine. DW has the latest.

German Embassy in Moscow, Russia in 2018
Moscow said it was expelling German diplomats in a tit-for-tat moveImage: Sefa Karacan/AA/picture alliance

Russia said on Saturday that it was expelling more than 20 German diplomats in what it said was a tit-for-tat move after it claimed Germany had expelled numerous Russian diplomats.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel that Moscow was responding in kind to Berlin's "mass expulsion of employees of Russian diplomatic missions in Germany."

She later told Russian state-run television that "more than 20" German diplomats would be expelled.

German news agency DPA also reported on Saturday that a Russian aircraft had been granted special diplomatic permission to land in Berlin, but the reason was not given.

The German Foreign Ministry said it took note of Russia's statements.

"The Federal government and the Russian side have been contact in recent weeks on personnel matters in their respective representations abroad," the German foreign ministry told the French AFP news agency. It did not mention the diplomats' expulsion.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Saturday, April 22:

Cyprus cracking down on Russian sanctions cheats

Cyprus' Financial Commissioner Pavlos Ioannou on Saturday said his country was cracking down on individuals and institutions helping Russian oligarchs avoid US and UK sanctions. 

Washington and London recently supplied Nicosia with a list of suspected sanctions cheats. "It was unavoidable for the banks to take the action they did... and the government also acted prudently," said the commissioner.

Last week, the governor of the country's central bank announced that the accounts of 13 individuals and several Cyprus-based companies on the list had been frozen. 

Local media reports claim Bank of Cyprus, the island's largest, had "informed 4,000 customers who have a Russian passport and are non-residents of EU countries that their accounts will be closed."

Cyprus has come under pressure as both the US and UK have sanctioned citizens and companies on the island, which is home to a large Russian diaspora. 

Russia advises citizens against traveling to Canada

Russia's Foreign Ministry is advising citizens against traveling to Canada, claiming there have been numerous physical attacks on Russians in the North American country. The ministry further advised those Russians already in Canada to remain vigilant, especially when in public.

Canada long ago advised its own citizens against travel to Russia. It is one of Ukraine's biggest supporters and has placed sanctions on several Russian businesses and individuals. It has also issued far-reaching embargo rules. 

Russia recently issued sanctions of its own against Canadian officials and celebrities.

Ukraine needs '10 times more" Western arms

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Melnyk on Saturday released a tweet saying, "We are thankful to our allies for their military help. But: it is not enough. Ukraine needs 10 times more to finish Russian aggression this year."

Melnyk, who previously ruffled feathers with his outspokenness while serving as ambassador to Germany, said allies need to "cross all artificial red lines" and supply Kyiv with more powerful arms. He urged allies to dedicate 1% of their GDP to arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Spain ships first battle tank batch to Ukraine

Spain sent out on Saturday its first batch of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, as part of the wider Western initiative to provide Kyiv with heavy tanks to defend itself against Russia's invasion.

Six Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks took off on a ship in the northern Spanish port city of Santander. Some 20 light armored transport vehicles were also shipped.

Four more battle tanks should be delivered at a later date.

The Leopard 2A4 tanks are an older version of the German-made 2A6 tanks. They were taken out of active service in Spain over a decade ago.

The delivery comes one day after the US said it was preparing to send its Abrams tanks in the coming weeks, to help train Ukrainian soldiers.

Russia clears explosive after bombing its own city

Russian authorities evacuated some 3,000 people from their apartments in the Russian border city of Belgorod on Saturday after a bomb was accidentally dropped by a Russian warplane earlier in the week.

A Su-34 bomber plane dropped a large bomb on the city on Thursday, leaving a large crater and damaging nearby buildings.

The provincial governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said that sappers who were working on the site discovered an "explosive object" that was "in the immediate vicinity of residential buildings."

"The operational headquarters decided to evacuate 17 apartment buildings within a radius of 200 meters. According to preliminary data, it is more than 3,000 people. Anyone who needs help with temporary accommodation, it will be provided," Gladkov wrote on Telegram.

He later said that people were again returning to their homes.

NYT: US Ukraine leaks started months earlier

Secret US intelligence over Russia's invasion of Ukraine started to be leaked months earlier than initially thought, the New York Times reported.

The newspaper cited online postings allegedly by Jack T., the US Air National Guardsman charged with leaking classified documents to a small group of gamers.

The NYT said a user profile matching that of the guardsman began posting secret intelligence on the Russian war effort on a previously undisclosed chat group on the Discord social platform soon after the invasion began in February last year.

The group had about 600 members, was publicly listed on a YouTube channel and was easily accessible, the newspaper added.

The information posted included details about casualties on both sides, activities of Moscow’s intelligence agencies and updates on aid being provided to Ukraine.

The user claimed to be posting information from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies.

The 21-year-old faces several charges for leaking top-secret military intelligence records online after being arrested last week.

The case is believed to be the most serious US security breach in a decade, which the Pentagon labeled a "deliberate, criminal act."

Zelenskyy says main task is de-occupation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the military is establishing new fighting units as Ukraine is expected to launch a counteroffensive against the Russian troops occupying parts of his country.

"We are actively preparing new brigades and units that will show themselves on the front," Zelenskyy said in his daily video address on Friday. He said his meetings with the general staff were about providing all the means to liberate Ukraine from Russian occupation.

"Everyone in Ukraine must understand that the main task of the state is the de-occupation of our territories, the return of our lands and our people from Russian captivity," Zelenskyy said, adding that state resources would be spent primarily on this. "The front line is priority number one."

Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the frontline city of Avdiivka, Donetsk region
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy receives a military patch from a Ukrainian service member during his visit at a front lineImage: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via REUTERS

At the same time, he thanked Western partners meeting in Germany on Friday for helping Ukraine defend itself. "I thank those partners whose determination is fully in line with the actual situation and needs on the battlefield." 

Ukraine has been fighting off Russia's invasion and occupation for nearly 14 months and is largely dependent on Western support for military equipment. On Friday, the Western allies met at the US Ramstein Air Base to discuss further aid.

Latvia to give all of its Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine

Latvia announced the delivery of weapons to Ukraine following talks at Ramstein on further Western military aid to the country under attack from Russia.

According to Latvian Defense Ministry, all Stinger anti-aircraft missiles still in Latvia's armed forces are to be handed over to Ukraine. In addition, more intensive training of Ukrainian soldiers is to take place in Latvia, a statement said.

"Latvia has responded to Ukraine's request for the delivery of air defense systems and decided to provide Ukraine with all the Stinger systems we have left. We will do our best to deliver them as soon as possible," Defense Minister Inara Murniece said. She did not provide further details, such as the number of units or a timetable.

IAEA warns of escalation around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned of a nuclear accident due to the increasing hostilities around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

"I saw clear signs of military preparations in the area when I visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant three weeks ago," IAEA Director Rafael Grossi said on Friday, according to a statement from the agency.

Since then, the nuclear experts stationed on site have repeatedly registered explosions in the immediate vicinity of the plant, Grossi added. He was "deeply concerned" about the current situation.

The power plant was occupied by Russian troops shortly after the start of the Russian invasion 14 months ago. The Zaporizhzhia region is considered one of the possible directions of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

js, ab, mm, dh/sms (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)