'Weakened' Russia is one of US goals, defense secretary says: April 25 recap

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Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Monday, April 25. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Tuesday, April 26, as Russia's invasion continues.

The Biden administration upped its financial pledge and may have hinted at a new goal following a quasi-clandestine meeting in Kyiv between two top U.S. Cabinet officials and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The news 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.

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.

Asked about the the U.S. goals in the conflict, Austin mentioned a desire for Ukraine to remain a sovereign, democratic country, then added: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”

That appears to represent a broader strategic goal than had been expressed. The U.S. has maintained its military aid was intended to help Ukraine win and to defend its NATO neighbors against Russian threats.

Reporters who accompanied Austin and 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.

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Latest developments:

►The British government says it believes 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine since Moscow launched its invasion two months ago. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said 25% of the Russian combat units sent to Ukraine “have been rendered not combat effective." Russia has acknowledged 1,351 military casualties.

►Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Croatia of "destroying bilateral relations'' for failing to provide “humanitarian” passage for 24 Russian diplomats and embassy staff who were expelled from Croatia over the war in Ukraine. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the claims are Russian propaganda.

►Greenpeace said its environmental activists chained themselves to a Russian oil tanker to keep it from unloading its cargo south of Norway’s capital, saying Norwegian companies “are financing Russia’s warfare”.

►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.

►Russia’s Energy Ministry acknowledged a massive fire at an oil depot in the western city of Bryansk, less than 100 miles from the Ukraine border, on the same day Russia attacked Ukrainian rail and fuel installations.

A resident leaves the remnants of her multi-generational home after searching for salvageable items on April 25, 2022, in Gostomel, Ukraine.
A resident leaves the remnants of her multi-generational home after searching for salvageable items on April 25, 2022, in Gostomel, Ukraine.

Discovery of new mass grave near Mariupol, possible others may show extent of calamity

Satellite photos released in recent days appear to show mass graves near Mariupol that may provide further clues about the extent of the catastrophe in the besieged port city in southern Ukraine.

Mayor Vadym Boychenko said authorities are trying to estimate the number of victims in a newly discovered grave about 6 miles north of Mariupol.

The strategically valuable city has been the subject of relentless bombardment and fierce street fighting for two months, leaving much of it in ruins. About 2,000 Ukrainian troops remain holed up in a steel plant amid Russian airstrikes, and an estimated 1,000 civilians are also believed to be taking shelter at the Azovstal plant.

An offer by the Russian military to open a humanitarian corridor Monday for the civilians to leave was met with skepticism by Ukrainian authorities, who pointed out the Russians have backed out of such arrangements previously. An estimated 100,000 residents are trapped in Mariupol, prompting Ukraine’s foreign minister to request U.N. intervention to get them out.

In his nightly video address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that after two months of war, “The life of peaceful cities and villages has been turned into hell.”

Sweden and Finland will apply to join NATO, reports say

Media outlets in Sweden and Finland are reporting that their governments will submit NATO applications next month after Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine fueled growing support for membership within the two Nordic countries.

The Finnish newspaper Iltalehti said Monday that the Swedish government wants "a common date for the publication of NATO applications" and mentions the week of May 16. Sweden’s Expressen tabloid said it had confirmed the plan through sources in its government. Both countries have long cooperated with NATO on defense issues, and the U.S. supports their memberships. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

NATO has provided support for Ukraine since the invasion two months ago but has steadfastly declined to institute a no-fly zone for Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance. NATO leaders have said the alliance will fully defend any member that faces attack.

Russia prepares for eastern assault by striking elsewhere in Ukraine

Part of Russia's plan to capture a large stretch of eastern Ukraine appears to involve assaults on other parts of the embattled nation.

The Russians on Monday unleashed a string of attacks against crucial Ukrainian infrastructure in the central and western regions, hitting rail and fuel installations, one of them near the western city of Lviv. The strategic strikes are seen as an attempt to cut off Ukrainian supply lines that would provide support for the defense of the east.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, said five railway facilities in central and western Ukraine were hit early Monday. Ukrainian authorities said at least five people were killed by Russian strikes in the central Vynnytsia region.

Russia also destroyed an oil refinery in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, along with fuel depots there, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said. In all, Russian warplanes destroyed 56 Ukrainian targets overnight, he said.

Explosions in separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria, which borders Ukraine

Police in the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria say several explosions believed to be caused by rocket-propelled grenades hit the Ministry of State Security on Monday, causing no reported injuries but breaking windows and prompting smoke to emanate from the building.

Transnistria, a strip of land with about 470,000 people between Moldova and Ukraine to the east, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops there nominally as peacekeepers, but there are growing concerns that the forces could be used to invade Ukraine through its western border.

Russian commander Rustam Minnekayev said last week that the country's forces intend to take control of southern Ukraine, which would open the way to Transnistria.

Moldova’s Foreign Ministry said “the aim of today’s incident is to create pretexts for straining the security situation in the Transnistrian region.” The U.S. warned previously that Russia may launch “false-flag” attacks against its own side to create a pretext for invading other nations.

International Criminal Court to join probe into possible war crimes

The International Criminal Court in The Hague will join the investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in Ukraine. 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.

Biden names Bridget Brink as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

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.

How much money has the US sent to Ukraine?

The United States' latest financial commitment to Ukraine represents just a small fraction of the total spending on the embattled nation of 43 million people. Since the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, the U.S. 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 supplying more than guns and ammunition, announcing last week it will give Ukraine another $500 million 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.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Weakened' Russia a US goal; mass grave found: April 25 recap