In Kostiantynivka, eastern Ukraine, six civilians were killed and eight wounded from Russian shelling Sunday morning, a senior Ukraine official said, according to Reuters. A top Ukrainian official outlined the plan Kyiv would take after the country reclaims control of Crimea, including dismantling the bridge that links the peninsula to Russia, The Associated Press reported. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Russia assuming leadership of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday an absurd and destructive move, Reuters reported. An explosion at a cafe in Russia’s second-largest city killed a military blogger who had supported the fighting in Ukraine, Reuters reported.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sunday, the U.S. State Department said.
Blinken called for the immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, whom Russia has accused of spying. A statement by U.S. State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel did not mention the journalist by name.
Responding to Blinken, Lavrov said that Gershkovich’s fate will be determined by a Russian court and told Blinken it was unacceptable for Washington to politicize the case. Lavrov said the journalist was caught “red-handed,” though Russia has yet to present any evidence.
The statement said Blinken also sought the release of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who has been detained for 1,553 days after being sentenced to a 16-year sentence at a Russian penal colony after being convicted of espionage.
U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner exchange last year, has urged the Biden administration to keep using “every tool possible” to secure the release of the U.S. reporter.
The Kremlin asserts Gershkovich was using journalism as a cover for spying, something the newspaper has vehemently denied. The Wall Street Journal has demanded the immediate release of Gershkovich, calling his arrest Thursday “a vicious affront to a free press,” while The New York Times published a statement from a coalition of news organizations expressing deep concern about Gershkovich’s detention.
Russian troop deaths
A number of Russia’s troop deaths in Ukraine have come from noncombat injuries, such as alcoholism and improper training, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense said Sunday.
A “significant minority” of the roughly 200,000 casualties Russia has suffered since invading Ukraine were due to noncombat causes, such as alcohol consumption, road traffic accidents and “climatic injuries, such as hypothermia, the British defense ministry said Sunday in its latest intelligence update.
“Russian commanders likely identify pervasive alcohol abuse as particularly detrimental to combat effectiveness,” the update said. “However, with heavy drinking pervasive across much of Russian society, it has long been seen as a tacitly accepted part of military life, even on combat operations.”
Meanwhile, ahead of a planned spring counteroffensive by Ukraine’s military, a senior Ukraine official outlined a plan Kyiv would take after the country reclaims control of Crimea.
On Sunday, Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary, said among the steps would be dismantling the strategic bridge that links the seized Black Sea peninsula to Russia.
Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, but most nations do not recognize the peninsula as Russian territory.
As a condition for peace, Moscow has demanded that Ukraine recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and acknowledge other land gains made by Russia since fighting began more than a year ago. Kyiv has ruled out any peace talks with Moscow until Russian troops leave all occupied territories, including Crimea.
A new $2.6 billion U.S. military aid package that could include air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks for Ukraine’s fight against Russia is expected to be announced as soon as Monday, U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Friday.
A half-dozen types of munitions, including tank munitions, are also expected to be on the list of equipment that could be finalized this weekend. The officials added that the dollar amount and specific equipment in the package could change.
Also slated for inclusion were precision aerial munitions, bridging equipment Ukraine would use to assault Russian positions, recovery vehicles to help disabled heavy equipment such as tanks, and additional rounds for NASAMS air defenses that the U.S. and allies have given to Kyiv.
Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.