Sen. James Risch, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday after a covert visit to Ukraine the U.S. ally needs more heavy weapons to fend off Russia.
The Ukrainians are still fighting hard, but they could use more missiles, advanced rocket systems and artillery, Risch said in a phone interview as he completed his trip. Risch, from Idaho, said he spent about 90 minutes Sunday talking with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the country’s needs.
“On the battlefield, they’ve got to match what the Russians have. They know that. Everyone knows that,” Risch said. “But I think ours was much more of a discussion about how we move forward. We had a very constructive conversation.”
Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian city of Kyiv on Sunday just before Risch arrived. The Ukrainian government said the attack killed one person and wounded six others.
“Yet by Sunday afternoon, people were out, going into the parks, restaurants were full up, full traffic on the street,” Risch said. “I’ve been to war zones before, and I’ve never seen reconstruction going on while the war was still going on. The bridges that had been taken out, virtually all of them have already been repaired.”
►A top Ukrainian official says his country is working toward a prisoner swap to free two U.S. military veterans captured by Russian forces while serving as war volunteers in Ukraine.
►Russia fired long-range missiles toward Kyiv early Sunday, the first attack on Ukraine’s capital in weeks.
MAPPING AND TRACKING: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
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Russians moving into homes left vacant by Ukrainians who fled carnage
About 7,500 civilians remain in Sievierodonetsk, two days after the last sections of the city fell to Russian troops, Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said. Russian soldiers have begun moving into houses left vacant by Ukrainians who fled the city, he said.
“They put their soldiers and officers into the houses,” Striuk said. “They act like the city belongs to them.”
Last week, Gov. Serhiy Haidai announced that Ukrainian troops would conduct a “tactical withdrawal” from the charred ruins of a city that just months ago was home to over 100,000 people.
Russian hackers claim responsibility for Lithuania cyber attacks.
Lithuania was hit with cyber attacks Monday, days after Moscow promised to retaliate over transit sanctions that cut off some goods from Russia’s Kaliningrad region. Lithuania’s Defense Ministry said an “intensive” attack was targeting “the secure national data network, other Lithuanian public authorities and private companies.”
Killnet, a Russia-affiliated hacker group, says it launched the attacks in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by Lithuania, which cited European Union sanctions. Lithuania restricted the transit of sanctioned steel and ferrous metals to Kaliningrad, cut off from Russia but sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Russia has accused Lithuania and the EU of violating international agreements.
Brittney Griner trial to begin Friday in Russia
The criminal trial for WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner, held in a Russia jail for four months since her arrest at a Moscow airport, will begin Friday, a court in the suburban Moscow city of Khimki ruled Monday.
Griner, who appeared at her preliminary hearing in handcuffs, could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of transporting drugs.
Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when she was stopped at Sheremetyevo International Airport for allegedly carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her carry-on luggage. A week later Russia sent troops into Ukraine and already strained U.S.-Russian relations grew worse.
Last month, the State Department classified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs — effectively the U.S. government’s chief negotiator.
Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted.
Lysychansk is latest Ukraine city to be blasted by Russian artillery
Russian missiles and artillery pounded the eastern city of Lysychansk on Monday, bringing “catastrophic destruction” to the last city in the Luhansk region not controlled by the invading forces.
Gov. Serhiy Haidai said at least five high-rise buildings were destroyed, one of them holding 10 apartments.
“The Russians do not stop destroying housing, industrial and administrative facilities,” he said on Telegram. “There is no hour when the enemy artillery calms down.”
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday that the U.S. will provide Ukraine with a new air defense system capable of shooting down missiles. They may not be soon enough, however, be enough to keep Russian forces from seizing Lysychansk.
Seizing the city would give Russian forces virtually complete control of Luhansk, one of two regions making up Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region that has been the target of Russia’s aggression since a brief, failed run at the capital Kyiv.
New Ukraine aid package to include advanced air defense systems
A new aid package for Ukraine will include new air defense systems, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday. Sullivan said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the G-7 about Sunday’s missile attacks on Kyiv and asked for additional air defense capabilities that could shoot down missiles.
“We do intend to finalize a package that includes advanced medium and long-range air defense capabilities for the Ukrainians, along with some other items that are of urgent need, including ammunition for artillery and counter-battery radar systems,” Sullivan said, according to a pool report. “What we’re trying to do with this point is tailor our military assistance to the particular, immediate needs of Ukrainians on the battlefield.”
Sullivan said that Zelenskyy made clear to officials that a lengthy, grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people. Zelenskyy, Sullivan said, wants to see his military and Western allies who are supporting his military use the next few months to get Ukraine “in as good a position as they can possibly be in.”
“He believes that a grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people for obvious reasons,” Sullivan said.
G-7 leaders may cap prices for Russian oil
Group of Seven nations are moving closer to capping the price that countries can pay for Russian oil, a senior U.S. official said. The official said leaders aim to further restrict President Vladimir Putin’s cash flow, bring down prices at the gas pump and provide greater stability to energy markets.
Leaders were said to be zeroing in on the way Russian oil is shipped. The U.S. official said G-7 leaders are planning to direct their governments to take urgent steps to design a price cap mechanism for countries that do not participate in the economic alliance.
No additional details on a potential price cap and how it would work were immediately available. Read more here.
– Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY
Russia defaults on foreign debt for 1st time since 1917 Bolshevik Revolution
Russia missed payments on two foreign currency bonds Sunday evening, the Wall Street Journal reported, defaulting on its foreign debt for the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Moscow owes around $40 billion in foreign bonds. About half of that debt is owed to foreigners. Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department ended Russia’s ability to pay its debt back to international investors through American banks.
Russia has said any default is “artificial,” because it can afford to pay but sanctions have limited the ability to move the money. The default will be another economic blow to Putin after western sanctions have interrupted trade and caused companies to cut ties with Russia.
Contributing: The Associated Press