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Ukraine live briefing: Kremlin critic sentenced to 25 years; China hails security ties with Russia

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Updated April 17, 2023 at 12:17 p.m. EDT|Published April 17, 2023 at 1:00 a.m. EDT

Gen. Li Shangfu, China’s defense minister, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Sunday. (Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik/Kremlin/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

A Russian court issued its harshest penalty yet for an opponent of the Ukraine war, sentencing Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison Monday on charges of treason. Kara-Murza, a longtime opposition politician and Washington Post Opinions contributor, called the closed trial “unfounded, illegal and politically motivated.”

China’s defense minister, Gen. Li Shangfu, is in Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday. Li hailed the “substantial achievements” of close cooperation with Russia’s military and said China is ready to deepen the partnership to “make new contributions to stability and security,” in the latest sign of Beijing’s commitment to its relationship with Russia despite the war in Ukraine. Such displays of camaraderie have intensified concern that China is ready to provide lethal aid in support of the invasion.

Here’s the latest on the Ukraine war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • Li is on his first foreign trip since being appointed defense minister last month. “Mutual trust between the Chinese and Russian militaries is growing stronger by the day, and our cooperation has resulted in substantial achievements,” he told Putin, according to Chinese state media. The Washington Post has reported that a leaked U.S. intercept showed that Russian intelligence claimed Beijing had agreed to send Moscow weapons to help its invasion. China denied the allegations.
  • Britain and the United States condemned the lengthy sentence given to Kara-Murza, who is a British Russian dual national, and called Monday for his immediate release. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that “Russia’s lack of commitment to protecting fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is alarming.” The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Lynne M. Tracy, called the sentence “another terrible sign of the repression that has taken hold in Russia,” adding: “Criminalizing criticism of government action is a sign of fear, not strength.”
  • Kara-Murza’s closed trial further highlighted Russia’s isolationist path, Robyn Dixon writes from Riga, Latvia: “Putin has disregarded Western criticisms of Russia’s human rights abuses and moved to brutally destroy any remnants of his country’s pro-democracy opposition.”
  • “This sentence shows that they are so afraid of him and they hate him so much for his consistency, for his courage, for his amazing bravery,” Evgenia Kara-Murza, the wife of Vladimir, said at a Washington Post Live event Monday after his sentencing.
  • Tracy, the U.S. ambassador, visited detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich at Lefortovo prison for the first time. The top U.S. diplomat in Russia had not been allowed access to the 31-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter, who was arrested more than two weeks ago. “He is in good health and remains strong,” Tracy said in a statement shared by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. “We reiterate our call for his immediate release.”

Battleground updates

  • Senior Russian military official Mikhail Teplinsky has probably resumed a command in Ukraine after being dismissed in January, according to British intelligence. The British Defense Ministry said that Teplinsky is “widely respected” by people he commands and that his “turbulent career” suggests deep tensions within Russia’s military brass. The airborne corps he commands has recently taken a major role in the battle for Bakhmut.
  • The risk of civilian casualties in land mine explosions in Ukraine is likely to increase during spring, when more people participate in agricultural activities, Britain’s Defense Ministry warned. More than 750 mine-related casualties have been reported since Russia’s invasion, and such cases are a daily occurrence, the ministry said Monday, noting that “it will likely take at least a decade to clear Ukraine of mines.”

Global impact

  • Slovakia has given Ukraine all 13 of the promised MiG-29 fighter jets it pledged in March, the Slovak Defense Ministry said, according to a Reuters report. In recent months, Ukrainian officials and analysts have claimed that military support for Ukraine in the war is taking too long — with Kyiv lacking the force strength and weapons required to fully expel Russian troops from its territory.
  • Thousands gathered in Prague on Sunday to demand the resignation of the pro-Ukrainian Czech government because of cost-of-living issues. The demonstration was organized by the PRO populist political movement, whose leader has said that the Russian attack on Ukraine “is not our war.” The protests come three months after Czech voters elected as president a former NATO military official, who has pledged continued support for Ukraine.
  • A European Commission spokesperson said that restrictions by Poland and Hungary on Ukrainian grain are unacceptable and that the trade policy of E.U. members was the purview of Brussels. “In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU,” the commission said in a statement, according to Reuters.
  • Warsaw is set to hold emergency talks with Kyiv on Monday after temporarily banning the import and transit of Ukrainian grain, Poland’s agriculture minister said. The restrictions, which followed protests by farmers complaining of deflated prices, were criticized by the European Union’s executive arm, Reuters reported.

Analysis from our correspondents

The ‘old Europe’ vs. ‘new Europe’ paradigm is back: Two decades after the Iraq War brought to U.S. minds a juxtaposition between an “Old Europe” — led by France and Germany — and a younger and more unabashedly pro-American “New Europe,” that rubric is back. The reason: the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Leaders of governments in Poland and the Baltic states have been the most unflinching in their support of Kyiv and suspicious of any diplomatic overtures made to Putin, writes Ishaan Tharoor. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has been the target of much Western dismay for his failed attempts at outreach to Putin before last year’s invasion.

Robyn Dixon contributed to this report.

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Ukraine live briefing: Kremlin critic sentenced to 25 years; China hails security ties with Russia Reviewed by RP on April 18, 2023 Rating: 5

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