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Ukraine live briefing: U.N. Human Rights Council begins session with condemnation of Russian aggression


World leaders and top-ranking officials convened Monday in Geneva for a new session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, set to run thought April 4. The role of the United Nations in holding Moscow accountable for war crimes is set to be a key topic of debate. A delegation from Moscow, which was expelled from the main U.N. human rights body in April over violations in Ukraine, is participating as an observer, Reuters reported, in the first in-person appearance by a Russian official since the war started.

China defended its position on the Ukraine war as “consistent” after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Beijing not to supply Russia with weapons and suggested a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. When asked about Zelensky’s appeal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said China “has maintained communication with all involved parties including Ukraine.”

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

1. Key developments

  • Russia’s invasion has unleashed “widespread death, destruction and displacement,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said during Monday’s session of the Human Rights Council, which investigates and sets priorities around human rights abuses. Since the war began, U.N. officials have documented hundreds of violations, including the disappearance of civilians and acts of sexual violence against men, women and children, Guterres said. Participants in the session are expected to extend the United Nations’ investigatory mandate in holding Russia accountable for war crimes, Reuters reported.
  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said China’s 12-point proposal to end the war deserves consideration. The plan, which was unveiled by Beijing Friday and immediately dismissed by Ukraine, calls on the West to ease pressure on Russia and end the use of unilateral sanctions — and does not make any explicit demands for a Russian withdrawal. “Any attempts to come up with plans that will help move the conflict into a peaceful direction deserve attention,” Peskov said Monday, referring to the proposal.
  • Russia has supplied Belarus with an Iskander short-range ballistic missile system and an S-400 air-defense missile system, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said. “It is a serious weapon,” Lukashenko said of the S-400 system at a meeting in Minsk on Monday, state-run media reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to supply Belarus with the Iskander missile systems — which can be armed with nuclear warheads — in June, Reuters reported at the time.
  • “Crimea is Ukraine,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that marked the ninth anniversary of Russia’s 2014 seizure of the territory. But he demurred when asked whether the United States would support Ukraine in retaking Crimea. “What ultimately happens with Crimea in the context of this war and a settlement of this war is something for the Ukrainians to determine, with the support of the United States,” he said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

2. Battleground updates

  • Russia launched a wave of Iranian-made Shahed drones in attacks across Ukrainian territory overnight, killing an emergency worker in the western city of Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Monday in a Twitter post. Ukraine said it shot down 11 of the unmanned aerial vehicles. Tehran acknowledged in November having previously supplied Moscow with the weapons but said the shipments stopped after the war began, a claim disputed by independent experts.
  • Zelensky dismissed a senior military official without explanation, according to a one-line decree posted Sunday. Eduard Moskalyov, commander of Ukraine’s joint forces, was removed from his role less than a year after he was appointed in March 2022. He had helped oversee fighting in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russian state media touted footage of blitzed buildings and abandoned streets in Bakhmut, the eastern city where Ukrainian forces have been engaging in one of the war’s longest battles. Published by RIA Novosti this week, the footage shows the extent of destruction in the region, with barren trees lining streets of broken buildings and piles of rubble.
  • Pro-Russian officials have reported at least 14 unexplained explosions in the occupied city of Mariupol since Tuesday, British defense officials said Monday. The explosions, which have been reported at military sites deep within Russian-controlled territory, are likely to concern Russia, given Mariupol’s key position on a logistics route, the British Defense Ministry said.

3. Global impact

  • Lukashenko is expected to start a three-day visit to China on Tuesday. Lukashenko, one of Putin’s closest allies, recently said that Belarusian soldiers would join Russia’s fight against Ukraine if his nation were to come under attack. He will be visiting at the invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese state media reported.
  • Turkey will resume talks with Sweden and Finland on March 9 about their bids to join NATO, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Monday. Both countries applied to join the military alliance after Russia launched its invasion, but the bids have stalled as Ankara refuses to ratify them. The standoff over Sweden’s potential membership deepened last month after a copy of the Quran was burned outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm.
  • Zelensky met Sunday with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, in “the first official visit of such level by a representative” from the country. “We are working on a higher level of visits and relations,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. Saudi Arabia offered $400 million in humanitarian aid during the trip, the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said on Telegram.

4. Analysis from our correspondents

An awkward tension lies beneath the West’s support for Ukraine: A year ago, Zelensky and his political allies bucked conventional wisdom by surviving the initial Russian onslaught and even delivering a stunning humiliation by routing a Russian attempt to capture Kyiv, writes Ishaan Tharoor.

Now, in the second year of the war, there’s an intensifying focus on how it will end. As the conflict continues, it is playing out as a test of wills.

Natalia Abbakumova contributed to this report.