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Ukraine live briefing: U.N. Human Rights Council kicks off with condemnation of Russian aggression


World leaders and top-ranking ministers are set to meet in Geneva for a new session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which began Monday and will run for five weeks until April 4. The war in Ukraine will be among the topics discussed. A delegation from Moscow, which was expelled from the U.N.’s main human rights body in April over human rights violations in Ukraine, will participate as an observer, Reuters reports.

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 spokesperson 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

  • U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk decried “the senseless Russian invasion of Ukraine” in his opening remarks and said it conjured “the old destructive wars of aggression from a bygone era with worldwide consequences.” The Russian delegation’s attendance of the U.N. meeting will mark the first in-person appearance by a Russian official since the war began.
  • Top U.S. officials warned China against providing military aid to Russia. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said there would be “real costs” if Beijing decides to do so, adding to a steady drumbeat of commentary on the issue from U.S. officials, who have assessed that Beijing has not yet provided lethal military aid. CIA Director William J. Burns said in a separate CNN interview that it would be a “very risky and unwise bet.”
  • 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 just less than a year after he was appointed in March 2022. He had helped oversee fighting in eastern Ukraine.
  • “Crimea is Ukraine,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Sunday that marked the ninth anniversary of Russia’s 2014 invasion of the territory. However, 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 in a Monday Twitter post. Ukraine said it shot down 11 of the unmanned aerial vehicles. Tehran acknowledged in November having previously supplied the weapons to Russia but said the shipments stopped after the war began, a claim disputed by independent experts.
  • 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.
  • The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, visited Bakhmut to boost morale and discuss strategy, the Ukrainian Army Land Forces said in a Telegram post over the weekend. Most of the city’s 80,000 prewar residents have long since evacuated the city because of fierce fighting, the Associated Press reported last week.
  • 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 Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, had recently asserted that Belarusian soldiers would join Russia’s fight against Ukraine if his nation were to come under attack. He will be traveling on an invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Chinese state media.
  • Turkey will resume talks with Sweden and Finland over their bids to join NATO on March 9, 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.