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Biden says Russia is committing 'genocide'; Putin says peace talks at 'dead end': April 12 recap

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This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Tuesday, April 12. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Wednesday, April 13, as Russia's invasion continues.

President Joe Biden made a point of calling Russia's actions in Ukraine a "genocide'' on the same day his counterpart Vladimir Putin said peace talks have reached a "dead end'' and the war will continue until Moscow's goals are accomplished.

Before heading back to the White House from Iowa, Biden told reporters Tuesday that he intentionally said "genocide” when describing Russia’s atrocities against Ukraine, something he had previously avoided.

“It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian,” Biden said.

Putin, speaking at a joint press conference with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, accused Ukraine of violating agreements made during talks in Istanbul. He once again dismissed images of bodies strewn in Bucha and other cities as staged by Ukraine and said Russia's total focus is on supporting separatists in the eastern Donbas region.

The war will “continue until its full completion and the fulfillment of the tasks that have been set," Putin said. He said Russia was forced to invade Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians in the separatists territories of the Donbas region, where Russia is expected to launch a major offensive in the coming days or weeks.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, took issue with Putin's claims on Twitter: "Russia claimed their goal in is to 'protect people in Donbas.' Right now mobile crematoria are burning people’s bodies in #Mariupol, the second largest city of the region. Those who survived are dying from starvation. What are you 'protecting' them from? From life?"

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Latest developments:

►Ukrainian officials say fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party and a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been detained by the country’s SBU secret service.

►The British Defense Ministry says Russia will likely be ramping up attacks on eastern Ukraine over the next 2-3 weeks. Retired British Gen. Sir Richard Barrons estimated the Russians have probably lost about 25% of the forces they brought to Ukraine. “They’ve had a beating, and they will have only a few weeks to get better,” Barrons said.

►Germany’s president says he wanted to visit Ukraine but "apparently wasn’t wanted in Kyiv.” The German newspaper Bild quoted an unidentified Ukrainian diplomat as saying President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is not welcome because of his close relations with Russia in the past.

►A planned cyberattack by Russian military hackers on the power grid has been foiled, Ukrainian authorities said.

►The World Trade Organization revised its 2022 trade forecast downward to 3% growth from 4.7%, saying the war and continued COVID-19 lockdowns are weighing on world trade.

Men help Maria Dyachenko, 83, board a transport during evacuation of civilians in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on April 12, 2022. Dyachenko said her village of Dovhenke was completely destroyed during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Men help Maria Dyachenko, 83, board a transport during evacuation of civilians in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on April 12, 2022. Dyachenko said her village of Dovhenke was completely destroyed during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Biden brands Russia's actions as 'genocide'

President Joe Biden on Tuesday described Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine as “genocide,” a word he later said he chose intentionally after previously avoiding it.

"Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away,” Biden said during remarks in Menlo, Iowa, where he was announcing plans to reduce gas prices.

Before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington, D.C., Biden said it has become increasingly clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to eradicate the notion of Ukrainian citizenship. Putin has long resented that Ukraine gained independence as the Soviet Union split up on 1991.

Biden said the evidence against Russia is mounting and looks different than last week, when he labeled the invaders' brutality "a war crime'' but not genocide. The president last week called for a war crimes trial against Putin and announced more sanctions against Russia following reports of barbaric acts.

Local resident Nadiya, 65, shows a hole in a house after shelling in the village of Zalissya, northeast of Kyiv, on April 12, 2022. - While Russia appears to have abandoned for now its aim of pushing deep into the heart of Ukraine, its new declared goal of taking control of much of the east of the country still risks a protracted and bloody conflict. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP) (Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 0 ORIG FILE ID: AFP_32888PN.jpg
Local resident Nadiya, 65, shows a hole in a house after shelling in the village of Zalissya, northeast of Kyiv, on April 12, 2022. - While Russia appears to have abandoned for now its aim of pushing deep into the heart of Ukraine, its new declared goal of taking control of much of the east of the country still risks a protracted and bloody conflict. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP) (Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 0 ORIG FILE ID: AFP_32888PN.jpg

“More evidence is coming out literally of the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine,” Biden said. “We're gonna only learn more and more about the devastation and we’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said that Russia’s attacks in Ukraine have amounted to a genocide.

-- Rebecca Morin

Pentagon meets with weapons makers to discuss supplies for a years-long war

Pentagon officials will discuss restocking their arsenal and the possible need to supply Ukraine with weapons for a war that may last years as they meet Wednesday with leaders of the top eight U.S. military contractors, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The efforts to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion have reduced the U.S. weapons stockpile and the Pentagon wants to talk about its role in solving supply issues, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told reporters Tuesday.

“What can we do to help them?” Hicks said at a gathering of the Defense Writers Group. “What do they need to generate supply?”

Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles have proven particularly effective in the Ukrainian defense of their homeland. The U.S. supplied 1,400 of the Stinger systems and 5,000 of the Javelin systems in the most recent security assistance package for Ukraine last week.

US calls reports of chemical weapons use 'deeply concerning'

Global concerns that Russia will resort to chemical weapons in Ukraine were rising Tuesday after a spokesman for a separatist group suggested to a Russian TV audience that separatists may use chemicals against Ukrainian soldiers holed up at a giant steel factory in Mariupol “to smoke them out of there.”

Eduard Basurin, who said 80% of the port city had been "liberated" by Russian-backed separatists, was later quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying those forces “haven’t used any chemical weapons in Mariupol.” The comment came after a Ukrainian unit defending Mariupol claimed without providing evidence that a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on its positions.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said officials were working to "urgently" investigate what she called "a callous escalation" of the war. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the reports of chemical weapons use "deeply concerning" but could not confirm whether they're accurate.

A Pentagon official said efforts to determine whether a chemical weapon was used are hindered by access to the area and the difficulty of speaking with medical personnel or survivors. There was no evidence of a large plume of chemicals or widespread injuries from chemicals, the official said. However, the Russians have a history of using chemical weapons, and they have disguised more serious chemicals attacks by adding them to riot-control agents like tear gas, the official said.

Russian convoy rolls toward strategic Ukraine city

A massive Russian resupply convoy in eastern Ukraine that could be crucial to the invasion effort continues to make slow progress toward the strategic town of Izyum, a senior Defense official said Tuesday. The convoy is about 35 miles north of Izyum, where Ukrainian forces are engaged in heavy fighting with Russian forces, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe intelligence assessments. Russian forces remain about 12 miles south of the town.

The focus of the Russian invasion, which began Feb. 24, has moved into eastern and southern Ukraine, the official said. Airstrikes have been concentrated in those areas. The Russians have lost nearly 20% of the combat force that President Vladimir Putin deployed for the attack, the official said.

U.S. supports NATO’s ‘open door’ principle regarding Ukraine

State Department Press Secretary Ned Price told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. supports NATO’s "open door'' principle regarding Ukraine’s application to join the alliance, though emphasizing NATO’s independence from U.S. influence.

“The United States – nor any other country, nor any other ally – does not speak on behalf of NATO,'' Price said. "This would be a decision for the alliance to make when it comes to the aspirations of any aspirant country. What I can say and what we do support is the principle of NATO's open door.”

Price reiterated it is up to NATO members to determine what the alliance’s roster looks like. He also said that by invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin “precipitated everything he sought to prevent” as Ukraine's interest in joining NATO has only grown.

– Ella Lee

Congresswoman urges a return of U.S. diplomats to Ukraine

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., on Tuesday called on the State Department to return diplomats to Ukraine. The U.S. closed its embassy in Kyiv in mid-February as the Russian invasion appeared imminent.

Spartz, who was born in Ukraine, said in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that an American presence is needed in Lviv, in western Ukraine, for better coordination with the country's people and government. She noted the European Union returned its diplomatic corps to Kyiv over the weekend.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the U.S. isn't ready to follow suit. He told CBS News' "Face the Nation" the U.S. is "working through when we will be in a position to set our diplomatic presence back up in Kyiv."

– Katie Wadington

Austrian chancellor gets 'no optimistic impression' from Putin meeting

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer held "direct, open and tough" talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and said the outlook for ending the war remained bleak. Nehammer emphasized that Monday's trip had not been a "friendly visit," adding that he had brought up the issue of war crimes with Putin and stressed that "all those who are responsible will be held to account," according to Austrian media.

Nehammer said he had "no optimistic impression" and urged civilians to flee the offensive Russia is expected to launch in eastern Ukraine. "This battle will be fought with vehemence," he said.

Obama: Putin has ‘always been ruthless,’ but invasion is ‘reckless’

Former President Barack Obama weighed in on the Russian invasion of Ukraine in an interview with NBC News’ "TODAY,'' answering questions about his handling of Russian relations while in office and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state of mind. Obama said the war in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 are a reminder "to not take our own democracy for granted,” adding that the Biden administration is “doing what it needs to be doing.”

“Putin has always been ruthless against his own people, as well as others,” Obama said. “What we have seen with the invasion of Ukraine is him being reckless in a way that you might not have anticipated eight, 10 years ago, but you know, the danger was always there."

Obama’s full interview with "TODAY'' will air Wednesday.

Mariupol mayor: Death toll could reach 20,000; Russia conceals carnage

More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the besieged city of Mariupol since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the mayor said, as Western nations warned a convoy was on the move for a suspected Russian assault in Ukraine’s east. The city is crucial to Russia's effort to link Crimea with the Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have established de facto republics that even Russia only recognized days before the war broke out.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Russian forces have blocked weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys into the city in part to conceal the carnage. Boychenko also said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000.

Boychenko also gave new details of allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses.

European countries make moves to ease dependence on Russian energy

Italy will begin importing more natural gas across a Mediterranean pipeline from Algeria soon, Europe’s latest attempt to distance itself from Russia as Moscow faces building accusations of war crimes. Italy’s biggest supplier of natural gas is Russia, representing 40% of its imports. Neighboring Germany gets one-third of its oil and gas and more than half its coal from Russia.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi told reporters that the agreements to intensify bilateral energy cooperation and export more gas to Italy “are a significant response to the strategic goal” of quickly replacing Russian energy.

Europe’s dependence on Russian oil, natural gas and coal had left energy sanctions off the table amid fears the entire continent could plunge into recession, but reports of Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians have caused some countries to reconsider. Lithuania became the first European country to entirely cut itself off from Russian gas imports in early April.

Last week, both the U.S. and European Union escalated punishments on Russia: The U.S. Senate voted unanimously in favor of banning the importation of oil from Russia and ending normal trade relations with the country, while European Union nations agreed to new sanctions on Russia that include a ban on importing its coal.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine recap: Biden says Russia is committing 'genocide'