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Live: Zelensky visits frontline troops after surprise Putin trip to occupied Kherson

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the heavily shelled frontline town of Avdiivka in the country’s east, his official website said Tuesday. Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Russian-held regions of Luhansk and Kherson, though the Kremlin did not indicate when these trips took place. Follow FRANCE 24’s live blog for all the latest developments on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

4:17pm: Russia’s Lavrov to discuss grain deal with UN chief next week
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to discuss the Black Sea grain deal with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a visit to New York next week, the TASS news agency reported on Tuesday.

The Black Sea grain export deal was renewed for 60 days last month, but Russia has signalled it may not agree to extend it further unless the West removes what it says are obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertiliser.

4:08pm: Russia toughens legislation used to crack down on opponents
Russian lawmakers on Tuesday adopted amendments toughening penalties for criminal charges often used to silence critics, including introducing a possible life sentence for high treason.

The Duma, the lower house of parliament, also passed a bill which would penalise “assistance in executing the decisions of international organisations in which Russia does not participate”, which appears to come in response to the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin.

2:54pm: Absolut vodka halts exports to Russia
The maker of Sweden’s Absolut vodka said Tuesday it was ceasing all exports to Russia after calls to boycott the brand flared up in Sweden and on social media.

The Absolut company said it “has decided to stop the export of its brand to Russia”, citing the “duty of care towards our employees and partners”, as it has been the subject of massive criticism following reports that it had resumed exports to Russia.

2:27pm: Zelensky visits frontline Ukrainian town of Avdiivka
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the heavily shelled frontline town of Avdiivka in the country’s east, his official website said Tuesday.

Zelensky visited “advanced positions” in the town close to the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, and wished troops a happy Orthodox Easter, the website said.

Zelensky was pictured sitting with soldiers at a table laid with traditional Easter cakes. Orthodox Easter was celebrated on Sunday.

The visit was announced hours after the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had on Monday visited two frontline regions.

1:53pm: Germany hopeful of Swiss shift on arms for Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday said he hoped Bern would drop its opposition to requests to send Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine to refill depleted stocks.

“We know that Ukraine needs support with weapons and munitions and therefore there have been several requests from Germany,” Scholz said in a press conference alongside his Swiss counterpart Alain Berset.

“We have acknowledged the decisions taken so far and are following the very lively debate in Switzerland closely and hope that something happens there,” the chancellor said.

Despite pressure from Kyiv and its allies, Switzerland has so far refused to allow countries that hold Swiss-made weaponry to re-export it to the war-torn country.

1:46pm: Moscow summons western envoys over ‘gross interference’
Moscow said on Tuesday it had summoned US, British and Canadian ambassadors for “gross interference” in Russia’s domestic affairs.

The envoys, who on Monday denounced a 25-year-sentence against Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, were summoned for “gross interference in Russia’s internal affairs and activities that do not correspond to their diplomatic status”, the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

1:01pm: Detained US journalist makes first public Russian court appearance
A Russian judge on Tuesday upheld the detention of jailed American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on spying charges as part of a sweeping Kremlin crackdown on dissent amid the war in Ukraine. He and the US government vehemently deny the allegations.

The Wall Street Journal reporter is the first US correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia on spying allegations and his arrest rattled journalists in the country and elicited outrage in the West. Dozens of journalists crowded into the courtroom to catch a glimpse of Gershkovich, who looked calm as he stood inside a glass cage to appeal his detention.

Russia’s Federal Security Service detained the 31-year-old in Yekaterinburg in March and accused him of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.

1pm: Russian shelling in Kherson kills one, wounds nine
A Russian artillery attack killed one person and injured nine more in the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Tuesday, regional officials said.

“The terrorist state launched an attack on peaceful Kherson residents. One person died. Nine people from Kherson are injured. Our heroic doctors are fighting for their lives and health,” Oleksandr Prokudin, the governor, said on Telegram. Officials said a market in the city centre had been hit.

Ukrainian troops recaptured Kherson last November after nearly eight months of occupation by Russian forces who seized it soon after the start of their full-scale invasion.

12:53pm: Ukraine denies ship inspections have restarted under Black Sea grain deal
Ukraine denied on Tuesday that Russian inspectors had restarted ship inspections under the Black Sea grain deal.

“Nothing has been resolved. There are no inspections,” a senior Ukrainian official who asked not to be identified told Reuters.

Russia’s RIA news agency reported earlier on Tuesday that inspections of ships moving grains from Ukraine had restarted, citing a senior Russian foreign ministry official.

12:02pm: Moscow uses facial recognition cameras to track down draft evaders, TASS reports
Moscow authorities are using the Russian capital’s vast system of facial recognition cameras to track down young men eligible for military service, the state-owned news agency TASS reported on Tuesday, citing the city’s chief enlistment officer.

President Vladimir Putin last week signed a law tightening restrictions on draft evaders and providing for call-up papers to be delivered electronically, rather than in person by an enlistment officer or employer.

The measures will make life harder for thousands of men aged between 18 and 27 who, every spring and autumn, do their best to dodge recruitment officers trying to force them to do their year of compulsory military service, alongside those called up for service in Ukraine under a mobilisation announced last year.

11:53am: Russia warns Western diplomats of expulsion risk after ‘meddling’ in dissident’s case
Russia has accused the ambassadors of Britain, the US and Canada of interfering in its internal affairs after they condemned the treason conviction of a prominent opposition politician and it warned them they risk expulsion in future.

On Monday, a Moscow court jailed Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza – who holds Russia and British passports – for 25 years after convicting him of treason in a trial he and the West said was politically-motivated. It was the harshest sentence of its kind since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The ambassadors of Britain, the United States and Canada made a joint appearance in front of TV cameras on the steps of the Moscow court after his verdict to condemn the ruling and demand his release.

British ambassador Deborah Bronnert delivered her remarks in Russian so that Russian-language TV channels could potentially broadcast them.

11:19am: Russia-China partnership a ‘stablising’ force for world, says Russian defence minister
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday that their countries’ military cooperation was a “stabilising” force in the world and helped to reduce the chances of conflict, Russian news agencies reported.

China has emerged as Russia’s most important international partner in the 14 months since Moscow invaded Ukraine. Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu is currently in Moscow as the countries look to deepen their military cooperation, which has raised concerns in the West.

“The coordination of our efforts in the international arena has a stabilising effect on the global situation and helps to reduce the potential for conflict,” the Interfax news agency quoted Shoigu as telling Li on Tuesday.

Shoigu said it was important that the two countries coordinated their efforts on the global stage, and expressed confidence that a programme of joint military exercises would be expanded.

11:05am: Putin visited scenes of ‘crimes’ in occupied Ukraine, Kyiv says
Kyiv on Tuesday accused President Vladimir Putin of visiting the scenes of Russian “crimes” after the Kremlin said the Russian leader had travelled to the regions of Kherson and Luhansk.

“Putin’s degradation is impressive,” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said Putin was touring Ukraine’s occupied territories “to enjoy the crimes of his minions for the last time”.

8:59am: Russian Central bank says building reserves in assets the West can’t sanction
Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said on Tuesday Russia is building its international reserves with assets that cannot be targeted by Western sanctions, the TASS news agency reported.

Western countries froze around $300 billion – or half – of Russia’s international reserves after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine last year.

The central bank has previously said it considers gold, Chinese yuan and foreign currency held in cash as safe from possible further rounds of Western sanctions.

8:42am: Russian TV video claims Putin visited Ukraine’s Kherson region
President Vladimir Putin has visited military headquarters in Russian-controlled Ukraine, the Kremlin said, where he discussed the war with a general from Russia’s airborne troops who has reportedly taken up a powerful new role in the invasion.

Moscow claims to have annexed four Ukrainian regions but its forces are locked in a grinding artillery battle in the eastern Donbas with heavy losses on both sides, while they have been forced to pull back in southern Kherson, which Putin visited.

Dressed in a heavy blue jacket, Putin, 70, was shown on Russian state television descending from a military helicopter in Russian-held Ukraine and greeting senior military commanders.

The Kremlin did not say when Putin attended the military command meeting.

6:57am: ‘No impunity’: G7 vows tough, unified stance on Russia’s war
Top diplomats from G7 nations vowed a unified front against Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, saying at the close of their meetings Tuesday that they were committed to boosting and enforcing tough sanctions against Moscow.

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