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Secret Pentagon and NATO files leaked; Russia formally charges American reporter with espionage

This has been CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

The Pentagon is investigating a security breach that saw classified documents on US and NATO support for Ukraine leaked to social media. While it is not yet clear how the documents were leaked, they have been circulating on pro-Russian government channels, analysts say.

Military analysts were cited in press reports as warning that some of the documents appear to have been selectively altered to exaggerate Ukrainian casualty numbers and minimize those of Russian troops, suggesting a potential attempt at disinformation by Russia.

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Meanwhile, Russian forces have likely reached the city center of Bakhmut, where bloody fighting has raged for months with little progress for either side. Russia's recent advances could severely threaten Ukraine's supply routes, the U.K. government said.

Russia also formally charged Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal, with espionage on Friday. He has denied the charges, and his detention prompted Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to issue a rare joint statement condemning the decision to hold him.

Zelenskyy awards Muslim soldiers, breaks Ramadan fast with them

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy honors Isa Akayev, commander of the Crimea battalion, with the Order for Courage, before sharing iftar with Ukrainian Muslim soldiers, the meal to end Muslim fast at sunset, during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in front of a mosque in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 7, 2023. 
Staff | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy honored Muslim soldiers before sharing iftar — the breaking of the daily fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan — with them.

"Today, we'll found a tradition new to Ukraine: Iftar on an official level, together with our Muslim warriors, our heroes, that are here today," he said, according to an NBC News translation.

Muslim soldiers and medics come to iftar, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will share a meal with them, near a mosque in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 7, 2023. 
Staff | Reuters

Zelenskyy used the awards ceremony to call for the liberation of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The Ukrainian population is predominantly Orthodox Christian, and Muslims make up about 1% of the population. But there is a large Muslim population in Crimea — home to the Crimean Tatars. 

— Michele Luhn

Russia formally charges American reporter with espionage

A man walks out of the pre-trial detention center Lefortovo, where U.S. journalist for the Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich is being held on espionage charges, in Moscow, Russia, April 6, 2023. 
Tatyana Makeyeva | Reuters

Russian investigators have formally charged Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich with espionage, Russian news agencies and Reuters reported on Friday. But the American denied the charges and said he was working as a journalist, not for the U.S. government.

Russia's Federal Security Service, the successor to the infamous Soviet-era KGB, said late last month that it had detained Gershkovich and had opened an espionage case against the 31-year-old. Reuters reported that the FSS said he was collecting alleged state secrets about the military industrial complex.

"Gershkovich has been charged," Interfax quoted a source as saying.

Reuters said TASS — a Russian news agency — reported that FSB investigators had formally charged Gershkovich with carrying out espionage in the interests of the United States, but that Gershkovich had denied the charge.

"He categorically denied all the accusations and stated that he was engaged in journalistic activities in Russia," TASS citied an unidentified source as saying.

Gershkovich's detention marks the first time an American journalist has been detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War.

Read the report from Reuters here.

— Michele Luhn

Schumer, McConnell condemn WSJ reporter's detention

A picture taken on July 24, 2021 shows WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia.
Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

The Senate's top Democratic and Republican leaders issued a joint statement Friday condemning Russia's detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said they "demand the immediate release of this internationally known and respected independent journalist."

Gershkovich is an American journalist who was detained late last month on suspicion of espionage, according to Russia's Federal Security Service. Not long after, a Moscow court ordered Gershkovich's detention to last until May 29, according to the Journal, which cited local reports.

"Since his arrest, Russian authorities have failed to present any credible evidence to justify their fabricated charges," McConnell and Schumer wrote. "Russia has a long and disturbing history of unjustly detaining U.S. citizens in a judicial system that provides neither transparency nor justice."

The Wall Street Journal and the Biden administration have denied the charges against Gershkovich.

— Michele Luhn

Poland to halt Ukraine grain imports temporarily

The bulk carrier Negmar Cicek is loaded with grain in the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk, Odessa region on March 24, 2023, to be sent to Yemen within program "Grain From Ukraine".
Sergii Mukaieliants | AFP | Getty Images

Imports of Ukrainian grain to Poland will be temporarily halted to mitigate impact on prices, but transit will still be allowed, Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said on Friday.

Telus took office on Thursday after his predecessor resigned amid farmers' protests over falling prices of produce.

"We agreed to limit and for now halt exports to Poland," Telus told reporters after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart. "Transit will be allowed but will be closely monitored in both countries, so that Ukraine grain doesn't stay in Poland."

Large quantities of Ukrainian grains, which are cheaper than those produced in the European Union, have ended up staying in Central European states amid logistical bottlenecks, hitting prices and sales for local farmers.

This created a political problem for Poland's ruling nationalists Law and Justice in an election year.

The prime ministers of five states including Poland last month wrote to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to demand action on Ukrainian agricultural imports.

— Reuters

Kyiv rejects Brazilian president's suggestion that it give up Crimea to end war with Russia

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia, January 12, 2023.
Adriano Machado | Reuters

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva suggested this week that Ukraine "could not get everything" and that it could give up its Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, to start peace talks.

Ukrainian officials have slapped down the idea.

"There is no legal, political or moral reason that would justify us having to yield even a centimeter of Ukrainian land," the AFP quoted Oleg Nikolenko, a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman, as saying.

"Any mediation efforts to restore peace in Ukraine should be based on respect for the sovereignty and the full restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity."

Lula has put forth the idea of creating a group of countries to mediate in the war in Ukraine. He will visit China next week, where he is set to discuss peace proposals with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. He said he was "confident" that the group "would be created" after this trip.

— Natasha Turak

Leaked Pentagon documents look like Russian disinformation operation, top Ukrainian official says

The leaked Pentagon and NATO documents detailing military support for Ukraine look like a Russian attempt at sowing disinformation and doubt over Ukraine's anticipated counter-offensive, a top Ukrainian official said.

The files, which surfaced on social media Thursday, contain a "very large amount of fictitious information," Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of Ukraine's presidential office, told Reuters.

"These are just standard elements of operational games by Russian intelligence. And nothing more," he said.

The Pentagon says it is investigating the matter but the source of the leak is as yet unclear.

The New York Times, which first reported on the leak, wrote that "military analysts said the documents appear to have been modified in certain parts from their original format, overstating American estimates of Ukrainian war dead and understating estimates of Russian troops killed."

Russia "is looking for any ways to seize back the initiative," Podolyak alleged. "To try to influence the scenarios for Ukraine's counteroffensive plans. To introduce doubts, to compromise the ... ideas, and finally to intimidate (us) with how 'informed' they are."

CNBC has not been immediately able to review the documents.

— Natasha Turak

Any peace talks with Ukraine should focus on 'new world order': Russian foreign minister

Any peace talks with Ukraine or efforts at ending the war should be aimed at creating a "new world order" and give attention to Russian interests, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"Any negotiation needs to be based on taking into account Russian interests, Russian concerns. It should be about the principles on which the new world order will be based," Lavrov said from Ankara, Turkey, according to French news agency Agence France-Press.

He also said that Russia rejects a "unipolar world order" led by "one hegemon" in the U.S.-led system — as described by Russia, China and much of the global South — that has been in place since the end of the Cold War.

Ukraine has previously ruled out peace talks unless Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory, while Western powers say any settlement must be on Ukraine's terms. The Kremlin blames NATO and the U.S. for the war, but insists that it must continue its invasion, as it does not see any diplomatic solution.

— Natasha Turak

Leaked Pentagon and NATO documents detailed Ukraine weapons delivery timelines, expenditure rates, battalion strength and more

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 65th Field Artillery Brigade fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during a joint live-fire exercise with the Kuwait Land Forces, Jan. 8, 2019, near Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense

Classified NATO and Pentagon documents on Ukraine that were leaked to social media contained sensitive information about weapons deliveries to Ukraine, battalion strength, and the rate of weapons expenditure by Ukraine's forces, the New York Times reports.

Biden administration officials were working to remove the photos of the documents, which included charts and other information, but had not been successful as of Thursday night, the New York Times reported.

While the documents don't reveal specific battle plans and are five weeks old, they contain information on how quickly Ukrainian forces are using up munitions for their U.S.-supplied HIMARS — powerful high mobility artillery rocket systems that have proved to be a game changer in fighting the Russians and targeting their munitions depots and troop concentrations. Publicly, the Pentagon has not disclosed such information.

The files also included lists of Ukrainian troops units, training schedules from January through to April, and readiness and and equipment delivery timelines, with notes warning that equipment delivery times would impact readiness.

"To the trained eye of a Russian war planner, field general or intelligence analyst ... the documents no doubt offer many tantalizing clues and insights," the Times wrote.

— Natasha Turak

Russia prepared to work outside of grain deal, foreign minister says

Moscow is prepared to work outside of the Black Sea grain deal, if Western "obstacles" persist, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday, according to comments reported by Reuters and Russian state news agency Tass.

Speaking at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Lavrov accused the United Nations of a "failure" to implement the terms of the grain agreement, adding that Russian grain and fertilizer exports were encumbered by a lack of access to insurance and to the SWIFT financial messaging system, according to Reuters.

The key wartime deal, which allows Ukraine to export grains from critical Black Sea ports, was renewed last month, in an effort to stave off a global food crisis. Uncertainty surrounds the duration of the agreement's extension.

Ruxandra Iordache

Kremlin followed France-China talks, does not believe Beijing will change course

French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at a Franco-Chinese business council meeting in Beijing, China April 6, 2023. 
Pool | Reuters

The Kremlin followed conversations between French president Emmanuel Macron and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, but is confident Beijing will not be swayed to change its position by external influences, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to a Google translation of comments reported by Russian state news agency Tass.

Macron began his state visit to China earlier this week. In a meeting with Xi, the French leader called on the Beijing administration — which retains close ties with Russia — to mediate in resolving the conflict in Ukraine.

China previously put forward a 12-point peace plan on the one-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but its proposal has yet to gain traction and has been criticized for being overly accommodating of Russia.

Ruxandra Iordache

Russia has 'highly likely' advanced to the center of Bakhmut, UK government says

A Ukrainian serviceman looks on as he sits on an anti-air gun near Bakhmut, on March 24, 2023.
Aris Messinis | Afp | Getty Images

Russian forces have "highly likely" advanced into the center of the war-ravaged city of Bakhmut after weeks of bloody fighting and little progress, the UK's Ministry of Defence wrote in its daily intelligence update.

"Russia has made further gains and has now highly likely advanced into the town centre, and has seized the west bank of the Bakhmutka River. Ukraine's key 0506 supply route to the west of the town is likely severely threatened," the ministry wrote on Twitter.

"Russian regular forces, likely including airborne troops, have probably reinforced the area, and Russia is again using artillery more effectively in the sector."

For several weeks, a rift has been evident between Russia's state army and the Wagner Group, a private military contractor that plays a large role in Moscow's combat operations. That schism may have been repaired to some extent, the ministry suggested.

"There is realistic possibility that, locally, Wagner and Russian MoD commanders have paused their ongoing feud and improved co-operation."

— Natasha Turak

Pentagon is investigating major security breach after leaked Ukraine documents appear on social media

Classified documents detailing Pentagon and NATO plans to help Ukraine prepare for a Russian spring offensive have been leaked to social media.

The Pentagon is currently investigating the leak, which is a major security breach, after the documents appeared on Twitter and Telegram.

"Military analysts said the documents appear to have been modified in certain parts from their original format, overstating American estimates of Ukrainian war dead and understating estimates of Russian troops killed," the New York Times reported. This, it said, could potentially point to Russian disinformation efforts.

"We are aware of the reports of social media posts, and the Department is reviewing the matter," Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said.

— Natasha Turak

Damage to Ukraine's energy infrastructure exceeds more than $10 billion, report says

Utility man on the platform of a cherry picker truck repairs electricity on January 15, 2023 in Dnipro, Ukraine.
Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The damage to Ukraine's energy infrastructure due to Russia's invasion exceeds more than $10 billion, the United Nations and World Bank said in a joint assessment.

The international organizations wrote that the damage to Ukraine's power, gas and heating infrastructure has left over 12 million people with no or limited electricity. Additionally, there are disruptions to water supply and heating systems.

Russia has previously denied that its forces target Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.

— Amanda Macias

WHO records more than 900 attacks on vital health services in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion

Audmilla, from Kupiansk gets medical attention from Dr. Olena Kurena Médecins Sans Frontières, ( Doctors Without Borders ) at a mobile clinic on September 22, 2022 in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine.
Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been at least 912 attacks on vital health services in the country, the World Health Organization's Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care estimates.

The organization reports that health-care facilities were damaged 814 times, ambulances were targeted in 110 cases and at least 240 attacks affected crucial medical supplies. The group also estimated that attacks on health services led to at least 101 deaths and 136 injuries.

The Kremlin has previously denied that it targets civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and apartment buildings.

— Amanda Macias

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