China will send representatives to Ukraine for talks; Kyiv praises 'long and meaningful' call with Xi

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on April 26, 2023. See here for the latest updates. 

After months of apparent reluctance to engage with Kyiv on the same level as Moscow, China said Wednesday that it will send special representatives to Ukraine and hold talks with all parties on resolving the crisis there.

Chinese state media said that President Xi Jinping told his Ukrainian counterpart President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call that Beijing will focus on promoting peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, and would make efforts for a cease-fire to be reached as soon as possible.

Commenting on the call, which he described as "long and meaningful," Zelenskyy said he believed it would "give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relation."

Ukraine has been waiting for an audience with Xi since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and particularly after Xi's recent visit to Moscow in March.

In other news, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Tuesday establishing temporary control of the Russian assets of two foreign energy firms, a sign that Moscow could be prepared to take similar action against other foreign companies.

Russia rebrands Zara clothing store in Moscow

A former Zara flagship store in Moscow reopened under new ownership and branding.

The store, called "Maag," is part of the more than 500 stores Spanish fashion retail giant Inditex sold to a United Arab Emirates-based buyer in October.

Inditex owns Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius and Oysho brands.

Inditex halted its operations in Russia following Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February. Inditex sold its more than 500 stores to a United Arab Emirates-based buyer in October.

People on scooters pass in front of the former Zara clothing brand flagship store, which reopened today under new branding Maag, in Moscow, on April 26, 2023.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images
A closeup of a Maag label on a pair of jeans, in Moscow, on April 26, 2023.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images
Shoppers in a former Zara clothing brand flagship store, which reopened today under new branding Maag, in Moscow, on April 26, 2023.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

— Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

Russia suspends transit of four ships operating under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Ukraine says

An aerial view of a dry cargo ship transporting grain from Ukraine under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea deal.
Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine's Navy said Russia suspended four vessels from moving to and from Ukraine's ports.

"As a result, today 4 vessels, including vessel AKDENIZ-M, which has been chartered by the World Food Program of the United Nations to deliver wheat to Ethiopia, were unable to leave the ports of Chornomorsk, Odesa and Pivdenny and had to wait for additional time for their passage to be approved," Ukraine's Navy wrote on their official Facebook page.

Under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a humanitarian sea corridor, more than 900 ships carrying nearly 29 million metric tons of agricultural products have departed from Ukraine's war-weary ports.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov renewed Moscow's threats of abandoning the deal on Tuesday following meetings at the United Nations.

Read more about Moscow's demands for renewing the Black Sea Grain Initiative here.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy calls for boost to weapon production facilities in Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen unload missiles provided by U.S. to Ukraine as part of a military support on Feb. 11, 2022. The U.S. has committed more than $4.5 billion on security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration.
Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the country is pushing for weapons production facilities to be moved into the country from France, Germany, Poland and the UK.

"Our defense industry is gaining momentum even now when the war continues. We are interested in localizing the production of such military equipment in Ukraine, which we receive from our partners," Zelenskyy said via video conference during a meeting on Ukraine's reconstruction, according to an NBC News translation.

Zelenskyy added that Ukraine is already investing in several new production facilities for its own weapons and ammunition.

— Amanda Macias

42 Ukrainian servicemembers returned in latest prisoner swap, Kyiv says

A still image from video, released by Russia's Defence Ministry, shows what it said to be captured Russian service members sitting in a bus following the latest exchange of prisoners of war in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, at an unknown location, in this image taken from handout footage released April 26, 2023. 
Russian Defence Ministry | Reuters

Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymry Zelenskyy's office, said on Telegram that Russia returned 42 Ukrainian servicemen in the latest prisoner swap.

Yermak said that two Ukrainian civilians were also returned.

Russia's Defense Ministry said on its official Telegram channel that 40 troops were returned by Ukraine.

"All those released are being provided with the necessary medical and psychological assistance," the ministry added.

— Amanda Macias

No indication that China is providing Russia with lethal weapons, White House says

Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 10, 2022.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

The White House said it has not seen evidence that China has agreed to provide Russia with lethal weapons for Moscow's war in Ukraine.

"We still have seen no indication that the People's Republic of China has moved in that direction and again, we reiterate that we don't believe it would be in their best interest to do so," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on a call with reporters.

Kirby's comments came on the heels of a call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Chinese President Xi Jinping. He added that the U.S. did not have advanced knowledge of the call but added that, "These are two sovereign leaders, and we're glad to see that they did talk."

Clarification: This post has been updated to state that the U.S. has not seen evidence of China providing or moving to provide Russia with lethal weapons

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine launches tech cluster to boost military capability

Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation Mykhailo Fedorov speaks at a conference in Ukraine in an undated photograph.
Ministry Of Digital Transformation | via Reuters

The Ukrainian government launched an initiative to streamline and promote the development of drones and other technologies for its war with Russia, according to the Associated Press.

The initiative, dubbed BRAVE1, will bring state, military, and private sector developers together into a tech cluster to work on defense issues, the AP report said.

The government has earmarked more than 100 million hryvnias (about $2.7 million) to fund projects, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's minister of digital transformation, said to the AP.

The presentation, held in an underground parking lot, featured some of the Ukrainian technologies in current use on the battlefield, such as unmanned ground vehicles, robotic systems to identify landmines and unmanned aerial systems, the AP reported.

— Melodie Warner

Italy's Meloni urges quick start of talks for Ukraine's entry into EU

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany.
Maja Hitij | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni urged European allies to quickly start the negotiations needed to grant Ukraine's full European Union membership bid, the Associated Press reported.

"The smartest way to thank Ukrainians for what they are doing is to accelerate their chance of being part of the European institutions. We need to acknowledge Kyiv's enormous efforts to reform its system and bring it closer to targets required by the EU Commission," Meloni said in the AP report.

Rome hosted a bilateral conference on Ukraine's reconstruction, which attracted over a thousand Italian and Ukrainian businesses, said Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani to the AP.

A World Bank report has estimated it will cost Ukraine $411 billion over the next 10 years to recover and rebuild from the war, according to the AP report.

— Melodie Warner

Zelenskyy praises 'long and meaningful' call with Xi

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via phone line, in Kyiv on April 26, 2023.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had a "long and meaningful" phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

"I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine's ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relation," Zelenskyy added in a comment on Twitter.

Ukraine has been waiting for an audience with Xi since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and particularly after Xi's recent visit to Moscow in March.

China is seen as one of the few countries that could influence Russia to end its military aggression against Ukraine although despite its calls for peace, Beijing is widely seen as allied with Moscow in terms of its anti-Western ideological perspective and opposition to a perceived U.S. hegemony in global affairs.

China said Wednesday that during the phone call with Zelenskyy, Xi had said he will send special representatives to Ukraine and hold talks with all parties on reaching a cease-fire and an end to the conflict.

— Holly Ellyatt

China's Xi says he will send representatives to Ukraine, hold talks on crisis

China's President Xi Jinping is seen on a big screen in Shanghai on November 5, 2018.
Johannes Eisele | Afp | Getty Images

China will send special representatives to Ukraine and hold talks with all parties on resolving the crisis there, President Xi Jinping told his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday, Chinese state media reported.

Xi made the remarks during a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, state broadcaster CCTV said.

China will focus on promoting peace talks, and make efforts for a ceasefire as soon as possible, Xi told Zelenskyy, according to the report.

Xi said in early April he was willing to speak with Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy had repeatedly asked Xi to meet him, including after the Chinese leader visited Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last month.

— Reuters

Heavy short-range combat continues around Bakhmut, UK says

A Ukrainian armored vehicle drives on a muddy road near Bakhmut in the Donbas region, on March 9, 2023. 
Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

Heavy short-range combat continues in the western districts of the contested town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence noted Wednesday.

Fighting on the outskirts of the town, especially near the village of Khromove, has been a key development over the last week, the ministry said in an intelligence update on Twitter, as Ukraine seeks to maintain control of its 0506 supply route into the west of Bakhmut.

"Ukraine's other resupply options into Bakhmut are likely complicated by muddy conditions on unsurfaced tracks," the ministry noted.

"With the town having now been under attack for over 11 months, the Ukrainian defences of Bakhmut have now been integrated as one element of a much deeper defensive zone, which includes the town of Chasiv Yar to the west."

Bakhmut has been largely reduced to ruins, following months of attrition warfare in and around the town. Ukraine has refused to abandon the site, which Russia wants to capture as part of its larger war aims to control Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Wintershall Dea CEO says it's hard to gauge Russia's latest decree

Wintershall Dea Chief Executive Mario Mehren on Wednesday said a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish control over energy firms Uniper and Fortum was not affecting his company so far, but Russia's policies were "unpredictable" and "unreliable."

"We currently are not affected by this decree," Mehren said in a call with reporters.

"I can't tell you if it is going to happen. Everything can happen in Russia these days in terms of direct interference with our rights to our assets," he added.

— Reuters

Ukraine marks 37th anniversary of Chernobyl disaster

Former workers of the Chernobyl NPP in the celebrations in Kyiv of the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Ukraine. 
Celestino Arce | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy commemorated Wednesday the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster that took place in Ukraine 37 years ago.

The International Atomic Energy Agency summed up the accident as occuring after the fourth reactor at the nuclear power plant "went out of control during a test at low-power, leading to an explosion and fire that demolished the reactor building and released large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere."

Servicemen of the Ukrainian National Guard lay flowers at a memorial to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Power Plant on April 26, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Genya Savilov | AFP | Getty Images

The initial explosion killed two workers at the plant but several dozen firemen and emergency workers died in the subsequent three months after the explosion from acute radiation sickness and one of cardiac arrest.

A giant protective dome built over the sarcophagus covering the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

In recent years, the shut down plant became a tourist attraction and the subject of film and documentary. It was closed to tourists just before the war started and was quickly occupied by Russian forces at the start of their invasion of Ukraine last February, although it was then liberated.

On Wednesday, Zelenskyy said the accident at the plant "left a huge scar on the whole world" and added "we must do everything" to prevent Russia "from using nuclear power facilities to blackmail Ukraine and the world."

Employees gather outside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant for a memorial ceremony to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 26, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Genya Savilov | AFP | Getty Images

War in Ukraine has resurfaced concerns over Ukraine's nuclear power industry. Europe's largest nuclear power plant is located in Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine and has frequently found itself at the epicenter of fighting, with both sides accusing each other of shelling near and around the facility.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plan continues to be occupied by Russian forces but it now has inspectors from the IAEA stationed there permanently to monitor the plant's nuclear safety. There have been repeated calls for the plant to become a demilitarized zone.

A man honors with flowers the memorial of the dead Chernobyl workers during the celebrations in Kiev of the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. 
Celestino Arce | Nurphoto | Getty Images

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin signs decree taking over Russian assets of two foreign firms

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia April 19, 2023.
Gavriil Grigorov | Kremlin | Sputnik | via Reuters

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a decree establishing temporary control of the Russian assets of two foreign energy firms, signalling Moscow could take similar action against other companies if need be.

The decree outlining possible retaliation if Russian assets abroad are seized showed Moscow had already taken action against Uniper's Russian division and the assets of Finland's Fortum Oyj.

The decree said Russia needed to take urgent measures to respond to unspecified actions from the United States and others it said were "unfriendly and contrary to international law".

The shares in the two entities have been placed in the temporary control of Rosimushchestvo, the federal government property agency, the decree said.

In February, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Russia should bear the costs of damage caused by its war on Ukraine, adding though there were "significant legal obstacles" to confiscating major frozen Russian assets.

The CEO of state-owned bank Bank VTB had on Monday said Russia should consider taking over and managing the assets of foreign companies such as Fortum, only returning them when sanctions are lifted.

Rosimushchestvo said more foreign firms could find their assets under temporary Russian control, TASS reported. The agency would ensure the assets were run in accordance with their importance for the economy.

"The decree does not concern ownership issues and does not deprive owners of their assets. External management is temporary in nature and means the original owner no longer has the right to make management decisions," TASS cited the agency as saying.

— Reuters

Russia renews threat to abandon the Black Sea Grain Initiative

The Malta-flagged bulk carrier Zante en route to Belgium transits the Bosporus carrying rapeseed from Ukraine after being held at the entrance of the Bosporus because Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Grain agreement, on Nov. 2, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday renewed threats of abandoning the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an agreement that allows the safe wartime export of agricultural products from besieged Ukrainian ports.

Lavrov told reporters at the U.N. that one of Moscow's demands is for the Russian Agricultural Bank, or Rosselkhozbank, to return to the SWIFT banking system. 

Two days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the U.S., European allies and Canada moved to block key Russian banks from the interbank messaging system, SWIFT.

Moscow's exclusion from SWIFT, which stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, severed the country from much of the global financial system.

Lavrov also said that the deal is currently one-sided since Russian fertilizers have not been able to transit the same way Ukrainian grain has.

The basic food security of tens of millions across the globe are now essentially hanging by a thread as Russia mulls whether it will preserve the deal.

Read more on the story here: Russia renews threats of abandoning the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the UN-backed deal that helped reopen Ukraine's ports

UN chief will travel to D.C. to meet with Blinken and U.S. lawmakers

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2022. 
Maxim Shipenkov | Reuters

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Guterres is also slated to meet with U.S. lawmakers, including House leadership, U.N. Secretary-General spokesman Stephane Dujarric said during a daily press briefing. Dujarric declined to elaborate on what Guterres' would discuss while in Washington but added that the meetings would be an opportunity to update U.S. officials on a host of matters.

The meetings in D.C. come on the heels of Guterres' meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

— Amanda Macias

Russia convicts ex-police officer for criticizing war

Russia has convicted a former police officer who had criticized the war in Ukraine to his friends over the phone, according to the Associated Press.

Semiel Vedel was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for publicly spreading false information about the country's military, according to the report. He was convicted under a law the Kremlin passed shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine that punishes dissenters for speaking out against the war.

The case prosecutor in Vedel's trial said Vedel called Russia a "murderer country," used "Glory to Ukraine" as a greeting and said Russia was suffering "huge losses" in Ukraine, according to the AP.

In a first, Russian officials determined that the phone conversations were public because Vedel's phone was wiretapped and an investigator had been listening in on the calls. 

In his defense, Ukrainian-born Vedel said he was sharing information he got from trusted friends in the Kyiv police department, the report said.

Read the full report from the Associated Press here.

— Michele Luhn

Russia's Lavrov will hold a press briefing at the UN

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a press conference during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on September 24, 2022 in New York City.
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is slated to hold a press briefing at the United Nations while he is in town chairing meetings before the Security Council.

The press briefing is slated for 1 p.m. ET.

Lavrov faced blistering criticism for the Kremlin’s ongoing war in Ukraine during his first day presiding over the Security Council.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who sat next to Lavrov during the meeting, criticized Russia's war, saying it was in violation of the United Nations Charter and international law.

The conflict, he said, was "causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people and adding to the global economic dislocation triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine has brought "unimaginable suffering to that country while trampling on the U.N. Charter."

"Thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and millions have been displaced," she said, adding that billions of people around the world are feeling the brunt of higher energy prices and food insecurity because of the Kremlin's ongoing conflict.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

Sweden expels five Russian diplomats

Sweden's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it was expelling five Russian diplomats for activities it said were "incompatible" with their diplomatic status.

"Five people who are employed at the embassy have been asked to leave the country as a result of activities that are incompatible with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Earlier Tuesday, Russia expelled a Moldovan diplomat in what its foreign ministry dubbed retaliation for the expulsion last week of its Russian diplomat in Moldova.

It comes after Norway earlier this month said it was expelling 15 Russian embassy officials that its foreign ministry said were undercover intelligence officers.

— Karen Gilchrist

Second death confirmed after Russian missile strike on museum

Ukraine's emergency services confirmed the death of a second woman Tuesday afternoon following a Russian missile strike on a museum in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kupiansk.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier Tuesday that Russian forces struck a history museum in Kupyansk, killing one person, wounding 10 others and burying some under rubble.

Zelenskyy's chief of staff and the regional governor said the building was hit with a Russian S-300 missile.

Russia did not immediately comment on the attack.

Kupiansk, which lies in the Kharkiv region, was occupied for months by Russian forces following Moscow's full-scale invasion, but they were driven out in September 2022 in a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

— Karen Gilchrist

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