UN ousts Russia from Human Rights Council; Germany reportedly intercepts chatter on atrocities: April 7 recap

Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Thursday, April 7. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Friday, April 8, as Russia's invasion continues.

The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday approved a U.S.-initiated resolution to suspend Russia from the world organization’s Human Rights Council amid mounting evidence of atrocities by the Russian military in Ukraine.

The vote was 93-24 with 58 abstentions.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from the 47-member Human Rights Council after videos and photos from the Kyiv-area town of Bucha emerged, revealing streets strewn with corpses of civilians after Russian soldiers retreated.

"War criminals have no place in UN bodies aimed at protecting human rights," Ukraine Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya tweeted after the vote. "Grateful to all member states which supported the relevant UNGA resolution and chose the right side of history."

Russia becomes the first permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to have its membership revoked from any U.N. body. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this week also called for Russia's removal from the Security Council so it can't use its veto power to "block decisions about its own aggression."

Russia’s deputy ambassador Gennady Kuzmin denied Russian involvement in the carnage, saying the evidence was merely "staged events and widely circulated fakes." He dismissed the resolution as an attempt by the United States to "maintain its dominant position and total control."

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Latest developments

►Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning editor of Russia’s now-closed leading independent newspaper, said he was attacked Thursday on a train that departed from Moscow by an assailant who poured red paint over him, causing severe discomfort to his eyes.

►The Commerce Department issued temporary denial orders to prevent Russian airlines Aeroflot, Utair and Azur Air from receiving items from the U.S., including parts to service their aircraft. 

►Russians and Belarusians accepted into the 2022 Boston Marathon who live in either country will be banned from competing in the April 18 race, the Boston Athletic Association announced.

►Russia’s Defense Ministry said it struck fuel storage sites around the cities of Mykolaiv and Zaporozhe in the south of Ukraine and Kharkiv and Chuguev in the east overnight using cruise missiles fired from ships in the Black Sea.

►Russia said it made a debt payment in rubles this week, a move that may not be accepted by Russia’s foreign debt holders and could put the country on a path to a historic default.

A man rides a bicycle past an apartment building damaged by shelling of Russian forces on the outskirts of Chernihiv, Ukraine, on April 7, 2022.

Germans reportedly intercept Russian chatter on civilian killings

German intelligence authorities have intercepted Russian military radio traffic discussing atrocities to civilians in the Ukraine city of Bucha, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.

Some of the intercepted radio traffic can apparently be directly linked to dead bodies photographed in the town of 30,000 northwest of Kyiv, the German media outlet Der Spiegel and others reported. Hundreds of bodies were found in Bucha and other Kyiv-area towns when Ukraine re-took them in recent days. 

Russia has denied involvement, saying the scenes of carnage were either staged or carried out by Ukraine troops.

Der Spiegel, citing sources familiar with the audio, said it reveals Russian troops spoke of the atrocities as though they were discussing their everyday lives. In one of the intercepted conversations, a soldier apparently told another about recently shooting a person on a bicycle. A photo of a dead body lying next to a bicycle has been shared around the world. 

The Washington Post reported that, in two separate communications, Russian soldiers described how they question soldiers as well as civilians and then shoot them, according to an intelligence official familiar with the audio.

Russians eye Donbas region in 'the next pivotal battle of the war'

As they departed Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, Russian forces left behind a path of terror after weeks of siege: crushed buildings, streets littered with destroyed cars and residents in desperate need of food and other aid. And yet, the Russians wound up retreating after facing fierce resistance on the battlefields.

Now that Moscow is shifting its offensive toward the Donbas region in the east, what can be expected in Ukraine's industrial heartland? 

Ukrainian and Western officials say the Russians plan to encircle tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops in Donbas by moving from Izyum, near Kharkiv in the north, and from besieged Mariupol in the south. The timing will depend on how quickly Russia can take the southern port city, which has been reduced to rubble after weeks of bombardment but has yet to fall to the invading forces. Russia also needs to replenish the troops that were pulled back from Kyiv and other areas in the north.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in an analysis that the Russian troops will likely try to advance from Izyum to capture the strategic city of Slovyansk and link up with other Russian forces in Donbas in what it said “will likely prove to be the next pivotal battle of the war in Ukraine.”

Capturing the Donbas, which includes the disputed territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, may allow Moscow to establish a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which is annexed in 2014.

Injured Fox News correspondent 'lucky to be here,' remembers colleagues slain in Ukraine

Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall shared his first update on social media since he was injured last month in Ukraine, and paid tribute to two colleagues who were killed in the attack.

"To sum it up, I've lost half a leg on one side and a foot on the other. One hand is being put together, one eye is no longer working, and my hearing is pretty blown, but all in all I feel pretty damn lucky to be here - and it is the people who got me here who are amazing!" Hall said on Twitter with a photo of himself on a stretcher.

Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, journalist Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova and Hall were traveling in a vehicle in Horenka, a village nearly 20 miles from Kyiv, when they were struck by incoming fire March 14. Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova were killed. Hall was evacuated days later.

Hall said for Zakrzewski, "working was his joy and his joy was infectious." 

-Jeanine Santucci

Senate votes unanimously to ban Russian oil, end normal trade relations

The U.S. Senate voted 100-0 Thursday in favor of banning the importation of oil from Russia and ending normal trade relations with the country in response to the atrocities in Ukraine during the monthlong Russian siege. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes, echoing other U.S. and international officials, urging the Senate to pass the bills to hold the Kremlin accountable for his actions.

"Ending normal trade relations hammers home that Putin has made Russia into a full-fledged pariah state," said Sen. Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The trade suspension will allow the U.S. to enact higher tariffs on Russian imports, while the bill banning Russian oil will codify into law an executive order that President Joe Biden signed. Russian crude oil made up only 3% of the total imported by the U.S. in 2021, but petroleum products from Russia accounted for 20% of the amount imported, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Both the bills have been stuck in the Senate, frustrating lawmakers who have called on the government to ramp up its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some European countries are weighing whether to ban Russian oil imports, at a heavy economic cost: Russia produces about 40% of the natural gas the European Union uses to heat homes and generate electricity, among other necessities, and about 25% of the oil required to fuel its vehicles.

EU bans Russian coal but leaves oil and natural gas untouched

European Union nations agreed Thursday to new sanctions on Russia that include a ban on importing its coal, but that measure won't go into effect until mid-August, a month later than initially proposed. Reuters reported that Germany, the EU's top importer of Russian coal, pushed for the delay. 

Though the coal boycott represents the first time the EU sanctions Russia's lucrative energy industry -- upon which many European countries depend -- it falls short of delivering a powerful blow to President Vladimir Putin's government. The EU pays Russia $20 million a day for coal — compared to $850 million a day for oil and gas. There has been discussion but no current plans to ban either of those despite the horrifying evidence of Russian brutality in Ukraine that sparked a new round of sanctions.

EU countries, especially big economies like Italy and Germany, rely heavily on Russian natural gas to heat and cool homes, generate electricity and keep industry churning.

Though coal should be the easiest to replace of the energy sources supplied by Russia, the boycott comes with the likelihood of fueling already high inflation.

U.S. military aid to Ukraine includes 1,400 Stinger air-defense systems, increase in drones

The Pentagon on Thursday shared details of the U.S. aid to Ukraine, which includes $1.7 billion in security assistance since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion and $2.4 billion since the beginning of the Biden Administration.

Among the items provided to Ukraine to help it fend off the Russian aggression:

  • Over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems
  • Over 5,000 Javelin anti-armor systems
  • Over 7,000 other anti-armor systems
  • Hundreds of Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones)
  • Over 7,000 small arms
  • Over 50,000,000 rounds of ammunition
  • 45,000 sets of body armor and helmets
  • Laser-guided rocket systems;

The number of Switchblade drones has increased markedly, likely an indication of their effectiveness against Russian armored vehicles.

-- Tom Vanden Brook

Ukraine gains ground in appeal for more weapons

Ukraine issued urgent pleas for more weapons Thursday as the U.S. prepared to resurrect a World War II-era program making it easier to provide the embattled nation with desperately needed firepower to repel the Russian invasion. In Brussels, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba lobbied NATO for help: "I came here today to discuss three most important things: weapons, weapons and weapons."

Congress was trying to resurrect the World War II-era program to facilitate funneling weapons to Ukraine. A bill unanimously approved by the Senate and awaiting House action would temporarily waive requirements related to President Joe Biden’s authority to lend or lease weapons or other supplies to Ukraine’s government.

Former Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said the bill "is not only inspiring, but it also marks a new stage in repelling the Russian aggressor."

New sanctions 'ratchet up the pain' further on Russia, Biden says

President Joe Biden said new economic sanctions imposed Wednesday against Russia, including two adult daughters of President Vladimir Putin, “ratchet up the pain'' further on Russia following the discovery of atrocities committed by its troops.

"There's nothing less happening than major war crimes," Biden said, describing scenes of bodies left in the streets of the Ukrainian town of Bucha including civilians executed with their hands tied behind their backs.

“Responsible nations have to come together to hold these preparators accountable. And together with our allies and our partners, we’re going to keep raising the economic costs and ratchet up the pain for Putin, and further increase Russia’s economic isolation."

The Biden administration announced sanctions on 21 Kremlin officials and Russian elites in addition to two adult Putin daughters, Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, and the wife and daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Other measures include full blocking sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank, as well as a ban on U.S. investment in Russia. European allies took similar actions.

– Joey Garrison

Contributing: Associated Press