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Across the border from Uvalde, anger, sorrow, calls to action in Mexico after another US mass shooting

KeithBinns/Getty Images

(MEXICO CITY) -- In the hours and days after the horrifying school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, foreign governments around the world expressed their condolences to the American people.

But in Mexico, officials added something different -- outrage, anger and calls to action.

"The gun lobby has succeeded in selling weapons of war, of a military nature, with the potential to leave victims unrecognizable, to civilians knowing the damage they cause. This failure to foresee, to prevent the damage is negligence, and the gun firms must be held responsible," said Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, the Mexican Foreign Ministry's legal adviser, in a tweet.

That vocal criticism is part of a new, more assertive stance by Mexico's government against American guns, which have flooded into Mexico by the hundreds of thousands and helped fuel waves of violence.

Last year, Mexico sued 10 gun manufacturers and distributors in U.S. court for billions of dollars in damages -- an unprecedented lawsuit that accused these companies of all but aiding drug cartels' acquisition of arms.

Mexico has also pressed the issue repeatedly with U.S. administrations, calling for more frequent U.S. inspections at the border and enhanced technology to conduct them.

"In recent years, the Mexican government has carried out more and better actions to advance an agenda of arms control in the U.S. than the U.S. government can or wants to," Ximena Medellín Urquiaga, a professor of legal studies at Mexico's Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, tweeted Wednesday.

The outrage over the Uvalde killings is also fueled by the close ties the city has to Mexico. Some 78% of Uvalde's 15,000 residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2020 U.S. census, with the U.S.-Mexican border just 54 miles away.

"Just look at the last names" of the victims, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told reporters Wednesday. "They are the children and grandchildren of Mexicans."

Mexico's top diplomat at its consulate in nearby Eagle Pass, Texas, was on the scene late Tuesday, offering consular assistance to any Mexican citizens potentially affected by the carnage. The Mexican Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it would wait for U.S. authorities to confirm whether any Mexican citizens were killed or injured in the shooting. Eight Mexican citizens were killed and seven injured in the 2019 shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart.

But while López Obrador declined to answer questions on U.S. gun laws Wednesday, several senior Mexican diplomats did not hold back, including in blaming the U.S. gun lobby for violence on the southern side of the border.

"The horror. This will continue to happen as long as weapons are readily available. Whether it's the 1st economy in the world, the 15th or the 190th. Parents lose their children. We all lose. The only winner is the gun industry. Let's hold them accountable," Salvador Tinajero, the Foreign Ministry's deputy legal adviser, tweeted Tuesday.

An estimated 200,000 guns are trafficked from the U.S. into Mexico each year, according to the Mexican government -- a figure that the U.S. government called "the best estimate available," according to a February 2021 U.S. government watchdog report.

In its lawsuit last August, Mexico alleged the number is now higher -- between 500,000 and 873,000 guns per year.

Approximately 70% of the firearms recovered in Mexico from 2014 to 2018 came from the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice -- although that number could also be even higher because those are only the firearms submitted for tracing by Mexico's federal government, not including those recovered by Mexican states, according to that U.S. watchdog report.

Experts say that enormous southern flow of weapons is because access to guns is much easier in the U.S. In contrast, Mexico has strict laws that all but forbid guns from public. While firearms are not illegal to own and keep at home, heavy requirements for ownership usually mean months of paperwork -- and guns can only be purchased from the country's one gun store on a military base in Mexico City.

Despite those restrictions, Mexico suffers from some of the worst gun violence in the world. Between 2015 and 2021, more than 141,000 people were killed with a gun across the country -- a rate of homicide by firearm that rose 109 percent, according to the "Mexico Peace Index 2022" report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a nonpartisan think tank.

Years of working with the U.S. government, including $54 million from the State Department between 2015 and 2019 to boost Mexican law enforcement's counter gun trafficking, has not eased the problem.

Instead, in its lawsuit last August, the Mexican government took a page from U.S. gun safety groups by going after gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson.

The companies "sell to any distributor or dealer that has a U.S. license to buy and sell the product, regardless of the buyer's record of flouting the law and despite blazing red flags indicating that a gun dealer is conspiring with straw purchasers or others to traffic Defendants' guns into Mexico. Defendants use this head-in-the-sand approach to deny responsibility while knowingly profiting from the criminal trade," the lawsuit alleged.

The case has little chance at success because U.S. federal law largely protects gun manufacturers from being sued by victims of gun violence, and it's unclear whether Mexico has standing to sue them in U.S. court.

In November, several manufacturers first moved to have the case dismissed, arguing in court again last month that any connection between their sales and the alleged damage is too far removed to make them responsible. Even more assertively, the National Rifle Association accused the Mexican government in February of "deflect[ing] criticism of their own failures by abusing the legal system to blame law-abiding gun manufacturers."

But the political message of the lawsuit and another round of vocal Mexican criticism could have a more lasting effect, as the U.S. appears increasingly singular in its gun violence problem.

In remarks Tuesday evening, President Joe Biden noted he learned about the Uvalde massacre while flying back from his first trip to Asia, saying, "What struck me was these kinds of shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world."

His spokesperson at the State Department went further, saying the shooting has "implications for our standing" in the world. It even potentially makes the U.S. a "source of confusion, a source of disbelief for our closest friends and allies -- worse yet, an object of pity," Ned Price said Wednesday.

But for Mexico, it's the U.S. as a source of guns themselves that looms largest -- a destabilizing neighbor, according to some officials.

"Mexico is standing up to the gun industry in courts. Their negligent and profit-driven practices are wrecking havoc in our communities," Guillaume Michel, head of legal affairs at the Mexican embassy in Washington, tweeted Wednesday.

Whether repeated incidents of that havoc will lead to any legal changes -- in court or Congress -- remains to be seen.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russia's airborne forces suffer 'heavy casualties,' UK says

Rick Mave/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

May 26, 6:06 am
Russia's airborne forces suffer 'heavy casualties' after 'tactical failures,' UK says

The Russian military's airborne forces, known as the VDV, "have been heavily involved in several notable tactical failures since the start of Russia's invasion" of neighboring Ukraine, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

"This includes the attempted advance on Kyiv via Hostomel Airfield in March, the stalled progress on the Izium axis since April, and the recent failed and costly crossings of the Siverskyi Donets River," the ministry said Thursday in an intelligence update.

"Russian doctrine anticipates assigning the VDV to some of the most demanding operations," the ministry added. "The 45,000-strong VDV is mostly comprised of professional contract soldiers. Its members enjoy elite status and attract additional pay. The VDV has been employed on missions better suited to heavier armoured infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign."

The VDV's "mixed performance likely reflects a strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia’s failure to secure air superiority," according to the ministry.

"The misemployment of the VDV in Ukraine highlights how Putin’s significant investment in the armed forces over the last 15 years has resulted in an unbalanced overall force," the ministry said. "The failure to anticipate Ukrainian resistance and the subsequent complacency of Russian commanders has led to significant losses across many of Russia’s more elite units."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Students from Ukraine win awards at world's largest science fair

Society for Science

(NEW YORK) -- Six students from Ukraine were among the finalists at this year's Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest global high school competition, run by the Society for Science.

The fair was held in Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center from May 7-13. This year's competition was hybrid due to the ongoing pandemic, allowing the Ukrainian students to compete virtually.

Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of the Society for Science, spoke to ABC News about the courage shown by the Ukrainian students, who were competing while their country was under attack, saying she hoped they would be able to continue with their research and go on to study at the universities of their choice.

"I am really moved by their success and strength under such extraordinarily difficult circumstances," she said.

Ajmera told ABC News that 1,750 students took part in this year's competition, with 70% of students participating in person and 30% participating virtually.

Students competed for an array of awards ranging from $500 to $75,000. The finalists were selected from nearly 400 affiliate fairs in 63 countries, regions and territories.

Award winners included two of the six finalists from Ukraine, Sofiia Smovzh and Mykhailo Shynder, both 17 years old.

Smovzh, who is from Kyiv, competed in the fair from Paris. She has been separated from her family for the past several weeks as a result of the war with Russia in her home country.

In an interview with ABC News, Smovzh said she remembers waking up early in the morning from the sound of explosions on Feb. 24 and fleeing her home. After traveling by car for part of the journey and then crossing the Hungarian border alone by foot, she eventually flew to Paris from Budapest on March 6.

Smovzh said her mother and sister made it to a safe place in Spain while other family members remained in Ukraine. She said she misses her family and hopes to reunite with them as soon as possible.

Being able to represent her country on an international platform, in the middle of a war, meant a lot to her, she said. She had been working on her research for close to a year, and after she left home, her project supervisor had continued helping Smovzh from Ukraine while living under occupation.

"It was very important for me to show that Ukraine and Ukrainian people are strong, and they are really good in the field of science, as well," she said.

Although Smovzh was initially worried about her chances of succeeding in the science fair while competing remotely, she ultimately won $1,000 from the American Chemical Society and $500 in the Chemistry category for her research to improve drugs that are often used for cancer treatment.

"I am really happy about the results and the awards," she said, adding that she wanted to use a portion of the funds to "make a donation to the Ukrainian army."

Shynder, who won a $500 award in the Systems Software category at this year's competition, left Odessa with his parents and their cat on Feb. 26, traveling by car to an area near the Ukraine-Moldova border. The family then drove through several countries, including Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland and eventually made it to Riga, the capital of Latvia, in mid-March.

Shynder said he never imagined he would be away from home for this long.

"I hope this will end soon, but I am afraid that it will not," he told ABC News, speaking about the ongoing violence in his country.

Shynder credited his computer-science teacher for encouraging him to compete in the science fair. He first started working on his project in the spring of 2021, designing software to help middle school students learn programming in a simplified way.

"Most of my project was done before the war started, and so when I came to Latvia and got to a safe place, I decided I wanted to finish it," he said.

Shynder's mother, Yelena Vorontsova, told ABC News she was happy and proud of her son for winning an award.

"He has been interested in computer science for a long time, and all his teachers are proud of him -- and of course, we are, too," she said.

The students from Ukraine were a source of inspiration for the rest of the participants and winners in this year's competition, including Robert Sansone, 17, of Fort Pierce, Florida, who won the $75,000 top award for his work exploring high-efficiency alternatives to induction motors, with the ultimate goal of moving toward sustainable electric vehicle manufacturing.

"My project was challenging from a technical perspective, but I had lots of support at home and lots of time to really try to work out my project," he told ABC News.

Sansone said he was impressed by the Ukrainian students in the competition, adding, "With the hostilities that are going on ... for them to still manage that and follow their passion with STEM, it's really inspirational."

Another prizewinner at this year's fair, Anika Puri, 17, of Chappaqua, New York, recalled the loud cheering in the room for the Ukrainian students when their names were called during the awards presentation.

"Everybody would cheer so loudly because it's just so amazing that they were able to continue to pursue their passions in research," Puri said in an interview with ABC News.

Puri's project, which centered around wildlife poaching and increasing the accuracy of detecting poachers, led her to win a total of $15,000 in prize money at this year's fair.

She said that a positive aspect to this year's hybrid format for the competition is that students who were unable to travel to the U.S. in person, such as the students impacted by the war in Ukraine, were still able to compete.

"I truly admire them because through everything they were going through, through all the hardships they were facing, they were able to persevere and continue to participate," Puri said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine updates: Ukraine outgunned 20 to 1 in east, Zelenskyy says

John Moore/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

May 24, 4:47 pm
Drone footage shows devastation inside Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

Drone footage released by Russian media shows the devastation inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces fended off Russian troops for weeks amid intense fighting before surrendering.

The drone footage released by the Russian news outlet MIC Izvestia showed the collapsed walls of the plant and twisted metal and debris strewn about the entire facility.

The Russian Defense ministry on Friday said the last Ukrainian fighters defending Azovstal had surrendered, giving Russia full control of the port city of Mariupol.

The seizure of Mariupol, gives Russia command of a land route linking the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.

May 24, 4:21 pm
Canada announces plans to send artillery to Ukraine

Canada's Defense Minister Anita Anand announced Tuesday that her country is sending Ukraine more than 20,000 artillery rounds of 155mm NATO-standard ammunition, to further support Ukraine’s military response to Russian leadership’s "illegal, and unjustifiable invasion."

The ammunition, Anand said, has been sourced from the United States at a cost around $98 million and that work is underway to deliver it to Ukraine as quickly as possible.

The ammunition can be fired from M777 howitzer cannons that Canada and its allies have donated to Ukrainian forces.

“Canada stands with Ukraine and its people as they resist Putin’s illegal and unjustifiable assault," Anand said. "Today’s announcement is another example of our unwavering commitment to provide Ukraine with the comprehensive military aid it needs to defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence."

May 24, 10:33 am
Tone in Kyiv shifts as Ukraine sharpens its language in pursuit of more US arms

The language being used by Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in relation to the war has changed significantly in the past couple of days and, to some extent, reflects the pressure Ukrainian forces are currently under as Russian forces make progress in the eastern Donbas region.

Marking the third month of the war, Zelenskyy’s said in a speech Monday night that the toughest battles in recent days have been in the Donbas, Bakhmut, Popasna and Severodonetsk areas of eastern Ukraine, where Russia has concentrated most of its efforts and is "trying to destroy everything living there." He warned that the coming weeks of the war "will be difficult."

"Yet we have no alternative but to fight -- fight and win," Zelenskyy said.

Zelenksyy's admission of 50 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers dying every day as of this past weekend and his revelation that more than 70 troops were killed in a single attack on a military base near Kyiv a week ago are a departure from the broad Ukrainian messaging up until now, which has been to stay silent on casualty numbers.

The shift in language on the Ukrainian side over the number of troops lost comes amid multiple reports in recent days suggesting Russia is making small but incremental gains in the Donbas. The latest assessment from the British Defense Ministry is that Russia has achieved "some localized successes."

Zelenskyy and his top officials have ramped up calls for more weapons from Western nations, specifically the United States. As ABC News has reported, multilaunch rocket systems are at the top of the Ukrainians' wish list. They also want Western-made fighter jets, such as F-16. However, training time and maintenance issues make the supply of fighter jets more complicated.

Ukrainian officials have publicly addressed Western concerns that Ukraine might use medium-range missile systems to hit targets in Russia, saying that Ukraine will only use them to hit targets within Ukraine's pre-2014 borders. There has been no suggestion that Ukraine would strike targets in Crimea, which presumably would be seen by Western officials as carrying a similar risk of escalation with Russia.

The United States and some of its allies are concerned that Russia would use strikes in Russian territory with Western-supplied weapons as a pretext for direct confrontation with the West.

-ABC News' Ian Pannell, Dragana Jovanovic and Tom Soufi Burridge

May 23, 4:49 pm
Russian troops have 20 times the military equipment of Ukraine: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine is outgunned 20-to-1 on the eastern front in a virtual speech to the Ukraine House in Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum is currently taking place.

"We do not have enough technical supplies because we are fighting against such a big country with a big army," Zelenskyy said. "They have 20 times more equipment. Just imagine, now in Donbas, we have 1 to 20. You can just imagine what kind of people we have, how strong they are, what strong warriors we have."

Zelenskyy has continuously pushed Western countries to increase the amount of military aid coming into the country to stave off the attack from Russia. He sent special thanks over the weekend to President Joe Biden for approving $40 billion in additional aid last week.

"I just don’t want hundreds of thousands of people to die, so we need weapons that will allow us to fight at a great distance," Zelenskyy added in his speech to the Ukraine House.

Zelenskyy said over the weekend that 50 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying every day in the fighting.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

May 23, 4:24 pm
Russian UN diplomat resigns over Ukraine war: 'Never have I been so ashamed of my country'

Boris Bondarev, Russia’s counselor to the United Nations in Geneva, has resigned, becoming the Kremlin's most senior diplomat to defect since his country's invasion of Ukraine began in February, according to a report from U.N. Watch, a nongovernment organization based in Geneva.

“Never have I been so ashamed of my country,” Bondarev wrote in a statement shared with diplomats in Geneva and published by U.N. Watch.

He said he started his diplomatic career in Russia's ministry of foreign affairs in 2002 and began his most recent role at the U.N. in 2019.

"I regret to admit that over all these twenty years the level of lies and unprofessionalism in the work of the Foreign Ministry has been increasing all the time," Bondarev said in his statement. "However, in most recent years, this has become simply catastrophic."

He added, "Today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not about diplomacy. It is all about warmongering, lies and hatred. It serves interests of few, the very few people thus contributing to further isolation and degradation of my country. Russia no longer has allies, and there is no one to blame but its reckless and ill-conceived policy."

ABC News has not independently verified the statement's authenticity with Bondarev. The Associated Press spoke with him by phone and he confirmed his statement.

Kira Yarmysh, a spokesperson for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, shared the statement on her verified Twitter account and wrote, "It seems that there was one honest person in the entire Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

-ABC News' Josh Margolin

May 23, 2:55 pm
Canadian artist turns bullet holes into beautiful flowers in Bucha

Canadian artist Ivanka Siolkowsky is trying to restore some beauty to the war-ravaged Ukrainian city of Bucha.

A former school teacher, Silokowsky has been painting flowers and butterflies around bullet holes she finds in fences, walls of buildings and homes, frequently soliciting children and other local residents to help her.

"The project began a few weeks ago. I only painted 5 fences, but my hope is that the people of Bucha and other formerly occupied cities in Ukraine will continue this project further," Siolkowsky recently wrote on her Instagram page.

Bucha, which is northwest of Kyiv, is one of the most heavily bomb cities in Ukraine, where residents have told ABC News of witnessing numerous killings and torture at the hands of Russian forces.

Siolkowsky conceded that her paintings are not masterpieces and said someone commented on one of the Instagram posts, writing, “the paintings aren’t even good.”

"Believe me, I’m aware," she wrote on Instagram. "But the point of this wasn’t to create masterpieces -- it was to bring joy back into a city filled with darkness after the Russian occupation."

May 23, 12:32 pm
Defense Secretary Austin convenes 2nd Ukraine Contact Group meeting

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin convened the second monthly meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group Monday morning, during which more than 40 nations participated virtually.

"This gathering is virtual, but our efforts together are making a very concrete difference on the battlefield," Austin told the group as he faced two large monitors showing the virtual participants. "We're all here today because of the extraordinary valor and resilience of Ukraine soldiers and citizens."

The group was formed last month to help coordinate international efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invaders.

"For three months, Ukraine has been fighting with grit and tactical ingenuity against an entirely unprovoked invasion by its far larger neighbor," Austin said. "And we're here to help Ukraine for the long haul."

Defense leaders from 44 countries and representatives of NATO and the European Union participated in the meeting. Several new nations joined the group since its first meeting, including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Ireland and Kosovo.

Ukrainian officials, including Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, also logged on to the virtual meeting.

"My friends, we've got your back -- all of us," Austin told the Ukrainian representatives. "President Zelenskyy and Ukraine's leaders have made history, and your forces have inspired the free world with their courage and skill."

May 23, 12:06 pm
Starbucks announces complete withdrawal from Russia

Starbucks announced on Monday its decision to exit the market in Russia.

"We continue to watch the tragic events unfold and, today, we have decided to suspend all business activity in Russia, including shipment of all Starbucks products," Starbuck CEO Kevin Johnson said in a statement. "Our licensed partner has agreed to immediately pause store operations and will provide support to the nearly 2,000 partners in Russia who depend on Starbucks for their livelihood."

The announcement comes after the company suspended all business activity in Russia on March 8. Going forward, Starbucks said it will continue to pay its employees in Russia for six months.

Starbucks is one of multiple major U.S. and international companies that have put operations on hold in Russia because of the invasion of Ukraine. Other companies that have suspended operations there include Pfizer, Apple, FedEx, McDonald's and Amazon.

May 23, 11:26 am
Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison in first war crimes trial in Ukraine

A Ukrainian court in Kyiv sentenced a 21-year-old Russian soldier to life in prison in the first war crimes trial since Russia’s invasion began in February.

Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty and confessed in court last week to killing a 62-year-old Ukrainian man a few days into the Russian invasion.

During the trial, the widow of the man Shishimarin killed testified that her husband meant everything to her and said she believes the Russian soldier deserves life in prison.

However, the widow said she would support exchanging Shishimarin for any of the Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner this month by Russia at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine.

"I feel very sorry for him," the widow testified. "But for a crime like that I can't forgive him."

May 23, 10:08 am
Zelenskyy calls for preventative sanctions in virtual address at World Economic Forum

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke Monday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, calling on the West to recognize as a mistake the refusal to impose preventive sanctions on Russia and take decisive steps in that direction.

"We must not react, but act preventively," Zelenskyy told the forum in a virtual address. "And not only adapt what we have to the new realities, but create new tools. ... Do not wait for fatal shots. Do not wait for Russia to use chemical, biological or, heaven forbid, nuclear weapons. Do not give the aggressor the impression that the world allegedly will not offer sufficient resistance. Protect immediately to the maximum freedom and a normal, useful world order."

Zelenskyy said there are still no such sanctions against the Russian Federation, and listed them:

  • Complete embargo on Russian oil.
  • Complete blocking of all Russian banks.
  • Complete rejection of the Russian IT sector.
  • And complete cessation of trade with the aggressor.

Zelenskyy also called for freezing and confiscating Russian assets around the world and sending them to a special fund to pay compensation and restore Ukraine.

"There should be a precedent for punishing the aggressor. ... Russian assets scattered across different jurisdictions should be found, arrested or frozen, and then confiscated and sent to a special fund, from which all victims should receive compensation," Zelenskyy said.

He warned it will not be easy, but added that various aggressors will definitely not be motivated to do what Russia has done and continues to do in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said he believes the world is at a turning point and that the future of not only Ukraine, but the whole world, depends on the resistance to brutal force.

“This year, the words 'turning point' are not just a rhetorical figure of the speech," Zelenskyy said. "Now is really such a moment when it is decided whether brutal force will dominate the world. If it dominates, then our thoughts are not interesting to it, and we can no longer gather in Davos. For what? Brutal force is looking for nothing but subjugation of those whom it wants to subdue, and it does not debate, but kills immediately, as Russia is doing in Ukraine right now -- at this time when we are talking to you."

May 22, 3:21 pm
Lithuania becomes first EU country to suspend all Russian energy imports

Lithuania is suspending all imports of Russian oil, natural gas and power, the country’s energy minister Dainius Kreivys announced in a statement Sunday, making it the only country in the European Union to suspend all imports on Russian energy.

Lithuania is now receiving liquified gas from the U.S. after becoming the first EU country to suspend Russian gas imports in April, Kreivys said. The country is now generating electricity via local power generation and local EU imports via existing connections with Sweden, Poland and Latvia.

It is unclear what alternate source of oil Lithuania will rely on, but Kreivys’ statement indicates that its sole importer of oil, Orlen Lietuva, refused to import Russian oil more than a month ago, Kreivys said.

The move is an expression of solidarity with Ukraine, Kreivys said, adding that it cannot allow its money to finance a Russian war machine.

The EU stated in March that it would end its dependency on fossil fuels imports from Russia and made plans to phase out Russian oil, gas and coal. The European Commission presented details on how it plans to achieve that last week.

May 22, 2:54 pm
50 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers killed every day, Zelenskyy says

While Ukraine has rarely reported on its combat losses since the Russian invasion began in late February, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced during a press briefing Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are being killed every day.

The last time Zelenskyy revealed military death toll figures was in April, when he said that around 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in action and around 10,000 wounded. Zelenskyy did not provide a total figure for combatants killed in action on Sunday.

Since the start of the invasion, most Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country. On Friday, a petition calling for the government to cancel the ban was registered with the president’s office.

The petition surpassed the 25,000-signature threshold that requires the president to address it on Sunday. Zelenskyy acknowledged the petition during Sunday's briefing.

"How would I explain that to relatives of our defenders who are fighting at the most difficult positions in the East, where 50 to 100 troops lose their lives every day?" he said.

Ukraine's parliament voted to extend martial law through Aug. 23. Zelenskyy’s office has a few weeks to consider the petition.

May 22, 12:41 pm
Zelenskyy welcomes president of Poland amid Ukraine’s bid to join EU

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy extended a warm welcome to Polish President Andrzej Duda on Sunday amid his bid to have his country join the European Union.

During a parliamentary session, Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to all Poles for their support, making it clear that he's pushing full steam ahead to ensure Ukraine is granted candidate status.

"I am sure that all the necessary decisions will be made first for the status of a candidate for Ukraine, and then for full membership," he said. "In particular, thanks to Poland's many years of protection of Ukrainian interests on the European continent."

Shortly after Zelenskyy and Duda addressed lawmakers, the parliament session was briefly interrupted when air sirens sounded in Kyiv, and members of parliament were moved to a shelter. The Ukrainian regional military administration later confirmed a Russian missile was intercepted over the Kyiv region.

France's Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune in his interview with France TF1 radio said on Sunday that it could take 15 to 20 years for Ukraine to become an EU member state, adding that Kyiv could enter the European political community proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in the meantime.

May 22, 12:07 pm
Recent attacks have killed more than 200 Ukrainians, Russian military claims

The Russian Defense Ministry provided updates to what it described as the “special military operation in Ukraine” on Sunday, saying that hundreds of Ukrainians were killed in recent attacks.

High-precision air missiles and other attacks launched in Donetsk, Lugansk and Krasnyi on Sunday hit command posts, areas where Ukrainian manpower and military equipment are concentrated and ammunition depots, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The attacks killed more than 210 Ukrainian nationals and destroyed as many as 38 armored motor vehicles, the ministry claimed.

Russian air defense also shot down 11 Ukrainian aircraft and intercepted “multiple launch rockets” in the Kharkov region, according to the defense ministry.

The ministry claimed that, in total, 174 Ukrainian aircraft and 125 helicopters, 977 unmanned aerial vehicles, 317 anti-aircraft missile systems, 3,198 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 408 multiple launch rocket systems, 1,622 field artillery and mortars and 3,077 units of special military vehicles were destroyed during the operation.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trevor Reed says US should trade Viktor Bout if it will free Americans held in Russia

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(NEW YORK) -- Trevor Reed, the former U.S. Marine recently released after nearly three years in Russian captivity, has called on the U.S. government to negotiate a prisoner swap like the one that freed him to bring Americans Paul Whelan, a former Marine, and WNBA player Brittney Griner, who are both being detained in Russia.

Reed and his parents, Joey and Paula Reed, told ABC News if it meant freeing Whelan and Griner, the United States should trade the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence, and who Russia has floated as a possible candidate for a swap.

"I think that the United States should make any type of agreement to get Paul out. And if that includes an exchange, I think they should absolutely do that," the 30-year-old Reed said in a lengthy interview with ABC News on Saturday, one of the first he has given since being freed.

Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death” by the media and a notorious weapons trafficker, was pursued for over a decade by Western governments and is widely believed to have ties to Russian intelligence. He was finally captured during a sting operation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Thailand and extradited to the U.S.

He was convicted in 2012 on federal narco-terrorism charges for agreeing during the sting to sell millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian terrorists who were purportedly targeting Americans. In reality, the supposed Colombian arms buyers were part of the DEA undercover sting.

From the moment of his arrest, Russia has sought to return Bout, attempted to block his extradition in 2008 and Russian state media and officials for years have pressed for his release. Since Whelan was seized in 2018, Bout has repeatedly been suggested by Russian state media as a possible trade for him and Reed and last week for Griner.

"Viktor Bout has already been in prison for 15 years,” said Reed, adding that any value he had for Russian intelligence was long since blown. "He's no longer a threat. He's paid for that crime. Maybe not as long as, you know, the U.S. government would have liked him to, but he has paid for that."

Reed said the United States should try to get the two Americans, who are both facing long sentences in Russia, freed in exchange for a man who will likely be released from prison in a few years.

"Fifteen years is not a joke in prison. And, you know, the fact of the matter is that Paul has another 13 years left in prison. And Brittney, who knows how long she's gonna be sentenced for? She may have ten years in prison. So you're getting two Americans who are going to have a huge amount of time left on their sentences for a guy who is getting out soon -- who has already been in prison for 15 years,” he said.

“And I think that they need to do that," he said. "If that's for Viktor Bout, I don't care. I don't care if it's 100 Victor Bouts. They have to get our guys out."

Whelan was arrested in December 2018 while visiting Moscow for a friend's wedding and charged with espionage by Russian intelligence officials. He is being held on espionage charges that the U.S. government says were also fabricated to take him as a bargaining chip. Whelan is in a prison camp in Mordovia, sentenced to 16 years.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was visiting Russia to play basketball in the off-season and was arrested in February at a Moscow area airport for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil -- an illegal substance in Russia.

The U.S. government considers Griner to be “wrongfully detained” in Russia, the State Department said.

“With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release," a U.S. State Department spokesperson told ABC News this month.

Reed was released from a Russian prison on April 27 when the Biden administration orchestrated a prisoner exchange with the Russian government for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot from Russia who was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

American administrations are traditionally reluctant to make prisoner exchanges, fearing that it sets a precedent that encourages hostile governments to seize more Americans.

Reed rejected that position, saying such governments would continue to target Americans regardless and were already doing so.

“That's completely inaccurate. That's not a concern at all, because, you know, countries like, you know, Russia, China, Venezuela, Rwanda, Iran, Syria, places like that need absolutely no incentive to kidnap Americans,” he said.

"Even if they didn't get anything out of it, just for the simple fact that they could show the United States that we have your citizens here and that we're not scared of you,” he said.

Reed’s father, Joey Reed, who spent more than a year in Russia trying to free his son and picketed the White House, said he believed the government needed to move with more urgency.

“Don't get me wrong; we're super thankful that President Biden made the decision to trade for Trevor. And what we want is we want that to continue," Joey Reed said. "If there's no other way to bring an American citizen home, do it. Don't wait until they've been there 20 years. Don't wait until they're near death."

In an interview with ABC News earlier this month, Paul Whelan's brother, David, said Paul spoke with his parents after Reed's release and said the news hit him hard.

"He asked, 'Why was I left behind?'" David Whelan said. "And we still don't really have a good answer for that."

Trevor Reed told ABC News that he's speaking out "in order to make the American people aware that this is not an isolated situation."

"We have political prisoners all over the world who are suffering and who need our help," Reed said.

Speaking of Whelan, Reed became emotional.

"He was in some worse prisons than I was. His situation is a lot worse than mine and we need to do everything possible to get him out at any cost," Reed said.

Reed said that when he found out his release was part of a prisoner exchange, he assumed Whelan would be freed, too. But Whelan was left behind.

"I thought that that was wrong, that they got me out and not Paul," Reed said. "I knew that as soon as I was able to that I would fight for him to get out and I would do everything I could to get him out of there. The United States got me out, but they left him there. I can't describe to you how painful that feeling is."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine updates: Russia publishes list of Americans banned from country

OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

May 21, 11:42 am
Biden signs $40 billion Ukraine aid bill into law

President Biden signed the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill into law Saturday, the White House announced in a press release.

The bill provides supplemental emergency funds to Federal agencies to respond and provide assistance to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Biden on Twitter for the aid.

"The leadership of US, President Biden & the American people in supporting Ukrainians fight against the Russian aggressor is crucial. Look forward to new, powerful defense assistance. Today it is needed more than ever," Zelenskyy said.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle and Max Uzol

May 21, 10:44 am
Russian Foreign Ministry publishes list of Americans banned from entering Russia

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday published a list of American citizens who are barred from entering the Russian Federation on a permanent basis.

Russia said the move was in retaliation for anti-Russian sanctions currently imposed by the U.S.

The list published on the ministry's website comprises 963 U.S. citizens, including President Joe Biden.

May 20, 5:00 pm
More than 40 countries to take part in next Ukraine Contact Group meeting

More than 40 countries will be represented at the second meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group, formed last month to coordinate international support for Ukraine, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

Monday's meeting "will allow us to continue to dip into a process to get Ukraine, or at least to make other nations available and knowledgeable about what Ukraine needs as the fight is ongoing," Kirby told reporters during a briefing Friday.

More than 40 nations attended the first meeting both virtually and in-person at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. New countries will attend the second, which will be strictly virtual, Kirby said.

"There are some countries that have shown an interest in participating that weren't in the first meeting," said Kirby, who called the first iteration "a true global community" of countries in NATO and beyond.

May 20, 3:41 pm
Russian Ministry of Defense claims it has taken complete control over Azovstal steel plant, Mariupol

Russia's Ministry of Defense claimed Friday it has taken complete control of the Azovstal plant and Mariupol from the Ukrainian forces, expelling them from the port city.

The underground facilities of the plant, in which the Azov National Regiment militia were hiding, came under the complete control of Russian forces, the ministry claimed.

The commander of the Azov Regiment was reportedly taken out of the territory of the plant in an armored car, the ministry said.

Russia claims 2,439 Ukrainian servicemen have laid down their arms and surrendered since May 16.

May 20, 1:10 pm
Russia to cut off Finland's natural gas Saturday morning

Gasum, Finland's natural gas company, announced Friday that it was informed its imports from Russia's Gazprom Export will be cut off on Saturday at 7 a.m. local time.

The move by Russia comes days after Finland submitted its application to join NATO.

“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted. However, we have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said in a statement.

Gasum will supply natural gas to its customers from other sources though the Balticconnector pipeline, which connects Finland with Estonia, the company said in a statement.

Gasum said its gas-filling stations in the network area will continue in normal operation.

May 20, 8:57 am
US-supplied howitzers to Ukraine lack accuracy-aiding computers

Dozens of artillery systems supplied by the United States to Ukraine were not fitted with advanced computer systems, which improve the efficiency and accuracy of the weapons, ABC News has learned.

The M777 155mm howitzers are now being used by the Ukrainian military in its war with Russia.

The Pentagon did not deny that the artillery pieces were supplied without the computers but said it had received "positive feedback" from the Ukrainians about the "precise and highly effective" weapons.

That positive sentiment was echoed by a Ukrainian politician, who spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity. However, the politician also expressed frustration that the artillery pieces had not been the fitted with the digital computer systems.

Artillery is currently playing a crucial role in the fighting across eastern Ukraine, as Russia continues its offensive in that part of the country. U.S. officials recently confirmed that all but one of the 90 howitzers promised to Ukraine had now been delivered, along with tactical vehicles used to tow them.

If fitted to a howitzer, the digital computer system enables the crew operating the weapon to quickly and accurately pinpoint a target. Howitzers without a computer system can still be fired accurately, using traditional methods to calculate the angle needed to hit a target.

Modern computer systems, however, rule out the possibility of human error. Why the artillery pieces supplied to Ukraine did not have the digital targeting technology installed is unclear. The Pentagon said it would not discuss individual components "for operational security reasons."

-ABC News' Tom Burridge and Luis Martinez

May 20, 6:58 am
1,700 Ukrainian soldiers likely surrendered from Mariupol plant, UK says

As many as 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers have likely surrendered from the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant in war-ravaged Mariupol this week, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

"An unknown number of Ukrainian forces remain inside the factory," the ministry said Friday in an intelligence update. "Once Russia has secured Mariupol, it is likely they will move their forces to reinforce operations in the Donbas."

For weeks, Ukrainian fighters and civilians were holed up inside the sprawling industrial site as the remaining pocket of resistance to Russia's relentless bombardment of Mariupol, a southeastern Ukrainian port city strategically located on the Sea of Azov between eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region and the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Russia claimed Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Mariupol over the previous three days, while Ukraine confirmed Tuesday that more than 250 had yielded in the initial hours after it ordered them to do so.

Mariupol is the largest city that Russian forces have seized since launching an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24. Its complete capture gives Russia total control of the coast of the Sea of Azov as well as a continuous stretch of territory along eastern and southern Ukraine.

"Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively," the U.K. defense ministry said. "This can be a lengthy process when done thoroughly."

"Russian commanders, however, are under pressure to demonstrably achieve operational objectives," the ministry added. "This means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition."

May 20, 6:42 am
Belarus says nearly 28,000 Ukrainians have arrived since Russian invasion

Nearly 28,000 Ukrainian citizens have arrived in Belarus since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to the Belarusian State Border Committee.

"Between 6 a.m. on February 24 and 6 a.m. on May 20, a total of 27,868 Ukrainian citizens arrived in Belarus, including 15,793 who crossed the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, 10,563 by transit through Poland, 1,305 through Lithuania, and 207 through Latvia," the committee said in a statement Friday.

In the past 24 hours alone, 154 Ukrainian citizens arrived in Belarus, including 120 via Poland, according to the committee.

Belarus shares a land border with both Ukraine and Russia, and is Moscow's main ally.

May 19, 8:07 pm
Biden to sign Ukraine aid bill while abroad

President Joe Biden will sign the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill while he's in Asia, a White House official said.

"The president does intend to sign the bill while he's on the road so that he can sign it expeditiously," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One while en route to the region Thursday evening. "The modalities of that are being worked right now so that he can get it and sign it."

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier Thursday with bipartisan support, will need to be flown to the region so that Biden can sign it. The practice of flying bills to presidents for signature dates back to the Truman administration, but this is a first for Biden.

Biden departed for South Korea Thursday and will visit Japan later in the week during his first trip to Asia as president.

-ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russian opposition group pushing US to sanction 'next tier' of Putin enablers

Contributor/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Top members of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's team are pressing U.S. officials to pursue sanctions against 6,000 Russians who they say are among the "next tier" of those enabling Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

Members of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation met Thursday with members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as officials with the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department, the group's executive director, Vladimir Ashurkov, told ABC News.

Navalny has been held in a Russian jail since January of 2021, while his anti-corruption foundation is based outside of Russia.

Thursday's meetings were part of a four-day trip to push the U.S. to take action against thousands of Putin supporters who Ashurkov said are outside of the super-rich, multi-billionaire class -- and who still have time to decide what they want the future of Russia to look like.

"It's a lot of officials, not necessarily at the top, but the next tier," Ashurkov said.

"The average age for them is 45 years old, so they still have a life after Putin," he said. "And they have to think hard about where they stand on this war and on Putin's regime."

Ashurkov said the 6,000 names have already been made public, which "creates for them motivation to step away and distance themselves from Putin's regime."

"And that's what we want to achieve," Ashurkov said.

Among the Justice Department officials the group met with were members of the department's Kleptocapture Task Force, which was formed in March to target the assets of Russian oligarchs.

"We're helping [the task force] with asset tracking for sanctioned individuals," Ashurkov told ABC News. "We are arguably the most professional investigative outfit in Russia -- so I think they benefit from our experience and from our work."

Ashurkov also said he met with a group of Republican senators that included Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, who Ashurkov said were "generally receptive."

In addition, Ashurkov said his group was scheduled to meet with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control, which handles sanctions programs. But he said there were no meetings scheduled with the White House.

Saying that sanctions alone are not "silver bullets" powerful enough to stop the war in Ukraine, Ashurkov said they're one of the options available to Western allies to make an impact.

"They all have been really receptive to this," Ashurkov said of the U.S. officials he had met.

"I think, really, people support the idea," he said of the proposed sanctions. "I think during this trip we at least got the important lawmakers to be aware of our proposals and to support them."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

North Korea's suspected COVID-19 caseload tops 2 million

KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea reported 2.24 million people "sickened with fever" as of Thursday evening -- a big jump from last week when the secretive nation acknowledged its first suspected cases of COVID-19.

North Korean's state-run Korean Central News Agency is still not referring to the outbreak as COVID-19, likely because there are no test kits to diagnose patients.

South Korea-based analysts who have been closely monitoring the North for the last few decades suggest that the tally revealed by the reclusive regime each day may not be accurate, due to a lack of testing capabilities.

"There is no evidence that North Korea is using PCR test kits to determine COVID-19 patients, so no one outside can say for sure if it's just fever or COVID-19 symptoms," Philo Kim, associate professor at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, told ABC News on Thursday evening.

Since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe in 2020, North Korea has completely closed off from the outside world in an effort to stop the virus from entering its borders. No international organization has been able to enter the country to precisely determine its medical environment, aside from a few Chinese medical experts.

Analysts believe that Pyongyang will continue to resemble China’s totalitarian approach to the pandemic with further isolation and strict lockdowns, leaving them no choice but to aim for collective immunization.

"The most concerning of all is that there could be so many deaths, so much that is unimaginable," Dr. Kim Sin-gon, professor at Korea University's College of Medicine in Seoul, who has taken part in supplying Pyongyang with medical supplies, told ABC News on Thursday evening.

Dr. Jiho Cha, professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology's Moon Soul Graduate School of Future Strategy in Daejeon, agreed.

"It will take time to reach herd immunity either through vaccinations or by having COVID," Cha told ABC News on Thursday evening, adding that -- either way -- "a conservative figure would be at least 200,000 deaths."

Last year, the World Health Organization-led global vaccine-sharing scheme known as COVAX reached out to North Korea to offer nearly 3 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine made by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac. An additional 250,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by American biotechnology company Novavax were later allotted to North Korea. However, Pyongyang turned down both offers and kept its borders shut instead.

Last week, South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol said he intends to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies to North Korea, with the endorsement of the United States, but Pyongyang has yet to respond.

"They do not want aid workers to come in and monitor," Choi Gyubin, research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, told ABC News on Thursday evening. "They would also not appreciate foreigners telling who gets the first vaccines in which areas."

North Korea experts said the nation is likely to continue abiding by its founding philosophy of self-reliance for now, but that its leader Kim Jong Un will have to make a crucial decision soon. After all, COVID-19 cases exploded following North Korea's massive military parade last month, in which tens of thousands of young citizens attended from around the country. Earlier this week, Kim reprimanded a few officers for failing to deal with the initial phase of the outbreak successfully and professionally.

"[But] the fact is that it was none other than Kim Jong Un himself who should bear the responsibility of being tardy in handling this crisis situation," Kim Sook, executive director at the Ban Ki-moon Foundation for a Better Future in Seoul and former South Korean ambassador to the United Nations, said during a panel discussion at California's Stanford University on Thursday.

"Kim Jong Un made a bad bet -- a very bad bet," added Siegfried Hecker, a renowned expert on North Korea's nuclear program who is currently affiliated with Stanford University.

Given North Korea's current health situation in which a majority of the people suffer from malnutrition and with almost no vaccines, experts said the repercussions of not moving fast enough could take a dangerous toll on the regime.

"North Korea faces a surge in pandemic patient numbers, even after voluntarily going into strong isolation for the last two years," Cha told ABC News. "There’s a high chance they won’t be able to prevent the majority of its people from catching COVID-19, even if they force additional lockdowns."

ABC News' Eunseo Nam and Hyerim Lee contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Two Secret Service employees being sent home from South Korea ahead of Biden's arrival after alleged incident: Sources

SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Two Secret Service employees -- an agent and an armed physical security specialist -- in South Korea to prepare for President Joe Biden's impending arrival are being sent home after an alleged alcohol-fueled incident that ended with a report being filed with local police, according to two sources briefed on the situation.

The personnel were assigned to help prepare for the presidential visit when they went out for dinner and then stopped at several bars, the sources told ABC News. As the evening progressed, the two Secret Service staffers became apparently intoxicated and the agent wound up in a heated argument with a cab driver, according to the sources.

Police were called and a report detailing the "altercation" was filed, one source said.

"The Secret Service is aware of an off-duty incident involving two employees which may constitute potential policy violations," agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement to ABC News. "The individuals will be immediately returned back to their post of duty and placed on administrative leave. There was no impact to the upcoming trip. We have very strict protocols and policies for all employees and we hold ourselves to the highest professional standards. Given this is an active administrative personnel matter, we are not in a position to comment further."

The agent who allegedly got into the argument with the cab driver is scheduled to be interviewed by local police before boarding a flight back to the U.S. The decision to send them home was made while the president was still en route to Asia.

The latest episode in the Far East carries echoes of the 2012 scandal in which Secret Service employees were investigated for drinking heavily and hiring prostitutes while preparing for a trip by then-President Barack Obama to Cartagena, Colombia.

Of the 13 agents first suspected of soliciting prostitutes in Cartagena, three were cleared of wrongdoing and returned to duty, six resigned or retired, and four had their security clearances revoked or were removed, according to a report by the Homeland Security Department inspector general issued in December 2013. According to the report, the agents in Colombia consumed as many as 13 alcoholic drinks "before engaging in questionable behavior."

"The Secret Service conducts thousands of advances for protectees each year, including for the president overseas," said retired senior Secret Service agent Don Mihalek, an ABC News contributor. "Through it all, the president has been kept safe and few incidents have arisen. Despite that, the Secret Service is made up of people, some who make mistakes. When they do though, the response has been thorough to ensure that the integrity of the mission is always maintained."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russia fires top commanders over Ukraine war failures

OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

May 19, 2:33 pm
Blinken authorizes drawdown of arms and equipment worth $100 million for Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday that he has authorized a 10th drawdown of additional arms and equipment for Ukraine worth $100 million from U.S. Department of Defense inventories.

This brings total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine to approximately $3.9 billion in arms and equipment since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

"The United States is committed to helping Ukraine continue to meet its defense needs and build its future capabilities, as well as to bolster Allies and partners across NATO’s Eastern Flank and the broader region," Blinken said in a statement.

May 19, 1:36 pm
Senate passes $40 billion aid package for Ukraine

The Senate voted on Thursday to pass an additional $40 billion in new military and economic aid for Ukraine after President Joe Biden called on Congress for more funding.

The bill received bipartisan support, passing with a vote of 86-11.

The House passed the aid package earlier this month, which is now headed to Biden's desk for signing.

"By passing this aid package the Senate can now say to the Ukrainian people help is on the way: real help, significant help, help that could ensure the Ukrainian people are victorious," Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during his floor remarks before the vote.

-ABC News' Allison Pecorin

May 19, 1:12 pm
US chairman of joint chiefs speaks to Russian counterpart

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke with Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov Thursday, for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine. They last spoke on Feb. 11.

The two discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open, according to a readout from the U.S., but the specific details of their conversation were kept private.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said the two sides "discussed issues of mutual interest, including the situation in Ukraine," in a call it said was initiated by the U.S.

-ABC News' Matt Seyler

May 19, 12:17 pm
Biden meets with leaders of Sweden, Finland amid bid to join NATO

President Joe Biden met with the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House Thursday after the two countries submitted applications to join NATO.

"Today I'm proud to welcome and offer the strong support of the United States for the applications of two great democracies, and two close, highly capable partners to join the strongest, most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world," Biden said.

Biden reaffirmed the U.S.'s support for the Nordic countries' applications to join the alliance.

"Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger not just because of their capacity, but because of their strong democracies and a strong united NATO is the foundation of America's security," he said.

Biden also sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia.

"So let me be clear: New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. It never has been. NATO's purpose is to defend against aggression, that's its purpose, to defend," Biden said.

-ABC News' Karen Travers and Justin Gomez

May 19, 10:54 am
Russian soldier accused of killing Ukrainian civilian appears in court

Vadim Shishmarin, 21, is back in court, one day after he pleading guilty to killing a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian just days into the conflict.

Shishmarin confessed to the killing Thursday morning.

The widow of the victim testified in court that her husband meant everything to her, and she thinks the Russian soldier deserves life in prison, but if he gets exchanged for any of the Azovstal defenders she wouldn’t object.

"I feel very sorry for him," she said. "But for a crime like that -- I can't forgive him."

Shishimarin could spend the rest of his life in prison.

-ABC News' Joe Simonetti

May 19, 10:53 am
Russia continues mass shelling on Sumy region

Mass shelling of the Sumy region continued from Russian territory Wednesday evening, said Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, the governor of Sumy, on Telegram.

The shelling was along the entire border between the Sumy region and Russia, according to Zhyvytskyy.

Zhyvytskyy said Ukraine responded to the shelling appropriately and no casualties were reported.

-ABC News' Joe Simonetti

May 19, 9:47 am
Zelenskyy adviser says cease-fire is impossible without Russian troops withdrawing

Mykhaylo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told Russia not to offer Ukraine a cease-fire, because it would be impossible without Russian troops' withdrawal.

"Ukraine is not interested in new 'Minsk' and the war renewal in a few years," Podolyak said in a tweet, referring to the capital of Belarus and that country's allegiance to Russia. "Until [Russia] is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money."

-ABC News' Joe Simonetti

May 19, 8:29 am
ICRC registers hundreds of prisoners of war from Mariupol steel plant

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it has registered hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war from a besieged steel plant in war-ravaged Mariupol this week, after the Ukrainian city fell into Russian hands.

A team from the ICRC began on Tuesday to register combatants leaving the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant, including the wounded, at the request of the parties to the conflict. The operation continued Wednesday and was still ongoing Thursday. The ICRC is not transporting prisoners of war to the places where they are held, according to a press release from the organization.

"The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative," the organization said. "This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families."

The ICRC noted that it "maintains a confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict on their obligations under international humanitarian law."

"In accordance with the mandate given to the ICRC by States under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the ICRC must have immediate access to all POWs in all places where they are held," the organization added. "The ICRC must be allowed to interview prisoners of war without witnesses, and the duration and frequency of these visits should not be unduly restricted. Whenever circumstances permit, each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to search for and collect the dead."

For weeks, Ukrainian fighters and civilians were holed up inside Mariupol's vast Azovstal plant as the remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance to Russia's relentless bombardment of the strategic southeastern port city. Russia claimed Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Mariupol over the previous three days, while Ukraine confirmed Tuesday that more than 250 had yielded in the initial hours after it ordered them to do so.

Mariupol is the largest city that Russian forces have seized since launching an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24. Its complete capture gives Russia total control of the coast of the Sea of Azov as well as a continuous stretch of territory along eastern and southern Ukraine.

May 19, 7:30 am
Russia has fired top commanders over Ukraine war failures, UK says

Russia has fired senior military commanders in recent weeks "who are considered to have performed poorly during the opening stages of its invasion of Ukraine," the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Thursday in an intelligence update.

According to the ministry, Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, who commanded Russia's elite 1st Guards Tank Army, has been suspended for his failure to capture Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv. Vice Adm. Igor Osipov, who commanded Russia's Black Sea Fleet, has also likely been suspended following the sinking of the fleet's flagship, Moskva, in April. Gen. Valeriy Gerasimov, the Russian military's chief of the general staff, likely remains in his post, but it was unclear whether he retains the confidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the ministry.

"A culture of cover-ups and scape-goating is probably prevalent within the Russian military and security system," the ministry said. "Many officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine will likely be increasingly distracted by efforts to avoid personal culpability for Russia’s operational set-backs."

"This will likely place further strain on Russia's centralised model of command and control, as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors," the ministry added. "It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions."

May 19, 6:30 am
Russia puts two Ukrainian commanders on wanted list

Russia has placed two Ukrainian commanders on a wanted list.

Serhiy Velychko and Kostiantyn Nemychev, commanders of the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, have been added to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs' database of wanted fugitives in connection with a criminal case.

According to the Russian Investigative Committee, Velychko and Nemychev are accused of attempted murder of at least eight Russian servicemen who sustained multiple injuries in eastern Ukraine's Kharkiv region. Criminal charges were brought against the pair in absentia, and Russian authorities are working to track down and apprehend them.

May 18, 10:41 pm
Senate confirms new US ambassador to Ukraine

The Senate on Wednesday night unanimously confirmed the new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, a career foreign service officer.

The vote took place on the same day the U.S. officially resumed operations at its embassy in Kyiv.

May 18, 3:46 pm
Google's Russian business to file for for bankruptcy

Google Russia has published a notice of its intention to file for bankruptcy, a spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

"We previously announced that we paused the vast majority of our commercial operations in Russia. The Russian authorities’ seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations," a Google spokesperson said.

Adding, "People in Russia rely on our services to access quality information and we’ll continue to keep free services such as Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play available."

-ABC News' Rashid Haddou-Riffi

May 18, 3:34 pm
US, European allies 'will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden,' Biden adviser warns

U.S. and European allies “will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden” as their applications to join NATO are being considered, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Wednesday.

President Joe Biden said the U.S. would “remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression.”

Sullivan was asked to clarify if that meant the U.S. was extending NATO security protections to Finland and Sweden during this time, and he said Article 5 only kicks in when all 30 allies ratify the accession.

“But the United States, is prepared to send a very clear message, as are all of our European allies, that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process, and there are practical measures that we can take along those lines that Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin will coordinate with his counterparts about Finland and Sweden," Sullivan told reporters.

With Turkey opposed to this move, Sullivan told ABC News' MaryAlice Parks that the White House is “confident at the end of the day” that Finland and Sweden “will have an effective and efficient accession process” and that “Turkey's concerns can be addressed.”

Biden will host the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House Thursday.

“Two nations with a long tradition of neutrality will be joining the world's most powerful defensive alliance, and they will bring with them strong capabilities and a proven track record as security partners and President Biden will have the opportunity to mark just what a historic and watershed moment this is when he meets with them tomorrow," Sullivan said.

-ABC News' Justin Gomez and MaryAlice Parks

May 18, 3:15 pm
Blinken meets with Turkish counterpart at UN ahead of NATO summit

Ahead of a meeting at the United Nations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday.

Blinken told reporters he was grateful for the solidarity Turkey has shown against Russian aggression.

While Cavusoglu said he would work with Blinken to "overcome the differences through dialogue and diplomacy," he signaled that Turkey still had significant reservations about Sweden and Finland joining NATO, complicating their path to membership.

"Turkey has been supporting the open door policy of NATO even before this war, but with regards to these possible candidates—already candidate countries—we have also legitimate security concerns that they have been supporting terrorist organizations, and there are also export restrictions on defense products," Cavusoglu said.

Then adding, "We understand their security concerns, but Turkey’s security concerns should be also met."

Turkey has expressed concerns about Finland and Sweden joining NATO over the countries' support of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization.

-ABC News' Shannon Crawford

May 18, 2:21 pm
Russian offensive effort shrinking, incremental progress toward Black Sea: Pentagon

Russian offensive operations in Donbas are becoming more modest, shrinking both in size and scale, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

The Russians are making little progress so far in Donbas, with lots of back-and-fourth between both sides, according to the official.

"We see them hew very closely to their doctrine of artillery fire then a font of frontal attack by formations that are small, and in some cases, not fully resourced, fully manned, fully strong. And they get rebuffed by the Ukrainians," the official said.

Russian forces are also still suffering from poor communication between commanders and are having other coordination issues, according to the official.

To the northeast of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces continue to push Russian troops back toward their border, according to the official.

Russian forces are making some progress pushing closer toward the Black Sea from between Kherson and Mykolayiv, according to the official. The official said it is not clear what the intent is for this line of advance, but the U.S. sees no signs of an imminent naval assault at this time.

The U.S. believes Russia is "certainly trying" to disrupt to flow of military aid moving through Ukraine, but there have been no indications that it has had any success, according to the official.

Three of the eleven Mi-17 helicopters, more than 200 of the 300 Switchblade drones and nearly 10 Phoenix Ghost drones that the U.S. has promised Ukraine have been delivered, according to the official. The Ukrainians have told the Pentagon that 79 of the 90 U.S. howitzers that were delivered are now being used in combat.

-ABC News' Matt Seyler

May 18, 9:53 am
Finland, Sweden formally submit applications to join NATO

Finland and Sweden formally submitted their applications to join NATO to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Wednesday morning at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters.

Stoltenberg welcomed the requests, saying, "This is a good day, at a critical moment for our security," according to NATO.

"Every nation has the right to choose its own path. You have both made your choice, after thorough democratic processes. And I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO," Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

Adding, "You are our closest partners. And your membership in NATO would increase our shared security."

May 18, 9:25 am
Russian soldier pleads guilty to killing civilian

Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man on Feb. 28. The guilty plea carries a life sentence.

It’s the first trial Ukraine has conducted for an act that could be considered a war crime.

Asked by the presiding judge whether he accepted his guilt, Shyshimarin said: “Yes. Fully yes.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov dismissed the proceedings on Wednesday, telling reporters that accusations leveled against Russian soldiers by Ukraine were “simply fake or staged.”

May 17, 6:26 pm
State Department 'confident' in NATO expansion

As Turkey becomes more vocal about its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, the State Department said it is still assured of the alliance's unified support for the two prospective members.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a briefing Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken came away from meetings with NATO allies with a "sense of confidence there was strong consensus for admitting Finland and Sweden into the alliance if they so choose to join, and we're confident we'll be able to preserve that consensus."

Price said that assessment came from what Blinken heard in conversations behind closed doors.

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has publicly said that both candidates are untrustworthy because he perceives them as being supportive of groups Ankara views as extremist.

There is speculation that Turkey’s opposition is an attempt to leverage the moment to achieve its own policy goals or concessions from the U.S. Price said Tuesday that Turkey has not made any specific requests.

Price confirmed that Blinken will meet with his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of the U.N. on Wednesday, adding that "other conversations are ongoing between and among current NATO allies and potential aspirant countries."

-ABC News' Shannon Crawford

May 17, 2:22 pm
Finland, Sweden to jointly submit applications for NATO membership on Wednesday

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson's office announced Sweden and Finland will jointly submit an application for NATO membership on Wednesday, after she met with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm.

"It is a message of strength and a clear signal that we stand united going into the future," Andersson said in a joint press conference with the Finnish president.

The two leaders are set to meet President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday.

The two countries have stepped away from nonalignment in the wake of Russian's invasion of Ukraine, and fears for their own security.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

May 17, 2:11 pm
ICC sends 42 investigators to Ukraine

The International Criminal Court deployed a team of 42 investigators forensic and support personnel to Ukraine to advance investigations into crimes falling under ICC jurisdiction and provide support to Ukrainian authorities.

"This represents the largest ever single field deployment by my office since its establishment," ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said Tuesday.

Khan said 21 countries have offered to send national experts to his office and 20 states have committed to provide financial contributions.

"I look forward to working with all actors, including survivor groups, national authorities, civil society organisations and international partners, in order to accelerate this collective work moving forward," Khan said.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

May 17, 1:33 pm
US commerce secretary says export controls on Russia are working

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters Tuesday that the export controls the U.S. and other countries have put on Russia are working, including compliance from China.

"These export controls are having a strong and significant effect," Raimondo said Tuesday.

Raimondo returned from Paris where she co-chaired the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council Ministerial Meeting. She said there was consensus and partnership amongst countries with respect to cutting off Russia's access to "critical technologies."

"We've had extensive discussions on export controls," she said.

The Commerce Department and 37 other countries have limited semiconductor chips that can be exported to Russia, which help not only everyday Russian carmakers, but the Russian military build and use military equipment.

"You've all heard the anecdotal stories of Russia's inability to continue to produce tanks and auto companies shutting down but overall U.S. exports to Russia have decreased over 80%, between February and a week ago," she said. "So we essentially stopped sending high tech to Russia, which is what they need for their military."

Even China, Raimondo said, stopped shipping tech products such as laptops to Russia by 40% compared to a year ago.

Asked whether she trusts the Chinese data, Raimondo said it is "consistent" with what the Ukrainians are seeing on the ground.

"We are not seeing systematic efforts by China to go around our export controls," she said. "So yes, I think this is probably quite accurate."

-ABC News' Luke Barr

May 17, 9:20 am
Biden to meet with leaders of Sweden, Finland as they seek to join NATO

President Joe Biden will host Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House on Thursday as the two countries seek to join NATO, the White House announced Tuesday.

The three leaders will "discuss Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO applications and European security," according to a statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

International trade of spiders, scorpions is 80% unregulated -- threatening conservation, scientists say

Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Spiders, tarantulas and scorpions may be creepy to many, but it turns out there's a gargantuan market for arachnids as pets, and it is mostly unregulated -- posing problems for the sustainability of their species.

Nearly 80% of the global arachnid trade, which is quite larger than previously estimated, is not monitored or regulated, researchers who studied the market over two decades discovered.

More than 1,200 species of arachnids, including spiders and scorpions, have been or are currently being traded around the world, according to the findings of a study published in Nature on Tuesday. About 79% of the creatures are listed on arachnid-selling websites but not included in trade databases, according to the research.

Wildlife trade is a "huge issue" for biodiversity, Alice Hughes, conservation biologist at the University of Hong Kong and author of the study, told ABC News. However, it tends to be the illegal trade of bigger, more "charismatic" animals that people tend to think is the wider problem, she said.

"But the fact that they are being traded legally does not mean that it's sustainable," she said.

The researchers investigated global arachnid trades between 2000 and 2021 by combining data from the U.S. Law Enforcement Management Information System with the international trade databases of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which contains detailed information on global online arachnid retailers.

Among popular traded species, the researchers found that 77% of emperor scorpions were caught in the wild, with 1 million individuals imported into the U.S. alone during the study period.

More than 50% of tarantula species had been traded, including 600,000 Grammostola tarantulas, a group that includes the common pet species Chilean rose tarantulas, according to the researchers.

Two-thirds of arachnids from all traded species were reportedly wild-caught, which could have negative impacts on wild populations if they are harvested to an unsustainable extent, according to the study.

"I don't think anyone who was buying these animals is really aware of just how likely it is that a couple of weeks prior, that animal was wandering around a rainforest or a desert somewhere," Hughes said. "So this is a major threat to the future survival of the species."

The lack of regulation of the market could lead to these species becoming vulnerable to unsustainable harvesting and trade, the scientists said.

Hughes described the findings as "shocking" due to the threat the species are likely under.

To further complicate matters, the researchers found that out of over 1 million known invertebrate species, under 1% had been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In addition, only a small fraction of invertebrate species was regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, such as 39 of the 52,060 known species of spiders.

"These are under-appreciated, neglected taxa that are threatened by the pet trade," she said.

The lack of data indicates that the vulnerability of these heavily traded species is unclear, making the development of appropriate management or conservation policies "currently almost impossible," according to the authors.

"So only about 2% of all species in trade are listed by scientists, and that's a vanishingly small proportion of all arachnids," she said. "But 2% of insight is is really nothing. It means 98% of species can be traded with no overarching regulations, outside those that are instigated by their country."

The research also poses concern about the individuals who are buying these arachnids, Hughes said. There is no vetting of potential owners, a demographic consisting largely of younger people, many of whom may release the animal when they no longer want them.

They then could become an invasive species that competes with the native species, or be infected with mites or other parasites that then spread to other species, Hughes said.

The findings highlight that millions of spiders, scorpions and their relatives are being bought and sold, and there is a pressing need to monitor trade to prevent biodiversity losses, the researchers wrote. Hughes urged pet owners to be conscientious when deciding whether to buy one of these creatures.

"People just need to be aware that when they are buying an exotic pet, they need to check out where it's come from," she said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russian soldier pleads guilty to shooting unarmed Ukrainian civilian

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

(KYIV, Ukraine) -- Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty on Wednesday to killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian. The guilty plea carries a life sentence.

Shishimarin, 21, is accused of shooting a 62-year-old man on Feb. 28. The man was a resident of Chupakhivka who was riding a bike on the roadside when he was shot, according to Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine's prosecutor general.

This is the first trial Ukraine has conducted for an act that could be considered a war crime.

Asked by the presiding judge whether he accepted his guilt, Shishimarin said: "Yes. Fully yes."

Shishimarin is charged with murder and two counts of robbery. He surrendered to Ukrainian law enforcement and has been a prisoner of war since, Ukrainian prosecutor Andriy Syniuk said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the proceedings on Wednesday, telling reporters that accusations leveled against Russian soldiers by Ukraine were "simply fake or staged."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Chinese plane crash that killed 132 caused by intentional act: US officials

Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The China Eastern Airlines plane crash that killed 132 people is believed to have been caused by an intentional act, according to U.S. officials who spoke to ABC News.

The Boeing 737-800 passenger jet was flying from Kunming to Guangzhou on March 21 when it plunged into a mountainous area in Guangxi, China. All 123 passengers and nine crew members were killed.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the news.

The officials who spoke to ABC News point to the plane’s flaps not being engaged and landing gear not put down. The near-vertical descent of the plane, they believe, would’ve required intentional force.

The plane slammed into the ground with such force that it created a 66-foot deep hole in the ground, according to Chinese officials.

Investigators also looked into the pilot’s personal life and background and believe he may have been struggling through certain issues right before the crash, ABC News has learned.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said all information on the investigation will come from their counterparts in the Civil Aviation Administration of China, but regulators and Boeing have not flagged any mechanical issues. Sources said Chinese investigators also haven’t flagged any mechanical issues.

"The NTSB will not be issuing any further updates on the CAAC's investigation of the China Eastern 5735 crash," the NTSB said in a statement. "When and whether CAAC issues updates is entirely up to them. And I haven't heard anything about any plans for them to do so."

The first black box, the cockpit voice recorder, was found on March 23, while the flight data recorder was found March 27.

ABC News' Mark Osborne contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Bloody protests in Iran are not just about food prices

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(LONDON) -- Hundreds of Iranians have taken to the streets in cities across the country, protesting against the crippling political and economic situation. Unofficial reports say security forces have killed at least four people.

Coming from all walks of life, protestors shout slogans that target the top officials of the clerical system, including the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ebrahim Raisi.

The internet in the cities with ongoing protests is either cut or partially throttled by the government in an attempt to control the spreading of the news.

The unrest started after the government cut subsidies on essential food items such as cooking oil, eggs and milk last Wednesday. For example, the price of cooking increased more than 400% overnight from 336,700 rials, or nearly US$8, to 1,420,000 rials, or US$33 -- US$1 is about 42,350 rials.

However, dominant slogans in the protests like "Down with Khamenei, Down with dictator" and "We don't want mullah's ruling" indicate that protesting the ailing economy follows another primary demand: overthrowing the system.

"The establishment suffers from lack of legitimacy," Mohammad Mosaed, a dissident journalist in exile, told ABC News. "It has failed to fulfill the promises it made 43 years ago like freedom and justice."

Mosaed had to leave Iran after another series of protests in November 2019.

With hundreds of people killed and thousands arrested, the nationwide protests in 2019 were the deadliest since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The exact number of killings still remains unknown due to the strict censorship of the media and cutting off the whole country's internet for 10 days. Those protests also started after fuel went up three times its cost and soon spread all around the country, especially in small cities.

"The current protests are similar to those in 2019 as they are not bound to Tehran that has a bigger middle-class population, but are rather spread all over the country, especially in smaller towns which are economically deprived," Mosaed said.

Iran's state media has repeatedly blamed the West's economic sanctions for the hardship the country faces. They are the sanctions that mainly aim to restrict Iran's nuclear program.

In 2015, Iran committed to restricting its nuclear program in return for the West's commitment to easing the sanctions in a deal with the world powers known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, in May 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled out of the pact, leaving it a matter of renegotiation. Four years later, after rounds of talks, the process of reviving the JCPOA is still stalled due to disagreements among the negotiation parties -- the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China.

However, unlike the Islamic Republic's blame narrative, many believe Western sanctions are not the only reason or even the main reason for the situation.

"The recent crippling situation resulted from having totally incompetent leaders for years, widespread corruption, and then the sanctions," Mosaed said.

After four decades of giving several chances to different parties to lead the country, Mosaed believes that more and more people are coming to the understanding that the incompetency and corruption of the leaders must be the main subject of the protests.

"These people used to form up the main body of the establishment's loyal patrons, and now the former patrons have turned to fierce protestors," he added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ukrainians fighters leave Mariupol, effectively ceding the city to Russian control

Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Ukraine's military has ended its combat mission in the city of Mariupol and hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are being taken by bus to Russian-controlled territory after nearly three months of heavy fighting in the port city. Russia began its attacks on the city in early March.

The Ukrainians and Russians struck a deal to exchange badly injured soldiers from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners of war, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar told a Ukrainian TV station.

Mariupol's mayor confirmed that a cease-fire remains in place in the port city.

The Ukrainian military ordered remaining troops who had been sheltering beneath the Azovstal steel factory to focus on efforts to save the lives of their personnel.

More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated through a humanitarian corridor, some of whom were injured, according to Ukraine's defense minister.

Malyar said that 53 wounded soldiers are being transported from Azovstal to Novoazovsk where they will receive immediate medical attention.

"About Azovstal, we hope that we'll manage to save their lives. There are seriously injured among them. I want to stress that we need our defenders alive. The operation to rescue them was launched by our military. We work on getting them home and this work demands delicacy and time," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address.

Another 211 Ukrainian fighters were accompanied by Russian forces from Azovstal to Olenivka in rebel-held Donetsk, where they will be part of the exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

"As a part of an exchange deal, 50 wounded were evacuated from Azovstal to Novoazovsk. Negotiations are underway for them to be transferred to Zaporozhzhya," another source told ABC News, confirming the exchange.

Russia's state-run TASS reported that Russia's defense ministry confirmed an agreement was reached on Monday to evacuate wounded Ukrainian troops from the plant and transport them to a medical facility in Novoazovsk to "provide them with all the necessary assistance."

The Russian defense ministry on Tuesday said 265 Ukrainian militants have laid down arms and surrendered, including 51 who are seriously wounded. All those in need of medical assistance were sent for treatment to a hospital in Novoazovsk, Donetsk People's Republic.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.







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