Russia shells eastern front as Putin says West ‘exploiting’ crisis

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Russian forces shelled the entire front line in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, officials in Kyiv said on Friday, as Russia s President Vladimir Putin accused the West of using Ukrainians as “cannon fodder” in its quest for global dominance.

Putin also said, without elaborating, that Russia would probably have to do a deal over Ukraine some day, while accusing France and Germany of betrayal over past efforts to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

In a sign of Russia s clampdown on public dissent since it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, a Moscow court sentenced opposition politician Ilya Yashin to eight and a half years in prison on charges of spreading “false information” about the army.

Yashin had discussed in a YouTube video evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Moscow denies committing war crimes. In a post on his Telegram channel, Yashin urged supporters to continue opposing the war.

In Ukraine, the fiercest fighting was near the eastern towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, Donetsk region s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a television interview. Five civilians were killed and two wounded in Ukrainian-controlled parts of Donetsk over the previous day, he said early on Friday.

“The entire front line is being shelled,” he said, adding that Russian troops were also trying to advance near Lyman, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November, one of a number of battlefield setbacks suffered by Russia in the past few months

Meanwhile, Moscow on Thursday freed U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner in return for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

A plane carrying Griner landed in the United States early on Friday, nearly 10 months after she was detained in Russia on drug charges, while television images showed Bout being hugged by his mother and wife after landing in Moscow.

The Kremlin said the prisoner swap should not be seen as a step towards improving bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington, while the White House said it would not change its commitment to the people of Ukraine.

Separately, Russian and U.S. diplomats met in Istanbul on Friday to discuss a number of technical issues in their vexed relationship, both sides confirmed, though the Ukraine war was not part of their talks.—Agencies