Belarus' leader's Iran visit an extension of "deepening relationship" between Moscow and Tehran, US says
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Christian Sierra
The visit by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to Iran is “in some ways, an extension of the deepening relationship between Iran and Russia,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
“It's something we're watching very closely. These are two birds of a feather and oftentimes they do flock together,” Price said at a State Department briefing.
Belarus’ leader, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, met in Tehran on Monday withPresident Ebrahim Raisi, according to Belarusian state media, and the two “signed a roadmap for comprehensive cooperation between the countries for 2023-2026.”
3:03 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
US is encouraging Chinese president to speak with Ukraine's Zelensky, White House says
From CNN's Nikki Carvajal
The US has been encouraging Chinese President Xi Jinping to speak directly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House said Monday, amid reports the Chinese leader would hold a call with Zelensky.
“We have been encouraging President Xi to reach out to President Zelensky because we believe that PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this,” National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One. “We have, in fact, advocated to Beijing that that connection take place.”
He said the US had encouraged that conversation “publicly” as well as “privately to the PRC.”
Sullivan added that American officials have “spoken with our Ukrainian counterparts today,” and that Ukrainians had not officially gotten confirmation there would be a phone call or a video conference with Xi.
“We hope there will be. That would be a good thing because it would potentially bring more balance and perspective to the way that the PRC is approaching this, and we hope it would continue to dissuade them from choosing to provide legal assistance to Russia,” Sullivan added.
3:37 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
International Criminal Court will open war crimes cases against Russia over Ukraine invasion, media reports
From CNN's Zahid Mahmood and Sugam Pokharel in London
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is planning to open two war crimes cases related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and issue arrest warrants against “several people,” according to the New York Times (NYT) and Reuters, citing current and former officials with knowledge of the decision who were not authorized to speak publicly.
According to the NYT, the cases would represent the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia’s war and come after months of work by special ICC investigation teams.
The first case the ICC is set to open is about Russia’s alleged abduction of Ukrainian children. The second is on Russia’s “unrelentingly” targeting civilian infrastructure, including water supplies and gas tanks, according to the NYT.
ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s first step is to present his charges to a panel of pretrial judges, who will decide whether legal standards have been met for issuing arrest warrants or whether investigators need more evidence, the NYT reported.
In a response to a request from CNN on the NYT’s reporting, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said that they “provide no comment on this report.”
The ICC chief visited Ukraine last month to probe Russia's attacks on power and other infrastructure.
Khan told reporters during the visit that “we see clearly a pattern, I think, in terms of the number, scale and breadth of attacks against the power grids of Ukraine. And we need to look at why that's taking place; are they legitimate targets or not; and whether or not they are targeted for other reasons."
“There seems to be a lot of damage in Ukraine, and it may well be it is part of a policy and part of a plan and we need to get to the bottom of it and see whether or not there is criminal responsibility and if there is we have an International Criminal Court that has jurisdiction to look into it,” he added.
When asked whether the court’s process may be too slow to meet the expectations of the Ukrainians, the top prosecutor said: "What people want are not Pyrrhic victories.”
"As a prosecutor we are officers of the court. We are not here to get a round of applause by a conjuring trick. Whenever we do move, (people) should have confidence that this is not a political process,” he continued.
More background: Earlier this month, CNN reported on 15-year-old Arina Yatsiuk, one of 345 Ukrainian children who disappeared since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, according to official Ukrainian statistics.
The Ukrainian government says many of the missing children have been forcibly taken to Russia. The Russian government doesn’t deny taking Ukrainian children and has made their adoption by Russian families a centerpiece of propaganda.
One senior Ukrainian official told CNN on Monday that they have been pushing the ICC for some time to seek arrest warrants against Russian individuals in relation to the war in Ukraine.
“Ukraine has been pushing for Russian officials involved in war crimes to be prosecuted by the ICC, up to and including (Russian President Vladimir) Putin who is ultimately responsible,” the official said.
3:11 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Fighting is relentless around Bakhmut. Here's what else you need to know
From CNN Staff
The fighting around Bakhmut is relentless with Ukrainian troops clearing Russian trenches in close-quarters combat, according to the Ukrainian military.
Wagner assault units are sustaining "significant losses" as the Russian mercenary group advances from several directions around the besieged eastern city, a top Ukrainian military commander said.
Russia and UN agree to an extension of grain deal: Russia and the United Nations have agreed to a 60-day extension of the Ukraine grain deal after negotiations in Geneva, Russian state news agency RIA reported on Monday.
Why are grain exports so important? Ukraine and Russia are both significant suppliers of food to the world. Before the war, Ukraine – known as one of the globe’s breadbaskets – would export around three-quarters of the grain it produced. According to data from the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The war and its impact on grain exports, therefore, has major implications, particularly in the global South which relies heavily on them.
International Criminal Court to open war crimes cases over invasion, reports say: The International Criminal Court is planning to open two war crimes cases tied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and issue arrest warrants against “several people,” according to the New York Times and Reuters, citing current and former officials with knowledge of the decision who were not authorized to speak publicly. The cases would represent the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia’s war and come after months of work by special ICC investigation teams, the Times said.
War "far too fluid" to include additional funding in 2024 budget, Pentagon says: The Pentagon’s $842 billion 2024 budget request does not include additional funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia due to the unpredictability of the conflict’s longevity, officials said. A senior defense official told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2024 budget request has $300 million for Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative “that has always been in the budget,” but otherwise doesn't include any other funding.
Pentagon budget request does include additional munitions funding: While the Pentagon’s budget request may not include additional funding specifically for Ukraine, it does include an almost $6 billion increase in munitions funding which is “sort of informed and pressurized on the ground side by the Ukraine fight and the things that we’ve been giving to Ukraine,” the official said.
White House: US encouraging Chinese president to speak with Zelensky: The US has been encouraging President Xi Jinping to speak directly with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House said Monday, amid reports the Chinese leader would hold a call with the Ukrainian leader. “We believe that PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this,” National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
EU extends sanctions against Russia: The European Union Council on Monday announced it had extended sanctions placed on Russia for a further six months. The current sanctions apply to 1,473 individuals and 205 entities, and include travel restrictions, the freezing of assets, and a ban on making funds or other economic resources available to the listed individuals and entities, it added.
Ukrainian official says Wagner is stepping up recruitment effort in Russian-occupied city: The mayor of the Moscow-occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine said that Russia's Wagner private military company has unsuccessfully tried to recruit from among the city's population despite stepping up efforts.
1:48 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Russia remains the "most acute threat" to UK’s security, British government says in review
From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London
Russia continues to be the “most acute threat” to the UK’s security, Britain’s government said in a review of its security approach published on Monday.
The report, called the “Integrated Review Refresh 2023,” announced an expansion in defense investment by 5 billion pounds (around $6 billion) over the next two years.
“What has changed is that our collective security now is intrinsically linked to the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine,” the review – which is an update on one published in 2021 – said.
In the long term, the UK would aim to increase its “baseline commitment of spending” on defense from 2% of GDP to 2.5%, the review said.
It said that China “poses an epoch-defining challenge to the type of international order we want to see,” and identified China’s “deepening partnership with Russia and Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran” as two developments of “particular concern.”
Regarding Russia, the review said that the UK’s objective would be “to contain and challenge Russia’s ability and intent to disrupt the security of the UK, the Euro-Atlantic and the wider international order.”
On China, the report announced a doubling of funding “to build China capabilities across government to better understand China and allow us to engage confidently where it is in our interests to do so.”
In response to the increase in defense spending, Tobias Ellwood, chair of the UK's Defense Select Committee, told Sky News on Monday that Russia and China “would be breathing a sigh of relief that we have not invested further in our armed forces at this time.”
Speaking to UK parliament about the report, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that "on every continent of the world, the United Kingdom walks taller today than it has done for many years.”
3:10 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Russia and UN agree to 60-day extension of grain deal, Russian state news agency says
From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Josh Pennington and Kateryna Krebs
Russia and the United Nations have agreed to a 60-day extension of the Ukraine grain deal after negotiations in Geneva, Russian state news agency RIA reported on Monday.
"Our Russian interdepartmental delegation has just completed another round of talks with UN representatives led by UNCTAD Secretary General R. Greenspan and OCHA head M. Griffiths,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said at a briefing on Monday, according to RIA.
The diplomat added Moscow had agreed to extend the current grain deal, which lasts until March 18, for an additional 60 days.
"But just for 60 days,” Vershinin said. “Any further grain policy will depend on actual —based on not what's said but what's done — progress on the normalization of our agricultural exports, including bank payments, transport logistics, insurance, unfreezing of financial activities and the continuation of ammonia supply through the Tolyatti-Odessa pipeline.”
Why are grain exports so important? Ukraine and Russia are both significant suppliers of food to the world. Before the war, Ukraine – known as one of the globe’s breadbaskets – would export around three-quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped by sea, from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The war and its impact on grain exports therefore has major implications, particularly in the global South which relies heavily on them.
CNN's Rob Picheta, Jomana Karadsheh, Radina Gigova and Tim Lister contributed to this post.
12:37 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
US State Department official: Russia and China have "clearly" aligned on propaganda about the war in Ukraine
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
Russia and China have “clearly” aligned themselves on propaganda and disinformation regarding the war in Ukraine, and the United States and the West have not invested enough over the years in countering such disinformation, a senior State Department official said Monday.
“The United States as a country, the West as a society, has been slow to accept and realize the extent to which China and Russia have made operations in the information space part and parcel of their national objectives,” the official told reporters.
The official said that China and Russia “have spent tens of billions of dollars” on disinformation over the years, and “we, I believe, are just coming to grips as a country and as a society.”
“I think it's been talked about, but I don't think that we have yet put the resources and energy behind it that we should. And that doesn't mean that people haven't tried,” the official said, adding that it's only in "recent years that we've all come to see the dark side of the communications revolutions in digital technology.”
“Meanwhile, the Russians and the Chinese in particular have been working that dark side,” the official said.
The US official noted that the war in Ukraine has helped awaken the West to the issue, saying, “when democracies are aroused, as they have been from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the democracies have shown their power this last year.”
“The autocracies are weaker as a result of the last year. So I believe that when aroused that we will succeed, but we have not been sufficiently aroused,” the official said.
They described Moscow and Beijing as having “an echo chamber” and “a feedback loop” of spreading the false narratives about the war, and said, “they try to get more and more attention by sharing narratives.”
The official suggested these disinformation efforts were de facto state-sponsored, because “in Russia and China, we generally believe that the major media operations are well aligned by their governments.”
The official added that the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with countering foreign disinformation, put out a report several years ago that found the Russian government “operates disinformation at the highest levels of government” and the “Chinese propaganda system is operated at the highest levels of government.”
The official said that the head of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) at the State Department would be traveling to Eastern Europe “where there are operations that repeat and promulgate Russian disinformation,” and will engage with governments there on how to “shut it down or mitigate it or limit it,” instead of “waiting for these people to repeat it and promulgate it.”
12:04 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Pentagon says Ukraine war "far too fluid" to include additional funding in 2024 budget
From CNN's Haley Britzky
The Pentagon’s $842 billion 2024 budget request does not include additional funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia due to the unpredictability of the conflict’s longevity, officials said as they briefed on the details of the request.
A senior defense official told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2024 budget request has $300 million for Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative “that has always been in the budget,” but otherwise there is “not other Ukraine funding in here.”
“If that is still an ongoing issue in , we would expect to handle that by contingencies, contingency or supplemental funding, which is the way that every emergent operation has been handled for about 50 consecutive years in this government,” the official said. “So no different here. It is far too fluid for us to be putting anything now projecting into 24 what the situation might be.”
The official emphasized that the absence of additional funding “in no way shape or form means that it is not important to us.”
Some more context: Since Russia’s invasion more than a year ago, the US has given roughly $30 billion in assistance to Ukraine. The White House’s budget, released last week, included $6 billion from the Pentagon and State Department for Ukraine and other European allies.
While the Pentagon’s budget request may not include additional funding specifically for Ukraine, it does include an almost $6 billion increase in munitions funding which is “sort of informed and pressurized on the ground side by the Ukraine fight and the things that we’ve been giving to Ukraine,” according to the official. It also invests almost $5 billion to “adapt capabilities to the evolving threat” in Europe.
But the official specified that in the new budget request, the focus is on weapons “more for the broader strategy for a higher-end fight.”
“They’re not ground munitions,” the official said. “You’ll see Naval strike missile, standard missile, AMRAAM, things like that.”
Indeed, the items falling under the multi-year contract requests are the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER).
Asked why the Pentagon wasn’t able to get the same kind of contracts for things like the Patriot missile system and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLR) — which are in high demand in Ukraine — the official said it’s “harder than it looks” to get a multi-year contract.
The munitions request within the massive budget include $5.6 billion for ammunition, $17.3 billion for tactical missiles, $7.3 billion for strategic missiles, and $0.6 billion for technology development. It also includes over $1 billion for the munitions industrial base in an effort to “modernize and expand capacity.”
The budget request, released Monday, prioritizes China as the US’ “preeminent pacing challenge,” and allocates just over $9 billion to Pacific deterrence, investing in “new missile warning” and construction, as well as training and information sharing with other partners in the region.
11:22 a.m. ET, March 13, 2023
EU extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine war for another 6 months
From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London
The European Union Council on Monday announced it had extended sanctions placed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine for a further six months.
The sanctions, which will remain in effect until September 15, 2023, target “those responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the council said in a statement.
The current sanctions apply to 1,473 individuals and 205 entities, and include travel restrictions, the freezing of assets, and a ban on making funds or other economic resources available to the listed individuals and entities, it added.
“In the European Council conclusions of 9 February 2023, the EU reiterated its resolute condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which constitutes a blatant violation of the UN Charter, and has brought immense suffering and destruction upon Ukraine and its people,” the council said.
“Russia must stop its atrocious war immediately,” it added.