March 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

Vladimir Putin
'Hugely significant': CNN reporter reacts to Putin arrest warrant
02:17 - Source: CNN

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We’ve wrapped up our live coverage for the day. You can read more on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine here, or scroll through the updates below.

Analysis: How the ICC's arrest warrant has constricted Putin's world

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s world just got a lot smaller after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him over the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Basking in international focus, Putin used to thumb his nose at the world — or manipulate its leaders — in person, a perk if you will of his stubborn, decades-long grip on power.

His love and use of the global limelight helped him at home too, bolstering his tough-guy, bare-chested, bear-hunting image as protector of Russians, holding back supposed malign machinations of NATO marauding the country’s borders.

But all of that is over.
Most countries on Earth – 123 of them – are parties to the treaty that created the ICC, and they are obligated to extradite him to The Hague to face trial as a war criminal if Putin pitches up on their doorstep.

Putin also faces a dilemma if he shows up in New Delhi for this year’s G20 summit in September. India, like the US and Russia, is not signed up to the ICC, but what will Prime Minister Narendra Modi do?

It leaves ambiguous the type of legal snare Putin could inadvertently find himself in the future. Without careful planning, Putin could find that even in a country unaligned with the ICC — and therefore not beholden to hand him over to The Hague — political pressure or a newfound desire for international justice triggers his arrest.

Putin is unlikely to leave his destiny to the roll of the dice in a foreign court, so his world is smaller even than the ICC holdout nations. So regardless of Kremlin spin, Putin’s ego is dented.

Read more analysis here.

US Republicans push back on criticism over Ukraine aid as 2024 presidential race looms

Former Vice President Mike Pence gives remarks at a conference at the Library of Congress on February 16 in Washington, DC.

Two Republicans floated as potential 2024 US GOP presidential candidates made clear Saturday that they disagree with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is also positioned for a 2024 run — on the issue of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Former Vice President Mike Pence and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu drew a contrast with DeSantis’ comments describing the invasion as a “territorial dispute” that isn’t of “vital” national interest to the US.

At a foreign policy forum with Sen. Joni Ernst in Des Moines, Iowa, Pence reiterated his remarks pushing back on DeSantis’ characterization, saying “the war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute; it is a Russian invasion.”

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post Saturday, Sununu said, “We must stand with our allies around the globe to fight aggressive and dangerous regimes that threaten freedom wherever they are.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at a summit April 7, 2022, in Lexington, Kentucky.

DeSantis has condemned the “Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding” of the conflict.

But Sununu argued the price of abandoning Ukraine would be much higher. 

“There should never be blank checks when it comes to government funding, and all tax dollars must be spent and accounted for wisely. Yet the price the United States is paying in Ukraine today is far less than the price we will face if Putin continues his westward march, threatening the sovereignty and security of NATO,” he wrote. 

Pence and Sununu both also argued that supporting Ukraine sends a clear message to China.

“As we think about our largest and most significant strategic challenge, which is China, the best way to send a message to China about its military ambitions is to see the free world stand strongly for the sovereignty for the people of Ukraine,” Pence said

Sununu warned Chinese President Xi Jinping “is watching,” and said abandoning Ukraine would “send an unmistakable signal to dictators that the United States does not stand with its allies, nor for the expansion of freedom.”

He added that some of his Republican colleagues have “lost their moral compass on foreign policy,” and said “as Republicans, we should support freedom, not abandon it.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson: Russia is open to "serious proposals" for diplomacy from the West and Ukraine

Russia would consider “really serious proposals” from Western nations and Ukraine regarding a possible end to the war, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson.

“We have repeatedly stated that we are open to really serious proposals from the West and Ukraine for a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis, but the language of ultimatums is unacceptable for us,” Maria Zakharova wrote in a Telegram post Saturday.  

Zakharova condemned Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, for not being willing to sit down at the negotiating table. 

Zakharova’s comments followed a tweet from Kuleba on Thursday in which he said he discussed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace formula with Chinese officials:

Zakharova called Zelensky’s peace plan “nothing more than a set of ultimatums and demands from Russia that are disconnected from reality” and claimed the purpose of his proposal is “to achieve the capitulation of Russia with the help of the West.” 

According to Zakharova, an integral part of a sustainable peace plan should include the abolition of sanctions and international recognition of Russia’s declared annexation of Ukrainian territories.

While Ukrainian officials have said they will continue to sound out the possibility of peace negotiations, Zelensky has not entertained the possibility of giving up any Ukrainian land, nor dropping efforts to join NATO and the European Union. 

Zelensky told journalists in February that he will not negotiate with Putin, saying, “It is not the same man. There is nobody to talk to there.”

NATO fighter jets intercept Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace for second time in a week

British and German fighter jets intercepted a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace Friday, according to a statement from the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF).

It was the second such encounter this week, as NATO carries out joint air policing efforts in the region.

The two Typhoon jets intercepted “a Russian military Tu-134 passenger jet, known by the NATO name Crusty, that was being escorted by two Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighter jets, and an AN-12 Cub military transport aircraft,” the RAF said. 

An interception of this kind is not atypical for NATO aircraft, but the joint air policing mission is a first for two NATO allies, the statement said.

The RAF described the operation as reassurance that the UK, Germany and other NATO countries “stand with their Estonian ally at this time of tension.”

“We quickly identified the Russian aircraft and then monitored it as it flew close to NATO airspace,” Richard Leask, an RAF commander, said in the statement. 

Air policing missions help NATO identify any aircraft of interest, “ensure we know who they are” and keep everyone in the airspace safe, Leask continued.

“This is part of being a fighter pilot and is what we and our German colleagues have trained together to be able to do,” the commander said. 

The RAF is deployed in Estonia on Operation Azotize, which is tasked with defending against any aircraft that causes concern in Baltic airspace, the military statement said. The UK will take over leadership from the German detachment in April, and joint missions between the allies will continue to be flown until the end of that month.

The two intercepts involving NATO aircraft this week come after the release of stunning aerial video showing a Russian jet buzzing and then apparently hitting a US drone over the Black Sea. The drone’s downing highlighted the risk of a direct clash between Russian and NATO assets during Moscow’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Ukraine vows to expel Russia from all occupied territories on anniversary of Crimea annexation

Russian soldiers patrol the area surrounding the Ukrainian military unit in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, Crimea, on March 20, 2014.

Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry marked the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea on Saturday, saying the peninsula has been “suffering” under the Kremlin for nine years and calling for Russia to leave all occupied Ukrainian territories.

In 2014, Russia invaded the Black Sea peninsula and completed its annexation within days, holding a referendum that was slammed by Ukraine and most of the world as illegitimate.

“For nine years in a row, the Crimean peninsula has been suffering under the criminal regime of the Kremlin, which has turned it into a military outpost, a zone of unfreedom and harassment, aggression and terror against everything and everyone who has found the courage to resist and defend their democratic rights and values,” according to the Ukrainian statement. 

The ministry also condemned the so-called referendums held last year in the occupied portions of Ukraine’s Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk regions. That process has also been denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as violating international law.

“Both in 2014 and in 2022, the referendum theater has no consequences for the administrative-territorial structure and internationally recognized borders of Ukraine,” the statement said. “The liberation of all other temporarily occupied territories will also happen. It is only a matter of time.”

The ministry thanked Ukraine’s global allies for helping it move toward regaining territory, including in Crimea, and said Ukraine will make every effort to punish Russia and its leadership.

In Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended an event Saturday in the peninsula’s largest city, Sevastopol, to mark the anniversary.

Analysis: Wagner boss' recruitment drive comes as the Moscow establishment tries to ice him out

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the combative boss of Russia’s Wagner private military group, on Saturday announced a push to expand his ranks by 30,000 fighters by mid-May.

The recruitment drive comes at a time when Moscow’s establishment seems content to watch Prigozhin struggle, rather than see his influence in the Kremlin grow.

Wagner placed a bet on its mercenaries raising the Russian flag in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, but its efforts there have come at a considerable cost to the company’s ranks.

Prigozhin spent heavily on recruiting as many as 40,000 prisoners to throw into the fight, but after months of grinding battle and staggering losses, he is struggling to replenish Wagner’s ranks.

The Wagner head accuses Russia’s Defense Ministry of trying to strangle his force, and many analysts think his suspicions are well-founded — that Russia’s military establishment is using the Bakhmut “meat-grinder” to cut him down to size or eliminate him as a political force altogether.

At the weekend, Prigozhin acknowledged that the battle in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting for each meter.”

In another video message, Prigozhin said: “We need the military to shield the approaches (to Bakhmut). If they manage to do so, everything will be okay. If not, then Wagner will be encircled together with the Ukrainians inside Bakhmut.”

Just as Prigozhin most needs the support of regular Russian forces and a reliable flow of munitions, neither appears available.

Wagner has made incremental gains around Bakhmut and now holds the eastern part of the city. But it seems unable to generate enough force to expel Ukrainian forces from the rest of Bakhmut. And its fighters are spread thin as they push northwest and southwest beyond the city.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank assesses that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “is likely seizing the opportunity to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut in an effort to weaken Prigozhin and derail his ambitions for greater influence in the Kremlin.”

Read the full analysis here.

Turkish President Erdogan announces extension of Ukraine Black Sea grain deal 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a press conference on March 17.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an extension of the Black Sea grain deal Saturday, but he did not specify a new expiration date.

The deal, which was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July to guarantee safe passage for ships carrying vital grain exports from Ukraine, had been set to expire today.

“As a result of our negotiations with both parties, we extended the agreement period,” Erdogan said at an event in Turkey’s Çanakkale province.

“This agreement, which has provided the shipment of 25 million tons of grain to the world markets with more than 800 ships to date, is of vital importance for the stability of the global food supply,” Erdogan added. “I would like to thank the Russian and Ukrainian parties and the UN secretary general for their efforts to extend the agreement once again.”

The United Nations praised the extension in a statement.

“We remain strongly committed to both agreements and we urge all sides to redouble their efforts to implement them fully,” said Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesperson for the UN secretary-general.

Some context: The agreement comes after Russia said Monday it had agreed to a 60-day extension of the deal, while the UN emphasized on Thursday that the deal stated it would be extended for 120 days — not 60.

Why the grain deal is important: Ukraine and Russia are both significant suppliers of food to the world. Ukraine – known as one of the globe’s breadbaskets — normally supplies about 45 million metric tons of grain to the global market every year and is the world’s top exporter of sunflower oil. Together with Russia, it accounted for about one-quarter of global wheat exports in 2019.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the price of food was already at its highest level in a decade due to scrambled supply chains from the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather events.

In 2022, the number of people grappling with acute food insecurity — meaning their access to food was so restricted that it threatened their lives and livelihoods — shot up to 345 million from 135 million in 2019.

CNN’s Julia Horowitz contributed reporting to this post.

Senior Ukrainian and US officials discuss military aid in call

Top officials from Kyiv and Washington held a video conference to discuss the “urgent needs” of the Ukrainian military and the current situation on the battlefield, according to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley were all on the call, which was held on Saturday local time, Yermak said in a Telegram post.

They were joined by their Ukrainian counterparts, including Yermak, Armed Forces Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and other senior military commanders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also joined at the end of the conversation, Yermak said.

“We briefed our allies in detail on the current situation at the front, the battles in the most difficult areas, and the urgent needs of the Ukrainian army,” the Ukrainian official wrote.

Ukraine stressed the need for more equipment, weapons, ammunition and other aid for the battlefield, Yermak said. 

Zelensky imposes sanctions on hundreds, including Syrian President Assad

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree Saturday to sanction hundreds of individuals, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Ukrainian government statement.

The decree, which approved a proposal by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, imposes sanctions primarily on Russian citizens and legal entities. But the list also includes other prominent names such as Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal аl-Mekdad and Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of Iran Mohammad Bagheri.

The statement added that the sanctions — which order a halt on trading operations and restrict or completely ban shipping resources, flying or otherwise traveling through Ukraine — will be imposed for 10 years. 

This week, Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in his first visit to Russia since the Ukraine invasion, he said.

Assad —who was able to remain in power because of Russia’s longstanding military support — reiterated his loyalty to Putin and his support for the war in Ukraine on Wednesday. 

CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi contributed reporting to this post.

Putin arrives in Crimea for 9-year anniversary of declared annexation

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Crimea’s largest city, Sevastopol, Saturday for the nine-year anniversary of Russia’s declared annexation of the peninsula. 

In Crimea, Putin is expected to participate in the opening of a cultural-historical monument, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. 

About Crimea: In 2014, thousands of Russian-speaking troops — dubbed “little green men” and later acknowledged by Moscow to be Russian soldiers — poured into the Crimean peninsula. Within days, Russia completed its annexation in a referendum that was slammed by Ukraine and most of the world as illegitimate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to retake Crimea from Russia.

“It is not an intention, it is our land. Crimea is our sea and our mountains. Give us your weapons and we will regain (what is) ours,” Zelensky said in January when asked during a panel at the Davos forum if he intends to retake Crimea. 

Russia has blamed Ukraine for attacks in Crimea during the past year. A huge blast that damaged part of the bridge connecting the peninsula to Russia spurred heavy Russian strikes on Ukraine in October 2022.

Turkey will make efforts to further extend Black Sea grain deal, foreign minister pledges

Ships, including those carrying grain from Ukraine and awaiting inspections, are seen anchored off the Istanbul coastline November 2, 2022.

Turkey will work to further extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which guarantees safe passage for ships carrying vital grain exports from Ukraine, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Saturday.

The deal is due to expire today, though an extension struck this week will allow shipments to continue for at least 60 days.

“Russia said it could be extended for a period of two months. … After this two-month period, we will continue our efforts to maintain the agreement,” Çavuşoğlu said during a news conference in Cairo. 

Russia on Monday said it had agreed to a 60-day extension of the deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov describing the move as a “goodwill gesture.” 

But on Thursday, the UN emphasized that the deal states it would be extended for 120 days rather than 60. “The agreement is public, it’s an open document. It foresees a rollover of 120 days,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said. 

Wagner chief announces plans to recruit 30,000 fighters by mid-May

egeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner private military group, announced Saturday that he plans to recruit about 30,000 new fighters by mid-May.

Prigozhin also claimed Wagner recruits about 500 to 800 people on average each day — and sometimes up to 1,200 per day.

“It is possible that this number of recruits may decrease after some time; however, by the middle of May, we plan that the number of fighters of the unit will increase by approximately 30,000,” Prigozhin said in an audio message published on Telegram

Last week, Prigozhin said Wagner had opened recruitment efforts in 42 cities in Russia. 

Wagner has focused its attention on recruiting mercenaries from sports clubs, boxing gyms and other gyms, as well as men who have previously completed six-month contracts and could be rehired. Wagner has also recruited a small number of foreign fighters.

CNN previously reported that Wagner said it stopped recruiting from prisons in January. The prison recruitment campaign was well-publicized and widespread, netting as many as 40,000 fighters for Wagner last year. 

But many of the private military group’s recruits are believed to have been killed or wounded in heavy fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut. 

Analysis: Putin hopes to attain weapons in meeting with Chinese leader — he may find that's wishful thinking

Russian President Vladimir Putin with China's leader Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting in Brazil in 2019.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited his international “best friend,” China’s leader Xi Jinping, to Moscow for a three-day state visit beginning Monday.

There’s sure to be plenty of glad-handing, champagne toasts, a major press conference and – behind closed doors – serious discussion.

For Xi, it’s a high-profile trip: his first state visit to any country since being appointed to an unprecedented third term in office. Kremlin officials say the two leaders will be signing “important documents” that will “deepen relations” and solidify economic cooperation. But for both men, this trip is much more than just another chapter in what they both describe as a “no limits” friendship.

For Putin, it’s a welcome show of support from his biggest ally after a year of military failure to attain his so-called goal of “de-Nazifying and de-militarizing” Ukraine. Putin’s army is burning through military hardware, ammunition – and men.

He has reached out to North Korea and Iran for weapons and drones, but getting more weapons, ammunition and perhaps drones from China would be a major victory for the Russian president.

However, that could be a hard sell.

Read the full analysis piece here.

Putin signs laws against "discrediting" volunteers and mercenaries fighting in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed laws that prohibit “discrediting” and spreading “fake news” about volunteers and mercenaries participating in the war in Ukraine.

Putin signed a law amending the criminal code about spreading “fakes” in relation to the Russian armed forces, extending it to also apply to volunteers and mercenaries, with the maximum punishment up to 15 years in prison.

Putin also signed a law that prohibits discrediting participants in the so-called “special operation” — Russia’s euphemism for the full-scale invasion — including volunteers, according to the decree published on the country’s official portal of legal information.

Violations of that law carry a punishment of up to seven years in prison.

The new law comes as Wagner fighters have become the disposable infantry of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

More about Wagner: The private military contractor is run by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been highly visible on the front lines in recent weeks – and quick to claim credit for Russian advances. Wagner fighters have been heavily involved in taking the town of Soledar, which is a few miles northeast of Bakhmut, and areas around it.

At the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine last year, Russian authorities restricted access to news publications, including BBC Russia, Radio Liberty and Latvia-based Meduza.

The media outlets were added to a list of publications “containing appeals for mass riots, and participation in illegal mass rallies,” according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

Analysis: NATO allies are unlikely to send more advanced jets to Ukraine – here's why

A MiG-29 Ukrainian fighter jet is seen flying over eastern Ukraine on January 1.

In one of the most significant escalations of military support to Ukraine from a NATO member since the Russian invasion, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday became the first leader from the security alliance to pledge fighter jets to Kyiv.

Duda announced that four MiG-29 fighters will be handed over to Ukraine in the coming days – the rest, he said, are being serviced and will likely be handed over successively.

The US has so far resisted calls to provide F-16s to Ukraine on the grounds of avoiding escalation with Russia, as well as impracticality.

The desire to avoid a cataclysmic spill-over of the conflict was front of mind this week after the downing of a $32 million US Reaper drone over the Black Sea by a Russian jet – the first time Russian and American aircraft have come into direct contact since the war began. The potentially incendiary incident was seized on by Russia as proof of direct American involvement in the conflict.

Still, the shift from resistance to delivery has happened before; the US came around to supplying Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks after Germany reversed their own policy on Leopard II tanks.

But the impracticality argument is not a mere political fig leaf. The Ukrainian Air Force already operates MiG jets so they will be able to use them as soon as they arrive, whereas it would take months to train a MiG-29 pilot to a high level of comfort and efficacy on an F-16. Not to mention that Ukrainian pilots are in short supply.

Read the full analysis piece here.

ICC chief prosecutor tells CNN Putin could stand trial despite Russian dismissal

h International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor told CNN he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin could stand trial for alleged crimes committed during Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s arguments that it is not subject to the court’s decisions.

He was speaking after the ICC issued its arrest warrant for Putin for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

Russia is among several leading nations not to have signed the treaty that brought the court into existence. Given this, it is highly unlikely Putin would be handed over to the court’s jurisdiction.

But in an interview with CNN’s Clarissa Ward, Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan pointed to historic trials of Nazi war criminals, former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević, and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, as examples of seemingly untouchable figures who faced justice.

“All of them were mighty, powerful individuals and yet they found themselves in courtrooms,” he said.

The move has already made history by making Putin the first head of state of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to be issued with an arrest warrant, Khan pointed out.

Biden says the ICC's war crimes case against Putin is justified

The exterior of the International Criminal Court is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday.

US President Joe Biden has welcomed the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US leader acknowledged the court’s authority is not recognized by Russia or the US, “but I think it makes a very strong point,” he said. 

Putin has “clearly committed war crimes,” Biden added.

The White House said it welcomed accountability for perpetrators of war crimes but stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of the ICC’s arrest warrant when it issued an initial statement earlier Friday.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby declined to say whether Biden would tell law enforcement to arrest Putin if he came to the US. Putin traveling to the country in the first place is “very, very unlikely,” Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper. 

If you are just joining us, here's what you need to know about the ICC's case against Putin

Welcome to our coverage of the conflict in Ukraine. If you are just joining us, here is a recap of our main news –  the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • The ICC accuses Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova of allegedly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia – a practice the Russian government has defended as saving them while denying that the deportations are forced.
  • The Kremlin on Friday rejected the arrest warrants as “unacceptable,” arguing that it is not subject to the ICC’s decisions.
  • Putin is unlikely to appear before the court as the ICC does not conduct trials in absentia. Russian officials charged would either have to be handed over by Moscow or arrested outside of Russia.
  • But speaking to CNN, Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said it could still happen, pointing to the trials of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević, and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.
  • Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, dismissed the ICC’s arrest warrant against her on Friday, saying it was “great” that the international community recognized her work removing children from war zones, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
  • US President Joe Biden welcomed the move, saying Putin “clearly committed war crimes.”

US will keep helping Ukraine document war crimes, White House official says

A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on April 6, 2022, in Bucha, Ukraine.

The White House says it “remains to be seen” whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will ultimately face justice for alleged war crimes after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest Friday, but the US will continue to help Ukraine document Moscow’s misdeeds.

“We’re going to stay committed to helping Ukraine as they document and analyze and preserve the kinds of evidence of the war crimes, the atrocities, the crimes against humanity that have occurred inside Ukraine at the hands of Russian forces,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday.

The United States does not recognize the ICC, but Kirby said the US is “not going to back off our belief that accountability for these war crimes has got to be had, however long that takes.”

Kirby said the US wants to see “any perpetrators of war crimes held to account,” but he declined to say if US President Joe Biden would tell law enforcement to arrest Putin if he came to the US. He said it was “very, very unlikely” the Russian leader would travel to the United States.

Asked if the US would ask other countries like Israel or India – who also do not recognize the ICC – to arrest the Russian leader, Kirby said it would “have to be sovereign decisions those leaders make.”

Remember: Russia also does not recognize the ICC, and the court does not conduct trials in absentia, so Putin would either have to be turned over by Moscow or arrested in a foreign country for him to face charges from the court.

Moscow’s ties to Beijing: Tapper also asked Kirby if there was any intelligence indicating China has decided to give Russia weapons to help with the country’s assault on Ukraine.

“We don’t believe that they’ve taken it off the table still, but we also don’t see any indication, any confirmation, that they’re moving in that direction or that … they have sent lethal weapons,” Kirby said.
“We don’t think it’s in their interest. It shouldn’t be in anybody’s interest, quite frankly, to help Mr. Putin continue to slaughter innocent Ukrainians,” he added.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will fly to Moscow next week to meet with Putin in his first visit to Russia since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The visit will be seen as a powerful show of Beijing’s support for Moscow in Western capitals, where leaders have grown increasingly wary of the two nations’ deepening partnership as war rages in Europe.

CNN’s Nectar Gan and Anna Chernova contributed to this report.

Read more:

The Russian official at center of alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia
Opinion: Why the US is beating Russia in the Black Sea without firing a shot
China’s Xi to meet Putin next week in first visit to Russia since invasion of Ukraine
ICC issues war crimes arrest warrant for Putin for alleged deportation of Ukrainian children
Opinion: Why Xi may finally be ready to talk to Zelensky

Read more:

The Russian official at center of alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia
Opinion: Why the US is beating Russia in the Black Sea without firing a shot
China’s Xi to meet Putin next week in first visit to Russia since invasion of Ukraine
ICC issues war crimes arrest warrant for Putin for alleged deportation of Ukrainian children
Opinion: Why Xi may finally be ready to talk to Zelensky