March 21, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Alisha Ebrahimji, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, March 22, 2023
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11:51 p.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Biden wants to have another conversation with Xi Jinping, White House official says

US President Joe Biden, right, and China's President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali on November 14, 2022.
US President Joe Biden, right, and China's President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali on November 14, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/File)

US President Joe Biden is interested in talking again with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, according to John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communications coordinator.

Xi is currently in Moscow on a three-day visit hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nothing has been scheduled between the US and Chinese leaders yet, Kirby said. US officials want to make sure “it's at the appropriate time,” he added.

"It's important that we keep those lines of communication open, particularly now, when tensions are so high," he said.

Biden met with Xi for three hours in November on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali. It was their first in-person encounter since Biden took office. At the time, the president told reporters he was “open and candid” with Xi about the range of matters where Beijing and Washington disagree.

Kirby also said the US wants to reschedule Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Beijing. It was postponed in February in response to the flying of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

Blinken intends to travel to China "at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow," a State Department official said last month, though the official did not elaborate on what conditions the US is watching for.

Kirby also said the US is having "active discussions" with China about Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo visiting the country.

8:39 p.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Wagner chief claims his forces control 70% of Bakhmut as Ukraine says Russian mercenaries face heavy losses

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

A view of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is seen on March 15.
A view of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is seen on March 15. (Roman Chop/AP)

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Monday in an open letter to the Russian defense minister that his forces control around 70% of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

A months-long battle is raging in the city and earlier this month, Prigozhin acknowledged that the situation in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting each other for each meter.”

"At the moment, Wagner units control around 70% of the city of Bakhmut and are continuing operations to complete the liberation of the city," Prigozin wrote Monday in the letter published on Telegram. 

Prigozhin asked Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to take measures to prevent a potential upcoming offensive by Ukrainian troops in late March or early April, which the Wagner boss said would cut off his forces from Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. 

What Ukraine is saying: Prigozhin's comments come after Ukraine's military on Saturday claimed Wagner mercenaries have suffered “colossal losses” in the battle for Bahkmut and have had to seek reinforcements from Russian paratroopers.

“According to what we see Bakhmut will be the last battlefield for the infamous military actions of PMC Wagner because of this extensive offensive, where they ‘throw in’ all of their mercenaries and then the ex-prisoners,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said on national television. “Now we see that they are reinforced by units of the regular army. First of all, the airborne troops.” 

CNN is unable to independently verify Prigozhin's claims or Ukrainian claims of Russian casualties.

Meanwhile, Prigozhin announced on Saturday that he plans to recruit about 30,000 new fighters by mid-May, according to a voice message published on Telegram.

8:34 p.m. ET, March 20, 2023

18 European countries agree to jointly procure ammunition to aid Ukraine

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Seventeen EU member states and Norway have agreed to jointly procure ammunition to “aid Ukraine and replenish national stockpiles,” the European Defence Agency (EDA) said in a news release on Monday.

Earlier Monday, Estonia’s Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said that following a meeting in Brussels, European Union member states had agreed on the joint procurement of 1 million rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition for Ukraine.

“The project opens the way for EU Member States and Norway to proceed along two paths: a two-year, fast-track procedure for 155mm artillery rounds and a seven-year project to acquire multiple ammunition types,” the European Defence Agency said.

The 18 nations are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and Norway.

The EDA said this project “sends a clear message to industry and strengthens the EU’s support for Ukraine following Russia’s war of aggression,” adding that more countries have expressed intent to join the initiative.