March 28, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023
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12:44 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Ukraine says it repelled 24 Russian attacks over the last day as heaviest combat unfolds in eastern regions

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

The Ukrainian military said in an update Tuesday that the heaviest combat is concentrated in several zones in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – and that its units have repelled the latest efforts by Russian forces to advance.

The General Staff said “the towns of Bilohorivka, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Mariinka and their outskirts remain at the epicenter of the fighting" and that Ukrainian Defense Forces "repelled 24 enemy attacks in the above areas over the last day."

“In the Bakhmut sector, the enemy continues to assault the city of Bakhmut. However, our defenders are bravely holding the city and repelling numerous enemy attacks," it said.

Russian forces control access to both Bakhmut and Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine on three sides. They have made marginal gains in recent weeks but have been unable to encircle Ukrainian troops in either place. Most of the eastern front lines have changed little in the first three months of the year.

Away from the Donbas area, the General Staff said that a missile strike on the town of Bohodukhiv in Kharkiv region had injured civilians and damaged houses.

What Ukraine says is happening in other areas: The military said Russian forces had continued to fire across the border at settlements in the northern Sumy region, as well as at towns and villages in the Kharkiv region. 

The General Staff also said that Russian forces – while on the defensive on the southern Zaporizhzhia front – had fired at a number of settlements. 

It said that the Ukrainian air force had carried out “five strikes on the areas of concentration of occupiers' personnel and military equipment over the day. Missile and artillery units hit a command post, an area where enemy manpower, weapons and military equipment were concentrated, and an ammunition depot.”

4:17 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Ukraine's government will receive a second installment of budget aid from the US, prime minister says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal attends a news conference, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2023.
Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal attends a news conference, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2023. (Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the government will receive an additional $2.5 billion from the United States as a grant to help with state services such as salaries and benefits.

The budgetary support is part of a US pledge of $9.9 billion to assist the Ukrainian economy in 2023 and is separate from military assistance. 

Shmyhal said the funds would come through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association.

He said the aid would be used “to pay salaries to our rescuers, teachers, doctors, to help pensioners, internally displaced persons, people with disabilities and low-income families.”

More on US aid to Ukraine: The US disbursement is part of a broad international program of support for the Ukrainian economy. Shmyhal noted that since the beginning of the year, Ukraine had obtained almost $5 billion in support from the EU and more than $2 billion from the United States. There is also a new package of assistance agreed with the IMF of $15.6 billion.

"We received financial assistance from Great Britain, the World Bank, Germany, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Iceland, and Estonia. Norway has extended the program of payments for 50,000 Ukrainians who are facing difficult living conditions and have suffered from Russian aggression," Shmyhal said.

In February, the United States began disbursing $9.9 billion in direct budget support to the government of Ukraine. The grant announced Tuesday is the second installment. Last year, the US provided $13 billion in budget support.

Ukraine has forecast a budget deficit of $36 billion in 2023, with almost all government revenue being devoted to the war effort.

4:17 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

International Olympic Committee recommends banning those who support Russia's war in Ukraine from competing

From CNN's Jillian Martin

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, center, speaks during an IOC executive board meeting where the issue of Russian athletes will be discussed, in Lausanne, on March 28, 2023.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, center, speaks during an IOC executive board meeting where the issue of Russian athletes will be discussed, in Lausanne, on March 28, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) executive board on Tuesday issued a recommendation to international federations and international sports event organizers that athletes “who actively support the war cannot compete.”

The IOC executive board issued the following six points in its recommendation today, including that athletes with a Russian or a Belarusian passport "must compete only as Individual Neutral Athletes" and "teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport cannot be considered."

The recommendation also says that "sanctions against those responsible for the war, the Russian and Belarusian states and governments, must remain in place."

IOC President Thomas Bach had said the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in 2024 Olympics was "not considered" during the Tuesday meeting.

Earlier on Tuesday, Bach had defended plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions.

The IOC’s executive board will also be meeting Wednesday and Thursday.

More than 300 active and former fencers wrote the IOC Tuesday urging the organization to uphold sanctions against Russian and Belarusian athletes, saying that allowing them entry back into international competitions would be “a catastrophic error."

More on the IOC's stance: In February 2022, the IOC executive board recommended that International Sports Federations and sports event organizers "not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions.”

But in January 2023, the IOC outlined a multi-step plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at the upcoming 2024 Summer Games in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Milan, which was met by criticism from the United States, Canada and several European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been competing as neutrals in some international competitions.

CNN's Sammy Mncwabe contributed reporting to this post.

11:46 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023

US says it will not share data under key nuclear arms control agreement after Russia says it won't

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood

Russia will not provide the United States with data on its nuclear forces that is shared semi-annually under a key nuclear arms control treaty, and in response, the US will not do so either, a top Pentagon official and a National Security Council spokesperson said Tuesday.  

Moscow’s move not to provide the information comes after President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the New START Treaty, the only bilateral agreement left between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. The US has strongly condemned Russia’s suspension, which the NSC spokesperson called “legally invalid.”

“Yesterday, we had a further interaction with Russia, pressing them on the upcoming end of the month, there is due a semiannual data exchange every six months, under the treaty, we exchange data on kind of high-level numbers,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said at a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing. 

“Russia responded that they will not be providing that information,” he said. “And so as a diplomatic countermeasure, the United States will not be providing that information back.”

“We are going to continue to examine what are the diplomatic countermeasures [that] are appropriate,” Plumb said. “What we're trying to do, sir, is balance both responding to Russia's irresponsible behavior but to continue to demonstrate what we believe a responsible nuclear power’s action should be.”

The NSC spokesperson described the decision not to provide data in response to Russia’s action “as a lawful countermeasure intended to encourage Russia to return to compliance with the treaty,” and noted that “Russia’s failure to exchange this data will…be a violation of the treaty, adding on to its existing violations of the New START Treaty.”

“In the interest of strategic stability, the United States will continue to promote public transparency on our nuclear force levels and posture,” the NSC spokesperson said.

 

2:05 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Russian man whose daughter made anti-war painting sentenced to 2 years in prison

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Tim Lister

A screengrab of Maria Moskalyov, 12, describing the police search of her home in Russia's Tula region to Activatica, an online portal supporting grassroots activism in the country.
A screengrab of Maria Moskalyov, 12, describing the police search of her home in Russia's Tula region to Activatica, an online portal supporting grassroots activism in the country. (From Activatica/YouTube)

A Russian man whose 12-year-old daughter drew an anti-war picture at school has been sentenced to two years in prison by a court in the Tula region for his own anti-war online posts, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

The man – Alexey Moskalyov – had been charged with “discrediting the Russian military” and was under house arrest after being accused of repeatedly publishing anti-war posts.

RIA Novosti said that according to the indictment, Moskalyov, "using his personal computer, posted on his page in social networks statements in the form of text-graphic publications discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation."

One of those posts read: “Army of Russia. The oppressors around us," according to the court, as quoted by Russian independent news site Mediazona.

In April last year, Moskalyov’s 12-year-old daughter Masha drew a picture of Russian missiles being fired at a Ukrainian family and wrote “No to war” and “Glory to Ukraine” during her art class, according to Mediazona.

The school subsequently called the police.

On December 30, Moskalyov’s house was searched in connection with the case of repeated “discrediting” of the Russian army also based on his comments on social media.

RIA Novosti said prosecutors had requested two years in prison for Moskalyov. Moskalyov pleaded not guilty but failed to turn up to his hearing in the city of Yefremov on Tuesday.

After Moskalyov was placed under house arrest at the beginning of this month, Masha – who he was raising alone — was placed in an orphanage. RIA Novosti said the whereabouts of Masha’s mother were unknown.

In a video published by the independent Russian Telegram channel SOTA, lawyer Vladimir Bilienko displayed some of Maria’s drawings for her father.

“[There was] a letter for Dad. There is a big heart at the end [and an inscription] ‘Dad, you are my hero’,” Bilienko said.

According to the chairman of the commission for minors in Yefremov, Svetlana Davydova, the family had been "on a preventive list of families in a socially dangerous situation" since May last year.

More on the case: Alexander Brod, a member of the Human Rights Council, said Moskalyov did not fulfill his obligations as a father, according to RIA Novosti, adding that Maria had not attended school for a year.

RIA Novosti cited court spokesperson Olga Dyachuk as saying Tuesday: "The court sentenced him to two years in prison in a penal colony. Moskalyov was supposed to be taken into custody in the courtroom, but that didn't happen, because he escaped from house arrest at night, the court announced the decision in his absence."

The court acknowledged that Moskalyov had a daughter under the age of 18 as mitigation, but the prosecutor said the offense was committed during the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The Russian human rights group Memorial said that "the criminal prosecution of Moskalyov is motivated by his political views and is aimed at the involuntary termination of civil activity of critics of the authorities and intimidation of the society as a whole.”

11:46 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Russian Defense Ministry says production of some ammunition will increase seven-fold

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the production of individual types of ammunition will increase seven to eight times by the end of the year.

Western analysts have expressed skepticism that Russia’s military-industrial capacity and supply chains can be accelerated so quickly.

It made the announcement as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu toured enterprises in the Chelyabinsk and Kirov regions. The ministry issued video of Shoigu at a factory making large-caliber ammunition and shells. 

The Defense Ministry said that projects were being implemented to modernize and expand production capacities, as well as increase labor productivity.

It said this would increase production “to meet the needs of the Russian troops, and by the end of this year, the production of individual product samples will increase seven- to eight-fold.”

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Russian state TV that the Russian defense industry is "developing at a very fast pace" and would produce three times more ammunition than is being supplied to Ukraine by "the igniters of conflict."

11:01 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023

New US drone routes over Black Sea limit intel gathering related to Ukraine war, US official says

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

US Air Force MQ-9 camera footage showing a Russian Su-27 flying along side.
US Air Force MQ-9 camera footage showing a Russian Su-27 flying along side. (US European Command)

The US decision to fly its surveillance drones further south over the Black Sea after a Russian jet collided with a US drone earlier this month “definitely limits our ability to gather intelligence” related to the Ukraine war, a senior US military official tells CNN.

Flying drones at greater distances reduces the quality of intelligence they can gather, a US military official explained, noting that spy satellites can compensate to some degree but have shorter times over targets, again reducing effectiveness relative to surveillance drones. 

After the Russian jet collided with a US Reaper drone earlier this month, the US began flying its surveillance drones further south and at a higher altitude over the Black Sea than previously, placing them further away from airspace surrounding the Crimean Peninsula and eastern portions of the Black Sea.  

When CNN first reported this change, one US official said the new routes were part of an effort “to avoid being too provocative,” as the Biden administration continues to be careful to avoid any incident that could escalate into a direct conflict with Russian forces. The official said the drone flights would continue this way “for the time being,” but added there is already “an appetite” to return to the routes closer to Russian-held territory.

Asked about the new routes’ impact on intelligence gathering, Pentagon spokesperson Gen. Patrick Ryder told CNN that they are "not going to discuss missions, routes, or timing of operations. We're also not going to discuss intelligence operations other than to say we maintain a robust ISR capability in the region and beyond.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council referred questions to the Pentagon. 

More on the US routes: In the wake of the collision with the US MQ-9 Reaper drone on March 14, US officials have repeatedly said that the US would continue to fly in international airspace. However, the new routes place those flights more than forty nautical miles from the Ukrainian coast, rather than the 12 nautical miles normally recognized as the limit of a nation’s airspace. 

According to a senior US military official, there is concern that once the US has moved its flight routes away from areas closer to the Ukraine coast, it will be harder to return to them and assert freedom of flight for US aircraft. The US Navy has not sailed into the Black Sea since December 2021.

The downing of the drone marked the first time Russian and US military aircraft had come into direct physical contact since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.  

CNN's Oren Liebermann contributed reporting to this post.

8:53 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Olympic committee head defends participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions

From CNN's Sammy Mncwabe in London

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach speaks at the opening of the executive board meeting of the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 28.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach speaks at the opening of the executive board meeting of the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 28. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone/AP)

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on Tuesday defended plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions. 

"First of all, what is maybe most important, what has changed, is that participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports in competitions and in international competitions, works,” Bach said at the start of the IOC executive board’s three-day meeting to discuss solidarity with Ukraine, the sanctions against Russia and Belarus, and the status of athletes from these countries.

"We see this almost every day in a number of sports. We see it most prominently in tennis, but we see it also in cycling. We see it in some table tennis competitions, we see it in ice hockey, we see it in handball, we see it in football and in other leagues — in the United States, but also in Europe, and we also see it in other continents," he added.

More background: In February 2022, the IOC executive board recommended that International Sports Federations and sports event organizers "not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions.” 

But this January, the IOC outlined a multi-step plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at the upcoming 2024 Summer Games in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Milan, which was met by criticism from the United States, Canada and several European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been competing as neutrals in some international competitions.

"It's even that the governments on whose territory the competitions are taking place, they're issuing visas (to Russians and Belarusian athletes) with very few exceptions. In other countries, they're even issuing working permits where it's necessary for these players and athletes,” Bach said.

On Thursday, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe announced Russian and Belarusian athletes will still be excluded from World Athletics Series Events “for the foreseeable future” due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reaffirming the organization’s March 2022 decision.

8:49 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Zelensky visits northern Sumy region to honor defense of city of Okhtyrka

From CNN's Tim Lister

(President of Ukraine)
(President of Ukraine)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has continued a tour of the country's regions with a visit to Sumy in the north – dedicated to the defense a year ago of the city of Okhtyrka.

In a speech, Zelensky honored “those who fought here for their city, for their land, and thus for our entire country. Those who destroyed Russian columns here and thus broke the entire enemy's plan against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

He recalled the shelling of a kindergarten in February 2022 and noted that Okhtyrka had suffered heavy losses and “brutal enemy attacks.”

According to the presidential website, Zelensky said, "it is a great honor for me to present Okhtyrka today with the honorary award of the hero city, the defender city, the winning city.”

"Justice is the most important thing for us today, so we will not forgive what was done against Ukrainians, against Ukraine. We will bring to justice all the murderers from the Russian Federation, terrorists and the aggressor state itself," Zelensky said.

“We will not leave a single wound caused by this war on the body of our country. We will rebuild absolutely everything that has been destroyed," he added.

In the past week, Zelensky has been to the area around Bakhmut and Kostiantynivka in the eastern Donetsk region, as well as to Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south.