March 8, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Sana Noor Haq, George Ramsay, Ed Upright, Amir Vera and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 9, 2022
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9:12 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Analysis: The US could be making a high stakes bet with Venezuela. Putin is the reason

Analysis from CNN's Stefano Pozzebon in Caracas, Venezuela

The recent trip by two top US foreign policy officials to Caracas, Venezuela, is a sign of just how much the geopolitical balance could be shifting in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

National Security Council Senior Director Juan Gonzalez and Venezuela Affairs Unit Chief James Story met embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his wife on Saturday — the first since diplomatic relations between the two countries broke down in 2019.

Coverage of the meeting has, so far, focused on the possibility the White House might lift some of the sanctions it has imposed in recent years on the Venezuelan oil industry in order to replace imports from Russia, which US President Joe Biden banned earlier today.

Context: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world — and historically, much of its crude oil has been exported to US refineries.

Venezuelan oil: Maduro confirmed Venezuela’s intention to increase its crude oil output on Monday, a move that comes as Russia’s oil exports are plummeting due to sanctions over its invasion in Ukraine.

“We are ready to regain production. One, two, or three million barrels, everything! Everything in the name of peace!” he said.

American deal might be easier said than done: Oil production in the country is at an almost all-time low after years of mismanagement and lack of maintenance of oil facilities.

It would take years, and billions of dollars of investments, to recover oil exports from Venezuela to what they used to be, suggests expert Francisco Monaldi, director of the Latin American Energy Program at the Baker Institute in Houston. So if the White House needs a short-term solution to lower the price of gasoline, it cannot come from Venezuela.

US citizens released: However, the US officials’ Venezuelan deployment did bring some immediate results. Venezuela released at least two US citizens late Tuesday, with speculation it was done as a "sign of goodwill" from Maduro (and as part of potential sanctions relief) that has yet to happen.

This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives, from left to right, Jose Angel Pereira, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela.
This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives, from left to right, Jose Angel Pereira, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP/FILE)

Gustavo Cárdenas is a US citizen detained in Caracas since 2017 and one of six detained oil executives from US refinery CITGO. Later, Jorge Alberto Fernandez, a Cuban-US dual citizen detained in Venezuela since February 2021, was released from prison. He is not one of the so-called "CITGO 6."

The Caracas trip signals the intention that the White House might be ready to change its relationship to Venezuela in the long term. That’s because Caracas has grown much closer to Moscow under Maduro’s rule.

But it is a high stakes bet: Maduro has walked away from negotiations before — and if it doesn’t work out, Biden will likely pay a political price.

9:40 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

US governors respond to Biden's decision to ban Russian energy imports

From CNN's Joe Sutton

Governors across the United States broadly supported President Joe Biden's decision to ban Russian energy imports to the country — but raised concerns about surging gas prices and the need to strengthen America’s energy independence.

Arkansas: Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said Biden's action is a unified message to Russian President Vladimir Putin but it will increase prices at the pump in the US.

"The Biden administration's Russian oil embargo will have a reduced impact on Russia as long as Europe continues to buy Russian oil and gas," Hutchinson said. "The US action is a unified message to Mr. Putin that his invasion and indiscriminate killing in Ukraine will result in consequences that will be harsh and protracted. Yes, the action will increase gas prices in the US and that is why I call upon the Biden administration to return the US to complete energy independence so we don’t have to depend upon despots for our energy supply."

Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said: "The Biden administration needs to listen to Americans and increase domestic energy instead of relying on authoritarian regimes to fuel our country. Gas prices are out of control and people are getting hammered at the pump. The time is now to make America energy independent — again."  

Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said the US needs to aggressively pursue clean energy alternatives. 

"Importantly, we have to recognize we can't drill our way out of confrontation with authoritarian states. National security and economic security requires us to aggressively pursue clean energy alternatives," Inslee said.

Gas tax: Six US governors — all Democrats — released a letter to congressional leaders calling for a suspension of the federal gasoline tax for the rest of the year. 

“At a time when people are directly impacted by rising prices on everyday goods, a federal gas tax holiday is a tool in the toolbox to reduce costs for Americans,” said the letter signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin. 

 

8:09 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

White House relayed concerns to Hill about agreement to suspend normal trade relations with Belarus and Russia

From CNN's Manu Raju and Annie Grayer

The White House relayed to Congress concerns over a bipartisan deal that was reached to clamp down on Russia — citing in particular provisions that would suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, according to multiple sources in both parties.

Now the House is moving ahead tomorrow on a different anti-Russia bill that would instead review Russia’s status in the World Trade Organization, while reauthorizing the Magnitsky sanctions law and banning Russian energy imports. That bill will be approved by the House tomorrow, sending it to the Senate.

Republicans are angry because they believe the White House undercut a bipartisan deal reached by the four top tax-writers in Congress.

“I thought revoking PNTR was a very strong sanction, and I was very disappointed that was dropped from the bill,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, the top GOP tax-writer, referring to “permanent normal trade relations.” 

Even though Brady characterized this bill as a weaker bill, he told CNN: “I think there’s certainly bipartisan support.”

7:43 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Democrats plan to move on Russia bill in US House tomorrow after vote count was uncertain Tuesday 

From CNN's Manu Raju

The US House will now move on a bill to clamp down on Russia tomorrow after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier that the bill would come to the floor tonight.

The reason for the change: They had originally tried to approve it under "suspension of the rules," which requires two-third support to pass. But a Democratic leadership aide says that Republicans would not commit to giving them enough votes to get the bill through under suspension.

So they now plan to move the bill under a rule tomorrow so it can pass with a simple majority.

Following US President Joe Biden's announcement today that his administration is banning Russian energy imports, Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues that the House would vote on a bill that follows similar steps. The bill would ban imports of Russian energy, take steps to scrutinize Russia's role in the World Trade Organization, and reauthorize the Magnitsky Act to strengthen sanctions on Russia.

What is the Magnitsky Act? The act, signed into law in December 2012, blocks entry into the US and freezes the assets of certain Russian government officials and businessmen accused of human rights violations.

8:06 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

US Vice President Harris is set to begin trip to Poland and Romania Wednesday 

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jasmine Wright, Betsy Klein and Maegan Vazquez

US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to begin her trip to Poland and Romania tomorrow as the Biden administration continues to show support for Ukraine and the US' eastern NATO allies while Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters a dangerous new phase.

Harris' trip will take place from Wednesday through March 11, and will include stops in Warsaw and Bucharest, according to a Friday announcement by the White House.

She'll meet with the leaders of both countries to coordinate on their response to Russia's invasion and discuss how the US can further support Ukraine's neighboring nations as they prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict.

The White House says the leaders will also "discuss their continuing support for the people of Ukraine through security, economic, and humanitarian assistance and our determination to impose severe economic consequences on Russia and those complicit in Russia's invasion."

The trip comes as the Pentagon on Tuesday dismissed Poland's proposal to transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States for delivery to Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement that the Pentagon did not believe Poland's proposal was "tenable," just hours after Polish officials released a statement saying the government was ready to deploy all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to US Air Force's Rammstein Air Base in Germany so they could then be provided to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Kirby said that the decision about transferring Polish-owned planes to Ukraine was "ultimately one for the Polish government," adding that the proposal shows the complexities that the issue presents as Russia has made threatening statements over arms being provided to Ukrainians for use against Russian forces.

The idea as laid out by Poland was too risky, Kirby said, as the US and NATO seek to avoid an outright conflict between the alliance and Russia.

More background: The Defense Department statement was released Tuesday evening after the Polish proposal caught the Biden administration completely off guard, multiple sources told CNN.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded for more aircraft amid the Russian invasion, the offer had not been discussed with the US before making it public and Polish officials did not bring it up with Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he was recently in Poland either.

US officials have privately weighed sending aircraft to Ukraine but have repeatedly noted the difficult logistical challenges of doing so.

Poland's surprise announcement complicates what had already been a high-stakes visit by Vice President Kamala Harris, who is due to land in Warsaw late Wednesday.

Harris had been expected to discuss the fighter jet issue while in Poland, according to officials. The White House had previously said it was in discussions with the Polish government about a plan for Poland to supply Ukraine with its Soviet-era fighter jets and the US to backfill the planes with F-16s.

Harris is still scheduled to depart Wednesday morning for Poland, but now there are intensive conversations within the administration about how to work with Poland to come to some sort of agreement that allows the jets to reach Ukraine.

CNN's Jeremy Herb, Kylie Atwood, Jennifer Hansler and Oren Liebermann contributed reporting to this post. 

6:52 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Ukrainian biathlete who won bronze at Paralympics says house "was bombed and destroyed"

From CNN's Jillian Martin

Bronze medallist Dmytro Suiarko of Team Ukraine, left, and guide Oleksandr Nikonovych celebrate during the Men’s Para Biathlon Middle Distance Vision Impaired medal ceremony on Tuesday, March 08, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Bronze medallist Dmytro Suiarko of Team Ukraine, left, and guide Oleksandr Nikonovych celebrate during the Men’s Para Biathlon Middle Distance Vision Impaired medal ceremony on Tuesday, March 08, in Zhangjiakou, China. (Zhe Ji/Getty Images)

Ukrainian biathlete Dmytro Suiarko, who won bronze in middle distance vision impaired on Tuesday at the Paralympics in Beijing, said his house “was bombed and destroyed.”

Suiarko was part of a Ukrainian podium sweep in the biathlon event, with Vitaliy Lukyanenko winning gold and Anatoliy Kovalevskyi taking silver.

"I'm very happy. It's an amazing day today, 8 March,” Suiarko said, according to quotes provided by Beijing 2022. “Today is (international) women's day and my medal is for women in Ukraine. I'm very happy with the race because after my last shooting I lost 10 seconds on the bronze position, but (I did) the last loop very quickly and I took a medal," Suiarko said.

"I am very happy my friends Vitaliy and Anatoliy took the gold and silver medals," he added.

Suiarko said that despite feeling happy about his medal, the crisis in Ukraine is on his mind, he said that his home was bombed.

"I am happy, but you know the situation in Ukraine. Very hard concentration is needed in biathlon and I missed twice because yesterday my house where I live, it was bombed and destroyed," Suiarko said.

Regarding the podium sweep, Suiarko said: "I am very happy because three athletes from Ukraine stand on the podium again. For me, it's something amazing. I am very happy, but not 100% because in my country there is a very big situation and I want peace for Ukraine."

7:14 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Pentagon dismisses Poland's proposal to transfer fighter jets to US for delivery to Ukraine

From CNN's Oren Liebermann, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak

The Pentagon dismissed Poland’s proposal to transfer their MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States for delivery to Ukraine, calling it not “tenable,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday.

The Pentagon is in touch with the Polish government about the issue, but Poland’s proposal shows the “complexities” of transferring the fighters to Ukraine, Kirby said in the statement.

"It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” Kirby said. “We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Polish government proposed moving all of their MiG-29s to the US Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany, according to a statement from the foreign ministry. The US government would then provide them to Ukraine, the ministry said. In exchange, Poland requested used fighter jets to replace the MiG-29s.

Kirby said the idea as laid out by Poland was too risky, as the US and NATO seek to avoid an outright conflict between the alliance and Russia.

Multiple sources tell CNN that the Biden administration was completely caught off guard by the Polish offer to provide the US with the fleet of used MiG-29 fighter jets.

The Polish offer had not been discussed with the US before making it public and Polish officials did not bring it up with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he was recently in Poland, either. 

US officials have privately weighed sending aircraft to Ukraine but have repeatedly noted the difficult logistical challenges that doing so would come with.

More background: Poland’s surprise announcement complicates what had already been a high-stakes visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Harris had been expected to discuss the fighter jet issue while in Poland, according to officials. The White House had previously said it was in discussions with the Polish government about a plan for Poland to supply Ukraine with its Soviet-era fighter jets and the US to backfill the planes with F-16s.

Harris is still scheduled to depart Wednesday morning for Poland, but now there are intensive conversations within the administration about how to work with Poland to come to some sort of agreement that allows the jets to reach Ukraine.

7:05 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

State Dept. official: "Every drop of Russian oil that is consumed, is another drop of Ukrainian blood spilled"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Victoria Nuland, the US State Department's undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Victoria Nuland, the US State Department's undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (CNN)

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the US in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Victoria Nuland, the US State Department undersecretary for Political Affairs, reacted to the ban on CNN, saying, "we need to remember that the villain here is President Putin and President Zelensky is right, every drop of Russian oil that is consumed, is another drop of Ukrainian blood spilled."

Speaking live with CNN's Jake Tapper, Nuland noted that at this point in the conflict, the purpose of sanctions is to directly impact the Russian president. The official said that 70% of Russian oil "is now offline" as a result of sanctions and bans like the one that Biden announced today.

"Now we have to punish him. And unfortunately, we have to make the Russian people, too, also feel what he has done to global peace and security," Nuland told Tapper. "So that is the first purpose is to ensure that over the long-term, the medium-term, ideally over the short-term, that this is a strategic loss for President Putin."

Should the sanctions force Putin into altering his offensive, Nuland said the US would respond in kind.

"If in fact, he gets out of Ukraine, if in fact, he gives back what he has stolen and makes reparations, obviously, we will work with the Ukrainians on lifting of sanctions," she said. "I want to live for that happy day."

Nuland offered Tapper and his viewers a glimpse into where Russia is currently at in terms of the invasion into Ukraine, a view that doesn't reflect positively on Putin.

"He is losing tanks and aircraft. He has thousands of soldiers dying, who will go home in body bags to Russians. He has citizens now who have zero access to a free press or ATMs or western technology. The pressure on him is growing. And sooner or later, he will wake up or the Russian people will wake up," she said.

"Unfortunately, it could be a long and difficult grind to get from here to there and I think all of us owe a huge debt to the Ukrainian people. Because it is they who are sacrificing, not just for their democracy but for all of our democracies," she added.

Nuland spoke today at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Russia's invasion on Ukraine. She told lawmakers she believes the war will end “when Putin realizes that this adventure has put his own leadership standing at risk, with his own military, with his own people, that he is hemorrhaging the lives of the people of Russia, the army of Russia and their future to his own vain ambition."

CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kyle Atwood contributed reporting to this post.

Check out Victoria Nuland's full interview with CNN's Jake Tapper:

7:07 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Kyiv has transformed into a fortress and its residents are determined to defend it

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová in Kyiv

Residents make Molotov cocktails, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 4.
Residents make Molotov cocktails, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 4. (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

Just two weeks ago, residents of the Ukrainian capital were tending to their shops, teaching schoolchildren or parked at their office desks.

The Russian invasion changed all that. Fighting literally for their lives, civilians, turned into volunteer soldiers, helped construct defenses with military precision — and they are now manning them.

Trenches run deep into the woods that surround the highway leading in Kyiv from the south. Fortified fallback positions are ready for whatever comes next. Huge metal anti-tank barriers known here as "the hedgehogs" because of their spiky shape are placed at regular intervals along the road. And makeshift blockades made of sandbags and huge concrete blocks stand at every exit.

The people of Kyiv are determined to defend their city.

As Russian forces approach, the resolve of its residents is palpable — with many appearing in good spirits.

Some flash a victory sign as vehicles pass by. The blue and yellow national flag can be seen everywhere.

At one checkpoint en route to Kyiv on Tuesday, volunteer defenders were handing out flowers to women in their cars to mark International Women's Day.

Many volunteers do not seem to be dressed warm enough for the freezing weather. They wear civilian clothes, with big coats and sweatpants an unofficial uniform. Their pants are mostly green, black or camouflage motif — not the military kind — but the civilian pattern made for hunting.

Some, but not all volunteers, are armed with automatic rifles and big knives.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a volunteer manning one of the defense positions in Kyiv, told CNN that he works in four-hour shifts at the checkpoint.
His face is red from the cold. "It's OK. Just cold," he says, adding that "locals are giving us soups and things like that."

Almost 40,000 volunteers joined the Territorial Defense Forces in the first two days after the invasion began, according to the Ukrainian armed forces' chief of staff. In Kyiv alone, 18,000 picked up weapons when authorities called for volunteers and reservists to do so.

Those who couldn't join the forces (so many people signed up that the Territorial Defense Forces had to start turning people away) are helping in other ways.

They are making Molotov cocktails, sewing camouflage nets for barricades, distributing food, hot drinks and cigarettes to those standing guard. They are raising money for the military, building more road blocks and even painting over traffic signs in an attempt to confuse invading forces.

Read more here.