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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5:14 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Ukrainian president thanks US President Joe Biden for banning Russian energy imports 

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked US President Joe Biden Tuesday for announcing the ban of Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the US.  

“Thankful for US and @POTUS personal leadership in striking in the heart of Putin’s war machine and banning oil, gas and coal from US market," Zelensky tweeted.  

Speaking in a video posted on Telegram on Tuesday, Zelensky reiterated his thanks to Biden, saying: “The United States has taken a step that will significantly weaken the invaders. It will make them pay for aggression and be responsible for the evil they have done. For all the evil. America bans imports of oil from Russia, petroleum products, gas, coal. Prohibits US citizens from any investment in Russia's fuel and energy sector.”

He added, “I am grateful personally to President of the United States Biden for this decision. For this leadership. For this most powerful signal to the whole world. It is very simple: every penny paid to Russia turns into bullets and projectiles that fly to other sovereign states.”

More on Biden's actions: Sanctions on Russia's oil and gas industry had once been viewed as mostly off the table as officials in the United States and Europe worried about a global spike in prices. But pressure had been growing on Biden to act, including from Zelensky and American lawmakers from both parties, as Russia's onslaught in Ukraine increasingly targets civilians.

Biden acknowledged in frank remarks from the White House the step was likely to lead to higher costs for Americans, a potent political issue that is already leading to attacks from Republicans.

See Zelensky's tweet:

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond, Kevin Liptak, Phil Mattingly, MJ Lee and Kate Sullivan contributed reporting to this post.

2:38 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Russia has moved an armored military train into Ukraine from Crimea, video shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

(from Facebook)
(from Facebook)

A nine-car long armored Russian military train has been moved into Ukraine's Kherson region from Crimea, according to a video posted on social media.

CNN has geolocated, and verified the authenticity of the video. It was first posted online by Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov on Monday, but incorrectly located.

An eyewitness took video of the train as it was passing through Novooleksiivka, Ukraine. The small town of Novooleksiivka is roughly 20 miles northeast from Russia-annexed Crimea and 55 miles southwest of Melitopol, Ukraine, which is currently under Russian military occupation. 

The video shows that the train — the letter "Z" has been painted on some of the cars — has at least two apparent gunner cars.

The train is made up of two flatbed cars, one of which appears to be carrying a shrouded military vehicle and one other car.

In the video, a woman is heard yelling profanities at the Russian troops, in addition to, "Glory to Ukraine."

A video report from Russian state media outlet Channel One in February 2020 gave an extensive look at the Baikal, one of Russia's two armored trains. It's unclear from the video whether the train seen in Novooleksiivka is the Baikal train.

The report claimed the Baikal has a communications jammer on-board to keep their communications covert and to not reveal their location. The Baikal is also were equipped with anti-aircraft turrets, 20mm thick walls, in addition to machine gun and sniper stations. It also has kitchen and dining room for the train crew.

Prior the invasion, Russia utilized its state-owned railroad company to transport and position many of its troops on the Ukrainian border in both Russia and Belarus. 

Josh Pennington contributed reporting to this post.

2:16 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

NATO official says Russia not expected "make any gains in the next few days" in Ukraine

From CNN staff

Despite using all of the forces it had concentrated in and around Ukraine, Russia is still making very little progress, with NATO’s current intelligence assessment suggesting Moscow is unlikely to make much progress in the foreseeable future, a NATO military official told CNN.

"We see very little change,” the official said, citing the alliance’s latest intelligence assessment. “For the first time, we don’t expect them to make any gains in the next few days.”

They are putting in everything they have and are still making very little progress,” the official explained. “No one thought they would face these simple problems. After two weeks, they still haven’t been able to solve their logistics issues.”

The official conceded Russia had been able to make some marginal gains, especially in the South, but said the expectation was Moscow should be moving much faster at this stage.

“With all their armor they should be moving much faster,” the official said.

The official also said the shift in strategy to more direct targeting of key urban centers, which led to heavier bombardment of some cities, also had produced “no big effect.”

2:08 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

US Secretary of State Blinken met with French President Macron in Paris for more than an hour

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met for over an hour with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris Tuesday, according to the State Department.

Their meeting, which lasted from 6:05 p.m. to 7:18 p.m. local time, comes a day after President Joe Biden held a joint conversation with Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Macron spoke earlier on Tuesday with Scholz and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Blinken tweeted he was in Paris, which was not on his original itinerary, “to continue to work in solidarity with our French Allies to counter the threats that Kremlin aggression pose to democracy and peace in Europe.” 

“France’s leadership has been crucial to Europe’s unified, unprecedented response to Putin’s war of choice,” he wrote.

1:59 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

US supporting international probes into possible war crimes committed by Russia, State Department says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The US State Department is supporting international probes into potential war crimes and atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine and is “committed to pursuing accountability for such acts using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions where appropriate,” a State Department spokesperson said.

According to the spokesperson, the State Department is “supporting Ukraine’s authorities, who are already working to document potential atrocity crimes for prosecution,” as well as the “the important work of human rights documenters in Ukraine.”

It is also supporting the UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate possible human rights violations by Russia and the OSCE expert mission invoked by the US and 44 other nations last week using the Moscow Mechanism. 

The Moscow Mechanism is used to establish short-term fact-finding missions on human rights concerns. It is a serious step, and according to the OSCE, it has been triggered only nine other times since its establishment in 1991. It was most recently used in 2020 to investigate human rights abuses in Belarus.

During a hearing Tuesday, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said he did not believe the US had yet seen direct evidence that Moscow has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

“I don't know that we have direct evidence besides what we see on social media. Certainly the bombing of schools and facilities that are not associated with the Ukrainian military would indicate to me that he's stepping up right to the line if he hasn't done so already,” Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said.

In an interview on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken has “seen very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians, which would constitute a war crime.” 

“We’ve seen very credible reports about the use of certain weapons. And what we’re doing right now is documenting all of this, putting it all together, looking at it, and making sure that as people and the appropriate organizations and institutions investigate whether war crimes have been or are being committed, that we can support whatever they’re doing,” Blinken said. “So right now we’re looking at these reports. They’re very credible. And we’re documenting everything.”

Last week, US Embassy Kyiv tweeted that “it is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant. Putin's shelling of Europe's largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further. #TheHague #Zaporizhzhia #StandwithUkraine.” However, embassies in Europe were told by the State Department not to retweet that tweet.

2:05 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

CIA director estimates up to 14,000 Russians have been arrested for protesting Ukraine invasion

From CNN's Aaron Pellish

Russian police detain a protester in Moscow on March 6.
Russian police detain a protester in Moscow on March 6. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

CIA Director Bill Burns testified to the US House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that “something like 13 or 14,000” Russian citizens have been arrested for protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Burns said the current opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin among Russian citizens “is not a small thing” but noted the prevalence of state-run media will make it difficult for popular dissent to build quickly. 

“You see funerals in Russia of, you know, young Russian soldiers who were killed in Ukraine coming home and that clearly is going to have an impact over time. You also see, in relatively small numbers, but a lot of very courageous Russians out on the street protesting,” he said.  

“Something like 13 or 14,000 have been arrested since then, which is not a small thing in a deeply repressive country like Russia,” Burns added. 

Burns said the US will monitor Putin’s domestic popularity as the war in Ukraine continues but cautioned that Putin’s control of the media will help stave him stave off some popular unrest. 

“In an environment in which the Russian state media dominates what a lot of people hear about what’s going on in Ukraine, it’s going to take time, I think, for people to absorb the consequences of the choices that (Putin’s) made personally,” Burns said. 

1:32 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

37 nations say Russia and Belarus "should not be permitted to host" any international sporting events

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Thirty-seven nations, including the United States, said in a joint statement Tuesday that Russia and Belarus "should not be permitted to host, bid for, or be awarded any international sporting events” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable war of choice against Ukraine, enabled by the Belarusian government, is abhorrent and a flagrant breach of its international obligations. Respect for human rights and peaceful relations between nations form the foundation of international sport,” according to the joint statement, which was “was agreed upon by the ministers of sport or their equivalent.”

The statement also said that “individual athletes selected by Russia and Belarus, administrators and teams representing the Russian or Belarusian state should be banned from competing in other countries, including those representing bodies, cities or brands that are effectively representing Russia or Belarus, such as major football clubs,” and “wherever possible, appropriate actions should be taken to limit sponsorship and other financial support from entities with links to the Russian or Belarusian states.”

The nations called on all international sporting federations to do the same.

The statement also encouraged sports organizations "not to sanction athletes, coaches or officials who decide to unilaterally terminate their contracts with Russian, Belarusian or Ukrainian clubs, as well as not to pursue or to sanction sport organizers which decide to ban athletes or teams selected by Russia or Belarus.”

1:30 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

UK will "drive forward" with "debilitating" the Russian economy alongside allies, foreign secretary says

From CNN's Max Foster and Arnaud Siad

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she would be traveling to Washington, DC, on Tuesday to meet her American counterpart Antony Blinken. 

The United Kingdom will “drive forward” with “debilitating” the Russian economy alongside allies, Truss said in a briefing on Tuesday ahead of the visit to the US.

“What we’re (…) working with our allies to do is to debilitate the Russian economy, to stop the funding that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is using for his war machine. We’ve implemented sanctions on the Russian central bank, on the SWIFT system, we’ve frozen bank assets and in fact the UK is freezing more bank assets than any other country, we’ve frozen a total of 364 billion ($478 billion) worth of assets. We’ve also closed UK airspace to Russian planes as well as closing our ports to Russian vessels,” Truss said.

Now is not the time to let up. We need to continue to drive forward in our support to Ukraine and our debilitation of the Russian economy,” Truss said.

“Oil and gas (are) important and we are working with the G7 in terms of creating a timetable for a reduction on dependency on Russian oil and gas and we need to go further on banks, we need to completely eliminate access to the SWIFT system, we need to freeze more bank assets,” Truss added.

“It’s important that we remain strong and united with our allies and it’s important that we ensure that Putin loses in Ukraine. The consequences of him not losing are simply too awful to contemplate,” she warned.

Truss said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine had “shattered European security” and the UK and allies were now “in a battle for information with Russia.” The Foreign Secretary said that in consequence, the UK had re-established an information unit that had been abandoned after the end of the Cold War.

Aside debilitating the Russian economy, Truss said the UK’s strategy also consisted in providing defensive weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as well as isolating Russia diplomatically.

"What we’re working to do together with our G7 allies is encourage more of those countries to supply defensive weapons in support to Ukraine and encourage more of those countries to join us in sanctioning Russia. And it’s significant that countries like Switzerland, South Korea, Singapore have all joined that effort,” she said.

“I’m traveling to America to forward this agenda and I think it’s important to note that global security is indivisible, what is good for the Euro-Atlantic is good for the Indo-Pacific, and a strong NATO will help deter aggressors everywhere. And that is why we need to step up our efforts to strengthen European security together with our allies in Europe, including the EU and our NATO allies but also with the United States and allies like Japan,” Truss said.
1:23 p.m. ET, March 8, 2022

US secretary of defense holds calls with European defense ministers about war in Ukraine

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with the Defense Ministers of Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and France amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, a senior US defense official told reporters Tuesday.

The calls were “all centered around the war in Ukraine and what the United States is doing to continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine,” the official said.

“He [Austin] thanked each of these leaders ... for their country’s support to Ukraine, and for the assurance and deterrence measures they are all taking to help strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank,” the official added.