March 11, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Julia Hollingsworth, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jeevan Ravindran and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 9:59 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022
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12:00 p.m. ET, March 11, 2022

Kremlin says foreign fighters can be sent to fight in Donbas

From CNN's Sarah Dean in London

The Kremlin has said volunteers from the "Middle East and Syria" can be sent to fight for Russia in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, claiming that over 16,000 applications have been received from abroad.

At a televised meeting of Russia's Security Council on Friday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that his ministry has received "a huge number of applications" from volunteers in various countries to "participate in what they consider to be a liberation movement." 

Putin supported Shoigu’s suggestion of helping to transfer volunteers willing to fight in the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, the separatist-held territories in eastern Ukraine.

“If you see that there are people who want on a voluntary basis, especially not for money, to come and help people living in Donbas, well, we need to welcome them and help them move to the war zone,” Putin said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said later on Friday that there were no plans to send Russian volunteers to fight, and that Shoigu "mainly spoke about volunteers and applicants from the Middle East and Syria."

The United States has not seen the “actual arrival” of foreign fighters from the Middle East to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday.

The US believes Russia is moving in the direction of recruiting and using foreign fighters, and Russia has publicly acknowledged they want to do this, but the US has not seen evidence of foreign fighters coming to fight alongside Russian forces at this point, the official said.

CNN's Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting to this post.

10:24 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

Ukraine alleges Russia is planning "terrorist" incident at Chernobyl in latest claim about nuclear risks

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv, Olga Voitovych and Anastasia Graham Yooll

Ukraine's defense ministry has alleged that Russia plans to carry out some sort of terrorist attack at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is now under the control of Russian forces. 

It is the latest in a series of claims made by Ukrainian authorities about the risks to Ukraine's nuclear power infrastructure because of Russia's invasion, none of which has come to pass. 

The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence claimed on its Facebook page Friday that "the available intelligence says Putin has ordered that his troops to prepare a terror attack at Chernobyl for which the Russian invaders will try to blame Ukraine." 

The directorate also repeated that the plant "remains completely disconnected from the monitoring systems run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)." 

The IAEA said last week that it had not been able to re-establish communication with systems installed to monitor nuclear material and activities at either the Chernobyl or Zaporizhzhia plants following the loss of remote data transmissions from those systems. 

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday that the situation at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, occupied by the Russian forces, was degrading as the IAEA was losing “a significant amount of information” on safeguarding monitoring systems. 

However, he said he was "quite encouraged [...] on one important thing, is that Ukraine and Russian Federation want to work with us, they agree to work with us.” 

Grossi met the foreign ministers of both Russia and Ukraine on Thursday. 

The Ukrainian nuclear regulatory authority has alleged that personnel at the Chernobyl site “have limited opportunities to communicate, move and carry out full-fledged maintenance and repair work.”

The IAEA said Thursday it had been unable to confirm that power has been restored at the plant.  

On Friday, Ukraine's nuclear power regulator repeated that the electricity supply to the Chernobyl nuclear power station had not been restored, despite claims by Russia and Belarus it was restored on Thursday.

“All objects of Chernobyl Power station located in the exclusion zone continue to be under the control of the aggressor’s military. There is still no electricity supply at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant since 11:22 on 9,03.2022, on or any communication with the personnel on site,” according to a statement posted Friday on the regulator’s website.
“Regulatory control over the state of nuclear and radiation safety at the Chernobyl NPP site and the exclusion zone territory, as well as control of nuclear materials at the enterprise, is impossible,” it said.

But it noted that a reserve supply of diesel fuel had been provided “to secure emergency power supply to spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.”

The IAEA said earlier this week that there has been "no critical impact" to the safety of Chernobyl, despite loss of power. It tweeted that the "heat load of spent fuel storage pool and volume of cooling water at #Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply." 

The site has backup emergency diesel generators available should there be a total loss of power.

But Grossi said earlier this week: “I remain gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, especially about the country’s nuclear power plants, which must be able to continue operating without any safety or security threats." 

And he stressed the “utmost importance that the staff working at the Specialized Enterprise Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are able to do their job safely and effectively, and that their personal well-being is guaranteed by those who have taken control.”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence also alleged Friday that Russian forces had denied a Ukrainian repair team access to Chernobyl. It claimed without offering evidence that "Belarusian specialists" went there posing as nuclear power experts and that Russian saboteurs were arriving to set up a terror attack. 

The ministry claimed that "without receiving the desired result from the ground military operation and direct talks, Putin is ready to resort to nuclear blackmail of the international community."  

Both Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly claimed without substantiation that the other side is planning to provoke an incident involving nuclear, chemical or biological agents.  

10:03 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

Putin uninterested in "serious diplomacy," US Vice President Harris says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US Vice President Kamala Harris said Vladimir Putin isn't interested in "serious diplomacy."

Speaking in Romania, Harris said the United States is committed to finding a diplomatic solution. But she didn't sound optimistic that Moscow was currently seeking one.

"From the beginning, the United States has been attempting sincerely to engage in diplomacy," she said. "From everything that we know and have witnessed, Putin shows no sign of engaging in serious diplomacy."

She said Russia was engaging in "lies" and "misinformation," a playbook she said the US had long identified.

She said that as efforts for diplomacy proceed, Russia should be held accountable for its actions.

"We maintain that diplomacy is the way to resolve these issues," she said, saying that should "coexist with our commitment to ensure that our alliances are strong, and that there must be serious consequence and accountability for what Russia is doing."

10:20 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

At least 600 evacuated students from Ukraine arrive in India 

From CNN's New Delhi Bureau

An Indian student who was evacuated from Ukraine meets his family upon arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India on March 11.
An Indian student who was evacuated from Ukraine meets his family upon arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India on March 11. (Altaf Qadri/AP)

Three flights carrying at least 600 Indian students who were evacuated from the city of Sumy in northeastern Ukraine landed in New Delhi from Poland on Friday.

The students were trapped in the northeastern city since the beginning of Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine and had sent out several appeals for their evacuation to the Indian mission and government.

On Monday, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine to try and speed up their safe exit. 

The Indian government has operated 90 evacuation flights from Ukraine — both commercial and military — since Russia's invasion began, and over 20,000 Indians have left the country. 

11:12 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

Ukraine organizes 12 new evacuation corridors Friday, Zelensky says 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky records a video address to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky records a video address to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 11. (Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Ukraine has organized 12 new evacuation corridors, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address from the streets of Kyiv on Friday.

He added that cargo with food and medication is on the way to the cities and towns of Izyum, Enerhodar, Volnovakha, Polohy, Bucha, Hostomel, Borodyanka, Andriivka, Mykulychi Makariv, Kozarovychi and Mariupol. 

The Ukrainian military have "ensured a ceasefire" for these corridors "to work," the president said, warning that if Russia starts "firing again and disrupts the rescues of people they will receive a response from the world."

"The kind of response that they will need" evacuation corridors themselves, Zelensky said. 

Routes from Mariupol and Volnovakha have been repeatedly blocked or inaccessible over the past week. There has been more success in enabling people to leave Izium, which has seen widespread destruction. These routes have not been agreed with Russia, which announced different routes.

11:00 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

EU plans to present proposals by mid-May on eliminating dependency on Russian energy by 2027

From CNN's Chris Liakos

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a press conference after the EU summit on Friday, March 11, in Versailles, France.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a press conference after the EU summit on Friday, March 11, in Versailles, France. (Michel Euler/AP)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday that the European Union plans to present proposals by mid-May on eliminating its dependency on Russian energy by 2027.

“By mid-May, we will come up with a proposal to phase out our dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal by 2027, backed by the necessary national and European resources,” said von der Leyen, speaking alongside EU Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron following the EU leaders’ summit on Ukraine in Versailles, France. 

Von der Leyen also added that by the end of March, the commission will present “options to limit the contagion effect of the rise of gas prices to electricity prices,” and that the EU plans to set up a task force that will design a refilling plan for the next winter.

“The European Union needs to define a longer-term EU gas storage policy, and therefore the commission will table a proposal to fill up underground gas storage to at least 90% by the first of October each year,” she said.

“This will be our insurance policy against supply disruption,” she added. 

Earlier this week, the EU said it will cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year and eliminate its overall need for Russian oil and gas “well before 2030.”

9:54 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

US vice president: "Any intentional attack or targeting of civilians is a war crime. Period."

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

A day after calling for an international investigation into whether Russia was committing war crimes in Ukraine, US Vice President Kamala Harris offered a brisker answer to the question of whether the atrocities could be given that designation.

"We are clear that any intentional attack or targeting of civilians is a war crime. Period," she said while speaking in Romania.

US President Joe Biden's administration has said that before an official designation on war crimes can be made, an investigation must proceed.

But officials have been clear that Russia is targeting civilians and made plain they believe such an action would constitute a war crime.

Some background: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday that actions committed by Russia against the Ukrainian people constitute war crimes, marking the first time a senior US official has directly accused Moscow of war crimes since last month's attack on Ukraine began. Later on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the US has "seen very credible reports" of Russian actions that would constitute war crimes, echoing comments made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday. Last week, Biden said "it's too early to say" that Russia is committing war crimes.

9:47 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

If Russia continues shelling campaign, then current sanctions "need to be stronger," Zelensky says

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

If Russia continues its shelling campaign in Ukraine, then the sanctions that have been imposed are "not enough," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday.

In a video address from the streets of Kyiv, Zelensky said European Union sanctions against Russia "need to be stronger." 

Referring to Thursday's meeting of EU leaders in Versailles, Zelensky said Ukraine knows the leaders "who supported us" and those "who kept silent ... and tried to water down the wording to make it insufficient for Ukraine, for Europe and for our joint freedom."  

"The European Union must do more for us, for Ukraine and for itself. We are waiting for it,” he said.

10:14 a.m. ET, March 11, 2022

US vice president calls NATO commitment "ironclad" in Romania

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US Vice President Kamala Harris holds a press conference in Bucharest, Romania on March 11.
US Vice President Kamala Harris holds a press conference in Bucharest, Romania on March 11. (Saul Loeb/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US Vice President Kamala Harris called the United States' commitment to defending NATO members "ironclad" in remarks along the alliance's eastern edge.

"We take very seriously our role and the relationships that we have within the NATO alliance," Harris said at a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. "We take seriously and are prepared to act on the words we speak when we say an attack against one is an attack against all."

"We are firm in our commitment," she went on. "When I say and we say over and over again, President Joe Biden says, 'We will defend every inch of NATO territory.'"

Harris said that responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine means reaffirming the NATO commitment.

"We are clear that the work that is to be done in response to Putin's war includes standing strong within the alliance to support the needs of our partners,” she said.

Harris hailed Romania’s support for Ukrainian refugees, saying the humanitarian needs are “significant and immediate.”

She said the US would commit more funding to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Europe.

Harris was also asked about the possibility of the war extending into Romania.

"As it relates to what might be the future conduct of Putin, I cannot speculate," Harris said. "But we are clear in our position, which is that as a member of NATO, an attack against one is an attack against all."

Her host, the Romanian president, sought to downplay fears that Putin could have his sights set on Romania next.

"We do not have information that Romania would represent a target of aggression," he said through a translator. "On the other hand, it is very clear it is very clear that this Russian action, this war started against Ukraine, definitely created a difficult to produce result, a visible firm, a clear result. And it's represented by the unity of NATO."