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March 11, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

'Indiscriminate bombing often in civilian areas': Nick Paton Walsh on Russian tactics

What we covered

  • Russian forces are expanding their offensive in Ukraine to the west for the first time. Major cities — including Dnipro and Lutsk — were struck Friday, Ukrainian officials said. Closer to Kyiv, fighting has intensified to the northeast and east of the capital. 
  • Satellite images show the 40-mile-long Russian convoy near Kyiv has largely dispersed.
  • Ukrainian authorities reported limited success in securing the evacuation of civilians from the worst affected areas Friday, with efforts set to resume on Saturday.
  • President Joe Biden said the US, along with the G7 and European Union, will move to suspend normal trade relations with Russia. The measure requires an act of Congress.
  • Want to help? Learn how to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine here. 
  • Having connection issues? Bookmark CNN’s lite site for fast connectivity.
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Italy seizes $578 million mega yacht owned by Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko

Andrey Melnichenko's "SY A" yacht is seen in Trieste, Italy on March 10.

Italian authorities seized Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko’s mega yacht on Friday, according to a statement from Italy’s finance police.

The statement said the vessel — called “SY A” — is worth about 530 million euros ($578 million) and was in storage at the northeastern port of Trieste.

It’s one of the largest superyachts in the world, according to its manufacturer, Nobiskrug.

The sanctions: Melnichenko was sanctioned by the European Union on March 9 as part of expanded punitive measures against Russian oligarchs. According to the EU, he owns the major fertilizer producer EuroChem Group and the coal company SUEK.

The EU council decision, which authorized sanctions against Melnichenko, noted he and 36 other business leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine began to discuss the potential economic impact of EU and US sanctions. 

The EU council decision reads: “The fact that he was invited to attend this meeting shows that he is a member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin and that he is supporting or implementing actions or policies which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, as well as stability and security in Ukraine.
“It also shows that he is one of the leading businesspersons involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of revenue to the government of Russia, which is responsible for annexation of Crimea and ​destabilization of Ukraine.”

On Saturday, Melnichenko spokesman Alex Andreev told CNN that the Russian oligarch removed himself from the board of both Eurochem and SUEK (companies he founded) after the EU sanctioned him. Andreev also said that Melnichenko was also no longer the “beneficiary” of the companies, in a statement to CNN.

When asked by CNN if Melnichenko had any comment on the situation in Ukraine, Andreev declined to provide additional comment and instead pointed towards his initial emailed statement to CNN.

“Andrey Melnichenko is an international self-made entrepreneur. He has no relation to the tragic events in Ukraine. He has no political affiliations,” Andreev said in that statement. “There is no justification whatsoever for placing him on the EU sanctions list. We will be disputing these baseless and unjustified sanctions, and believe that the rule of law and common sense will prevail.”

Zelensky calls detention of Melitopol mayor a "crime against democracy"

The detention of the mayor of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol is a “crime against democracy,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday in a video posted on Facebook.

Earlier Friday, Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov was seen on video being led away from a government building in the city by armed men. A short time later, the Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor claimed Fedorov had committed terrorism offenses and was under investigation. 

Fedorov’s detention was “a sign of the weakness of the invaders,” Zelensky said.

“They did not find any support on our land, although they counted on it. Because for years they’ve been lying to themselves that people in Ukraine were supposedly waiting for Russia to come. 
“This is Ukraine here. It is Europe here. It is a democratic world here.”

Zelensky added that the mayor’s detention was “not only against a particular person, not only against a particular community and not only against Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the detention of Fedorov a “war crime,” saying the Geneva Convention prohibits civilian hostages from being taken.

Damaged power lines to Chernobyl nuclear plant are being repaired, UN watchdog says

Technicians began working on Thursday to repair damaged power lines serving the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

The lines were entirely cut earlier this week, with the last one “destroyed as a result of the occupant’s shelling” on Wednesday, Ukraine’s energy minister said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said diesel generators have been providing backup power to the site since Wednesday, and additional fuel supplies have been delivered to the Russian-controlled facility.

Some context: Russian troops overran the Chernobyl plant — the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster — on the first day of the invasion on Feb. 24, with staff still inside.

Some 211 technical personnel and guards at the site have in effect been living at the facility and in “increasingly difficult conditions” with potentially dwindling food supplies, the IAEA said.

The Ukrainian regulator told the IAEA it lost communication with the plant on Thursday, though it has continued to receive updates about the situation from senior off-site management.

Other nuclear facilities: The agency also gave updates about two other nuclear facilities in Ukraine. The power situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is “unchanged,” with two of four power lines damaged, the IAEA said, adding that one power line could provide the plant’s off-site power needs and diesel generators for back-up power are ready and available. 

In Kharkiv, a nuclear facility for research and development and radioisotope production for medical and industrial applications suffered “additional damage” after facing shelling earlier this week.

However, the IAEA said the nuclear material at that site is subcritical and the inventory of radioactive material is low, and the agency assessed the damage would not lead to radiological consequences.

Here’s a look back at the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in pictures:

A reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded on April 26, 1986, releasing large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

In pictures: The Chernobyl disaster

No diplomatic off-ramp in sight for Russia's war in Ukraine

With Russia’s war in Ukraine now in its third week, US and European officials have little optimism that diplomatic channels can deliver a way out of the conflict at this point.

Talks between Ukraine’s and Russia’s diplomats this week yielded no discernible progress. Supposedly safe evacuation routes out of the country have repeatedly been contested. The civilian death toll continues to rise, and by the end of the week both sides were trading accusations over the use of chemical weapons.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday there had been “certain positive advances” in negotiations with Ukraine, US and European officials and diplomats who spoke to CNN all expressed deep skepticism about the state of talks. None felt Putin’s actions to date have suggested the Russian leader is ready to find a diplomatic off-ramp to end the war.

Impact of sanctions: The US and its allies have enacted crippling sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, and US President Joe Biden has kept in touch with European leaders as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But US officials have privately acknowledged they don’t believe any of these sanctions are going to change Putin’s thinking, and many don’t believe Russia’s losses in Ukraine will either.

The Biden administration is resisting putting its weight behind any single player involved in early efforts to broker a solution to end the Ukraine crisis. US officials say they have yet to see any tangible progress in any channel and continue to view Ukraine and Russia as the only essential players in driving a solution.

“A variety of different countries can try to shape things as they would like, but at the end of the day, this will likely boil down to what President Zelensky is willing to accept and what President Putin is willing to accept,” said a senior State Department official.

Read the full story:

An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

No diplomatic off-ramp in sight for Russia's war in Ukraine | CNN Politics

Explosions heard near Kyiv as Russian troops press closer to Ukraine's capital

CNN teams in Kyiv reported hearing explosions in the early hours of Saturday morning, with chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward describing “a nonstop volley … of just heavy booms in the distance,” continuing for several minutes.

It’s not clear whether the explosions were Russian or Ukrainian strikes, she said.

Fighting is continuing on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, with the city’s administration saying areas to the north remain the most dangerous, including the suburbs of Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel, as well as the district of Vyshorod further north of Kyiv. Fighting has also escalated in Brovary, across the Dnieper River, east of the city.

As Russian forces press in from several directions, “the worry becomes … that the intention is to fully surround the city, to starve the city, to bombard the city and then ultimately to try to overthrow (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky’s government,” Ward said. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told CNN the city currently only has resources — including food and medical supplies — for one to two weeks.

CNN’s Ward added that “Ukrainian forces are everywhere” in Kyiv. “They have dug up defensive positions along all the main thoroughfares leading into the city, they’ve put tank traps around. This is a heavily fortified city now. And even if Russian forces are enable to encircle it, it will still be an almighty battle for them to get to the heart of it.”

UK Defense Ministry: Russian airstrikes have targeted cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk

Russian air and missile forces have conducted strikes against the western Ukrainian cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the past 24 hours, the UK Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update on Friday.

The ministry added that Russian tactical aircraft supporting ground forces are relying on “unguided ‘dumb’ munitions,” which are “relatively inaccurate and indiscriminate and their use significantly increases the likelihood of civilian casualties.”

Biden detailed new measures to punish Russia in a 49-minute phone call with Zelensky

Prior to his address on Friday, US President Joe Biden spent 49 minutes on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, detailing the new measures he was going to announce regarding US trade with Russia, two officials familiar with the call tell CNN. 

While most of Biden and Zelensky’s calls since the invasion have hovered in the 30- to 40-minute range, this was one was a bit longer as Biden highlighted how the US was moving to suspend normal trade relations with Russia in another effort to punish the Kremlin.

Zelensky tweeted that he gave Biden an “assessment of the situation on the battlefield, informed about the crimes of Russia against the civilian population” and they agreed on “further steps to support the defense of Ukraine and increase sanctions against Russia.”

Independent US agency calls on Biden administration to push for Russia's expulsion from Interpol

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks to the press at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, on February 22, 2022.

An independent US government agency is calling on the Biden administration to push for Russia to be permanently expelled from Interpol — a step further than the suspension the administration has already sought — citing the invasion of Ukraine and previous abuses by Russia, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland joined justice ministers from several allied countries to demand that Interpol immediately suspend Russia from accessing its systems, according to Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley.  

Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, is a global agency which facilitates police across its 195 member countries to collaborate on criminal investigations. Interpol issues what are known as Red Notices to request the location and arrest of an individual pending their extradition.

Friday’s letter from the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe commended the steps the US has taken so far, but added that the administration should call for the permanent suspension of Russia.

“We urge you to use the U.S. position in Interpol (and in particular Interpol’s Executive Committee and its Advisory Group on Financial Matters) to make it clear that any failure to act against Russia’s abuse of lnterpol will have grave consequences for the U.S. contribution to Interpol’s budget and Interpol’s legal immunities in the United States,” the letter, directed to Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, reads.

The commission — also known as the US Helsinki Commission — was created by Congress in 1976 with a focus on human rights, military security, and economic cooperation. It is led by Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Steve Cohen.

If Russia is suspended from Interpol, it would bar the country from continuing to participate and therefore put in requests for Red Notices, but it would not remove Red Notices that are already in the system, said Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an expert in Interpol.

Core part of Kharkiv nuclear lab not damaged following shelling, institute director says

A man walks past a damaged part of the National Science Center, Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology on Friday.

The core part of a nuclear research facility in Kharkiv has not been damaged following a relentless round of shelling, the head of the science institute said on Friday in an interview with Reuters.

The outside of the institute has been hit with “major destruction” by several shells launched from the Russian side, said Mykola Shulga, general of the National Science Center Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology.

The facility is currently in working condition and safe, Shugla said, adding a warning that if the nuclear fuel tank were to become physically damaged, it could leak radioactive elements and severely harm the environment. 

“The facility, in working condition, doesn’t present any danger whatsoever. However, if there is physical damage, nuclear fuel leak is possible, [with] radioactive elements escaping outside. This obviously would be a huge, huge problem for the environment. In other words, what would happen would be comparable to a similar situation at any nuclear power station,” Shugla told Reuters.

There are 37 nuclear fuel cells that have been loaded into the core facility, according to Shulga. The institute was about to start working on the industrial utilization of the reactor.

This comes as CNN reported on Thursday that emergency services in Kharkiv were tackling a fire near the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology.

It's Saturday in Kyiv. Catch up on the developments in Ukraine.

Russian forces expanded their offensive to the west of Ukraine for the first time on Friday. Here’s what you need to know about the advancements Russian forces have made in Ukraine and the areas that have been newly impacted.

Where Russian forces have advanced: There’s growing evidence that the town of Volnovakha in eastern Ukraine has fallen to Russian forces and their allies in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. The city of Kherson appears to have been captured accrording to US defense intelligence.

The cities of Kyiv, Kharkhiv, Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Sumy continue to experience Russian onslaught and are under pressure.

Where recent attacks have happened, according to Ukrainian authorities: Major cities — including Dnipro and Lutsk — were struck Friday, Ukrainian officials said, with fatalities reported.

  • There was substantial damage to the airport at Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine, which is only about 70 miles (about 112 kilometers) from the Polish border.
  • The governor of the Volyn region said four missiles had been fired from a Russian bomber and two people were killed.
  • The military airfield at Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine was struck by missiles.
  • A missile strike on the outskirts of Dnipro killed one civilian and damaged a primary school building, apartment buildings and a shoe factory.
  • There were also overnight airstrikes in the Brovary district just east of Kyiv and a missile strike in the town of Baryshivka, some 45 miles (about 72 kilometers) east of the capital.
  • A soccer stadium and library in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine, have been badly damaged by an airstrike.

An update on the more than 40-miles-long Russian convoy: The convoy that had sat for nearly two weeks outside Kyiv has now largely dispersed, according to Maxar satellite imagery from Thursday. The forces appear to be regrouping.

New actions against Russia by the United States: US President Joe Biden announced that the US, along with the G7 and EU, will call for revoking “most favored nation” status for Russia, referred to as permanent normal trade relations in the US. Additionally, he said Russian imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds will be banned. Meanwhile, the G7 is also adding sanctions to more Russian oligarchs and their families as the invasion of Ukraine continues.

Russia says it has received applications from foreigners asking to join fight: 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. The US has not seen the “actual arrival” of foreign fighters from the Middle East to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, but it does believe that Russia is moving in the direction of recruiting and using foreign fighters.

Refugee numbers keep climbing: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Friday that the number of people who have fled from Ukraine has now hit 2.5 million.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry calls "abduction" of Melitopol mayor a "war crime"

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry published a strongly-worded statement on Facebook, calling the detention of the mayor of Melitopol by armed men a “war crime.”

CNN has previously reported that the Melitopol mayor, Ivan Fedorov, was seen on video being led away from a government building in the city by armed men. A short time later, the Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor claimed Fedorov had committed terrorism offenses and was under investigation.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called Fedorov’s detention an “abduction,” saying it is one of the many “gross violations of norms and principles of international law, including international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as other human rights violations by the Russian military.”

The Foreign Ministry said that the Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocols prohibit civilian hostages like Fedorov from being taken.

“We call on the international community to respond immediately to the abduction of Ivan Fedorov and other civilians, and to increase pressure on Russia to end its barbaric war against the Ukrainian people,” the statement said. 

“The fact of the abduction of the Mayor of Melitopol, along with hundreds of other facts of war crimes by Russian occupiers on the Ukrainian soil, are being carefully documented by law enforcement agencies. The perpetrators of this and other crimes will be brought to the strictest responsibility,” the post concluded.

You can read The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s Facebook post — including an English translation — below: