March 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Tara John, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Joe Ruiz and Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 12:06 a.m. ET, March 13, 2022
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9:49 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Russia claims ownership of Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Ukrainian management says

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasová and Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

Russian officials have arrived to Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant, demanding to take control of the facility, according to a statement from Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-operated nuclear energy company.

Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Station has been occupied by Russian forces for more than a week now, with Energoatom previously claiming its employees have been forced to work at "gunpoint.”

Energoatom said 11 people from Rosatom, the Russian state atomic energy company, arrived to the plant on Friday and that a representative of the group said the plant now belonged to Rosatom.

“According to a representative of this group, they were sent to assess nuclear and radiation safety after the shelling and seizure of the station, as well as to provide assistance with repairs,” the statement said.
“Another reason for their appearance was voiced as the refusal of the pro-Ukrainian leadership and ZNPP personnel to cooperate with the invaders,” it added.

The statement said that two top-level engineers from Russian nuclear power plants in Balakovo and Rostov were among the 11 Russians that arrived on Friday.

The statement said that all six power units at the plant are in operation, but added that the station management is forced to agree on all technical issues with the Russians.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Saturday that two of the plant’s four high voltage offsite power lines have been damaged, but that the amount of power the plant needs in order to keep operating safely can be provided with one line available.

Rosatom has not commented on the issue.

10:02 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Ukrainian deputy PM calls on leading Taiwanese electronics manufacturer to cease business with Russia

From CNN’s Wayne Chang in Taipei, Taiwan

An ASUS sign is seen inside a shop in Tehran, Iran in 2021.
An ASUS sign is seen inside a shop in Tehran, Iran in 2021. (Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who is also the minister for digital transformation, called on leading Taiwanese electronics manufacturer ASUS to cease operation and business ties with Russia as its invasion into Ukraine continues, according to an open letter posted on Fedorov’s Twitter on Thursday.   

In the letter addressed to ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih, Fedorov called on the company and its affiliates to “end any relationships and stop doing business” in Russia, as well as cease relationships with Russia-based clients and partners, including “supplying hardware and electronics, providing technical support and services,” until “Russian aggression in Ukraine is fully stopped and fair order is restored.”     

“The IT industry always supports values of responsibility and democracy. We believe, your company also shares them. Now, responsibility is the choice, the choice that defines the future. And now, more than ever, people’s lives depend on your choice,” Federov wrote.   

“Russian tanks and missiles continue killing peaceful Ukrainians! @ASUS, Russians have no moral right to use your brilliant technology! It's for peace, not for war!" Fedrov said in a tweet preceding the letter.

This is the first Taiwanese multinational corporation directly called on by Ukrainian senior officials to cut business ties with Russia in relation to the invasion.  

A review of Fedorov’s Twitter activity shows that since Russia’s invasion, he has publicly called on a range of high-profile companies – including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Visa, Mastercard and Netflix – to ban Russian access to their products and services. 

CNN reached out to ASUS for comment. According to Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency, ASUS said earlier on Saturday it “would not respond at this time.” 

Last Tuesday, Taiwan senior officials said it will join moves to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system, and it will “scrutinize” products exported to Russia in accordance with the Wassenaar Arrangement – which regulates export controls for weapons and dual-use goods and technologies – and won’t permit such exports “unless there are legitimate reasons.”

9:44 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

French and German leaders urge immediate ceasefire in call with Putin

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a joint press conference on February 8, in Berlin, Germany.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a joint press conference on February 8, in Berlin, Germany. (Thibault Camus/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to call an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine during a 75-minute call on Saturday. 

Macron and Scholz also appealed to Putin to “move toward a diplomatic solution to the conflict,” according to German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit.

He said the conversation was part of ongoing international efforts to end the war in Ukraine. The two sides agreed not to disclose any further details of the talks, he added.

Scholz spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prior to the call with Putin about his “assessment of the current situation," and "they agreed to remain in close contact,” according to the spokesperson.   

9:31 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Vatican says it's available for "any kind of mediation" to help stop war in Ukraine

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

People hold a Ukrainian flag in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 6.
People hold a Ukrainian flag in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 6. (Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Vatican is willing to do “everything possible” to assist in reaching a ceasefire and brokering an end to the war in Ukraine. 

The Holy See is “available for any kind of mediation,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, in an interview with Vatican News.

Parolin repeated Pope Francis’ appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine during a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week. 

“I asked for an end to the fighting and for a negotiated solution to the conflict. I insisted on respect for the civilian population and on humanitarian corridors,” Parolin said, and he repeated the Pope’s rejection of Moscow’s claim that the war is a military operation. “Words are important, and to define what is happening in Ukraine as a military operation is to fail to recognize the reality of the facts. We are facing a war, which unfortunately claims many civilian victims, as all wars do.” 

The Pope’s “unprecedented gesture” of visiting the Russian embassy to the Vatican the day after the invasion of Ukraine was a “personal step” in order to “express to the authorities in Moscow his concern about the escalation of the war,” Parolin said. War is “madness,” he said, and appealed to the “consciences” of all people involved to cease fighting immediately.

“We have before our eyes the terrible images coming from Ukraine. The victims among the civilians, women, elderly people, and defenseless children who have paid with their lives for the folly of war. The anguish grows as we see cities with gutted houses, no electricity, sub-zero temperatures, lack of food and medicine, as well as millions of refugees, mostly women and children, fleeing the bombs. Over the last few days, I have come across a group of them, who have arrived in Italy from various parts of Ukraine: blank stares, faces without smiles, endless sadness. ... What is the fault of those young mothers and their children? We would have to possess a heart of stone in order to remain impassive and allow this havoc to continue, as rivers of blood and tears continue to flow. War is a barbarity,” he said.

It is “never too late,” to make peace, he urged. “It is never too late to retrace one's steps and find an agreement.”

7:59 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Zelensky claims Ukraine is inflicting "biggest blow to the Russian army in decades"

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video address on March 12.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video address on March 12. (Facebook)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Ukrainian forces are inflicting the “biggest blow to Russia’s army in decades.” 

In a Facebook video address Saturday Zelensky said 31 Russian tactical battalion groups have lost capability, and more than 360 Russian tanks have been lost.

Zelensky added that groups of Russian troops were surrendering to Ukrainian forces, but that Russia is now recruiting fighters, reservists, conscripts, and mercenaries to “outnumber” Ukrainian forces.

They are using terror to break us, to break our faith in Ukraine’s victory, I am confident they will not succeed,” Zelensky added. 

Addressing the city of Mariupol, Zelensky said that Ukrainian forces will guarantee a ceasefire along the evacuation corridor out of the city to allow supplies into the city, and to facilitate civilian evacuations.

Zelensky's remarks come after a Russian airstrike on Mariupol's maternity and children's hospital on Wednesday left 17 people injured, including children, women and doctors, according to Mariupol city officials. Three people died, the city council said Thursday, among them, a child.

A pregnant woman, Mariana Vishegirskaya, whose rescue from the Mariupol maternity hospital this week was captured in a viral AP photo, has since given birth to a baby girl, her family confirmed to CNN. 

CNN's Tim Lister, Laura Smith-Spark, Olga Voitovych, Rob Picheta and Gianluca Mezzofiore contributed reporting to this post.

7:23 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Flying on Russian planes is about to get much more dangerous

From CNN's Chris Isidore

As Russia's economy gets pummeled by increasingly severe western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, the country's crucial airlines have been essentially cut off from much of the world.

But that is the least of the industry's problems. Russia's domestic airline industry could soon become a mere shell of its former self due to restrictions on its operations.

Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union mean that the world's two major aircraft makers, Boeing (BA) and Airbus (EADSF), can no longer supply spare parts or maintenance support for Russian airlines. The same is true of jet engine makers.

"Within a year Russia will cease to have any kind of viable airline industry," said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory.

He said the country's airline industry could soon find itself somewhere between the heavily sanctioned industries in Iran and North Korea.

That poses a serious problem for Russia's overall economic activity.

Russia is the world's largest nation by landmass, more than twice the size of the continental United States. It needs to have a viable airline industry to keep its economy working, said Charles Lichfield, the deputy director of GeoEconomics Center at the Atlantic Council, an international think tank.

"It is an important part of Russia's economy. They need that backbone. They need some basic domestic [airline] industry to remain in place," Lichfield added.

Read the full story:

7:24 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Call between Putin and French and German leaders is underway

From CNN’s Melissa Bell in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have started a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine, an Elysée source told CNN on Saturday.

The three men previously spoke on Thursday when Macron said that the conditions put forth by Russian President Vladimir Putin for a ceasefire in Ukraine were “not acceptable to anyone,” without specifying what Putin's conditions were. 

Macron has spoken frequently to Putin in the last month but has had little success in deescalating the crisis.

9:58 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Italy's finance police seize Russian oligarch's mega yacht

From CNN's Nicola Ruotolo and Paul P. Murphy

Andrey Melnichenko's mega yacht is sequestered by Italian Finance police in Trieste, Italy on March 12.
Andrey Melnichenko's mega yacht is sequestered by Italian Finance police in Trieste, Italy on March 12. (Giorgio Boemo/Reuters)

The Italian finance police seized Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko's mega yacht in Trieste, Italy on Friday evening.

The Guardia di Finanza made the announcement in a statement released on Friday evening. Called "SY A," the yacht was in storage at the Port of Trieste, the statement said.

It's worth approximately 530 million euros ($578 million), the statement added. It is one of the largest superyachts in the world, according to the manufacturer Nobiskrug.

Video published by the finance police shows agents boarding the yacht.

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

In the EU's Council decision, which authorized sanctions against Melnichenko, they noted he and 36 other business leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion into Ukraine to discuss the potential economic impact of EU and American sanctions.

"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," the EU Council decision reads. 

"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.”

The news comes as numerous Russian elites have been scrambling to move and sell assets amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Just days after Russian oligarch and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich announced that he would sell the football club, the UK added the 55-year-old to its list of sanctioned individuals as part of its efforts to "isolate" Putin.

On March 3, France's finance ministry announced the country had seized a yacht owned by Russian oligarch and CEO of Russian oil giant Rosneft Igor Sechin.

The European Union had sanctioned Sechin earlier that week, describing him as one of Putin's "most trusted and closest advisors, as well as his personal friend."

CNN's Kara Scannell, Jessica Schneider, Amy Woodyatt and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting to this post.

3:35 p.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Zelensky demands immediate release of detained Melitopol mayor

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov.
Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov. (From Facebook)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the immediate release of Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the city of Melitopol who was arrested by armed men on Friday.

In a video address Saturday, Zelensky said: “Yesterday the occupiers abducted the mayor of Melitopol, the public demands his release."

Our demand is simple, his immediate release.”

Shortly after Fedorov's detention, the Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor claimed that the mayor had committed terrorism offenses and was under investigation.

Melitopol is currently under Russian military occupation

Zelensky said he had spoken to the leaders of France, Germany, Israel about securing mayor Fedorov’s release. 

Earlier on Saturday, hundreds of people protested outside Melitopol's city hall, demanding his release, according to Ukrainian state TV video.