March 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Eric Levenson, Meg Wagner, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Ben Church, Jeevan Ravindran, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 11:12 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022
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4:59 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

In new letter, Republican lawmakers urge Biden to supply air defense systems and fighter jets to Ukraine

From CNN's Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb

According to a new letter sent to the Biden administration on Tuesday, top House and Senate Republicans are calling on the administration to provide Ukraine with Soviet and Russian-made air defense systems to help defend against Russia’s invasion.

The unclassified letter does not specify which air defense system should be provided, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the US to help it acquire both S-300 air defense systems and MiG-29 fighter jets.

The State Department has been working to identify which countries currently have the Soviet-made S-300 air defense systems and is currently examining how they could be transferred to Ukraine, sources told CNN on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Zelensky will give a virtual speech before the House and Senate in which he’s expected to renew his requests for more weapons, as well as a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

The lawmakers said that the new $3 billion in funding Congress approved in an emergency supplement should be used to deliver the military aid to the Ukrainians and also help reimburse US allies who have provided equipment and depleted their own stocks. 

In addition to the strategic and tactical air defense systems, the Republicans are pushing the Biden administration to immediately deliver additional Stinger anti-air missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainians.

On Monday, CNN reported that the Biden administration’s $200 million aid package announced this past weekend includes funding for both Stingers and Javelins.

The GOP lawmakers also pressed the Biden administration to reconsider its position on transferring Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, arguing that the Biden administration reached a “flawed conclusion” when it decided that such a step would be escalatory.

Last week, the Pentagon said it was opposed to Poland’s proposal to transfer jets to Ukraine via the United States because it could escalate tensions with Russia, arguing also that the jets wouldn’t make a major difference in Ukraine’s fight because it’s not currently flying many aircrafts.

In addition to the air defense systems and MiG jets, Republican lawmakers are calling on the Defense and State Departments to deliver a host of other weapons and additional aid to Ukraine, including:

  • Grenade launchers and ammo
  • Small arms and ammo
  • Artillery systems, multiple launch
  • Rocket Systems, mortars and ammo
  • Machine guns and ammo
  • First aid kits
  • Small UAS
  • Secure communications
  • Binoculars and thermal imaging
  • Rangefinders
  • Generators
  • Potable water systems
  • Field feeding equipment and MREs m.
  • Gas masks and chemical protective equipment
  • Tractors, loaders, and excavators cameras

Additionally, the letter urges, the administration should begin to engage with industry leaders in the near term to ramp up production of non-lethal military equipment.

That equipment includes, but is not limited to:

  • gas masks and chemical protective equipment
  • body armor
  • helmets
  • medical kits
  • secure communications devices
  • potable water systems
  • logistics capabilities including vehicles
  • various spare parts

 The letter was signed by the following six Republicans:

  • Senate Armed Services ranking member Jim Inhofe
  • Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch
  • Senate Intelligence vice chairman Marco Rubio
  • House Armed Services ranking member Mike Rogers
  • House Foreign Affairs ranking member Mike McCaul
  • House Intelligence ranking member Mike Turner

4:07 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russia-Ukraine talks ended for the day and will resume Wednesday, Ukrainian negotiator says

From CNN staff

Talks with Russia finished for the day and will resume on Wednesday, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podoliak tweeted on Tuesday.

"We'll continue tomorrow. A very difficult and viscous negotiation process. There are fundamental contradictions. But there is certainly room for compromise. During the break, work in subgroups will be continued," he said of where thing stand in the talks.

The fourth round of talks between the two sides began on Monday before being “paused” until Tuesday.

4:29 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russian forces have fired more than 950 missiles since the start of the invasion, US official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire in an apartment building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15.
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire in an apartment building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a senior US defense official, Russian forces have now fired more than 950 missiles since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. 

Both Russian forces and Ukrainian forces have approximately 90% of their combat power “available to them,” the official added. 

The US “continues to assess limited to no progress by Russian ground forces in achieving their objectives,” the official said, noting that Russian forces have not advanced closer to the capital city of Kyiv.

The US estimates that Russian forces are “still about 15-20 kilometers to the northwest and about 20-30 kilometers to the east” of Kyiv, the official said. 

In the last 24 hours, security assistance from the US and other nations “continues” to arrive in Ukraine. The shipments that arrived within the last 24 hours “did include weapons,” the official added.

These comments were given to reporters on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's flight from Washington, DC, to Brussels. Austin is traveling to Brussels to attend the NATO Defense Ministerial.

3:26 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Here's what's in the $13.6 billion Ukraine aid package from the US

From CNN's Katie Lobosco

massive spending bill signed into law by US President Joe Biden Tuesday provides for a one-time $13.6 billion infusion of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as it fights back against Russia's invasion.

The amount of money the legislation includes for Ukraine increased during last-minute negotiations, growing from the $10 billion the White House had asked for earlier in the month.

The Ukraine aid is attached to an appropriations law that sets spending limits for the federal government for fiscal year 2022, which started in October. Lawmakers have haggled over the full-year appropriations bill for months and have passed three stopgap funding bills to keep the government operating in the meantime.

The text of the 2,741-page bill was released last week and Congress passed the legislation before a Friday deadline, avoiding a government shutdown.

How it's going to be spent:

Military aid: About $6.5 billion, roughly half of the aid package, will go to the US Department of Defense so it can deploy troops to the region and send defense equipment to Ukraine, according to a summary of the bill provided by the House Appropriations Committee.

The US has deployed thousands of troops throughout Europe, both before and during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But putting troops on the ground in Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, is a line that the US and its Western allies have not been willing to cross.

Humanitarian aid: More than $4 billion will provide humanitarian support for refugees fleeing Ukraine and people displaced within Ukraine, as well as provide emergency food assistance, health care and urgent support for vulnerable communities inside the region, according to a fact sheet provided by the House Appropriations Committee.

Economic aid: The package will provide nearly $1.8 billion to help respond to the economic needs in Ukraine and neighboring countries, such as cybersecurity and energy issues.

The law also calls for $25 million for the US Agency for Global Media, an independent federal agency, to combat disinformation in news broadcasts abroad. Another $120 million will help support local Ukraine activists and journalists and promote accountability for Russian human rights violations.

Read more about the aid package here.

3:19 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

UK imposes more sanctions against Russian and Belarusian citizens, including Putin's "key political allies"

From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday announced further sanctions against Russian and Belarusian citizens, including Putin's "key political allies and propagandists."

The sanctioning of 370 further individuals and entities brings the total number of those sanctioned since the Russian invasion of Ukraine to over 1000, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCO) spokesperson told CNN.

Of the newly sanctioned individuals, 51 are oligarchs and their family members, according to the FCO. In total, the nine oligarchs sanctioned Tuesday under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act have a combined estimated worth of more than $130 billion (£100 billion), the FCO said, citing Forbes data.

The key political allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin sanctioned reportedly include Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev. Putin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova were also included in the latest round of sanctions.

"We are going further and faster than ever in hitting those closest to Putin — from major oligarchs, to his Prime Minister, and the propagandists who peddle his lies and disinformation. We are holding them to account for their complicity in Russia's crimes in Ukraine," Truss said. The UK is working closely with its allies and will keep “increasing the pressure on Putin and cut off funding for the Russian war machine," Truss added.

The sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans. All those sanctioned had previously been targeted by the United States, European Union, Canada or Australia, a spokesperson said.

4:42 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Hours after Zelensky's speech to Congress, Biden will speak about what the US is providing to Ukraine

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

An exterior view of the US Capitol on March 14.
An exterior view of the US Capitol on March 14.  (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden plans to detail US assistance to Ukraine in a speech on Wednesday, hours after Ukraine's president is expected to lay out new requests for help in a speech to Congress.

President Volodomyr Zelensky is likely to make fresh calls for steps like a no-fly zone and help acquiring fighter jets in his address to lawmakers. Biden has rejected those steps as potentially dragging the US into conflict with Russia, suggesting it could begin World War III.

But he is intent on demonstrating the support the US is providing, and will detail it in a speech on Wednesday, the White House says. 

Biden referenced the speech in remarks on Tuesday: "I'll have much more to say about this tomorrow," he said when signing a spending bill.

Speaking on CNN, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Biden would talk "about the security assistance that we have provided, that we are providing, it's just unparalleled in amounts. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anti-armor, all kinds of support that the Ukrainians have asked for."

3:17 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

"This will be a step forward," says US deputy secretary of state of reports that cars are leaving Mariupol

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said there are reports of cars leaving Mariupol, noting that if this is in fact the beginning of an evacuation corridor, such a development would be a “step forward.”

“There are reports today that some cars have been let out of Mariupol, and that there are other cars waiting to leave Mariupol, and if indeed this is the beginning of humanitarian corridor to allow people to escape a city where they have been deprived by the Russians of food and water and medicine, and no electricity in a very cold time of year, then this will be a step forward,” Sherman said on CNN.

“But we have a long way to go. The United States wants to do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people and to impose consequences on Vladimir Putin who has done this — this premeditated, unjust and unprovoked war of choice to invade Ukraine," she added.

Over the weekend, Sherman said there were signs that the Russians were beginning to be interested in serious negotiations, but she rolled back those comments on Tuesday.

She also pointed to her remarks over the weekend where she described Putin’s current focus being on the war itself.

“At the end of that paragraph on Sunday, I also said so far, Vladimir Putin has not shown any sign but that he wants to continue this war of carnage. So, unfortunately, I think any of those little signs have disappeared,” Sherman said, adding that getting cars out of Mariupol would be a positive step forward.

3:06 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

President Biden touts provisions surging aid to Ukraine ahead of signing spending bill

From CNN's DJ Judd

In remarks ahead of Tuesday’s omnibus funding bill signing, US President Joe Biden touted funding allocated to assist Ukraine in defending itself against Russia’s invasion, boasting “with this new security funding and the drawdown authorities this bill, we're moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.” 

“With this bill, we're going to send a message to the American people — a strong message that Democrats and Republicans can actually come together and get something done…to fill our most basic responsibilities, to keep the government open and running for the American people, serving the American people, investing in your communities, and investing in American people will do it in a fiscally responsible way,” Biden boasted. “This bill also includes historic funding, $13.6 billion dollars to address Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the impact on surrounding countries," he said.

Russia’s invasion has “united people all across America, united our two parties in Congress, and united the freedom loving world to act with urgency and resolve that we're doing right now, that you provided me the ability to do,” the president said, acknowledging the lawmakers in the room. “I want to thank Congressional leadership for working so quickly to make sure we have the resources we need — economic, humanitarian, and security to continue our forceful response to this crisis.” 

The Senate passed the omnibus spending bill late Thursday on a bipartisan vote of 68-31 — of the $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine, money is set aside for humanitarian, defense and economic assistance. The bill also includes provisions for sanctions enforcement.

Breakdown of funding: The emergency aid package sets aside $4 billion to help refugees who have fled or were displaced within the country and it increases the President's authority for defense equipment transfer to Ukraine and other allied nations to $3 billion, according to a fact sheet from the House Appropriations Committee.

In Tuesday’s remarks, Biden touted a record $1.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine over the past year, acknowledging that while it’s been “exceedingly difficult to get supplies in Ukraine while the Russian onslaught continues… we're managing to get supplies in Ukraine regularly thanks to the bravery of so many frontline workers who are still at their posts.”

4:09 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and Czech Republic arrive in Kyiv

CNN's Lindsay Isaac

From Left: Slovenia's PM Janez Janša, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish deputy PM Jarosław Kaczyński, and Czech PM Petr Fiala study a map in a wood-panelled room in an undisclosed location on Tuesday.
From Left: Slovenia's PM Janez Janša, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish deputy PM Jarosław Kaczyński, and Czech PM Petr Fiala study a map in a wood-panelled room in an undisclosed location on Tuesday. (From Mateusz Morawiecki/Twitter)

The Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have arrived by train in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

The prime ministers arrived in the city on behalf of the EU council, Shmyal said on Twitter, praising the “courage of true friends.”

The leaders would discuss “support of Ukraine and strengthening sanctions against the Russian aggression,” he added.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also tweeted pictures the show him in conversation with the other visiting prime ministers.

“It is here, in war-torn Kyiv, that history is being made. It is here, that freedom fights against the world of tyranny. It is here that the future of us all hangs in the balance. EU supports UA, which can count on the help of its friends - we brought this message to Kyiv today," he said.