March 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, George Ramsay, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022
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12:36 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

ICC chief prosecutor to CNN: Reasonable grounds to believe war crimes committed in Russia-Ukraine conflict

From CNN's Andrew Carey

In an exclusive interview in Lviv, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has come to Ukraine because he has reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been committed in the conflict between Russia and its southern neighbor. 

“The law is clear on this. It is a crime to intentionally target civilians. It is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects. Now, of course, there has to be further investigation. Were those civilian objects being used to launch attacks that make them a legitimate target? But even then, there is no license to use cluster bombs or use disproportionate attacks in concentrated civilian areas. There’s a duty of distinction,” Karim Khan said.   

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, there have been numerous incidents of residential buildings being hit by Russian rockets and artillery fire. Among the most deadly was a strike on the city of Chernihiv when Russian fire hit an apartment complex around midday on March 4. Video geolocated by CNN shows at least five explosions during the attack. Emergency services said they had pulled 33 bodies from the rubble of damaged buildings by the early evening. Regional authorities said there were no military facilities nearby, though Russia insists it does not deliberately target civilians. 

In his CNN interview, Khan also said that indictments could be served on anyone regardless of military rank or civilian role.  

“There’s no immunity for any official position … [If] you’re a foot soldier in a civilian area in urban warfare, you don’t have a license to rape or attack children or terrorize. And if you’re a field commander or if you’re a battlefield commander doing aerial strikes, or targeting decisions or you’re a civilian superior, under the Rome statute, there is responsibility,” Khan said. 

More background: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last 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.

Other Biden administration officials have not gone as far as to declare outright that Russia has committed war crimes — violations of international laws of armed conflict — and instead have pointed to "credible reports" that such crimes have been carried out and their support for investigations into Moscow's actions.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday referenced "atrocities" committed by the Russians and said that the UN should investigate the allegations of Russian war crimes.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Sonnet Swire and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post. 

12:34 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Russia's Patriarch Kirill discusses Ukraine conflict with Pope Francis, according to the Moscow church

From CNN staff

Russia’s Patriarch Kirill discussed the situation in Ukraine with Pope Francis on Wednesday, the Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement.

“A detailed discussion of the situation in Ukraine took place. Particular attention was paid to the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis and the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church to overcome its consequences. The parties stressed the exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing their hope for the soonest achievement of a just peace,” the statement read.

“Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill also discussed a number of issues of bilateral cooperation,” the statement concludes.

Some context: The Pope has made appeals for peace during the war, met with Moscow’s ambassador to the Vatican at the Russian embassy, and will hold an extraordinary prayer called a “consecration” for Russia and Ukraine next week.

Patriarch Kirill said last week that the conflict is an extension of a fundamental culture clash between the wider Russian world and Western liberal values, exemplified by expressions of gay pride. Experts say that Kirill's comments offer important insights into Putin's larger spiritual vision of a return to a Russian Empire, in which the Orthodox religion plays a pivotal role.

Three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Kirill said in a speech: "We must not let dark and hostile external forces laugh at us, we must do everything to maintain peace between our peoples and at the same time protect our common historical fatherland from all outside actions that can destroy this unity."

2:29 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US "looking very hard" at whether Russia is targeting journalists in Ukraine, secretary of state says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova works with Fox journalist Trey Yingst and cameraperson Pierre Zakrzewski in this undated photo taken in Ukraine.
Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova works with Fox journalist Trey Yingst and cameraperson Pierre Zakrzewski in this undated photo taken in Ukraine. (Fox News//Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is “looking very hard” at whether Russia is intentionally targeting journalists in Ukraine.

At least three journalists have been killed covering the war in Ukraine in the past several days — Pierre Zakrzewski, Oleksandra Kuvshynova and Brent Renaud – and at least two have been severely injured.

“We are looking very hard at the targeting that the Russian forces are doing, including whether they are deliberately, intentionally targeting civilians, journalists or anyone else,” he said in an interview with NPR that aired Wednedsday.

“This is something we're looking hard at, we're documenting. Others are looking at this. The deliberate targeting of civilians, journalists and others would constitute a war crime,” he said.

American journalist Brent Renaud.
American journalist Brent Renaud. (Courtesy Lisa Abitbol/Nieman Foundation)

Blinken said that the world is “seeing journalists in the crossfire, people doing their jobs to bring the truth to the world."

“We've seen a Fox team that has had two of its members killed, one injured — someone I know very well,” Blinken said. “This is Ben Hall. He's someone who travels with me when I travel around the world. Someone I have great, great affection for, who's a tremendous reporter who asks me a lot of tough questions every place we go.”

“I'm very much hoping and praying that he'll be back on the job as soon as possible. But meanwhile, two of his colleagues lost their lives. And another very prominent filmmaker lost his life just the other day,” Blinken said.

12:49 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

NATO allies united in decision not to establish no-fly zone over Ukraine, secretary general says

From CNN's James Frater and Lindsay Isaac

NATO nations are united in backing the alliance’s position that it will not establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated calls for one, the organization's chief said.

There will be "no deployment of air or ground capabilities in Ukraine and that is the united position of our allies,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday at a news conference in Brussels.

Ministers discussed the issue at a meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday, the secretary general said, adding that the alliance is adamant not to escalate the war with Russia.

“We see destruction, we see human suffering in Ukraine but this can become even worse if NATO took actions that actually turned this into full-fledged war between NATO and Russia," he said.

US President Joe Biden is set to travel to Europe next week to participate in a NATO summit on March 24 and will also join a European Council meeting, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

NATO's Stoltenberg spoke to CNN following Zelensky's address:

11:53 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

5 injured by Russian fire on evacuation convoy traveling to Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych in Lviv

An evacuation convoy from the town of Enerhodar in the middle of the country came under fire while traveling towards the city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian authorities say.

A convoy of more than 70 vehicles left soon after 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET), Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov said.

But five hours later, the convoy was hit by artillery fire as it passed near the town of Stepnohirsk, according to the regional administration.

"Artillery of enemy forces fired on a convoy of civilians near Stepnohirsk moving along the highway towards Zaporizhzhia," Oleksandr Starukh, head of Zaporizhzhia region administration, informed on his Telegram channel. "There are no dead. It is currently known there are five wounded, including one child in serious condition."

He added, "Currently, the injured child is undergoing a complex operation with the remote involvement of specialists from the Okhmatdyt Clinic. A fire broke out in the field along the route as a result of the shelling."

Enerhodar was occupied by the Russians on March 4. They hold the nearby nuclear power station.

11:45 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Here's what's in the $13.6 billion Ukraine aid package that President Biden signed this week

From CNN's Katie Lobosco

In remarks on Wednesday, Biden is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, a White House official told CNN, bringing the total to $1 billion announced in just the last week.

The $800 million in security assistance comes from the massive spending bill the President signed into law on Tuesday, which includes $13.6 billion total in new aid to Ukraine.

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.

11:49 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Human rights group Council of Europe removes Russia from its membership

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels and Martin Goillandeau in London

The Council of Europe (CoE), a France-based pan-European human rights organization, said on Wednesday it has excluded Russia from its members after 26 years of membership.

“In an extraordinary meeting this morning, the Committee of Ministers decided, in the context of the procedure launched under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as from today,” a statement published on the Council’s website read.

The decision follows an opinion adopted Tuesday by the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly which considered that “the Russian Federation can no longer be a member State of the Organisation,” per the statement.

The Council of Europe said Russia’s “unjustified and unprovoked aggression” of Ukraine led to the decision of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly to initiate the procedure of expulsion of the Russian Federation.

What Russia and Ukraine are saying: The Russian Foreign Ministry responded it would withdraw from the pan-European structure, arguing it adopted a “discriminatory decision” to suspend the country’s representation on Feb. 25.

In a speech to the chamber Monday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal asked for Russia to be ousted from the Council of Europe, saying Ukraine was “on fire."

Distinct from the European Union, the Council of Europe has 46 member states and is also an official United Nations Observer. It is also a parent structure to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Russia joined the Council of Europe on 28 February 1996.

“Through their actions in Ukraine the Russian authorities deprive the Russian people of the benefit of the most advanced human rights protection system in the world, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and our vast convention system,” a Council’s statement read Tuesday.

10:48 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US planning to significantly expand sanctions on Russian individuals in coming days, officials say

From CNN's Phil Mattingly

The Biden administration is continuing to develop sanctions targeting top Russian officials and those in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, with plans to ramp up the number of targets in the coming days and weeks, according to multiple US officials.

The process has been ongoing and has taken into account specific suggestions of targets provided by top Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, the officials said. In a call with US President Joe Biden last week, Zelensky laid out a more specific range of targets for individual sanctions, one of the officials said. The administration is currently working to address those requested targets. 

Zelensky, in virtual remarks to Congress, went further today when he requested the US impose sanctions on all Russian politicians who continue to support the government.

While some Zelensky requests, including the implementation of a no-fly zone, remain off the table for Biden, the sanctions are viewed by the administration as a tool they can readily deploy.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US has slapped sanctions on dozens of top Russian officials and oligarchs, as well as their family members. 

Biden also signed off on targeting Putin directly with individual sanctions, in coordination with the EU and UK. 

12:09 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Russian counterpart

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke Wednesday with his Russian counterpart, the White House said.

The call between Sullivan and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev marks the highest-level known contact between the US and Russia in weeks.

Sullivan reiterated "the United States’ firm and clear opposition to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine," according to a statement.

"Mr. Sullivan clearly laid out the United States’ commitment to continue imposing costs on Russia, to support the defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, in continued full coordination with our Allies and partners. Mr. Sullivan told General Patrushev that if Russia is serious about diplomacy then Moscow should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns. Mr. Sullivan also warned General Patrushev about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine," the statement continued.