March 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Steve George, Ben Church, Luke McGee, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury, Joe Ruiz, Mike Hayes and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022
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2:07 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Estonia's prime minister: "Putin must not win this war"

From CNN’s Claudia Dominguez

Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas takes part in a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on March 9.
Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas takes part in a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on March 9. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

“Putin must not win this war,” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, adding that it was “heartbreaking” to see what Russia is doing in Ukraine.

“We are trying to do everything what we can to support and help Ukraine to fight this war. Putin must not win this war,” Kallas said on "State of the Union." 

Kallas, who will be attending the upcoming NATO summit, said that NATO’s strategy should focus on ending the war by using “smart containment”, meaning that NATO should move from a “deterrence posture” to a secure “defense posture,” raising NATO nations’ contribution to strengthen each nation’s defense and ultimately NATO as a whole and focusing on cooperation. 

“There are some capabilities that are too expensive for any individual state, but if we do them together here in Europe to protect our territories, we are stronger,” she said, nations should move to isolate Russia “at all the political levels that is possible.”

When asked about Poland’s proposal to send peacekeepers to Ukraine, Kallas said that first peace must be achieved, and that Russia is not showing any intentions of achieving it. 

“We can only have a peacekeeping mission if we have peace, but you know, if you look at what is happening in Ukraine, peace is nothing that we see there. It's a war that is going on, and I don't see that Russia has any intention of doing anything to achieve peace. So first we should have peace, then, to keep it,” she said. “Sometimes in order to achieve peace, we have to have the willingness to use military power.” 

Kallas said they do not see the possibility of a third World War in Europe and that the effort should be on ending this war.

Kallas also compared deportations happening in Mariupol to what Russia did in the 1940s where Estonians were put in “cattle cars” sent to Siberia. 

She said that Putin’s is feeding into the right-wing narrative in Europe and the US by creating a refugee crisis.

“He is creating this huge migration pressure to Europe and what we see in different countries, we also see that the Far Right now picking up the tone” and not helping refugees coming from Ukraine, she added. 

“The enemy is Russia and not the refugees,” Kallas said.

2:14 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

US and NATO officials struggle to decipher the status of peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine

From CNN's Zachary Cohen, Natasha Bertrand, and Alex Marquardt

US and NATO officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has not backed off his original demands in peace talks with Ukraine and there is a heavy dose of skepticism in western capitals about how credible Moscow’s engagement truly is — even as the status of those negotiations remains difficult to decipher, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has recently indicated he is willing to consider some concessions to Russia to help bring an end to the violence, including a neutrality policy albeit one underpinned by robust security guarantees, raising more questions about the current state of talks and specific elements of any peace deal that may be under consideration. 

“I’m ready for negotiations with [Putin]. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview Sunday morning, but warned that if any negotiation attempts fail, it could mean the fight between the two countries would lead to "a third World War."

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have met four times since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov weighed in on the possibility of Ukraine agreeing to neutral status during a media event in Moscow on Saturday, saying “after our operation in Ukraine ends, and I hope its ends with a signing of a comprehensive agreement on the issues I mentioned — security issues, Ukraine's neutral status with the guarantees of its security as the President [Putin], a couple of months ago as I recall, commented at a news conference on our initiative of non-expansion of NATO, he said we understood every country needs guarantees of its security,” said Lavrov.

But details on negotiations remain scant with many NATO countries, and the US, remaining on the outside looking in when it comes to the secretive peace talks, with one European defense official calling negotiations “a bit of a dark avenue right now.”

The Biden administration still sees no indication that Putin is willing or ready to deescalate the conflict — making it difficult for US officials to be optimistic about the current state of negotiations, one source familiar with the situation said. 

But at the same time, this source also said that the US is not pressuring Ukraine to accept or reject specific concessions and is not involved in the negotiation process. 

CNN has reached out to the US National Security Council for comment but hasn’t received a response.

Read more here:

Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report

12:41 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Crowds protest detention of deputy mayor in central Ukrainian town

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Hundreds of people turned out Sunday in the central Ukrainian town of Enerhodar to protest the detention of its deputy mayor, Ivan Ignatevich Samoydyuk.

Enerhodar — which is close to the Zaporizhzia nuclear power station that was occupied by Russian forces on March 4 — has seen sporadic protests since.

There appeared to be scuffles with Russian soldiers around a vehicle, followed by volleys of shots into the air. 

Samoydyk's son — also named Ivan — told CNN that "about 30 minutes after the rally began, a military vehicle with five or six Russian soldiers arrived. They tried to detain two people but the residents fought back and didn`t let that happen."

He said: "Immediately after that, an armored personnel carrier accompanied by several dozen armed Russian soldiers arrived at the rally site to disperse the demonstration." 

Samoydyk told CNN that on Saturday "during a phone call with one of his subordinates, my father said that he was being stopped by the Russian military."

"After that, the connection with my father disappeared. We do not know where he is located now, there were no demands from the kidnappers either."

The younger Samoydyk added: "The big problem is that my father is responsible for the livelihood of the city," including providing food for the operational personnel at the Zaporizhzia plant.

"The staff of the Zaporizhzhya NPP is extremely concerned about the events taking place in the city, and does not know whether it is safe for them to go to their shifts at all, whether they risk disappearing at any time in the same way it happened to my father," Samoydyk told CNN. 

12:55 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

It's Sunday evening in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

An elderly woman stands in front of a destroyed house after bombardments in the village of Krasylivka, east of Kyiv, on March 20.
An elderly woman stands in front of a destroyed house after bombardments in the village of Krasylivka, east of Kyiv, on March 20. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday he is ready to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but warned that if any negotiation attempts fail, it could mean the fight between the two countries would lead to "a third World War."

“I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview Sunday morning.

On the negotiations, Zelenksy said, "if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.”

Here are more of today's latest developments around the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • White House says Biden has "no plans" to visit Ukraine this week: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there are “no plans,” for US President Joe Biden to travel to Ukraine this week as he heads to Europe for snap emergency summits. "The trip will be focused on continuing to rally the world in support of the Ukrainian people and against President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but there are no plans to travel into Ukraine,” she said in a tweet.
  • US defense secretary: Putin resorting to "disgusting" civil attacks because his campaign is "stalled": US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine is “stalled,” which is why he has resorted to “disgusting” attacks against civilians there. “We've seen deliberate targeting of cities and towns and civilians throughout the last several weeks,” Austin told CBS's "Face the Nation." 
  • Putin's claims of neo-Nazis in Ukraine show he "might be capable of very horrendous steps," Zelensky says: President Zelensky was asked about Vladimir Putin's claims that the Ukrainian government is full of neo-Nazis. He said that he cannot take these statements by Putin "seriously" and called it "laughable."  Zelensky added that Putin is in an information bubble but he noted that remarks like this from the Russian president worry him about what he is capable of. "I'm not afraid of anything except for people, but the fact -- the fact is that if he is serious about this statement he might be capable of very horrendous steps because that would mean that this is not a game for him." 
  • Zelensky says if Ukraine "were a NATO member, a war wouldn't have started": Zelensky said Sunday that if his country had been admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance earlier, then Russia would not have invaded the country. “If we were a NATO member, a war wouldn't have started. I'd like to receive security guarantees for my country, for my people,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “GPS,” adding that he was grateful for the aid NATO has provided since the invasion began. “If NATO members are ready to see us in the alliance, then do it immediately because people are dying on a daily basis.”
  • More than 900 civilians killed in Ukraine since invasion began, UN says: At least 902 civilians have been killed and 1,459 injured since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Sunday. The OHCHR added that most of the casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes. In a statement, the UN body detailed the 902 deaths as “179 men, 134 women, 11 girls, and 25 boys, as well as 39 children and 514 adults whose sex is yet unknown.”
  • Mariupol struggling to learn more about art school bombing: An advisor to Mariupol’s mayor said in an update on the art school that was bombed by Russian forces in the last hours that city officials are struggling to learn more about how many people were hiding in the school that was acting as a shelter. Petro Andrushenko wrote on social media: “So far, there is no exact operational data on how many people were hiding in the shelter or the number of casualties. I expect we will have it later today. But the situation is difficult and there is nowhere to get the data from.” An earlier estimate from the city council put the number sheltering in the school building at 400. 
12:16 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russian military detains protesters, kicks at least one, in central Berdyansk

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

Russian military troops appeared to detain at least two Ukrainian protesters, and kick at least one in Berdyansk, Ukraine on March 20.
Russian military troops appeared to detain at least two Ukrainian protesters, and kick at least one in Berdyansk, Ukraine on March 20. (From Telegram)

Ukrainian protesters were met with force in Berdyansk, as Russian military troops appeared to detain at least two protesters, and kick at least one of them on Sunday.

Russian military troops first occupied Berdyansk government buildings on Feb. 27. Berdyansk sits on the Azov Sea and is roughly 45 miles — 70 kilometers — southwest of Mariupol.

The videos have been geolocated and their authenticity confirmed by CNN. 

In the first video, which appears to have been taken before the detentions, protesters are singing "Chervona Ruta," a popular Ukrainian pop song, near the boardwalk that runs along the Azov Sea.

The second video shows that at some point, the Russian military troops appearing to detain at least two protesters — their hands are tied behind their backs. One of the protesters is kicked repeatedly by one of the troops while on the ground, while their hands are behind their back.

11:41 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

White House says Biden has "no plans" to visit Ukraine this week

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

US President Joe Biden attends a meeting at the White House on March 18 in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden attends a meeting at the White House on March 18 in Washington, DC. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there are “no plans,” for US President Joe Biden to travel to Ukraine this week as he heads to Europe for snap emergency summits.

"The trip will be focused on continuing to rally the world in support of the Ukrainian people and against President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but there are no plans to travel into Ukraine,” she said in a tweet.

On CNN’s "State of the Union," US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield cast major doubt on the possibility for President Joe Biden to visit Ukraine this week when he heads to Europe, saying “as far as I know, it’s not on the table.”

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's former president, told CNN's Jim Acosta on Saturday that a Biden visit to Ukraine would be a "symbol of our solidarity."

He continued, saying that Biden was a "very good friend of mine and a very good friend of Ukraine," adding that a visit by the US president would be "an extremely right step to demonstrate that the whole world is together with us against Russia."

Read the tweet:

11:22 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russian attack killed 56 elderly residents of a care home in eastern Ukraine, says regional official

From CNN staff

Fifty-six elderly residents of a care home in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kreminna were killed when a Russian tank opened fire on a care home, according to the head of the Luhansk region.  

Serhii Haidai said the attack happened nine days ago, on March 11, and that fifteen other residents of the care home had been abducted and taken to the town of Svatove in what is now Russian-occupied territory.  

Haidai first reported the attack in a video statement posted to Twitter on March 12 but said at the time he had no information on casualties, indicating Ukrainian emergency services and officials had come under fire when they tried to gain access the area.  

“[Russian forces] opened fire on a nursing home for elderly people with a tank. There were only elderly people living there, many of them with disabilities. We have no idea how many people have died and how many survived. When we tried to reach the scene, they started shelling us,” he said on March 12.  

In his statement posted Sunday on Telegram, Haidai said it had still not been possible to reach the scene of the attack.

Kreminna lies immediately to the west of the towns of Rubizhne and Severodonetsk, two towns that have seen some of the most intense fighting in the eastern part of the country.  

CNN has been unable to independently verify the claim.  

  

11:54 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

US defense secretary: Putin resorting to "disgusting" civil attacks because his campaign is "stalled" 

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 19.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 19. (Vassil Donev/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine is “stalled,” which is why he has resorted to “disgusting” attacks against civilians there.

“We've seen deliberate targeting of cities and towns and civilians throughout the last several weeks,” Austin told CBS's "Face the Nation." 

“And again, I believe that he's taking these kinds of steps because as was described earlier, his campaign has stalled. He's not been able to achieve the goals as rapidly that he wants to achieve as rapidly as he wants to achieve them. And so he's, he's resorting to the types of tactics that we see on display every day. And again, this is really disgusting.”

Austin added later that “the maneuver forces on the ground are essentially stalled and it's been, it's had the effect of him moving his forces into a wood chipper.” 

Even so, Austin said there does not yet appear to be evidence that mercenaries or foreign fighters have shown up in Ukraine to help Russia. “We have not seen mercenaries show up on the battlefield, to my knowledge,” he said.

Asked about Russia’s claim that it has launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine, Austin said he does not believe Russia’s use of such missiles would be a “game changer,” though he cautioned that he “cannot confirm or dispute” that they have been deployed.

“I would not see it as a game changer,” he said. “I think, again, the reason that he's resorting to using these types of weapons is because he's trying to reestablish some momentum … you kind of question why he would do this. Is he running low on precision guided munitions?”

US officials confirmed to CNN on Saturday that Russia had used hypersonic missiles in its war against Ukraine.

Austin also said that if Putin used chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine, “he would see a significant reaction from not only the United States but also the global community.”

“And again, I don't want to speculate about what exactly would change our calculation. I think, I think, you know, engaging in hypotheticals is probably not helpful here, either. But I think this is a very serious step. And as you heard our president say, we won't take that lightly.”

 

11:18 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Putin's claims of neo-Nazis in Ukraine show he "might be capable of very horrendous steps," Zelensky says

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20. 
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20.  (CNN)

President Zelensky was asked about Vladimir Putin's claims that the Ukrainian government is full of neo-Nazis. He said that he cannot take these statements by Putin "seriously" and called it "laughable." 

Zelensky added that Putin is in an information bubble but he noted that remarks like this from the Russian president worry him about what he is capable of.

"I'm not afraid of anything except for people, but the fact -- the fact is that if he is serious about this statement he might be capable of very horrendous steps because that would mean that this is not a game for him. If he really believes in this, if it's not a game, then we will just continue fighting against it. If it's a game. But if it's not a game, if he's serious about it, if he thinks that this is his mission to conquer our territory and if he sees signs of neo-Nazis in our country, then many questions emerge about what else he is capable of doing for the sake of his ambitions, for the sake of his mission." 

Zelensky called Putin's remarks "very frightening, very hazardous."

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