March 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Hafsa Khalil, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
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6:28 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Barrage of outgoing fire witnessed in northwest Kyiv

From CNN’s Bex Wright, Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb

(Bex Wright/CNN)
(Bex Wright/CNN)

CNN teams on the ground witnessed a barrage of outgoing fire late Wednesday evening that occurred in northwest Kyiv.

Earlier on Wednesday, a senior US defense official told reporters that Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces back on the frontlines east of Kyiv.

Russian forces are about 55 kilometers (roughly 34 miles) away from Kyiv’s city center to the east, an increase of between 25 and 35 kilometers (roughly 15 to 22 miles) as compared to the same location yesterday, the official said.

To the northwest of Kyiv’s city center, Russian forces are “digging in, and they are establishing defensive positions,” the official said. They have not gotten any closer to Kyiv’s city center along this line, the official added. They remain 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) away from Kyiv’s city center to the northwest.

6:07 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Renault suspends production at its Moscow facility

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris

French carmaker Renault announced in a statement Wednesday that it has suspended all activities at its Moscow factory. The announcement comes as Ukrainian leaders have called for a boycott against the company, accused Renault of “sponsoring Russia’s war machine.”

Just one day earlier, Renault had said it was resuming production for three days only.

Regarding its involvement in major Russian car manufacturer AvtoVAZ, owned by Renault, the French carmaker said that it’s “assessing the available options, taking into account the current environment, while acting responsibly towards its 45,000 employees in Russia.”

The also company said it is “already implementing the necessary measures to comply with international sanctions.”

AvtoVAZ’s brand Lada represented nearly 21% of the Russian market in 2021, according to Renault Group’s financial results.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called out major French companies, including Renault, by name for continuing their operations in Russia.

“Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin and others must stop being the sponsors of Russia’s war machine,” Zelensky said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba went further, calling for a global boycott of the carmaker.

“Renault refuses to pull out of Russia. Not that it should surprise anyone when Renault supports a brutal war of aggression in Europe,” Kuleba said in a tweet. “But mistakes must come with a price, especially when repeated. I call on customers and businesses around the globe to boycott Group Renault.”

Renault declined to comment when asked by CNN if the decision to suspend its activities at the Moscow factory is connected to the strong words from Ukrainian leaders.

Renault said in the statement that the value of its consolidated intangible assets, property, plant, equipment, and goodwill in Russia amounted to above $2.41 billion at the end of 2021.

5:53 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russian-proposed draft resolution on the Ukraine humanitarian situation fails to pass in UN Security Council

From CNN’s Richard Roth and Laura Ly

A Russian-proposed draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine failed to pass in the United Nations Security Council Wednesday evening.

Two countries voted in favor, zero countries voted against, and 13 countries, including the United States, abstained from the vote. Nine votes in favor were required for the resolution to pass.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke ahead of the vote, stating that Russia was once again trying to use the Security Council to “provide cover for its brutal actions.”

“It really is unconscionable that Russia would have the audacity to put forward a resolution asking the international community to solve a human crisis that Russia alone created,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “Russia does not care about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, or the millions of lives and dreams the war has shattered. If they cared, they would stop fighting.”

The US ambassador added that Russia’s resolution “makes no mention of its role as the sole cause of this crisis. And our vote [of abstention] will show that we will play no part in that.”

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia also spoke ahead of the vote Wednesday evening, claiming that their draft resolution was “analogous to other draft humanitarian resolutions.”

7:30 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Top Estonian official says Russia must face "full defeat" in Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Ground personnel unload weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, sent by the US military at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv on January 25. Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonatan Vseviov says partner nations must continue to supply Ukrainian military with weaponry.
Ground personnel unload weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, sent by the US military at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv on January 25. Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonatan Vseviov says partner nations must continue to supply Ukrainian military with weaponry. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A top Estonian official on Wednesday called on the international community to do more to ensure a “full defeat” of Russia in Ukraine, saying that “anything short” of that “would be destabilizing and escalatory.”

“Frankly, I cannot see a way for the Russians to really win on the battlefield in the classical sense,” Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonatan Vseviov said in an interview with CNN in Washington, DC, ahead of the NATO Leaders Summit Thursday.

“The question is whether we will be able to actually defeat this aggression,” he said. “If Putin comes away from this aggression with some gains, then he's likely to attempt this again -- against Ukraine, against others, he's likely to move ahead. So he needs to be absolutely defeated.”

Vseviov also said NATO must prepare for the “new era” once the active phase of the war is over, calling for the military alliance to “build up military muscle in the east” to deny any future aggression.

He spoke of the need for NATO to make decisions about its defense posture for the “long haul,” telling CNN that such discussions will take place this week but he expects major decisions will not be made until the NATO Summit in June, noting that such decisions require detailed military planning.

“It's clear that we cannot just continue with NATO with business as usual, with the same approach to defense and deterrence, NATO's relations to Russia that we’ve had since the annexation of Crimea,” Vseviov said. 

He said the alliance cannot take the risk that Russia “will miscalculate regarding collective defense,” so a “small, tripwire force -- that international force that the Allies have had, for instance, in the Baltic states, is clearly no longer sufficient.”

Vseviov, a former Estonian ambassador to the US, met with key officials at the White House, Defense and State Department during his trip to Washington.

He said he could not predict how long the war will last, but said he believes the Ukrainian military will be able to hold on “for a long time,” but partner nations must continue to supply them with weaponry as the war wages on.

“The balance of military power clearly favors the aggressor, so we need to help the Ukrainians to hold on and do whatever is necessary to provide them with the relevant equipment and also humanitarian assistance,” Vseviov said, noting that it’s likely that “the level of brutality” unleashed by Russian forces against the civilian population “will go up dramatically” as the conflict continues. 

Vseviov expressed skepticism about any diplomatic solutions proposed by Moscow.

“I think talk of this potential breakthrough in negotiations is a Russian game of smoke and mirrors to trap us or our to dissuade us -- it's a diplomatic trap to dissuade us from additional sanctions and additional military assistance,” Vseviov said. 

“I will not believe any deal before I see it actually implemented on the ground. I think the Russian strategy has not changed. It is still to destroy Ukraine and the idea of a sovereign Ukraine and then move on to fundamentally alter European security architecture,” he added.

6:19 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

South America’s biggest exporters are feeling the squeeze from international sanctions against Russia

From CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon

Bananas are cleaned and sorted by workers in a water basin at the La Lucha estate of the Agricultural Association of Banana Producers in El Oro, Ecuador.
Bananas are cleaned and sorted by workers in a water basin at the La Lucha estate of the Agricultural Association of Banana Producers in El Oro, Ecuador. (David Diaz/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Some of South America’s biggest exporters are taking a hit as the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to disrupt trade from the region.

Now Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, is facing billions of dollars in losses.

On March 18, a group of 13 national organizations involved in Ecuador’s banana trade published a joint statement warning that more than 20,000 tons of the fruit were not being exported every week as result of the conflict.

The country exports around 22% of its banana exports to Russia according to the group.

More than 95% of the bananas consumed in Russia come from Ecuador, generating $2 billion every year, according to Pulso Bananero, an independent banana consultancy in Ecuador.

It’s not just Ecuador’s trade with Russian that has been disrupted – Ukraine also accounts for 3% of Ecuador’s bananas exports.

While the country’s banana exporters have been able to divert some of their product to other markets, fruit that was not exported had to be thrown away, the statement warned. Also, because of their short shelf life, bananas are exported – and paid for – on a weekly basis. Industry experts say the long-term outlook for the industry is bleak.

“The social impact is already being felt because the trade cycle is very fast; if you don’t export this week, you don’t get paid this week,” said Raul Villacres, a former executive director of the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador.

Approximately a quarter of Ecuador’s banana workforce -- roughly 50,000 people – works on exports allocated for eastern European markets, including Russia, according to Villacres.

In Colombia, the flower industry is suffering. Producers there say they haven't been paid by Russian customers for past deliveries due to the SWIFT sanctions.

“We were lucky that most of the deliveries for the most important flower day of the year in Russia – Women’s Day, on March 8 – were dispatched before the conflict began, but now it’s the payment from Russia that are being delayed,” Augusto Solano, the president of the Colombia Association of Flower Producers ASOCOLFLORES, told CNN.

Flowers are more difficult to place on in alternative markets than bananas because they are produced specifically to accommodate specific customers' taste, Solano said.

Russian flower buyers, for example, prefer enormous, expensive roses that are purchased by luxury clientele, many of whom are likely to have been affected by US and European sanctions.

According to ASOCOLFLORES, flower exports to Russia from Colombia are worth around $25 million annually, accounting for about 2-3% of ASOCOLFLORES’ revenue.

“Because of the way the flower market works, we have producers who specialize in the Russian markets and on flowers destined for Russia,” Solano said. "For them, this is a tragedy, we are talking of 20-30% of their annual exports gone.”

South America’s meat trade has also been disrupted because of the war, with Brazil’s poultry exporters likely to soon feel the crunch. In 2021, Russia was the 10th largest customer of Brazilian chicken, purchasing more than 100,000 tons, and it has only recently opened its market to Brazilian pork. While it is too early to analyze data of the war's impact over the last month, the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein – representing producers and exporters of chicken and pork– said the conflict has already created a challenge due to the increased costs of maize from Ukraine, which is used as chicken and pork feed.

Read more about this here:

5:36 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

NATO’s thoughts turn to chemical weapons on the eve of extraordinary summit

From CNN’s Luke McGee

The day before NATO’S extraordinary summit takes place in Brussels, multiple sources have told CNN that a significant amount of time on Thursday will be spent discussing how the alliance should respond if Vladimir Putin uses chemical or biological weapons against Ukrainian citizens.

Multiple officials, who spoke on the condition of total anonymity, agreed that while the official NATO position that it will not get directly involved in this war will remain, chemical weapons could be a game changer as such an escalation would likely prompt the public in NATO nations to demand action.

Sources said that the alliance was sensitive to public thinking, and while it is likely that NATO will not issue redlines to Russia this week in terms of a response, we will likely see deliberate posturing from NATO, indicating its preparedness for chemical attacks.

That could mean a strengthening of the rapid deployment teams and special units that NATO already has in place to handle such threats. Such tools at NATO’s disposal have not previously been used to help a country outside of the alliance, but sources said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was prompting unprecedented conversations about how best NATO can support countries that are not members.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Wednesday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that President Biden will “consult on potential contingencies” surrounding the use of chemical or biological weapons, along with “how to deal with the rhetoric and the commentary coming out of Russia on this whole question of the potential use of nuclear weapons.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the alliance would provide Ukrainians with protective kit, similar to the response from Western countries after Bashar-al Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in Syria.

Three NATO allies – France, the UK and the US – launched airstrikes against locations associated with Assad’s alleged April 2018 chemical attacks. Multiple Syrian activist groups documented the damage to Syrian civilians. The Syrian government denied it was responsible, and the Russian government said the attack was a "hoax."

Officials told CNN that sending this combined message of preparedness to Russia along with the ambiguity of precisely what consequences might befall should hopefully deter Putin from committing a war crime that provided him few gains – even if only to defend himself from possible legal action in the future.

5:57 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Ukrainians have pushed Russian forces back to the east of Kyiv, US official says

From CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb

Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 23.
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 23. (Atef Safadi/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces back on the frontlines east of Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters Wednesday.

Russian forces are about 55 kilometers (roughly 34 miles) away from Kyiv’s city center to the east, an increase of between 25 and 35 kilometers (roughly 15 to 22 miles) as compared to the same location yesterday, the official said.

To the northwest of Kyiv’s city center, Russian forces are “digging in, and they are establishing defensive positions,” the official said. They have not gotten any closer to Kyiv’s city center along this line, the official added. They remain 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) away from Kyiv’s city center to the northwest.

At the same time, the official said that Russian forces are becoming more active in the eastern part of Ukraine in the Donbas area, saying they’ve “applied a lot more energy” in the Luhansk and Dontesk regions, the two areas the Kremlin declared as independent republics ahead of last month’s invasion.

“We’re starting to see them sort of dig in around Kyiv, but really trying to go more on the offense than they have been, more energy apply to that eastern part,” the official said. “So that’s a little bit of a change from what we’ve been talking about before.”

7:07 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russia to expel US diplomats and label American employees "persona non grata"

From CNN's Abby Baggini

Moscow announced it will expel US diplomats from Russia, according to a statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.

A senior diplomat from the US diplomatic mission in Moscow was handed a note on Wednesday with a list of expelled American diplomatic employees declared “persona non grata,” according to the statement.

Persona non grata literally means “an unwelcome person.”

The move was in response to Washington's expulsion of 12 diplomats from the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, as well as a Russian employee of the UN Secretariat.

"The American side was firmly told that any hostile actions of the United States against Russia would receive a decisive and adequate response," the statement read.

The statement did not specify which diplomats or how many it intends to expel.

4:40 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Biden arrives in Brussels for high-stakes crisis talks

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, left, speak with others after arriving at Brussels National Airport, Wednesday, March 23.
President Joe Biden and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, left, speak with others after arriving at Brussels National Airport, Wednesday, March 23. (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden has arrived in Brussels for a set of emergency summits meant to address Russia's war in Ukraine.

Air Force One landed at the Brussels airport at 9:03 p.m. local time after a roughly seven-hour flight from Washington.

Biden is expected to be greeted by Belgium's prime minister at the airport. He begins intensive talks with NATO, the G7 and the European Union starting Thursday.