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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8:09 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Putin must be defeated, European Council president tells CNN

From CNN’s Ben Kirby

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to address the European Council at a summit this week, European Council President Charles Michel told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday. 

In an exclusive interview ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Michel confirmed that “we have proposed to him to address the summit.”  

He added that the European Council was the first assembly Zelensky addressed after the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.

During a sit-down interview in Brussels, Michel told Amanpour: “We must make sure that Putin will be defeated. It must be the common goal.”
“This is a question of security, for the future of Europe and for the future of the world.”

Michel said he has spoken with Zelensky and the Russian president multiple times since Russia invaded Ukraine, hoping to help them reach “a ceasefire and to make possible a sincere track in order to negotiate.”

“It’s extremely difficult, because we are not certain that the Russian government is sincere,” he added. “We are not naïve – we think that they are trying to attack military in order to strengthen their positions in the negotiation talks.”

“But on the other hand, we must change the balance of power in order to give to President Zelensky a better position in those direct talks with Russia,” Michel said.

The European Council meeting is scheduled to run from March 24-25, with Ukraine as the main topic on the agenda. US President Joe Biden is confirmed to attend Thursday to discuss Ukraine and transatlantic cooperation. 

Michel also discussed sanctions, saying the European Union “must be intelligent” on sanctions against Russia.

“We have decided unprecedented sanctions” against Russia, he said, adding "we are targeting oligarchs, we are targeting the economic sectors in Russia.” 

However, “we do not have exactly the same situation in Europe and in the United States,” the European Council President acknowledged. “The oil or the gas sector, for instance. We are much more dependent in Europe in comparison with the situation in the United States.”

“It’s why we must be intelligent. The goal is to target Russia, the goal is to be painful against Russia. The goal is not to be painful for ourselves,” he said.

When pressed on Europe’s reliance on Russia for its energy supplies, Michel conceded that “we are too much dependent on Russian gas.” However, he added this was not a recent realization, pointing to the 2020 European Green Deal as one long term solution to over-reliance on Russia.

8:33 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Zelensky calls for "more pressure on Russia to restore peace" in address to Japanese lawmakers

From CNN’s Emiko Jozuka in Tokyo

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to members of Japan's lower house of parliament via a video link at the House of Representatives office building in Tokyo, Japan, on March 23.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to members of Japan's lower house of parliament via a video link at the House of Representatives office building in Tokyo, Japan, on March 23. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Japan for its immediate support of his country and urged Tokyo to apply “more pressure on Russia to help restore peace” in a video address to Japanese lawmakers on Wednesday.

“Japan helped us immediately, and we thank them from the bottom of our heart,” Zelensky said in a virtual speech in front of members of the Diet, Japan’s parliament.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defense, and Ukrainian envoy to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky were among the attendees.

Zelensky said Japan was the first Asian country to apply pressure on Russia, adding that “continued pressure on Moscow would help restore peace.”

He also warned Japanese lawmakers of reports that Russia was preparing a chemical weapons attack against Ukraine.

Zelensky's online address marked the first time the Ukrainian President has addressed an Asian legislature, but also the first address by a foreign leader at the Japanese Diet, a spokesman for the House of Representatives told CNN.

His speech was delivered in two separate rooms of an office building of the House of Representatives (the lower house of the National Diet of Japan), not in the Diet’s plenary session hall, the spokesman added.

8:00 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

It's 2pm in Kyiv. Here's what we know

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine approaches the one-month mark, fighting is raging across major cities with defending forces trying to take back some areas, according to a US official.

  • Russia attacks Mariupol-bound convoy: A convoy of 11 empty buses driving towards the besieged city of Mariupol to rescue fleeing Ukrainians was commandeered by Russian forces, according to the Ukrainian government. The Russians have driven the buses, along with their original drivers and several emergency services workers, to an undisclosed location, the government says.
  • Strikes rain down on Mariupol: Meanwhile from the sea, strikes are coming from Russian ships in the Sea of Azov towards the southeastern city of Mariupol, according to a senior US defense official. The city has already been under an ongoing Russian bombardment from long-range missile launches and artillery outside the city. New satellite images from Maxar Technologies show more fires and destruction across the city, a consistent target for the Russian military since the start of the conflict.

Smoke rises above destroyed apartment blocks in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this satellite image from March 22.
Smoke rises above destroyed apartment blocks in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this satellite image from March 22. (Maxar Technologies/Getty Images)

  • Ukrainian forces fight back: Ukrainians forces have now been trying to take back territory in the last few days that the Russians had gained, according to a senior US defense official, calling them “able and willing” to do so. The official cited the examples of Ukrainians fighting to take back Kherson, as well as pushing Russian forces from the northeast of Mykolaiv to have to reposition south of the city, but cautioned that the US cannot say whether these moves are part of a “larger operational plan” by the Ukrainians or not.

  • Belarus could join war: The US and NATO believe that Belarus could “soon” join Russia in its war against Ukraine, US and NATO officials told CNN, and that the country is already taking steps to do so. It is increasingly “likely” that Belarus will enter the conflict, a NATO military official said Monday. 
  • Sending NATO peacekeepers "reckless," Kremlin says: The deployment of a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would be “very reckless” and “extremely dangerous,” according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who told journalists that “any possible contact between our military and NATO military can lead to quite understandable consequences that are difficult to repair."
  • US action: President Joe Biden will arrive in Brussels on Wednesday for a planned NATO summit -- one of many summits he will attend in Europe this week. At these summits, he is expected to unveil sanctions on members of the Duma. These sanctions will be on hundreds of Russians serving in the country’s lower legislative body, an official familiar with the announcement said.
7:53 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russian warplanes destroy bridge in Chernihiv, regional head says, but aid deliveries unaffected

From Andrew Carey and Olga Voitovych in Lviv

Russian warplanes have struck another blow against Chernihiv, destroying a bridge on one of the last remaining routes to Ukrainian-held territory, the city's regional head Vyacheslav Chaus announced Wednesday morning.

Chernihiv, which is about halfway between Kyiv and the Russian border, has seen some of the most intense shelling since Russia invaded Ukraine four weeks ago. Among the more recent deadly attacks was one on a line of people lining up for bread, in which officials said at least 10 people died.

But on his Telegram page, Chaus struck a defiant note, promising supplies to the city would continue.

“This does not prevent us from delivering humanitarian aid to Chernihiv. We will provide the city with food and everything needed,” he said. 

“Secondly, we will definitely build a new bridge. A much better one. It was an old bridge. A city like Chernihiv, a hero city, deserves a new, cool, modern bridge, and we will definitely build it after our victory,” he said.

7:49 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Ukrainian police resume duties in Kyiv suburb, chief says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesa

People cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, during heavy shelling and bombing on March 5.
People cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, during heavy shelling and bombing on March 5. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

In another possible sign that Ukrainian security forces are regaining territory around the capital of Kyiv, national police say they are resuming work in the suburb of Irpin, much of which had been occupied by Russian forces.

Ihor Klymenko, head of the National Police of Ukraine, said Wednesday on Facebook that "police resume work in Irpin! Soldiers of the special police regiment in Kyiv region are ready to perform their police functions in this city."

"The area is being cleared of saboteurs, but the main task now is to help civilians and to evacuate those who are still in Irpin," Klymenko added.

Irpin is to the northwest of Kyiv and has seen weeks of fierce fighting and heavy shelling.

"Special forces work closely with Ukrainian military units and help restore the work of local authorities in the city," he said. 

Klymenko added: "The Russian occupiers continue to mercilessly shell Irpin," a sign that they continue to hold territory to the north of the suburb.

CNN reported Tuesday on advances by Ukrainian forces to the west and north of Kyiv.

7:44 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

5 things that could happen in Ukraine next

From CNN's Angela Dewan

People examine the damage after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21.
People examine the damage after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Russia's war in Ukraine is approaching the one-month mark, and its troops' advancement on some key cities, including the capital of Kyiv, appears to have slowed.

So where is this war going? Here are five things to watch out for in coming weeks.

1. Russia could intensify its bombing campaign

Experts are warning that the more Russia takes a hit on the ground, the more likely it is to intensify its aerial bombing campaign and the use of other "standoff" weapons that put Russian soldiers in less danger.

There is little reliable information coming out of either Ukraine or Russia on death tolls, but a report in a Russian tabloid on Monday suggested that the Russian side had lost nearly 10,000 soldiers and that another 16,000 had been injured.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda website removed the numbers later in the day, claiming the numbers only appeared in the first place because it had been hacked. CNN could not verify the numbers, but the death toll is closer to what US intelligence agencies have been reporting.

Such losses, if proven to be true, would explain both the stall in ground movement and the uptick in aerial bombing of key cities and other standoff attacks.

2. While there's focus on Kyiv, Russia may try to encircle Ukrainian fighters in the east

There is much talk about the Russian war effort stalling, but whether or not that's true comes down to what Moscow's objectives were in the first place.

It's likely that Russia is, at the very least, trying to absorb parts of eastern Ukraine. Areas like Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the Donbas region, have been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and while Russia's ambitions may stretch beyond Donbas, it's still likely a central focus, experts say.

"The Southern Military District -- in Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, Berdyansk, Melitopol -- these are the best troops in the Russian army. And they always work. They're designed to fight NATO," Sam Cranny-Evans, a research analyst with the Royal United Services Institute, told CNN.

3. There will be more talk about talks

One scenario is that the Ukraine war could become a protracted conflict. It's likely that Russia has lost a significant number of soldiers, weapons and equipment in the war, and while it has engaged in long-running conflicts in the past, it won't want to leave this one with its military totally destroyed.

"The negotiations are the one area where things are looking a little promising because both Russia and Ukraine have said in the last week that they're moving towards an actual substantive discussion, instead of Russia just laying down an ultimatum," Keir Giles, a Russian expert at the UK-based think tank Chatham House, told CNN.

Russian officials have said that their demands include Ukraine dropping its pitch to join NATO and to demilitarize and adopt a "neutral" status, like Austria and Sweden have. But the conditions for what that means for Ukraine would have to be negotiated.

4. There could be wholesale "deportations" of Ukrainians into Russia. That's worrying

Russia has been telling residents of the southern city of Mariupol to leave as it carries on an aggressive aerial bombardment that has torn the city to pieces. Its forces have opened what they call "humanitarian corridors" to allow civilians to flee, but tens of thousands of them have been transported to Russia.

Russian state media organization RIA Novosti reported that nearly 60,000 residents of Mariupol had reached Russian territory "in complete safety." Russian media has shown lines of vehicles apparently heading east to the border, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Mariupol.

But Mariupol council accused Russia of forcing residents to go to Russia against their will.

Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko has said that "what the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people."

5. Millions more Ukrainians could flee, leaving a nation in pieces

The fate of the war is one thing, but the fate of Ukraine is another.

Already, more than 3.5 million Ukrainians have left the country. Most are women and children, meaning families are also being torn apart. The war has triggered the biggest movement of refugees Europe has seen since World War II. Those numbers are increasing at a rate of around 100,000 people a day.

If you include the number of people internally displaced, 10 million Ukrainians have now left their homes. That's nearly a quarter of the country's population.

Read more here:

7:09 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Sending NATO peacekeepers to Ukraine would be "reckless" and "extremely dangerous," Kremlin says

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

The deployment of a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would be “very reckless” and “extremely dangerous,” according to Moscow.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday: “Any possible contact between our military and NATO military can lead to quite understandable consequences that are difficult to repair."

Some context: Last week, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski called for an international peacekeeping mission to be sent to Ukraine following a meeting with the leaders of Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Poland plans to submit its proposal for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Polish Ambassador to the United States Marek Magierowski recently told CNN's Jake Tapper that NATO needs to consider "all possibilities" in Ukraine to send a "very clear signal to the Kremlin."

Magierowski said any peacekeeping mission would take place "without engaging Russia in direct military confrontation because this is not the intent."

7:44 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russians aim to surround Ukrainian troops in east, UK believes

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Russian troops are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east as they advance westward "from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south," an intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.

The battlefield across the northern part of Ukraine "remains largely static with Russian forces likely conducting a period of reorganization before resuming large-scale offensive operations," according to the update. 

As far as southern Ukraine is concerned, the Russian forces are still "attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa,” it added.

Some context:

A senior US defense official said Ukrainians are fighting to push Russian forces from the northeast of Mykolaiv, forcing them to reposition south of the city.

On Monday, Mariupol rejected terms to surrender. The city is a strategic port that lies on a stretch of coast connecting the eastern region of Donbas with the Crimea peninsula, both of which have been under Russian control since 2014. Russian forces appear to be trying to take full control of the area to create a land corridor between the two regions, squeezing Mariupol with brutal military force.

Last week, Russian warships in the Black Sea shelled the Ukrainian coast in areas close to the key southern city of Odesa, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.

According to a statement posted on the Ukrainian armed forces’ Facebook page, the villages of Lebedivka, Sanzheika, Zatoka and Bilenke, all of which lie about about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of the port city, had been shelled. 

Odesa is Ukraine’s third largest city and regarded as a key target of Russia’s campaign. 

6:41 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russian military claims strikes on military arsenal in northwestern Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

The Russian military said Wednesday it had struck a military arsenal in northwestern Ukraine with sea-launched missiles.

CNN was not immediately able to verify that claim, but such an attack would continue an apparent campaign against targets closer to Ukraine's western border.

"On the evening of March 22, sea-based high-precision long-range weapons targeted an arsenal in the village of Orzhiv, 14 kilometers (about 8.6 miles) northwest of the city of Rivne," said Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Igor Konashenkov.

"As a result of the strike, a large arsenal of weapons and military equipment of Ukrainian troops, including those received from Western countries, was destroyed."

On Monday, the Russian military said it fired air-launched cruise missiles at what was described as a Ukrainian military training center in Nova Lyubomyrka, located in Ukraine's northwestern Rivne oblast.

Vitalii Koval, head of the Rivne regional administration, confirmed that two Russian missiles had struck the territory of a military training ground.