March 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 12:19 p.m. ET, March 25, 2022
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11:01 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

A look at some of the hundreds of Russians — including Maria Butina — sanctioned by the US today

From CNN's Sam Fossum

As US President Joe Biden meets with NATO and European allies in Brussels on Thursday, the US Treasury Department officially announced a slew of new sanctions against hundreds of members of the Russian State Duma, dozens of Russian defense companies, and the CEO of Sberbank, which is Russia's largest financial institution. 

US officials previewed the upcoming announcement to reporters earlier this week. 

Today's announcement will sanction 328 members of the 450-seat Russian State Duma, the lower level of the two-tiered Russian Parliament, cut off 48 Russian defense and material companies from Western technology and financing, as well as sanction Herman Gref — the head of Sberbank — who has worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the 1990s when both men were employed in the mayor's office of St. Petersburg. 

Long-time Putin associate Gennady Timchenko — plus his companies, family members and yacht — have also been sanctioned, as well as 17 board members of Russian financial institution Sovcombank, according to the White House. 

"They personally gain from the Kremlin’s policies, and they should share in the pain," Biden wrote on Twitter shortly after the US Treasury Department officially announced the new measures. 

The Treasury Department sanctioned 12 members of the Duma earlier this month for their calls to recognize the Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, which precipitated Russia's invasion. Today's measures will also sanction the State Duma as an institution, according to the department.

“The Russian State Duma continues to support Putin’s invasion, stifle the free flow of information, and infringe on the basic rights of the citizens of Russia. We call on those closest to Putin to cease and condemn this cold-blooded war,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a written statement. 

Does this name sound familiar? One of the Duma members sanctioned today includes Maria Butina, who studied at American University in the US and pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government after she tried to infiltrate conservative political groups, including the National Rifle Association. Butina was the first Russian citizen convicted of crimes relating to the 2016 election, although her efforts seemed to be separate from the sweeping election-meddling outlined in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

After her release in 2019, Butina returned to Russia and got involved in politics, and she is now serving as a member of the Duma. 

10:44 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Ukraine says Russia is deploying weapons to neighboring Belarus

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv 

Ukraine’s Armed Forces say Russia is transferring weapons and other military equipment to Belarus.  

It says the deployments are part of renewed Russian plans to mount an offensive aimed at encircling the capital of Kyiv. 

Russian forces are also building-up equipment supplies in Crimea, the Ukrainian army added in a statement Thursday afternoon.

In an upbeat assessment of Ukraine's success in withstanding Russia's invading forces thus far, the statement went on:

"The Russian military leadership is beginning to realize that the available forces and means are not enough to maintain the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and conduct defense operations."

 

12:43 p.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Zelensky is addressing G7 leaders

From CNN's Allie Malloy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is once again addressing world leaders by videoconference, this time during the G7 leaders’ meeting.

These are the leaders attending the meeting, according to the White House:

  • US President Joe Biden
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • French President Emmanuel Macron
  • Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi
  • Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
  • European Commission  President Ursula von der Leyen
  • European Council President Charles Michel
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

US administration officials are also in attendance:

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • National security adviser Jake Sullivan
  • Daleep Singh, Biden's deputy assistant and deputy national security adviser for international economics
  • Andy Rabens, director for global engagement and multilateral diplomacy at the National Security Council
10:32 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

NATO will reinforce chemical, biological and nuclear defenses in response to Russia, secretary general says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO will reinforce its chemical, biological and nuclear defense systems on fears Russia is planning to use such weapons against the people of Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. 

"Our top military commander General Walters has activated NATO's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements, and allies are deploying additional chemical and biological and nuclear defenses to reinforce our existing and new backing groups,” he told reporters in Brussels following an extraordinary meeting of heads of state and government.

The concerns stem from “absolutely false” Russian “rhetoric” that the United States, NATO allies and Ukraine are preparing to use biological weapons, Stoltenberg said.

“We’ve seen before that this way of accusing others is actually a way to try to create a pretext to do the same themselves."

Before he spoke, NATO leaders issued a joint statement vowing to “enhance our preparedness and readiness for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats,” adding “further decisions” will be taken at the next NATO summit, scheduled for this summer in Madrid. 

“Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences," the statement added.

10:18 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Civilian death toll in Ukraine exceeds 1,000, according to UN

From CNN’s Chris Liakos

The civilian death toll in Ukraine has exceeded 1,000 since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday — warning that "the actual figures are considerably higher."

“Most of the civilian 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,” according to the OHCHR.

In a statement, the UN body detailed the 1,035 civilian deaths as “214 men, 160 women, 14 girls, and 28 boys, as well as 48 children and 571 adults whose sex is yet unknown.”

It added that at least 1,650 civilians have been injured since the start of the invasion.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, the OHCHR has recorded 311 civilian deaths and 857 civilians injured. In other regions, including the city of Kyiv, Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Zhytomyr regions, 724 civilians have been killed and 793 injured.

“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration. This concerns, for example, Mariupol and Volnovakha (Donetsk region), Izium (Kharkiv region), Sievierodonetsk and Rubizhne (Luhansk region), and Trostianets (Sumy region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties,” it said.

10:10 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Ukrainian Air Force pilots say they've been able to fend off Russians, but need more advanced technology

Two Ukrainian Air Force pilots trained by the US, who go by the names Moonfish and Juice to protect their identities, told CNN that Russian forces "have control of very little part of Ukrainian sky."

"Combining the efforts of our fighters, as well as ground air defense, it is a really good mix, it is a real good match. And yes, it is true, we feel free right now ... and they have control of very little part of Ukrainian sky, and that is where those brutal bombings of peaceful cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv are happening. But so far, by joining all the efforts we have, we have been able to, we are able to keep our skies out of Russia," Moonfish said.

He said that reinforcements from Western countries would be a boon to Ukrainian forces.

Juice said they need more jets and more advanced technology.

"The first problem is ... the number of jet[s]," he said.

"Unfortunately, Russian Air Force gets an advantage in technologies. So using this baby [referring to his plane], I'm not efficient. ... We need something more advanced, something modern" to push Russians further from the front lines, he said.

Watch the interview:

10:13 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Russian TV shows defense minister on a pre-taped video conference "reporting on operation in Ukraine"

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

A Russia 24 TV channel anchor interrupted a live interview on Thursday to broadcast pre-taped footage of the country’s National Security Council operational meeting, which included Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who hasn’t been seen in over a week. The broadcaster, however, did not say when the meeting took place.  

The anchor quoted Russia’s presidential spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov, suggesting Shoigu was giving a report on the so-called "Ukrainian military operation" remotely. The footage did not show Shoigu speak, but his image appeared on screen among other video call participants reporting to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Shoigu, a close ally of Putin, has not been seen lately despite having a leading role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some Russian media reports have speculated that he could have health problems.

The Kremlin spokesman previously dismissed Shoigu’s lack of public presence by saying he “has a lot on his plate at the moment.” Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Peskov also refused to comment on an independent investigation into Defence Ministry sources leaking information about Shoigu’s health problems.  

Shoigu last appeared in a Channel One broadcast on March 18, which the Russian outlet said was from that day. But Russian journalists have speculated that the event being broadcast was from March 11.

10:27 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

The G7 meeting is underway

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden is meeting with the G7 to discuss new sanctions and other actions to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

At the start of the meeting the leaders stood for a family photo, but did not otherwise engage with the press as the talks got underway.

Biden was seen sitting down at a round table and opening his notebooks as the meeting began. He walked in alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, talks with US President Joe Biden ahead of a G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, talks with US President Joe Biden ahead of a G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Some background: The G7 is shorthand for Group of Seven, an organization of leaders from some of the world's largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.

Russia was indefinitely suspended from the group — which was at the time known as the G8 — in 2014 after the majority of member countries allied against its annexation of Crimea. It was the first violation of a European country's borders since World War II.

10:17 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Biden on NATO summit: "NATO is as strong and united as it has ever been"

From CNN's Allie Malloy

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
U.S. President Joe Biden attends a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Evelyn Hockstein/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden in a statement said that the NATO alliance remains “as strong and united as it has ever been” and vowed continued support for Ukraine following Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels. 

“NATO leaders met today on the one-month anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine to reiterate our strong support for the Ukrainian people, our determination to hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and our commitment to strengthening the NATO Alliance,” Biden said. 

Biden noted that the leaders were able to hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky via videoconference and said in the statement that NATO and the United States will “continue to support him and his government with significant, and increasing, amounts of security assistance to fight Russian aggression and uphold their right to self-defense.”