March 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Adrienne Vogt, Jason Kurtz, Joe Ruiz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 1:26 p.m. ET, April 8, 2022
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11:39 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

France and Germany refuse to pay for Russian gas in rubles 

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin 

German Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck, left, listens as French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire speaks during a news conference in Berlin on Thursday.
German Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck, left, listens as French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire speaks during a news conference in Berlin on Thursday. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

German and French economic ministers said Thursday that they were committed to existing agreements with Russia on making the payments for Russian gas supplies only in euros.  

“The contracts are in euros and must be paid in euros and will be paid in euros,” French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire said during a joint news conference with his German counterpart Robert Habeck.  

“We will not accept the method of payment for [Russian] gas in any other currency than stated in the contract,” Le Maire added.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that according to a newly signed decree regarding natural gas trading with “unfriendly countries,” companies will need to have accounts in Russian banks and pay for contracts in rubles.   

At a separate news conference Thursday, Habeck said that Germany is “prepared” for all scenarios, including a stoppage of Russian gas flows to Europe, while Le Maire said France is “preparing” in case Russia cuts off gas deliveries.  

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also insisted Thursday that Berlin will make payments for Russian gas only in euros.  

“We have looked at the contracts on gas delivery and other deliveries. [The contracts state] that payments are to be made in euros, sometimes in US dollars, but mostly in euros. And I made clear in my conversation with the Russian president that this will remain as it is,” Scholz said in Berlin during a joint news conference with his Austrian counterpart Karl Nehammer. 

“It is a terrible feeling to be dependent on Russian energy at the moment,” the Austrian chancellor said. 

“We must secure energy supplies to make sure that the economy functions, because the gas coming from Russia is not only being used for private households but also by industries where jobs are concerned, and prosperity must be maintained,” Nehammer said. 

11:39 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Russian bank appointed to open accounts in rubles for gas buyers from "unfriendly countries," state media says

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Gazprombank has been appointed as an authorized bank that will open special accounts in rubles for gas buyers from "unfriendly countries" and will sell currency for conversion into rubles for gas payment at Moscow Exchange auctions, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that according to a newly signed decree regarding natural gas trading with "unfriendly countries," companies will need to open ruble accounts in Russian banks, and payments should come from these accounts.

Putin made the comments during a virtual meeting that he was chairing to discuss measures to support Russian airlines hit by Western sanctions.

According to TASS, the Bank of Russia must determine within 10 days the procedure for opening special currency accounts for foreign gas buyers.

“In a situation when the financial systems of Western countries are weaponized and companies from these countries refuse to perform their contracts with Russian banks, companies and individuals, and when assets in dollars and euros are frozen, there is no point using the currencies of these countries,” Putin said earlier during his speech.

These actions will strengthen Russia’s financial sovereignty, Putin said.

“We shall continue to steadily and systemically move in this direction as part of a long-term plan,” he said.

11:15 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

US targeting Russian technology sector in crackdown over sanctions evasions

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Sean Lyngaas

The US on Thursday targeted members of the Russian technology sector in a crackdown on sanctions evasion, the US Treasury said in a news release.

The agency said it is sanctioning “21 entities and 13 individuals as part of its crackdown on the Kremlin’s sanctions evasion networks and technology companies, which are instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine.”

It has also determined “that sanctions apply to the aerospace, marine, and electronics sectors of the Russian Federation,” meaning that the US can “impose sanctions on any individual or entity determined to operate or have operated in any of those sectors.”

Among the sanctioned were three employees of a Russian government institute that is accused of building hacking tools that were used in a cyberattack that forced an emergency shutdown at a Saudi petrochemical facility in 2017. The hacking incident caused alarm among cybersecurity experts because the malicious code used was specifically designed to target safety systems that protect human life. 

The institute — known as the State Research Center of the Russian Federation (FGUP) Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics — has billed itself as working closely with the Russian ministry of defense, according to the US Justice department. Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, one of the three institute employees who was sanctioned Thursday, has been indicted for his role in the Saudi hacking incident and for unsuccessfully targeting a US energy firm, the Justice Department announced last week.

11:11 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Why Russia could be ramping up its offense in eastern Ukraine

Analysis from CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Russia's military says it has moved on to a new phase of its so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine, claiming that it is shifting its focus to the Donbas region in Ukraine's east.

Is this regrouping of forces a feint — allowing battered Russian forces to regroup after suffering serious losses at the hands of Ukrainian defenders — or a simple face-saving measure? Is Russia actually moving troops and equipment to concentrate on Ukraine's east, where Moscow has recognized two separatist republics?

On paper, that seems to be the case. Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said a "planned regrouping of troops" was underway around Kyiv and Chernihiv, one day after Russian negotiators said Moscow's forces would take steps toward de-escalation around those two cities. He said Russian forces were regrouping in order to "intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas."

US officials and military analysts have rightly been skeptical of Russia's claims of de-escalation, and some observers have suggested Russia's shifting military objectives are meant to conceal massive setbacks on the battlefield. But there is evidence that Russian military activity is ramping up in the east: Ukrainian officials on Thursday reported heavy shelling of a number of Ukrainian cities, particularly in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of the Donbas and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

Here's why:

11:16 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

It's just past 6 p.m. on Thursday in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN Staff

Russian forces may be regrouping in Belarus, Ukrainian officials said. Heavy shelling has been reported in eastern Ukraine amid an apparent shift by Russia to redirect military efforts to the Donbas region.

Additionally, an intense bombardment of the Kharkiv region has prevented the opening of evacuation corridors there, according to its military governor. 

Meanwhile, Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Zelensky's chief of staff, told CNN he has a “small portion of optimism” following talks with Russia in Istanbul.

If you're just reading in now, here are more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • NATO secretary-general says Russian troops "are not withdrawing but repositioning": NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that he expects additional offensive Russian actions that will be “bringing even more suffering.” Speaking at a news conference in Brussels for the secretary general’s 2021 Annual Report, Stoltenberg said that according to intelligence, “Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities ... we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering,” Stoltenberg said.
  • Chernihiv mayor says Russian attacks have increased despite Moscow saying it would reduce assault on city: The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv said that Russian attacks on his city are actually increasing, despite Russia's pledge that it would "drastically reduce" its military assault on Kyiv and Chernihiv. "Since the promises made by the Russian delegation about reducing the intensity of strikes in Kyiv and Chernihiv, we have actually been observing an increase in intensity of shelling and mortar attacks. And over the past 24 hours ... our hospitals have received 20 injured people, and this is both military and civilians," Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko told CNN's John Berman via a translator during an interview from a hospital.
  • At least 20 dead in Russian strike on regional administrative building in Mykolaiv, Ukrainian officials say: At least 20 people were killed and 33 injured in a Russian strike on the office of the regional military governor of Ukraine's southwestern Mykolaiv region on Tuesday, Ukraine's State Emergency Services said in updated figures released Thursday. The Russian strike demolished half of the building, according to Gov. Vitalii Kim.
  • Red Cross says it is preparing to facilitate safe passage of civilians from Mariupol on Friday: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it is getting ready to aid the safe passage of civilians from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Friday. “Our teams are traveling right now with pre-positioned relief items and medical supplies to be ready to facilitate the safe passage of civilians out of Mariupol,” the ICRC said in a statement.
  • By the end of Thursday, Zelensky will have addressed 17 global parliaments since Russia's invasion began: Zelensky is set to address his 17th international parliament by the end of today in a bid to drum up support during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday as a "lion of democracy," Zelensky has also addressed three multilateral institutions — the European Council, G7 and NATO — and over the weekend, he spoke virtually at the Doha Forum.
11:07 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

US UN ambassador will travel to Moldova and Romania to meet with officials and Ukrainian refugees

From CNN's Richard Roth

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on March 2.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on March 2. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, plans to travel to Moldova and Romania in early April to focus on the efforts to assist Ukrainian refugees and humanitarian needs “created by the Russian Federation’s aggression and war,” according to a release from the US Mission. 

While abroad from April 2-4, Thomas-Greenfield will meet with Ukrainian refugees and hear about their firsthand experiences fleeing war, according to the release.

She will also meet with nongovernmental organization partners and UN agencies working to aid the refugee population, as well government officials engaged in humanitarian response.

11:39 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Putin says "unfriendly" countries must pay in rubles for gas or contracts will be suspended

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, on March 31.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, on March 31. (Mikhail Klimentyev/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that according to a newly signed decree regarding natural gas trading with “unfriendly countries,” companies will need to have accounts in Russian banks and pay for contracts in rubles.

“Today, I signed a decree which sets the rules for trading in Russian natural gas with the so-called unfriendly states. We suggest that counter-parties in these countries use a very simple and transparent scheme in order to buy Russian gas they need to open ruble accounts in Russian banks, and payments should come from these accounts,” Putin said on Thursday.

The new rules take effect tomorrow, April 1. 

“If these payments are not made, we shall deem this as non-performance on the part of the buyers and that will lead to consequences. Nobody gives us anything for free and we’re not about to be charitable,” Putin said, adding that active contracts will be suspended.

12:20 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Evacuation buses en route to Mariupol held at Russian checkpoint, according to Ukrainian minister

From CNN staff in Lviv

A Ukrainian official said on Thursday that a convoy of buses en route to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol had been held up at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, a city between the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia and the Russian-held city of Berdiansk.

"Our task is to open a humanitarian corridor and help people survive, especially civilians — women, children, the elderly," according to Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukrainian minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories.

"As of 12:30 pm (5:30 am EST), 45 buses left Zaporizhzhia for Berdiansk. As of this moment, they are at Vasylivka checkpoint, and the Russian Federation is again not letting our buses through. Again and again, we demand that the entire world community focus its attention and help people get out of occupied Mariupol," Vereshchuk said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it was preparing to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol on Friday.

Vereshchuk said about 100,000 people requiring immediate evacuation remain in the city, out of a pre-war population of more than 400,000.

"That is, another 100,000 women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities who need our and the world's help," she said. 

Vereshchuk claimed that 45,000 Ukrainian citizens have been forcibly deported to Russia, a figure CNN could not immediately verify. The Russian military says that thousands have been "evacuated" to Russia from separatist-held regions and "dangerous areas" of Ukraine. 

Earlier today, Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told CNN's John Berman that buses were moving through the evacuation corridor.

Orlov said up to 1,500-2,000 will be able to evacuate the city between today and tomorrow.

He added there are "constant street battles" in the city, but the Ukrainian army still controls the city center.

People remaining in Mariupol are "living like mouse. They are living underground in shelters, bomb shelters below. So people just do their best to be alive in this situation," he said.  

CNN's Adrienne Vogt contributed to this post.

9:04 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

NATO secretary general says Russian troops "are not withdrawing but repositioning"

From CNN’s Cece Armstrong

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference to present North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)'s Annual Report for 2021 at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 31,
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference to present North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)'s Annual Report for 2021 at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 31, (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that he expects additional offensive Russian actions that will be “bringing even more suffering.”

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels for the secretary general’s 2021 Annual Report, Stoltenberg said that according to intelligence, “Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities.”

“We can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering,” Stoltenberg said.

“We have heard the recent statements that Russia will scale down military operations around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “But Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions, so we can only judge Russia on its actions, not on its words.”

He called on Russia to “end this senseless war, withdraw all its troops and engage in talks in good faith.”