NATO secretary general says Russian troops "are not withdrawing but repositioning"
From CNN’s Cece Armstrong
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.”
12:20 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Bus convoy heads to Berdiansk to assist in Mariupol evacuation, city council says
From CNN staff
Mariupol's city council said a convoy of 17 buses is headed to the southern Ukrainian city of Berdiansk to take part in the evacuation of residents of the besieged city of Mariupol.
"A new evacuation convoy of 17 buses, accompanied by police and the State Emergency Service, left in the morning," according to a statement, which did not have detailed information on timing. "It will join the column that stood in Vasylivka yesterday and also went to Berdiansk today. There are 45 buses in the evacuation column."
According to the statement, the convoy will reach Berdiansk on Thursday and begin evacuating Mariupol residents on Friday.
In total, 80,442 Mariupol residents have been evacuated to Zaporizhzhia since the beginning of the war, the statement said.
"Every day for us begins with the preparation for the departure of a new evacuation column, and ends with the reception of people who have already arrived to Zaporizhzhia," Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said. "Every day is a fight for the people of Mariupol who still remain in the besieged city. We call for the full evacuation of Mariupol. I appeal to all international partners to help and save every Mariupol resident by joint actions. Let's save people — let's save the city."
9:01 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
UK slaps more sanctions on Russian individuals and media
From CNN's Benjamin Brown
Britain has issued further sanctions against 12 Russian citizens and two media entities, it was announced on Thursday.
The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that it is targeting "Russian propagandists and state media who spread lies and deceit about Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine."
The latest people sanctioned include famous Russian TV anchor Sergey Brilev and head of Sputnik International Broadcasting, Anton Anisimov.
Brilev, who is also the deputy director of state-owned Rossiya media, is accused by the UK government of actively engaging in "propagating the Kremlin's disinformation about Russia's invasion of Ukraine." Brilev had previously lived in the UK and will no longer be able to access any of his UK assets or continue business dealings, the government said.
The managing director of the Russian broadcast company RT, Alexey Nikolov, and CEO of Gazprom-Media Holding Aleksandr Zharov were also sanctioned with asset freezes and travel bans.
The sanctions also target the media houses Rossiya Segodnya and RT-owner TV-Novosti.
Putin's war on Ukraine is based on a torrent of lies. Britain has helped lead the world in exposing Kremlin disinformation, and this latest batch of sanctions hits the shameless propagandists who push out Putin's fake news and narratives," Truss said Thursday.
"We will keep on going with more sanctions to ramp up the pressure on Russia and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine. Nothing and no one is off the table," she added.
Aside from media figures, the UK government also sanctioned Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center. Referring to Mizintsev as the "butcher of Mariupol," the UK accuses him of being responsible for planning and executing the siege and bombardment of Mariupol.
8:06 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Chernihiv mayor says Russian attacks have increased despite Moscow saying it would reduce assault on city
From CNN's Adrienne Vogt
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.
Patients are in the hallway of the hospital because it is currently the safest place, away from windows, he said.
While Russian troops are moving back toward the border, artillery strikes and mortar attacks are increasing, he said, and officials overnight saw multiple Russian planes cross into Ukrainian airspace toward Chernihiv.
"The Russians are using mortars — which is like a very old, very old weapon — and it is not a precision weapon, and they're shooting mortar shells at us, four or five kilometers away from the city ... and also flying aircrafts and dropping bombs from a low height, so aiming deliberately at the destruction of civilian populations and residential neighborhoods," he added.
8:08 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Suspension from world soccer is "unfair," says Russian Football Union
From CNN's Amanda Davies
Alexey Sorokin, a member of the Russian Football Union delegation, criticized Russia’s suspension from world soccer on Thursday at the FIFA 72nd Congress in Doha, Qatar, and said it was unfair.
Speaking to journalists before the start of the congress, the former FIFA Council member said he found it “strange” that the Russian team is not allowed to play international events.
Some context: Russia is currently suspended from club and international football by UEFA and FIFA “until further notice” as a result of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, pending the outcome of a Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal.
“We feel that our football players, football lovers have been unfairly treated; they have nothing to do with this,” said Sorokin, a day before Friday’s 2022 World Cup draw.
Earlier this month, the Russian Football Union declared interest in hosting the European Championship in either 2028 or 2032 -- despite the country’s football ban.
8:00 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Red Cross says it is preparing to facilitate safe passage of civilians from Mariupol on Friday
From CNN's Cece Armstrong, Olga Voitovych and Nathan Hodge
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.
“For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration.” “It is desperately important that this operation takes place. The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it,” the ICRC added.
Ukrainian officials said Thursday an evacuation corridor had been agreed with the Russians.
Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukrainian minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories, said in a statement that the Ukrainian side had received a message through the ICRC confirming Russian readiness to open a "humanitarian corridor" from Mariupol through the city of Berdyansk.
Some context: Satellite images from Maxar Technologies have shown that entire city blocks in central Mariupol have been obliterated and a Red Cross warehouse was hit by military strikes. Ukrainian officials say around 90% of the buildings in the city have been damaged or left uninhabitable after weeks of intensive bombardment by Russian forces.
In an interview with CNN's chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour Wednesday, Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, compared the situation in Mariupol with what happened during World War II: "I think that the catastrophe of Mariupol, I can say is very similar to what happened in the time ... the Second World War in the blockade of Leningrad because the people practically died without food, without water.”
7:42 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
By the end of Thursday, Zelensky will have addressed 17 global parliaments since Russia's invasion began
From CNN's James Frater in Brussels
Ukrainian President Volodymyr 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.
Zelensky first virtually addressed the European Parliament on March 1 and will address special sessions of the Australian, Dutch and Belgian parliaments on Thursday.
His second address was to the UK parliament on March 8, with subsequent addresses every few days to the following countries' governments: Poland, Canada, United States, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Italy, France, Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
8:01 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Putin said that it's not the right time for ceasefire in Ukraine, says Italian prime minister
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that conditions were not yet in place for a ceasefire in Ukraine, Draghi told a news conference on Thursday when asked about a telephone call with Putin the previous day.
Draghi also said that Putin told him that current gas contracts remained in force and that European firms will continue to pay in euros and dollars, rather than in roubles.
"What I understood, but I may be wrong, is that the conversion of the payment ... is an internal matter of the Russian Federation," Draghi said.
Asked about increased defence spending following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Draghi said Italy will reach the NATO goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2028, adding that this was not in dispute among members of his coalition.
However, Draghi said that the government's upcoming economic forecasting document would not spell out a specific increase in defence spending.
7:37 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
At least 20 dead in Russian strike on regional administrative building in Mykolaiv, Ukrainian officials say
From CNN's Ben Wedeman and Kareem Khadder
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.