With the Russian offensive in Ukraine continuing in its 26th day, Moscow's forces use long-range missiles at cities and military bases while Ukrainian forces try to sever their supply lines.

Ukrainian firefighters work amid the rubble of the Retroville shopping mall, a day after it was shelled by Russian forces in capital Kiev, on March 21, 2022.
Ukrainian firefighters work amid the rubble of the Retroville shopping mall, a day after it was shelled by Russian forces in capital Kiev, on March 21, 2022. (AFP)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Biden: Putin could use biological, chemical weapons in Ukraine

Russian accusations that Kiev has biological and chemical weapons are false and illustrate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering using them himself in his offensive against Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said, without citing evidence.

Putin's "back is against the wall and now he's talking about new false flags he's setting up including, asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe, simply not true," Biden said at a Business Roundtable event.

"They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That's a clear sign he's considering using both of those."

Zelenskyy hails protesters confronting Russian troops

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has hailed protesters in an occupied southern city of Kherson for their courage in confronting the Russian troops who fired shots to disperse the demonstration.

Zelenskyy said that "we saw slaves shooting at free people, slaves of propaganda that replaced their conscience," adding, "There is no need to organize resistance. Resistance for Ukrainians is part of their soul."

In an interview with the Ukraine regional media outlet Suspilne, Zelensky said a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin "in any format" is needed to stop the fighting in Ukraine, adding "I believe that without this meeting it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war."

US: Russia doing some 300 aircraft sorties in day 

Russians have increased the number of military aircraft sorties over Ukraine over the past two days, doing as many as 300 in the last 24 hours, a senior US defence official said, adding Ukraine has also increased the pace of its military flights, but declined to provide numbers.

Officials have made it clear that Russia has vastly more aircraft, and flies a great deal more than Ukraine does, but that Russia still does not have air superiority over the country yet.

The official cited by AP news agency said that most of the military flights involve air-to-ground strikes, mainly on stationary targets, and that the Russian aircraft are not spending a lot of time in Ukrainian airspace. The Ukraine military has continued to use its short and long-range air defence systems and drones to target Russian aircraft.

The Russians have also increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea, but there are no indications at this point of an amphibious assault on Odesa. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the military's assessment.

Zelenskyy: Moscow seeking Ukraine destruction

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Moscow of seeking to "destroy" his country, as Russia defended its overnight strikes that obliterated a shopping mall in the capital Kiev, killing eight people.

Ukraine could not "hand over" the eastern city of Kharkiv, Kiev or the heavily bombarded port city of Mariupol, the president told local media, rejecting Russian demands to surrender.

Nearly a month after Russia launched its full-scale offensive, its assaults have become more deadly despite unprecedented sweeping sanctions imposed by Western allies. 

Italy supports Türkiye's mediation efforts

Italy fully supports Türkiye's mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine, the country’s foreign minister said.

“Türkiye is not only a NATO ally, but it is also an important country for the dialogue to bring the parties to a peace agreement at this stage,” Luigi Di Maio told reporters after an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, the bloc’s de facto capital.

He said Italy “fully supports” the negotiations that Türkiye has brought forward.

Saying that he met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Maio added that they discussed how the negotiations were going. 

Biden tells US businesses to 'harden' defences against Russian cyber threat

President Joe Biden warned US businesses to "immediately" prepare defenses against potential Russian cyberattacks.

"If you have not already done so, I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately," he said in a statement.

Biden cited "evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks," including in response to Western sanctions over Moscow's launching of the assault on Ukraine.

US ambassador to Germany slams China over Ukraine stance

The new US ambassador to Germany accused China of taking President Vladimir Putin's side in the Ukraine conflict as Beijing refuses to condemn Russia over the crisis.

"President Xi (Jinping) says he's being neutral in this conflict. There is no neutrality in this conflict," said Amy Gutmann, who was confirmed as the US ambassador under President Joe Biden last month after tumultuous years with Donald Trump's envoy.

"Not to denounce Mr Putin's aggression as aggression... is taking a side. China is taking Mr Putin's side in this conflict," Gutmann told journalists at the US embassy in Berlin.

IOM: Nearly 6.5M displaced inside Ukraine

The UN migration agency has said that nearly 6.5 million people had been displaced in Ukraine as "a direct result of the war", exceeding its worst forecasts. 

They are in addition to the more than 3.3 million people the UN body says have fled across borders since the Russian offensive began on February 24. 

Many of the displaced are particularly vulnerable, including pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic diseases, IOM said.

The scale of human suffering and forced displacement due to the war far exceeds any worst-case scenario planning.

Antonio Vitorino, IOM Director General

UN: Civilian deaths in Ukraine climb to 925

At least 925 people have been killed and nearly 1,500 wounded since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine while the number of people fleeing Ukraine has reached almost 3.5M, the UN said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it has recorded 2,421 civilian casualties in Ukraine since "Russia's armed attack" with 925 people, including 39 children, killed and 1,496 injured.

Most of the civilian casualties recorded in Ukraine were caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, missiles, and airstrikes.

Ukraine rejects Russian demand for surrender in Mariupol

Ukrainian officials defiantly rejected a Russian demand that their forces in Mariupol lay down their arms and raise white flags in exchange for safe passage out of the besieged port city. 

As Russia intensified its effort to pound Mariupol into submission, its ground offensive in other parts of Ukraine has become bogged down. 

Western officials and analysts say the conflict is turning into "a grinding war of attrition", with Russia bombarding cities.

Russia claims Ukraine mall used to store rocket systems

Russia said that a shopping mall in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, which was attacked and destroyed overnight killing at least eight people, was used to store rocket systems.

Russia used "long-range precision-guided weaponry" to destroy a store of "multiple-launch rocket systems" and ammunition in a shopping centre in Kiev, defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Displaying aerial footage of the bombing, he accused Ukraine of continuing to use civilian infrastructure as a shield for artillery and rocket systems used to attack Russian troops.

The Retroville shopping mall had been hit by a powerful blast that pulverised vehicles in its car park and left a crater several metres wide.
The Retroville shopping mall had been hit by a powerful blast that pulverised vehicles in its car park and left a crater several metres wide. (AFP)

Turkish, Emirati foreign ministers discuss Ukraine

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and they discussed several issues including the Ukraine conflict.

“Discussed bilateral relations & regional developments, especially in Ukraine,” Cavusoglu said on Twitter. 

Russia halts Japan peace treaty talks over sanctions

Russia has withdrawn from peace treaty talks with Japan and frozen joint economic projects related to the disputed Kuril islands due to sanctions imposed by Tokyo over Ukraine.

Russia and Japan have still not formally ended World War Two hostilities because of the standoff over the islands known in Russia as the Kurils and in Japan as the Northern Territories.

"Under the current conditions Russia does not intend to continue negotiations with Japan on a peace treaty," the foreign ministry said in a statement, citing Japan's "openly unfriendly positions and attempts to damage the interests of our country."

Russia court bans Facebook, Instagram on 'extremism' charges

A Moscow court banned Facebook and Instagram for what it deemed extremist activity in a case against their parent company, Meta.

Prosecutors have accused the social media platforms of ignoring government requests to remove what they described as fake news about the Russian military action in Ukraine and calls for protests in Russia.

The court's ruling bans Meta from opening offices and doing business in Russia.

Instagram and Facebook were already blocked in Russia after the communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said they were being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers.

READ MORE: Meta allows calls for Putin's death on Facebook, Instagram in policy tweak

Russia-Ukraine conflict raises alarm about spectre of 'famine'

The Russian offensive on Ukraine risks causing famine in parts of the world because of the two countries' roles as major agricultural exporters, EU ministers in Brussels warned. 

The European bloc is working on a plan to increase the area of EU land able to be given over to farm production, ease import restrictions on animal feed and looking at more direct aid to EU farmers, agricultural ministers said as they held a meeting.

The conflict "soon will bring risks of famine," impacting food security not just in Europe but worldwide, France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said as he went into a separate meeting of his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Ukraine and Russia are among the biggest exporters of farm-grown foodstuffs and fertilisers, notably of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil. 

Kiev mayor announces 35-hour curfew amid Russian attacks

Kiev will impose a new 35-hour curfew, the mayor of Ukraine’s capital city announced.

Vitali Klitschko said the curfew will begin at 8 pm local time and last until 7 am on Wednesday. 

Shops, pharmacies, and gas stations will be closed during the curfew, and no vehicles will be allowed to move in the city, except for those with a special permit.

The first 35-hour curfew in the Ukrainian capital Kiev was announced on March 15.

Russian FM discusses Ukraine with Armenian, Azerbaijani counterparts

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held separate phone talks with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

With Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijan's top diplomat, Lavrov discussed the issues related to signing a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and further work of the 3 3 format (Iran, Russia, and Türkiye plus Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia).

With Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, Lavrov spoke on the implementation of key provisions of the trilateral agreements on Nagorno-Karabakh, the beginning of projects aiming to unblock transport and economic ties in the region, and provisions of a possible peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

Russia's security service urges immediate Meta ban

Russia's FSB national security service asked a court to "immediately" ban US tech giant Meta, accusing it of working against Moscow's interests during its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

The court was considering a request by prosecutors to designate Meta — the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — as an "extremist" organisation and ban it.

The move is part of sweeping efforts by Moscow to put a tight lid on information available to Russians about the conflict in Ukraine. 

UK says Russia behind hoax calls to officials 

Britain is accusing the Russian state of being behind hoax calls to two government ministers by an imposter posing as the prime minister of Ukraine.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the hoaxer was able to speak to him on a video call Thursday. Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had received a similar call, and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said an unsuccessful attempt was made to speak to her.

Wallace said he became suspicious and hung up after the caller “posed several misleading questions.” He accused Russia of “dirty tricks.”

Russian assault on Mariupol is 'massive war crime': EU

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has decried Russia's attack on the Ukrainian port city Mariupol as "a massive war crime".

"What's happening now in Mariupol is a massive war crime, destroying everything, bombarding and killing everybody," Borrell said at the start of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Ukraine's Odessa accuses Russia of attacking city outskirts for the first time

Authorities in Odessa have accused Russian forces of carrying out a strike on residential buildings in the outskirts of the Ukrainian city, the first such attack on the Black Sea port city.

The city council said there were no casualties although the strike caused a fire.

"These are residential buildings where peaceful people live," Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov was quoted as saying. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Ukraine says Russia shelled chemical plant

Ukraine’s prosecutor general has said a Russian shell struck a chemical plant outside the city of Sumy, causing a leak in a 50-ton tank of ammonia that took hours to contain.

Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed the leak was a “planned provocation” by Ukrainian forces to falsely accuse Russia of a chemical attack.

Zelenskyy calls on Europe to halt all trade with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on European leaders to cease all trade with Russia in an effort to pressure Moscow to halt its nearly month-long military assault on his country.

"Please do not sponsor the weapons of war of this country, of Russia. No euros for the occupiers. Close all of your ports to them. Don't export them your goods. Deny energy resources. Push for Russia to leave Ukraine," Zelenskyy said in a video address.

Kremlin says no significant progress in peace talks with Ukraine

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that peace talks between Russia and Ukraine had not yet made any significant progress.

Significant progress in the talks still had to be made for there to be a basis for a possible meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Peskov said.

Moscow has accused Kiev of stalling peace talks by making proposals unacceptable for Russia. Ukraine has said it is willing to negotiate but will not surrender or accept Russian ultimatums.

Kiev announces new curfew

Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko has announced a new curfew for the Ukrainian capital, starting later today and lasting until Wednesday morning.

The curfew "will begin at 1800 GMT (8PM) and last until 0500 GMT (7AM) on March 23," Klitschko wrote on Telegram.

"Stores, pharmacies, gas stations" and other establishments will not be open and only vehicles with special permission will be able to move about the city, he wrote.

Russia needs over a week to take Mariupol: separatist leader

A Russian-backed separatist leader in eastern Ukraine has commented that it would take more than a week to take control of the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

"I am not so optimistic that two or three days or even a week will close the issue. Unfortunately, no, the city is big," Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People's Republic, said according to the report.

EU 'too dependent' on Russian oil and gas to cut it off tomorrow

EU countries still largely depend on Russian oil and gas for their energy supply and can't simply cut themselves off on short notice, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

"Too many refineries in the eastern and western part of Europe still completely depend on Russian oil and with gas it's even worse", Rutte told reporters after a meeting with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda in Vilnius.

"We have to deleverage that dependency. We need to do it as speedily as possible, but we can't do this tomorrow."

Russia claims hitting training centre, neutralising 80 'foreign mercenaries'

The Russian Defence Ministry has reportedly hit a training center for "foreign mercenaries and nationalists units" in Ukraine's Rivne Oblast with high-precision cruise missiles and neutralised over 80 mercenaries.

"On the night of March 21, a training centre for foreign mercenaries and Ukrainian nationalist formations, located at the Nova Lyubomirka training ground in Rivne Oblast, was hit with high-precision cruise missiles," the ministry's spokesman Igor Konashenkov said at a daily briefing in Moscow.

"Over 80 mercenaries and nationalists were neutralised. Also, an ammunition depot and a command point of a mechanised infantry near Selets settlement were hit with high-precision cruise missiles from the air."

EU sees high risk of child trafficking as 3.3 million Ukrainians flee to Europe
The European Union's migration commissioner has warned that Ukrainian children were in danger of being trafficked as they flee their country, saying "there is a huge risk of vulnerable children being trafficked."

Ylva Johansson told a news conference in Estonia that about half of 3.3 million Ukrainians who had fled to EU countries since the start of the conflict were children, and "many more millions" were expected to come.

Ukraine has a high number of orphans and children born through surrogate mothers who had not been picked up by their parents. That increased the risk that they could be abducted or become victims of forced adoptions, she said.

Ukrainian resistance keeps Russia at bay: UK

Britain’s defence ministry has said heavy fighting is continuing north of Kiev as Russian forces press on with a stalled effort to encircle Ukraine’s capital city.

In an update on social media, the ministry said Russian forces advancing on the city from the northeast have stalled, and troops advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the northwest have been pushed back by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

“Despite the continued lack of progress, Kiev remains Russia’s primary military objective and they are likely to prioritise attempting to encircle the city over the coming weeks,” UK officials said, adding that the bulk of Russian forces were more than 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the city centre.

Israel to maintain relations with Kiev, Moscow

Israel’s prime minister has said the country is managing its involvement with Ukraine and Russia “in a sensitive, generous and responsible way while balancing various and complex considerations.”

Naftali Bennett spoke on the tarmac at Israel’s main international airport as an aid delegation was set to depart for Ukraine to set up a field hospital for refugees near the Polish border.

Kremlin: Russian oil embargo would hurt Europe, not US

The Kremlin has said Europe will be hit hard in the event of an embargo on Russian oil, striking the continent's energy balance, but will not affect the United States.

Some European Union foreign ministers are pushing for an oil embargo as part of further sanctions against Russia, in an effort to punish Moscow over events in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters the question of any oil embargo was a very complex topic.

Russia says it hit military facility in Ukraine's Rivne region

Russian air forces reportedly hit a Ukrainian army military facility in Rivne Region with cruise missiles, Russia's Defence Ministry has said.

"High-precision air-launched cruise missiles have struck a training centre for foreign mercenaries and Ukrainian nationalist formations," Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

The ministry also reported that Russia does not plan to and has not hit any chemical industry facilities in Ukraine.

'No agreement reached' to evacuate Mariupol civilians

Agreement has been reached on creating eight humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities, but the city of Mariupol is not among them.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said efforts to reach Mariupol with humanitarian supplies continued to fail.

Putin ally Timchenko resigns from Novatek board

Gennady Timchenko, a long-time ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has resigned from the board at gas producer Novatek after he was targeted by sanctions over Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.

Novatek, Russia's largest private natural gas producer, did not provide a reason for his resignation. 

A representative of Timchenko, who had served on the company's board of directors since 2009, declined to comment.

Ammonia leak in north-eastern Ukraine city contained

Emergency officials have contained an ammonia leak at a chemical plant that contaminated wide area in the Ukrainian city of Sumy, officials said.

Regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy didn’t say what caused the leak, which spread about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) in all directions from the Sumykhimprom plant.

The plant is on the eastern outskirts of the city, which has a population of about 263,000 and has been regularly shelled by Russian troops in recent weeks.

Ukraine finally rotates workers at Chernobyl: IAEA

Ukraine has managed to rotate staff working at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant for the first time since Russia seized it last month as part of its offensive, the UN's nuclear agency said.

Ukraine told the International Atomic Energy Agency that around half of the staff were "finally" able to return to their homes on Sunday after working at the Russian-controlled site for nearly four weeks, IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said.

Those who left were replaced by other Ukrainian staff, Grossi said in a statement. "It is a positive, albeit long overdue, development that some staff at the Chernobyl NPP have now rotated and returned to their families," he said.

Ukraine conflict could lead to global food crisis

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia, two of the world's top crop producers, could lead to a food crisis "on the global" scale, French farming minister Julien Denormandie said in Brussels ahead of a EU agriculture meeting.

EU ministers will discuss the food situation with their Ukrainian counterpart in a video call, he added.

A World Food Programme (WFP) official said on Friday that food supply chains in Ukraine were collapsing, with key infrastructure such as bridges and trains destroyed by bombs and many grocery stores and warehouses empty.

Ammonia leak contaminates area in northeast Ukraine

Residents of the northeastern Ukrainian town of Novoselytsya should seek shelter after an ammonia leak at a nearby chemical factory, officials have warned, as intense fighting with Russian forces in the area continues.

Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said there had been an "ammonia leakage" at the Sumykhimprom facility, affecting an area within 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the plant, which produces fertilisers. He didn’t say what caused the leak.

The extent of the incident was not immediately clear, but residents were told to seek refuge in basements or on lower levels of buildings to avoid exposure.

At least six dead in overnight bombing in Ukraine's Kiev

At least six people were killed in an overnight bombing on a shopping centre in Ukraine's capital Kiev, an AFP journalist has said.  

Six bodies were laid out in front of the "Retroville" shopping mall in the northwest of Kiev, according to the journalist. 

The building had been hit by a powerful blast that pulverised vehicles in its car park and left a crater several metres wide. 

Ukraine says talks with Russia on cease-fire to continue

Negotiations on a cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia are set to continue online, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Mykhailovych Podolyak, has said. 

He added that intensive efforts were being made to reach an agreement.

Russia to open humanitarian corridors from Mariupol

Russia’s Defence Ministry has announced that humanitarian aid corridors will be opened from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol to the east and west.

Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of the Russian National Centre for Defence Management, made evaluations about the humanitarian aid corridors in Ukraine and said that civilians would be allowed to leave as of 0700 GMT (10AM Moscow time).

Mizintsev called on the parties to the cease-fire to comply with the decision starting at 0630 GMT (0930AM).

New Zealand to provide Ukraine with non-lethal military assistance

New Zealand is set to provide Ukraine with a further $3.46 million (NZ$5 million) in funds and non-lethal military assistance including some surplus equipment, bringing New Zealand's total assistance to Ukraine to NZ$11 million.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the money would be primarily directed to a NATO Trust Fund that provides fuel, rations, communication equipment and first aid kits to support Ukraine as it battles Russian forces. The New Zealand Defence Force will provide tactical equipment as well.

"We consider what is happening in Ukraine as a massive disruption to the international rules-based order and because of that it impacts all of us and that's why we have taken these extraordinary measures," Ardern told a news conference.

Ukraine says no question of surrendering city of Mariupol

There is no question of Ukraine giving up the city of Mariupol and laying down arms, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said.

"There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms. We have already informed the Russian side about this," she told the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda. "I wrote: 'Instead of wasting time on eight pages of letters, just open the corridor.'"

Russia demanded Ukrainian forces lay down their arms in the besieged eastern port city. Mariupol residents were given until 5 am Monday to respond to the offer, which included them raising a white flag. Russia didn't say what action it would take if the offer was rejected.

Biden to travel to Poland to discuss Ukraine crisis with Duda

US President Joseph Biden will travel to Poland to discuss the international response to "the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia's unjustified and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has created," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said .

Biden's Poland trip will come a day after he meets in Brussels with NATO allies, G7 Leaders and European Union leaders to discuss international efforts to support Ukraine after Russia's offensive, the White House said.

On Friday, Biden will travel to Warsaw where he will hold a bilateral meeting with President Andrzej Duda. 

For live updates from Sunday (March 20), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies