Western countries announce new sanctions targeting Russia's lawmakers, oligarchs and defence companies, while NATO leaders agree to bolster the eastern European flank in the face of Moscow's assault on Ukraine — now into its 29th day.

An unexploded rocket sits wedged in a cemetery road in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine.
An unexploded rocket sits wedged in a cemetery road in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine. (AFP)

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Officials: US assesses up to 60% failure rate for some Russian missiles

The United States assesses that Russia is suffering failure rates as high as 60 percent for some of the precision-guided missiles it is using to attack Ukraine, three US officials with knowledge of the intelligence told Reuters news agency.

The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information, did not provide evidence to support the assessment and did not disclose what precisely was driving high Russian missile failure rates.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures.

Bulgarians protest Russia's offensive in Ukraine

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Bulgaria's capital Sofia on Thursday to protest Russia's assault on Ukraine and to show solidarity with Ukrainians.

The rally, organised on social networks, followed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call on people around the world to protest the month-long offensive.

Some of the 60,000 refugees from Ukraine joined the demonstration. Waving Ukrainian and European flags, protesters chanted "Stop the war," "Stop Putin" and "Freedom for democratic Ukraine." The organisers of the event said that it was time for Bulgaria to come out in large numbers in support of a sovereign Ukraine.

Russia promises safe passage to stranded ships

The Russian military has said it will offer safe passage to foreign ships that have been stranded in Ukrainian ports.

Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev said that Russia is offering to allow foreign vessels to gather in the Black Sea (32 kilometres) southeast of the port of Illichivsk and then follow a 129-kilometre-long "humanitarian corridor" to safety. 

He said the safe route will be open daily from 8 am to 7 pm Moscow time (0500 to 1600 GMT) starting on Friday, adding some 67 ships from 15 countries have been stranded in Ukrainian ports.

Biden says US would respond if Russia uses chemical weapons

President Joe Biden has said the United States would respond if Russia uses chemical weapons in its military operation in Ukraine.

"We would respond, we would respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use," Biden said at a news conference in Brussels where he attended a NATO summit.

Senior administration officials have said earlier that the White House has set up a team of experts to plan how the US could respond should Russia use weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological or nuclear.

Biden: China knows its economic future is tied more to West

US President Joe Biden has said China understands its economic future is more closely tied to the West than to Russia, after warning Beijing it could face consequences for aiding Moscow's aggression.

"I made no threats but I made it clear to him — made sure he understood the consequences of helping Russia," Biden said of a recent conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. 

He also said Russia's President Vladimir Putin had failed to divide the West. "NATO has never, never been more united than it is today. Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he intended to have as a consequence of going into Ukraine," Biden said.

US backs removing Russia out of G20 over Ukraine conflict

US President Joe Biden says he thinks Russia should be removed from the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies and that the topic was raised during his meetings with world leaders in Brussels.

"My answer is yes, depends on the G20," Biden said, when asked if Russia should be removed from the group.

Biden also said if countries such as Indonesia and others do not agree with removing Russia, then in his view, Ukraine should be allowed to attend the meetings.

G7 will 'spare no efforts' to hold Putin accountable

The Group of Seven most industrialised nations has said it would do everything in its power to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters responsible for the Ukraine attacks.

"We will spare no efforts to hold President Putin and the architects and supporters of this aggression, including the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, accountable for their actions," the G7 said in a statement after a summit in Brussels.

The group also said it would take action to block sanctions-hit Russian individuals and entities from evading penalties, and warned that they could impose more severe embargoes. 

Zelenskyy: 'Real' threat that Russia will use chemical weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said there is a "real" threat that Moscow will use chemical weapons, accusing Russia of having already used phosphorus bombs against civilians in the country.

"The threat of full-scale use by Russia of chemical weapons on the territory of Ukraine is real," Zelenskyy told a G7 summit in Brussels via videolink.

The Ukrainian leader called for a "total embargo" on doing business with Russia, and for Russia to be prevented from using the GPS navigation system "in times of war".

Russia, Ukraine exchange prisoners

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged prisoners, Kiev and Moscow have confirmed, in what Ukraine say is the first swap of soldiers since Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine one month ago.

"Following an order from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the first fully-fledged exchange of prisoners of war has taken place," Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Facebook.

"In exchange for 10 captured occupiers we rescued 10 of our servicemen," she said, referring to Russian and Ukrainian troops.

Vereshchuk also said 11 Russian civilian seamen rescued near the Black Sea port city of Odessa were exchanged for 19 Ukrainian civilian ship crew members held by Moscow.

EU judicial agency to assist ICC Ukraine probe

The EU judicial agency will set up an investigating team to collect evidence of possible "war crimes" committed in Ukraine. The announcement comes after a meeting of EU justice ministers to discuss the role of the Eurojust agency, based in The Hague.

The ministers decided to mobilise Eurojust in collecting evidence within the framework of the probe launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"Several EU Member States have launched national investigations, and the first joint investigation team focusing on war crimes and crimes against humanity is about to be set up with the support of Eurojust," said Eurojust president Ladislav Hamran.

Ukraine passes bill to jail collaborators with Russia

Ukrainian lawmakers have voted to punish anyone aiding and abetting Russian forces with up to 12 years in jail.

Members of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada voted overwhelmingly to impose punishments of 10 to 12 years for "intentional activities aimed at aiding the aggressor state", a statement on parliament's website said.

Such activities include supporting the enemy or implementing its decisions, collecting or transferring funds or property to the enemy and its troops, as well as other types of collaboration.

Besides jail time, convicted persons will also be prohibited from holding government jobs for up to 15 years and may have their assets confiscated.

Chechen leader says his forces 'liberated' Mariupol city hall

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said forces from his Russian region had taken control of the city hall in Ukraine's besieged southeastern port of Mariupol and hoisted the Russian flag.

The former rebel-turned-Kremlin-ally posted on Telegram a video of a phone recording in Chechen, which he said was Russian parliamentary lawmaker Adam Delimkhanov speaking to "our valiant men".

Kadyrov wrote that Ukrainian "bandits who remained alive did not risk it and abandoned their positions...and fled".

Putin's defence chief resurfaces after disappearing from view

Russia's defence minister was briefly shown by state media at a meeting of top officials on Thursday after dropping out of public view for days during Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

Sergei Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was shown on a televised split screen of top officials as Putin spoke to his Security Council by video conference in footage released by RIA news agency. The 66-year-old had not been seen in public since March 11, fuelling speculation about his whereabouts.

Asked about Shoigu's whereabouts, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: "The defence minister has a lot on his mind right now. A special military operation is under way. Now is not really the time for media activity." 

EU leaders renew Michel mandate as European Council chief

EU leaders holding a summit focused on Russia's attacks on Ukraine re-elected Charles Michel — European Council president and the chairman of their gatherings — for another two-and-a-half-year term in his post.

His new mandate will kick in on June 1, after the expiry of his current term, and run to November 30, 2024, the European Council said in a statement.

"He is the third full-time president of the European Council, following the creation of the post on 1 December 2009 under the Treaty of Lisbon," it said. Michel, a 46-year-old former prime minister of Belgium, has been European Council president since January 1, 2019.

Moscow: West encouraged Ukraine to use violence

Russia's foreign ministry has said Western decisions to arm Ukraine had encouraged Kiev to use force against the pro-Russian separatist territories in eastern Ukraine and were now reaping a terrible harvest.

The ministry said NATO's pledge to maintain its support for the "Kiev regime" showed that it wanted the conflict in Ukraine to continue, the RIA news agency reported.

Canada announces new sanctions against Russia

Canada will continue to increase its defence spending, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said, as he announced new sanctions against Russia.

"Canada will be increasing pressure by sanctioning 160 members of the Russian Federation Council who facilitated and enabled this unjustified invasion," Trudeau told reporters after a NATO summit in Brussels.

Asked about the country's defence spending, Trudeau said "our investments in our Canadian Armed Forces will continue to increase and we will have more to say about this at the appropriate time".

Canada to boost oil exports to displace Russian energy

Canada has announced it will boost oil exports by about five percent to help address supply shortages faced by allies shunning Russian energy. Canada is the world's fourth largest oil producer.

"Our European friends and allies need Canada and others to step up. They're telling us they need our help in getting off Russian oil and gas in the short term," Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement. He was taking part in a ministerial meeting of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris.

"Canada is uniquely positioned to help," he said, adding that Ottawa "will continue working with our international partners to support international energy markets." 

Russia says it hasn't withdrawn from all swimming events

Russia has contradicted the governing body of swimming by asserting that it has not withdrawn from all events on this year’s calendar in response to being banned from the world championships.

On Wednesday, Russian and Belarusian swimmers were banned from competing at the world championships in Hungary. FINA, as the sport’s governing body is known, had also said Russia responded to the ban by withdrawing from all events on this year’s calendar.

But the Russian swimming federation said FINA published “an incorrect press release” and that it has only decided to skip the worlds in Budapest.

Erdogan: Türkiye in contact with Russia, Ukraine to end conflict

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara is in "intense contact" with both Ukraine and Russia to end the "war as soon as possible." 

Speaking to media NATO summit in Brussels, Erdogan said solution to the conflict should be based on "credible formula" that will be accepted by Russia, Ukraine and the international community.

Turkish president said everyone, especially European countries, should support and help alleviate problem of refugees who come to their door. Ankara is ready for mediation role if there is demand, Erdogan added.

UN General Assembly censures Russia, seeks urgent ceasefire

Russia was dealt a second major defeat by the international community when the UN General Assembly again voted to denounce its incursion into Ukraine and called for an immediate end to the conflict.

A total of 140 nations voted to censure Russia, with one less nation voting to do so compared to an earlier vote on March 2.

It specifically calls out the "aggression against Ukraine," and demands an "immediate cessation of the hostilities by the Russian Federation against Ukraine."

NATO to help Ukraine prepare for chemical attack

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance is stepping up its defences against chemical and nuclear weapons as concern mounts that Russia might use such weapons in Ukraine. 

The bloc has agreed to send equipment to Ukraine to help protect it against a chemical weapons attack. “This could include detection equipment, protection, and medical support, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management,” Stoltenberg said after a NATO summit in Brussels.

The 30 NATO allies are boosting their own preparedness. "Our top military commander General Wolters has activated NATO's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence elements, and allies are deploying additional chemical and biological and nuclear defences to reinforce our existing and new battle groups," he said.

We are concerned partly because we see the rhetoric and we see that Russia is trying to create some kind of pretext accusing Ukraine, the United States and NATO allies of preparing to use chemical and biological weapons

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General

Ukraine: Russian forces block evacuation efforts in Mariupol

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said Russian forces prevented civilians leaving blockaded Mariupol city on Thursday although Ukrainian authorities had readied 40 buses for their evacuation.

Speaking at a televised briefing, she did not specify how Russian troops had prevented people from leaving. Ukraine and Russia have repeatedly accused each other of not respecting temporary ceasefire agreements to allow civilians to leave the besieged city.

Lavrov stepdaughter on new UK sanctions list

Britain is sanctioning 65 more companies and individuals over Russia’s assault on Ukraine. The targets include Russia’s largest private bank and a woman the British government says is the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Among those sanctioned are Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank and Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond mining company.

The UK also targeted billionaires Eugene Markovich Shvidler, who has close ties to Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, and Herman Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank.

Polina Kovaleva, who was described as Lavrov’s stepdaughter, was also sanctioned as the UK broadens the scope of its sanctions to reach people linked to those responsible for “Russian aggression".

Ukraine: Russian forces have been pushed back around Kiev

Ukraine says its troops have pushed back Russian forces from some areas around Kiev but that Russia had not given up hope of surrounding and seizing the Ukrainian capital.

"In some sectors, the enemy was driven back by more than 70 kilometres (44 miles), in some sectors the enemy is at a distance of 35 km," Defence Ministry spokesperson Oleksander Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing.

Without citing evidence, he said the Kremlin had been sending additional military equipment to Belarus to reinforce its troops attacking Kiev.

China opposes claims of 'prior knowledge' of Russian attack

China's ministry of defence has said it is completely false to say that China had "prior knowledge" of Russia's military operations in Ukraine and that such claims were a smear.

The ministry comment came in response to foreign media reports which said China ignored warnings by the United States that Russia would attack Ukraine.

China strongly disagrees and opposes these claims, which the United States made to "shirk responsibility and smear China", the defence ministry said in a statement.

Pope says increased defence spending is 'madness'

Pope Francis has criticised increased defence spending by Western nations following Russia's assault on Ukraine as "madness" and said a new way must be found to balance world power.

Speaking to a coalition of women's groups, the pope said the conflict in Ukraine was a product of "the old logic of power that still dominates so-called geopolitics".

The real response was not more weapons and more sanctions, he said. "I was embarrassed when I read that a group of states have committed to spending two percent...of GDP in acquiring weapons as a response to what is happening now. Madness," Francis said.

ICC prosecutor calls for international support for probe

Dozens of nations have met to pledge their support to the International Criminal Court's investigation in Ukraine, offering money, technology and expertise to the probe opened soon after Russia's attacks began a month ago.

The court's chief prosecutor urged them to stand up in support of the global legal order. “...if we don’t give actual support but we wring our hands with lamentations, things can get worse," Prosecutor Karim Khan told a meeting of representatives from more than 20 nations at the British ambassador's residence in The Hague.

Britain said before the meeting that it was boosting its support for the ICC's Ukraine probe with extra funds and specialist staff. France announced it will provide magistrates, investigators and experts and 500,000 euros ($550,000) in extra funding, which may be increased if needed.

US, UK to send more LNG to Europe: British ambassador

The United States and Britain will work together to ship more liquefied natural gas to Europe, the British ambassador to Washington has said, as officials aim to ease European countries' dependence on Russian energy.

"We are working with the Americans to get more LNG into Europe," Karen Pierce, the United Kingdom's ambassador to the United States, told MSNBC in an interview.

"We've come to an arrangement with the Port of Baltimore...The LNG terminal in Baltimore will ship more LNG to the UK, and we'll ship it onto Europe," she added, calling it "a transition" measure.

Confirmed civilian death toll in Ukraine now exceeds 1,000: UN

The United Nations human rights office has said at least 1,035 people have been killed and 1,650 wounded in one month of fighting in Ukraine.

Ninety children were among the dead, it said in a statement, adding that the true figures were believed to be considerably higher due to delays in reporting from areas with intense hostilities, including the southern besieged city of Mariupol.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a separate statement that 4.3 million children – more than half of the country's estimated 7.5 million residents under 18 - have been uprooted, including more than 1.8 million who have fled abroad.

Poland refuses to pay for Russian gas in roubles

Poland's state energy company has said it will not pay for Russian gas in roubles, becoming the latest to reject Kremlin demands amid unprecedented sanctions on Moscow over its assault on Ukraine.

"We don't see how we could," PAP news agency quoted Pawel Majewski, head of state oil and gas company PGNiG, as saying. "The contract... sets the means of payment. It does not allow one party to modify this according to its will."

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday Russia would only accept payments in rubles for gas deliveries to "unfriendly countries" after Moscow was hit by an avalanche of sanctions.

Finland to send second defence shipment to Ukraine

Finland will send another defence shipment to Ukraine, the Nordic country has announced, following an arms delivery three weeks ago.

"Finland will send more defence materiel assistance to Ukraine," the defence ministry said in a statement. "To ensure that the assistance reaches its destination, more detailed information on the content of the assistance, manner of delivery or schedule will not be provided."

Ukraine conflict a new blow for poor countries: UN

The conflict in Ukraine has sent commodity prices soaring, creating fresh shock waves across poorer countries already hard-hit by the pandemic, the UN has said, warning that "profound social anxiety" was spreading.

In a new report, the UN trade, investment and development agency (UNCTAD) warned that the conflict raging in Ukraine was causing a global economic slowdown that was hitting developing countries the hardest.

UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan demanded a coordinated international response to help poorer countries weather the crisis, stressing to journalists that "urgency is of the essence". 

US sanctions Russia lawmakers, defence contractors

The United States has announced a fresh wave of sanctions against Russian lawmakers, oligarchs and defence companies in response to the assault on Ukraine, the White House said.

The measures, which involve freezing US-held assets, single out 328 members of Russia's lower house State Duma, and 48 defence companies "that fuel (President Vladimir) Putin's war machine", said a statement as US President Joe Biden attended summits in Brussels focused on the conflict.

NATO chief Stoltenberg to stay in office extra year

NATO leaders have extended the mandate of alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg for an extra year as the West grapples with Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

"Honoured by the decision of NATO heads of state and government to extend my term as secretary general until 30 September 2023. As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation, we stand united to keep our alliance strong and our people safe," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

G7 to restrict Russian Central Bank's use of gold

Group of Seven leaders have announced they are restricting the Russian Central Bank’s use of gold in transactions. Previously, sanctions against Russian elites, the country’s Central Bank and President Vladimir Putin did not impact Russia’s gold stockpile.

Russia holds roughly $130 billion in gold reserves, and the Bank of Russia announced on February 28 that it would resume the purchase of gold on the domestic precious metals market.

White House officials said the new move will further blunt Russia’s ability to use its international reserves to prop up Russia’s economy and fund its operations against Ukraine.

G7 calls for international organisations to review Russia ties

The G7 group of advanced economies is calling for international organisations to review their ties with Russia, a senior US official has said.

"We in the G7, we're joined together in saying that international organisations and multilateral fora should no longer conduct their activities with Russia in a business-as-usual manner," the official told journalists in Brussels as US President Joe Biden attended NATO, G7 and EU summits in the Belgian capital.

Russian strikes kill six in Kharkiv: Ukrainian official

Russian strikes on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv have killed at least six civilians and wounded more than a dozen, the regional governor has said.

"The Russians fired long-range weapons at a Nova Poshta office, near where Kharkiv residents were receiving aid," regional governor Oleg Synyegubov wrote on social media, referring to a local postal delivery service.

"Preliminary information suggests six civilians were killed and 15 others were injured and hospitalised," he added.

NATO heads announce more troops to eastern flank

NATO leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed to beef up their eastern flank in the face of Russia's assault on Ukraine, and warned Moscow against the use of chemical arms.

"We remain united and resolute in our determination to oppose Russia's aggression, aid the government and the people of Ukraine, and defend the security of all allies," a statement said after national leaders of NATO's 30 member countries met in Brussels.

They agreed to set up four more battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, as well as warning China not to support Russia's campaign.

US to pledge $1B Ukraine aid, take 100,000 refugees

The United States will announce $1 billion in humanitarian aid to Kiev, and a plan to accept up to 100,000 of the 3.7 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled the country, a senior administration official has said.

The United States is also launching the 'European Democratic Resilience Initiative' with $320 million in funding to support media freedom, social resistance, and human rights in Ukraine and nearby countries, the official said.

Nearly 3.7M people flee Ukraine: UN

Nearly 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's attacks began a month ago, the UN has said, warning that half of the country's children are now displaced.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said 3,674,952 Ukrainians had fled the country — an increase of 48,406 from the previous day's figure. Ukraine's refugee crisis is Europe's worst since World War II.

In total, more than 10 million people — over a quarter of the population in regions under government control before the February 24 operation — are now thought to have fled their homes, including nearly 6.5 million who are internally displaced.

US, allies could give Ukraine anti-ship missiles

The United States and its NATO allies are discussing sending anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, a senior US official has said, after Russian vessels attacked Kiev's Black Sea ports.

"We have started consulting with allies on providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine," the official told reporters as a NATO summit got under way in Brussels.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pleaded with NATO leaders to send weapons "without restrictions". 

The alliance can still prevent the deaths of Ukrainians from Russian strikes, from Russian occupation, by giving us all the weapons we need

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President

Russia accuses Poland of 'dangerous escalation'

Russia has accused NATO member Poland, which neighbours Ukraine, of escalating the situation in eastern Europe after it expelled 45 Russian diplomats over alleged espionage.

"Warsaw has embarked on a dangerous escalation in the region, proceeding not from national interests, but within the framework of NATO guidelines, which are based on outright Russophobia elevated to the rank of official policy," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kremlin: UK's Johnson is most active anti-Russian leader

The Kremlin has said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the most active anti-Russian leader but that London's approach would lead to a dead end.

"As for Mr Johnson, we see him as the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian," RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying. "It will lead to a foreign policy dead end."

G20 host Indonesia 'impartial' amid Russia ban calls

Indonesia will remain impartial as the rotating chair of the G20, the country's top diplomatic negotiator has said, following mounting calls that Russia be barred from the forum's meetings.

Dian Triansyah Djani made the statement after Russia's ambassador to Indonesia confirmed on Wednesday President Vladimir Putin planned to attend the November heads-of-state summit in Bali.

Western nations are assessing Russia's membership in the Group of 20 major economies over its attacks on Ukraine.

Bulgaria to recall its ambassador to Russia for consultations

Bulgaria will recall its ambassador to Russia for consultations in response to "undiplomatic, sharp and rude" comments from the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has said.

Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova told a Russian TV channel this week that the Bulgarian people did not support the government's rhetoric and position towards what Russia calls its special operation in Ukraine.

"We will call back our ambassador from Russia for consultations... Usually when one country calls back its ambassador for consultations, the other should follow and do the same," Petkov told reporters in Brussels.

Ukraine has pleaded with NATO leaders to send weapons
Ukraine has pleaded with NATO leaders to send weapons "without restrictions". (AP)

Moscow stock market partially reopens 

The Moscow Stock Exchange has resumed trading of some shares, the second stage in a phased re-opening after being suspended for a month due to Russia's operation in Ukraine.

Trading renewed for only 33 of the largest companies that make up the rouble-denominated MOEX Russia Index, which saw gains of 10 percent at opening but closed at 4.4 percent. The RTS Index, which is calculated in US dollars, was down 9.0 percent as markets closed.

The companies trading on Thursday include Russian energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft, and the country's largest banks Sbe rbank and VTB, which are under US sanctions.

ICRC chief, Russia discuss need to protect Ukraine civilians

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross says he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have discussed the need to protect civilians during Moscow's operations in Ukraine.

"We certainly also discussed the international humanitarian law and provisions of the Geneva Conventions in regard to conduct of hostilities... that civilians must be protected," Peter Maurer said at a joint press conference with Lavrov in Moscow.

These conventions concern prisoners and "civilians detained in Russia as well as in Ukraine", he said, as well as "the issue of dead bodies — civilians and militaries — that need to be repatriated and brought back to the families".

YouTube accused of 'censorship' in Russia

Russia's Union of Journalists has accused YouTube of "censorship" and called for punitive measures, as fears mount that the US company maybe next in line for a ban in Russia.

"Biased moderation and open censorship by digital platforms must have consequences in accordance with the norms of the Russian law," head of Russia's Union of Journalists Vladimir Solovyev said as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

"We urge Russian authorities to react to the situation and to take appropriate measures against Google and the video hosting service YouTube," he said.

UK assessing Putin's demand for gas payments in rouble

Britain is assessing Russia's demand for payment for gas in roubles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesperson has said, after President Vladimir Putin said he would invoice "unfriendly" countries in the currency.

The call for payments in roubles was seen as Putin's way of trying to shore up the currency, which has collapsed after the imposition of sanctions on Russia.

"We are carefully monitoring the implications of the Russian demand," the spokesperson said.

Russians reinforce their positions around the Ukrainian capital which has not yet been fully surrounded.
Russians reinforce their positions around the Ukrainian capital which has not yet been fully surrounded. (AFP)

Zelenskyy accuses Russia of using phosphorus bombs in Ukraine

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of using phosphorus weapons in his country and urged NATO to provide military support.

"This morning, by the way, phosphorus bombs were used. Russian phosphorus bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again," the Ukrainian leader told NATO representatives via video-link.

"To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance without restrictions," Zelenskyy added.

Extraordinary NATO leaders' summit on Ukraine begins

An extraordinary meeting of NATO heads of state and government has begun in Brussels to discuss the alliance’s response to Russia's attack on Ukraine.

The leaders of member states held various bilateral meetings at NATO headquarters ahead of the summit and are expected to continue.

NATO's long-term stance in Eastern Europe is also expected to be evaluated at the meeting as well as a response to Russia's offensive in Ukraine, which entered its second month. 

Zelenskyy says Ukraine deserves to be full member of EU

Ukraine is fighting for the security of the whole of Europe and should be a full member of the European Union, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Swedish lawmakers via video link.

"We are not fighting just for the people of Ukraine, but for Europe's security and we have shown that we deserve to be a fully-fledged member of the EU," Zelenskyy said in an address to Sweden's parliament.

UK sanctions 59 more Russian firms, individuals

Britain has slapped sanctions on 59 more Russian individuals and entities, including the shadowy mercenary group Wagner, in a further retaliation to Moscow's attack on Ukraine.

The government said its latest asset freeze targets 33 individuals and 26 entities as well as six other entities linked to the Belarus government.

Russian ambassador says Poland has blocked embassy's bank accounts - RIA

Russia's ambassador to Warsaw has said that Poland blocked the embassy's bank accounts for allegedly financing "terrorist activity", RIA news agency has reported.

Lawmaker Solskyi accepts offer to become Ukraine's agriculture minister

Senior lawmaker Mykola Solskyi has agreed to accept an offer to become Ukraine's agriculture minister, Solskyi told Reuters.

Roman Leshchenko had earlier resigned as agriculture minister, an aide said, without stating a reason.

Kremlin: Abramovich played early role in Ukraine peace talks

The Kremlin has said sanctioned Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich played an early role in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, but the process was now in the hands of the two sides' negotiating teams.

"He did take part at the initial stage," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. 

"Now the negotiations are between the two teams, the Russians and Ukrainians."

NATO chief says Putin made 'big mistake' by attacking Ukraine 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of making a "big mistake" by attacking Ukraine, as leaders gathered to discuss overhauling the alliance's eastern defences. 

"President Putin has made a big mistake and that is to launch a war against an independent sovereign nation. He has underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces," Stoltenberg said ahead of the start of a summit in Brussels. 

Stoltenberg said the leaders of the US-led military alliance would "address the need for a reset of our deterrence and defence in the longer term", starting with agreeing new deployments to eastern members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Over half of Ukrainian children displaced by conflict: UN

More than half of all children in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes since Russia launched its full-scale attack on February 24, the United Nations has said. 

"One month of war in Ukraine has led to the displacement of 4.3 million children – more than half of the country's estimated 7.5 million child population," the UN children's agency Unicef said in a statement, adding that 1.8 million children had fled the country as refugees and 2.5 million were now displaced inside Ukraine. 

Ukraine claims 15,800 Russian soldiers killed since the conflict began

Some 15,800 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian military has claimed.

Ukrainian forces have also destroyed 108 Russian aircraft, 124 helicopters, 530 tanks, 1,597 armored carriers, 280 cannons, 82 rocket launcher systems, and 47 air defence systems since February 24, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.

The Russian forces also lost 1,033 vehicles, four light speedboats, 72 fuel vehicles, and 50 UAVs, it added.

Stoltenberg to extend NATO term by one year amid Ukraine conflict - reports

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is set to extend his term as head of the alliance by another year due to the conflict in Ukraine, Norwegian broadcaster TV2 and daily Dagens Naeringsliv have reported, citing unnamed sources.

Stoltenberg's current term expires on October 1 and he had been due to take up a post as central bank governor of his native Norway by the end of 2022.

When asked on Wednesday whether he would stay on at NATO, Stoltenberg said any such decision was up to member-countries to make.

UK adds Gazprombank and Alfa Bank to sanctions list

Britain has freezed the assets of Russia's Gazprombank and Alfa Bank in its latest round of sanctions.

China calls NATO claims of backing Russia 'disinformation'

Beijing has accused the NATO chief of "spreading disinformation" with claims that China has backed Russia's attack on Ukraine, amid growing international pressure to distance itself from Moscow.

Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that "accusing China of spreading false information about Ukraine is itself spreading disinformation". 

"China's position is consistent with the wishes of most countries... any unwarranted accusations and suspicions against China will be defeated," he said at a routine briefing.

Ukraine says Russian landing ship destroyed

Ukraine’s navy has reported destroying Russia’s large landing ship, Orsk, near the port city of Berdyansk.

A short Facebook statement about the ship was accompanied with photos and videos of fire and thick plumes of smoke in the port.

The Russian military has not commented on what happened to the ship. Berdyansk has been under Russian control since February 27.

Johnson: Pressure could be applied to Putin's gold reserves

Britain and its western allies will increase the economic pressure on Russia and are looking to see if more can be done to prevent President Vladimir Putin from accessing his gold reserves, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Ahead of a NATO meeting in Brussels, Johnson told LBC Radio that Putin had already crossed a red line and that he should appear before the International Criminal Court.

"We need to do more," he said. "And so we need to do more economically. Can we do more to stop him using his gold reserves for instance, in addition to his cash reserves?" 

Ukraine: Seven humanitarian corridors agreed, no safe passage from Mariupol

Agreement has been reached on the establishment of seven humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from Ukrainian towns and cities, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said.

She said civilians trying to leave besieged Mariupol would find transport at nearby Berdyansk, making clear Russia was not allowing a safe corridor to be created to or from the centre of the southern port city. 

Ukrainian agriculture minister has submitted resignation - aide

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Roman Leshchenko has submitted his resignation, an aide has said, without stating a reason.

The aide, who declined to be named, said Ukrainian parliament would vote on whether to accept the resignation, possibly as soon as Thursday.

Strikes kill 4 near Luhansk: Ukrainian official

At least four people were killed, including two children, and six wounded from overnight strikes in eastern Ukraine, the governor of the Luhansk region has said.

Sergiy Gayday said "unfortunately, the number of victims could be considerably higher," accusing Russian forces of using phosphorus bombs. 

Other officials in the region have made similar claims in recent days.

Moscow stock exchange partially reopens after one-month closure

The Moscow Stock Exchange has resumed trading of some shares, as it continues re-opening after a month-long suspension over Russia's military operation in Ukraine.

Trading resumed for only around 30 of the largest companies that make up the ruble-denominated MOEX Russia Index, which saw early gains of up to 10 percent.

Turkcell: 10% of mobile infrastructure in Ukraine disabled

Turkish telecoms operator Turkcell, one of three main operators in Ukraine, said around 10 percent of its infrastructure in the country has been disabled by Russia's attack, but added there is no damage to its central network.

Turkcell, which operates under the name "lifecell" in Ukraine, said in a stock exchange statement that around 10 percent of its 9,000 base stations in Ukraine were disabled, adding there had been no casualties among its employees.

The company said it had provided the necessary equipment to maintain operations and established backup data centres in Lviv in western Ukraine and some neighbouring nations, adding 45 percent of its retail stores in the country remained open.

Ukraine 2022 sunseed harvest likely to plunge 42% - APK-Inform

Ukraine's 2022 sunflower seed harvest could decrease by 42 percent to 9.6 million tonnes due to a sharp decrease in the sowing areas following Russia's attack, APK-Inform agriculture consultancy has said.

APK-Inform said the 2022 sowing area under sunflowers may fall to a minimum level for 13 years, amounting to about 4.2 million to 4.4 million hectares, or 35 percent down versus 2021 levels. 

"This reduction is due to the fact that much of the battles in the country are concentrated in the main regions of sunflower cultivation," the consultancy said. It said the harvest of rapeseed could fall by 19 percent to 2.52 million tonnes, while soybean production is likely to fall by 23 percent to 2.74 million tonnes. 

Renault backtracks after backlash over move to resume Russia production

French carmaker Renault has decided to suspend activities at its manufacturing plant in Moscow amid mounting public pressure to withdraw from the country.

"Regarding its stake in AVTOVAZ, Renault Group is assessing the available options, taking into account the current environment, while acting responsibly towards its 45,000 employees in Russia," the company said in a statement.

The move came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on French companies such as Renault to pullback from Russia and accused them of sponsoring the "Russian war machine”. Renault had recently resumed production after a halt at the plant in late February citing logistical bottlenecks amid the conflict.

'We will see who is a friend and who has betrayed us' –– Zelenskyy on summits

Speaking on the eve of the NATO summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the alliance to provide "effective and unrestricted" support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian offensive.

"We ask that the alliance declare that it will fully assist Ukraine to win this war, clear our territory of the invaders and restore peace in Ukraine," he said during his nightly video address to the nation.

"We will see who is a friend, who is a partner and who has sold out and betrayed us," he said in an emotional speech. "Together we should not allow Russia to break anyone in NATO, the EU or G-7, to break them and drag them to the side of war."

Russian army 'taking defensive positions' in Ukraine: Pentagon

The Russian army has retreated more than 30 kilometres (18 miles) east of Kiev in the past 24 hours and has begun to establish defensive positions on several fronts in Ukraine, a senior Pentagon official has said. 

"The Ukrainians have managed to push the Russians back 55 kilometres east and northeast of Kiev," the senior official, who requested anonymity, told reporters. "That is a change from yesterday."

To the northwest, "they're basically digging in and they are establishing defensive positions," the official added. "So it's not that they're not advancing. They're actually not trying to advance right now." 

Türkiye’s president arrives in Belgium for NATO summit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Brussels, Belgium, where he will attend the Extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government.

The Turkish leader is also being accompanied by a high-level delegation including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Communications Director Fahrettin Altun and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.

The leaders will discuss the Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as measures to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence structure. Erdogan is expected to hold talks with participating leaders on the margins of the summit. 

Russian stock market will partially reopen

Russia is reopening its stock market for limited trading nearly one month after shares plunged and the exchange was shut down following the military operation in Ukraine.

There will be heavy restrictions on trading as the exchange opens to prevent the kind of massive selloff that took place on February 24 in anticipation of crushing financial and economic sanctions from Western nations.

The reopening of the Moscow exchange has only minimal significance for investors outside Russia and scant economic impact compared with barrage of US-led sanctions and withdrawals by foreign corporations.

Esteemed theater director taken by Russians

Russian troops in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson have seized one of the country's most prominent theater directors “in a fascist manner” and took him to an unknown location, Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko has said.

Witnesses said nine Russian military vehicles pulled up to the home of Oleksandr Kniga and led him out. The Russians warned neighbors that if they came out of their homes, they would be killed, the witnesses said.

“The whole world should know about this!” Tkachenko said on Facebook. Kniga, 62, is one of the most important and respected theater directors in Ukraine. 

Ukraine's Zelenskyy urges global protests against Russia's assault

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged citizens around the world to take to the streets to stop Russia's offensive in his country.

"Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life," Zelenskyy said in a video address in English. "Come to your squares, to your streets, make yourselves visible and heard."

In a passionate speech on the eve of a one-month anniversary of Russia's assault, Zelenskyy urged people around the globe "to stand against the war starting from March 24... and after then" and speak up against Russia's bloody offensive. "Show your standing, come from your offices, your homes, your schools and your universities, come in the name of peace," Zelenskyy said.

UK to provide 6,000 missiles to Ukraine in new support

Britain will provide Ukraine with about 6,000 new defensive missiles and almost $40 million to support the BBC's coverage in the region and pay Ukrainian soldiers and pilots.

British PM Boris Johnson will announce the new package of support on Thursday at the NATO and G7 leaders' meetings while also signalling a willingness to bolster Ukraine's defence capabilities further, his office said.

"The United Kingdom will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine, strengthening their defences as they turn the tide in this fight," Johnson said.

WHO: 64 instances of attacks on health care since Ukraine assault began

The World Health Organization has said it had verified 64 instances of attacks on health care in Ukraine between February 24 and March 21 resulting in 15 deaths and 37 injuries.

Close to 7 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced in the one month of the Russian assault, with one in three of them suffering from a chronic health condition, according to the global health agency.

Pressure has been mounting on medical professionals and volunteers from Ukraine and abroad to keep the country's healthcare system going, since the start of the Russian incursions.

For live updates from Wednesday (March 23), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies