Russian troops remain stalled outside Kiev and rain fire on other Ukrainian cities even as the two sides project optimism over efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting continuing on the 22nd day.

An ambulance drives in downtown Kiev on March 17, 2022, as a 35-hour curfew in the Ukrainian capital comes to an end.
An ambulance drives in downtown Kiev on March 17, 2022, as a 35-hour curfew in the Ukrainian capital comes to an end. (AP)

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Russia: US wanted to spread infectious diseases via biolabs in Ukraine

The US has been developing infectious diseases in "biolabs in Ukraine" with the aim of spreading them to Russia disguised as natural outbreaks, Russia's Defence Ministry has alleged, despite Ukraine and the United States repeatedly denying the accusation, and warning Moscow may use it as a pretext to deploy its own chemical or biological weapons.

The head of the Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force, Igor Kirillov, presented documents at a press briefing in Moscow that were seized during Russia's military offensive in Ukraine, allegedly of Ukrainian and US origin.

According to the documents, the US had been carrying out experiments in Ukraine with viruses within the framework of projects P-382, P-444 and P-568 and one of the supervisors of this research was the head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) office at the US embassy in Kiev, Joanna Wintrall.

During the experiments, six families of viruses were chosen, including coronaviruses and three kinds of pathogenic bacteria –– pathogens of plague, brucellosis and leptospirosis, said Kirillov, adding these pathogens were chosen because they have natural foci both on the territory of Ukraine and in Russia, and their use can be disguised as natural outbreaks of diseases.

READ MORE: Russia's bioweapons claims gain ground in US

READ MORE: NATO chief says Russia may use 'chemical weapons'

Russia scraps UN vote on Ukraine resolution

Russia has cancelled a UN Security Council vote on a "humanitarian" resolution on Ukraine, scheduled for Friday, Russia's UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya said. 

Moscow failed to secure co-sponsorship of the draft text from China and India, suggesting that Beijing and New Delhi would not have supported it, an ambassador told AFP news agency.

"We decided, at this stage, not to ask for a vote on our draft, but we are not withdrawing the draft resolution," Nebenzya told the 15-member council, accusing Western countries of placing "unprecedented pressure" on other council members not to support the measure.

Meanwhile, Nebenzya denied allegations that Moscow bombed a theatre in Mariupol city of Ukraine while accusing "Nazi groups" of not letting people leave. He also accused Western countries of fuelling the conflict by providing weapons to Kiev. 

US: China will bear responsibility for actions supporting Russia

US President Joe Biden will warn Beijing away from providing military aid for Russia's attacks on Ukraine when he speaks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

"President Biden will be speaking to President Xi tomorrow, and will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia's aggression. And we will not hesitate to impose costs," Blinken said.

Blinken also told reporters that the United States is concerned that China is considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment.

Blinken: Russia making no meaningful efforts in peace talks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he agrees with President Joe Biden that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine, adding that US experts are in the process of documenting and evaluating potential war crimes in Ukraine.

"Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime," Blinken told reporters, adding that he finds it "difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise" after the destruction over the past few weeks.

He also said Russia was not making serious efforts in negotiations with Ukraine to end the three-week conflict. "...I have not seen any meaningful efforts by Russia to bring this war that it is perpetrating to a conclusion through diplomacy," he said.

American among civilians killed in Russian attack in Ukraine

The US State Department has confirmed that an American citizen was killed in a Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

The department did not immediately confirm the identity of the American, who was at least the second US citizen to be killed in the conflict, after the death of journalist and filmmaker Brent Renaud last week.

In Chernihiv, a city north of Kiev, the capital, at least 53 people had been brought to morgues over the past 24 hours, killed during heavy Russian air attacks and ground fire, the local governor, Viacheslav Chaus, told Ukrainian TV on Thursday.

UN: Civilian deaths in Ukraine now at 780, over 1,250 injured

Civilian deaths recorded since the start of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine have reached 780, while 1,252 more have been wounded, the UN Human Rights Office has said. 

At the same time, the UN refugee agency said nearly 3.17 million – 3,169,897 – people have fled from Ukraine since February 24, with more than 1.9 million, mainly women and children, going to Poland.

Over 491,000 have fled to Romania, more than 350,000 to Moldova, nearly 283,000 to Hungary, and over 229,000 to Slovakia in what UN officials have said is the “worst refugee crisis since World War II.”

Macron: Ukraine conflict gave NATO an electric shock

France's president has said Russia's attack on Ukraine had delivered an "electric shock" to the NATO alliance and given it a new strategic clarity that it was lacking.

Emmanuel Macron, speaking to reporters as he launched his campaign for re-election, was responding to a question about whether he regretted describing NATO as "brain dead" around two years ago.

"Russia has given us a wake-up call," Macron said. "I always considered that we needed a strategic clarification, and we are in the process of getting it." He said events in Ukraine had given NATO that clarity because it brought it back to its origins.

Norway to bring Ukrainian refugees from Moldova, elsewhere

The Norwegian government will bring 2,500 Ukrainian refugees to Norway from Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries.

In addition, 550 refugees in need of medical care, plus 2,200 of their family members, would also be given the opportunity to come, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.

"Moldova has asked for help...and Norway will contribute. In addition we want to bring in some of the most vulnerable refugees that this terrible war has caused," Stoere said.

EU: Dependence on fossil fuels funding Russian 'war chest'

The European Union's dependence on Russian fossil fuels is financing Russia's "war chest", the bloc's environment policy chief has said.

"I don't need to go deep into our dependency on fossil fuels, and how many billions every year we pay to Russian war chest," EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told a news conference in Brussels.

"The less we're dependent, the better it is for us," he said, referring to Europe's reliance on energy from Russia, which provides 40 percent of the bloc's gas.

Putin does not want peace, Italian prime minister says

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want peace and it is possible that further sanctions might be needed against Moscow to try to end the conflict in Ukraine, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

"On Putin's part there is no willingness for peace. There is a willingness for war," Draghi told reporters.

US Democrats introduce bill to curb Russian crypto use

Democratic US senators have introduced a bill that would enable the president to sanction foreign cryptocurrency firms doing business with sanctioned Russian entities and prevent them from transacting with US customers.

The Digital Asset Sanctions Compliance Act is led by Senator Elizabeth Warren and co-sponsored by 10 other Democrats, including Senators Mark Warner and Jon Tester.

While the bill is unlikely to become law anytime soon, it could ramp up pressure on cryptocurrency exchanges, which have been on the defensive amid concerns that digital assets are being used to circumvent a slew of Western sanctions imposed on Russia.

G7 decries Russia's 'indiscriminate attacks'

Perpetrators of "war crimes" in Ukraine will be called to account, the Group of Seven leading economies has warned, calling on Russia to comply with the International Court of Justice’s order to stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw its military forces.

"Due to President (Vladimir) Putin's unprovoked and shameful war, millions are forced to flee their homes; the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, theatres and schools is ongoing," the G7 foreign ministers said in a statement.

"Those responsible for war crimes, including indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians, will be held responsible."

'30,000 civilians' have fled Ukraine's besieged Mariupol

Authorities in Mariupol have said around 30,000 people have fled the besieged city and that they are clarifying information on possible victims of the Russian shelling of a theatre sheltering civilians a day earlier.

Mariupol's city hall said on Telegram that "around 30,000 people have left on their transport", adding that "80 percent of residential housing was destroyed". It said it was "clarifying information on victims" of the theatre shelling.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry said the allegation that Moscow's air force had bombed a theatre was a lie and that the truth would emerge despite what it called attempts to frame Moscow.

Russian-European Mars mission suspended  

A Russian-European mission to land a rover on Mars has been suspended due to sanctions over Moscow's attacks on Ukraine and its "tragic consequences", the European Space Agency has said.

The ExoMars mission was planned for a September launch using a Russian launcher and lander to put the rover on Mars to drill into the soil, searching for signs of life.

"This is a very bitter (decision) for all the enthusiasts of space," Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, said on Telegram, calling it a "shame". He added that Moscow will "conduct this research expedition on our own".

Russia TV protester quits channel, turns down asylum offer

A Russian editor who protested Moscow's military action in Ukraine during a state TV news broadcast has said she is quitting her job but not accepting France's asylum offer, calling herself "a patriot".

She was detained and a Moscow court rapidly fined her 30,000 rubles (260 euros). But despite being freed she could face further prosecution, risking years in prison under draconian new laws.

She told France 24 television from Moscow on Thursday that she had "handed in all the documents" for her resignation from Channel One. "It's a legal procedure," she said.

Slovakia: Willing to provide Ukraine S-300s if NATO fills gap

Slovakia's Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad has said his country is willing to provide Ukraine with S-300 air defences if NATO allies find a substitute.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was speaking alongside Nad, declined to say whether the United States might be willing to fill the gap.

"I don't have any announcements for you this afternoon. These are things that we will continue to work with all of our allies on. And certainly this is not just a US issue, it's a NATO issue," Austin said, without elaborating.

South Africa's Ramaphosa blames NATO for Ukraine conflict

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has blamed NATO for the Ukraine conflict and said he would resist calls to condemn Russia, in comments that cast doubt over whether he would be accepted by Ukraine or the West as a mediator.

"The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region," Ramaphosa said.

In parliament, he added that South Africa "cannot condone the use of force and violation of international law".

IMF: Russian board member suspended from dean role

The International Monetary Fund's executive board has temporarily suspended the largely ceremonial role of dean, held by Russian executive director Aleksei Mozhin, an IMF spokespeson has said.

The position has been traditionally granted to the longest-serving member of the IMF executive board and carries little power.

"The Executive Board of the IMF has decided to temporarily suspend the role of dean of the board given Russia's role in the ongoing war in Ukraine...," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.

UK says freezing tax cooperation with Russia and Belarus

Britain has said it was suspending the exchange of tax information with Russia and Belarus in response to Moscow's attacks on Ukraine.

Countries from across the world have signed agreements with each other which allow their national tax authorities to request information from elsewhere to crack down on tax evasion.

"The UK is freezing tax cooperation with Russia and Belarus by suspending all exchange of tax information with them," Lucy Frazer, financial secretary to the Treasury, said in a written statement to parliament.

Western officials: Very big gap remains in peace talks

Ukraine and Russia are taking peace talks seriously but a very big gap remains between the two sides, Western officials have said, adding Russian President Vladimir Putin did not seem in the mood to compromise.

Although both sides have pointed to limited progress in peace talks this week, Putin showed little sign of relenting during a televised speech in which he inveighed against "traitors and scum" at home who helped the West, and said the Russian people would spit them out like gnats.

"Both sides are taking (the talks) seriously but there is a very, very big gap between the positions in question," one Western official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

UK grants Ukrainian refugees free access to health care

Britain will allow Ukrainian refugees immediate access to its publicly funded healthcare system free of charge, the department of health and social care has said.

"It's our moral duty to ensure any Ukrainian arriving in England, after being forced out of their home country by the Russian invasion is able to access the healthcare they might need, without worrying about the cost," health minister Sajid Javid said in a statement.

'Around 50 Turkish citizens' leave Ukraine's Mariupol

Around 30 Turkish citizens are still sheltering in a mosque in Mariupol and 50 have managed to flee the Ukrainian port city that has faced heavy Russian shelling for days, an official has said.

"Thirty Turkish people remain in the mosque, 50 have left," the president of the Suleiman Mosque Association in Mariupol, Ismail Hacioglu, told AFP.

Speaking by phone from the city of Odessa, Hacioglu added that another 70 Turkish citizens living in Mariupol are currently unaccounted for.

Kadyrov: 'Thousand' Chechen volunteers headed to Ukraine

A thousand Chechen volunteers are on their way to fight for Russia in Ukraine, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has said.

Kadyrov, whose forces have been accused of numerous abuses, said on Telegram one of his relatives, Apty Alaudinov, "is leading a thousand volunteers from the Chechen republic heading to take part in the special operation of denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine".

Red Cross chief says aid be allowed into Mariupol

The International Committee of the Red Cross has called on the warring sides to allow safe passage out of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol and allow aid in, the organisation's head Peter Maurer has said.

The ICRC had to leave the city on Wednesday, Maurer told a news conference, because its staff had "no operational capacity any more", but the organisation would be making arrangements to bring aid "as soon as we have a safe way".

The ICRC was also still seeking access to prisoners from both sides in the conflict, adding captured troops should be treated with dignity and not exposed to "public curiosity."

'Stop this war': Arnold Schwarzenegger to Putin

"Terminator" star Arnold Schwarzenegger has appealed to Vladimir Putin to end the "senseless" conflict in Ukraine and praised Russians protesting the aggression as his "new heroes."

"Ukraine did not start this war," the former California governor said in an emotional message to the people of Russia and Russian troops posted to his Twitter account.

"I know that your government has told you that this is a war to do 'de-Nazify' Ukraine," he said in the nine-minute video. "This is not true. Those in power in the Kremlin started this war. This is not the Russian people's war."

Erdogan speaks with Putin over phone

Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken with Russia’s Vladimir Putin about the developments in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Arriving at a consensus on some issues ahead of a possible peace deal might require direct talks between the Russian leader and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Erdogan told Putin in a phone call on Thursday. He reiterated his offer to host them in Ankara or Istanbul.

Erdogan said the declaration of a permanent ceasefire with Ukraine would pave the way for a long-term solution, stressed that Türkiye was committed to peace, and emphasised the importance of diplomacy. 

He also drew attention to the need for the smooth operation of humanitarian corridors in both directions.

Cavusoglu visits Lviv, stresses ceasefire

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said he hopes for a humanitarian ceasefire in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. 

In a joint news conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Lviv,  Cavusoglu said on Thursday he had proposed a 24-hour ceasefire to be monitored by humanitarian groups. 

Kuleba said Ukraine and its people appreciated the "principled position" that Türkiye had taken since start of the conflict. He said Cavusoglu's visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv proved that Ankara was an active player in peace efforts.

'At least 21 dead' after Russian shelling of east Ukraine town

At least 21 people have been killed and 25 injured after Russian forces shelled a town in eastern Ukraine, local prosecutors have said.

Artillery fire early on Thursday hit a school and a cultural centre in the town of Merefa outside the city of Kharkiv, regional prosecutors said on Facebook. Of the wounded, 10 people are in serious condition.

A photo accompanying the prosecutors' statement showed a building of several storeys that was destroyed in the middle with windows blown out and emergency workers combing through the wreckage.

More than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees flee in 24 hours

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Russia's assault has grown by more than 100,000 over the past 24 hours, the United Nations refugee agency has said.

UNHCR said on Thursday 3,169,897 Ukrainians had fled across the border since the assault began on February 24, a figure up by 106,802 since Wednesday's update. It added that over two million people still within Ukraine's borders had also fled their homes.

"More than three million people have fled the country, the vast majority women, children and older people who left behind their homes and often family members, not knowing what's to come," the agency said.

White House: Biden to speak with Xi about Ukraine

US President Joe Biden will speak on Friday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping about issues including Russia's operations in Ukraine, the White House has said.

Beijing has refused to condemn its close ally Russia over its Ukraine assault, while blaming the United States and NATO's eastward expansion for worsening tensions.

"The two Leaders will discuss managing the competition between our two countries as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern," the White House said in a statement.

France: Russia 'pretending to negotiate' in Ukraine talks

Russia is pretending to negotiate with Ukraine, while pursuing the assault on its neighbour in line with a brutal strategy it has used elsewhere, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.

"Unfortunately we're still facing the same Russian logic — making maximalist demands, wanting Ukraine to surrender and intensifying siege warfare," Le Drian told newspaper Le Parisien.

"Just as in Grozny (in Chechnya) and Aleppo (in Syria), there are three typical elements — indiscriminate bombardment, so-called humanitarian 'corridors' designed to allow them to accuse the other side of failing to respect them, and talks with no objective other than pretending that they are negotiating," he added.

Rescue of civilians from bombed theatre begins

Ukraine’s ombudswoman Ludmyla Denisova has said a theatre in Mariupol has withstood the impact of an air strike and that the rescue of civilians from under the rubble of the destroyed building has begun. Russia has denied attacking the theatre.

“The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter," she said on the messaging service Telegram on Thursday.

“Work is under way to unlock the basement” and surviving adults and children are coming out, she wrote. She said there is no information on casualties so far. Hundreds of men, women and children had taken shelter in the basement of the theatre.

Ukraine urges EU lawmakers to recognise Putin as 'war criminal'

Ukraine's defence minister has called on EU lawmakers to recognise Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal" and urged the bloc to step up arms supplies to fight Moscow's forces.

"It's not simply a war. It's state terror. The regular army of the aggressor is conscientiously annihilating the civil population," Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told EU legislators via videolink. 

"I'm appealing to all European Parliamentary members to recognise that Putin is a war criminal, as has been done in the United States," he said, referring to US President Joe Biden's remark dubbing Putin a "war criminal".

UN agency: Ukraine conflict already impacting food security

The conflict in Ukraine is already resulting in rising food prices and a shortage of staple crops in parts of central Asia, the Middle East and north Africa, the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has said.

The Russian operations launched against Ukraine last month have curtailed shipments from the two countries, which jointly account for around 25 percent of world wheat exports and 16% of world corn exports, leading to surging prices for the grains.

"The conflict in Ukraine, already a catastrophe for those directly involved, will also be a tragedy for the world's poorest people living in rural areas. We are already seeing price hikes," said Gilbert F Houngbo, President of IFAD.

OECD sees one-point hit to global growth

The fallout from the conflict in Ukraine could cut global economic growth by "over one percentage point" in the first year after the conflict, the OECD has said in a report.

The impact "if sustained" would produce "a deep recession in Russia, and push up global consumer price inflation by approximately 2.5 percentage points", the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its report.

"The economic disruptions brought on by the conflict are large and are likely to continue into the future," OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann said in a press conference. The size of the shock would "depend in part on the duration of the war".

India to study sanctions impact for Russia payments 

India will study the impact of western sanctions against Russia while devising a payment mechanism to settle its trade with Moscow, India's finance ministry spokesperson has said.

Arindam Bagchi said India imports the bulk of its oil needs and is always exploring all possibilities in the global energy markets.

HRW urges Ukraine to stop parading Russian prisoners

Human Rights Watch is urging Ukraine to stop posting videos of captured Russian prisoners under duress, saying such treatment violated Kiev's international obligations.

"Ukrainian authorities should stop posting on social media and messaging apps videos of captured Russian soldiers that expose them to public curiosity, in particular those that show them being humiliated or intimidated," it said.

"Such treatment of prisoners of war violates protections under the Geneva Conventions intended to ensure dignified treatment of captured combatants on all sides," it added.

Russia ally Uzbekistan calls for swift halt to Ukraine conflict

Uzbekistan, a Central Asian republic with close ties to Russia, has called for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict in Ukraine and said it would not recognise Moscow-backed separatist statelets there.

In the strongest statement to come from Russia's former Soviet allies so far, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov told parliament that while Tashkent wanted to maintain good relations with both Moscow and Kiev, it opposed the Russian assault.

"...we are the proponents of finding a peaceful solution to this situation and resolving the conflict through political and diplomatic means. But in order to do that, first of all, hostilities and violence must stop immediately," he said.

Kremlin: Many in Russia are showing themselves to be traitors

The Kremlin has said many people in Russia were showing themselves to be "traitors" and pointed to those who were resigning from their jobs and leaving the country.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the comments a day after President Vladimir Putin delivered a stark warning to Russian "traitors" who he said the West wanted to use as a "fifth column" to destroy the country.

"In such difficult times... many people show their true colours. Very many people are showing themselves, as we say in Russian, to be traitors," Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Kosovo asks Washington for help in joining NATO

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani has asked US President Joe Biden to use Washington's influence within NATO member states to help her country join the military alliance.

In a letter sent to Biden dated March 10 and seen by Reuters, Osmani said in the wake of Russia's attacks on Ukraine, joining NATO was her main national security priority.

"Kosovo's membership in NATO has become an imperative," Osmani said. "We express our faith and expectation that the US will use its leadership and influence to actively support and advance the complex process of NATO membership for Kosovo."

Kremlin rejects top UN court order to halt Ukraine offensive

The Kremlin has rejected an order by the UN's top court for Russia to suspend the military offensive in Ukraine, a day after judges in The Hague announced their ruling.

"We cannot take this decision into account," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. He added that both parties – Russia and Ukraine – had to agree for the ruling to be implemented. 

"No consent can be obtained in this case," Peskov said.

Air defence systems for Ukraine would destabilise situation: Russia

Russia's foreign ministry has said that giving Ukraine air defence systems will be a destabilising factor that would not bring peace to the country.

"Such deliveries ... would be a destabilising factor which will definitely not bring peace to Ukraine," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing.

"In the long term, they could have much more dangerous consequences," she added.

UN agency to give protective gear to Ukraine journalists

The United Nations' cultural agency has said it will provide bulletproof vests and helmets to journalists working in Ukraine after the deaths of several reporters covering Russia's offensive.

UNESCO will also organise online training courses for working in combat zones and first aid. It is also trying to provide in-person training soon for journalists in Lviv, the western city where many media organisations have moved as the capital Kiev is besieged.

"Journalists and media workers are risking their lives in Ukraine to provide life-saving information to local populations and inform the world of the reality of this war," UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.

UN: War hinders food access for world's poor

A UN agency is warning that the conflict in Ukraine is likely to hinder access to food and fuel for many of the world’s most vulnerable people.

A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development notes that Russia accounted for nearly a third of wheat imports for Africa, or $3.7 billion, in 2018-2020, while 12 percent, worth $1.4 billion, came from Ukraine. 

The report said initial assessments point to a “substantive reduction” in access to food and fuel despite efforts to prevent disruptions of supplies of key commodities such as wheat. 

Russia says talks with Ukraine continue via video link

Talks between Russian and Ukraine continue via video link, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has said.

According to Zakharova, the parties are discussing military, political and humanitarian issues. 

NATO must stop Ukraine conflict from escalating: Stoltenberg 

NATO is determined to stop the conflict in Ukraine from escalating further, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said. 

"NATO has a responsibility to prevent this conflict from escalating further. That would be even more dangerous and cause more suffering, deaths and destruction," Stoltenberg told a joint news conference in Berlin with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

Stoltenberg added that he welcomed Scholz's efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the war, including direct contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

UK to deploy Sky Sabre missile defence system in Poland

Britain will deploy its Sky Sabre missile system in Poland, its defence minister has said during a visit to Warsaw, as NATO moves to beef up the security of its eastern flank in view of Russia's incursion into Ukraine.

"We are going to deploy the Sky Sabre medium-range, anti-air missile system to Poland with about 100 personnel to make sure that we stand alongside Poland, protecting her airspace from any further aggression by Russia," Ben Wallace told a news conference.

Ukraine asks Japan for satellite data - Nikkei

Ukraine is asking Japan for high-quality satellite imagery to help it fend off Russian troops, the Nikkei newspaper has reported.

Japanese governments and private companies operate satellites that have the ability to capture detailed images day and night, and through clouds and other obstructions in the atmosphere.

The Japanese government will carefully consider whether providing such data to Ukraine is politically acceptable or allowed under the current legal framework, the report said without citing sources.

UAE 'keen to cooperate' on energy security with Russia

The United Arab Emirates is keen to cooperate with Russia on bolstering global energy security, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said in Moscow.

The UAE official said in televised comments he planned to discuss the crises in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and Iran during his visit to Russia.

Russia says order to pay $117M in Eurobond interest fulfilled

Russia's order to pay $117 million in interest on two Eurobond coupons was fulfilled, the finance ministry has said and it will update the market separately on whether the payment was deposited into the account of payment agent Citibank. 

Sanctions over events in Ukraine have cut off Russia from the global financial system and blocked the bulk of its gold and foreign exchange reserves. 

The payment on the two Eurobonds, due on Wednesday, is Moscow's first test in honouring its external debt obligations since Western sanctions were imposed.

Zelenskyy urges Germany to tear down new Russian 'Wall'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Germany in an emotional video address before parliament to help destroy a new "Wall" Russia was erecting in Europe.

"It's not a Berlin Wall – it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb" dropped on Ukraine, Zelenskyy told MPs.

"Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this Wall," he implored German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, evoking US President Ronald Reagan's Cold War appeal in Berlin.

UK military intelligence: Russia's assault in Ukraine has largely stalled

Russia's assault in Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts, with Russian forces suffering heavy losses and making minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days, British military intelligence has said.

"Ukrainian resistance remains staunch and well-coordinated," The Ministry of Defence said. 

"The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands." 

Russia will put its enemies such as US in their place: Medvedev

Russia has the might to put enemies led by the United States in their place and Moscow will foil the West's Russophobic plot to tear Russia apart, one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies has said.

Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia's security council, said the United States had stoked "disgusting" Russophobia in an attempt to force Russia on its knees and then rip it apart.

"It will not work - Russia has the might to put all of our brash enemies in their place," Medvedev said. 

Russia says it hit military depot in western Ukraine

Russia's armed forces hit a military depot in the Rivne region in western Ukraine yesterday, Russian news agencies have reported, citing the defence ministry. 

High-precision missiles hit a depot in Sarny, Rivne region, destroying storage facilities for missiles and ammunition, the ministry said.

Ukraine hopes nine humanitarian corridors will operate

Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians through nine "humanitarian corridors" from cities including the encircled port city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said. 

Losses mount in Ukrainian city of Chernihiv: governor

Losses are mounting in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, with 53 people killed by Russian forces the day before alone, the regional governor has said.

"We are suffering heavy losses - 53 citizens were killed yesterday," Governor Viacheslav Chaus said.

Russia conducting 'anti-cartel' checks at sugar producers

Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) has said it is conducting "anti-cartel" inspections at major sugar producers in light of a sharp increase in sugar prices and a shortage of supply on the market.

Annual inflation in Russia accelerated to its highest since late 2015 as of March 11, with the weakening rouble in response to events in Ukraine and unprecedented sanctions against Moscow sending prices soaring.

Hundreds feared trapped in Ukraine theatre hit by air strike

Ukrainian authorities have struggled to determine the fate of hundreds of civilians who had been sheltering in a theater smashed by a Russian air strike in the besieged city of Mariupol.

A photo released by Mariupol's city council showed an entire section of the large, 3-storey theatre had collapsed after the strike. 

Several hundred people had taken refuge in the building, seeking safety amid Russia's 3-week, strangulating siege of the strategic Azov Sea port city.

Russian govt sites facing 'unprecedented' cyber attacks

Russian government websites are facing unprecedented cyber attacks and technical efforts are being made to filter foreign web traffic, the TASS news agency has cited the digital ministry as saying.

The ministry was working to adjust to the new conditions, it said, as cyber attacks ratchet up. "If previously their power at peak moments reached 500 gigabytes, then now it is at 1 terabyte," the ministry said.

"That is two to three times more powerful than the most serious incidents of this kind that have been previously reported."

Downed missile hits Kiev apartment block, kills one

At least one person has been killed and three wounded after remains of a downed missile hit a residential building in the Ukranian capital, Kiev, Ukraine's emergency service has said.

The 16-storey building was struck at 5:02AM local time, it said in a statement, adding that 30 people have been evacuated so far and a fire has been put out. 

Biden's comments on Putin 'unacceptable and unforgivable': Kremlin

US President Joe Biden's reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal" over his military operation in Ukraine is "unacceptable and unforgivable," the Kremlin has said.

"We believe such rhetoric to be unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world," said Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, according to the state news agencies TASS and Ria Novosti.

Peskov was responding to a question about an earlier comment made by Biden with regard to Russia's military operation in Ukraine."I think he is a war criminal," Biden told reporters earlier.

Kiev, Moscow continue talks over video

Ukrainian and Russian delegations have held another round of talks by video. An official in Zelenskyy’s office said that the main subject under discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the conflict and where the borders would be.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Ukraine was insisting on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on the signing of a legally binding document with security guarantees for Ukraine. 

In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral status. Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine to the alliance or station forces there. 

Ukraine swapped 9 Russian soldiers to free detained mayor: official

Ukraine handed over nine captured Russian soldiers to ensure the release of the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, a senior official has said. 

"Ivan Fedorov was released from Russian captivity...For him, Russia received nine captured soldiers who were born in 2002 and 2003. These are actually children," Darya Zarivnaya, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s press aide, said in a televised speech.

The head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, said that Fedorov, who was kidnapped by the Russian army on March 11, has been released. 

Ukraine’s president outlines demands for talks with Russia

Ukraine’s president has reiterated the importance of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity amid ongoing peace talks with Russia.

“My priorities in the negotiations are absolutely clear: the end of the war, security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country, real protection for our country,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message released by Ukraine’s Presidency.

Zelenskyy also called on Russian soldiers to lay down their weapons to get a chance to survive.

Ukraine: Russia bombed theatre sheltering 'more than 1,000' civilians

Ukraine has claimed that Russia had destroyed a theatre harbouring more than a thousand people in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, with the toll as yet unknown.

Officials posted images that appeared to show the once gleaming whitewashed three-storey theatre hollowed out and ablaze, with bricks and scaffolding piled high.

"The invaders destroyed the Drama Theatre. A place where more than a thousand people found refuge. We will never forgive this," the Mariupol City Council said in a Telegram post.

Ukraine's military says it targeted Kherson airbase

Ukrainian military forces have dealt a punishing blow to the airport in Kherson, which Russian troops had seized early in the conflict, the General Staff said. It said the Russians were trying to remove any surviving military equipment.

Satellite photos taken by Planet Labs PBC and analysed by The Associated Press show helicopters and vehicles on fire at the airbase.

Russia seized the southern port city without a fight in the first days of the offensive. Control over Kherson allows Russia to restore freshwater supplies to Crimea; Ukraine cut off the water after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

Panama: Three ships hit in Black Sea since start of Ukraine assualt

Three Panamanian-flagged ships have been hit by Russian missiles in the Black Sea since Russia's offensive in Ukraine last month, Panama's Maritime Authority said.

One ship sank, the maritime authority said in a statement, but there were no casualties reported.

Russia accuses Ukraine of preparing to use chemical weapons

Ukraine's security service plans to carry out a chemical attack on civilians and then blame it on Russia, Russia's Defence Ministry has said.

"We know for sure that with the support of Western countries, the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) is preparing a provocation with the use of toxic substances against civilians.

"The purpose of the provocation is to accuse Russia of using chemical weapons against the population of Ukraine," ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said at a daily briefing in Moscow.

For live updates from Wednesday (March 16), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies