Russia and UN agree to 60-day extension of grain deal, Russian state news agency says
From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Josh Pennington and Kateryna Krebs
Russia and the United Nations have agreed to a 60-day extension of the Ukraine grain deal after negotiations in Geneva, Russian state news agency RIA reported on Monday.
"Our Russian interdepartmental delegation has just completed another round of talks with UN representatives led by UNCTAD Secretary General R. Greenspan and OCHA head M. Griffiths,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said at a briefing on Monday, according to RIA.
The diplomat added Moscow had agreed to extend the current grain deal, which lasts until March 18, for an additional 60 days.
"But just for 60 days,” Vershinin said. “Any further grain policy will depend on actual —based on not what's said but what's done — progress on the normalization of our agricultural exports, including bank payments, transport logistics, insurance, unfreezing of financial activities and the continuation of ammonia supply through the Tolyatti-Odessa pipeline.”
Why are grain exports so important? Ukraine and Russia are both significant suppliers of food to the world. Before the war, Ukraine – known as one of the globe’s breadbaskets – would export around three-quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped by sea, from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The war and its impact on grain exports therefore has major implications, particularly in the global South which relies heavily on them.
CNN's Rob Picheta, Jomana Karadsheh, Radina Gigova and Tim Lister contributed to this post.
12:37 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
US State Department official: Russia and China have "clearly" aligned on propaganda about the war in Ukraine
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
Russia and China have “clearly” aligned themselves on propaganda and disinformation regarding the war in Ukraine, and the United States and the West have not invested enough over the years in countering such disinformation, a senior State Department official said Monday.
“The United States as a country, the West as a society, has been slow to accept and realize the extent to which China and Russia have made operations in the information space part and parcel of their national objectives,” the official told reporters.
The official said that China and Russia “have spent tens of billions of dollars” on disinformation over the years, and “we, I believe, are just coming to grips as a country and as a society.”
“I think it's been talked about, but I don't think that we have yet put the resources and energy behind it that we should. And that doesn't mean that people haven't tried,” the official said, adding that it's only in "recent years that we've all come to see the dark side of the communications revolutions in digital technology.”
“Meanwhile, the Russians and the Chinese in particular have been working that dark side,” the official said.
The US official noted that the war in Ukraine has helped awaken the West to the issue, saying, “when democracies are aroused, as they have been from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the democracies have shown their power this last year.”
“The autocracies are weaker as a result of the last year. So I believe that when aroused that we will succeed, but we have not been sufficiently aroused,” the official said.
They described Moscow and Beijing as having “an echo chamber” and “a feedback loop” of spreading the false narratives about the war, and said, “they try to get more and more attention by sharing narratives.”
The official suggested these disinformation efforts were de facto state-sponsored, because “in Russia and China, we generally believe that the major media operations are well aligned by their governments.”
The official added that the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with countering foreign disinformation, put out a report several years ago that found the Russian government “operates disinformation at the highest levels of government” and the “Chinese propaganda system is operated at the highest levels of government.”
The official said that the head of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) at the State Department would be traveling to Eastern Europe “where there are operations that repeat and promulgate Russian disinformation,” and will engage with governments there on how to “shut it down or mitigate it or limit it,” instead of “waiting for these people to repeat it and promulgate it.”
12:04 p.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Pentagon says Ukraine war "far too fluid" to include additional funding in 2024 budget
From CNN's Haley Britzky
The Pentagon’s $842 billion 2024 budget request does not include additional funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia due to the unpredictability of the conflict’s longevity, officials said as they briefed on the details of the request.
A senior defense official told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2024 budget request has $300 million for Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative “that has always been in the budget,” but otherwise there is “not other Ukraine funding in here.”
“If that is still an ongoing issue in , we would expect to handle that by contingencies, contingency or supplemental funding, which is the way that every emergent operation has been handled for about 50 consecutive years in this government,” the official said. “So no different here. It is far too fluid for us to be putting anything now projecting into 24 what the situation might be.”
The official emphasized that the absence of additional funding “in no way shape or form means that it is not important to us.”
Some more context: Since Russia’s invasion more than a year ago, the US has given roughly $30 billion in assistance to Ukraine. The White House’s budget, released last week, included $6 billion from the Pentagon and State Department for Ukraine and other European allies.
While the Pentagon’s budget request may not include additional funding specifically for Ukraine, it does include an almost $6 billion increase in munitions funding which is “sort of informed and pressurized on the ground side by the Ukraine fight and the things that we’ve been giving to Ukraine,” according to the official. It also invests almost $5 billion to “adapt capabilities to the evolving threat” in Europe.
But the official specified that in the new budget request, the focus is on weapons “more for the broader strategy for a higher-end fight.”
“They’re not ground munitions,” the official said. “You’ll see Naval strike missile, standard missile, AMRAAM, things like that.”
Indeed, the items falling under the multi-year contract requests are the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER).
Asked why the Pentagon wasn’t able to get the same kind of contracts for things like the Patriot missile system and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLR) — which are in high demand in Ukraine — the official said it’s “harder than it looks” to get a multi-year contract.
The munitions request within the massive budget include $5.6 billion for ammunition, $17.3 billion for tactical missiles, $7.3 billion for strategic missiles, and $0.6 billion for technology development. It also includes over $1 billion for the munitions industrial base in an effort to “modernize and expand capacity.”
The budget request, released Monday, prioritizes China as the US’ “preeminent pacing challenge,” and allocates just over $9 billion to Pacific deterrence, investing in “new missile warning” and construction, as well as training and information sharing with other partners in the region.
11:22 a.m. ET, March 13, 2023
EU extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine war for another 6 months
From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London
The European Union Council on Monday announced it had extended sanctions placed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine for a further six months.
The sanctions, which will remain in effect until September 15, 2023, target “those responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the council said in a statement.
The current sanctions apply to 1,473 individuals and 205 entities, and include travel restrictions, the freezing of assets, and a ban on making funds or other economic resources available to the listed individuals and entities, it added.
“In the European Council conclusions of 9 February 2023, the EU reiterated its resolute condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which constitutes a blatant violation of the UN Charter, and has brought immense suffering and destruction upon Ukraine and its people,” the council said.
“Russia must stop its atrocious war immediately,” it added.
Ukrainian official says Wagner is stepping up recruitment effort in Russian-occupied city
From CNN's Olga Voitovych
The mayor of the Moscow-occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine said that Russia's Wagner private military company has unsuccessfully tried to recruit from among the city's population despite stepping up efforts.
Ivan Fedorov, who is not in the city himself, told Ukrainian television that at the end of last week, occupying authorities had begun using social media to try to recruit residents for Wagner.
"Of course, no one agrees," Fedorov said. "The offers they make are allegedly 200,000 rubles (approximately $2,600) per month to those who are ready to go to Bakhmut as part of Wagner. But they have not recruited anyone from the local population to join any volunteer battalion. They will not recruit for this one either."
CNN has been unable to verify such a recruitment campaign but the Wagner group has stepped up recruitment efforts after sustaining heavy casualties around the eastern city of Bakhmut.
9:51 a.m. ET, March 13, 2023
It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
From CNN staff
Russian forces are suffering "significant losses" in the continued fight for Bakhmut, and troops are reportedly engaged in close-quarters combat, according to Ukrainian commanders.
Elsewhere, Russian officials have said that there are no prospects for peace in Ukraine as things stand, as well as repeating calls for an independent investigation into the explosions which knocked out the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
Here are the latest headlines:
Struggle for eastern city continues: Fighting continues in Bakhmut around the clock, with Ukrainian troops clearing Russian trenches in close-quarters combat, according to a Ukrainian deputy commander. "The situation in Bakhmut is extremely tense. The enemy is trying to storm AFU positions and doing everything they can to advance," said Maj. Rodion Kudriashov.
Wagner losses mounting: Wagner assault units are sustaining "significant losses" as they advance from several directions around Bakhmut, said a top Ukrainian military commander. Russia's Ministry of Defense is likely using the assault on Bakhmut to degrade Wagner forces in order to weaken Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the private military company, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Kremlin plays down prospect of peace: Russia’s goals in Ukraine can only be achieved by military means, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “So far, there are no prerequisites for the transition of the process to a peaceful course,” he said.
Russia repeats call for Nord Stream investigation: Moscow still does not know who carried out the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, according to Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Recent reports of Ukrainian involvement are questionable, and Russia wants an objective investigation into the explosions, he said.
Chechen leader backs Ukraine invasion: Pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has reiterated that Chechen fighters in Ukraine will help Moscow “fight to the victorious end.”
Russian air defenses shoot down four missiles: At least one person was injured in Russia's southern Belgorod region after air defenses shot down four missiles Monday, said regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.
Ukraine becomes third largest weapons importer: Ukraine accounts for 2% of global arms imports during the last five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
9:48 a.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Military action only way to achieve goals in Ukraine, says Kremlin
From CNN’s Anna Chernova
Russia’s goals in Ukraine can only be achieved by military means, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists Monday.
So far, there are no prerequisites for the transition of the process to a peaceful course,” Peskov said.
"For us, the absolute priority continues to be, and will always remain, the achievement of our goals. Now they can only be achieved by military means."
The Kremlin has maintained this position for some time.
At the end of February, China published a "peace plan" for Ukraine, but Peskov said that there was no prospect of peace.
“The special military operation (the Kremlin euphemism for its war on Ukraine) continues, we are moving towards achieving the goals that were set,” he added at the time.
8:02 a.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Chechnya will help Moscow "fight to the victorious end," says Kadyrov
From CNN's Anna Chernova
Pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has reiterated Chechen fighters in Ukraine will help Moscow “fight to the victorious end.”
During a visit at the Kremlin Monday, Kadyrov reported to Putin that “we in the Republic (Chechnya) are doing really well, thanks to you.”
Kadyrov told the Russian president: “The fighters of the Chechen Republic are successfully serving in the special military operation zone, we are fulfilling all your orders and aim to act to the victorious end. The residents of the region fully support the special military operation and consider it necessary to achieve its goals and objectives.”
Kadyrov has been accused by international and independent observers of gross human rights violations in his home territory and beyond. He leads sizeable paramilitary forces that — while formally a part of Russian security structures — have personal loyalty to him.
7:58 a.m. ET, March 13, 2023
Kremlin says there is "element of politicization" in Oscar-winning Navalny film
From CNN’s Anna Chernova
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday there was “an element of politicization” in Navalny, the film that won this year's Oscar for best documentary feature.
On a conference call with journalists, Peskov said: “Although I haven’t watched it, I dare to assume that there is a certain element of politicization of the topic here. Hollywood also sometimes does not shun the topic of politicization in its work.”
The film explores the plot to kill Russian opposition leader and former presidential candidate, Alexei Navalny, and won the Oscar for best documentary feature at Sunday's Academy Awards.
Directed by Daniel Roher and presented by CNN Films and HBO Max, Navalny charts his political rise, attempted assassination and search to uncover the truth.
An outspoken critic of the Kremlin, Alexei Nalvany is currently serving a nine-year term at a maximum-security prison east of Moscow.