March 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Adrienne Vogt, Tori B. Powell and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 2204 GMT (0604 HKT) March 18, 2023
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8:26 a.m. ET, March 18, 2023

Putin signs laws against "discrediting" volunteers and mercenaries fighting in Ukraine

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed laws that prohibit "discrediting" and spreading “fake news” about volunteers and mercenaries participating in the war in Ukraine.

Putin signed a law amending the criminal code about spreading "fakes" in relation to the Russian armed forces, extending it to also apply to volunteers and mercenaries, with the maximum punishment up to 15 years in prison.

Putin also signed a law that prohibits discrediting participants in the so-called "special operation" — Russia's euphemism for the full-scale invasion — including volunteers, according to the decree published on the country's official portal of legal information.

Violations of that law carry a punishment of up to seven years in prison.

The new law comes as Wagner fighters have become the disposable infantry of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

More about Wagner: The private military contractor is run by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been highly visible on the front lines in recent weeks – and quick to claim credit for Russian advances. Wagner fighters have been heavily involved in taking the town of Soledar, which is a few miles northeast of Bakhmut, and areas around it.

At the start of Russia's war in Ukraine last year, Russian authorities restricted access to news publications, including BBC Russia, Radio Liberty and Latvia-based Meduza.

The media outlets were added to a list of publications “containing appeals for mass riots, and participation in illegal mass rallies,” according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

9:11 a.m. ET, March 18, 2023

Analysis: NATO allies are unlikely to send more advanced jets to Ukraine – here's why

From CNN's Bianca Nobilo

A MiG-29 Ukrainian fighter jet is seen flying over eastern Ukraine on January 1.
A MiG-29 Ukrainian fighter jet is seen flying over eastern Ukraine on January 1. (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images/FILE)

In one of the most significant escalations of military support to Ukraine from a NATO member since the Russian invasion, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday became the first leader from the security alliance to pledge fighter jets to Kyiv.

Duda announced that four MiG-29 fighters will be handed over to Ukraine in the coming days – the rest, he said, are being serviced and will likely be handed over successively.

The US has so far resisted calls to provide F-16s to Ukraine on the grounds of avoiding escalation with Russia, as well as impracticality.

The desire to avoid a cataclysmic spill-over of the conflict was front of mind this week after the downing of a $32 million US Reaper drone over the Black Sea by a Russian jet – the first time Russian and American aircraft have come into direct contact since the war began. The potentially incendiary incident was seized on by Russia as proof of direct American involvement in the conflict.

Still, the shift from resistance to delivery has happened before; the US came around to supplying Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks after Germany reversed their own policy on Leopard II tanks.

But the impracticality argument is not a mere political fig leaf. The Ukrainian Air Force already operates MiG jets so they will be able to use them as soon as they arrive, whereas it would take months to train a MiG-29 pilot to a high level of comfort and efficacy on an F-16. Not to mention that Ukrainian pilots are in short supply.

Read the full analysis piece here.

1:08 p.m. ET, March 18, 2023

ICC chief prosecutor tells CNN Putin could stand trial despite Russian dismissal

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

h International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor told CNN he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin could stand trial for alleged crimes committed during Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s arguments that it is not subject to the court’s decisions.

He was speaking after the ICC issued its arrest warrant for Putin for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

Russia is among several leading nations not to have signed the treaty that brought the court into existence. Given this, it is highly unlikely Putin would be handed over to the court's jurisdiction.

But in an interview with CNN’s Clarissa Ward, Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan pointed to historic trials of Nazi war criminals, former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević, and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, as examples of seemingly untouchable figures who faced justice.

“All of them were mighty, powerful individuals and yet they found themselves in courtrooms,” he said.

The move has already made history by making Putin the first head of state of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to be issued with an arrest warrant, Khan pointed out.

5:46 a.m. ET, March 18, 2023

Biden says the ICC's war crimes case against Putin is justified

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal and Jeremy Diamond

The exterior of the International Criminal Court is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday.
The exterior of the International Criminal Court is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday. (Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden has welcomed the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

I think it’s justified,” Biden told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond.

The US leader acknowledged the court's authority is not recognized by Russia or the US, "but I think it makes a very strong point," he said. 

Putin has “clearly committed war crimes,” Biden added.

The White House said it welcomed accountability for perpetrators of war crimes but stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of the ICC’s arrest warrant when it issued an initial statement earlier Friday.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby declined to say whether Biden would tell law enforcement to arrest Putin if he came to the US. Putin traveling to the country in the first place is "very, very unlikely," Kirby told CNN's Jake Tapper. 

8:29 a.m. ET, March 18, 2023

If you are just joining us, here's what you need to know about the ICC's case against Putin

Welcome to our coverage of the conflict in Ukraine. If you are just joining us, here is a recap of our main news –  the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • The ICC accuses Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova of allegedly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia – a practice the Russian government has defended as saving them while denying that the deportations are forced.
  • The Kremlin on Friday rejected the arrest warrants as “unacceptable,” arguing that it is not subject to the ICC’s decisions.
  • Putin is unlikely to appear before the court as the ICC does not conduct trials in absentia. Russian officials charged would either have to be handed over by Moscow or arrested outside of Russia.
  • But speaking to CNN, Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said it could still happen, pointing to the trials of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević, and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.
  • Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, dismissed the ICC’s arrest warrant against her on Friday, saying it was “great” that the international community recognized her work removing children from war zones, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
  • US President Joe Biden welcomed the move, saying Putin "clearly committed war crimes."
9:12 a.m. ET, March 18, 2023

US will keep helping Ukraine document war crimes, White House official says

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on April 6, 2022, in Bucha, Ukraine.
A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on April 6, 2022, in Bucha, Ukraine. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images/FILE)

The White House says it “remains to be seen” whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will ultimately face justice for alleged war crimes after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest Friday, but the US will continue to help Ukraine document Moscow's misdeeds.

“We’re going to stay committed to helping Ukraine as they document and analyze and preserve the kinds of evidence of the war crimes, the atrocities, the crimes against humanity that have occurred inside Ukraine at the hands of Russian forces,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday.

The United States does not recognize the ICC, but Kirby said the US is “not going to back off our belief that accountability for these war crimes has got to be had, however long that takes.”

Kirby said the US wants to see “any perpetrators of war crimes held to account,” but he declined to say if US President Joe Biden would tell law enforcement to arrest Putin if he came to the US. He said it was "very, very unlikely" the Russian leader would travel to the United States.

Asked if the US would ask other countries like Israel or India – who also do not recognize the ICC – to arrest the Russian leader, Kirby said it would “have to be sovereign decisions those leaders make.”

Remember: Russia also does not recognize the ICC, and the court does not conduct trials in absentia, so Putin would either have to be turned over by Moscow or arrested in a foreign country for him to face charges from the court.

Moscow's ties to Beijing: Tapper also asked Kirby if there was any intelligence indicating China has decided to give Russia weapons to help with the country’s assault on Ukraine.

“We don't believe that they've taken it off the table still, but we also don't see any indication, any confirmation, that they're moving in that direction or that ... they have sent lethal weapons,” Kirby said.
“We don't think it's in their interest. It shouldn't be in anybody's interest, quite frankly, to help Mr. Putin continue to slaughter innocent Ukrainians,” he added.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will fly to Moscow next week to meet with Putin in his first visit to Russia since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The visit will be seen as a powerful show of Beijing’s support for Moscow in Western capitals, where leaders have grown increasingly wary of the two nations’ deepening partnership as war rages in Europe.

CNN's Nectar Gan and Anna Chernova contributed to this report.