March 19, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Christian Edwards, Mike Hayes, Thom Poole and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023
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2:16 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Potential GOP presidential candidate says US support for Ukraine is a "clear vital national interest"

From CNN’s Kit Maher

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks with CNN on Sunday.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks with CNN on Sunday. (CNN)

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told CNN's "State of the Union" that he disagrees with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ skepticism on providing further aid to Ukraine.

Sununu, who has said he's considering a 2024 US presidential bid, is among the Republican leaders who have sought to distinguish themselves from DeSantis on the issue in recent days.

“This is a clear — it's not even a questionable — a clear, vital national interest to support what is going on in Ukraine. It sends a message to our enemies, if we were to back out now, that we’re not resolved,” Sununu said, addressing his op-ed in the Washington Post this weekend.

As he laid out in his op-ed, Sununu said the price of abandoning Ukraine would be much higher than continuing to support them now.

“This will hit home very, very quickly. I've heard people say, 'Well, there's, you know, no blank checks.' And I agree with that,” Sununu said. “We're putting about $50 billion of support in Ukraine. Understand this $50 billion to not put a single troop on the ground, potentially defeat and decimate the Russian army — that's less than 10% of our defense appropriation in just a single year.” 

What DeSantis said: The Florida governor, viewed by many as the leading potential challenger to former President Donald Trump's 2024 candidacy, has described the war as a mere “territorial” dispute that is not a core US national interest.

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests – securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party – becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said, in response to a questionnaire from Fox News' Tucker Carlson.

2:12 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

US senator, a former Navy pilot, says drone collision was the result of Russian aviator's "reckless" flying

From CNN’s Aaron Pellish

Sen. Mark Kelly speaks with CNN on Sunday.
Sen. Mark Kelly speaks with CNN on Sunday. (CNN)

US Sen. Mark Kelly called the recent downing of a drone over the Black Sea a “reckless” act by the Russian pilots, and said the US should continue flying drones in the region.

“I don't think we should be intimidated by the Russians or deterred from what we think is the right operational approach to this,” Kelly, a former US Navy pilot and NASA astronaut, said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday

Kelly also said he’s “not surprised” that the Russian pilot collided with the drone after flying in front of the unmanned aircraft and dumping fuel on it several times.

The senator said he believes the direct collision that followed that harassment was likely accidental, citing previous experience with Russian pilots and astronauts.

“I flew with, you know, Russian pilots in the backseat of my NASA jet for, you know, decades. I flew in space with Russians. I'm not surprised by this. I mean, I flew with Russian pilots, you know, fighter pilots who couldn't fly formation, and I watched his video and it's pretty obvious what happened. He lost sight of it and he crashed into it. He didn't do it intentionally. But it was reckless,” Kelly said.
11:01 a.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Mariupol City Council condemns Putin’s tour of the city, calling him an “international criminal”

From CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko and Alex Hardie

The Mariupol City Council — which is now working from Ukrainian-controlled territory — on Sunday condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Russian-occupied city.

“International criminal Putin visited occupied Mariupol,” the council said in a Telegram post.

“He watched the ‘rebuilding of the city’... at night. After all, in the dark, you can't see how many destroyed houses are there and where a pile of stones has been left instead of high-rise buildings,” the post reads. 

“He also visited the Mariupol Philharmonic, a building that survived. Where civilians were hiding during the massive shelling,” the council said.

“They say criminals are drawn to the place of their crimes. Mariupol is a fatal mistake of a bloody dictator. It showed the true face of the ‘Russian world,’ which is Russian terror and atrocity,” the post continued.
9:55 a.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Thousands of Russians fled for Bali as Moscow launched its war. Now authorities are fed up with the expats

From CNN's Heather Chen

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russians have flocked to Bali, the tropical Indonesian paradise.

Some 58,000 Russians visited this Southeast Asian idyll in 2022 following its post-Covid reopening, and a further 22,500 arrived in January 2023 alone, according to the Indonesian government. Adding to their number are the more than 7,000 Ukrainians who arrived in 2022, and some 2,500 in the first month of this year.

But for those fleeing the violence – or the draft – there’s trouble in paradise. 

Balinese authorities this week called for the end to Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of Russia and Ukraine, citing a spate of alleged incidents involving misbehavior and various examples of visitors overstaying their visas and working illegally as hairdressers, unauthorized tour guides and taxi drivers. 

“Whenever we get reports about a foreigner behaving badly, it’s almost always Russian,” a local police officer in the town of Kuta told CNN, declining to be identified due to sensitivities surrounding the issue.

The move has been met with dismay by many Ukrainians on the island, who also claim most negative incidents involve Russians and that they are being unfairly tarred with the same brush.

Read more here.

1:45 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Ukrainian officials slam Putin’s Mariupol trip, saying he presented a distorted view of the city

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Chris Liakos

The Ukrainian government on Sunday blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise visit to the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said it was fitting Putin visited Mariupol under the cover of dark.

“As befits a thief, (Putin) visited Ukrainian Mariupol, under the cover of night,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.

“First, it is safer. Also, darkness allows him to highlight what he wants to show, and keeps the city his army completely destroyed and its few surviving inhabitants away from prying eyes,” it added.

Separately, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, slammed the “cynicism” and “lack of remorse” shown by Putin’s visit.

“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” Podolyak said on Twitter, adding “the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city & graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse.”

The Kremlin has emphasized the surprise nature of Putin's visit to Mariupol overnight, with a spokesperson claiming parts of the visit were “spontaneous."

It came just days after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova, stemming from an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

11:01 a.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Kremlin says parts of Putin's Mariupol visit were "spontaneous"

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, drives with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin during their visit to Mariupol, Ukraine, in a video released on March 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, drives with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin during their visit to Mariupol, Ukraine, in a video released on March 19. (Pool/AP)

Parts of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine were “spontaneous,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists during a call Sunday.

Footage released by Russian authorities showed Putin visiting Mariupol and meeting seemingly surprised residents.

According to Peskov, Putin spoke to local residents of an apartment complex and decided to visit one of the apartments, per the invitation of one of the residents. 

“Initially, the president only had planned to visit the residential complex. Putin’s exchange with residents and visiting an apartment were not planned. It was absolutely spontaneous,” Peskov claimed.

Peskov said the trip happened overnight. It is not clear exactly when it took place, although on Saturday Putin visited Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of its annexation.

“There was a very compact group of cars with the president. In one of them, he himself was a driver. And the cars drove around Mariupol — and the president drove around the city, looked at everything — completely adhering to all the traffic rules,” Peskov said.

Peskov added that Putin’s trip to a military headquarters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don was also not planned. The president attended one of the military report sessions there, the spokesperson said.

The Russian president's overnight visit to Mariupol marks his first trip to Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Some key context: Putin and the Kremlin are known for creating carefully choreographed outings designed, in part, to showcase the president's strength.

Ukrainian officials have slammed the visit as a cynical ploy and akin to a criminal returning to the crime scene "under the cover of night," using darkness to hide signs that Mariupol was subject to some of the war's worst atrocities.

News of the trip comes shortly after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova, stemming from an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

8:02 a.m. ET, March 19, 2023

International arrest warrant should be complied with, Ukrainian officials say

From Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said that “the international warrant must be complied with” in a tweet on Sunday.

He continued: "It is symbolic that Germany was the first to make it clear that if ‘suspect Putin VV’ appears in their jurisdiction, he will be arrested immediately."

On Friday, International Criminal Court judges issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes along with his children’s rights commissioner for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children. 

Andriy Kostin, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, said that President Putin "has the official status of a suspect in the commission of an international crime."

“The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leadership and accomplices will be brought to justice,” Kostin added.

Kostin, in a statement released on Telegram, said that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office "has submitted more than 40 volumes of materials to the ICC – more than 1000 pages.”

"In total, the proceedings in which the Prosecutor General's Office provides procedural guidance have documented the deportation of more than 16,000 children from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Kherson regions."

7:27 a.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Inside the secret talks with Putin’s generals that ended the siege of Mariupol

From CNN’s Sebastian Shukla, Alex Marquardt and Kosta Hak

CNN exclusively revealed the inner details of how the deal to lift the siege of Mariupol was struck.

Last April, Russian President Vladimir Putin had become increasingly frustrated by Ukrainians’ dogged holdout in the Azovstal steelworks – the last remaining point of resistance in a city otherwise taken by Russian forces.

As Putin ordered a tightening of the noose around the hulking factory complex, a small group was about to begin secret negotiations to end the siege. They involved two of Putin’s most senior generals and a Ukrainian lawmaker who once served as a Soviet paratrooper.

Read the full report on the negotiations, and who was involved in the sensitive talks, here.

11:01 a.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Putin discusses Mariupol reconstruction plans and speaks to residents

From CNN's Sandi Sidhu in Hong Kong, Josh Pennington in the US, Uliana Pavlova in Dubai, and Christian Edwards in London

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with local residents during his visit to Mariupol, Ukraine, in a video released on March 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with local residents during his visit to Mariupol, Ukraine, in a video released on March 19. (Pool/AP)

Russian authorities have released footage of Putin's visit to Mariupol.

In it, he is seen landing at Mariupol airport in a helicopter, driving a car around the city, and speaking to residents who seemed surprised at his visit.

In the video, Putin, sitting in the driver’s seat along with Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, talk about reconstruction plans for the city Russia flattened.

The pair discuss plans to build a new hospital in Mariupol. In March last year, Russia notoriously bombed a children’s and maternity hospital, while expectant mothers and medical staff were inside.

“There will be an ambulance, and all the most modern laboratories will be there,” Khusnullin says in the video.

“Everything will be fine,” Putin responds.

After looking over papers and pictures in a children's playground, Putin meets residents who seem stunned to see him.

Putin tells one man: “We need to start getting to know each other better.”