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March 19, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Christian Edwards, Mike Hayes, Thom Poole and Matt Meyer, CNN
US President Joe Biden said earlier this week he was planning to speak “soon” with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
But before his staff even began planning for the call, another meeting was taking shape: The Chinese government announced Xi plans to travel Monday to Russia for a three-day summit with President Vladimir Putin, as Xi works to cast himself as a potential peacemaker in the Ukraine war.
In Washington, officials view Xi’s intentions with deep skepticism; China has refused to condemn the war and instead claimed Moscow was provoked into invading Ukraine. After China announced Xi’s visit to Russia by saying he was traveling “for the sake of peace,” the White House worked to preempt attempts to frame the Xi-Putin meeting as a peacemaking mission, suggesting any framework offered by Beijing would be weighted toward Russia and bad for Ukraine.
“As they begin to plan out their agenda, we certainly want to express how concerned we would be by any proposals from (China) that would … be one-sided and reflect only the Russian perspective,” said John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.
He said such a Chinese proposal could include some type of ceasefire, which he said would merely provide a way for Russia to regroup before launching a reprisal.
“A ceasefire now is effectively the ratification of Russian conquest,” he said.
The Putin-Xi summit itself did not come as a surprise to the White House, since there have been reports such a meeting could occur for weeks. Still, there remain deep concerns the “no limits” partnership Xi and Putin have cemented during previous meetings could deepen during face-to-face talks.
And there is a growing fear that further Chinese intervention in the conflict would fundamentally change the battlefield dynamics – or at least prolong the war at a moment when political appetite in the West for supporting Ukraine is being tested.
CNN’s Ivan Watson previously spoke to Maria Kutnyakova in March last year, after she managed to escape Mariupol to Ukrainian-controlled territory with her family.
Speaking with Watson again by phone Sunday, Kutnyakova said Putin had visited Mariupol at night “because they didn’t want to shoot the real footage of the destroyed city.”
“They didn’t want to show that Mariupol is still a catastrophe. There are a lot of destroyed buildings. That people live in a bad situation,” said Kutnyakova, who now works online for a Ukrainian NGO from the safety of Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Russian propaganda showed this image of a few buildings that they built. They want to let people believe that in Mariupol now is very nice, beautiful place. But it’s not,” Kutnyakova said.
She told CNN prices in Mariupol are “crazy,” that people in the city have no medicine or heating, and that problems persist with communications, electricity, water and gas.
Kutnyakova said all 15 of her relatives and several close friends who lived in Mariupol have left the city. She said her family has been unable to locate her uncle since last spring, and they fear he may have died.
About the bombing: About 300 people died when Russian forces bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, which had been functioning as a shelter for residents, according to city leaders.
The March 16, 2022, bombing was among the most brazen of Russia’s attacks on civilians in its initial offensive.
Before the attack, the word "CHILDREN" had been painted on the ground outside the building in giant Russian letters. As many as 1,300 people were sheltering inside.
Russia denied its forces hit the theater, claiming a regiment in Ukraine's army had blown it up. Moscow made similar claims — without providing evidence — about the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol that occurred about a week prior.
The southeastern city has been under Russian control since May 2022.
An attack on a residential building killed three people Sunday in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, according to local Ukrainian officials.
Russian forces fired "Grad" rockets at the village of Kamianske, killing three people and wounding two others, who are now receiving medical treatment, the Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration said in a Telegram post.
The Ukrainian officials emphasized the danger to civilians still living near the conflict's front lines and urged them to evacuate.
“The danger for civilians on the frontline does not disappear. The enemy is not successful on the battlefield with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, so it is deliberately killing Ukrainian civilians,” the military administration said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's surprise visit to the occupied city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine has been met bitterly by Ukrainian officials, who liken the trip to a criminal returning to the scene of the crime.
CNN asked several Kyiv residents for their thoughts on the visit Sunday.
Roman Koval, 25, a surgery intern:
"I think he is afraid to come to Ukrainian territory. He can't do it like our people. He can't do things like our President Zelensky. He has no support," Koval said.
"It only makes us angry. My reaction is as negative as possible," he continued. "I think it's just PR. PR to show that they stand in some kind of position, but in fact, they are nobody, and they are weak. We will win. Victory will definitely be ours."
Koval expressed skepticism that Putin had made the visit at all, saying he believes it was just propaganda.
Here's what we know: The Kremlin released a video Sunday depicting Putin's tour of the territory under the cover of darkness. Moscow described parts of the trip as "spontaneous." It is not clear exactly when the visit took place, but Putin was also in annexed Crimea on Saturday.
Olha Kramchaninova, 48, a small business owner:
"It would be better if our army bombed the place where Putin was," Kramchaninova said.
He likened it to watching a thief with his property after something was stolen from him.
"Putin comes there to make everyone think that this land is his," Kramchaninova said. "And I don't understand how he came to Mariupol at all. To walk on the blood and bones of the people he killed there? I think that he should have died as soon as he set foot in Mariupol."
Yefrosiniia, 72, retired:
"I have only one wish — that Putin dies as soon as possible," said the retiree, who asked only to be called by the family name Yefrosiniia.
"His visit is just ridiculous. It's some kind of pathetic attempt. It's a circus," she continued.
Yefrosiniia repeated a sentiment expressed by other Ukrainians Sunday: that reports of Putin's trip were propaganda, and that he may not have actually visited the city.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.