March 22, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Joshua Berlinger, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Tori Powell, CNN

Updated 12:44 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023
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5:50 a.m. ET, March 22, 2023

Analysis: How Xi and Putin's new friendship could test the US

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Kremlin on Tuesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Kremlin on Tuesday. (Grigoy Sysoyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

As two autocrats traded tributes over a feast of quail, venison, Siberian white salmon and pomegranate sorbet, China and Russia seemed to conjure the anti-Western compact the US has long feared.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s state visit this week to his friend, President Vladimir Putin, came at a critical moment of Russia’s quagmire war in Ukraine and of Beijing’s emergence as a great power whose influence now stretches far beyond Asia.

The entire visit has been refracted through a prism of both nations’ mutual antagonism toward the United States. And at every step, Washington, watching hawkishly from the sidelines, poured scorn on the idea of China as a peacemaker in Ukraine, accusing Xi of offering diplomatic cover to a thuggish Russian leader who was just cited for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

But whether China and Russia have truly forged the kind of united anti-US front long dreaded by Washington’s foreign policy professionals seems doubtful.

Still, the United States clearly now has a serious foreign policy challenge on its hands. The US is simultaneously gearing up for what many experts warn could become a Cold War with China and waging a proxy fight in Ukraine with its foe in the 20th century’s version of that showdown. And China and Russia, together, have more capacity to frustrate American goals in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Xi and Putin are united on a core foreign policy priority — discrediting and even dismantling a world order that they believe is built on Western hypocrisy and denies them due respect as great global powers. This resentment has festered in Putin’s mind ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, and he has tried for years to reshape the international system. But according to Biden’s national security strategy, China is the only US competitor with “the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to” reshape that order.

Read the full analysis here.

12:07 a.m. ET, March 22, 2023

Ukrainian troops impress US trainers as they rapidly get up to speed on Patriot missile system

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Aileen Graef in Fort Sill, Oklahoma

The Ukrainian soldiers waved and honked their horns as they drove along a dirt road at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, moving their vehicles into position to defend against a hypothetical Russian missile barrage.

These were not ordinary trucks, however. The Ukrainians were manning a US Patriot air defense system, which 65 Ukrainian soldiers have been training on intensively for 10 weeks, instructed by US Army trainers at the base.

CNN was invited to witness the training on Tuesday, just days ahead of the Ukrainians’ expected graduation from the expedited course. The training at Fort Sill is the only location on US soil where the US is instructing the Ukrainians on US weapons systems. But video and photographs of the training were prohibited, to protect the identities of the Ukrainians who will be heading home to defend their country against Russian forces within the next month.

The Ukrainians have excelled, officials said. They learned the basics of the Patriot system so quickly that they were given extra, intensive training rarely afforded to their American counterparts completing the same course, the officials added.

“Our assessment is that the Ukrainian soldiers are impressive, and absolutely a quick study due to their extensive air defense knowledge and experience in a combat zone,” said Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan, acting Fort Sill and Fires Center of Excellence commanding general.

Read more here.

12:10 a.m. ET, March 22, 2023

White House official says Russia-China relationship is built on mutual interest to challenge US

From CNN's Jennifer Z Deaton

John Kirby speaks to Christiane Amanpour in an interview with CNN.
John Kirby speaks to Christiane Amanpour in an interview with CNN. (CNN)

The deepening relationship between China and Russia was due in large part to their mutual interest in challenging the US' global influence, John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour Tuesday. 

“Where they intersect is pushing back on the United States and our influence around the world," Kirby said. "Where they intersect is pushing back on this thing we call the rules-based international order. Which I know sounds kind of like a wonky term, but it’s basically the rule of law and the foundational principles of the UN charter by which nations around the world are supposed to abide. And they’re pushing back against that."

Kirby's remarks come as Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin forge closer ties in Moscow in a show of unity that has heightened Western concerns that Beijing will provide cover for Russia's war in Ukraine.

"They’d like to change the rules of the game," Kirby said. "And in each other they see a useful foil. They see a useful friend. But that’s what they’re doing. They’re basically trying to use each other here to challenge US leadership and the West — particularly in Europe — but elsewhere around the world.”

In a joint statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, Xi and Putin said their partnership is in the “fundamental interests” of both countries, adding that “Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia.”

10:59 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

White House official emphasizes US support for Ukraine in Bakhmut and anticipated spring offensive

From CNN's Jennifer Z Deaton

The United States defers to Ukraine’s leadership in its prioritization of the hard-fought battle for Bakhmut, and will continue to ensure the country's president has “what he needs, wherever he chooses to fight, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday.

Asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour whether Kyiv was spending too much time in the fight for Bakhmut, Kirby said Ukrainians are still "bravely fighting" in the eastern city and the area is "very vicious."

"Here we are on the 21st of March and Bakhmut still has not fallen to the Russians," Kirby said.
"So the Ukrainians are prioritizing this fight — the Russians have clearly prioritized this fight, and what we’re going do is stay focused on making sure that President [Volodymyr] Zelensky has what he needs, wherever he chooses to fight. That means intelligence. That means support. That means weapons. That means capabilities. That’s what we’re going to be focused on.”

Battles to come: Ukraine is preparing to launch a spring offensive against Russian forces, built largely around the more powerful and more advanced systems Western countries have agreed to send, including tanks and other armored vehicles.

Kirby said the coming weeks would be "critical," in the war and the US expected Russian President Vladimir Putin would "try to mount another offensive and maybe along many different vectors."

"We have got to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure Ukraine is ready for that," he said.

Kirby said the US wants to ensure Ukrainians can defend themselves against any renewed Russian offensive while also having the flexibility to "conduct offensive operations of their own at a time and place and a size and a scale of their choosing."

"That’s where we’re taking battalions out of Ukraine right now and putting them through combined arms maneuver training," he said. "That’s why they’re ramping up training on things like the Patriot air defense system. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that they’re ready as best they can be before these critical weeks and months ahead.”
1:07 a.m. ET, March 22, 2023

Xi and and Putin express "serious concerns" about AUKUS nuclear submarine plan and NATO

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday. (Pavel Byrkin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed "serious concerns" about the AUKUS security pact and NATO, according to a joint statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday following talks between the two leaders in Moscow.

The joint statement said China and Russia urged AUKUS members Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States to “strictly fulfill their obligations not to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.”

The multi-decade AUKUS deal aims to counter China’s rapid military expansion. Under the plan, the partners will build a combined fleet of elite nuclear-powered submarines using technology, labor and funding from all three countries, creating a more formidable force in the Indo-Pacific than any of them could achieve alone.

In the joint statement, Xi and Putin also said their partnership is in the “fundamental interests” of both countries, adding that “Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia.”

Leaders on NATO: Xi and Putin also expressed serious concerns about NATO’s “continuous strengthening of military-security ties with Asia-Pacific countries” and said they “oppose external military forces undermining regional peace and stability.”

A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi's backing of Putin has opened the door for the US and partners in the Pacific to shore up sometimes frayed relationships to the detriment of Beijing.

In the past few months alone, Japan has pledged to double defense spending and acquire long-range weapons from the US; South Korea has acknowledged that stability in the Taiwan Strait is essential to its security; the Philippines has announced new US base access rights and is talking about joint patrols of the South China Sea with Australia, Japan and the United States.

9:27 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

White House rejects China's claim of impartiality in Ukraine war following Xi-Putin summit

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The White House rejected China’s claim to hold an impartial position in the war in Ukraine following a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow.

“I don't think you can reasonably look at China as impartial in any way,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman.

Earlier, Xi said Beijing held an impartial position in the war after lengthy talks with Putin in Moscow.

The United States held a skeptical view of the summit, particularly China’s stated goal of acting as a peacemaker. Kirby said if China wanted to play a constructive role, it would use its influence to urge Russia to end the war.

Biden “wants to keep the lines of communication open with China” and will speak with Xi “at the appropriate time,” Kirby said.

US officials are still digesting the language of the joint statement released following the Xi-Putin meeting, but Kirby said there was little optimism at the summit’s conclusions.

“We haven't seen anything that they've said, they put forward, that gives us hope that this war is going to end anytime soon,” he said.

11:21 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

Catch up on what happened on day 2 of talks between Xi and Putin in Moscow

From CNN staff

Talks between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin continued Tuesday as Western leaders closely monitored day two of Xi's three-day Moscow visit.

Here's what happened Tuesday:

  • The China-Russia partnership: Putin called Xi a "friend" who he is "in constant contact" with and described all discussions in the Moscow meetings as "successful." Xi said he has built a "close relationship" with Putin over the past decade. The visit is a show of unity that has heightened Western concerns Beijing will provide cover for Russia's war in Ukraine.
  • What they said about Ukraine: Xi and Putin called for an end to actions that “increase tensions” and prolong the war, according to a readout released by Chinese state media. The two leaders also took part in a document-signing ceremony at the Kremlin, where they said the Ukraine crisis should be solved through peace talks, according to Chinese state media
  • A state dinner and a toast: To wrap up the second day of talks, Putin and Xi attended a state dinner. Putin gave a speech in which he toasted the health of Xi and the Chinese delegation, the “deepening of the Russian-Chinese partnership and strategic cooperation” and “the prosperity of the Russian and Chinese people.”
  • A likely aid request: NATO has "seen some signs" that Russia has likely requested lethal aid from China to bolster Moscow’s war in Ukraine, the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Tuesday. Xi's visit to Moscow signals the closer ties developing between China and Russia, he said.
  • Meanwhile, in Ukraine: The eastern city of Bakhmut remains the focus of Russia's attacks. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that Russian troops would have an "open road" to capture key cities in eastern Ukraine if they seized control of Bakhmut.
  • A faster timeline for US tanks and missiles: Patriot missile defense systems are set to be deployed to Ukraine faster than originally planned, and a group of 65 Ukrainian soldiers will complete their training on the systems at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the coming days, US defense officials said on Tuesday. It comes as the US said it will accelerate shipments of Abrams tanks to Ukraine by sending older M1-A1 models of America's main battle tank instead of the more modern version, according to two US officials.
9:20 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

Russian strike on Odesa region leaves 3 injured, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

Andriy Yermak, head of the Presidential Office in Ukraine, said three people were injured in a Russian missile attack on the Odesa region on Tuesday.

"Russians struck Odesa with four missiles. Kh-59, according to preliminary reports," Yermak posted on Telegram. "Two missiles have been intercepted by air defense. Two more hit the city, unfortunately."

He said a three-story building was damaged on the premises of a monastery.

Yurii Kruk, head of the Odesa district military administration said "the enemy" carried out a rocket strike in the region with SU-35 fighters launching missiles from the sea.

"Some rockets were intercepted thanks to our air defenses. However, there was a strike that resulted in partial damage to civilian building. There are wounded. No one was killed, according to preliminary reports," he said.

Unofficial social media reports indicate the missiles were aimed at an airfield in the region.

9:02 p.m. ET, March 21, 2023

ICC prosecutor says Russia treats children like "spoils of war"

From CNN's Hira Humayun

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan said he believes Russia is treating children like “spoils of war."

Last week, the ICC announced arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for their roles in allegedly illegally deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.

The Rome Statute of the Geneva Conventions makes it clear "you can’t deport civilians to a foreign country,” Khan said.

Moscow has rejected the warrants, with a foreign ministry spokesperson previously saying “Russia is not a member of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it."

“You must look after them," ICC prosecutor Khan said of Ukrainian children. "If they are not safe, you move them to a safe part of Ukraine. If that’s not possible, a neutral third country. And it seems to be not just deportation to Russian Federation, they’re met by strangers who now have suddenly become adopted parents. And the children are not property, they’re not the spoils of war.” 

The prosecutor said Russia does not seem to be denying the allegations against it but rather wearing it “like a badge of honor."

“Children are not the property of a country to be dispatched based on politics or some ideological motives. It needs to be regulated by law, and that law needs to be enforced,” Khan said. 

He said the ICC has reached out to Russia, but has not heard back.