March 24, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Matt Meyer and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT) March 25, 2023
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5:58 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

"I think we vastly exaggerate it": Biden downplays the strength of Russia-China alliance

From CNN's DJ Judd

US President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on March 24.
US President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on March 24. (Andrej Ivanov/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said Friday he’s not alarmed following the high-profile meetings earlier this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Instead, Biden said “we’re the ones expanding the alliances.”   

“Look, I don't take China lightly. I don't take Russia lightly, but I think we vastly exaggerate it,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada.

The president noted that while US officials have recently warned of signs that China could be considering increasing its military support for Russia, “they haven’t yet.”  

“Doesn't mean they won't, but they haven't yet,” Biden said. “And if anything's happened, the West has coalesced significantly more.” 

Biden went on to cite increased cooperation across alliances, including through the G7, the Quad Alliance, ASEAN and AUKUS. He added he has now met with 80% of the world's leaders.

“So, I just want to put it in perspective, I don't take it lightly … what China and Russia are doing, and it could get significantly worse,” Biden said. “But let's put it into perspective. We are united coalitions — we, we the United States and Canada.” 
5:25 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Bipartisan group of senators urge Biden to support ICC by providing evidence of Russian war crimes

From CNN's Manu Raju

A bipartisan group of senators want the Biden administration to continue to support international investigations into alleged Russian war crimes, they wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden.

The lawmakers said they "welcome the significant assistance" the administration has provided to document potential crimes during Russia's war in Ukraine, the letter read.

However, the letter said they acknowledge the role of the International Criminal Court in investigating such incidents and urged the Biden administration to support the ICC and to share evidence with prosecutors.

"Last year’s bipartisan congressional action to enhance that support was done in collaboration with your administration to balance all perspectives on the U.S. relationship with the ICC. Yet, months later, as the ICC is working to build cases against Russian officials, including Putin himself, the United States reportedly has not yet shared key evidence that could aid in these prosecutions," the letter read.

Having international investigations move forward are important so that "Putin and others around him know in no uncertain terms that accountability and justice for their crimes are forthcoming," the senators wrote in the letter.

Read the full text of the letter here.

For context:

Last week, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The day before the announcement of the warrant, the United Nations found in a report that Russia has “committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Ukraine.

The report claims that the war crimes perpetrated by the Russians included “attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, wilful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children.”

4:33 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Ukrainian general says battle for Bakhmut remains the most difficult fighting on front lines

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in London

A Ukrainian soldier fires during a battle with Russian troops at the frontline near Bakhmut on March 24.
A Ukrainian soldier fires during a battle with Russian troops at the frontline near Bakhmut on March 24. (Libkos/AP)

The commander in chief of Ukraine’s military emphasized the difficulty of the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut during a call Friday with the head of the British Armed Forces.

Ukrainian Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi shared a Telegram post outlining his conversation with Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff Adm. Sir Tony Radakin.

“I informed my colleague about the operational situation along the entire front line. The situation in the Bakhmut direction is the most difficult,” Zaluzhnyi wrote. “Due to the titanic efforts of the Defense Forces, the situation has been stabilized."
“We also discussed the issue of strengthening Ukrainian air defense,” he added.

Zaluzhnyi thanked Radakin, the United Kingdom and other allies for their support.

“Thanks to the help of our partners, we are holding on and will definitely win,” he said.

The battle for Bakhmut: The besieged city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region has been a focal point of the frontline fighting between Russia and Ukraine for months.

One of Kyiv's top generals this week said that Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon be launched. It raised the prospect of an unlikely turnaround for Ukraine.

While experts say that capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine — where little territory has changed hands in 2023 — it would hand Russia a symbolic victory and mark the first Ukrainian city it has captured in eight months.

4:38 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

US and Canada pledge to stand alongside Ukraine as reliable partners

From CNN's Hira Humayun

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses parliament in Ottawa on March 24.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses parliament in Ottawa on March 24. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/Reuters)

Ukraine can rely on the United States and Canada as partners, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an address to parliament in Ottawa alongside US President Joe Biden on Friday. 

Trudeau said like the US, Canada has provided “significant military support” to Ukraine, such as artillery, ammunition, armor and tanks. He said the Canadian armed forces have been training Ukrainian military members since 2015.

“As you well know, Mr. President, Canada will continue to stand strong with Ukraine, with whatever it takes,” Trudeau said. “Together, both of us are partners that Ukraine — and the world —can count on."

The prime minister pointed to sanctions and other economic measures put in place by the US, Canada and other allies "to continue to deplete the Kremlin's war chest.”

Trudeau called Biden a ‘’true friend to Canada,” saying that the alliance “matters more than ever in this consequential moment.”

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech in Ottawa on March 24.
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech in Ottawa on March 24. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Biden calls out Putin: Addressing parliament after Trudeau, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to meet his goals with the Ukraine invasion.

"Guess what? His lust for land and power has failed thus far," the US leader said of Putin. "The Ukrainian people's love of their country is going to prevail."

Biden echoed Trudeau's remarks about the US and Canada standing in support of Ukraine.

"Let's once more affirm that we're going keep that torch of liberty burning brightly and support the Ukrainian people," Biden said.

The president also said Moscow has failed to shake the resolve of the NATO alliance.

"Putin was certain he would have been able to break NATO by now," Biden told the assembled lawmakers.

But, he said, the US and Canada will "keep our alliance strong and united, and we'll defend every inch of NATO territory. An attack against one is an attack against all."

2:26 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

UN documents hundreds of disappearances and arbitrary detentions by Russian and Ukrainian forces

From CNN’s Jade Wurapa and Hira Humayun

The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by both Ukrainian and Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion, according to the Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The UN has documented more than 600 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions carried out by Russian forces, and 91 by Ukrainian forces, since the war began on February 24 of last year up until the end of January 2023.

“Unfortunately, we found that there have been significant violations on both sides,” , Matilda Bogner said, referring to prisoners of war being subjected to “summary executions," torture, “ill treatment” and “horrific conditions” while being detained.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued Friday its latest report, which cataloged cases of civilian casualties, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.

2:31 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Ukraine repelled 38 Russian attacks in the last day, military says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Vasco Cotovio

Ukraine repelled 38 Russian attacks over the past 24 hours, the country’s military said in a situation update on Friday evening. 

Russia is focusing its efforts in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Maryinka and Shakhtarsk areas, the military’s general staff said, adding that's where Ukrainian forces repelled more than three dozen attacks.

The general staff said Moscow’s armies were still putting pressure on the eastern city of Bakhmut, but it remained under Ukrainian control. 

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy continues to assault the city of Bakhmut, which is held by our defenders, as well as in the areas of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka, Ivanivske and Stupochky in the Donetsk region,” it said. 

1:13 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Ukraine eyes an offensive around embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, as Russian momentum stalls

From CNN's Rob Picheta, Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop a tank on the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 22.
Ukrainian soldiers ride atop a tank on the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 22. (Libkos/AP)

Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut and a Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon be launched, one of Kyiv’s top generals has said, raising the prospect of an unlikely turnaround in the besieged city.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said on his Telegram channel Thursday that “[Russians] are losing significant forces [in Bakhmut] and are running out of energy.”

“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupyansk,” he said.

His comments come days after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the front lines of the Donetsk region, and will raise hopes in the West that Kyiv’s contentious decision to keep troops in Bakhmut will pay dividends.

A counteroffensive has seemed an unlikely prospect for several weeks, as forces from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group bombarded Bakhmut and edged closer toward seizing control of the city.

But that effort has come at a considerable cost to manpower and resources, and now appears to have slowed.

Russian troops have launched more than 200 strikes on the area in the past 24 hours alone but are losing hundreds of men each day in their efforts, the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces, Serhii Cherevatyi, said later on Thursday. CNN is unable to verify those figures.

Cherevatyi said another area that was seeing intense fire was to the northeast of Bakhmut, on the front line running north from the town of Kreminna.

Speaking on Ukrainian television Friday, Cherevatyi said that “It is not that [Wagner] are withdrawing, but that due to heavy losses they have to be reinforced by units of the regular army of the Russian Federation, primarily by airborne troops.”

He added that Russian forces in the area are “making several dozen attacks every day. There were 32 firefights over the last day,” in and around Bakhmut. There were also air strikes launched by both fixed-wing planes and attack helicopters, he said, but added that “artillery is a much bigger factor of influence on military operations there than aviation.”

Read more here.

12:18 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Belarusian president's "luxury airliner" sanctioned under US Treasury's new round of actions 

From CNN's Sam Fossum

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at the Independence Palace, Minsk, Belarus, on February 16.
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at the Independence Palace, Minsk, Belarus, on February 16. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

In its latest financial and diplomatic sanctions, the US is going after companies and individuals involved in the crackdown against Belarus' pro-democracy movement and the existing regime's involvement in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration on Friday sanctioned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's personal "luxury airliner."

Lukansheko's regime "relies on state-owned enterprises and key officials to generate substantial revenue that enables oppressive acts against the Belarusian people,” Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson, a top US sanctions official, said in a statement

The US remains "committed to imposing costs" on Lukashenko's regime for its suppression of democracy and support for Putin’s war, the statement added.

Here are other individuals and entities facing sanctions:

  • Two companies — Open Joint Stock Company Belarusian Automobile Plant and Open Joint Stock Company Minsk Automobile Plant — and both of their directors "for supporting and generating revenue for the Belarusian government."
  • The Central Election Commission of Belarus and its seven new members for their role in "barring opposition candidates, denying access to poll observers, and certifying inaccurate vote tallies" in the fraudulent 2020 elections.
  • The US State Department is also issuing visa restrictions on 14 additional individuals, including regime officials. Lukashenko's jetliner, EW-001PA, is a Boeing 737 used by the Belarusian strongman and his family for international travel, according to the Treasury. 

More on the Belarus-Russia relationship: Lukashenko is a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin who permitted Russian troops to use Belarus to stage their initial invasion into Ukraine last year. The US and its allies have since then targeted Minsk with a set of sweeping sanctions. Additionally, the European Union does not recognize the results of the 2020 Belarus election and the US has called it a "fraudulent." The widespread fraud sparked mass pro-democracy protests which led to a brutal crackdown from the government. 

6:12 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Russia says 56 Ukrainian children await reunification with their families

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian children's rights commissioner, attends a meeting with Russian President at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on February 16.
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian children's rights commissioner, attends a meeting with Russian President at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on February 16. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova said on Friday that 56 Ukrainian children who are now in Crimea and Krasnodar Krai are awaiting reunification with their families.

"Currently 56 children remain in the health resorts of the Krasnodar Krai and Crimea. They are safe and in touch with their families. There is an action plan for each child so that they are reunited with family," said Lvova-Belova in a statement on her Telegram channel.

Remember: Last Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia. The ICC said that Lvova-Belova was “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation.”

Lvova-Belova dismissed the ICC’s arrest warrant against her, saying it was “great” that the international community appreciated her work for children, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

According to Lvova-Belova, to date 33 Ukrainian children have returned to their parents in Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. The children were brought home by their parents or a trusted representative.

"Children have been in health camps in the Crimea and the Krasnodar Territory since autumn. With the consent of their parents, citizens of Ukraine, they were temporarily sent away from the hostilities - to rest and gain strength," she said.

"It was not possible to immediately ensure a safe return trip for everyone, since the front line has changed significantly, [and] parents and children found themselves on different sides," she added.

Lvova-Belova said that since October last year, the Russian authorities have been "consistently assisting in the reunification of children who arrived on vacation" from areas of conflict; and from this group, more than 2,000 children have already returned to their families.

CNN's Rob Picheta and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this post.