March 27, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Kathryn Snowdon, Maureen Chowdhury and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 11:10 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023
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2:36 p.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Belarus opposition leader: Russia’s nuclear weapons decision "violates international security"

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, speaks during a session at the Congress centre during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on January 19, 2023.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, speaks during a session at the Congress centre during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on January 19, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s decision to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus “aims to subjugate Belarus and violates its constitution,” said Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday.

“It violates international security and of course, it's against the people's will,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “We are not a nuclear country and we don't want to deploy nuclear weapons in our state.” 

Discussing the situation in Ukraine, Tsikhanouskaya called Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko “a full accomplice in the war” and the one who “fulfills all the orders of Putin.”

She also claimed that Lukashenko can't take credit for the fact that Belarusian troops haven't been sent to Ukraine.

“It’s a call of people of Belarus who are against this war and our soldiers who don't have anti-Ukrainian moods," she went on. "They don't want to kill or to be killed on the battlefields for the ambitions of these two leaders."

According to Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko is “responsible for crimes of aggression against Ukraine and has to be called a sponsor of terrorism.” 

The opposition leader noted that Belarus is “overlooked at the moment” due to the conflict in Ukraine and “not all the politicians understand the role of Belarus in regional peace and security.”

She emphasized that people of Belarus “are fighting not only against Lukashenko's regime but also against hybrid occupation of Russia in Belarus.”

2:03 p.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Ukraine receives first British tanks and other armored vehicles

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Yulia Kesaieva, and Inke Kappeler

Ukrainian military personnel receive armored maneuver training on German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks at the Spanish army's training centre of San Gregorio in Zaragoza on March 13, 2023. 
Ukrainian military personnel receive armored maneuver training on German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks at the Spanish army's training centre of San Gregorio in Zaragoza on March 13, 2023.  (Oscar Del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine has received its first British main battle tanks, along with other donated Western-made armored vehicles, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced Monday.

“Today, I had the honor to test the newest addition to our armored units together with the commander of the Airborne Forces, Major General Maksym 'Mike' Myrhorodskyi, and our paratroopers,” Reznikov said in a Facebook post. 

He specified that they received Challengers (main battle tanks) from the United Kingdom, Strykers (infantry fighting vehicles) and Cougars (infantry mobility vehicles from the mine-resistant ambush-protected family) from the United States, and Marders (infantry fighting vehicles) from Germany.

Reznikov went on to thank Ukrainian allies for their continued support.

“A year ago, no one could have imagined that the support of our partners would be so strong. That the entire civilized world would reboot and eventually resist the bloody aggressor, the terrorist country of Russia,” he said. “This year, everything has changed. Ukraine has changed the world. The resilience of the Ukrainian people and the skill of our army convinced everyone that Ukraine will win.”

He added that the "new equipment will keep good company with its 'brothers' on the battlefield."

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany had also delivered sought-after German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

“Yes, we delivered Leopard tanks as we announced," Scholz said during a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Rotterdam on Monday. Germany previously pledged 18 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The modern tanks are known for being fast and fuel-efficient.

“Germany and the Netherlands have jointly delivered howitzers and ammunition and are just preparing, together with Denmark, to deliver Leopard 1 main battle tanks to support Ukraine,“ Scholz said, adding that Germany had “just now delivered“ also the “very modern" tanks.

Some background: The arrival of the Leopard 2 tanks comes after months of debate. German officials wavered on sending the tanks to Ukraine, saying they were waiting for the US to send its own M1 Abrams to Kyiv.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly pleaded for countries to stop arguing about sending the tanks.

“We have talked hundreds of times about the shortage of weapons," he said during a virtual appearance at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January. "We cannot go only on motivation."

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the origin of the tanks that arrived Monday in Ukraine.

12:52 p.m. ET, March 27, 2023

White House: US posture unchanged but monitoring closely since Putin's nuclear weapon announcement

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The American "strategic deterrence posture" towards Russia remains unchanged after Russian President Vladmir Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

On Saturday, Putin told Russian state television that Russia would complete the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by the beginning of July.

Since Putin’s announcement, the US has not observed signs of any specific movement of nuclear weapons or intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby.

“We haven't seen any movement of any tactical nuclear weapons or anything of that kind since this announcement, and we certainly haven't seen any indication that Mr. Putin has made some sort of decision to use weapons of mass destruction, let alone nuclear weapons, inside Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters. 

“We're continuing to monitor this very, very closely," he went on. "And still, we have seen nothing that would cause us to change our strategic deterrence posture."

12:33 p.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Ukraine says it repelled 41 Russian attacks in Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Mariinka

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Vasco Cotovio

Ukraine says it has repelled 41 attacks by Russian forces in the Donetsk areas of Bakhmut, Avdiivvka, and Mariinka in the past 24 hours, the military’s General Staff said in an evening update. 

“The enemy is focusing its main efforts on conducting offensive actions on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinka directions,” the update also said. “The most fierce fighting continues for Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinka.”

Moscow’s armies continued their assaults in the city of Bakhmut, according to the Ukrainian military. Russian forces are also putting pressure on Bakhmut's suburb Ivanivske and on locations where supply lines into Bakhmut pass. 

5:01 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Ukraine hasn't forgotten about annexed Crimea

From CNN's Tim Lister

While the fury of conflict echoes across the eastern Donbas region, a very different war is being waged in Crimea: one of night-time explosions, sabotage and disinformation.

Reclaiming Crimea may seem like an unlikely quest for Ukraine but it is putting considerable effort into making Russia’s occupation as uncomfortable as possible. And the Russians are going to great lengths to fortify the peninsula, which they illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

That includes hiring legions of workers to build fortifications and trenches.

The Ukrainian military has been carrying out attacks in Crimea with two goals: harass the Russian Black Sea fleet and disrupt vital Russian supply lines.

Satellite imagery in February showed a substantial Russian build-up of equipment and armor at several points across northern Crimea.

Few details have emerged about Ukrainian strikes in Crimea. Only occasionally does unofficial social media video provide clues about what has been hit. And only occasionally do normally circumspect Ukrainian officials refer to any actions in Crimea.

But last week Ukraine’s Main Intelligence reported that explosions in the Crimean town of Dzhankoi were due to a strike against Russian Kalibr cruise missiles being transported via rail. It said the strike served to “demilitarize Russia and prepare the Crimean peninsula for de-occupation.”

Any Ukrainian offensive to "de-occupy" and reclaim Crimea is distant at best. Just this week, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that Russia would use “absolutely any weapon” should Ukraine try to retake Crimea.

But the Russians are taking no chances. Satellite imagery shows extensive defensive fortifications such as trenches close to or in Crimea, near the town of Armiansk, for example.

11:41 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Germany: Putin's plan to station nuclear weapons in Belarus is "irresponsible" and "escalatory"

From CNN's Inke Kappeler

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint press conference at the Kremlin on September 9, 2021 in Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint press conference at the Kremlin on September 9, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Germany described Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russia will station nuclear weapons in Belarus as “irresponsible“ and “escalatory."

German Foreign Office spokesperson Andrea Sasse said the announcement was a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation from Russia."

“We consider this rhetoric irresponsible and expressly reject it,“ Sasse said. “We will, of course, not be swayed in our course of supporting Ukraine in its self-defence.”

At the same news conference, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said the announcement is “always also part of a propagandistic approach.”  

“These are escalatory steps that are now being continued by the Russian side, at least rhetorically," he said. "The cause, the responsibility for this conflict lies solely in Moscow."

More background: Putin announced on Saturday Russia's plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The country neighbors Russia and is one of its closest allies, helping the country launch its initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Belarus has had no nuclear weapons on its territory since the early 1990s, when it agreed to transfer all Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction to Russia. Putin said on Saturday that Russia will maintain control over any tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus.

The US State Department told CNN it would “continue to monitor the implications” of Russia’s plan but would not adjust its nuclear weapons strategy.

“We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” the US State Department said in a statement to CNN on Saturday.

4:51 p.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Zelensky meets with UN nuclear watchdog chief during visit to Zaporizhzhia

From CNN’s Yulia Kesaieva, Olga Voitovich, Sharon Braithwaite and Vasco Cotovio

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday visited the region of Zaporizhzhia, which remains partially occupied by Russia.

He stopped by a military hospital and met with the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and members of the military.

Earlier Monday, Zelensky announced the visit to Zaporizhzhia and posted a picture on Telegram, along with the message, “I am honored to be here today, next to our military."

“I am thankful to each of our warriors for defending Ukraine, our sovereignty, our cities, and our children,” he added. “We will definitely win.”

During his visit to the military hospital, Zelensky commended the work of the doctors and nurses and thanked them for their service.

"You are the ones who save lives,” Zelensky said, according to his office. “I want to thank you on behalf of all of us, on my own behalf, for your very important and powerful work.”

The Ukrainian president also met with IAEA Director Rafael Grossi who is also visiting the region to get a first-hand assessment of "the nuclear safety & security situation at the facility," Grossi tweeted earlier.

Grossi reported a "rich exchange" with Zelensky on the protection of the plant and its staff, and said in a tweet that the president showed him the recent damage to the Dnipro hydroelectric station.

The dam is "an essential part of the system that sustains the nuclear safety of the [Zaporizhzhia] nuclear power plant,” Grossi said in a tweet.

See Grossi's tweet about his meeting with Zelensky:

9:35 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Wagner chief visits Bakhmut again as heavy fighting continues in city's central districts, according to video 

From CNN's Allegra Goodwin, Mariya Knight and Tim Lister

The head of Russia's Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, paid another visit to the front lines inside the eastern city of Bakhmut, according to video geolocated by CNN.

The video was uploaded Monday and was filmed by Russian journalist Alexander Simonov. It’s unclear exactly when it was shot.

“Wagner group doesn’t always let war journalists join them at the front lines. I asked the boss of the company Yevgeny Prigozhin and he allowed me to come along to the fighters’ positions at Bakhmutka river where right now fierce fighting is underway for the central areas of Bakhmut," Simonov says.

The river runs north and south through the city’s eastern outskirts.

In the video, a fighter wearing a balaclava says “the enemy is 150-180 meters to the Northwest away from us….every private house is a fortification, every five-nine story building is a fortress.”

The fighter says that on the previous day, Wagner had raided northern Bakhmut and claimed that they’d killed more than 30 Ukrainian soldiers. CNN cannot verify the claim.

“We are moving forward, Bakhmut is going to fall and we will have the victory,” he says.

Prigozhin says, “We are riding through the front line. We are looking at what we could do better, do faster.”

One of the fighters says that they are at school number five in Bakhmut. CNN has geolocated the video to that location, in the southern part of central Bakhmut.

Later, Prigozhin says from another location that he is at a cemetery in the nearby town of Soledar, and adds, “We bury the bodies of Ukrainians that we weren’t able to hand over. We take pictures, and number them in order to hand them over later.”

Prigozhin has paid several visits to Bakhmut and its immediate surroundings in recent weeks.

What both sides are saying: Both Ukrainian and Wagner officials acknowledge street-by-street fighting in the city, with the Ukrainians claiming that they have stabilized the situation in Bakhmut.

Wagner says it now controls all of a metallurgical plant known as AZOM on the northern edge of the city.

8:47 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Video shows hundreds of graves at cemetery reserved for Wagner fighters in southern Russia

From CNN's Gianluca Mezzofiore and Tim Lister

Social media video geolocated by CNN shows long rows of freshly dug graves at a cemetery in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar reserved for fighters of the Wagner mercenary group.

A woman can be heard in one of the videos saying it's the cemetery where all the "Wagnerites" are buried, and claimed that the graves are all from the end of 2022 and the first months of 2023, but CNN cannot independently verify that.

The video shows dozens of long rows of graves — all with the same floral tribute — and is one of several to have been recently filmed at the cemetery near the city of Goryachy Klyuch. There are two cemeteries in the area that now contain Wagner graves.

Some background: The burial of Wagner fighters in the area has sparked a dispute. Earlier this month, Sergey Belopolsky, the mayor of Goryachy Klyuch, banned the further burial of Wagner fighters. Then, Krasnordar Gov. Veniamin Kondratiev overturned the ban after complaints from the head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin.