March 28, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023
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8:59 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Biden concerned about Russia's plans to station nuclear weapons in Belarus

From CNN's DJ Judd 

President Joe Biden briefly speaks with reporters as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden briefly speaks with reporters as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday he’s concerned about Russia's plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus.

“They haven’t done that yet, unless something happened while I was on the helicopter,” Biden said. “Sure, I’m concerned about that.” 
“What’ve I been talking to you guys about for the last year? This is dangerous kind of talk, and it’s worrisome,” Biden added.

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Moscow will complete the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by the beginning of July, Putin told state broadcaster Russia 1.

Former Vice President Mike Pence also weighed in Tuesday on Putin's plans.

"Every time he gets into a corner, he mentions nuclear weapons, and now the threat about moving tactical weapons is just the latest,” Pence said of Putin Tuesday during an interview with Newsmax.

He argued it's “absolutely essential that we continue to give Ukraine what they need."

"We don't allow Putin to distract the world or diminish support through his threats of moving tactical nuclear weapons," Pence said. "We just need to remain strong and stand with the Ukrainians.” 

9:59 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

The situation in Bakhmut remains "under control," Ukraine's military says. Here are the latest headlines

From CNN staff

The situation in the contested eastern city of Bakhmut remains "under control," with the commander of the country's ground forces taking control of the city's defense, the Ukrainian military said.

The military also said in an update Tuesday that the heaviest combat is concentrated in several zones in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and its units have repelled the latest efforts by Russian forces to advance. Over the last day, the General Staff said it repelled 24 Russian attacks.

Here are other headlines:

International assistance: Britain and Poland on Tuesday announced plans to build two temporary villages in Ukraine with housing for people who have been forced to flee their homes due to Russia’s invasion. And on Tuesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the government will receive an additional $2.5 billion from the US as a grant to help with state services such as salaries and benefits. The budgetary support is part of a US pledge of $9.9 billion to assist the Ukrainian economy in 2023 and is separate from military assistance. 

Olympic developments: The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) executive board on Tuesday issued a recommendation to international federations and international sports event organizers that athletes “who actively support the war cannot compete.” But earlier on Tuesday, IOC President Thomas Bach defended plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions. 

Military defense increases: The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday the production of individual types of ammunition will increase seven to eight times by the end of the year. But Western analysts have expressed skepticism that Russia’s military-industrial capacity and supply chains can be accelerated so quickly. In Ukraine, the government announced Tuesday that three new companies financed by donations are ready to deploy Ukrainian-made drones for combat.

Data decisions: The US decided Tuesday to not share data under a key nuclear arms control treaty in response to Russia's announcement that it will not do so either. Meanwhile, the US decision to fly its surveillance drones further south over the Black Sea after a Russian jet collided with a US drone earlier this month “definitely limits our ability to gather intelligence” related to the Ukraine war, a senior US military official tells CNN.

4:16 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Military action is growing near Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear power plant, IAEA director general says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie and Jaya Sharma

U.N. atomic energy chief Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to Associated Press before visiting Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during an interview in Dnipro, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
U.N. atomic energy chief Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to Associated Press before visiting Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during an interview in Dnipro, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

Military action is increasing around Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear power plant, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said Tuesday.

Speaking from Dnipro in Ukraine, ahead of a visit to the plant, Grossi said the situation “is not getting any better."

"Military action continues," he told CNN’s Lynda Kinkade. "In fact, it is increasing. There are growing numbers of troops, and military vehicles, heavy artillery, more military action around the plant.” 

The power plant has been “in blackout repeatedly,” Grossi added.

The director general's visit will be his second to the plant and his first since the IAEA established a permanent presence at the site in September last year, the agency said in a statement Saturday.

“I want to see what the situation is for myself, talk to the management there, which is the Russian management," Grossi told CNN.

Russia's state-owned nuclear energy monopoly, Rosatom, said Tuesday that Russia is ready to discuss the situation at the plant with the head of the IAEA.

“In a few hours myself and my team, we are going to cross the front line again – as we did last year,” Grossi said. “I am going to continue my consultations in order to try to establish a protection around the plant and spare us all from a nuclear accident with potential catastrophic consequences.”

The IAEA chief said the current risk level at the plant is “extremely high and it’s totally unpredictable, precisely because we are in a combat zone.”

On Monday, Grossi met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was visiting the Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro regions. Later, in his nightly address on Monday, Zelensky thanked Grossi for his support.

CNN's Anna Chernova and Sarah Dean contributed reporting.

3:06 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Ukraine readies new drone units for combat

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv

The Ukrainian government announced that three new companies financed by donations are ready to deploy Ukrainian-made drones for combat.

Mykhailo Fedorov, the vice prime minister for innovations, development of education, science and technology, said that the creation of the drone companies would bring “a completely new approach to management, training and doctrine of drone usage.”

Fedorov said the companies will have pickup trucks, attack helicopters and Starlink terminals. All the drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are made in Ukraine. 

“The drones will perform reconnaissance and strike missions. They will be used to guide artillery, help soldiers to be as effective as possible during urban battles and save lives,” Fedorov said. “The pickup trucks will be used for raids by mobile groups into enemy territory, delivery of cargo and evacuation of the wounded.”

Drones have played a substantial role – in both attack and reconnaissance modes – for the Ukrainian forces over the past year.

Fedorov said the equipment was purchased by private donors.

More than $1.5 million was raised through the sale of 100,000 packets containing salt from a mine at Soledar, a town that was captured by fighters of the Russian private military company Wagner in January.

2:55 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Russian soldiers face probe after complaining about "criminal leadership," relatives tell news agency

From CNN's Katharina Krebs 

Soldiers of a Russian army unit who complained to President Vladimir Putin about their “criminal” commanders and being forced into suicidal combat situations are now under interrogation by the military prosecutor’s office, according to an independent Russian media outlet, ASTRA.

ASTRA said it had spoken with relatives of the men, who serve with the Storm detachment of a brigade of the 8th Russian army. 

Last week, the men stated in a video that they had been confined in trenches in the village of Vodiane near Donetsk. They were subsequently sent to Donetsk, according to ASTRA. 

Two of the units have vanished and “have allegedly already been put on the wanted list as having left the unit without permission,” ASTRA says, quoting relatives of the soldiers.

The video message last week, addressed to Putin, showed about 20 men of the Storm detachment who said men were thrown into trenches “littered with corpses."

They also claimed in the video that “barrier troops” -- which are also known as troops that prevent any unit from retreating -- “were put up against us and did not let us leave our positions. Now they don’t let us go anywhere at all, they promise to destroy us," the soldiers said. "We are in danger."

“They are threatening to destroy us one by one and as a unit," one soldier added. "They want to execute us as witnesses of a completely negligent criminal leadership.”
“Our leadership decided to direct us at machine guns, mortars, tanks," the unit’s commander said in the video. "We sat under open fire from mortars and artillery for 14 days. 34 people injured, 22 killed. Our company commander was killed.”

The soldiers said they had never seen their leadership or official orders. “The leadership of the fifth brigade is a criminal group,” one said.

4:41 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Ukraine military says ground forces commander is leading defense of Bakhmut

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Tim Lister

Commander of the Ukrainian army, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with the Russian forces, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 8, 2023.
Commander of the Ukrainian army, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with the Russian forces, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 8, 2023. (Roman Chop/Associated Press)

The Ukrainian military says the situation in Bakhmut remains “under control” – with the commander of the country’s ground forces taking control of the city’s defense. 

The Ukrainian Land Forces, in a Facebook post, said Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi “is constantly on the front line with his subordinate units. Together with their commanders, they coordinate actions that will prevent the enemy from realizing their plans.”

“The enemy continues to try to break through our defenses around the town and sends its best units there.”

An unofficial Telegram channel of the soldiers of the 46th separate airmobile brigade said that the defense of the city relied upon holding the village of Ivanivske, a few kilometers to the west.

"The surrender of Ivanivske would dramatically worsen the situation in the area of the (Bakhmut) Airplane [a monument in the south of the city],” it said.

Losing Ivanivske would also yield “physical control over the road to Chasiv Yar,” it said, and would “allow our rear and flank to be attacked from the south.”

The Telegram channel added: “Despite the increase in the intensity of artillery and air support for the Wagnerites, it is noticeable that the orcs [Russians] have not had any success for several days.”

“[Their] tactical advances are minimal, despite the intensity of the fighting.”

 A major in the Bakhmut area, Makysm Zhorin, said on Telegram late Tuesday that “Bakhmut has been shelled all day long.”

“As before, the biggest pressure is inflicted on the residential areas. Our guys are fighting for every house, but it is very difficult to hold back so many occupiers. The flanks are holding, no one is letting the Russians surround the city.”

1:34 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

US supports the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian crimes against Ukraine, ambassador says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The United States announced it supports the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression — a significant development in the push to hold top Kremlin officials accountable for the war in Ukraine.

"At this critical moment in history, I am pleased to announce that the United States supports the development of an internationalized tribunal dedicated to prosecuting the crime of aggression against Ukraine," US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack announced Monday.

The announcement of US support for the development of such a body "in the form of an internationalized court that is rooted in Ukraine's judicial system, with international elements," in the words of a US State Department spokesperson, comes after Ukraine and other countries have for months pushed for the creation of the mechanism. 

Some more context: Although there are a number of different bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC) which can prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, they do not have the ability to prosecute the crime of aggression.

As such, Ukrainian Ambassador-at-Large Anton Korynevych in December argued that these existing mechanisms do not do enough to ensure that the decision-makers in Moscow face punishment for their war against Ukraine.

"We have a loophole, a gap in accountability, when we talk about accountability for the crime of aggression against Ukraine," Korynevych told CNN in Washington, DC, at the time. 

"Legally, currently, there is no international mechanism, which can investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine," he explained.

Read more about the announcement here.

2:39 p.m. ET, March 28, 2023

Russian video claiming to show Ukrainian military intimidating woman and child revealed as fake

From Gianluca Mezzofiore and Josh Pennington

A Russian propaganda video purportedly showing the Ukrainian military firing at a car with a mother and child after hearing the woman speaking Russian has been debunked as fake, a CNN analysis shows. 

The staged footage starts with a man wearing a Ukrainian military uniform stopping the car for “violating traffic rules” before telling the woman in the car: “Scumbag, give me your documents.”

After hearing the woman speak Russian, the man in uniform calls her a “pig, stupid scumbag” and fires several rounds with his rifle, scaring the child in the car. Both the woman and the child can be heard screaming. 

The dashcam video was shared widely on Russian Telegram accounts and even on official Twitter accounts, such as the Russian ministry of foreign affairs and the Russian embassy in London. 

However, open-source analysts on Twitter (@Tatarigami_UA, @PStyle0ne1 and @EjShahid) geolocated the footage as well within Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.  

A CNN analysis confirmed the location as on the outskirts of the city of Makiivka, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the front line.

Local people even went to the site and took a picture of the tree branches, which have a distinctive shape, further corroborating the geolocation of the video.

A pro-Russia Telegram channel with more than 300,000 subscribers, Veteran Notes, admitted that the video is fake. 

"This video is fake. This was a botched exercise. We still have a lot to learn about such information operations," it posted.

After being debunked by the open source community, Russia’s official ministry of foreign affairs Twitter account took down the video, without acknowledging the incident was fabricated.

The Russian Embassy in the UK still had the video up as of 12 p.m. ET.