March 4, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Joshua Berlinger, Sana Noor Haq, Blathnaid Healy, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 0512 GMT (1312 HKT) March 5, 2022
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10:25 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russia to deploy up to 1,000 mercenaries to Ukraine as official warns Moscow could “bombard cities into submission”

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr

Russia is poised to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries to Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, as a senior Western intelligence official warned Moscow could "bombard cities into submission," an escalation that could lead to significant civilian casualties.

The US has already seen "some indications" that Russian mercenaries may be involved in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine "in some places," a senior defense official said earlier this week, but it wasn't clear exactly where or in what numbers.

"We've seen some indications that they're being employed," the official said.

Now, a US official tells CNN that Russia is planning to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries in the near future.

Stalled forces: Some Russian forces have struggled with morale issues and setbacks on the battlefield, including a massive convoy north of Kyiv that has remained largely stalled for the past several days.

The mercenary forces would fortify the flagging units, the official said, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend.

The official added that the US believes the mercenaries already in Ukraine have "performed poorly when facing the stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Ukrainians," and that as many as 200 such mercenaries have already been killed in the war as of late February.

Meanwhile, US and Western officials expect Russia to increase the pace and strength of its strikes on key Ukrainian population centers, including the capital Kyiv.

An intensifying assault: Russia now seems prepared to “bombard cities into submission,” one senior western intelligence official said on Friday, which could include a significant increase in the number of civilian casualties. 

“It’s a very crude approach,” the official said. “The heavier weapons are not just heavier in the weight, they’re also heavier in terms of the damage that they can inflict. And they’re far less discriminant.”

Other officials have noticed a shift in Russian strategy from military targets to civilians, with more attacks becoming focused on population centers.

"The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction, as the Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment during a press conference in Brussels Friday where he is meeting with European allies.

“The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure,” Blinken said.
8:59 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

British PM Boris Johnson called Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro over war in Ukraine

From CNN's Camilo Rocha in São Paulo and Jaide Garcia

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to CNN affiliate CNN Brasil. 

The British leader reminded Bolsonaro that Brazil was a “vital” ally during the second World War, and that Bolsonaro’s voice was “crucial” in this moment of crisis, CNN Brasil reported.

A spokesperson for Johnson said both leaders agreed on "demanding an urgent ceasefire" and agreed that "peace must prevail." 

According to a statement from Johnson's spokesperson, the prime minister added that "innocent civilians are being killed and cities destroyed, and the world cannot allow President Putin’s aggression to be successful.”

CNN reached out to Brazil's government for comment and has not received a response. 

Some context: Bolsonaro has so far avoided condemning or sanctioning Russia, saying Brazil was taking a "neutral" stance.

He argued sanctions would impact the Brazilian economy as well, pointing out that the country's agriculture depended on Russian fertilizers. 

During a weekly livestream on social media Thursday, Bolsonaro said, “Brazil remains in a balanced position and we don’t have the capacity to solve this issue."

8:57 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Chinese state broadcaster censors call for peace at the Paralympics Opening Ceremony

From CNN’s Yong Xiong and Homero De la Fuente

Andrew Parsons, President of IPC makes a speech during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday, March 04, in Beijing, China.
Andrew Parsons, President of IPC makes a speech during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday, March 04, in Beijing, China. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

At the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Beijing on Friday, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons called for peace in his speech -- but a large part of his message was censored by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. 

“Tonight, I want to begin with a message of peace. As the leader of an organization with inclusion at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences embraced, I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now,” Parsons said, likely in reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate,” he added. 

CCTV’s live commentary didn’t translate his description of the events taking place in the world, and most of the speech that followed. It also lowered the volume of Parsons’ speech on the broadcast and paused the sign language interpreters on screen.   

During the Opening Ceremony, Parsons was seen clapping as the 20 athletes competing for Ukraine were introduced. But the scene of Parsons cheering for the Ukraine delegation was also censored, replaced with a wide shot of the stadium by the state broadcaster. 

Some context: Earlier this week, the IPC banned Russian and Belarussian athletes from competing at the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

China has repeatedly refused to call Russia’s unprovoked military attack on Ukraine an “invasion,” instead calling for diplomacy and blaming the United States and NATO for "fueling fire" in the tensions.

This week, a Western intelligence report indicated that Chinese officials in early February requested that senior Russian officials wait until after the Beijing Olympics had finished before beginning an invasion into Ukraine. China responded that the report was “speculations without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China."

8:23 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Brazil will grant humanitarian visas to Ukrainian refugees

From CNN's Camilo Rocha in São Paulo and Jaide Garcia 

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order Thursday allowing Ukranian citizens and stateless persons displaced by the war in Ukraine to live and work in Brazil on a humanitarian visa

Applicants have to obtain a 180-day temporary visa within 90 days of arrival, which will then be eligible for extension to a temporary residence visa for up to two years, after which applicants can apply for permanent residency.

Applicants have until August 31 to apply for the visas, the order states.

Brazil's "neutral" position: Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Bolsonaro has avoided condemning or sanctioning Russia, saying Brazil was taking a "neutral" stance.

He argued sanctions would impact the Brazilian economy as well, pointing out that the country's agriculture depended on Russian fertilizers. 

During a weekly livestream on social media Thursday, Bolsonaro said, “Brazil remains in a balanced position and we don’t have the capacity to solve this issue."

8:11 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

International Gymnastics Federation bans Russian and Belarusian athletes from competitions starting Monday

From CNN's Jill Martin

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has announced that starting Monday, Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, including judges, are not allowed to take part in FIG competitions or FIG-sanctioned competitions.

The decision means that those athletes and officials from those two federations are barred from competing in the Acrobatic Gymnastics World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan from March 10-13.

On Saturday, FIG had announced that Russian and Belarusian national flags would not be displayed, and the two countries' anthems will not be played at any FIG-sanctioned event.

Friday's announcement takes this a step further.

“The FIG would like to stress that these exceptional and emergency measures are decided and issued in view of the above-mentioned extraordinary circumstances,” FIG said in a statement on the organization's website.

“They constitute preventive measures aiming at preserving the integrity of Gymnastics, the safety and integrity of members and all athletes and participants, and at fighting against all forms of violence and of sports injustice," the statement continued.

“Russian and Belarusian nationals who are members of the FIG Executive Committee or of FIG technical committees are not affected by this measure when acting in their capacity as FIG Authorities," the statement said.

“The EC will continue to monitor the situation closely and may further adapt these exceptional measures according to future developments,” FIG added.

You can read the FIG statement in its entirety here.

7:49 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

The US flew B-52 bombers over NATO's eastern flank on Friday

From CNN's From Oren Liebermann

The United States flew B-52 Stratofortress bombers over NATO’s eastern flank on Friday, exercising with the German and Romanian militaries in a sign of unity as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend. 

The largest strategic bombers in the US Air Force took off from RAF Fairford, a Royal Air Force station in England, and conducted close air support and integration mission training, according to a statement from US Air Forces in Europe.

The B-52s then flew to Romania, where they conducted more close air support training as part of the bomber task force (BTF) missions.

The flight over Romanian airspace put the bombers right on the edge of NATO countries, adjacent to Ukrainian air space, where the Russian air force is trying to establish air supremacy.

“BTF rotations give us a critical opportunity to integrate and train with our allies and partners, especially during this difficult time,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa, and NATO’s Allied Air Command.

“Training together ensures the defensive power of NATO remains unmatched,” he said.

8:03 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

US and NATO officials believe Russia now appears poised to "bombard cities into submission," source says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US and NATO officials monitoring the war in Ukraine noticed a pronounced shift earlier this week in Russia’s strategy—namely, that Russia now appears poised to “bombard cities into submission," which could inflict significant civilian casualties, a senior western intelligence official told CNN.

“The heavier weapons are not just heavier in their in the weight, they're also heavier in terms of the damage that they can inflict,” the official said. “And they're far less discriminant. So, more casualties.”

“It is a very crude approach,” the official added. He said his experience with Russian leadership and Putin "leads me to judge that they have a completely different standard when it comes to respect for human life." 

More background: US officials have warned in recent days that Russia's strategy appeared to be shifting from focusing primarily on military targets to targeting civilians, amid the realization that an initial plan to quickly capture Kyiv and topple the government had failed.

"The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction, as the Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment during a news conference in Brussels Friday where he is meeting with European allies.

“The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure,” Blinken said.

The Washington Post first reported that significant civilian casualties, “massive loss of human life,” are likely in the days ahead, according to a senior Western intelligence official.

Blinken and Stoltenberg on Friday also pushed back against calls for a no-fly zone to be set up in Ukraine, warning that it could lead to a "full-fledged war in Europe" and saying they're doing what they can to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia's invasion.

In separate news conferences in Brussels Friday, both argued that a NATO no-fly zone simply wasn't realistic because of the risk that it would lead to a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned NATO's decision to rule out the implementation of a no-fly zone over the country in a Facebook address late on Friday.

Zelensky said NATO's leadership on Friday: "Gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian towns and villages, refusing to make a no-fly zone. You could have closed the sky!"

CNN's Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.

8:15 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russian forces are approaching Ukraine's second-largest nuclear facility, US ambassador to the UN says

From CNN's Masha Angelova and Hira Humayun

Russian forces are approaching Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at the UN on Friday.

“Russian forces are now 20 miles, and closing, from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility,” she said without naming the plant.

According to Energoatom, the overseeing body of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility — in terms of power generation capacity — is Yuzhnoukrainsk Nuclear Power Station in the Mykolaiv Oblast, in southern Ukraine.

“President Putin must stop this humanitarian catastrophe by ending this war and ceasing these unconscionable attacks against the people of Ukraine,” the ambassador added.

Thomas-Greenfield said the imminent danger continues after a disaster was “narrowly avoided” last night, referring to the fire that broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Friday local time in Ukraine as a result of Russian forces shelling the facility.

“The international community must be unanimous in demanding Russia’s forces stop their dangerous assault. And as I’ve said before, the people of Ukraine are counting on us and we must not let them down,” she said.

Earlier on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of "nuclear terror" after Russian troops attacked the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

6:55 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Par Pacific Holdings suspends all purchases of Russian crude oil for Hawaii refinery

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

Par Pacific Holdings, headquartered in Houston, Texas, announced Thursday that they’ve suspended all purchases of Russian crude oil for their Hawaii refinery.

“We intentionally diversify our crude oil sources from locations around the globe to enable us to meet the state's ongoing demand for fuels,” Par Pacific Holdings said in a statement. “However, in light of recent geopolitical events, we have decided to suspend purchases of Russian crude oil for our Hawaii refinery.”

To meet its fuel production needs Par Pacific Holdings is planning to use “other grades of crude, principally from North and South America.”

“As the geopolitical situation evolves, we will work closely with our customers and partners in state government to make prudent decisions in support of energy assurance for Hawaii,” the statement said.

Par Pacific Holdings is the parent company of Par Hawaii and Par Hawaii Refining, which operates Hawaii’s only petroleum refinery in Kapolei, according to its website.

“For approximately 20-25% of our crude needs, we have historically purchased a Russian grade called Sokol which is produced relatively close to Hawaii, around the Sakhalin Island, north of Japan,” Eric Wright, the president of Par Hawaii, said in a statement.

Wright said the decision to suspend Russian crude purchases is not expected to have “significant impacts” on operations in the Kapolei.

“Fuel prices are driven primarily by global oil markets,” Wright said. “We do not expect our decision to have a meaningful impact on the prices paid by Hawaii consumers.”

The average price of regular gas in Hawaii is $4.66, according to AAA, and the national average is $3.83.