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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12:56 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

US ambassador to the UN says world "narrowly averted" nuclear catastrophe last night

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

United States United Nations ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the world “narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night" following the fire at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

She called Russia’s reactions “reckless” and “dangerous” saying it put the largest nuclear power plant at grave risk and it threatened the safety of civilians in Russia and across Europe.

She called on Russia to withdraw its troops from the plant to ensure operators have full access to the site and are able to communicate with regulators, ensure shift changes, and the safety stability and security of the plant. 

“Reliable electricity is vital for the nuclear facility, as are back-up diesel generators and fuel. Safe transit corridors must be maintained," she said. "Russia must halt any further use of force that might put at further risk all 15 operable reactors across Ukraine – or interfere with Ukraine’s ability to maintain the safety and security of its 37 nuclear facilities and their surrounding populations.”

Thomas-Greenfield said praised "the ability of the Ukrainian operators to keep all six reactors in safe conditions while under attack and to report as they were able to their nuclear regulator."

“We are gravely concerned that the Ukrainian operators are now doing their jobs under extreme duress," she added.

The US supports the IAEA Director in his efforts to ensure nuclear safety and “prevent nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine”

She called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to not send his troops on a “suicide mission” against a nuclear power plant.

“Nuclear facilities cannot become part of this conflict,” she said

“Mr Putin must stop this madness, and he must stop it now," she added.

What Russia is saying: Meanwhile, Russian UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that the nuclear plant is fully operational and there is no threat of a release of radioactive material.

Nebenzia insisted there is “artificial hysteria” and “lies about how Russian troops attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.” He claimed the area was taken by the Russian army back on Feb. 28. He said in the area adjacent to Zaporizhzhia, a Russian mobile patrol was attacked by a Ukrainian "sabotage group."

The plant and adjacent territory are being guarded and experts have been brought in to manage the facility, and a similar situation exists in Chernobyl, he said. The security of facility is being ensured by Russian Armed forces and Ukrainian operators, he added. 

“Together with the people of Belarus and Ukraine we lived through the tragedy of Chernobyl, so we are more interested than most in maintaining a normal radiation situation throughout the territory of Ukraine,” he said. 

12:53 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Analysis: What you need to know about war crimes — and how Putin could be prosecuted

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with members of his security council on March 3.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with members of his security council on March 3. (Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

There is a loud and growing chorus of calls for the International Criminal Court to pursue Vladimir Putin. On Wednesday, the court said it would immediately proceed with an active investigation of possible war crimes following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The US Embassy in Kyiv said on Friday that Russia committed a war crime by attacking a nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

"It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant," the embassy said on its official Twitter feed. "Putin's shelling of Europe's largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further."

Russia's suspected use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in dense areas with many civilians has also been described as a war crime.

"I want to be very clear about this, that Mr. Putin is a war criminal," former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday. "He has to sit behind the bars in International Criminal Court."

However, if justice in general moves slowly, international justice barely moves at all. Investigations at the ICC take many years. Only a handful of convictions have ever been won.

Here's a very broad look at war crimes and the international justice movement:

Note: Some of what's below comes from CNN's research library, which compiled information about the International Criminal Court.

What is a war crime? The International Criminal Court has specific definitions for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. Read about them in this guide published by the ICC.

Specifically, targeting civilian populations, violating the Geneva Conventions, targeting specific groups of people and more could be potential Russian war crimes.

"One thing is certain, that intentionally directing shelling or targeting civilians or civilian objects is a crime within the jurisdiction of the court," the ICC's chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

"And even if there's military necessity, there's a clear obligation upon parties to a conflict to not use disproportionate force, to make sure the ordnance used and the weapons don't have a very wide footprint in heavy civilian areas," said Khan.

What are cluster bombs and vacuum bombs? The feared use of banned weapons meant to kill without discrimination is what people are discussing now as a very specific war crime.

With a cluster bomb, a missile is fired and explodes thousands of feet in the air, releasing smaller bombs that each detonate when they fall to the ground. See an illustration from The Washington Post. Amnesty International said a Russian cluster bomb fell on a Ukrainian preschool.

"Vacuum bombs," or thermobaric weapons, suck in the oxygen from the surrounding air to generate a powerful explosion and a large pressure wave that can have enormous destructive effects. Russia previously used them in Chechnya, and a CNN team spotted a Russian thermobaric multiple rockets launcher near the border with Ukraine late last month.

Read the full analysis here.

12:26 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

IAEA chief: Normal operations continue at Zaporizhzhia and "no security or safety systems" are compromised

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi points at a map of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a press conference in Vienna, Austria, on March 4.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi points at a map of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a press conference in Vienna, Austria, on March 4. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

A top International Atomic Energy Agency official said “no security or safety systems have been compromised near the reactors themselves" at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine — the largest in Europe — which Russian troops have occupied.

“We consider from a technical point of view that operation continues normally, although as I have stressed to the board of governors to the IAEA, there is no of course normalcy about this situation when there are military forces of course in charge of the site,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the United Nations Security Council. 

He said he continues to be in contact with Ukraine officials, including the company that operates the facilities and operators at Zaporizhzhia. 

He is ready to travel as soon as practical to Chernobyl to consult with Ukrainian counterparts, he said, but “if necessary, when necessary” will consult with “the forces in charge in order to establish a stable framework so the observance of the basic principles of safety and security starting with the physical integrity of the facilities can be observed.”

He requested UNSC support of the IAEA's efforts.

He delivered the briefing virtually while airborne to Tehran for a separate issue.

12:11 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

US labor secretary predicts some "short-term inflation" but says US needs to "stand with" Ukraine

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US Labor Sec. Marty Walsh indicated Friday he didn’t think Russia’s war on Ukraine would impact job creation in the United States, but “certainly” had “potential to have impact on inflation in some cases.” 

“At the end of the day, we stand united with the Ukrainian people, and not just the United States, but major ... countries in the world and all countries in the world. We’re rallying around the Ukrainian people. And I think for some short-term inflation, we need to continue to stand with the Ukrainian people. They don't deserve what they're experiencing right now. They don't deserve what they're getting. And we need to ... show the world that we’re united behind them,” Walsh said during an appearance on CNN.

He predicted more American companies will cut ties with Russia. 

“I hope companies and people continue putting pressure on Russia, every, every pressure point we can, so they realize that the world does not support their action in the world stands firmly behind Ukraine,” he said. 

US President Joe Biden imposed new sanctions Thursday on eight members of the Russian elite, along with members of their families.

12:02 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

US State Department tells embassies not to share Kyiv Embassy tweet calling nuclear plant attack a war crime

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The US State Department sent an urgent message to all US embassies in Europe telling them not to retweet the US Embassy Kyiv’s tweet calling the attack on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant attack by Russia a war crime this morning, according to the message reviewed by CNN. 

The message is an indication that the US government may not be endorsing the war crime allegation made by the embassy. 

“All – do not/not retweet Embassy Kyiv’s tweet on shelling of the facility being a possible war crime,” the message said. “If you have retweeted it – un-retweet it ASAP.”

As Russian forces continue their onslaught on key Ukrainian cities, the country's biggest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, came under attack Friday. A blaze there initially sparked fears of a potential accident, but the fire has since extinguished. The International Atomic Energy Agency also said the reactors at the plant are safe and no radioactive material was released.

Thus far, the administration of US President Joe Biden has not said that any of Russia’s aggressions in Ukraine amount to war crimes. President Biden said they are following Russia’s actions closely when asked about the matter on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has given brief remarks multiple times today in Brussels, but he has not mentioned the attack on the Ukrainian nuclear power plant.  

The US has no reason to doubt Russian claims that they are in control of the nuclear power plant, a senior defense official said on Friday. But the official also said that it is "deeply concerning" that US doesn't know what Russian control looks like, expertise of people there and their near-term intentions.

NBC was the first to report on the message.

CNN's Jamie Crawford contributed reporting to this post.

3:15 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

US "deeply" concerned about Russia's intentions with Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, defense official says

From CNN's Michael Conte

The US “has no reason to doubt” Russian claims that they are in control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant that they assaulted overnight in Ukraine, according to a senior defense official.

The official said the US believes there is not any radioactive leakage.

“We don’t have a firm sense on the nature of the attack on the power plant, so I can’t give you a blow by blow of exactly how that occurred and who the Russians employed and what they employed to make that assault on the power plant. But the main thing is we don’t see any radioactive leakage,” the official said.

The US is “deeply” concerned about what the Russian intentions are regarding their control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, according to the official.

The official said the US does not know how many people the Russians have at the plant and what their control looks like “in terms of continuation of operations.”

The US doesn’t know the expertise of the Russians in control of the plant or what their near-term intentions are for the plant, according to the official.

“We are in no position to refute claims that they are in control of the nuclear power plant. But we don’t know exactly right now what that control means and what it looks like. So I would be loath to say that we know with specificity, you know, how many people they have there and what their control over the power plant looks like in terms of continuation of operations. And again, that’s one of the things that deeply concerns us, is that we don’t know what expertise they have, what they’ve applied to this, what their intentions are in the near term. I mean all of that is of great concern,” the official said.

11:34 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Direct attacks and a destroyed bridge have slowed Russian convoy advance on Kyiv, US defense official says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

A satellite image shows the convoy on February 28.
A satellite image shows the convoy on February 28. (©2022 Maxar Technologies/AP)

Direct attacks on a massive Russian convoy outside Kyiv, coupled with a destroyed bridge in the convoy’s path, have stalled the Russian forces about 15 miles north of the city, a senior defense official said Friday. Meanwhile, Ukraine retains a “significant majority” of its air combat power, as Russia remains unable to establish air supremacy.

The convoy, stretched out more than 40 miles of road, has not appreciably advanced since the weekend, the official said. 

“We certainly believe that the Ukrainians blowing up that bridge absolutely had an effective on stopping and curtailing the movement of that convoy,” the official said. “But we also believe that they have hit the convoy at other places as well in direct attacks.”

Earlier this week, the official said logistical and sustainment issues have also contributed to the slow advance of the convoy. But the US believe Russian forces in the convoy are regrouping and learning from their mistakes as they continue to try to attack the Ukrainian capital.

As the fight on the ground continues, the Ukrainian air force still has fighter jets, helicopters and drones available, though they have suffered some losses, the official said. The losses are due both to “Russian actions” and inoperability, the official added.

11:04 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russian military warns of "provocations" involving Western journalists in Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Moscow

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned on Friday that Ukrainian forces in the city of Kharkiv were readying a "provocation" in concert with Western journalists by firing heavy weaponry from a residential area with the aim of provoking a retaliation by Russian forces that would be caught on camera.

Russian statements about supposed "provocations" by the Ukrainian side have been a prelude to shelling or strikes by Russian forces.

"In the city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian nationalists are preparing a provocation with the participation of Western journalists," Konashenkov said in a video briefing released by the Russian MOD. "According to confirmed data, on Zhylyardi Street, Kyiv District, in a private residential area, multiple launch rocket systems are placed between the houses. Nationalists have forbidden local residents, including children, from leaving their homes. Now the installations are ready for shelling units of the Russian armed forces located outside the city. The purpose of the provocation is to call back fire from Russian artillery on the residential sector of Kharkiv. All this is planned to be filmed on cameras with the subsequent transfer of filming to Western journalists."

Konashenkov provided no evidence to support the claim. Russia has previously made baseless claims about humanitarian workers in Syria being involved in staging or provoking attacks to prompt international outrage and spur Western governments to intervene militarily. "Ukrainian nationalists" is a shorthand the Russian government has used to characterize forces putting up resistance to Russian troops.

Journalists working in Ukraine have extensively documented the heavy shelling of Kharkiv by Russian forces, including in residential areas.

10:51 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Ukrainian officials say concessions won't be made on territorial integrity

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London 

The Ukrainian delegation participating in talks with Russia “understands the motives” of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office said Friday, adding that while the Ukrainian side is aware of “where [Russia] wants to go,” concessions won’t be made on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. 

Speaking during a press briefing in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, Mykhailo Podoliak said that Ukraine’s position is being “boosted” by western partners, adding that President Volodymyr Zelensky “is definitely not going to make any concessions that would diminish our territorial integrity and freedom.”

“The position of the Russian Federation is harsh — if it were easy, they wouldn’t attack Ukraine — but the position of the Ukrainian Chief of the Armed Forces is also harsh. The negotiations are difficult but they are taking place,” Podoliak added. 

The press briefing comes a day after the second round of talks between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus. In a tweet on Thursday, Podoliak said the talks did not deliver the results sought by Ukraine, though the delegations were able to reach a “solution only for the organization of humanitarian corridors." 

Speaking on Friday, David Arakhamia — a senior official of Ukraine’s governing party who also participated in the talks — said that Zelensky has not made an official request for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that it remains “too early” and that further negotiations are needed before they speak.

Arakhamia also noted that Russia is facing increased “pressure” from the wider international community over attacks by Russian forces on civilian areas in Ukraine. 

Pressed on Russia’s attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Arakhamia said that Ukrainian negotiators suggested a 30-kilometer conflict-free zone around all nuclear facilities in Ukraine during talks on Thursday, “and then immediately Zap happened.”