March 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Eric Levenson, Meg Wagner, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Ben Church, Jeevan Ravindran, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 11:12 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022
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8:04 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Czech PM: "Main goal" of Kyiv visit was to tell Ukraine it's "not alone" in fight against Russian invasion

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

 Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala listens during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Polish De in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 15.
 Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala listens during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Polish De in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 15. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said that the "main goal" of the Polish, Slovenian and Czech prime ministers’ visit to Kyiv was to tell Ukrainians they are "not alone" in their fight against the Russian invasion.

Speaking alongside his counterparts, Fiala called Tuesday's opportunity to have an in-person discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "something really special."

"The main goal of our visit and the main message of our mission is to say to our Ukrainian friends that they are not alone. That Europe stands with you," Fiala told the news conference.

He said he wanted to assure Ukrainians that we are "hosting your wives and children" and providing them with "refuge" in the Czech Republic.  

The Czech Republic has now taken in 250,000 refugees, according to the prime minister. 

"We admire your courage, and we will continue to provide more aid and support," he concluded.

7:56 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Biden will announce new military assistance for Ukraine as soon as Wednesday, officials say

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden will unveil a new package of military assistance for Ukraine, including anti-tank missiles, as soon as Wednesday following an address to the US Congress by Ukrainian President Zelensky, according to officials familiar with the plans.  

The new assistance will stop short of the no-fly zone or fighter jets Zelensky has said are necessary to sustain Ukraine’s fight against Russia. 

But the new aid will include more of the defensive weapons the US has already been providing, including Javelins and Stingers. 

The Wall Street Journal first reported the new announcement of assistance.

7:52 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

US lawmakers still discussing how to revoke Russia’s permanent normal trade relations status

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are still negotiating how to revoke Russia’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status, after a provision that would do as much was scrapped from the bill that banned Russian energy imports last week. 

A plan to revoke Russia’s PNTR status was included in the bipartisan deal negotiated by the four corners of Congress but was pulled out of the legislation at the last minute when the White House asked Congress to narrow the scope of the legislation.

Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas, told CNN on Tuesday, “there’s still discussions ongoing on Congress’ role.”

Brady said the discussions revolve around what role Congress will play in making trade decisions going forward and maintaining the stake Congress has in those decisions.

“So, since this is a legislative change, the disapproval resolution is important to keep Congress's role in the decision on when to you know, restore those permanent normal trade relations,” Brady said.

“I'm hopeful we can conclude that but right now, we don't have the final text yet," he said.

But Brady was still hopeful that a conclusion could be reached by the end of the week.

7:49 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

White House faces growing pressure on Capitol Hill ahead of Zelensky's speech Wednesday

From CNN's MJ Lee and Lauren Fox

(Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden is confronting a daily deluge of pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to do more — and act faster — to help Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin intensifies his bloody attacks across the country.

Those calls are poised to only grow louder on Wednesday after members of Congress hear fresh pleas for assistance directly from one man who is hunkered down in Kyiv: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky is set to deliver a rare wartime speech to Congress in the morning, less than two weeks after the Ukrainian leader held a virtual meeting with US lawmakers. He is widely expected to use Wednesday's address — as he has in speeches to other friendly governments — to make an impassioned appeal yet again to the US for more help, including for certain kinds of military assistance that the Biden administration has already come out against.

Lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill told CNN that they expect the next major round of deliberations in Washington on how to best aid Ukraine's fight against Russia will, in no small part, hinge on what exactly Zelensky asks for when he speaks to Congress.

The speech comes as some on Capitol Hill are losing patience with the administration's pace and its unwillingness — for now — to go as far as Zelensky has wanted in supplying fighter jets and imposing a no-fly zone over the country. Those two things are likely to be among the things the Ukrainian leader asks for in Wednesday's speech, but the administration has ruled them out over concerns of how Putin would interpret those moves.

While the US government has largely responded to the war with a bipartisan support of Ukraine, patience is starting to wear thin for some lawmakers — including high-ranking Republicans who had been wary of criticizing the administration's response until now. Biden and his administration have not responded as quickly as some in Congress would like as the President aims to keep American allies united in their response to the crisis.

"Everything Congress has asked to do, (the administration) has originally said no. And then later on, they say yes after our allies do it," said Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's slow. It's excruciating."

"We're going to be hearing from Zelensky. So, I think depending upon what we hear then, and depending upon what action the White House takes next, we'll see," said Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who is one of many lawmakers who have advocated for sending fighter jets and other military machinery to Ukrainian forces. "In areas where we believe we need to push harder — and where we're hearing from back home that we need to push harder — we're going to express that to the White House."

One chief of staff to a member of the House put it bluntly when asked which issue their boss was likely to public push for next: "(Zelensky's) address to Congress will shape a lot of that," they said.

Read more here.

7:30 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Citing a sense of duty, these women decided to return to Ukraine after fleeing the war 

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

As war rages in Ukraine, and refugees flee to nearby European countries, many individuals eventually hope to return.

In Poland, CNN's Ed Lavandera found a train shuttling Ukrainians in both directions — some arriving, seeking safety, and others returning to their war-torn nation.

Mostly, reported Lavandera, it has been men returning to Ukraine. But on this day, the train platform featured many women, each feeling a sense of duty as their country fights to survive.

“Ukraine is equally important for men and women," Tatiyana Veremychenko told Lavandera. "We're the real Ukrainians, women have the strength and will and the heart as well.”

Another woman, Irina Orel, told Lavandera that while she is nervous about returning to Ukraine she admits to becoming numb to the violence.

I'm anxious … but the feeling has become dull over time," she said. "I just want to be next to my family.”

In a sense, said Orel, returning home is a way of standing up and fighting for her country.

"We have all become united during this time. Each one doing what they can to help our military. Women are doing it and men as well," she said.

Mariia Halligan, yet another woman Lavandera met waiting for transport to Ukraine, spoke of a certain duty to fight what she's labeling "Russian terrorists."

“If you know what you need to do, it’s impossible to feel nervous over something like this," Halligan said. "If I have to do this, I will do it. For my country, for my relatives, for my friends.”

As for the growing number of women Lavandera spotted, Halligan noted a certain role to be played for those not physically engaging in combat.

“I’m not man, I can't kill, I’m woman. And my work keep balance, and help, and be kind, and care about relatives, family, friends. All we care," she said.

"Now I feel that all Ukrainians [are] my relatives," she added.

6:59 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Zelensky: Ukraine "truly trusts" its partners after meeting with Polish, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine "truly trusts" its partners and is "100% assured" that a positive outcome will be reached following a meeting with the Polish, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers in Kyiv on Tuesday.

Speaking in Kyiv, Zelensky thanked Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala for their "wonderful support" of Ukraine when "so many other ambassadors have left Ukraine because of the full-scale Russian invasion." 

"Most important, is that we truly trust these leaders. When we are talking about the security guarantees, about our future in the European Union, or when we talk about the sanctions policy, we are 100% assured that whatever we are discussing, whatever we talk about, this will reach a positive outcome for our country," the Ukrainian president said. 

He continued that with "friends like this" Ukraine "can win."

The three European leaders — who said they were representing the European Council at the Kyiv meeting — traveled to the Ukrainian capital by train.

6:47 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Zelensky signals he doesn't expect Ukraine to join NATO anytime soon

From CNN's Andrew Carey, Oleksandra Ochman in Lviv, Kylie Atwood and Paul Le Blanc

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has dropped his clearest hint yet that he does not expect his country to join NATO anytime soon. 

In comments made in an address by video-link to leaders of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force on Tuesday, Zelensky appeared to shift further away from what until recently had been seen as a key Ukrainian ambition. 

“For years we have been hearing about how the door is supposedly open [to NATO membership] but now we hear that we cannot enter. And it is true, and it must be acknowledged,” he said. 

“I am glad that our people are beginning to understand this and rely on themselves and on our partners who assist us,” he added. 

Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, and its status as a NATO partner — seen as a step on the way to eventual full membership — was among the reasons Vladimir Putin gave for launching what he called Russia’s “special military operation” against its southern neighbor. 

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken called it a “reflection of reality” for Zelensky to signal today that he will not join NATO anytime soon.

“I don't think that's a concession. I think first of all it's a reflection of reality that even before this aggression by Russia, Ukraine was not going to get into NATO tomorrow. All the more reason why as we've seen when Putin was saying that their concerns about Ukraine centered on its admission to NATO, that was wrong. That was a lie,” Blinken said.

Blinken said that Putin has demonstrated that this war in Ukraine is about “denying Ukraine its independent existence.”

Blinken called the US support for Ukraine “extraordinary” and said that support will continue “to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself."

Blinken would not detail what consequences China would face if they provide military or economic support to China but he said the US has "made very clear that is not something we are going to face sitting down.”

6:38 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

US secretary of state: There will be an independent Ukraine "a lot longer" than there will be a Vladimir Putin

From CNN's Kylie Atwood


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there will be an independent Ukraine for “a lot longer” than there is going to be a Vladimir Putin, during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“First of all, there's going to be a Ukraine, an independent Ukraine a lot longer than there's going to be a Vladimir Putin. One way or the other, Ukraine will be there and at some point Putin won’t,” Blinken said. 

Blinken said the US is trying to prevent as much death and destruction as possible right now.

“The real question is how much death and destruction is wrought by Russia's aggression in the meantime, and that's what we're working as hard as we can to limit, to stop, to put an end to the war of choice that Russia is committing,” Blinken said. “We're doing that through the support we're providing Ukraine every single day. We're doing that by the pressure we're exerting against Russia every single day.”

Blinken said his hope is that the death and destruction can be ended “sooner rather than later.”


6:34 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Key things to know about Zelensky's virtual address to members of US Congress Wednesday 

From CNN's Clare Foran and Kevin Liptak

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to deliver a virtual address Wednesday to members of US Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the remarks earlier this week, saying that "as war rages on in Ukraine, it is with great respect and admiration for the Ukrainian people that we invite all Members of the House and Senate" to attend the virtual address at 9 a.m. ET.

There is widespread bipartisan support among US lawmakers for aid to Ukraine, and just last week, Congress approved an emergency aid package with $13.6 billion in humanitarian, defensive and economic assistance to the embattled country. US President Joe Biden signed the bill into law Tuesday.

According to a new letter sent to the Biden administration on Tuesday, top House and Senate Republicans are also calling on the administration to provide Ukraine with Soviet and Russian-made air defense systems to help defend against Russia’s invasion.

Zelensky recently pressed Biden during their latest call for more sanctions to further squeeze Russia, CNN learned. According to multiple sources familiar with the call, Zelensky specifically asked Biden for further efforts to cut off Russia from international trade and to continue targeting the Russian elite, as the US has continued to add more oligarchs and their families to its sanctions list. Zelensky also mentioned closing off Russia's access to international waterways during the call.

In their letter to lawmakers, Pelosi and Schumer reaffirmed US support for Ukraine amid the war.

"The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine," they wrote.

The two top congressional Democrats said they "look forward to the privilege of welcoming" Zelensky's address to Congress and "to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy."

In a separate speech Wednesday: Biden plans to detail US assistance to Ukraine, hours after Ukraine's president is expected to lay out new requests for help in his speech to Congress. 

Zelensky is likely to make fresh calls for steps like a no-fly zone and help acquiring fighter jets in his address to lawmakers. Biden has rejected those steps as potentially dragging the US into conflict with Russia, suggesting it could begin World War III.

But he is intent on demonstrating the support the US is providing, and will detail it in a speech on Wednesday, the White House says.

Biden referenced the speech in remarks on Tuesday: "I'll have much more to say about this tomorrow," he said when signing a spending bill.

Speaking on CNN, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Biden would talk "about the security assistance that we have provided, that we are providing, it's just unparalleled in amounts. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anti-armor, all kinds of support that the Ukrainians have asked for."