March 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, George Ramsay, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022
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12:49 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

NATO allies united in decision not to establish no-fly zone over Ukraine, secretary general says

From CNN's James Frater and Lindsay Isaac

NATO nations are united in backing the alliance’s position that it will not establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated calls for one, the organization's chief said.

There will be "no deployment of air or ground capabilities in Ukraine and that is the united position of our allies,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday at a news conference in Brussels.

Ministers discussed the issue at a meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday, the secretary general said, adding that the alliance is adamant not to escalate the war with Russia.

“We see destruction, we see human suffering in Ukraine but this can become even worse if NATO took actions that actually turned this into full-fledged war between NATO and Russia," he said.

US President Joe Biden is set to travel to Europe next week to participate in a NATO summit on March 24 and will also join a European Council meeting, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

NATO's Stoltenberg spoke to CNN following Zelensky's address:

11:53 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

5 injured by Russian fire on evacuation convoy traveling to Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych in Lviv

An evacuation convoy from the town of Enerhodar in the middle of the country came under fire while traveling towards the city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian authorities say.

A convoy of more than 70 vehicles left soon after 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET), Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov said.

But five hours later, the convoy was hit by artillery fire as it passed near the town of Stepnohirsk, according to the regional administration.

"Artillery of enemy forces fired on a convoy of civilians near Stepnohirsk moving along the highway towards Zaporizhzhia," Oleksandr Starukh, head of Zaporizhzhia region administration, informed on his Telegram channel. "There are no dead. It is currently known there are five wounded, including one child in serious condition."

He added, "Currently, the injured child is undergoing a complex operation with the remote involvement of specialists from the Okhmatdyt Clinic. A fire broke out in the field along the route as a result of the shelling."

Enerhodar was occupied by the Russians on March 4. They hold the nearby nuclear power station.

11:45 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Here's what's in the $13.6 billion Ukraine aid package that President Biden signed this week

From CNN's Katie Lobosco

In remarks on Wednesday, Biden is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, a White House official told CNN, bringing the total to $1 billion announced in just the last week.

The $800 million in security assistance comes from the massive spending bill the President signed into law on Tuesday, which includes $13.6 billion total in new aid to Ukraine.

The amount of money the legislation includes for Ukraine increased during last-minute negotiations, growing from the $10 billion the White House had asked for earlier in the month.

The Ukraine aid is attached to an appropriations law that sets spending limits for the federal government for fiscal year 2022, which started in October. Lawmakers have haggled over the full-year appropriations bill for months and have passed three stopgap funding bills to keep the government operating in the meantime.

The text of the 2,741-page bill was released last week and Congress passed the legislation before a Friday deadline, avoiding a government shutdown.

How it's going to be spent:

Military aid: About $6.5 billion, roughly half of the aid package, will go to the US Department of Defense so it can deploy troops to the region and send defense equipment to Ukraine, according to a summary of the bill provided by the House Appropriations Committee.

The US has deployed thousands of troops throughout Europe, both before and during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But putting troops on the ground in Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, is a line that the US and its Western allies have not been willing to cross.

Humanitarian aid: More than $4 billion will provide humanitarian support for refugees fleeing Ukraine and people displaced within Ukraine, as well as provide emergency food assistance, health care and urgent support for vulnerable communities inside the region, according to a fact sheet provided by the House Appropriations Committee.

Economic aid: The package will provide nearly $1.8 billion to help respond to the economic needs in Ukraine and neighboring countries, such as cybersecurity and energy issues.

The law also calls for $25 million for the US Agency for Global Media, an independent federal agency, to combat disinformation in news broadcasts abroad. Another $120 million will help support local Ukraine activists and journalists and promote accountability for Russian human rights violations.

Read more about the aid package here.

11:49 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Human rights group Council of Europe removes Russia from its membership

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels and Martin Goillandeau in London

The Council of Europe (CoE), a France-based pan-European human rights organization, said on Wednesday it has excluded Russia from its members after 26 years of membership.

“In an extraordinary meeting this morning, the Committee of Ministers decided, in the context of the procedure launched under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as from today,” a statement published on the Council’s website read.

The decision follows an opinion adopted Tuesday by the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly which considered that “the Russian Federation can no longer be a member State of the Organisation,” per the statement.

The Council of Europe said Russia’s “unjustified and unprovoked aggression” of Ukraine led to the decision of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly to initiate the procedure of expulsion of the Russian Federation.

What Russia and Ukraine are saying: The Russian Foreign Ministry responded it would withdraw from the pan-European structure, arguing it adopted a “discriminatory decision” to suspend the country’s representation on Feb. 25.

In a speech to the chamber Monday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal asked for Russia to be ousted from the Council of Europe, saying Ukraine was “on fire."

Distinct from the European Union, the Council of Europe has 46 member states and is also an official United Nations Observer. It is also a parent structure to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Russia joined the Council of Europe on 28 February 1996.

“Through their actions in Ukraine the Russian authorities deprive the Russian people of the benefit of the most advanced human rights protection system in the world, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and our vast convention system,” a Council’s statement read Tuesday.

10:48 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US planning to significantly expand sanctions on Russian individuals in coming days, officials say

From CNN's Phil Mattingly

The Biden administration is continuing to develop sanctions targeting top Russian officials and those in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, with plans to ramp up the number of targets in the coming days and weeks, according to multiple US officials.

The process has been ongoing and has taken into account specific suggestions of targets provided by top Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, the officials said. In a call with US President Joe Biden last week, Zelensky laid out a more specific range of targets for individual sanctions, one of the officials said. The administration is currently working to address those requested targets. 

Zelensky, in virtual remarks to Congress, went further today when he requested the US impose sanctions on all Russian politicians who continue to support the government.

While some Zelensky requests, including the implementation of a no-fly zone, remain off the table for Biden, the sanctions are viewed by the administration as a tool they can readily deploy.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US has slapped sanctions on dozens of top Russian officials and oligarchs, as well as their family members. 

Biden also signed off on targeting Putin directly with individual sanctions, in coordination with the EU and UK. 

12:09 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Russian counterpart

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke Wednesday with his Russian counterpart, the White House said.

The call between Sullivan and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev marks the highest-level known contact between the US and Russia in weeks.

Sullivan reiterated "the United States’ firm and clear opposition to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine," according to a statement.

"Mr. Sullivan clearly laid out the United States’ commitment to continue imposing costs on Russia, to support the defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, in continued full coordination with our Allies and partners. Mr. Sullivan told General Patrushev that if Russia is serious about diplomacy then Moscow should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns. Mr. Sullivan also warned General Patrushev about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine," the statement continued.

3:33 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

People in line for bread in Ukrainian city of Chernihiv killed by Russian shelling, regional official says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Oleksandra Ochman in Lviv and Gianluca Mezzofiore

(From Telegram)
(From Telegram)

At least 10 people queueing for bread were killed when Russian forces shelled the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv on Wednesday, according to the head of the regional administration, Vyacheslav Chaus.

Video geolocated by CNN shows what appear to be lifeless bodies on the ground, but the images of the bodies had been blurred. 

It also showed someone being carried to a vehicle close by. It is not clear whether the individual was alive.

Chaus said the attack was indicative of Russia’s use of indirect fire against civilians. 

“This is not the first such incoming shell [in the city], nor is it the first shelling of civilians by the enemy. The Russians are shelling and destroying mostly civilian infrastructure in the city of Chernihiv and other cities in the region,” he said while speaking on Ukrainian television. 

Chernihiv is surrounded by Russian forces and has seen repeated shelling over the last week, much of it hitting residential areas. 

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov refuted US embassy claims that Russian troops killed civilians in the bread line in Chernihiv.

“Today, video footage of civilians who died in Chernihiv, who were allegedly shot by Russian servicemen, was distributed on all propaganda resources of the Kyiv regime. It was indicated that all the dead allegedly stood in line for bread. I would like to emphasize that there were no Russian servicemen in Chernihiv,” Konashenkov said in a video message Wednesday. 

“All Russian troops are outside of Chernihiv,” he said.

10:33 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

NATO has tried to reach Russia unsuccessfully via deconfliction hotline

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

NATO has tried unsuccessfully to connect with Russia via a deconfliction hotline and written letters as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spread further west toward NATO territory, senior NATO military officials said on Wednesday. 

“We are trying to communicate with them of course,” one of the officials told reporters in a briefing at NATO headquarters. “But it requires two [sides] to communicate.” 

The US also has a separate deconfliction hotline with Russia that it has tested and has determined is functioning but has not yet used in practice, officials have said. 

The officials’ comments followed Russia’s attacks on a Ukrainian military base earlier this week just 10 miles from the Polish border, which raised concerns about the conflict potentially spilling over into a NATO member country. 

The current assessment of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander of Europe Gen. Tod Wolters, the officials said, is that “currently there is no threat to NATO as such. Not a deliberate threat by Russia. Russia is occupied for the time being with Ukraine.”

But there are of course risks, the officials added, which is why there are now discussions about moving NATO’s defensive systems further east. 

“As we have now seen that Russia is prepared to use again, in the middle of Europe, military means to achieve political goals, it is worthwhile and it will be discussed to move forward the integrated air and missile defense system to cover the areas that are adjacent to Russia,” one of the officials said. Those areas include Belarus and potentially Ukraine, he added. 

NATO’s supreme allied commander currently has command and control over some 40,000 soldiers, the official said, as well as hundreds of aircraft and more than 200 ships at sea. 

Asked about Poland’s call on Wednesday to send NATO forces into Ukraine on a “peacekeeping” mission, the NATO military officials suggested such a plan would be untenable.

“We are looking at two nation states that are in a war. If they agree on a reliable and robust peace settlement, I do not necessarily see a need for a peacekeeping mission,” one of the officials said. “And if you are looking at the other version of ‘peacekeeping,’ which is actually ‘peace enforcement,’ I mean, that is war with Russia.” 

“We would then have to ‘protect,’” the official explained, “and then shoot, and then kill and then destroy.”

11:31 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US lawmakers react to Zelensky's address to Congress

From CNN's Daniella Diaz

US House minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, third left,, Representative Steny Hoyer, center, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi listen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16 at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC.
US House minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, third left,, Representative Steny Hoyer, center, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi listen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16 at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. (Sarahbeth Maney/AFP/Getty Images)

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's remarks to lawmakers was "quite remarkable" and that they're "grateful" he was thankful for aid. 

She acknowledged his repeated calls for the West to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine but didn't elaborate. 

"(We're) grateful that he was grateful to United States for all that we have done and what President Biden has done," she said. "The call for the no-fly zone, but if you can't do that, then some other opportunities and identifying with our own challenges to our democracy. I thought it was quite remarkable, but the film was overwhelming with the children and the brutality of the Russians, it's their war crimes right before our very eyes," she added, referencing a video he played of attacks in Ukraine.

She said the House of Representatives is working on legislation in the next couple of days, but she did not elaborate and didn't answer any more questions.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Zelensky’s address to Congress an “incredibly effective speech” and said “the message to President Biden is that he needs to step up his game.” This largely mirrored reaction from GOP senators after the speech and differed from Democrats who defended Biden’s handling as effective and forward leaning.  

GOP Rep. Mike McCaul, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, got very emotional about the video that was played during Zelensky’s address, saying, “We need to help Ukraine, give them everything they need to fight this war, and the video we saw was very reminiscent of Nazi Germany. ... And history will judge us. What did you do? What did you do when the bombing started? When the maternity hospitals were bombed and the pregnant women were taken out — blood, children, what did you do?”

“History will judge us if we don't act now and if we don't act strongly,” McCaul said. “This is not a time for partisan rhetoric; this is a time to unify the nation behind Ukraine against one of the most evil forces we have seen since my father's war — and that's World War II, Adolf Hitler.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, told CNN he is concerned about setting up a no-fly zone. 

“I mean, any time you put American pilots and American planes in the sky, with Russian pilots and planes in the sky, you're really taking a chance that we may engage at a level that I don’t think we’re prepared to,” Blunt said.

Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly also raised concerns about imposing a no-fly zone — and he was skeptical of the idea of transferring aircrafts to Ukraine, suggesting it would not be an effective use of resources. He’s open to more sanctions and providing more defense systems such as surface to air missiles. Kelly, who is up for reelection, also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal” and said that US President Joe Biden should “absolutely” call him that. “Call it what is," he said.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “much more effective tools” are anti-tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and Stinger missiles.

GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus who stationed in Kyiv during his time as an FBI agent, supports a limited no-fly zone. He said there are other ways to enforce it besides shooting down planes, such as through technology like electro-magnetic pulse and sonar radar.

“We’ve got to support a humanitarian no-fly zone,” said Fitzpatrick. “Otherwise, the only other outcome is slaughtering innocent people.”

GOP Sen. Rick Scott, a member of leadership, went further on a no-fly zone than most in his party, saying in a statement: "President Biden needs to make a decision TODAY: either give Ukraine access to the planes and anti-aircraft defense systems it needs to defend itself, or enforce a no-fly zone to close Ukrainian skies to Russian attacks."