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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1:40 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Biden pledges to keep up US assistance to Ukraine, warning it "could be a long and difficult battle"

(Pool)
(Pool)

US President Joe Biden warned "this could be a long and difficult battle" after announcing an additional $800 million in security aid for Ukraine.

"The American people will be steadfast in our support [to] the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin's immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations. We are united in our abhorrence of Putin's depraved onslaught, and we're going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival," he said in remarks from the White House.

"We're going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead. We're going to continue to mobilize humanitarian relief to support people within Ukraine and those forced to flee Ukraine," Biden said.

He also pledged to keep up sanctions on Russia.

"We will support Ukraine's economy with direct financial assistance. Together with our allies and partners, we will keep up the pressure in Putin's crumbling economy, isolating him on the global stage. That's our goal. Make Putin pay the price, weaken his position while strengthening the hand of the Ukrainians on the battlefield and at the negotiating table," he said.

WATCH:

1:15 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Biden says Zelensky was "convincing" and "passionate" in his address to US Congress

(Pool)
(Pool)

US President Joe Biden opened his remarks this afternoon by thanking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his "passionate message" to Congress earlier today.

"I listened to it in the private residence. He was convincing and it was a significant speech. He speaks for a people who have shown remarkable courage and strength in the face of brutal aggression. Courage and strength that's inspired not only Ukrainians but the entire world," Biden said in remarks from the White House.

Biden went on to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "inflicting appalling, appalling devastation on Ukraine" with the bombing of apartment buildings, maternity wards, and hospitals.

Biden's remarks are ongoing.

1:02 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

NOW: Biden expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance for Ukraine 

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Paul LeBlanc

US President Joe Biden is speaking at the White House and 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.

Biden's remarks come shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Congress for help directly Wednesday, telling US lawmakers "we need you right now" as he invoked tragedies in American history like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the September 11 terrorist attack.

Zelensky addressed Biden directly in the historic speech, "You are the leader of your grand nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace," he said at the conclusion of his remarks, which were met with a standing ovation from lawmakers.

The package of military assistance Biden is expected to announce will include anti-tank missiles and more of the defensive weapons that the US has already been providing, including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, officials familiar with the plans said.

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

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.

CNN's Clare Foran contributed reporting to this post.

Read more about Biden's expected announcement here.

12:48 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Journalist who held an anti-war sign on Russian state TV describes how the protest unfolded

From CNN's Charles Riley

The Russian state television journalist who took a dramatic stand against President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine during a live broadcast says it was "impossible to stay silent" and that she wants the world to know that many Russians are against the invasion.

Marina Ovsyannikova told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that many Russian journalists see a disconnect between reality and what is presented on the country's television channels, and that even her mother has been "brainwashed" by state propaganda.

"I have been feeling a cognitive dissonance, more and more, between my beliefs and what we say on air," said Ovsyannikova. "The war was the point of no return, when it was simply impossible to stay silent."

On Monday, the network editor appeared behind a news anchor holding a sign that said: "NO WAR." Ovsyannikova told CNN on Wednesday that she was compelled to act by memories of airstrikes during Russia's conflict in Chechnya, where she lived as a young girl.

"I worry about Russian soldiers ... I think they really don't understand why they have to do this, why they [are] fighting," she told Amanpour.

On Tuesday, Ovsyannikova was found guilty by a district court in Moscow of organizing an "unauthorized public event." The "administrative offense" carries a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $280). A lawyer who had formerly been representing Ovsyannikova told CNN that the administrative charge was based solely on a video statement that she recorded prior to appearing with an anti-war poster on Channel One.

The Kremlin has described her actions as "hooliganism," a criminal offense in Russia.

Ovsyannikova told CNN that she initially planned to stand back from the cameras during her protest, but then realized she would need to be close to the news anchor to ensure that her poster was seen by viewers.

She was "afraid until the last minute," she added.

"I decided that I would be able to overcome the guard who stands in front of the studio, and stand behind the host. So I moved very quickly and I passed by the security and showed my poster," said Ovsyannikova.

In the video statement recorded before her public protest, Ovsyannikova blamed Putin for the war.

"What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country, and the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin," Ovsyannikova said.

"Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it," she said in the video. "It's a shame that I allowed to speak lies from the TV screens, ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people."

"I am ashamed that we kept silent in 2014, when all this was just beginning," she says, a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

1:15 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US Justice and Treasury Departments launch multilateral Russian oligarch task force

From CNN's Jamie Crawford

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met with counterparts in Europe and Asia today to formally launch a multilateral task force that seeks to take action against the assets of Russian oligarchs.

The task force, which will draw upon the ministries of justice, home or finance in member jurisdiction, will work to “collect and share information to take concrete actions, including sanctions, asset freezing, civil and criminal asset seizure, and criminal prosecution,” the Justice Department said in a release Wednesday.

The effort will combine with the KleptoCapture task force, a new unit within the Justice Department announced by Garland earlier this month to help enforce sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs, targeting their yachts, jets, real estate and other assets.

That task force will include prosecutors and federal agents and experts in money laundering, tax enforcement and national security investigations from the FBI, the IRS, the US Marshals Service, and the US Postal Inspection Service, and will be run out of the office of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

12:36 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

ICC chief prosecutor to CNN: Reasonable grounds to believe war crimes committed in Russia-Ukraine conflict

From CNN's Andrew Carey

In an exclusive interview in Lviv, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has come to Ukraine because he has reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been committed in the conflict between Russia and its southern neighbor. 

“The law is clear on this. It is a crime to intentionally target civilians. It is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects. Now, of course, there has to be further investigation. Were those civilian objects being used to launch attacks that make them a legitimate target? But even then, there is no license to use cluster bombs or use disproportionate attacks in concentrated civilian areas. There’s a duty of distinction,” Karim Khan said.   

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, there have been numerous incidents of residential buildings being hit by Russian rockets and artillery fire. Among the most deadly was a strike on the city of Chernihiv when Russian fire hit an apartment complex around midday on March 4. Video geolocated by CNN shows at least five explosions during the attack. Emergency services said they had pulled 33 bodies from the rubble of damaged buildings by the early evening. Regional authorities said there were no military facilities nearby, though Russia insists it does not deliberately target civilians. 

In his CNN interview, Khan also said that indictments could be served on anyone regardless of military rank or civilian role.  

“There’s no immunity for any official position … [If] you’re a foot soldier in a civilian area in urban warfare, you don’t have a license to rape or attack children or terrorize. And if you’re a field commander or if you’re a battlefield commander doing aerial strikes, or targeting decisions or you’re a civilian superior, under the Rome statute, there is responsibility,” Khan said. 

More background: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last Thursday that actions committed by Russia against the Ukrainian people constitute war crimes, marking the first time a senior US official has directly accused Moscow of war crimes since last month's attack on Ukraine began.

Other Biden administration officials have not gone as far as to declare outright that Russia has committed war crimes — violations of international laws of armed conflict — and instead have pointed to "credible reports" that such crimes have been carried out and their support for investigations into Moscow's actions.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday referenced "atrocities" committed by the Russians and said that the UN should investigate the allegations of Russian war crimes.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Sonnet Swire and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post. 

12:34 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Russia's Patriarch Kirill discusses Ukraine conflict with Pope Francis, according to the Moscow church

From CNN staff

Russia’s Patriarch Kirill discussed the situation in Ukraine with Pope Francis on Wednesday, the Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement.

“A detailed discussion of the situation in Ukraine took place. Particular attention was paid to the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis and the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church to overcome its consequences. The parties stressed the exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing their hope for the soonest achievement of a just peace,” the statement read.

“Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill also discussed a number of issues of bilateral cooperation,” the statement concludes.

Some context: The Pope has made appeals for peace during the war, met with Moscow’s ambassador to the Vatican at the Russian embassy, and will hold an extraordinary prayer called a “consecration” for Russia and Ukraine next week.

Patriarch Kirill said last week that the conflict is an extension of a fundamental culture clash between the wider Russian world and Western liberal values, exemplified by expressions of gay pride. Experts say that Kirill's comments offer important insights into Putin's larger spiritual vision of a return to a Russian Empire, in which the Orthodox religion plays a pivotal role.

Three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Kirill said in a speech: "We must not let dark and hostile external forces laugh at us, we must do everything to maintain peace between our peoples and at the same time protect our common historical fatherland from all outside actions that can destroy this unity."

2:29 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US "looking very hard" at whether Russia is targeting journalists in Ukraine, secretary of state says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova works with Fox journalist Trey Yingst and cameraperson Pierre Zakrzewski in this undated photo taken in Ukraine.
Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova works with Fox journalist Trey Yingst and cameraperson Pierre Zakrzewski in this undated photo taken in Ukraine. (Fox News//Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is “looking very hard” at whether Russia is intentionally targeting journalists in Ukraine.

At least three journalists have been killed covering the war in Ukraine in the past several days — Pierre Zakrzewski, Oleksandra Kuvshynova and Brent Renaud – and at least two have been severely injured.

“We are looking very hard at the targeting that the Russian forces are doing, including whether they are deliberately, intentionally targeting civilians, journalists or anyone else,” he said in an interview with NPR that aired Wednedsday.

“This is something we're looking hard at, we're documenting. Others are looking at this. The deliberate targeting of civilians, journalists and others would constitute a war crime,” he said.

American journalist Brent Renaud.
American journalist Brent Renaud. (Courtesy Lisa Abitbol/Nieman Foundation)

Blinken said that the world is “seeing journalists in the crossfire, people doing their jobs to bring the truth to the world."

“We've seen a Fox team that has had two of its members killed, one injured — someone I know very well,” Blinken said. “This is Ben Hall. He's someone who travels with me when I travel around the world. Someone I have great, great affection for, who's a tremendous reporter who asks me a lot of tough questions every place we go.”

“I'm very much hoping and praying that he'll be back on the job as soon as possible. But meanwhile, two of his colleagues lost their lives. And another very prominent filmmaker lost his life just the other day,” Blinken said.

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: