March 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico-O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
49 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
1:44 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US President Biden calls Putin a "murderous dictator, pure thug" 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

US President Joe Biden speaks during the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon on March 17 in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden speaks during the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon on March 17 in Washington, DC. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "pure thug" while speaking at a St. Patrick's Day event Thursday.

At the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill, Biden said Putin is a “murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.” 

Biden also said Ireland has “stepped up” in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine. He said the relationship between Ireland and the United States was “taking on an even more intense and cooperative forum than it ever has because of Ireland's neutrality.” 

“Putin is paying a big price for his aggression, and they are part of the reason the cost is going so high,” Biden said.  

In their support for sanctions against Russia and for Ukraine, Biden said Ireland was also “paying a big price” for a contribution he called “not minor.” 

“Everybody talks about how Germany have stepped up and changed their notions about being more leaning forward, and they have,” Biden said, “and so has Ireland. A neutral country, Ireland has stepped up, and they’re taking the hit for what they're doing.”  

The President also referenced his upcoming call with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday, joking that Xi “remembers everything I’ve said.” 

“All kidding aside,” Biden continued, “he does not believe in democracy can be sustained in the 21st century.” 

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin was scheduled to attend the event, but was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Wednesday. Biden, who had just attended a virtual meeting with Martin before heading to Capitol Hill, said the Taoiseach was “really sorry he can’t be here” and that he “feels well” despite the diagnosis. 

1:18 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

"There is no rescue operation" to help survivors of Mariupol theater attack, according to former official

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Andrew Carey in Lviv

Aftermath of a damaged theater where hundreds of civilians were sheltering on March 16 in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Aftermath of a damaged theater where hundreds of civilians were sheltering on March 16 in Mariupol, Ukraine. (EyePress News/Reuters)

Attempts to pull survivors out of the rubble of a destroyed theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, are being hindered by the complete breakdown of social services in the city and the dangers of further Russian attacks, according to the former head of the Donetsk regional administration.

“People are doing everything themselves. My friends went to help, but due to constant shelling, it was not safe. People are clearing away the rubble themselves. There is no rescue operation, because all the services that are supposed to rescue people, to treat them, to bury them, these services no longer exist," Sergiy Taruta told Ukrainian television.

Few reports on rescue efforts have emerged since the theater, which was being used as a shelter, was attacked early Wednesday evening.

Taruta said it was his understanding there were about 1,300 people sheltering in the theatre, of whom 130 people had been rescued so far, according to the latest information he had.

Earlier, Taruta said on Facebook that the building’s bomb shelter had remained intact.

12:34 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

UK says Ukrainian refugees in England will be able to access NHS health care, education and other benefits

From CNN’s Lauren Kent and Pierre Meilhan

All Ukrainian refugees arriving in England will be able to access National Health Service health care for free, the Department of Health and Social Care said Thursday.

Any treatment that took place since the start of the Russian invasion will be also covered for Ukrainians who fled their country to the United Kingdom. 

“As part of the UK’s offer to those Ukrainians coming to the UK, we have committed to providing full access to a range of public services, including doctors, schools and full local authority support,” the department said in a statement.

The measures introduced by the UK also cover education, benefits and the right to work, according to Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“The people of Ukraine are facing unimaginable suffering and trauma at the hands of Putin’s barbaric regime. We are providing a safe haven for some of those people and as soon as they arrive in England they will be able to access the support they need, including healthcare, education, benefits and the right to work – helping to provide some stability at a difficult time,” Patel said 

“We have acted swiftly to provide substantial humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our international partners. Those in need of care will be treated by our incredible NHS staff as we welcome them to this country,” Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said.

1:52 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Turkish official claims a Putin-Zelensky meeting is possible "if an agreement is achieved"

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, left, and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba meet in Lviv on March 17.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, left, and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba meet in Lviv on March 17. (EyePress News/Reuters)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Lviv on Thursday, one day after his visit to Moscow where he met Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. 

In taped remarks, Çavuşoğlu said: “If an agreement is achieved about the issues that we see a rapprochement about, there is a possibility that two leaders can come together," referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Çavuşoğlu also said his hopes for a ceasefire increased after meeting with both parties, although “it is hard to talk about it when it comes to war.”

He said Ukraine had suggested Turkey and Germany as guarantor countries in a proposed “collective security agreement."

“In my talks yesterday in Moscow, I saw that the Russian Federation did not have an objection to this and that they could accept such a proposal,” Çavuşoğlu said. He stressed an agreement has to be acceptable for both sides and their people. 

Çavuşoğlu also said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to Putin on Thursday. 

According to a statement by Turkey's Directorate of Communications, “Erdoğan reiterated his offer to host Putin and Zelensky in Istanbul or Ankara” during his phone conversation with Putin, saying “consensus on some issues may require talks at leadership level.”

The Turkish president also stressed the need of “assessing the humanitarian situation on ground” and of “humanitarian corridors to operate effectively in both directions.”

11:49 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Defense minister: Slovakia willing to provide air defense systems to Ukraine, but needs "proper replacement"

From CNN's Michael Conte

Slovakian Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad' holds a joint press conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on March 17.
Slovakian Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad' holds a joint press conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on March 17. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images)

Slovakian Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad’ said Slovakia is willing to provide S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine, and they are in discussions with the US and other allies on obtaining a “proper replacement, or… a capability guaranteed for a certain period of time.”

“We’re willing to do so immediately when we have a proper replacement,” Nad’ said at a joint news conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “The only strategic air defense system that we have in Slovakia is S-300 system. So what would happen immediately when we decide to give it to Ukrainians is that we actually create a gap, a security gap in NATO.”

Austin said that the US is continuing to work with allies on the issue, but he did not have any announcements to make related to providing Ukraine with the S-300 system.

CNN reported yesterday that Slovakia has preliminarily agreed to provide Ukraine with the key Soviet-era air defense system to help defend against Russian airstrikes, according to three sources familiar with the matter, but the US and NATO are still grappling with how to backfill that country’s own defensive capabilities and the transfer is not yet assured. According to two of the sources, Slovakia, one of three NATO allies that have the defense systems in question, wants assurances that the systems will be replaced immediately.

The push to get more S-300s into the hands of the Ukrainians comes as Congress has been pressing the Biden administration to help Ukraine obtain the air defense system. Lawmakers in both parties, who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a speech Wednesday morning, have urged the US needed to do more to help Ukraine obtain the weapons it’s seeking, particularly after the administration opposed a plan last week to provide Ukraine with Polish MiG-29 jets.

11:23 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

21 killed in shelling near Kharkiv, prosecutor’s office says

From Olya Voitovych and Andrew Carey in Lviv

At least 21 people have been killed and another 25 were wounded when Russian forces shelled the town of Merefa, about 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) southwest of Kharkiv, according to the regional prosecutor’s office.

The attack happened at 3:30 a.m. local time and destroyed a school and an arts club, the prosecutor’s office said. Ten of those injured are in a serious condition.

Civilian targets in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, have been hit by shelling from Russia since the invasion began last month.

12:37 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US defense secretary: If Russian attacks are targeting civilians in Ukraine, "that is a crime"

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Slovakian Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad' walk past a military honor guard in Bratislava on March 17.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Slovakian Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad' walk past a military honor guard in Bratislava on March 17. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stopped short of saying Russia was outright committing war crimes in a news conference with his Slovakian counterpart on Thursday.

Austin said recent “attacks” in Ukraine “appear to be focused directly on civilians,” and “if you attack civilians, purposely target civilians… that is a crime.”

Austin said Russia’s actions in Ukraine are “under review” by the US State Department.

“There’s a process that we’ll go through to review all of this, but we call upon Mr. Putin to cease these horrible actions; again, these are civilians not combatants and so they should not be targeted,” Austin said.

President Joe Biden yesterday called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" in the harshest condemnation of Putin's actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago.

Read more about war crimes and how Putin could be prosecuted here.

11:16 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Russian forces fired cluster munitions in Mykolaiv on 3 separate dates, Human Rights Watch says 

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

Russian forces attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv with cluster munition rockets in three separate attacks spanning a week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Thursday. 

According to the non-governmental organization, it interviewed six witnesses and verified dozens of social media footage, residential areas were hit on March 7, 11, and 13.

The images show four dead bodies, HRW said, and remnants of the weapons used including Uragan and Smerch cluster munition rockets — stockpiled by both Russia and Ukraine — as well as remnants and unexploded 9N210 fragmentation submunitions. The attacks “might amount to war crimes,” HRW said.  

Due to the widespread and indiscriminate damage they cause, cluster munitions are banned under international law. Neither Russia nor Ukraine are state parties to the treaties, however.

"Cluster munitions pose an immediate threat to civilians during conflict by randomly scattering submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. They continue to pose a threat post-conflict by leaving remnants, including submunitions that fail to explode upon impact becoming de facto landmines," according to HRW.

The report details civilian accounts which describe the alleged attacks. HRW says they geolocated one image shared by a witness that places an attack in the Inhulsky neighborhood on March 11 around 1.7 kilometers (about 1 mile) from a factory which produces gas-turbines for defense technology and vessels. 

“The factory may have been identified as a potential military target, but the significant distance between the factory and the civilian objects damaged also suggests the attacks were indiscriminate,” they report.

11:17 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US won't close skies in Ukraine, defense secretary says: "No-fly zone means you're in a conflict with Russia"

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin again reiterated that the United States will not enforce closing the skies in Ukraine, because "a no-fly zone means you're in a conflict with Russia."

"From a US perspective, our President, President Biden, has been clear that we would not have US forces fighting in Ukraine. Having said that, we'll do everything within our power to support Ukraine in their efforts to defend their territory," Austin said in Bratislava, Slovakia, after meeting with his Slovakian counterpart.

"We've also stated enforcing a no-fly zone actually means that you're in combat, you're in a fight with Russia, and that's one of the things that we have said, that our President said we weren't going to do, get in a fight with Russia," he said.

"So what this really means is that in order to control the skies, you have to shut down the air defenses there on the ground. And some of those air defense systems are in Russia and so, again, there's no easy or simple way to do this. There's no such thing as a no-fly zone light. A no-fly zone means you're in a conflict with Russia. So from a US perspective, we're, again, our position remains that we're not going to do that," he continued.

Austin added that Ukrainian forces have successfully utilized air defense systems to deter attacks from Russia.

"So our goal has been to continue to reinforce those things that have worked for the Ukrainian forces," he said, adding the US is talking to allies to provide support.

In his address to the US Congress yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude to Biden for aid the US has delivered so far, but he argued that more assistance is desperately needed. Zelensky specifically reiterated calls for the US to help enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine to protect civilians.

Read more about NATO and what a no-fly zone means here.