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
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4:33 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US Senate unlikely to act on House-passed Russia energy import ban

From CNN's Manu Raju

Even though the US House passed a bill last week to impose a ban on Russian energy imports, Senate sources say it's unlikely their chamber will move on the measure.

That's because senators view the issue as essentially moot after US President Joe Biden took executive action to ban the imports.

Moreover, Sen. Joe Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, has contended that the House bill is weaker than the executive action — so they see little reason to move on a measure viewed as falling short of the current policy.

The Senate, however, will move quickly — likely next week — to pass the House's bill that would nix Russia's and Belarus' normal trade status with the United States. That measure passed the House overwhelmingly Thursday afternoon. 

7:58 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US citizen killed in Ukraine identified as James Whitney Hill, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister says

From Frederick Pleitgen and Andrew Carey in Lviv

James Whitney Hill is seen in this March 7, Facebook photo.
James Whitney Hill is seen in this March 7, Facebook photo. (From James Whitney Hill)

The US citizen killed in Chernihiv Thursday has been identified as James Whitney Hill, born June 27, 1954, in Minnesota.

The name was provided to CNN by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister.

Hill was among several people killed when Russian artillery opened fire on civilians in the city, according to city officials.

Earlier today, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed a US citizen had died in Ukraine but he said he had no additional details to share.

4:13 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US House passes bill that suspends normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus 

From CNN's Clare Foran and Kristin Wilson

The US House just passed a bill that suspends normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus — the latest effort by US lawmakers to inflict economic pain on Russia for its unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine

The final vote was 424-8 with strong bipartisan support for the legislation, which will next head to the Senate.

Republicans Chip Roy of Texas, Tom Massie of Kentucky, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin voted against the bill. 

It was introduced by House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, along with the panel's ranking GOP member, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas.

Neal and Brady said in a joint statement on Thursday, "We must do all we can to hold Putin accountable for senselessly attacking the Ukrainian people and undermining global stability. The suspension of normal trade relations is an essential part of our effort to restore peace, save lives, and defend democracy."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in floor remarks Thursday morning that he would work quickly to move the bill through the Senate once it passed in the House and that he expected the legislation would have "broad bipartisan support."

"Both parties remain united in sending Putin a clear message: His inhumane violence against the Ukrainian people will come at a crippling price and today's step by the House is another way we're making that come true," Schumer said. 

More context: Approval of the legislation by the House comes one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an emotional appeal in a virtual address to Congress for increased US assistance as the country faces deadly ongoing attacks from Russia.

US President Joe Biden announced last week that the US, along with the G7 and European Union, would call for revoking "most favored nation" status for Russia, referred to as permanent normal trade relations in the US. The status means two nations have agreed to trade under the best possible terms, which can include lower tariffs and fewer barriers to trade, Biden said. Such a move requires approval from Congress.

4:46 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Thick smoke over Kharkiv after shelling hits giant market

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Andrew Carey in Lviv

Firefighters battle a blaze at Barabashovo market after shelling in Kharkiv on March 17.
Firefighters battle a blaze at Barabashovo market after shelling in Kharkiv on March 17. (Reuters/Vitalii Hnidyi)

Russian shelling has hit Kharkiv’s giant Barabashova market, setting off a series of fires, according to officials in the eastern Ukrainian city.

Videos show huge plumes of black smoke emanating from several parts of the market, suggesting the complex suffered multiple strikes.

Emergency services say 70 people are involved in efforts to extinguish the fires, which spread to several nearby houses.

One emergency responder tackling the blazes was killed, the city mayor announced. 

The market — billed as one of the largest in the world — covers an area of 300,000 square meters, according to a tweet by Ukraine’s foreign ministry.

3:14 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Analysis: Putin's incendiary Stalinesque speech Wednesday night is a sign things aren't going to plan

Analysis from CNN's Angela Dewan

Western leaders and security agencies are spending huge amounts of resources on getting into Russian President Vladimir Putin's head. It's a futile exercise — at times when the West has thought Russia's war in Ukraine might be losing steam, Putin has doubled down, sending his forces to bomb maternity hospitals and shelters harboring children.

Now, an apparent pause in the advancement of Russian troops has the West guessing: Has Russia's war effort stalled? Or is it a tactical regrouping?

Either way, an incendiary Stalinesque speech on Wednesday night in which Putin called Russians opposing the war "traitors" marked a change in tone and a sign that not all is going to plan, experts said. Perhaps more worrying, many observers saw it as a sign that the head of the Russian state, facing setback in Ukraine, would take a vengeful turn at home and crack down more forcefully than ever on any sign of dissent.

While some Russians support the war, many others are protesting against it in the streets, fully aware they will be rounded up by heavily armed police even for the most peaceful of demonstrations. The Russian state has made mass protests illegal, and now, insulting the military is against the law. Still, people show up in groups, while others demonstrate entirely alone. Even lone protesters have been detained, social media videos have shown.

journalist who jumped on camera on a state-controlled news program, holding an anti-war sign, has become a cause celebré for free speech in Russia. A renowned ballerina has left the Bolshoi. Russian prisoners of war are calling Putin out for using propaganda to justify the war.

Putin, who has enjoyed consistently high ratings in Russia, is now turning to a strategy of intimidation to keep Russians on side, experts said. His speech Wednesday hinted darkly that those Russians who do not side with him were, in essence, traitors — chilling words in a country where mass political repressions and the Gulag system are still within living memory.

Read the full analysis here.

3:07 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Ukrainian officials slam Israel for refugee policy

From CNN’s Hadas Gold in Jerusalem

Ukrainian officials are blasting Israel's policy on Ukrainian refugees, saying they are "denying shelter" to people in danger because of refugee quotas.

"Russia is committing genocide of Ukrainians, killing thousands of civilians, while the Israeli Government inspects each and every refugee from Ukraine with a fine-toothed comb," the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel posted in a statement on Facebook. "We urge those who takes decision to cancel policy of quotas and other artificial obstacles towards women and children fleeing war-torn Ukraine. 

Israeli officials have defended their policy. Israeli Population and Immigration Authority Director Tomer Moskowitz told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper "[T]he world is full of trouble. Terrible things happen all the time, and I’m not being cynical. But does that mean that we have to take in people indiscriminately? I am the guard at the country’s gate and I can’t open it to everyone.”

Under Israel's "Law of Return," any Jew, or anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent, is eligible for Israeli citizenship along with their families. There is no limit to the number of Ukrainians who can enter under the "Law of Return," and Israeli officials say they are preparing for a wave of up to 100,000 Ukrainian and Russian citizens eligible to enter the country.

Israeli citizens are also eligible to apply for entry permits for their non-Jewish Ukrainian family members with no quota. 

Aside from those two groups, Israel has instituted a 5,000 person quota of Ukrainians without family connection but must apply for permission first.  

Refugee family members of Israeli citizens and those with no connections will initially be issued three-month tourist visas, which may be changed to work permits if the war lasts longer. 

The Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told CNN that on Wednesday night 12 Ukrainian citizens were turned away at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport and sent back to Poland for not having entry permits.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote in a Facebook post that “The recent decisions of the Israeli leadership aimed at restricting the admission of Ukrainians, to put it mildly, are surprising. We consider the suspension of visa-free travel and the introduction of the system of electronic permits of the [Interior Ministry] to enter Israel to be an unfriendly step for the citizens of Ukraine, which needs to be corrected immediately.”

The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel wrote on Facebook that they've asked Israeli authorities to allow Ukrainians with Israeli relatives to invite them in without prior approval, and an alternate mechanism that will allow Ukrainians with friends in Israel who can host them to enter as well.

"We hope that the government, whose nation experienced the refugee life throughout its existence, will embrace those, who are saving their own lives and lives of their children - looking for a temporary shelter from horrors of war," the embassy wrote. 

3:03 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Oil spikes back above $100 as concerns grow over potential length of war affecting energy supplies

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Oil prices surged on Thursday back above $100 a barrel on renewed concerns about the war in Ukraine disrupting Russia’s energy supplies.

After sinking below $94 a barrel earlier this week, US crude soared 8% to $102.65 a barrel in recent trading. Brent crude spiked 9% to $107 a barrel. 

The swift rebound in oil prices will be watched closely by leaders in Washington and Wall Street because high energy prices threaten to exacerbate inflation and slow down the economy.

Energy traders blamed Thursday’s spike on growing pessimism about a resolution between Russia and Ukraine being reached in the near term.

“The mood has darkened a little bit,” said Robert Yawger, vice president of energy futures at Mizuho Securities. “It sounds like this is going to be a dragged-out situation.”

The recent drop in oil prices was driven in part by hopes for a potential ceasefire. The longer the war goes on, the bigger the threat to Russia’s oil flows.

“Given Putin's actions in recent times, we shouldn't get our hopes up,” said Matt Smith, lead oil analyst of the Americas at Kpler.

The International Energy Agency warned Wednesday that a staggering 30% of Russia’s oil production could be knocked offline within weeks, exposing the world economy to a potential supply crisis.

"The implications of a potential loss of Russian oil exports to global markets cannot be understated," the IEA said in its monthly report. 

Despite Thursday’s rebound, oil prices remain well below their recent peaks. US crude spiked to a nearly 14-year high of $130.50 a barrel on March 6, while Brent hit nearly $140 a barrel. 

Gasoline prices are only inching lower, drawing criticism of the energy industry from the White House. The national average for regular gas dipped to $4.29 a gallon on Thursday, according to AAA. That’s down by two pennies from Wednesday and four pennies from the record high of $4.33. 

3:29 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

EU official calls on Russia to allow unimpeded access for humanitarian aid

From CNN's James Frater and Natasha Bertrand in Brussels

Russian forces in Ukraine should respect international humanitarian law, protect civilians and refrain from damaging and destroying civilian infrastructure, said Janez Lenarčič, European commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management. 

“Access has been in many places, sporadic at best or non-existent,” and Russia is “not providing for unimpeded access for humanitarian supplies and humanitarian workers to people in need," Lenarčič said in a statement to journalists on Thursday.

Aid agencies delivering aid from the EU face “difficulties reaching some of the besieged cities," he said, adding that they have "difficulties reaching the population, which is trapped in the zones of active conflict.”

He blamed the Russian forces for this, saying they "are not living up to their international legal obligation.”

Speaking at the European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) in Brussels, where the EU coordinates the collation and delivery of humanitarian aid from across all 27 EU countries, the commissioner said, providing aid to Ukraine was “the largest ever civil protection operation” since EU’s disaster response mechanism was established in 2001. 

“This aggression has caused a humanitarian disaster of proportions that we have not seen since World War II. The needs of people in Ukraine are enormous,” he said.

The ERCC, which operates 24 hours a day, is currently coordinating “food, medicines, medical equipment, ambulances, mobile hospitals, firefighting equipment, firefighting trucks, fuel” for delivery to Ukraine, he added.

The commissioner said that he expects the number of refugees to keep growing if the invasion continues.

“We now have one million refugees per week. So if this goes on 10 more weeks, yes, we could reach the figure of 15 million people,” he said.

2:51 p.m. ET, March 17, 2022

US Senate Democrats discussing legislation to target American companies' credits for paying taxes in Russia

From CNN's Manu Raju

US Senate Democrats are drafting a plan to go after the credits American companies enjoy for the taxes they pay in Russia.

Current law allows US companies to obtain a credit for their taxes paid overseas. There are four countries where companies don't enjoy the credit — Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan.

Democrats are proposing adding Russia to the list.

“Senate Democrats are exploring legislation to add Russia to existing laws that already deny foreign tax credits for taxes paid to North Korea and Syria. American companies that continue to do business in Russia should not receive US tax benefits that offset taxes paid to Putin’s regime," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden said in a statement.

The two attacked Koch industries over the issue, after the conglomerate run by billionaire Charles Koch, said it's planning to stay in Russia even as hundreds of Western companies have scaled back operations there following the invasion of Ukraine.

“Koch Industries is shamefully continuing to do business in Putin’s Russia and putting their profits ahead of defending democracy," the two Democrats said. "The noxious stench of Trump still hangs over Koch Industries."

In an on-camera interview Thursday, Wyden said: "I'm also talking to my colleagues about taking away tax breaks where, in effect, American taxpayers are subsidizing Russian war machine."