March 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Hafsa Khalil, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
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12:26 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

NATO alliance is "absolutely at risk" because of Putin’s war in Ukraine, officials say

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Barbara Starr

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has put the NATO alliance and its member nations “absolutely at risk,” a Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) official told reporters on Wednesday, a month into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The official called Putin “reckless” and said he and his inner circle “don’t care about human life.” 

“From Russia, we realize that Putin and his close circle, they are absolutely reckless people. They don’t care about human life. They lie publicly to conceal their military operations. Putin has totally changed his speech toward the West, and he has a deep hatred of our societies, of our values, so we really assess that he is dangerous, and that the alliance is absolutely at risk,” the official said on Wednesday.

SHAPE is the headquarters of the NATO alliance military operations in Europe. It is located in Brussels, Belgium. Two SHAPE officials briefed reporters on the NATO military posture and how they are responding to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The briefing comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels to meet with NATO allied countries’ leaders as the Ukraine crisis continues.

The war has created a “new reality” for NATO allies, another SHAPE official said, echoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s words at a news conference earlier Wednesday.

“You just listened to the SecGen’s presser, and he said it’s a new reality and we must reset our defense and our deterrence posture,” the second SHAPE official said. “This is a permanent and profound change in the European security environment, and SecGen has said the same thing.”

The officials said it is too early to predict how NATO will permanently shift its military force posture across Europe because of Putin’s actions, but they spoke to how the posture has changed so far to reinforce the eastern flank, where NATO allied countries border Ukraine, and to ensure they are prepared for any scenario the war in Ukraine might cause for NATO countries.

Because the NATO Response Force was activated for the first time in NATO’s history, “40,000 troops” in NATO allied countries along the eastern flank are now working for the “collective security, collective defense,” of all NATO countries, not just for their own nations. There are eight battle groups, one in each eastern flank country, that are part of this NATO Response Force activation, the second SHAPE official said. 

This is a “tenfold increase” in what was there before the invasion of Ukraine, the official added.

“In the land domain, in land forces, there are now 40,000 troops in those eight battle groups, which are on the one in each country along the eastern flank, that is a tenfold increase on what was there prior to the invasion by Russia,” the second SHAPE official said.

In the air, there are an “additional 100 plus airplanes,” the official said. 

“We always do what we call air policing,” the official said, but now after the invasion started, they have eight aircraft flying to give the alliance “24/7 airborne presence on the eastern flank.”

In the waters around NATO allied countries, the alliance has “25 ships at any given time that are patrolling the waters providing 360 degree deterrence,” the official said.

“In addition to that, there’s normally about 150 ships from NATO nations additionally that are also cruising the waters and can flex back and forth under NATO command and control,” the official added. 

While it is too soon to tell what the permanent changes to NATO military force posture will be because of Putin’s invasion, the official said the current force posture “at a minimum” is a good “starting point” of what things could look like long-term. 

“We are preparing for the worst but doing everything that we can so that the worst does not happen,” the first official said.

 

12:55 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

G7 health ministers condemn attacks on health facilities in Ukraine

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is interviewed on Thursday, March 17, in Washington, DC.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is interviewed on Thursday, March 17, in Washington, DC. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

In a joint statement with G7 health ministers, US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on health facilities and health workers in Ukraine.

“Intentionally directing attacks at civilians and civilian infrastructure, including health care facilities and workers, violates International Humanitarian Law. Health must remain a priority, with health workers being protected so they can provide emergency care to save lives, and with health systems and facilities being protected so that they remain accessible to all who need them,” the health ministers said in the statement. 

The ministers warned that Ukraine’s health care system is under “significant strain” and said they are concerned about aid organizations being able to deliver medical aid to those in need. 

At least 12 people have been killed and 34 people have been injured in at least 43 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Liashko said medical workers in his country should be wearing body armor.

Liashko said six medics had been killed by Russian forces and 58 ambulances had been fired upon since the start of the war.

Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv contributed reporting to this post.

11:47 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Ukrainian ambassador urges UN to vote in support of resolution calling for cessation of hostilities

From CNN's Richard Roth and Kristina Sgueglia

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya addresses the United Nations General Assembly during a special session at the United Nations headquarters on March 23, in New York City.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya addresses the United Nations General Assembly during a special session at the United Nations headquarters on March 23, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya called on the General Assembly to vote in support of a resolution that calls in part for an immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation.

The resolution, which is non-binding, has been co-signed by nearly eight dozen other member countries, including the US. 

The resolution also deplores the dire humanitarian consequences since Russia's invasion and reaffirms the commitment to the sovereignty of Ukraine and its internationally recognized borders.

Tomorrow marks a month since the invasion, Kyslytsya said, one month since the lives of Ukrainians were split in “two parts” — a peaceful past and now one full of “war, suffering, death and destruction,” he told the General Assembly at a continuation of the UN emergency meeting.

"Thousands" of Ukrainians are dead, he said, and “they died because of Russia decided to attack — attack Ukraine, attack peace, attack all of us.”

At least 902 civilians have been killed and 1,459 injured since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Sunday.

“In a nutshell, it has already reached the level of humanitarian disaster,” he said.

He described citizens “starving to death” and “killed in their attempt to flee” and cities “razed to the ground," with neighboring countries at their limits in trying to support new refugees.

He said aligning with the resolution “will send a powerful message aimed on contributing to a breakthrough in humanitarian action on the ground.”

How Russia reacted at the UN: The Russian ambassador to the United Nations urged member countries in the General Assembly to block the Ukrainian-introduced humanitarian resolution that he said was submitted “against the backdrop of anti-Russian efforts or our western colleagues.”

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia will separately re-introduce a Russian-backed humanitarian based resolution in the Security Council for a vote.

“If our western colleagues at the security council were really concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground, then they have an opportunity to show this and vote for our humanitarian draft resolution at the security council,” he said during his speech.

Speeches are ongoing inside the General Assembly hall.

10:55 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Biden is on his way to Europe for a NATO summit. Here are the options the Pentagon gave him for more troops.

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Kaitlan Collins  

US President Joe Biden speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, on Wednesday, March 23.
US President Joe Biden speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, on Wednesday, March 23. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Ahead of US President Joe Biden's trip to Brussels for urgent talks with NATO allies, the Pentagon provided the White House with a series of options for potential additional US troops in eastern Europe, according to a US official. 

Biden could announce changes to the force posture following his meetings Thursday, though any announcement would depend on conversations with allies and is not finalized. 

NATO leaders are expected to agree to strengthen NATO’s posture, including by undertaking increases to NATO forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, stepping up cyber defenses and scaling up NATO exercises.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday the administration believes that right now “they have effective posture today for what’s necessary today,” but added that Biden and NATO allies will discuss “longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture on the eastern flank."  

The official said what options on forces turn into "deliverables" out of the summit remains to be seen because it requires conversation with the alliance, as well as individual countries where troops may be based. Elements of all of these options are because NATO partners are asking for troops, not the US is imposing them, the official added. 

The possibilities include:

  • The US could forward deploy more US troops either permanently or on a rotating basis, which could lead to more, and potentially larger, field exercises.
  • There could be a more structured rotational presence within the NATO force structure, possibly increasing US participation in NATO contingency forces.
  • The US could build a new traditional US military base somewhere in eastern flank. Broadly speaking this is the more "extreme" high-end option because of the huge long-term financial commitment to building and staffing.
10:11 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Use of chemical weapons by Russia would "totally change the nature of the conflict," NATO chief says

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 23.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 23. (Olivier Matthys/AP)

Any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be flat-out unacceptable and “totally change the nature of the conflict” in Ukraine, NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. 

Speaking ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels Thursday, the NATO chief warned that the use of chemical weapons would be a “blatant violation of international law and of far reaching consequences.”

Stoltenberg accused China of providing political support and of “spreading blatant lies and disinformation” and said Beijing’s role in the invasion would be addressed at the summit.

He said that China has questioned the right of independent nations to choose their own path, adding that the alliance is concerned that China could provide “material support for the Russian invasion.” 

Stoltenberg demanded that Belarus must also end its “complicity in Putin's invasion,” and warned decisions taken at the summit tomorrow will have “far reaching implications.”

10:30 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Moscow Stock Exchange will partially resume trading Thursday after being closed for nearly a month

From CNN’s Chris Liakos

A view of the Moscow's stock market building in downtown Moscow, Russia, on February 28.
A view of the Moscow's stock market building in downtown Moscow, Russia, on February 28. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

The Moscow Stock Exchange will partially reopen for trading in Russian stocks on Thursday, Russia’s Central Bank announced today.

The Central Bank of Russia said trading in 33 stocks will resume on March 24 between 9:50 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time. 

The Russian equities allowed to resume trading include big companies such as Gazprom, Lukoil, VTB Bank, Sberbank, Rusal and Rosneft.

The central bank said there will be a ban applied on short shelling for these shares. 

“The working hours of the Moscow Exchange for the following days will be announced later on the official website of the Bank of Russia,” it added.

The stock exchange has been closed for almost a month following a big sell-off due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Trading has been suspended since Feb. 28.

9:50 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

First deliveries of $800 million in new US military aid have been delivered to Ukraine

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

The first deliveries of the $800 million in new military aid that US President Joe Biden is sending to Ukraine have started to arrive in country, an administration official tells CNN.

Biden announced the new package last week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an impassioned plea to Congress for more help. 

The US will continue to move the rest of the $800 million into Ukraine as quickly as possible, the official said, given it includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and 100 armed drones, among other assistance. Both are seen as critical to Ukraine's defense. 

The US has nearly completed the delivery of most of the $200 million package Biden announced on March 12, including all of the Stinger anti-air systems and most of the Javelin anti-armor missiles. The remaining equipment from that package is expected to be delivered shortly, the official said, though they declined to offer an exact timeline.

9:37 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Melitopol mayor accuses Russians of seizing businesses in the city

From CNN's Tim Lister, Katerina Krebs and Julia Kesa

The mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol has accused occupying Russian forces of seizing businesses as living conditions for civilians deteriorate.

Mayor Ivan Fedorov was detained on March 11 but freed five days later as part of a prisoner exchange.

In comments on Wednesday, Fedorov said the "situation is difficult, because Russian soldiers have declared themselves as authorities but of course, they don't care about people and their problems, they only care about taking the money from the businessmen, seize their businesses."

"We estimate that 80% of Melitopol's population have trouble with food, medications, fuel supplies, and there is a big problem with the cash payments," Fedorov said.

The mayor said the city was sending requests to Russia every day to allow humanitarian aid to enter the city and people to evacuate. "So far, no reply," he said. 

He also said Russian forces were intimidating the population and had detained a number of journalists.

Three Melitopol-based journalists, along with a retired newspaper publisher and his family, were detained by Russian forces on Monday and held for several hours before being released, according to Ukraine’s national journalists’ union.  

The four – former publisher Mykhailo Kumok, editor Yevhenia Boryan, and reporters Yulia Olkhovska and Lyubov Chaika – are all associated with the newspaper Melitopolskie Vedomosti. 

9:24 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Nestle suspends brands in Russia, including KitKat and Nesquik

From CNN's Chris Liakos and Matt Egan

Food giant Nestle is suspending KitKat and Nesquik brands among others in Russia after criticism over the weekend by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over its ties to Russia.

“Going forward, we are suspending renowned Nestlé brands such as KitKat and Nesquik, among others. We have already halted non-essential imports and exports into and out of Russia, stopped all advertising, and suspended all capital investment in the country. Of course, we are fully complying with all international sanctions on Russia. While we do not expect to make a profit in the country or pay any related taxes for the foreseeable future in Russia, any profit will be donated to humanitarian relief organizations,” Nestle said in a statement.

Nestle said its activities in Russia will focus on providing essential food, such as infant food and medical/hospital nutrition and not on making a profit.

“This approach is in line with our purpose and values. It upholds the principle of ensuring the basic right to food,” Nestle said. 

Some background: Over the weekend Zelensky called out Nestle for its continued relationship with Russia. 

“'Good food. Good life.' This is the slogan of Nestlé. Your company that refuses to leave Russia,” Zelensky said Saturday during an address to the people of Switzerland. “Even now — when there are threats from Russia to other European countries. Not only to us. When there is even nuclear blackmail from Russia.” 

A Nestle spokesperson told CNN Wednesday, “We are focused on providing essential foods such as baby food and medical/hospital nutrition products. This means we will suspend the vast majority of our pre-war volume in Russia.”

The company said that is identifying solutions for its people and its factories in Russia. “We will continue to pay our people,” it said. 

It added that it will suspend the vast majority of categories, such as coffee and pet food.

Nestle announced on March 11 that it suspended exports of its products from Russia except for essential items like baby food. Nestlé also said it stopped importing Nespresso and other products into Russia, except for essential goods including baby food, cereal, tailored nutrition and therapeutic pet foods.