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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5:53 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russian-proposed draft resolution on the Ukraine humanitarian situation fails to pass in UN Security Council

From CNN’s Richard Roth and Laura Ly

A Russian-proposed draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine failed to pass in the United Nations Security Council Wednesday evening.

Two countries voted in favor, zero countries voted against, and 13 countries, including the United States, abstained from the vote. Nine votes in favor were required for the resolution to pass.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke ahead of the vote, stating that Russia was once again trying to use the Security Council to “provide cover for its brutal actions.”

“It really is unconscionable that Russia would have the audacity to put forward a resolution asking the international community to solve a human crisis that Russia alone created,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “Russia does not care about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, or the millions of lives and dreams the war has shattered. If they cared, they would stop fighting.”

The US ambassador added that Russia’s resolution “makes no mention of its role as the sole cause of this crisis. And our vote [of abstention] will show that we will play no part in that.”

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia also spoke ahead of the vote Wednesday evening, claiming that their draft resolution was “analogous to other draft humanitarian resolutions.”

7:30 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Top Estonian official says Russia must face "full defeat" in Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Ground personnel unload weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, sent by the US military at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv on January 25. Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonatan Vseviov says partner nations must continue to supply Ukrainian military with weaponry.
Ground personnel unload weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, sent by the US military at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv on January 25. Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonatan Vseviov says partner nations must continue to supply Ukrainian military with weaponry. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A top Estonian official on Wednesday called on the international community to do more to ensure a “full defeat” of Russia in Ukraine, saying that “anything short” of that “would be destabilizing and escalatory.”

“Frankly, I cannot see a way for the Russians to really win on the battlefield in the classical sense,” Secretary General of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonatan Vseviov said in an interview with CNN in Washington, DC, ahead of the NATO Leaders Summit Thursday.

“The question is whether we will be able to actually defeat this aggression,” he said. “If Putin comes away from this aggression with some gains, then he's likely to attempt this again -- against Ukraine, against others, he's likely to move ahead. So he needs to be absolutely defeated.”

Vseviov also said NATO must prepare for the “new era” once the active phase of the war is over, calling for the military alliance to “build up military muscle in the east” to deny any future aggression.

He spoke of the need for NATO to make decisions about its defense posture for the “long haul,” telling CNN that such discussions will take place this week but he expects major decisions will not be made until the NATO Summit in June, noting that such decisions require detailed military planning.

“It's clear that we cannot just continue with NATO with business as usual, with the same approach to defense and deterrence, NATO's relations to Russia that we’ve had since the annexation of Crimea,” Vseviov said. 

He said the alliance cannot take the risk that Russia “will miscalculate regarding collective defense,” so a “small, tripwire force -- that international force that the Allies have had, for instance, in the Baltic states, is clearly no longer sufficient.”

Vseviov, a former Estonian ambassador to the US, met with key officials at the White House, Defense and State Department during his trip to Washington.

He said he could not predict how long the war will last, but said he believes the Ukrainian military will be able to hold on “for a long time,” but partner nations must continue to supply them with weaponry as the war wages on.

“The balance of military power clearly favors the aggressor, so we need to help the Ukrainians to hold on and do whatever is necessary to provide them with the relevant equipment and also humanitarian assistance,” Vseviov said, noting that it’s likely that “the level of brutality” unleashed by Russian forces against the civilian population “will go up dramatically” as the conflict continues. 

Vseviov expressed skepticism about any diplomatic solutions proposed by Moscow.

“I think talk of this potential breakthrough in negotiations is a Russian game of smoke and mirrors to trap us or our to dissuade us -- it's a diplomatic trap to dissuade us from additional sanctions and additional military assistance,” Vseviov said. 

“I will not believe any deal before I see it actually implemented on the ground. I think the Russian strategy has not changed. It is still to destroy Ukraine and the idea of a sovereign Ukraine and then move on to fundamentally alter European security architecture,” he added.

6:19 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

South America’s biggest exporters are feeling the squeeze from international sanctions against Russia

From CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon

Bananas are cleaned and sorted by workers in a water basin at the La Lucha estate of the Agricultural Association of Banana Producers in El Oro, Ecuador.
Bananas are cleaned and sorted by workers in a water basin at the La Lucha estate of the Agricultural Association of Banana Producers in El Oro, Ecuador. (David Diaz/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Some of South America’s biggest exporters are taking a hit as the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to disrupt trade from the region.

Now Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, is facing billions of dollars in losses.

On March 18, a group of 13 national organizations involved in Ecuador’s banana trade published a joint statement warning that more than 20,000 tons of the fruit were not being exported every week as result of the conflict.

The country exports around 22% of its banana exports to Russia according to the group.

More than 95% of the bananas consumed in Russia come from Ecuador, generating $2 billion every year, according to Pulso Bananero, an independent banana consultancy in Ecuador.

It’s not just Ecuador’s trade with Russian that has been disrupted – Ukraine also accounts for 3% of Ecuador’s bananas exports.

While the country’s banana exporters have been able to divert some of their product to other markets, fruit that was not exported had to be thrown away, the statement warned. Also, because of their short shelf life, bananas are exported – and paid for – on a weekly basis. Industry experts say the long-term outlook for the industry is bleak.

“The social impact is already being felt because the trade cycle is very fast; if you don’t export this week, you don’t get paid this week,” said Raul Villacres, a former executive director of the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador.

Approximately a quarter of Ecuador’s banana workforce -- roughly 50,000 people – works on exports allocated for eastern European markets, including Russia, according to Villacres.

In Colombia, the flower industry is suffering. Producers there say they haven't been paid by Russian customers for past deliveries due to the SWIFT sanctions.

“We were lucky that most of the deliveries for the most important flower day of the year in Russia – Women’s Day, on March 8 – were dispatched before the conflict began, but now it’s the payment from Russia that are being delayed,” Augusto Solano, the president of the Colombia Association of Flower Producers ASOCOLFLORES, told CNN.

Flowers are more difficult to place on in alternative markets than bananas because they are produced specifically to accommodate specific customers' taste, Solano said.

Russian flower buyers, for example, prefer enormous, expensive roses that are purchased by luxury clientele, many of whom are likely to have been affected by US and European sanctions.

According to ASOCOLFLORES, flower exports to Russia from Colombia are worth around $25 million annually, accounting for about 2-3% of ASOCOLFLORES’ revenue.

“Because of the way the flower market works, we have producers who specialize in the Russian markets and on flowers destined for Russia,” Solano said. "For them, this is a tragedy, we are talking of 20-30% of their annual exports gone.”

South America’s meat trade has also been disrupted because of the war, with Brazil’s poultry exporters likely to soon feel the crunch. In 2021, Russia was the 10th largest customer of Brazilian chicken, purchasing more than 100,000 tons, and it has only recently opened its market to Brazilian pork. While it is too early to analyze data of the war's impact over the last month, the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein – representing producers and exporters of chicken and pork– said the conflict has already created a challenge due to the increased costs of maize from Ukraine, which is used as chicken and pork feed.

Read more about this here:

5:36 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

NATO’s thoughts turn to chemical weapons on the eve of extraordinary summit

From CNN’s Luke McGee

The day before NATO’S extraordinary summit takes place in Brussels, multiple sources have told CNN that a significant amount of time on Thursday will be spent discussing how the alliance should respond if Vladimir Putin uses chemical or biological weapons against Ukrainian citizens.

Multiple officials, who spoke on the condition of total anonymity, agreed that while the official NATO position that it will not get directly involved in this war will remain, chemical weapons could be a game changer as such an escalation would likely prompt the public in NATO nations to demand action.

Sources said that the alliance was sensitive to public thinking, and while it is likely that NATO will not issue redlines to Russia this week in terms of a response, we will likely see deliberate posturing from NATO, indicating its preparedness for chemical attacks.

That could mean a strengthening of the rapid deployment teams and special units that NATO already has in place to handle such threats. Such tools at NATO’s disposal have not previously been used to help a country outside of the alliance, but sources said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was prompting unprecedented conversations about how best NATO can support countries that are not members.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Wednesday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that President Biden will “consult on potential contingencies” surrounding the use of chemical or biological weapons, along with “how to deal with the rhetoric and the commentary coming out of Russia on this whole question of the potential use of nuclear weapons.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the alliance would provide Ukrainians with protective kit, similar to the response from Western countries after Bashar-al Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in Syria.

Three NATO allies – France, the UK and the US – launched airstrikes against locations associated with Assad’s alleged April 2018 chemical attacks. Multiple Syrian activist groups documented the damage to Syrian civilians. The Syrian government denied it was responsible, and the Russian government said the attack was a "hoax."

Officials told CNN that sending this combined message of preparedness to Russia along with the ambiguity of precisely what consequences might befall should hopefully deter Putin from committing a war crime that provided him few gains – even if only to defend himself from possible legal action in the future.

5:57 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Ukrainians have pushed Russian forces back to the east of Kyiv, US official says

From CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb

Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 23.
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 23. (Atef Safadi/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces back on the frontlines east of Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters Wednesday.

Russian forces are about 55 kilometers (roughly 34 miles) away from Kyiv’s city center to the east, an increase of between 25 and 35 kilometers (roughly 15 to 22 miles) as compared to the same location yesterday, the official said.

To the northwest of Kyiv’s city center, Russian forces are “digging in, and they are establishing defensive positions,” the official said. They have not gotten any closer to Kyiv’s city center along this line, the official added. They remain 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) away from Kyiv’s city center to the northwest.

At the same time, the official said that Russian forces are becoming more active in the eastern part of Ukraine in the Donbas area, saying they’ve “applied a lot more energy” in the Luhansk and Dontesk regions, the two areas the Kremlin declared as independent republics ahead of last month’s invasion.

“We’re starting to see them sort of dig in around Kyiv, but really trying to go more on the offense than they have been, more energy apply to that eastern part,” the official said. “So that’s a little bit of a change from what we’ve been talking about before.”

7:07 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russia to expel US diplomats and label American employees "persona non grata"

From CNN's Abby Baggini

Moscow announced it will expel US diplomats from Russia, according to a statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.

A senior diplomat from the US diplomatic mission in Moscow was handed a note on Wednesday with a list of expelled American diplomatic employees declared “persona non grata,” according to the statement.

Persona non grata literally means “an unwelcome person.”

The move was in response to Washington's expulsion of 12 diplomats from the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, as well as a Russian employee of the UN Secretariat.

"The American side was firmly told that any hostile actions of the United States against Russia would receive a decisive and adequate response," the statement read.

The statement did not specify which diplomats or how many it intends to expel.

4:40 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Biden arrives in Brussels for high-stakes crisis talks

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, left, speak with others after arriving at Brussels National Airport, Wednesday, March 23.
President Joe Biden and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, left, speak with others after arriving at Brussels National Airport, Wednesday, March 23. (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden has arrived in Brussels for a set of emergency summits meant to address Russia's war in Ukraine.

Air Force One landed at the Brussels airport at 9:03 p.m. local time after a roughly seven-hour flight from Washington.

Biden is expected to be greeted by Belgium's prime minister at the airport. He begins intensive talks with NATO, the G7 and the European Union starting Thursday.

4:27 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

It's 10 p.m. on Wednesday in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN staff

Volodymyr, 80, rests inside his apartment damaged by shelling in Kyiv on Wednesday, March 23.
Volodymyr, 80, rests inside his apartment damaged by shelling in Kyiv on Wednesday, March 23. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

US President Joe Biden departed Wednesday for Europe on one of the highest-stakes presidential trips in recent memory.

His visits to Brussels and Poland could still underscore the alliance's limits in ending the bloodshed in Ukraine, with Western leaders struggling to find ways to halt Russian President Vladimir Putin's war. So far, punishing Western sanctions haven't stopped Putin, and it's unclear whether the new steps expected this week — including sanctions on hundreds of members of Russia's lower legislative body and changes to NATO's force posture along its eastern edge — will be different. 

Here are more of the headlines from today in the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • Biden will unveil new sanctions against Russian political figures and oligarchs during Thursday's summits: President Biden will unveil new sanctions on Russian political figures and oligarchs when he attends a series of summits in Brussels on Thursday. Speaking aboard Air Force One as Biden headed to Europe, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden would also discuss NATO’s force posture on its eastern edge and contingency plans for a potential Russian use of chemical or nuclear weapon in his talks. Biden will begin at NATO by meeting Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “to check signals” and get on the same page for the ensuing summit. Biden will attend the extraordinary NATO summit for about 3 hours, Sullivan said.
  • Nearly 1,000 residential buildings have been destroyed in Kharkiv, mayor says: About 1,000 residential buildings have been destroyed in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, Mayor Ihor Terehov said Wednesday. The city, which is regarded as a key target for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invading forces and has sustained weeks of heavy assault, sits just 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) from the Russian border. Terehov revealed the extent of the damage done, reporting a total of 1,143 buildings destroyed by Russian fire, of which 998 were residential buildings.
  • US government formally declares Russian military has committed war crimes in Ukraine: The US government has formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday. The official US declaration that Moscow has committed the violations of the laws of conflict come after Blinken, Biden and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman all said it was their personal opinion that war crimes have taken place. “Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia's forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Blinken said.
  • Biden urges governors to shore up defenses in face of potential Russian hacking threat: Biden has asked the governors of all 50 US states and the mayor of the District of Columbia to bolster the cybersecurity of state computer systems and critical infrastructure in the face of potential Russian hacking threats. “[T]here are things that only you as governor can do to secure your state’s computer systems, your critical infrastructure, your citizens, and through those efforts, our Nation,” Biden wrote in a March 18 letter to the governors and mayor reviewed by CNN. Biden reiterated in the letter that “we must prepare for any contingency, including cyber attacks on our homeland” from Russia. 
  • 700 people escape from towns in eastern Ukraine despite "massive" Russian shelling, governor says: About 700 people have managed to escape towns in the far east of Ukraine on Wednesday, according to Luhansk’s regional governor, despite continued Russian shelling through the day. Authorities had posted the addresses of collection points on Facebook where people could pick up buses and small vans to drive them to railway stations and then onward to the west of Ukraine. In addition to the evacuations, Gov. Serhii Haidai said about 600 tons of aid had made it into the region, even though he suggested Russia’s observation of a ceasefire around the evacuation corridor had been “nominal.”
  • Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who championed NATO's expansion, has died: Madeleine Albright — who championed the expansion of NATO and was the first woman US secretary of state — has died. She was 84 years old. She pushed for the alliance to intervene in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, and championed human rights and democracy across the globe. The news of her death comes as NATO leaders, including US President Joe Biden, prepare to meet Thursday in Brussels for a summit on Russia's invasion in Ukraine.
  • US and European officials held "intense back and forth" on Russian energy dependence: US and European officials have held an “intense back and forth” on reducing dependence on Russian energy in the lead-up to emergency summits in Brussels this week, the White House said. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the matter would be a “substantial topic of conversation” among US President Joe Biden and other leaders at G7 and EU summits Thursday, and was a “major priority” for them. Sullivan said leaders have weighed a “practical roadmap” for ending European dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, and that Biden would have more to say on the matter on Friday.
  • Up to 15,000 Russians have been killed in ongoing Ukraine invasion, senior NATO military officials estimate: Up to 15,000 Russians soldiers have been killed in one month in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, two senior NATO military officials said. The officials made the estimate during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. The officials specified the range could be as low as 7,000 or as high as 15,000 in total Russian soldiers killed in the conflict so far. Their estimate is based on what Ukraine is telling them, what they know from Russia “intentionally or by mistake” and from “open source” information, one of the officials said.
  • WHO reports 64 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine: The World Health Organization has confirmed 64 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine so far, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday. “WHO has now verified 64 attacks on health care since the start of the war, and we are in the process of verifying further attacks,” Tedros said in a media briefing. “Attacks on health must stop. Health systems, facilities, and health workers are not and should not, [ever] be a target,” he said.
  • Bill to ban Russian oil sent to the US Senate: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sent a bill to ban importing Russian oil, natural gas, and coal to the US Senate, a source familiar tells CNN. The House passed the bill on March 9.
4:09 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Zelensky calls out French companies remaining in Russia as "sponsors of Russia's war machine"

From CNN's Xiaofei Xu and Joseph Ataman in Paris 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech to the French parliament in Paris on Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech to the French parliament in Paris on Wednesday. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday called out French business giants Renault, Auchan and Leroy Merlin for their continued presence in Russia, as he urged French companies to leave the country.   

“French companies must leave the Russian market. Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin and others must stop being the sponsors of Russia’s war machine,” Zelensky said in his video address to the French parliament on Wednesday. 

“Values are more important than profits,” he added.  

For some of the French companies Zelensky called out, the Russian market represents a crucial part of their profits. Russia is the second-most important markets for Renault, ranking only behind the carmaker’s home base France in terms of sales volume, according to the company’s 2021 sales results.   

The Russian market is also crucial for the French home retail giant Leroy Merlin. Present in both Russia and Ukraine, the former represents 18% of the brand’s global activities, CNN’s French affiliate BFMTV reported. 

The company will continue its operations in Russia, Veronique Retaux, a spokesperson for the mother company Adeo Group told CNN on Wednesday. The spokesperson did not provide further details.

Earlier in the week, a Leroy Merlin store in the Retroville shopping complex in Kyiv was hit by an explosion, according to the Ukrainian defense ministry. CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of photos on social media showing damage to the store. 

The incident prompted many to call on the company to leave Russia as it itself became an apparent victim of the Russian invasion.   

An online petition was launched on March 20 calling on the Adeo Group and Association Familiale Mulliez, the mother company of Leroy Merlin, to leave Russia. So far it has gathered more than 14,000 signatures.  

Renault confirmed to CNN on Tuesday that its Moscow factory resumed production on Monday, but would last for only three days. The company declined to provide more details when CNN asked why the company is restarting its production for three days.   

Meanwhile, some French companies are cutting their ties with Moscow. French oil giant TotalEnergies announced on Tuesday that it will stop purchasing Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022 as its plan to move towards a gradual suspension of its activities in Russia. 

CNN’s Niamh Kennedy and Katie Polglase contributed reporting to this post.