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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1:27 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Boris Johnson tells Zelensky that UK intends to increase defensive lethal aid to Ukraine

From CNN’s Sarah Dean & Arnaud Siad

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after attending the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after attending the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of his “intention” to use Thursday’s G7 and NATO meetings to “substantively” increase defensive lethal aid to Ukraine, a Downing Street spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“The Prime Minister set out his intention to use tomorrow’s G7 and NATO meetings to increase the pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime and work with partners to substantively increase defensive lethal aid to Ukraine. Leaders would look to address Ukraine’s requests and ensure President Zelenskyy is in the strongest possible position in ongoing peace talks,” the spokesperson said following the call between the two leaders.

During the call, Johnson reiterated “his admiration for the bravery of the Ukrainian armed forces and their success in repulsing Russia’s onslaught.”

“[Zelensky] said the bombardment of civilian areas, including the siege of Mariupol, is unconscionable and demands a response from the international community,” the spokesperson added.

1:11 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Why Biden's trip to Europe is one of the highest-stakes presidential trips in recent memory

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Marine One lifts off with President Joe Biden aboard from the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.
Marine One lifts off with President Joe Biden aboard from the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Joe Biden departed Wednesday on one of the highest-stakes presidential trips in recent memory, a moment for the US President to assume leadership of a newly united West.

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. 

Yet as he departed the White House early Wednesday, Biden appeared intent on using his last-minute wartime visit to Europe to send a message. Asked what he'd say to his partners, Biden said he'd wait to deliver it face to face.

"All I have to say, I'm going to say it when I get there," he said before boarding a seven-hour flight to Belgium.

Emergency summits of NATO, the European Union, and the G7 will focus on displays of cooperation in punishing Russia and providing support to Ukraine as it comes under fire. A stop afterward in Poland is meant to highlight the massive refugee crisis that's followed Russia's invasion as well as to reassure allies on NATO's eastern edge.

For Biden, the last-minute talks are a venue to demonstrate the foreign policy credentials he promised as a candidate, when he vowed to restore American leadership and repair broken alliances. The war in Ukraine is widely viewed inside the White House as one of the defining challenges for Biden and his presidential legacy.

An emotional challenge from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, issued last week during his virtual address to Congress, now hangs over Biden's entire trip: "Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace."

Read more here.

1:19 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine may spark food crisis in Middle East and North Africa, UN secretary general says

From CNN's Chris Hippensteel

Workers prepare bread at a bakery in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on February 28.
Workers prepare bread at a bakery in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on February 28. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may spark a food crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, as countries reliant on Ukrainian and Russian wheat imports encounter shortages, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday.

“Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing, supply chains are being disrupted,” Guterres said during a meeting of the UN Security Council. “All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest, and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.”

Guterres cited Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as nations that import at least half of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has already caused a rise in wheat prices, adding to inflation in food prices. Wheat futures at the beginning of March were at their highest level since 2008. 

Russia and Ukraine together comprise 14% of all global wheat production and 29% of all wheat exports. 


12:26 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Cellist performs on streets of Kharkiv to draw attention to destruction 

From CNN’s Caroll Alvarado

Kharkiv resident and cellist Denys Karachevtsev performed on the streets of Kharkiv while surrounded by damaged buildings and rubble to raise awareness of the destruction and help raise funds to help restore his city.

“I love my heroic city which is now struggling to survive the war. I deeply believe that we can help. I believe we can restore and rebuild our city and our country when the war is over,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

12:29 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

NATO will approve deployment of 4 additional battle groups to 4 countries, US ambassador says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

NATO leaders will approve the deployment of four additional battle groups in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia at their summit Thursday, US Ambassador to NATO Julie Smith said Wednesday.

She said they are “not just national forces,” saying additional details would be shared on Thursday.

Speaking at an Atlantic Council event, Smith said NATO is in discussions about its medium- and long-term force presence in its eastern flank. 

“We’re going to have to make a series of ongoing assessment about our force posture that will take us weeks and months into the future,” she said, noting “it’s still an open question” of how the alliance takes the NATO-Russia Founding Act — which NATO allies believe Russia is “in clear violation of” — and moves to its longer-term posture.

“All options are on the table,” including permanent basing, she said.

Smith claimed Poland’s proposal of a NATO peacekeeping mission for Ukraine isn’t “dead in the water,” but said there are “a lot of open-ended questions” and “allies want to know more about what Poland is suggesting here.”

“We want to encourage this type of fresh thinking,” she said. “No one ever shirks or turns away when an ally brings an idea into our discussions here.”

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.