March 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 12:19 p.m. ET, March 25, 2022
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10:48 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Zelensky tells Russians: "Save your sons from the war"

From CNN's Hira Humayun

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky)

In a video message posted to Facebook Wednesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Russians and told them, "save your sons from the war."

Zelensky said Ukraine had never threatened the security of Russia, adding that Russian propagandists "lie about the war, which is paid for by your taxes."

Ukrainians, he said, are doing everything they can to bring peace back to their land.

"Not to yours — to our land. To our people. We are doing everything to end this war. And when we succeed, it will certainly happen, you will be sure of at least one thing: your children will no longer be sent to die on our land, on our territory," he said.

The Ukrainian President said Russia's original plan "already failed" in the first two days of the invasion but Russia is still "getting manpower from everywhere." 

"Equipment. Air bombs, missiles. Looking for mercenaries around the world. Any scum capable of shooting at civilians," Zelensky said.
"Russian troops destroy our cities. Kill civilians indiscriminately. Rape women. Abduct children. Shoot at refugees. Capture humanitarian convoys. They are engaged in looting. They burn museums, blow up schools and hospitals. The target for them is universities, residential neighborhoods ... Anything! Russian troops do not know the limits of evil."

Key talks: Zelensky referred to three upcoming meetings with world leaders — the NATO Summit, EU Summit and G7 Summit — and said politicians need to support freedom for Ukraine.

"At these three summits we will see who is a friend, who is a partner, and who betrayed us for money," he said.

The President repeated his requests for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying the Ukrainian sky has not been made safe from Russian bombs and Kyiv has not received aircraft, modern anti-missile weapons or tanks. 

10:53 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Zelensky calls for worldwide demonstrations supporting Ukraine as Russian invasion hits one-month mark

From CNN's Sahar Akbarzai

President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling for worldwide demonstrations in support of Ukraine as the Russian invasion reaches the one-month mark.

The Ukrainian President made the remarks in a speech posted to Facebook Wednesday evening, with the goal of seeing demonstrations begin Thursday.

"It breaks my heart, hearts of all Ukrainians and every free person on the planet. That's why I asked you to stand against the war starting from March 24, exactly one month after the Russian invasion. From this day and after that, show your standing, come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine," Zelensky pleaded.

Zelensky said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a war against freedom and that Russia aims to defeat the freedom of all of Europe and the world.

"To support freedom, to support life. Come to your squares, your streets, make yourselves visible and heard. Say that people matter, freedom matters, peace matters, Ukraine matters," Zelensky said. 

Zelensky urged the world to unite against Russia’s invasion, saying, "the war of Russia is not only the war against Ukraine, its meaning is much wider." 

8:30 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

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

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US 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."

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12:28 a.m. ET, March 24, 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.”

10:52 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Former Russian oil tycoon says West is repeating same mistakes it made with Hitler

Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky. (CNN)

The leaders of Western powers are making the same mistakes with Russian President Vladimir Putin that their predecessors did with Hitler, says former Russian oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky — once Russia's richest man — spent more than a decade in prison for tax evasion and fraud following a prosecution he said was part of a Kremlin campaign to destroy him. He now lives in exile overseas.

Speaking to CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday, Khodorkovsky said he sees parallels between the situation in Ukraine today and the lead up to World War II.

"Western leaders kept saying they were afraid to aggravate Hitler and they thought well, if you're not showing any resistance, eventually he'll stop," he said. "However, that mistake has cost hundreds of millions human lives. Hundreds of millions of human lives were lost and the same mistake is being committed now."

Some context: NATO is unwilling to get directly involved in the war beyond supporting Ukraine’s resistance as it could escalate the conflict.

On the ground, Ukraine's forces are being helped by Russia's corruption, Khodorkovsky said, adding: "the level of (Russia's) unpreparedness has come as a great surprise to me."

It comes after US officials said the Russian military is suffering shortages of food and fuel and is plagued with logistics and sustainment problems. One official said there are indications some Russian soldiers have gotten frost bite because they lack the appropriate cold-weather gear.

Going after the oligarchs: Asked whether Russian oligarchs deserved to be sanctioned by the West, Khodorkovsky replied that even though it was "preposterous" to think the tycoons had any real influence over Putin, those who continued to back the Russian leader were "dangerous."

"Oligarchs are not true oligarchs in the sense that they actually do not influence Putin," he said.

"Yet they are Putin's instruments of influence and to see for real who has broken their relations with Putin would be when they actually denounce him and when they admit that he is a war criminal. And if that doesn't happen, that means they still depend on him and they're still dangerous."
7:58 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Inside a rare US meeting with a Russian general in Moscow

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Jeremy Herb

A rare face-to-face meeting between Russian and US military officials last week led to an "outburst" of emotion from a normally stoic Russian general, a "revealing moment" that the Americans present believe hinted at larger morale problems in Russia's military, according to a closely held US military readout of what transpired.

The readout, which was reviewed by CNN, describes the perspective of the two defense attachés who attended and their own impressions of what they saw and heard. It does not offer a definitive explanation of the Russian general's behavior. Readouts of sensitive meetings are never made public by the military or intelligence community because they are scrutinized for clues about an adversary's thinking and intentions.

The meeting, held at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, is a rare instance of Russian and American defense officials sitting down in person since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The readout describes the meeting as tense, with visible signs of stress on the Russian side.

It makes particular note of the behavior of Russian Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Ilyin, deputy chief of the main directorate of international cooperation, who has a long track record of dealing with American officials. In a break from typical practice, Ilyin spoke with no notes or set talking points, according to the readout.

As the meeting was breaking up, one US defense attaché "casually inquired" about Ilyin's family roots in Ukraine, and the Russian general's "stoic demeanor suddenly became flushed and agitated," according to the readout. The Americans reported Ilyin responded "yes," and said that he was born in Dnipropetrovsk before moving with his family moving to Donetsk, where he went to school.

But the US officials reported Ilyin then added that the current situation in Ukraine is "tragic and I am very depressed over it" — and then he walked out without shaking hands, according to the readout.

It's unclear why the meeting was held or the circumstances behind it. CNN does not know if there's additional documentation describing the meeting. The readout does not include the names of the American attachés in the meeting, and CNN has been unable to learn their identities. The Pentagon and State Department declined to comment. CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.

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