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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12:15 p.m. ET, March 24, 2022

China says humanitarian situation in Ukraine is serious, but countries shouldn't be forced to "choose a side"

From CNN’s Samantha Beech and Chris Hippensteel

China's United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun speaks during an emergency session of the General Assembly at the UN headquarters on Thursday.
China's United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun speaks during an emergency session of the General Assembly at the UN headquarters on Thursday. (Seth Wenig/AP)

China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun told UN General Assembly member countries that the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is becoming increasingly serious, but that countries should not force others to “choose a side” in the conflict. 

"The development of the situation in Ukraine to the present stage has triggered broad international concerns, and it is also something China does not want to see. On Ukraine, China has always maintained that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected,” Zhang said in translated remarks on Thursday.

“Developing countries, which make up the majority of the world, are not parties to this conflict. They should not be drawn into the issue and forced to suffer the consequences of geopolitical conflicts and major power rivalry…Relevant countries should not adopt a simplistic approach of either friend or foe, black or white, and should not force any country to pick a side,” he added.

Zhang added that China will play “a constructive role in facilitating peace talks.”

The General Assembly is hearing speeches on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Ukraine's resolution in the General Assembly condemns Russia for not allowing access for humanitarian aid is backed by more than 20 countries, including the United States. On Wednesday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told UN General Assembly member countries that by voting in favor of the resolution which calls in part for an immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation in Ukraine, they are “voting for an end to the war.”

Zhang said Thursday China recognizes the purpose of the draft resolution. “At the same time, it is clear that some elements of the draft resolution go beyond the humanitarian context,” he said.

General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but they carry political weight.

On Wednesday, China and Russia were the only countries to vote in favor of a UN Security Council draft resolution proposed by Russia on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which failed to pass in the United Nations Security Council. Thomas-Greenfield spoke ahead of that vote, stating that Russia was once again trying to use the Security Council to “provide cover for its brutal actions.” 

Speaking ahead of the UNGA vote Thursday, Zhang said, “Legitimate security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously and all efforts conducive to the peaceful resolution of the crisis should be supported.”

“It is heart-wrenching to see the continued deterioration of humanitarian situation in Ukraine, as well as the civilian casualties and massive displacement of people caused by the conflict. The top priority now is for the parties concerned to maintain maximum restraints, avoid more civilian casualties, and reach a negotiated ceasefire as soon as possible, especially to prevent a larger-scale humanitarian crisis," he added.

4:09 p.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Russia and Ukraine battle for control of eastern city already "completely destroyed" in fighting

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy 

Destruction near a church in the town of Izyum, Ukraine is seen in this recent Facebook video.
Destruction near a church in the town of Izyum, Ukraine is seen in this recent Facebook video. (Facebook)

As Russia attempts to link advances made in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine with its stronghold in the far east of the country, the city of Izyum has found itself caught up in terrible fighting, a local official said. 

Council deputy Max Strelnyk told CNN the town had been “completely destroyed” by Russian aircraft and artillery, even as fierce battles continued inside Izyum for control of the ground. 

Strelnyk said Russian troops occupied the northern part of the town and were attempting to cross the Seversky Donets River — which makes a U-shape as it runs through the town — to take the southern part as well, currently held by Ukrainian armed forces. 

CNN has previously reported that much of central Izyum has been destroyed by military strikes. 

"Unfortunately, we cannot say the exact number of dead [in the town]," Strelnyk said, but he estimated "more than a hundred" people had been killed in the fighting. 

He said Russian forces had already destroyed the hospital and the morgue. 

"The town is under complete blockade," he said.  

"Russian troops will not let anyone in or out," he added, meaning humanitarian aid is unable to reach the town.

"There is no food, water or medicine," he said, describing the situation as a humanitarian catastrophe. 

11:50 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

What could come next in Ukraine

From CNN's Angela Dewan

It's been a month since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, and despite making some rapid early gains, their advancement on some key cities, including the capital of Kyiv, has slowed.

While there's a growing picture that Russia's assault on Ukraine has not gone to plan, the country continues to use its air power to obliterate cities and target civilians to push Ukraine into submission.

So where is this war going? Here are a few things to watch out for in the coming weeks.

Russia could intensify its bombing campaign

Experts are warning that the more Russia takes a hit on the ground, the more likely it is to intensify its aerial bombing campaign and the use of other "standoff" weapons that put Russian soldiers in less danger.

There is little reliable information coming out of either Ukraine or Russia on death tolls, but a report in a Russian tabloid on Monday suggested that the Russian side had lost nearly 10,000 soldiers and that another 16,000 had been injured.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda website removed the numbers later in the day, claiming the numbers only appeared in the first place because it had been hacked. CNN could not verify the numbers, but the death toll is closer to what US intelligence agencies have been reporting.

And in the region of southern Mykolaiv, local authorities are mulling what do with hundreds of Russian corpses.

Such losses, if proven to be true, would explain both the stall in ground movement and the uptick in aerial bombing of key cities and other standoff attacks. A senior US defense official, for example, said Russia has begun firing on the southern city of Mariupol from ships in the Sea of Azov.

"Russia still has capabilities and reserves, and there's going to be an uptick in intensity as it makes an effort to bring in more troops," Jeffrey Mankoff, a distinguished research fellow at the US National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies, told CNN.

Russia may try to encircle Ukrainian fighters in the east

There is a lot of talk about the Russian war effort stalling, but whether or not that's true comes down to what Moscow's objectives were in the first place. And even that's hard to know for sure, as the country's public justification for its invasion is clear propaganda, as evidenced by Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for the "denazification of Ukraine," for example.

It's likely that Russia is, at the very least, trying to absorb parts of eastern Ukraine. Areas like Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the Donbas region, have been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and while Russia's ambitions may stretch beyond Donbas, it's still likely a central focus, experts say.

While there is a lot of attention on Russia's push toward Kyiv, most of the Ukrainian army remains near Donetsk and Luhansk, where they are grouped as the Joint Forces Operation. The movement of Russian troops suggest they are trying to encircle the JFO on three axes, and this is likely to be Russia's main focus. That's clear by looking at the sophistication of the kind of troops being sent there, said Sam Cranny-Evans, a research analyst with the Royal United Services Institute.

"The Southern Military District — in Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, Berdyansk, Melitopol — these are the best troops in the Russian army. And they always work. They're designed to fight NATO," Cranny-Evans told CNN.

Read the full story here:

11:34 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Pope says increasing military budgets and imposing sanctions is not a solution to war

From CNN's Hada Messia in Rome and Amy Cassidy in London

Pope Francis looks on during an audience for the Choirs of Antoniano, on March 19 at the Vatican.
Pope Francis looks on during an audience for the Choirs of Antoniano, on March 19 at the Vatican. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has issued strong criticism against countries for increasing military spending as Russia’s onslaught of Ukraine continues, branding it “madness.” 

Speaking on Thursday to an audience with the Italian Women’s Center in Rome, the Pope blamed the “shameful” war in Ukraine on the “old logic of power that still dominates the so-called geopolitics.”

He dismissed sanctions and weapons as a solution to the conflict and said the world should redesign its way of governing so that it is not subject to “economic-technocratic-military power.”

“It is now clear that good politics cannot come from the culture of power understood as domination and oppression, but only from a culture of care, care for the person and their dignity and care for our common home,” he said.

“The real answer ... is not other weapons, other sanctions, other political-military alliances, but another approach, a different way of governing the now globalized world — not showing the teeth, as now — one way different than set international relations. The model of treatment is already in place, thank God, but unfortunately it is still subject to that of the economic-technocratic-military power," the Pope said.

12:45 p.m. ET, March 24, 2022

NATO met for an emergency summit earlier Thursday. Here's who is in the alliance and what was discussed.

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová, Kevin Liptak and Bryony Jones

As Russia's invasion in Ukraine enters its second month, the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has come into focus.

Earlier Thursday, NATO's leaders met for an emergency summit in Brussels and are expected to announce new sanctions against Russia as well as other measures to help bolster Ukraine's defenses. What they won't do, however, is what Ukraine's president has repeatedly asked: Enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. US and NATO officials have repeatedly said that such a move would risk provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin and sparking a wider war with Russia

A discussion of NATO's force posture along its eastern edge was also part of the last-minute diplomatic burst. And leaders conferred on what to do if Russia deploys a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon, a prospect causing increasing concern as the war reaches a stalemate. In a statement afterward, US President Joe Biden said NATO was "as strong and united as it has ever been."

But what is NATO and who is in it? NATO is a European and North American defense alliance set up to promote peace and stability and to safeguard the security of its members. It was created as the Cold War escalated and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

The aim of the United States-led alliance was to protect Western European countries from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of Communism after World War II.

Twelve founding countries — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and eight other European nations — signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, pledging to protect each other by political and military means.

Over the decades since, the alliance has grown to include a total of 30 members.

In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Albania
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxemburg
  • Montenegro
  • The Netherlands
  • North Macedonia
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but has long hoped to join the alliance. This is a sore point for Russia, which sees NATO as a threat and vehemently opposes the move.

NATO is currently led by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, whose term was extended by another year on Thursday. Stoltenberg reinforced NATO's position in a response to the decision, saying, "As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation, we stand united to keep our Alliance strong and our people safe."

According to a western official who was present for Biden's remarks to leaders during the NATO summit, he made a reference to his US presidential predecessor when making the case for allies to increase their defense spending. While it’s not clear if Biden mentioned former President Donald Trump by name, Biden did implore the leaders to add to their defense budgets during this moment of crisis, but asked that they “don’t mistake” him for his predecessor, who Biden said didn’t treat the NATO allies very well, the official said. The White House declined to comment.

Read more about NATO here.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.

11:12 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Chechen combatants' impact to the overall course of the war in Ukraine remains unclear

Analysis by Nathan Hodge

Footage of a firefight that surfaced on social media earlier this week appears to show an unusual group of combatants: Apparent Chechen volunteers fighting on the side of Ukraine against Russia.

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video, which shows an RPG gunner at work amid an intense fusillade in the village of Velyka Dymerka, roughly 18 miles northeast of Kyiv.

This isn't the only evidence of Chechens fighting in Ukraine. On Wednesday, Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin leader of the Chechen Republic — a region in Russia's north Caucasus — posted a video of Chechen units engaged in street fighting against Ukrainian forces in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

In a commentary on his Telegram account, Kadyrov boasted that the Chechen commander on the scene who was being interviewed by the Russian daily Izvestiya had maintained heroic calm under fire.

"During the interview, a tank shell flew into the five-story building behind the back of the unsuspecting Timur Ibriev and exploded," Kadyrov wrote. "A fragment hit one of the fighters, but got stuck in a weapon belt. The camera captured the Olympian calm and restraint of my dear BROTHER Timur. He didn't flinch, he didn't duck. You are proud of such cold-blooded and brave fighters!"

Telegram is Kadyrov's preferred propaganda outlet: Since the launch of Russia's invasion of Ukraine one month ago, Kadryrov has posted a stream of videos from the front lines crowing about the prowess of the Chechen soldiers fighting on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also claimed to have been in Ukraine, just outside the capital — an assertion Ukrainian officials cast doubt on, prompting irate Telegram posts from Kadyrov.

Just days into the war, Kadyrov even urged the Russian military to take the gloves off and expand its offensive in Ukraine.

"The time has come to make a concrete decision and start a large-scale operation in all directions and territories of Ukraine," Kadyrov said in a statement on his Telegram account. "I myself have repeatedly developed tactics and strategies against terrorists, participated in battles. In my understanding, the tactics chosen in Ukraine are too slow. It lasts a long time and, in my view, are not effective."

There are several levels of irony here. Images of the devastated city of Mariupol are eerily reminiscent of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was leveled by Russian forces in a brutal war that went through two phases in the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. And Kadyrov himself was once a guerrilla who fought against Russia before switching sides.

Continue reading here:

11:01 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

A look at some of the hundreds of Russians — including Maria Butina — sanctioned by the US today

From CNN's Sam Fossum

As US President Joe Biden meets with NATO and European allies in Brussels on Thursday, the US Treasury Department officially announced a slew of new sanctions against hundreds of members of the Russian State Duma, dozens of Russian defense companies, and the CEO of Sberbank, which is Russia's largest financial institution. 

US officials previewed the upcoming announcement to reporters earlier this week. 

Today's announcement will sanction 328 members of the 450-seat Russian State Duma, the lower level of the two-tiered Russian Parliament, cut off 48 Russian defense and material companies from Western technology and financing, as well as sanction Herman Gref — the head of Sberbank — who has worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the 1990s when both men were employed in the mayor's office of St. Petersburg. 

Long-time Putin associate Gennady Timchenko — plus his companies, family members and yacht — have also been sanctioned, as well as 17 board members of Russian financial institution Sovcombank, according to the White House. 

"They personally gain from the Kremlin’s policies, and they should share in the pain," Biden wrote on Twitter shortly after the US Treasury Department officially announced the new measures. 

The Treasury Department sanctioned 12 members of the Duma earlier this month for their calls to recognize the Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, which precipitated Russia's invasion. Today's measures will also sanction the State Duma as an institution, according to the department.

“The Russian State Duma continues to support Putin’s invasion, stifle the free flow of information, and infringe on the basic rights of the citizens of Russia. We call on those closest to Putin to cease and condemn this cold-blooded war,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a written statement. 

Does this name sound familiar? One of the Duma members sanctioned today includes Maria Butina, who studied at American University in the US and pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government after she tried to infiltrate conservative political groups, including the National Rifle Association. Butina was the first Russian citizen convicted of crimes relating to the 2016 election, although her efforts seemed to be separate from the sweeping election-meddling outlined in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

After her release in 2019, Butina returned to Russia and got involved in politics, and she is now serving as a member of the Duma. 

10:44 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Ukraine says Russia is deploying weapons to neighboring Belarus

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv 

Ukraine’s Armed Forces say Russia is transferring weapons and other military equipment to Belarus.  

It says the deployments are part of renewed Russian plans to mount an offensive aimed at encircling the capital of Kyiv. 

Russian forces are also building-up equipment supplies in Crimea, the Ukrainian army added in a statement Thursday afternoon.

In an upbeat assessment of Ukraine's success in withstanding Russia's invading forces thus far, the statement went on:

"The Russian military leadership is beginning to realize that the available forces and means are not enough to maintain the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and conduct defense operations."

 

12:43 p.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Zelensky is addressing G7 leaders

From CNN's Allie Malloy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is once again addressing world leaders by videoconference, this time during the G7 leaders’ meeting.

These are the leaders attending the meeting, according to the White House:

  • US President Joe Biden
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • French President Emmanuel Macron
  • Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi
  • Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
  • European Commission  President Ursula von der Leyen
  • European Council President Charles Michel
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

US administration officials are also in attendance:

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • National security adviser Jake Sullivan
  • Daleep Singh, Biden's deputy assistant and deputy national security adviser for international economics
  • Andy Rabens, director for global engagement and multilateral diplomacy at the National Security Council