US expected to accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing crisis in Ukraine
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
The United States plans to accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, a person familiar with the decision says -- a major step toward easing a brewing humanitarian crisis in Europe.
President Joe Biden was expected to unveil the decision as he travels in Europe to rally support behind a united approach to the crisis.
Leaders from Poland in particular have called on the US to expedite the processing of refugees with family in the US.
More than 3.6 million people have now fled Ukraine, according to the latest update from the UN Refugee Agency.
8:18 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
Zelensky calls for more assistance in virtual call inside closed-door NATO meeting
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
Leaders attending a closed-door snap NATO summit heard an impassioned call from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for new Western security assistance, according to a senior US administration official who heard the remarks.
The Ukrainian leader stopped short of issuing his usual calls for a no-fly zone or NATO membership. But Zelensky in a virtual address spoke "very eloquently" to describe his military’s efforts to defend Ukrainian citizens and democratic values, the official said.
The virtual address from Zelensky kicked off the summit, which is taking place in private. US President Joe Biden spoke next, laying out the coordinated Western approach on sanctions, reiterating strong support for Ukraine and reinforcing US commitment to NATO.
Biden "laid out a number of issues that the alliance is going to have to grapple with" in the coming months before the NATO alliance meets again at the end of June in Spain, the official said.
That includes finalizing force posture changes on NATO’s eastern flank.
The mood inside the NATO summit was "sober, resolute, and incredibly united," the official said.
"There was a very strong sense that we are facing a significant historical moment, and very strong support from all the leaders who spoke about the need to defend our democracy," the official said.
Other topics that arose included China, and a collective desire to avoid Beijing supporting Russia in its invasion.
And leaders discussed contingencies should Russia use a chemical or nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine.
"I think there is a recognition that NATO needs to continue a lot of the good ongoing work to be prepared to respond to various contingencies," the official said.
8:15 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
"This is what we call a stable situation," says Kharkiv governor amid intensified Russian military attacks
From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Andrew Carey in Lviv
As Russia’s assault on Ukraine enters its fifth week, Kharkiv’s governor, Oleh Synehubov, has given an indication of the toll it is taking on the city and surrounding areas.
Synehubov reported there had been 44 shellings from artillery, tanks and mortars, as well as 140 multiple-launch rocket attacks in the northeastern region of Ukraine, over the course of the last day.
“This is what we call a stable situation,” he said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Kharkiv officials reported some 998 residential buildings had been damaged or destroyed since the start of Russia’s offensive.
Synehubov’s comments also included a reminder of the importance of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to Putin’s offensive against Ukraine’s key cities.
The center of Kharkiv -- which lies about 310 miles (500km) from the sea -- was struck overnight by cruise missiles fired from Russian warships, Synehubov reported.
His comments come as 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 Donetsk regions, the two areas the Kremlin declared as independent republics ahead of last month’s invasion.
CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.
10:27 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
It's 2 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
New footage shows the extent of destruction in some cities caused by Russia's month-long invasion of Ukraine, as Western leaders gather in Brussels to conduct extraordinary sessions of NATO, the European Council and the G7.
Destruction in Ukraine: It's been exactly one month since Russia invaded Ukraine, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling for worldwide demonstrations to mark the date.
The mayor of Chernihiv said the northern Ukrainian city's cemetery cannot handle all the dead. Badly damaged buildings line rubble-strewn streets, while still-burning fires fill the air with heavy smoke, as seen in a video from Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko.
New videos from Mariupol show the desolation of the besieged Ukrainian city, with deserted, debris-filled streets, blown-out cars and destroyed buildings.
The first videos and images have emerged from the city of Izyum, showing widespread destruction, charred and bombed-out buildings, and bodies left in the streets. The Russian military claims to have taken control of the city, which the Ukrainians deny.
Meanwhile, a large Russian ship was destroyed in the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian Navy on Thursday. CNN could not confirm the Navy's claim, although social media videos appear to show a large fire with secondary explosions in the port. And Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces back on the frontlines around Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters Wednesday.
Refugees: More than 2 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed into Poland since Russian forces invaded Ukraine a month ago, which is “the fastest displacement crisis we've seen since the Second World War," according to the International Rescue Committee.
One in every two Ukrainian children has been displaced since Russia began its invasion on February 24, according to the UN Children's Fund.
The US plans to accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, a person familiar with the decision said.
Summits underway: Announcements on new sanctions, NATO force posture and military assistance are all expected as part of the diplomatic burst, according to US and European officials. What they won’t do is what Zelensky has repeatedly asked: Enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Zelensky is expected to address NATO leaders virtually.
The NATO session currently underway was expected to focus partly on what to do if Russia deploys a chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapon.
Russian leadership: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dodged CNN questions about the health of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and confirmed that longstanding government insider Anatoly Chubais quit his job as President Vladimir Putin’s climate envoy.
11:42 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
Ukrainian flag hoisted in Russian-occupied city of Kherson
From CNN's From Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych
The mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaiev, in southern Ukraine, has posted photographs of a long Ukrainian flag draped down the wall of the city hall.
Russian forces are normally stationed at the city hall but don't appear to have intervened.
There have been several protests by Ukrainian civilians in the square where the building is located since Russian forces moved into Kherson.
The photographs show workers on a crane mounting the new flag.
"On the night when the city council was shelled, the wire which held our national flag was damaged. And the flag itself should have been replaced a long time ago -- it had faded and frayed," Kolykhaiev said in a Facebook post.
"Today we found a way to replace it. Have a nice day, my Hero City," Kolykhaiev added.
Kherson, a key port city on the Black Sea, in southern Ukraine, was overrun by Russian forces on March 2, after days of heavy bombardment and shelling.
People living in Kherson have described days of terror confined to their apartments and houses, fearful to go outside for even basic necessities -- their city now a dystopian shell of the home they knew and loved.
CNN's Tamara Qiblawi and Gianluca Mezzofiore contributed reporting to this post.
7:46 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
Russian stocks close the day higher as trading resumes in partial reopening of Moscow stock exchange
Russia’s MOEX stock index has closed the session higher after partially reopening for the first time in almost a month.
It ended 4% higher after a shortened trading day, and was at one point trading up 10%.
The Moscow Stock Exchange last traded on February 25 after shares plunged in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia. The MOEX index had lost roughly 35% of its value this year, while the RTS index -- which is denominated in dollars -- plunged 42%.
On Wednesday, the central bank of Russia said trading in 33 Russian stocks would resume today at 2:50 a.m. Eastern Time (9:50 a.m. local time), including major companies such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Rosneft, VTB Bank and Sberbank.
The central bank has brought in measures to support stocks, including blocking foreign investors from selling their shares and banning short selling. It has also brought in currency controls, limiting the amount of foreign currency people can take out of Russia.
This morning the White House criticized the move to reopen, calling it a charade and a "Potemkin market opening" that will obscure the dire effects of western economic sanctions.
"Russia has made clear they are going to pour government resources into artificially propping up the shares of companies that are trading," deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh wrote in a statement.
"This is not a real market and not a sustainable model -- which only underscores Russia’s isolation from the global financial system," Singh added.
A "responsible" Europe will ignore Putin’s "humiliating demands" on gas, says Ukraine
From Andrew Carey in Lviv
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister has urged Europe to ignore Russia’s insistence that payment for future deliveries of Russian gas will need to be made in rubles.
The announcement from Moscow is seen as an attempt to get European countries to prop up Russia’s currency, the value of which has fallen significantly since the start of the war.
It is also a reminder of the importance of Russia’s energy supplies as a bargaining chip in relations between the Kremlin and the West.
"If any EU country bows to Putin’s humiliating demands to pay for oil and gas in rubles, it will be like helping Ukraine with one hand and helping Russians kill Ukrainians with the other," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet.
"I urge relevant countries to make a wise and responsible choice."
Some background: The West has imposed heavy sanctions on Russia since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine a month ago. However, Europe depends heavily on Russian gas for heating and power generation and the European Union is split on whether to sanction Russia's energy sector.
Putin's message was clear: If you want our gas, buy our currency. It remained unclear whether Russia has the power to unilaterally change existing contracts agreed upon in euros.
Meanwhile: Russia's stock market opened for the first time in a month on Thursday as investors took part in a highly restricted trading session. The benchmark MOEX index gained as much as 10% in early trade in Moscow.
7:27 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
France promises funding to International Criminal Court to investigate crimes in Ukraine
From CNN’s Camille Knight and Joseph Ataman in Paris
The French Foreign Ministry has promised 500,000 euros ($548,715) of financing to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to support the investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
France will also be providing magistrates, investigators and experts, "to make sure the prosecutor can lead his investigation in the best possible conditions," according to the statement.
The statement added that French Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti will be encouraging other states to increase their support to the ICC in a meeting of justice ministers in The Hague on Thursday.
The ICC opened an investigation on March 2 into alleged crimes committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine since 21 November 2013, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kyiv to protest former President Viktor Yanukovych's U-turn over a trade pact with the European Union that had been years in the making.
The US government on Wednesday formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
"Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russia's forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
"Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources," he added.
CNN's Antonia Mortensen, Jennifer Hansler and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.
8:16 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
Kremlin dodges questions on Defense Minister amid reports of health problems
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday dodged CNN questions about the health of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has not been seen in public in nearly a week, if not more.
“The Defense Minister has a lot on his plate at the moment,” Peskov said when CNN asked about Shoigu’s absence.
“The special military operation is going on. Naturally, now is not exactly the time for media activity, this is quite understandable.”
When asked by CNN if he could disprove a report by the independent investigative Russian outlet Agentnstvo citing anonymous sources in the ministry as saying Shoigu has health problems, Peskov declined to do so.
“I can't. You shouldn’t listen to the Agenstvo media outlet. Please address [these questions to] the Ministry of Defense.”
Shoigu appeared in a Channel One broadcast on March 18, which the Russian outlet said was from that day, but Russian journalists have speculated that the event being broadcast was from March 11.
Peskov also confirmed that longstanding Russian government insider Anatoly Chubais quit his job as President Vladimir Putin’s climate envoy.
However, Peskov denied any knowledge of Chubais' reported opposition to the invasion of Ukraine and said it's unlikely President Vladimir Putin would have "reacted in any way" to the resignation.
"After all, let's not forget that he [Chubais] was not a full-time employee, he was working on a voluntary basis," said Peskov. "He was not a direct employee of the presidential administration."
Peskov also confirmed that a resignation letter would have to be sent to Putin himself.
Chubais first rose to prominence as former President Boris Yeltsin’s finance minister in the 1990s before going on to hold powerful posts in the Russian energy industry.
He quit his job as Putin’s special envoy on the environment on Wednesday, making him the highest-profile Kremlin figure to resign since the war began a month ago.