March 27, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Steve George, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Hafsa Khalil, Joe Ruiz, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Eric Levenson, CNN

Updated 12:49 a.m. ET, March 28, 2022
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11:36 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

US ambassador to NATO: No evidence yet that the Kremlin will limit their sights on the Donbas region

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

Julianne Smith, the US's ambassador to NATO, discussed Russia's supposed changing focus, on Sunday with CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."

Smith said she didn't think "we have evidence of that quite yet," that the Kremlin will limit their sights on the Donbas region, but that the US and allies will be looking for it. 

"But what we do have evidence of is the fact that the Russians have not succeeded in their original aims. And that was, as you well know, to take Kyiv in just a couple of days," she said. "So, because of that, I think Russia is reassessing and they've indicated that they're going to alter their tactics, but let's give it some time. Next couple days, the United States, working closely with allies and the Ukrainian government will be looking for evidence of this shift," Smith added.

Smith also defended the new actions NATO and the US introduced to continue to punish Russia in the wake of the US President's trip, even as Ukrainian officials have voiced disappointment in the lack of support. Asked if NATO will give Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fighter jets, Smith said, "this is an evolving conversation," but ultimately no.

"We've spoken with President Zelensky many times in recent weeks. We've heard their requests for assistance. In many cases, we've delivered those anti-aircraft, anti-armor capabilities, we are assessing their air defense needs," she said. "But the answer is no if you're asking about the Soviet-era jets, the United States has decided that the particular proposal put forward by Poland is untenable. But honestly, if any NATO ally wanted to provide those types of pieces of equipment, the fighter jets, the MiGs, that is a sovereign decision, they can take that sovereign decision. But right now, the United States is very much focused on their air defense needs. And we're delivering multiple capabilities to try and address those requirements."

On the potential for cyberattacks to be included into the NATO charter, Smith declined to "walk through hypotheticals," but said she did not doubt that if an ally were to "come forward," and invoke Article 5, the alliance "would be ready to respond and take action."

3:24 p.m. ET, March 27, 2022

US Ambassador to NATO says there's no US policy on regime change in Russia

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland on March 26.
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland on March 26. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden's administration continued on Sunday to clean up his off-the-cuff remark that Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power," made on his final day in Europe.

Julianne Smith, the US's ambassador to NATO, called Biden's surprising comments a "principled human reaction," made after he spent the day seeing the firsthand tragedies of war, when he visited with hundreds of Ukrainian refugees, in a Sunday interview with CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."

"He went to the National Stadium in Warsaw and literally met with hundreds of Ukrainians. He heard their heroic stories as they were fleeing Ukraine in the wake of Russia's brutal war in Ukraine. In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day."

Still, Smith said, the "US does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop."

Her comments come hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken also tried to downplay the President's remarks while in Israel, saying, "I think the President, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else."

Asked by Bash to clarify if the US believes Putin should remain in power, Smith pivoted to the White House talking point that "the full administration, the President included, believes that we cannot empower Putin right now to wage war in Ukraine or pursue these acts of aggression."

Smith did not agree that the quick walk back from White House officials over the President's comments show his aides undermining him on the world stage, instead she said officials "feel great," about the President's snap trip.

10:07 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

US Sen. Jim Risch wants even stronger sanctions on Russia

From CNN's Daniella Diaz

Sen. Jim Risch speaks at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in April 2021.
Sen. Jim Risch speaks at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in April 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking member on the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN on Sunday that he's hopeful Congress can pass bipartisan legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Russia.

"From my standpoint, I'd like to see secondary sanctions on every bank in Russia. I think that with what's going on there, we really can't be too tough on sanctions. We just really need to bring the hammer down," he told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union." 

He added: "I get that every administration wants to be in full control. Obviously, I think Congress plays a role in this. I'd like to see some language passed through Congress. We've struggled with it. We've made a good faith effort but came very close but didn't quite get it done. Look, they're putting their sanctions on. The sanctions really have surprised us as far as how, how effective they've been, and I'd encourage them to keep up and heading down that road."

Risch also criticized US President Joe Biden for saying Saturday that there should be a regime change in Russia, a remark that was quickly walked back by White House officials following their delivery in a speech in Warsaw, Poland.

"There was a horrendous gaffe right at the end of it, I wish he would stay on script. Whoever wrote that speech did a good job for him. But my gosh, I wish they would keep him on script. I think most people who don't deal in the lane of foreign relations don't realize that those nine words that he uttered would cause the kind of eruption that they did, but anytime you say or even as he did suggest, that the policy was regime change, it's going to cause a huge problem," he said. "Please, Mr. President, stay on script."

9:21 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

Police in Lviv detain two individuals on suspicion of sharing information with Russia

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Maksym Kozytskyi, head of the Lviv regional military administration, said late Saturday that police had detained two individuals in the Lviv region on suspicion of sharing information with Russia. 

"Today, March 26, on Chornovil Avenue in Lviv, patrols stopped a suspicious car," Kozytskyi said in a statement on Telegram."While checking the driver's documents and phone, police found videos and photos of our military movements. He also had photos of passports of men with Luhansk registration and a lot of contacts with Russian numbers."

Lviv was hit Saturday by two sets of missile strikes, including one that caused a blaze at a fuel depot that burned overnight before being extinguished by emergency responders. 

Kozytskyi said police going to the scene of a missile strike detained a man who was allegedly filming the missile's flight and its impact, and said police also found photos of checkpoints in the region that had been sent to Russian numbers. 

Those individuals were handed over to the Security Service of Ukraine following their arrest, Kozytskyi said. 

9:43 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

Israeli PM Bennett: "Israel stands firm with people of Ukraine"

From CNN's Jennifer Deaton

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken address the media following their meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, on March 27.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken address the media following their meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, on March 27. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says Israel stands firm with Ukraine, has set up a field hospital in Ukraine to care for those injured and is doing what they can to help to end this war, in a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem. 

“As for the war in Ukraine, Israel stands firm with the people of Ukraine and is going to continue our effort to help reduce the suffering and end the bloodshed. We’ve already sent our top medical teams to set up the most advanced field hospital inside Ukraine on the western side. I’ve been reported that they’ve already taken care and treated over 500 patients. At this moment, at this very moment, doctors and nurses are risking their lives to save lives of those in need. I’m proud of what Israel is doing. And of course we’re doing what we can when asked to contribute to the efforts to end this war. We do this while maintaining close coordination to the United States and with our European partners.”


10:05 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

Pope Francis calls for abolishment of war "before it erases man from history"

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

(Fabio Frustaci/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
(Fabio Frustaci/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in "battered" Ukraine on Sunday and said now is the time to abolish war before it erases humanity from history.

"More than a month has passed since the invasion of Ukraine, since the start of this cruel and senseless war, which, like every war, is a defeat for all, for all of us," he said Sunday during his weekly Angelus address. 

"We must repudiate war, a place of death where fathers and mothers bury their children, where men kill their brothers without even seeing them, where the powerful decide and the poor die. War does not only devastate the present but also the future of society," he went on to say.

The Pontiff reiterated his appeal for an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

"Faced with the danger of self-destruction, humanity must understand that the time has come to abolish war. To erase it from human history before it erases man from history," he said.

"Enough. Stop. Let the weapons fall silent. Negotiate seriously for peace," he said. "War cannot be something that is inevitable. We cannot get used to war."

8:46 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

Separatist leader in Ukraine looks forward to vote on joining Russia

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv 

Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), on Feb. 21 at the Kremlin in Moscow.
Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), on Feb. 21 at the Kremlin in Moscow. (EYEPRESS via Reuters)

The head of one of two breakaway republics in the far east of Ukraine says he expects to hold a referendum soon on whether his pro-Moscow statelet should become part of Russia. 

Leonid Pasechnik said he expected the vote to go in favour because people in the region were, in his words, tired of “having lived under constant shelling for eight years.” 

The referendum would see people in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) “exercise their absolute constitutional right and express their opinion on joining the Russian Federation,” he told journalists. 

The LPR, along with the neighbouring Donetsk People’s Republic, emerged as de facto separatist entities in 2014, as Moscow stoked unrest in Ukraine following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. Vladimir Putin recognised their independence on the eve of launching his “special military operation” against Ukraine last month.  

If the LPR did hold a vote on joining Russia, it would be following the path taken by Crimea in March 2014, where a referendum was held after the peninsular was effectively captured by Putin’s forces over the course of a couple of weeks. In a vote widely held by the international community to be illegitimate, 97% voted in favour of joining Russia, according to official results. 

9:14 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

Macron reacts to Biden calling Putin a "butcher"

From CNN's Sarah Diab in London

French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to warn against labeling Putin on Sunday. 

"I wouldn't use terms like that because I'm still in talks with President Putin,” Macron said during an interview on French Channel France 3.

This comes comes after US President Joe Biden issued intense criticism against the Russian leader during a meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Poland on Saturday.

After initially looking to downplay a personal rivalry between himself and Putin, Biden has ramped up his rhetoric against Putin over the last 10 days. Last week, Biden for the first time called Putin a "war criminal" and then later referred to him as a "murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine." He's also called the Russian invasion of Ukraine "inhumane." 

Macron added: "Our goal is to stop the war Russia launched in Ukraine, while avoiding a war and escalation."

Before the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Macron emerged as a central figure in Europe's diplomatic efforts to diffuse the situation between Moscow and the West. The French leader repeatedly engaged with Putin to try and avert the war.

This post has been updated.

8:05 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022

Donetsk separatist leader says around 1,700 civilians "evacuated" daily to Russia

Fom CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Olga Voitovych in Lviv

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic, said Sunday that around 1,700 people were being "evacuated" daily from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and other towns "to the Volodar temporary accommodation center for evacuees."

"In turn, the same number of people are leaving it," Pushilin said in a statement on Telegram, referring to a settlement known as Nikolske, about 13 miles (21 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol. 

"Residents of Mariupol and other settlements that are being liberated from the occupation of the Kyiv regime arrive here," Pushilin said. "People are provided with basic necessities, medical care, and then evacuated to the Russian Federation."

Ukrainian officials have accused the Russian government of engaging in a policy of deportation, moving civilians into the Russian Federation against their will.  

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Ukrainian government estimated the number of Ukrainians forcibly deported to Russia since the beginning of the war on February 24 to be nearly 40,000.  

She previously accused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of taking a “very questionable decision” to open an office in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia, saying the office “legitimized” Russia’s deportation, a claim the ICRC rejected.