March 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Jason Kurtz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Jack Guy and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 11:06 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022
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9:07 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

US intel assess "major" strategy shift as Russia begins moving some forces away from Kyiv

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

After the Russian Ministry of Defense announced Tuesday that it has decided to “drastically reduce hostilities” in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions, the United States is already observing these movements underway — a major strategy shift, according to two senior US officials.

Russia is beginning to withdraw some forces, including Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) leaving the surrounding areas around the Ukrainian capital. The Russian forces now pulling back in some areas of the north to focus on gains in the south and east.

The US assesses Russia will cover their retreat with air and artillery bombardment of the capital, one of the officials said. US officials caution that Russia could always reverse again if the battle conditions allow.

The move follows peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul on Tuesday. 

In the US view, this is not a short-term adjustment to regroup, but a longer-term move as Russia comes to grips with failure to advance in the north. The official said one consequence the US is concerned about, is keeping the European allies unified on economic pressure and military support as Washington expects some of them to press Ukraine to accept a peace deal to end the fighting. 

Ukraine’s military intelligence head says Russian President Vladimir Putin could be looking to carve Ukraine in two – like North and South Korea. 

Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Agency, said Russia’s operations around Kyiv had failed and it was now impossible for the Russian army to overthrow the Ukrainian government. Putin’s war was now focused on the south and the east of the country, he said.

8:54 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Biden will convene a call today with European allies on Ukraine

From Nikki Carvajal

US President Joe Biden will convene a call with European allies to discuss the latest developments regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the White House, via pool reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are expected to be on the call.

8:52 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

US oil sinks below $100 after Russia says it will "drastically reduce" assault on Kyiv

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Oil pumpjacks are viewed in the Inglewood Oil Field on March 28, in Los Angeles, California.
Oil pumpjacks are viewed in the Inglewood Oil Field on March 28, in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Oil prices fell sharply on Tuesday after Russia indicated it will dial back its assault in parts of Ukraine.

The developments eased energy supply fears that sent oil prices skyrocketing earlier this month. 

US oil tumbled 6.4% to $99.25 a barrel in recent trading. Brent crude, the world benchmark, lost 5.4% to $106.43 a barrel. 

Following peace talks between Russia and Ukraine on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the Russian Ministry of Defense has decided to “drastically reduce hostilities” in the Kyiv and Chernigov, according to state media RIA. 

The Russian official said the changes are part of an effort to “increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiation,” RIA reported. 

“I wouldn’t say peace is breaking out, but there’s a glimmer of hope apparently,” said Robert Yawger, vice president of energy futures at Mizuho Securities.

However, Yawger stressed that sanctions on Russia aren’t going away overnight, nor is the stigma that has caused many energy companies, banks and shipping companies from doing business with Russian energy firms. And there is no guarantee a ceasefire will be reached between Russia and Ukraine.

“You could easily take this all to mean Russia is just pulling back to regroup and give it another shot,” Yawger said. “I wouldn’t trust them.”

Oil prices plunged on Monday on concerns that lockdowns in Shanghai will sharply cut China’s demand for energy.

1:25 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Russia says it will "drastically reduce" military assault on Kyiv and Chernihiv

From Daria Markina

A Ukrainian serviceman stands near the wreck of a Russian tank on the front line in the Kyiv region, Ukraine, on March 28.
A Ukrainian serviceman stands near the wreck of a Russian tank on the front line in the Kyiv region, Ukraine, on March 28. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Moscow says it will “drastically reduce military activity” on two fronts — Kyiv and Chernihiv — according to the Russian Ministry of Defense Telegram channel.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin confirmed "to radically, at times, reduce military activity," according to state media RIA.

The move follows talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul on Tuesday.  

"Due to the fact that negotiations on the preparation of an agreement on the neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine, as well as on the provision of security guarantees to Ukraine, are moving into practice, taking into account the principles discussed during today's meeting, by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing on the signing of the above agreement, a decision was made to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the Kiev and Chernigov direction," Fomin told reporters.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine earlier claimed “certain units” of Russia’s military are withdrawing from battlefronts in the capital, Kyiv, and from the northern city of Chernihiv. 

“The Russian enemy did not meet the goal of its offensive operation,” it said in an official Facebook update Tuesday.

However, it warned of a “high risk” of Russian troops attacking military and civilian infrastructure. The Russian military, it claimed, is struggling to reinforce and rotate in new soldiers, due to the “refusal of personnel to participate in the so-called special operation,” and are “not able to staff even one battalion-tactical group.”

In the fifth week of the Russian invasion, the “heroic” Ukrainian resistance is “conducting a defence operation in the eastern, southeastern and northeastern directions, restrains the enemy in all directions, in some directions - displaces the enemy,” it said.

8:33 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Zelensky calls for tighter sanctions against Russia as Mariupol remains under siege

From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on a screen as he speaks in a video broadcast to members of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on March 29.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on a screen as he speaks in a video broadcast to members of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on March 29. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for even tighter sanctions against Russia and warned that almost all of the besieged city of Mariupol has been destroyed in an address to the Danish Parliament on Tuesday.

"We ask you and the whole democratic community in the world: We need to step up sanctions against Russia. We must give up Russian oil. No trade with the Russian Federation. Close ports to Russian ships. And this must be a policy of solidarity in the European Union among all member states," he said. 

More than 100,000 people are still trapped in Mariupol and are forced to "have to melt snow to drink water," he added.

Russia, he warned, wants to "ensure nothing remains of Ukraine but ruins and refugees." 

Zelensky accused Russian forces of forcibly deporting people, as well as committing rape and looting.

He claimed the whereabouts of more than 2,000 Ukrainian children is unknown and said they have been abducted and taken into Russia.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Ukrainian government estimated the number of Ukrainians forcibly deported to Russia since the invasion was nearly 40,000.

Some background: The port city of Mariupol has reported thousands of deaths as a result of Russia's constant bombardment. Before the invasion on February 24, the city was home to more than 400,000 people. Around 160,000 people remain, living without water, electricity and heat, said the mayor Vadym Boichenko.

8:07 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Kremlin says dialogue between Russia and US still necessary

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

Dialogue between Russia and the US is still needed, despite recent statements from US President Joe Biden that “damage the relations,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday.

“Personal insults cannot but leave their negative mark on relations between heads of state,” Peskov said.

“Nevertheless, dialogue between Russia and the United States is necessary in any case, not only in the interests of our the two countries but also in the interests of the whole world,” he added.

“One way or another, sooner or later, [Russia and the US] will have to talk about issues of strategic stability, security, and other issues that only we can discuss," he said.

On Sunday Biden said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” but on Monday he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins he was "talking to Russian people" with the line, rather than announcing a change in policy.

8:14 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Kremlin denies it is forcibly disappearing civilians despite CNN and UN reports

From CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh and Lindsay Isaac

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he is not aware of cases of missing Ukrainian journalists and activists, or of reports of arrested officials in Russian-held territories of Ukraine.

Peskov's comments come after CNN reported that local Ukrainian officials had been arrested, and journalists and civil society members had disappeared and are still missing

Commenting on CNN’s reporting, Peskov said the Kremlin is unaware of such cases but said they needed to be examined carefully individually.

"It is very important to consider each specific case, each name and surname," Peskov told CNN. "Nobody contacted us [about it] and we do not have such information," he added.

In addition to CNN reporting, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) said that dozens of Ukrainians, including local officials, activists and journalists, are being arbitrarily detained and subjected to forced disappearances.

At least 45 cases of civilian detentions have been recorded by the HRMMU since the war began on February 24, according to a HRMMU spokesperson.

On Monday the mission said it had so far documented 24 cases of conflict-related detentions of local officials in Russian-occupied regions, 13 of whom have subsequently been released. 

Its monitors have also recorded the disappearances of 21 journalists, civil society activists, protesters and civilians, who "vocally opposed the invasion in Kyiv, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions."

Some of those who have disappeared were taken during protests against the Russian invasion or for openly expressing their support for Ukraine.

A handful have subsequently been released, the spokesperson said, although exact numbers are still being verified by the mission. 

"Information regarding the number of released individuals is pending verification. HRMMU has received many complaints about missing civilian persons, which are also pending corroboration," said the spokesperson.

"There are grounds to believe that some of them may have also been detained, and possibly subjected to enforced disappearance," they added. 

Families are often denied any information about the fate of those being held. Many are often too terrified to speak out about the disappearance of their relatives, for fear that it could trigger a backlash against themselves or their loved ones.

7:58 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

UN nuclear watchdog chief is in Ukraine for urgent talks on safety of nuclear facilities

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Stephanie Halasz in London

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi attends the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on March 7.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi attends the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on March 7. (Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the chief of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, is in Ukraine for urgent talks with the Ukrainian government about the safety of the country's nuclear facilities. 

In a statement Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the talks with senior government officials will center on the agency's plans to deliver "urgent technical assistance to ensure the safety and security of the country’s nuclear facilities and help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment." 

Grossi posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing in front of an official UN vehicle on Tuesday, saying he had "just crossed the border into Ukraine to start the IAEA's mission to ensure the safety and security of the country's nuclear facilities." 

In the statement, Grossi said that "the military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger."  

"Ukraine has requested our assistance for safety and security. We will now start delivering it. Ukraine has one of Europe’s largest nuclear power programmes. The IAEA’s presence, where needed to ensure safety and security, is of paramount importance. We are ready to provide the necessary support now," he continued. 

Grossi, who is set to visit one of the country's power plants during his trip, warned that "there have already been several close calls" when it comes to the country's nuclear facilities. 

"We can’t afford to lose any more time," he continued, adding that the IAEA's expertise is needed urgently to prevent a nuclear accident taking place. 

Russian forces have occupied Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, since March 4, and the site of the infamous 1986 accident, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, since February 24. 

The watchdog has drawn up "concrete and detailed plans for safety and security assistance" to Ukraine's nuclear sites, which include 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants as well as the Chernobyl NPP, according to the statement. 

Eight of the country's 15 reactors continue to operate, "including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya NPP, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnytskyy, and two at South Ukraine," the IAEA said in its latest update posted Monday. The other reactors remain closed for regular maintenance, they added. 

8:00 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Explosion heard during CNN interview with mayor of Chernihiv

From CNN's Jack Guy

An explosion could be heard during a CNN interview with Vladyslav Atroshenko, the mayor of Chernihiv, on Tuesday.

Atroshenko described how his city, which is about 90 miles northeast of Kyiv, had been under constant attack since the Russian invasion began.

He spoke to CNN from in front of a bombed-out cinema, which he said was struck by a missile.

"We can say with confidence that the Russian army is waging this war not against the armed forces of Ukraine, but against civilians," Atroshenko said.

Chernihiv has been under sustained attack from air strikes and mortar shelling, he said, adding that the Russians are not using high-precision weapons.

Some 300-400 people are estimated to have been killed in the city, but the exact figure is unclear, said the mayor. CNN cannot immediately verify any death toll.

The vast majority of the dead are civilians, Atroshenko said.

About 100,000-110,000 of the city's 290,000 residents remain in Chernihiv, said the mayor, who said the city would continue to hold off the Russian armed forces.

"We shall not surrender," he said as an explosion could be heard in the background. The noise was from a Russian munition, Atroshenko said.

"Absolutely nowhere is safe in the city now," he said. "The enemy is striking everywhere."

Watch the interview: