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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1:40 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Biden and European allies affirmed "determination to continue raising costs on Russia" in call

From CNN's DJ Judd

US President Joe Biden and his counterparts in France, Germany, Italy and the UK “affirmed their determination to continue raising costs on Russia for its brutal attacks in Ukraine, as well as to continue supplying Ukraine with security assistance to defend itself against this unjustified and unprovoked assault,” on a call this morning, according to a White House statement. 

“They reviewed their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions affected by the violence, both inside Ukraine and seeking refuge in other countries, and underscored the need for humanitarian access to civilians in Mariupol,” according to the White House. “They also discussed the importance of supporting stable energy markets in light of current disruptions due to sanctions.”

Earlier, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the leaders agree on the ongoing need to “support and sustain” the people of Ukraine against “Russian barbarism.”

“The Prime Minister underscored that we must judge Putin’s regime by their actions not their words. Putin is twisting the knife in the open wound of Ukraine in an attempt to force the country and its allies to capitulate,” the spokesperson added. 

CNN's Luke McGee contributed reporting to this post.

1:32 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Biden and Singapore prime minister issue joint statement condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's DJ Judd

US President Joe Biden and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a statement Tuesday said following today’s meeting the two nations “recognize that threats to the UN Charter and rules-based international order anywhere, including Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, place peace and prosperity everywhere at risk.” 

“The war in Ukraine has a negative impact on the Indo-Pacific region, which already faces many complex challenges. Taken together, the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century demand deeper cooperation between us,” the two leaders wrote.

Per the White House, the two “resolve to further expand bilateral cooperation, taking bold new steps to drive broad-based economic growth and innovation, raise infrastructure standards in the region, address the climate crisis, promote health security, increase supply chain resilience, improve cybersecurity, ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities, and more.” 

On Ukraine, they “emphasize our unwavering commitment to the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and condemn Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which clearly violates international law, including the United Nations Charter,” and “recognize the need to preserve a world in which borders cannot be changed by force and state-to-state relations are guided by international law.”

The two leaders also condemned the military coup in Myanmar, adding the two nations “continue to call for an end to violence against civilians in Myanmar, the release of all political detainees, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and foreign detainees; unhindered humanitarian access; and for Myanmar to return to its path of democratic transition.”

The two leaders are expected to address reporters shortly from the White House.

12:59 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

European countries expel Russian diplomats and intelligence officers

From CNN's Benjamin Brown, James Frater, Arnaud Siad, Emmet Lyons and Josh Pennington

Multiple countries announced Tuesday they are expelling Russian diplomats from their countries.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands expelled 17 Russian intelligence officers attached to Russian diplomats in the country. It said in a tweet the decision was based on information from Dutch intelligence and security services naming the Russian officers as a threat to national security. 

“This step was taken in coordination with other like-minded countries,” it added.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that 17 diplomats were expelled, according to Russian state media TASS.

Belgium said it is expelling 21 Russian diplomats who have been identified as involved in espionage and “influence activities,” Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmes said.

Wilmes said the diplomats are from the Russian embassy and consulate.

Ireland and the Czech Republic also expelled a combined total of five Russian diplomats.

Ireland expelled four senior Russian diplomatic officials, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said in a statement. Coveney said his ministry had informed the Russian ambassador of the government’s decision to expel the diplomats due to their activities not being “in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour.” 

In the Czech Republic, one Russian diplomat at the embassy in Prague had been declared "persona non grata," the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that together with their allies, they were “reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU.” 

The Russian embassies in Ireland and Belgium condemned the moves, saying it will “not go unanswered.” 

“This is arbitrary, groundless decision, which can only deteriorate further Russian-Irish relations already damaged by the Irish participation in illegitimate EU sanctions against Russia,” the Russian embassy in Ireland said in a statement posted to its Twitter account.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Belgium in a statement also called the move “a serious blow to Russian-Belgian relations [that] goes against the long-history of interaction between the two countries.”

“This unfriendly action from the Belgian side will certainly not go unanswered,” the statement read. 

1:31 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Analysis: Despite signs of progress in the latest Russia-Ukraine talks, many hurdles remain

Analysis by CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian delegation speaks to the press after talks with Russia, in Istanbul, Turkey on March 29.
Ukrainian delegation speaks to the press after talks with Russia, in Istanbul, Turkey on March 29. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers met in Turkey just 19 days ago, the atmosphere was toxic — and neither side got far beyond restating existing positions.

Today, at a meeting in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian teams, the atmospherics were a great deal more positive and the outlines, however faint, of an overall settlement to this horrendously destructive war, began to come into focus.

They included the future of Crimea and the Donbas region, Ukraine's neutral status, protected by security guarantees, a notable pull-back of Russian forces currently north of Kyiv and even the prospect of a meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian side accepted kicking into the long grass the status of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said of the future of Crimea, whose annexation has never been accepted by either Ukraine or other Western countries: "It was agreed in bilateral format to take a pause for 15 years and conduct bilateral talks on the status of these territories.

"Separately we discussed that during the 15 years while the bilateral talks take place there will be no military hostilities," he told reporters.

This would take one of the most contentious issues off the table for now.

Both sides seemed to be in a constructive mood. Podolyak said the Russian negotiators have "taken the treaty that outlines ways to end the war and will work out their counter proposals."

Russian news agency TASS quoted the head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, as saying that the talks were constructive. And he said that "Russia is taking two steps towards Ukraine for de-escalation."

The most immediate of those is the Russian declaration that hostilities against Chernihiv and in the direction of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, would be drastically reduced. Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine, has been surrounded by Russian forces and has suffered devastating destruction over the past three weeks.

As significantly, Medinsky said that the Ukrainian proposals were now sufficiently formulated for them to "be presented to the President. And our appropriate response will be given."

"Provided that the agreement is worked on quickly and a compromise is found, the opportunity to conclude peace will become closer," Medinsky said — the most upbeat assessment from a Russian official since the first round of talks at the end of February.

Russian officials have previously played down any involvement in the process of Putin, saying that more needed to be negotiated before the Russian leader personally sits down for direct talks.

Now, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti — citing the Russian delegation — spoke of the possibility of a meeting between Putin and Zelensky simultaneously with the initialing of the peace treaty by the foreign ministers of both countries.

Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who brokered the talks, sketched out a possible roadmap, with the "top priority of achieving a ceasefire as soon as possible to pave the way for a permanent political solution."

Those "trickier" issues would be bumped up to the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers to "make final adjustments to the common approach." And then a meeting between Putin and Zelensky would be on the agenda, he said in remarks to reporters after the talks.

An outline emerges: For Ukraine, security guarantees have always been a critical part of any settlement to the conflict. Gradually, President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have walked away from Ukraine's past insistence that it has the right — even the obligation — to apply for NATO membership, as is enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution.

Now a very different formulation is emerging.

One member of the Ukrainian team, Davyd Arakhamia, said after the meeting to Ukrainian TV: "We insist that this be an international treaty, signing all the guarantors of security, which will be ratified."

That treaty would have to be ratified by parliaments in the guarantor countries, according to Ukrainian officials, who are evidently building as much insurance into the mechanism as possible. The Ukrainians also want the guarantors to include the permanent members of the UN Security Council — Russia included.

The guarantees would be very specific, Arakhamia said. In the event of aggression or a military operation directed at Ukraine, "consultations should take place within three days."

"After that, the guarantor countries are obliged to help us. And military aid, and the armed forces, and weapons, and the closed sky — everything that we need so much now, and we cannot get it."

The Ukrainians are now looking at what might be called protected — and permanent — neutrality.

Read more here.

1:30 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

US troops in Poland are providing some training on weapons sent to Ukraine, sources say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division and military vehicles are seen at a temporary base in Wola Korzeniecka, Poland on February 24.
US soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division and military vehicles are seen at a temporary base in Wola Korzeniecka, Poland on February 24. (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

US troops in Poland have been providing Ukrainians with some instruction on how to use weapons and equipment that the West has been shipping into Ukraine, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, as part of the United States' efforts to help Ukrainian forces repel Russian attacks. 

US President Joe Biden said on Monday that those American forces have been “helping train the Ukrainian troops” in Poland. The troops have been deployed there to help bolster NATO’s eastern flank during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

While in Poland last week, Biden heard directly from the troops about how they were providing the tactical weapons training to the Ukrainians there, the sources said.

"We were talking about helping train the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland,” Biden said on Monday. He was seeking to clarify a remark he made last week to US troops that they would be seeing “when you’re there … women, young people, standing in the middle of the damn tank, saying 'I’m not leaving. I’m holding my ground.’” 

A White House official told CNN “there are Ukrainian soldiers in Poland interacting on a regular basis with US troops, and that’s what the President was referring to.”

Sources told CNN that while US troops are indeed providing some instruction to the Ukrainians at a military base in Poland, it does not amount to “formalized” training. 

Rather, the coaching is more tactical and in-the-moment, the sources said, like showing Ukrainian soldiers who are picking up the weapons shipments in Poland how to use some of the equipment, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles that the West has been sending in large numbers. Poland has become the central transit point of arms transfers into Ukraine.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod D. Wolters told US lawmakers on Tuesday that the US had been providing “advice and assistance with respect to materiel” going into Ukraine, but that the US forces are not “in the process of currently training military forces from Ukraine in Poland.”

“There are liaisons that are there that are being given advice, and that is different than what I think you are referring to with respect to training,” Wolters told Republican Sen. Tom Cotton when asked about the training.

Wolters said separately during the hearing that “as you well know, we’ve made dramatic improvements in our information sharing and intelligence sharing, and as [the Ukrainians] continue to pursue their campaign, our advice and our assistance with respect to material will be very, very important,” Wolters said. 

11:41 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

UK says it wants "complete withdrawal" of Russian forces from Ukraine  

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad and Luke McGee

Britain does not want to see anything less than a “complete withdrawal” of Russian forces from the Ukrainian territory and will judge Russia by its actions rather than words, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said Tuesday. 

Earlier Tuesday, Moscow said it will “drastically reduce military activity” on two fronts — Kyiv and Chernihiv.

The British government acknowledged that there has been a reduction in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, the spokesperson added. 

11:30 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Russian negotiator: De-escalation around Kyiv and Chernihiv "is not a ceasefire"

From CNN's staff in Lviv

Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky said Tuesday the announcement of plans for a de-escalation by the Russian military around Kyiv and Chernihiv "is not a ceasefire."

In remarks to Russian state-owned channel RT, Medinsky said the first step agreed by Russia in talks with Ukraine "concerns a gradual military de-escalation in two main directions — Kyiv and Chernihiv," adding, "we understand that there are people in Kyiv who need to make decisions, so we do not want to expose this city to additional risk."

11:29 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

US general says there "could be" an intel gap that caused the US to overestimate Russia's capabilities

From CNN's Barbara Starr, Ellie Kaufman and Michael Conte

Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US European Command, said there “could be” an intelligence gap in the US’ intelligence gathering that caused the US to overestimate Russia’s capability and underestimate Ukraine’s defensive capability in the current Ukraine crisis.

Wolters made the comments during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. 

When Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, asked if there was an intelligence gap that caused the US to overestimate Russia and underestimate Ukraine, Wolters said “there could be.”

“There could be and as we’ve always done in the past, when this crisis is over with, we will accomplish a comprehensive after-action review in all domains and in all departments and find out where our weak areas were and make sure we can find ways to improve, and this could be one of those areas,” Wolters said.

On Ukrainian advances: Wolters said he believes Ukrainian forces will be able to stall the Russians in the east of the country, but not that he believed they could push the Russian forces back.

He also said that 70% to 75% of Russia’s forces are “devoted” to the Ukrainian invasion “from a Russian perspective at this time.”

1:30 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Blinken: US hasn't seen signs Russia is serious in talks with Ukraine

From CNN's Michael Conte and Jeremy Herb

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a joint press conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat, Morocco, on March 29.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a joint press conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat, Morocco, on March 29. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he has not seen signs the talks between Ukraine and Russia are “moving forward in an effective way” because the US has not seen “signs of real seriousness” by Russia.

“There is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter,” said Blinken at a joint press conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Blinken cautioned that Russia saying it would be reducing hostilities around Kyiv could be “a means by which Russia once again is trying to deflect and deceive people into thinking it’s not doing what it is doing.”

“If they somehow believe that an effort to subjugate “only,” in quotation marks, the eastern part of Ukraine and the southern part of Ukraine can succeed, then once again they are profoundly fooling themselves,” said Blinken. 

Blinken called for Russia to “end the aggression now, stop firing, pull its forces back and of course engage in talks.”