About 1,000 Wagner group fighters are now in Ukraine's Donbas region, Pentagon spokesperson says
From CNN's Ellie Kaufman
About 1,000 people associated with the Wagner group, a paramilitary group sponsored by Russia, are now in the Donbas region of Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The US has seen Russia become “much more active” in the Donbas region “in the last few days,” Kirby added.
“We think that the Wagner group now has about 1,000 people dedicated to the Donbas. ... We have seen them prioritize airstrikes in the Donbas area,” Kirby said.
Wagner contractors have been fighting in the Donbas “over the last eight years, so this is an area where the Wagner group is experienced,” Kirby added.
3:58 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
Pentagon: Putin hasn't been "fully informed" by his Ministry of Defense "at every turn" of Ukraine invasion
From CNN's Ellie Kaufman
Russian President Vladimir Putin has “not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense at every turn” throughout the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Kirby did not offer any details that led to this assessment.
Kirby said the US does not have “access to every bit of information that” Putin has been given or “every conversation that he’s had,” but he said he concurs with the “basic finding” of press reporting that Putin has not been fully informed by his Defense Ministry of the situation in Ukraine.
CNN reported earlier Wednesday that a US official said the US believes that Putin is being "misinformed" by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the effect of sanctions on Russia's economy.
“I’ve seen these press reports attributed to a US official, and we would concur with the basic finding, but we are not going to get any more specific than that,” Kirby said.
4:31 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
Europe heavily relies on Russia for gas. Here's how it's reacting to concerns about possible gas shortage
From CNN staff
Some European countries are heavily dependent on Russia for their gas supply.
Here's a look at actions some European countries are taking so far:
Germany: It has issued an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages after Russia said it wanted to be paid in rubles and threatened to cut off supplies if that didn't happen.
"A payment with rubles is not acceptable," German economy minister Robert Habeck had said on Monday.
Speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Wednesday, he said that the warning stage was of a preventive nature and would see increased monitoring of gas supplies. He also called upon companies and consumers to use gas sparingly. German gas storage is currently filled to 25% capacity, according to Habeck.
"There are currently no supply shortages," he said. "Nevertheless, we must take further precautionary measures to be prepared for any escalation by Russia."
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin later on Wednesday, and the German leader stressed that Berlin is committed to a G7 agreement that energy supplies from Russia would be paid for only in euros or US dollars, according to a German readout of the call.
Putin informed Scholz that the law that payments for Russian energy supplies would have to be made in rubles does not apply for European partners, and payments would continue to be made in euros and transferred to Gazprom Bank, which is not affected by sanctions, and then converted into rubles, according to the readout.
“Chancellor Scholz did not agree to this procedure in the conversation, but asked for written information to better understand the procedure,” the readout said.
Netherlands: The Dutch government asked the public to use less gas as it hopes to reduce its dependency on Russian imports, according to a spokesperson for the economy ministry. However, the Dutch government would not be triggering a gas crisis plan, spokesperson Tim van Dijk told CNN. Instead, the government hopes to reduce Dutch gas usage through a campaign addressing its citizens.
The campaign had been prepared for weeks in light of the war in Ukraine and was not launched in connection with Germany's decision to issue an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages, van Dijk added.
Austria: It issued an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages in the country, which also follows Russia demand to be paid in rubles and its threat to cut off supplies if its demand was not met.
Austrian climate minister Leonore Gewessler announced the warning following a government crisis meeting. The early-stage warning sees Austria take "the next step in the preparation for an emergency," Gewessler wrote on Twitter.
"We are monitoring the situation on the gas market even more closely & taking precautions to continue to ensure the supply of our households," the minister added.
4:09 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
WHO: Attacks on health care are part of Russian strategy, with Ukrainian civilians used as "chess pieces"
From CNN's Virginia Langmaid
There have been 82 attacks on health care in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, according to World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Since the beginning of the Russian Federation's invasion, there have been 82 attacks on health care, resulting in at least 72 deaths and 43 injuries, including patients and health workers," he said at a media briefing on Wednesday. "Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law and must stop immediately."
Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said there's a "world of difference" between health access issues during conflict as compared to conflict actively targeting health care.
"It's a very big difference between that situation and a situation in which access is being actively denied to a population, where the actual cutting off of people is part of the tactics. It's part of the military strategy," he said.
"This is not people caught up in the fog of war. It's not people just caught up in the conflict. It is people being directly targeted, directly denied, and directly used as strategic implements, as chess pieces on a horrific, murderous board that they have no right, or no need to be on," he said.
2:59 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
UN human rights chief: Russia's indiscriminate attacks "may amount to war crimes"
From CNN's Richard Roth
Russia’s indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and “may amount to war crimes,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Wednesday.
Bachelet said her investigators are looking into 24 cases where cluster munitions were used by Russia. Hospitals, water supplies and administrative buildings have been struck by missiles or shelling, she reported.
“The massive destruction of civilian objects and the high number of civilian casualties strongly indicate that the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution have not been sufficiently adhered to,” she said.
The Ukrainian people are enduring a “living nightmare,” Bachelet added.
“The hostilities must stop, without delay,” Bachelet said. “Today, I call on the Russian Federation to heed the clear and strong calls of the General Assembly and of this Council, and immediately act to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory.”
2:54 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
No breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine talks, French foreign minister tells CNN
From CNN’s Alex Hardie and Wesley Oliver in London
There has been no breakthrough in talks between Russia and Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told CNN on Wednesday.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Le Drian said there was “nothing new” and “no breakthrough” in what has been discussed at negotiations in Istanbul.
He added that “the issues are still the same” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin “still wishes to impose his diktat on Ukraine.”
The French foreign minister said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “wants some security guarantees to be given to his country and at the moment there is nothing like that in the discussion.”
“We want a ceasefire as soon as possible but, in the meantime, we shall continue to provide Ukraine with defensive, legal weapons because this is necessary, because we want the war to stop, and we want the war to stop without going to war ourselves,” Le Drian told Amanpour.
Speaking about the conditions in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Le Drian said that President Putin "already has experience of doing so because it is very much the method that was used by the Russian forces in Aleppo [Syria].”
“If Russia wishes to make some gestures, they have to put an end to that — in particular, in Mariupol. They have to lift the siege of Mariupol. They have to allow access to Mariupol for humanitarian purposes so that the humanitarian assistance can reach the population and so that, as well, the Mariupol people are free to move. So that would allow us to give the minimum of credibility to the Russian statements,” Le Drian continued.
3:16 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
Mayor of Irpin: The city stood up to the world's second largest military
From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Byron Blunt and Daria Markina in Kyiv
The mayor of Irpin, Oleksandr Markushin, told CNN that despite being a small city, it was able to stand up to the world’s second-largest military.
“Irpin is a small city, but it did not allow the second-largest army in the world go forward,” Markushin told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen in an interview just outside Irpin on Wednesday.
“We had spirit, strong army and territorial defense and we had nowhere to retreat,” the Mayor added. “We are fighting for our land.”
Markushin said Russia never had full control of the city on the suburbs of Kyiv.
“The Russians attacked Irpin and wanted to own it, but they failed. They captured 30% of the city. A few days ago we knocked them out,” he said. “Now Irpin is Ukrainian by a 100%.”
Despite being under full Ukrainian control, the area remains dangerous as Russian forces continue to occupy nearby areas.
“It's still dangerous here, because Bucha, Vorzel and Hostomel are nearby. They are under Russian troops who still shooting,” the Irpin mayor explained. “They use Grad system, shells and mines.”
Markushin said Ukrainian forces had destroyed more than 100 vehicles in and around Irpin and that a humanitarian rescue effort was still ongoing, as many of Irpin’s residents had been unable to leave.
“We take out the wounded and dead bodies. Today and yesterday we have evacuated approximately 500 people. Today I myself evacuated about 50 children and 100 adults,” he said.
“There are many destroyed buildings, schools and kindergartens. There are completely destroyed residential multi-story buildings,” he said.
2:07 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
It's 9 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
From CNN Staff
Ukrainian officials say there has been no reduction in hostilities overnight despite claims by Russia that it planned to reduce the number of troops and military operations around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said the Russian army continues to conduct a full-scale armed aggression against the country on Wednesday, while Ukrainian forces continue to conduct a defense operation in the eastern, southeastern and northeastern directions.
The mayor of Chernihiv said the city has come under "colossal attack," while Russia says that there has been "no breakthrough" in negotiations being held in Istanbul. The mayor of the northern Ukrainian city dismissed Moscow’s claim of a scale-back in operations. The city was “under fire” from Russian airstrikes while shelling continued through the night, according to Viacheslav Chaus, head of the Chernihiv regional administration.
US officials have also been skeptical of Russia's claims of de-escalation in certain parts of Ukraine, and some observers have suggested Russia's shifting military objectives are meant to conceal setbacks on the battlefield.
Here's more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine conflict:
Ukrainian police say there is continued shelling by Russians in the Donetsk region: Russia troops have attacked nine settlements, damaging at least eight civilian buildings, including houses and shops, according to the National Police of Ukraine. Russians fired at the civilian population with “mortars, tanks, artillery, and small arms," and some have been wounded. The most heavily shelled cities and towns in the region over the past 24 hours have been: Mariupol, Marinka, Krasnohorivka, Avdiivka, Vuhledar, Volnovakha, Zalizne, Ocheretyne (Oleksandrivska TG), and Novoselivka-3, according to police. The city of Pokrovsk also came under attack on Wednesday. The Donetsk region is one of two breakaway eastern Ukrainian territories, the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic.
Satellite imagery confirms Mariupol Red Cross warehouse has been hit by military strikes: The Red Cross warehouse in central Mariupol was hit by at least two military strikes, new satellite images from Maxar Technologies confirm. On Wednesday, the Azov Battalion — a unit that began as an ultra-nationalist militia but has since integrated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces — claimed on their Telegram channel that the warehouse had been hit by Russian military strikes, posting an image of the larger complex as evidence. CNN has obtained a satellite image from Maxar Technologies that confirms the allegation.
Top US general in Europe says US force posture has to change on the continent: Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US European Command, told lawmakers during a congressional hearing Wednesday the US force posture in Europe needs to change. Wolters, who oversees the US military presence on the European continent, said the US force posture needs to change not only in Eastern Europe but also in “air policing activity” and in “naval maritime groups.” Wolters also highlighted the eight battalion-sized battle groups the US and NATO are establishing in Eastern European NATO member countries.
Biden told Zelensky the US would provide Ukraine with $500 million in "direct budgetary aid," White House says: US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for about an hour Wednesday, according to the White House. Zelensky tweeted after the call that they "shared assessment of the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro-financial and humanitarian aid." In a statement, the White House said Biden told Zelensky the US “intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid” on the call. The budgetary aid is to help pay salaries, among other things, according to an official.
Top US senators express frustration over delay of bill to punish Russia: Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed concern about the delay of the bill to revoke the normal trade status of Russia and Belarus. "First of all, it doesn't have to be this way. If people just focus on the bottom line is that this is the key addition that our country needs to add economic firepower to the fight against Putin," he told CNN. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Crapo, the ranking Republican on the panel, said to CNN: "I wish we had been able to move last week. But as you know, in the Senate, we have to get unanimous consent or spend a week or more on a filibuster battle. We've been working really hard to get it put together and we've been making some progress. And my hope is that we'll be able to move soon."
UNICEF says 2 million children have fled Ukraine, with more than 100 killed: Roughly two million children have now been forced to flee Ukraine — making up half of all refugees from the war — the United Nations Children's Fund said Wednesday. More than 1.1 million have arrived in Poland alone, with hundreds of thousands in nearby countries of Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. UNICEF warned of a heightened risk of exploitation and trafficking for children fleeing violence. In an effort to quell those risks, the UN agency is scaling up “Blue Dots,” which are one-stop safe spaces for traveling families. More than 100 children have been killed in the conflict, UNICEF added, with more than 130 injured. More than 2.5 million children have been internally displaced within Ukraine, according to UNICEF.
British prime minister says it's "not the objective of the UK government" to remove Putin from power: Boris Johnson said Wednesday that it’s “not the objective of the UK government” to remove Russian President Vladimir Putin from power. Speaking to the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons, Johnson was asked by lawmakers if he agreed that the final outcome should not only be “Russians out of Ukraine but Putin out of the Kremlin?” He said: “It is absolutely clear, it is not the objective of the UK government [to remove Putin from power]. We are simply setting out to help, to protect the people of Ukraine, to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence. That is what we are doing,” the prime minister responded.
1:36 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022
Heavy fighting continues in Kyiv's outskirts Wednesday
From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Fred Pleitgen and Byron Blunt in Kyiv
Heavy fighting continued in the outskirts of Kyiv on Wednesday, despite an announced drawdown of Russian forces around the Ukrainian capital.
A CNN team newsgathering near the suburb of Irpin heard constant incoming and outgoing shelling.
Multiple rocket launch systems were also heard intermittently near the last checkpoint between Kyiv and Irpin, as was sporadic outgoing small arms fire.