March 30, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Lianne Kolirin and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
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1:21 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Slovenia prime minister voices support to send S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine

From CNN’s Adam Pourahmadi in Abu Dhabi 

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said Wednesday that he supports sending the S-300 missile defense systems to Ukraine.  

“Yes, I support this because this is the equipment that Ukraine needs the most," he told CNN's Becky Anderson, but added, “I don’t support speaking a lot about what we are giving them."

Janša also said he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who told him that his government is prepared to propose a referendum to Ukrainians to change the constitution to abandon Ukraine's wish to join NATO. 

“I think they made some kind of pragmatic decision, because after they will win this war, I think that it will be NATO wanting them to join,” Janša said. “When they win this war, the Ukrainian army will be one of the strongest, if not the strongest army on the European continent."

1:14 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

British prime minister says it's "not the objective of the UK government" to remove Putin from power  

From CNN’s Benjamin Brown and Arnaud Siad 

(UK Parliament TV)
(UK Parliament TV)

British Prime Minister 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?” 

“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. 

Johnson also said sanctions against Russia should be intensified until every Russian boot was out of Ukraine. 

“I certainly don’t think you could expect the G7 to lift sanctions simply because there’s been a ceasefire in Ukraine. That again goes straight into Putin’s playbook. In my view, we should continue to intensify sanctions with a rolling program until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine,” he said. 

Asked if this included Crimea, Johnson said, “As I said, every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine.” 

1:07 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Ukrainian police say there is continued shelling by Russians in the Donetsk region

From CNN’s Josh Pennington

Damage is seen after shelling in the Donetsk region in Ukraine on March 30.
Damage is seen after shelling in the Donetsk region in Ukraine on March 30. (Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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. 

Information about destruction and the victims is still being clarified, police say.

The Donetsk region is one of two breakaway eastern Ukrainian territories, the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic.

1:09 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Top US general in Europe says US force posture has to change on the continent

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Gen. Tod Wolters testifies during a US House Armed Service Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Gen. Tod Wolters testifies during a US House Armed Service Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

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.”

“It’s gotta change, and certainly this is an opportunity as a result of this senseless act on behalf of Russia to re-examine the permanent military architecture that exists not only in Eastern Europe, but in our air policing activity in aviation and in our standing naval maritime groups,” Wolters said.

Wolters also highlighted the eight battalion-sized battle groups the US and NATO are establishing in Eastern European NATO member countries.

“We are in the process of establishing eight very coherent minimum battalion sized battle groups in Eastern Europe that have all of the appropriate enablers that are coupled in with all the air policing assets and all the standing naval maritime groups so that we can more comprehensively defend in the east and do so in the north all the way back to the Atlantic Ocean extending back into the Mediterranean,” Wolters said.

NATO member nations will be a part of building up the force posture in Europe and are committed to changing the force posture from a “rotational” to a “more permanent” presence, Wolters said. 

“They are going to be part of the equation, and they’re very willing to do so to change the presence from a rotational to a more permanent, and I think it will continue to grow, and we’re working very hard with the North Atlantic Council to do that,” Wolters said.

In addition, he said the US has “two centers” with “approximately 100 individuals” that are working to get military assistance and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

“We at US EUCOM have two centers with approximately 100 individuals that continue to iterate in the military dimension with Ukrainian liaison officers that are working both the security assistance items in the military dimension and the humanitarian assistance items,” Wolters said.

Wolters called the system an “iterative process” that is “based off supply and demand.”

“It’s not perfect by any means, but it continues to improve over time, and we’ll continue to iterate, and we’ll make sure that we continue to connect with those interlocutors at the Ukrainian level to make sure they get the right gear as quickly as we possibly can,” Wolters said. 

12:49 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Russian military spokesperson says "planned regrouping" around Kyiv and Chernihiv underway

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that a "planned regrouping of troops" was underway around Kyiv and Chernihiv, one day after Russian negotiators said Moscow's forces would take steps toward de-escalation around the two cities. 

"At the first stage of the special military operation carried out by the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of Donbas and Ukraine, it was planned to force the enemy to concentrate his forces, means, resources and military equipment to hold large settlements in these areas, including Kyiv," Konashenkov said in a statement. "To tie them up on the battlefield and without storming these cities, in order to avoid losses among the civilian population, inflict such a defeat on the armed formations of the Kyiv regime that would not allow it to use these forces in the main direction of operations of our armed forces - in the Donbas. All of these goals have been met."

Ukrainian officials have reported Russian shelling over the past 24 hours around both cities. US officials have been skeptical of Russia's claims of de-escalation, and some observers have suggested Russia's shifting military objectives are meant to conceal setbacks on the battlefield.

Konashenkov claimed that the "main tasks of the Russian armed forces in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions have been completed," adding Russian forces were regrouping in order to "intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas," in Ukraine's east.

12:43 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Biden told Zelensky the US would provide Ukraine with $500 million in "direct budgetary aid," White House says

From CNN's DJ Judd, Kevin Liptak, Jeremey Diamond and Kaitlan Collins

US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for about an hour, 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.

“The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” the White House says, adding Biden also “reviewed the additional sanctions and humanitarian assistance announced last week.”

The call was scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET (5:45 p.m. in Kyiv) “to discuss our continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.” It began at 11:08 a.m. ET and ended at 12:03 p.m. ET.

The call comes a day after Biden and other US officials voiced extreme caution at signals Russia is scaling back its military operations near Kyiv, suggesting they were waiting to see stronger signs of de-escalation before making an assessment of Moscow's intentions.

"We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through what they're suggesting," Biden said at the White House Tuesday.

Biden noted that in the meantime, the US will continue to "keep strong the sanctions" and "provide the Ukrainian military with their capacity to defend themselves."

12:08 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

US father helped his daughter and her baby trek through rugged terrain to escape Ukraine

(CNN)
(CNN)

William Hubbard, a US father from Massachusetts, helped his daughter Aislinn, grandson and her boyfriend leave Ukraine to Slovakia in a trek across the wilderness. 

The journey was arduous, she told CNN, and they had their two cats and multiple duffel bags with them.

"It was an eight-hour hike. It was very difficult, up a very steep mountain. We had to find an area that was discreet, and we were lucky that we didn't encounter any military along the way. We were able to get out," Aislinn, 19, said speaking from Austria during an interview on CNN.

The area they crossed was in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, and Aislinn slid down a muddy hill with her baby at one point.

Her father was in Slovakia tracking their progress through his phone.

"It was incredibly stressful, because I'm sitting there ... watching this little dot move. Then it would stop for a while. And I'm thinking to myself, 'what happened, did someone get hurt? Did soldiers get to them?' Because we had no communication. All I was doing was following a little dot on a map," he said.

Because men 18-60 years old are barred from leaving the country, her boyfriend will not be able to return to Ukraine, she and her father said.

They also had previous issues with documentation for the baby, because he was born at home during the pandemic and did not have a birth certificate.

"This wouldn't have been necessary if the Ukrainians and the [US] State Department would have assisted us in getting the proper paperwork in a timely manner, but they gave us no other alternative but to take the bull by the horns and hatch a plan that would work for us," Hubbard said.

The near-term plan right now, he said, is for Aislinn and her family to go to Prague and stay there to obtain the documentation needed.

1:02 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

First on CNN: Mariupol Red Cross warehouse hit by military strikes, satellite imagery confirms

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Nathan Hodge and Sandi Sidhu

(Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
(Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

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. 

Citing additional imagery it captured, Maxar said the northern end of the warehouse was hit sometime between March 19-22. A second military strike, on the southern end of the building, occurred sometime between March 23-26.

Sensory satellite data from NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System also confirmed that a number of explosions were detected in the vicinity on March 20 and every day between March 22-25.

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Jason Straziuso told CNN that it is a Red Cross warehouse.

“We do not have a team on the ground, so we have no other information, including on potential casualties or the extent of the damage," Straziuso said. "We can say that we had already distributed all aid supplies in the warehouse.”

No Red Cross staff have been at the warehouse since March 15, according to Straziuso, and that the organization does not know how the building may have been used since.

"Under international humanitarian law, objects used for humanitarian relief operations must be respected and protected at all times," Straziuso said. "But what we are most concerned by is the overall humanitarian situation in Mariupol and the relentless suffering inflicted on civilians living there. People are trapped with no safe way out of the city, and they are running out of the very basics needed for their survival."

Straziuso said that intense fighting has prevented the Red Cross from bringing any humanitarian aid to the city.

Liudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament commissioner for human rights, called for the “world community to condemn” the shelling of the building. “This is another war crime of the Russian army in accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and a gross violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions,” she said.  

There was no information on victims, Denisova added.

CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defence for comment. 

 

12:29 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Top US senators express frustration over delay of bill punishing Russia as discussions continue 

From CNN's Manu Raju 

(CNN)
(CNN)

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."

More on the bill: The legislation would allow higher tariff rates on some imports from Russia and Belarus, where Russia launched some of its troops.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden called for suspending normal trade relations with Russia and said the US would ban imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from the nation as part of an effort to ramp up economic pressure on Russia for invading Ukraine. The move requires approval from Congress. The House passed the bill on March 17 — one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an emotional appeal in a virtual address to Congress. Now the legislation must go to the Senate.

To schedule a vote in the United States Senate, it requires consent of all 100 senators. If one objects, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can take time consuming procedural steps to overcome the objection assuming he gets 60 votes.

But Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has objected to a quick vote as he's demanded changes to the bill's sanctions language, worried that it's too broad and could be abused by the US government. And Schumer has refused to eat up floor time to overcome the objection.

So talks continue to try to reach a deal and a quick vote.

CNN's Clare Foran and Kristin Wilson contributed reporting to this post.