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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10:17 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Some Russian forces have withdrawn from Chernobyl, US official says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Some Russian forces have withdrawn from the Chernobyl nuclear power site, according to a senior US defense official.

Chernobyl, infamous location of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, is about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Kyiv. The site fell into Russian hands in the first days of the invasion in late February, triggering fears that safety standards inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone could be compromised.

The withdrawal comes as a portion of Russian troops near the Ukrainian capital have repositioned. 

Troop movement: On Wednesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the US has seen approximately 20% of Russia’s forces moving against Kyiv “repositioning,” with some heading to Belarus. Kirby said the troops that have been repositioning have generally been fighting in areas to the north and northwest of Kyiv. 

Some context: One week ago, Ukraine’s government said Russian forces had looted and destroyed a lab close to the abandoned nuclear plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste. 

Russian claims: The movement of Russian forces near Chernobyl and elsewhere around Kyiv came one day after Russia’s Ministry of Defense said its forces would “de-escalate” around Kyiv. Despite the Russian claim, Kyiv and the surroundings cities have seen an ongoing Russian bombardment in the past 24 hours. 

“Our assessment would be as we said yesterday that they’re going to refit these troops, resupply them, and them probably employ them elsewhere in Ukraine,” Kirby said. 
9:57 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Biden considers releasing 1 million oil barrels per day as prices spike over Ukraine war

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden is considering releasing a record amount of oil from US reserves in response to high gas prices amid the war in Ukraine. 

A plan being considered involves releasing about 1 million barrels per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the coming months, a person familiar with the deliberations said. 

The announcement could come as soon as Thursday, when the President is scheduled to deliver remarks from the White House on gas prices. 

Biden last month announced a coordinated release of oil from the reserves in conjunction with other nations. He also released about 60 million barrels in November. 

Some context: The price of oil has spiked following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month, sending already-high gas prices skyrocketing. 

Read more about pain at the pump:

9:45 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

White House confirms Biden's meeting with family of American detained in Russia

From CNN's Sam Fossum

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed President Joe Biden met with the family of Trevor Reed Wednesday at the White House.

Reed was detained in Russia in 2019 and sentenced to nine years a year later for endangering the "life and health" of Russian police officers in an altercation — charges he denies.

"During their meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to continue to work to secure the release of Trevor, Paul Whelan, and other Americans wrongfully held in Russia and elsewhere, and to provide all possible assistance until they and others are free and returned home to their families who are advocating so passionately for their release," Psaki said in a statement. 

The Reed family had been demonstrating outside the White House to raise awareness about their son's ordeal.

9:46 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

War in Ukraine entering "crucial period" as Russia shifts strategy, US senator says

From CNN's David Shortell

US Sen. Angus King speaks with CNN on Wednesday March 30.
US Sen. Angus King speaks with CNN on Wednesday March 30. (CNN)

The war in Ukraine is entering a "crucial period" as Russian troops refocus their efforts and Russian President Vladimir Putin grows increasingly desperate, US Sen. Angus King told CNN.

"The next two weeks are really going to be crucial to see if the Ukrainian forces can keep up the extraordinary level of fight that they have over the last several weeks," King, a Maine independent, said.

King spoke to CNN after receiving a classified briefing from US administration officials.

"The Russians do seem to be refocusing towards the east and the danger is they encircle the Ukrainian troops and squeeze them pretty substantially," he said.

Russian tactics: The senator gave credence to reporting that some Russian forces are moving away from Kyiv but also said the moves could be merely an opportunity to resupply in the region.

"I think it's a little of both," King said. "They divided their army essentially into three pieces and now what they're doing is reconsolidating. They've decided they're not going to be able to take Kyiv, at least not now, and they're consolidating in the south and the west."

King warned that Putin could turn to more dangerous measures as Ukrainian victories continue, including shifting his strategy toward his "normal modus operandi" of "hammering civilians in cities like he did in Aleppo with (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad and Grozny in Chechnya."

9:06 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Biden meets with family of US citizen Trevor Reed detained in Russia

From CNN's Sam Fossum

Joey and Paula Reed, parents of U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Russian prisoner Trevor Reed, stand in Lafayette Park near the White House on Wednesday, March 30.
Joey and Paula Reed, parents of U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Russian prisoner Trevor Reed, stand in Lafayette Park near the White House on Wednesday, March 30. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The family of Trevor Reed, a US citizen detained in Russia since 2019, met with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

The family had been demonstrating outside the White House to raise awareness about their son's ordeal.

"He listened intently to everything we had to say until we were through talking. We couldn't have asked for more," said Reed's father, Joey Reed.

The meeting lasted more than 30 minutes, according to the Reed family. 

"We got to get it off our chest, all the things that we've been wanting to say to him, and it's done. We got to say what we wanted to say. He listened intently, and we're grateful for that," said Reed's mother, Paula Reed.

Some context: Reed, a former US Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 for endangering the "life and health" of Russian police officers in an altercation. Reed and his family have denied the charges against him. During his time in detention, Reed has complained he has not received adequate medical care, saying in recent weeks he is coughing up blood.

Joey Reed had previously said he’s concerned the invasion of Ukraine will worsen his son’s fate.

The family's campaign: The Reeds said they plan to keep up the public pressure to secure the release of their son and other Americans detained abroad. 

"We're gonna keep giving media interviews and spreading the word about our son so that more Americans know about him and all the Americans held in different countries," Joey Reed said. "And hopefully, the President will do what he needs to get our son and other Americans home as quickly as possible before — before they die, they're injured for life."

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

8:26 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Ukrainian official says Russia talks will resume Friday as calls grow for Putin-Zelensky meeting

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Ukraine's next round of negotiations with Russia will resume online on April 1, the head of the Ukrainian delegation said on Wednesday.

In a message posted to his Telegram channel, David Arakhamia also said that during negotiations in Turkey this week, it was announced the time has come for a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The Russian delegation said it first needs a draft agreement with stronger approval on both sides, Arakhamia said.

But the Ukrainian negotiator called for the next meeting to be held between the presidents of the two countries. No date or official meeting between the two leaders has been scheduled yet.

“At the same time, we insist that such a meeting does not take place on the territory of Russia or Belarus,” Arakhamia said.
9:10 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Half of the Ukrainian city Irpin has been destroyed, mayor says

From CNN’s Karen Smith and Sahar Akbarzai

A residential area is damaged by heavy shelling is seen in Irpin, Ukraine March 29.
A residential area is damaged by heavy shelling is seen in Irpin, Ukraine March 29. (Serhii Mykhalchuk/Reuters)

Half of the Ukrainian city of Irpin has been destroyed, according to Oleksandr Markushin, the city's mayor.

Markushin revealed the assessment during a press conference on Wednesday, saying “We can see 50% of the city and the critical infrastructure has been destroyed and the rubble has not been cleared yet."

Russian forces had attacked the city of Irpin in recent days, but the city is now under full Ukrainian control as Ukrainian forces fought back, according to the mayor in a separate CNN interview earlier Wednesday.

The mayor said that despite the fighting, many individuals still remain in the city. 

“Of the restored water and energy supply, this has not yet happened and it is too dangerous because the city is constantly shelled,” Markushin also shared.
7:34 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

UK foreign minister travels to India as part of "diplomatic push" to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Arnaud Siad

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrives to attend a Service of Thanksgiving for Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey in central London on March 29.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrives to attend a Service of Thanksgiving for Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey in central London on March 29. (Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images)

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is visiting India on Thursday as part of a “diplomatic push” to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a news release from the British Foreign Office on Wednesday.

“Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is in India today (Thursday 31 March) as part of a wider diplomatic push following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine last month,” the press release read.

“In a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Foreign Secretary will say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underlines the importance of democracies working closer together to deter aggressors, reduce vulnerability to coercion and strengthen global security”, it added.

The foreign minister “wants to counter Russia’s aggression and reduce global strategic dependence on the country ahead of key NATO and G7 meetings next week,” it also added.

“Deeper ties between Britain and India will boost security in the Indo-Pacific and globally, and create jobs and opportunities in both countries,” Truss said.

“This matters even more in the context of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and underlines the need for free democracies to work closer together in areas like defense, trade and cyber security,” she added.

“India is an economic and tech powerhouse, the world’s largest democracy and a great friend of Britain, and I want to build an even closer relationship between our two nations,” she also said.

Truss said the two countries would also work to deepen cyber security and defense co-operation and would announce a new joint cyber security program, while the UK would also join India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and “become a lead partner on maritime security issues, coordinating work with key partners in Southeast Asia.”

India has refused to condemn Russia’s brutal invasion outright, and has abstained from voting on United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions demanding Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine.

7:21 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

UK intelligence chief says Russian soldiers are low on morale and refusing to carry out orders

From CNN staff

Sir Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, the UK's Intelligence, Cyber and Security Agency delivers a speech in London in this February 2019 photo.
Sir Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, the UK's Intelligence, Cyber and Security Agency delivers a speech in London in this February 2019 photo. (Hannah McKay/Pool/Reuters)

The head of British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said Putin has massively misjudged the situation in Ukraine and that some Russian soldiers have refused to carry out orders.

Speaking during a trip to Canberra on Thursday at the Australian National University, Sir Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, the UK's Intelligence, Cyber and Security Agency said, “it increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people.”

Fleming said Putin over-estimated the abilities of the Russian military to secure a quick victory. 

“We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” he said without specifying when or where this took place.

“Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” he said.

Fleming also said the National Cyber Security Center has seen “sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems” and has seen indicators suggesting Russia’s cyber actors are looking for targets in countries that oppose the Kremlin’s actions.

He also said it is “clear” that Russia is using mercenaries and foreign fighters to support its forces — including the Wagner group.

“The group works as a shadow branch of the Russian military, providing implausible deniability for riskier operations,” Fleming said, adding that Wagner is now prepared to send large number of personnel into Ukraine to fight on the Russian side. 

“They are looking at relocating forces from other conflicts and recruiting new fighters to bolster numbers,” he said, “These soldiers are likely to be used as cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses.”

On the role of China, Fleming said there are risks for Russia and China associated with the two countries aligning too closely on the Ukraine conflict.

“Russia understands that long term, China will become increasingly strong militarily and economically. Some of their interests conflict; Russia could be squeezed out of the equation,” he said.