March 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Adrienne Vogt, Jason Kurtz, Joe Ruiz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 1:26 p.m. ET, April 8, 2022
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8:47 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

Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, the UK's intelligence, cyber and security agency, delivers a speech in London in this February 2019 photo.
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)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has massively misjudged the situation in Ukraine and some Russian soldiers have refused to carry out orders, according to the head of British intelligence agency GCHQ.

Speaking Thursday in Canberra, Australia, GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming 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 overestimated 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 Britain's 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.

Mercenaries in Ukraine: Fleming 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.”

China's role: 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.

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

Zelensky: Ukraine is "ready" for new Russian attacks in the Donbas region

From CNN's Hira Humayun and Mariya Knight

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video message posted on Facebook Wednesday evening March 30.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video message posted on Facebook Wednesday evening March 30. (Ukrainian Government/Facebook)

Negotiations with Russia are ongoing but are “only words,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to social media on Wednesday night.

“Yes we have negotiations process but they’re only words, without anything concrete,” Zelensky said. 

Zelensky also said the “alleged pullback” of Russian troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv is not a retreat but a result of the work of the Ukrainian military.

“There are other words about alleged pullback of Russian troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv, and reduction of activities of the occupiers in these territories. This is not a retreat, this is the result of the work of our defenders, who pushed them back,” he said. 

Donbas on alert: Zelensky said Russian troops are concentrating in the Donbas region for new attacks, adding Ukrainians are “ready for this.”

“We will not give anything away and we will fight for every meter of our land,” he said. 

Biden call: Zelensky said he had an hour-long call with US President Joe Biden and thanked him for an additional $500 million in aid for Ukraine. 

Zelensky said the support of the US is crucial for Ukraine, adding, "If we want to fight for freedom together — then we ask our partners to help and if we are really fighting for freedom and protection for democracy ourselves, we have all rights to demand help in this crucial difficult moment. We need tanks, warplanes, artillery… Freedom has to be armed no worse than tyranny.”

According to the White House, Biden and Zelensky “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.”

9:59 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

US works to gauge peace prospects as it warns Putin "misinformed" by advisers

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond

President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for nearly an hour Wednesday as airstrikes near Kyiv seemed to bear out Western skepticism that peace talks could ease Russia's assault on Ukraine.

Biden told his counterpart the US would provide Ukraine another $500 million in "direct budgetary aid," the White House said afterward, and discussed "how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine."

The US has repeatedly rebuffed Zelensky's requests for more direct assistance, such as fighter jets and an enforced no-fly zone, and the White House made clear after the call it was no closer to supporting those steps. In the White House's readout of the two leaders' conversation on Wednesday, Biden sought to underscore the military assistance the US has been willing to provide and "the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict."

A day after Russia claimed it was scaling back its military operation near the Ukrainian capital, strikes continued in the suburbs of Kyiv as well as in Chernihiv, whose mayor said the city was under "colossal attack."

American and Western officials, including Biden, had already voiced deep skepticism at Russian claims of de-escalation, noting its forces had already stalled in some places where it claimed to be pulling back. On Wednesday, the US revealed declassified intelligence showing Russian President Vladimir Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military's performance in Ukraine.

"One of the Achilles' heels of autocracies is that you don't have people in those systems who speak truth to power or who have the ability to speak truth to power. And I think that is something that we're seeing in Russia," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Morocco.

Read more:

11:41 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Europe heavily relies on Russia for gas. Here's how it's reacting to concerns about possible gas shortages

From CNN staff

Some European countries are heavily dependent on Russia for their gas supply.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said earlier this month that EU leaders had agreed to spend the next two months drafting proposals for eliminating the bloc's dependency on Russian energy imports by 2027.

Here's a look at actions some EU countries are taking:

Germany: Russia's biggest energy customer in Europe had already taken measures to address the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But now it is responding to more concerns about possible gas shortage along with other countries.

Germany 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 said on Monday.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Wednesday, he said 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 spoke on the phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin later on Wednesday, in which he stressed 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 told Scholz the law that payments for Russian energy supplies would have to be made in rubles does not apply to 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 Netherlands would not be triggering a gas crisis plan, a spokesperson told CNN. Instead, the government hopes to reduce Dutch gas usage through a campaign addressing its citizens.

Austria: Vienna issued an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages in the country, which also follows Russia's threat to cut off supplies if it was not paid in rubles. The early-stage warning sees Austria take "the next step in the preparation for an emergency," Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler wrote on Twitter. 

7:59 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.”