Russian forces show signs of regrouping in Belarus, Ukraine says
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv
Russian forces may be regrouping in Belarus, the Ukrainian General Staff said in a statement Thursday.
The movement of Russian military equipment had been observed in Belarus, "probably for regrouping units, as well as creating a reserve to replenish losses in manpower, weapons and equipment of groups operating in Ukraine," the statement said.
Ukrainian forces had noted "frequent cases" of mines being laid in areas recently retaken by Russian forces in the Kyiv region, the statement added.
Some information: The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update Wednesday that some Russian units had returned to Belarus after suffering heavy battlefield losses in Ukraine. Belarus has been a base and staging area for Russian military forces.
Russia would "likely continue to compensate for its reduced ground manoeuvre capability through mass artillery and missile strikes," UK MoD said.
US Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday the US had seen approximately 20% of Russia’s forces moving against Kyiv “repositioning,” with some heading to Belarus.
2:48 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Russia's Sergey Lavrov meets with Afghanistan's acting foreign minister in Tunxi, China
From CNN's Mayumi Maruyama
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Thursday with the acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Amir Khan Muttaqi in Tunxi, China, according to Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On Wednesday, Lavrov met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tunxi. In a photo released by the Russian ministry, the two were shown wearing masks and greeting each other by bumping elbows.
2:37 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Russia says it will open an evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol
From CNN's Alex Stambaugh
A top Russian official announced an evacuation corridor will open Thursday morning from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
The corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia will open at 10:00 a.m. local time, according to Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center. A stop in nearby Berdyansk will be made along the way.
Russian forces — as well as the forces of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics — will suspend the use of weapons, including those outlined by Ukraine, the general said.
Some background: Ukrainian officials have accused Russians of preventing humanitarian convoys from safely approaching or exiting the city, even shelling evacuation and humanitarian routes.
Mayor Vadym Boichenko has said that evacuation corridors had largely come under Russian forces' control.
"Not everything is in our power," Boichenko said Monday in a live television interview. "Unfortunately, we are in the hands of the occupiers today."
Russian forces bombarded Kyiv and Chernihiv Wednesday — a day after Moscow said it would "drastically reduce" its military assault on the two cities.
Here are the latest developments in the war on Ukraine:
Talks to resume Friday: Ukraine's next round of negotiations with Russia will resume online on April 1, the head of the Ukrainian delegation said, with growing calls for a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Zelenksy, who previously said he would meet Putin, said the negotiation process was "only words, without anything concrete."
Russian troops allegedly refuse orders: 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. Soldiers, he said, were short of weapons and morale and were "sabotaging their own equipment."
No scale back: Despite claiming it would “drastically reduce military activity” around Kyiv, the capital and surroundings cities have seen an ongoing Russian bombardment in the past 24 hours. The mayor of Chernihiv said the city came under "colossal attack." However, some Russian forces have withdrawn from the Chernobyl nuclear power site, according to a senior US defense official.
Lavrov visits China and India: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in China on Wednesday. "China-Russia relations have withstood the new test of changing international landscape," Wang said. Meanwhile, Lavrov is due to arrive in India Thursday. His two-day trip coincides with a visit by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and US Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics, Daleep Singh.
Putin being misled: The Russian leader has "not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense at every turn" of the situation in Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. Separately, a US official told CNN that America believes Putin is being "misinformed" by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing.
On the ground: Half of the city of Irpin, near Kyiv, has been destroyed, according to Oleksandr Markushin, the city's mayor. Satellite images of the besieged southern city of Mariupol show entire blocks obliterated and a Red Cross warehouse hit by military strikes. And video posted on social media appears to show Ukrainian troops have retaken territory from Russian forces near the northern city of Chernihiv.
2:12 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
US is "confident in" assessment Putin has been misinformed by his advisers, official says
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
The US government is "confident in" the assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about their military’s performance in Ukraine, according to a senior State Department official.
“It’s information we’re confident in,” the official said. “I think it’s information that we’re confident in now and it’s also information that probably had a degree of truth to it before the invasion.”
“There’s only so much we can say about where this information is derived from,” the official said, declining to provide additional details on the intelligence. He explained it was necessary to protect sources and methods.
“Putin clearly seems to have thought that he could go into Ukraine, that his forces wouldn’t meet resistance, that they would be greeted warmly including in Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, that he would be able to take Kyiv in a matter of 48, 72 hours,” the official said. “Every single element that he seems to have believed turns out to be wrong. So, whether his advisers weren’t giving him the full unvarnished truth, whether he wasn’t listening, you know … I think we’ve seen this every step of the way.”
Speaking on a visit to Morocco, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: "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."
12:08 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Video appears to show Ukrainian gains near northern city of Chernihiv
From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Sharif Paget
Video posted on social media appears to show Ukrainian troops have retaken territory from Russian forces near the northern city of Chernihiv.
A number of Ukrainian forces are seen in video filmed in the village of Sloboda, about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Chernihiv.
The village is vital to Ukrainian efforts breaking the Russian encirclement of Chernihiv. It would also be one of the first major victories in breaking the encirclement.
The video has been geolocated and its authenticity verified by CNN.
The footage shows a bombed-out, enflamed Russian tank. Thick white smoke is seen in the streets of the village, in addition to Ukrainian forces.
Some context: Chernihiv, located about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Kyiv, came under "colossal attack" Wednesday, according to the city's mayor. Strikes also continued in the Kyiv suburbs, just a day after Russia claimed it was scaling back its military campaign near the capital and surrounding area. Russian advances on Kyiv and Chernihiv had already stalled before Moscow's announcement.
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
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
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.