Russia has begun withdrawing its soldiers from the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant after seizing control of the facility on the opening day of its invasion of Ukraine.
A senior official at the Pentagon said the troops were being repositioned into Belarus whose border lies 10 miles away.
He said: “We think that they are leaving, I can’t tell you that they’re all gone.”
Around Kyiv, the Kremlin had begun to withdraw approximately 20 per cent of its forces to the north of Ukraine where they could be resupplied and rearmed, the US official added.
Declassified intelligence from the White House has revealed Vladimir Putin feels “misled by the Russian military” and has lost faith in his top officials.
The newly revealed report says the Russian president did not even know his military was using conscripts for the invasion which has killed an estimated 7,000 Russian troops.
Latest news from today
- Vladimir Putin’s advisers “are afraid to tell him the truth” about Russia’s rapidly faltering campaign in Ukraine, according to the head of the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency
- Britain may send armoured Land Rovers on a mercy mission to the besieged city of Mariupol, Boris Johnson has said
- Russian spies are believed to be operating in the far north of Norway in an attempt to spread disinformation and turn the population against the Government
- Putin set out to capture Kyiv and topple its government at lightning speed when he launched his invasion of Ukraine under the guise of a “special operation”, but five weeks into the war, there is mounting evidence that the Russian president is turning on his own spy chiefs and military advisers as his invasion falters
- The leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya has foiled his own attempt to appear as though he is in Ukraine by posting a photo of himself at a petrol station outlet that only exists in Russia
- Russia shelled a clearly marked Red Cross hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol, the charity’s head said, comparing the strike to something from Hitler’s Germany
- Britain will not give Nato-style security guarantees to Ukraine to secure a peace settlement, Dominic Raab has said, despite a request from Ukrainian negotiators
- Eight Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the UK over their links to Putin were granted “golden visas” to live in Britain
- The refugees minister has blamed Home Office red tape for the “unacceptable” delays to Ukrainians’ applications for refuge in UK homes that have seen just 2,700 visas granted in two weeks
Slovakia expels 35 Russian diplomats
Slovakia has expelled 35 Russian diplomats based on information provided by intelligence services.
The decision comes a day after fellow EU countries Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic all expelled dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
Other countries, such as the United States and Poland, also earlier expelled Russian diplomats.
Foreign ministry spokesman Juraj Tomag on Wednesday said Slovakia would “reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Bratislava by 35”.
“We regret that following the previous expulsions of Russian diplomats in the last couple of years, the Russian diplomatic mission has not shown any interest in operating correctly in Slovakia,” he said.
Earlier this month, Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats for espionage.
GCHQ spy boss warns China about alliance with Russia
The director of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency is warning China not to become “too closely aligned” with Russia as it continues to invade Ukraine.
In a rare public address during a visit to Australia, Sir Jeremy Fleming is set to proclaim President Vladimir Putin has made a “strategic miscalculation” over his war on Ukraine.
It is expected that Mr Fleming will say it is not in China’s long-term interests to have an alliance with a country that “wilfully and illegally” ignores the international “rules of the road”.
Moscow announces Mariupol ceasefire Thursday to evacuate civilians
The Russian defence ministry announced a ceasefire starting Thursday morning in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol to allow civilians to be evacuated.
“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
US wants ‘strong African response’ to Russian aggression
The United States hopes for “a strong African response” to Russian aggression and plans to help mitigate the economic effects of the Ukraine conflict on the continent.
“We look for a strong African response to Russian aggression and welcome the opportunity to partner with Senegal and other Africans on both the response to Russia’s aggression but also to address the implications of it globally,” US ambassador to the African Union Jessica Lapenn told journalists in Dakar.
Lapenn and Akunna Cook, an official in the US State Department’s African Affairs Bureau were in Senegal for consultation, including with President Macky Sall, who currently holds the African Union’s rotating presidency.
Their visit, which they described as a follow-up to that of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in November, comes at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine is dividing African nations.
Russian troops were ‘misled and badly trained’
Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging Western sanctions have been, the White House said.
Russia’s invasion of its southern neighbor has been halted on many fronts by stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces who have recaptured territory even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.
“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership,” Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, told reporters during a press briefing.
“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth,” she said.
One senior European diplomat added : “They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” one of the diplomats added.
Nearly half of Ukraine ‘polluted’ by Russian explosives
Nearly half of Ukraine’s territory has been contaminated by explosives as part of Russia’s war against its neighbour, a senior Kyiv official said Wednesday, according to a local media report.
Deputy Interior Minister Yevgen Yenin said that some 300,000 square metres of Ukrainian territory have been “polluted” by explosive devices “as a result of Russian aggression”, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reporter.
It was not immediately possible to verify the data.
Yenin added that Ukrainian specialists have demined 300 explosive devices since the war started on February 24, as well as one aerial bomb. They have also cleared 14 hectares (34 acres) of territory.
Russian soldiers eat dogs because they are “sick” of ration packs
Russian soldiers have been eating dogs in Ukraine because they are “sick” of their ration packs.
A 45-second-long phone call between a Russian serviceman and his family back home, intercepted by Ukraine’s Security Service (SSU), reveals the conditions of the Kremlin’s forces after a month of warfare.
In the leaked audio, posted by the SSU on Twitter, the unnamed Russian soldier is asked “are you eating ok at least”.
He replies: “Not too bad. We had Alabay, (a breed of sheepdog found in Central Asia) yesterday”.
“…We wanted some meat”
Asked: “Why, do you have nothing left?” he answers: “No we have some MREs… we are sick of them… we have done away with the chickens and geese.”
The Meal, Ready-To-Eat (MRE) are ration packs used by soldiers worldwide.
They do not need to be kept refrigerated and have long use-by dates.
Kyiv still at risk from airstrikes, says Pentagon
Kyiv is still at risk of being bombarded by airstrikes despite Putin’s withdrawal of troops from the area, the Pentagon has said.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said: “What I would just say is generally, the city continues to be under threat of airstrike and bombardment. We are continuing to see that even as the Russians reposition some of their troops.
“Before they started to reposition they were in a defensive crouch basically, they weren’t advancing from the ground anymore in the city. But even with all that, we continue to see that the city is very much under threat from airstrikes.”
Success of Ukrainians against invading Russians is ‘not an accident’
The success of Ukraine in holding back the Russian invasion is ‘not an accident,’ the Pentagon has said.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said their performance has not come as a shock to those in the White House as the US has been training and arming them for the past eight years.
He said: “While the performance of the Ukrainians on the field of battle has been amazing and incredible and inspiring, it’s not like their performance came as a shock to people here at the Pentagon.
“It wasn’t by accident. Let’s not forget the training and the support that we have been giving the Ukrainians for the last eight years as they’ve been engaged in a hot war in the Donbass.
And it’s not just us, the Brits, the Canadians, and other nations in Europe who have also led training support to the Ukrainians.
So their success on the field of battle is not an accident. It’s the result of a lot of hard work over the last eight years.
More US troops could be ‘permanently based’ in Europe, Pentagon says
More US troops could be “permanently based” in Europe, the Pentagon has said.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said: “I’m not going to go ahead of decisions that have been made, but I think it’s safe to assume that given what Russia has done in the last month, and the ways in which the security environment on the European continent have changed.
You can bet that senior leadership at the department are going to take a look at our European posture going forward. Now, again, I can’t tell you when a decision is going to be made one way or the other what that’s gonna look like.
“But the Secretary absolutely wants to keep an open mind about European posture going forward. Clearly, because of the acute threat of Russia and clearly because of the way the security environment in Europe has changed.
So could it mean more troops more permanently based in Europe? It could, but again, no decisions have been made right now.
I think we are working under the assumption that Europe’s not going to be the same anymore. And so therefore, we probably shouldn’t have the same outlook to our posture in Europe.
1,000 Russian paramilitary troops moved to the Donbass
The Pentagon said 1,000 paramilitary soldiers of Russia’s Wagner Group have been moved to the Donbass in a “concerted effort” to take command of the region.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said: “We think the Wagner group now has 1,000 people attributed to the Donbass.
“Generally where we see them prioritising the airstrikes now, with the exception of Mariupol, is in the north.
“It’s in Cherniv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and it’s in the Donbass.
“We can see them make a concerted effort to try and occupy more territory in the Donbass.”
Pentagon confirms Putin’s advisors are keeping him in the dark on chaotic invasion
Vladimir Putin is being kept in the dark by his advisors over their flagging and chaotic invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon has said.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary told reporters that approximately 20 per cent of Russian troops around Kyiv have been moved to be refitted and resupplied .
Some have already moved into Belarus, he added.
On the subject of Kremlin advisors refusing to tell Putin how poorly their troops are performing, Mr Kirby said:
“We would concur with the conclusion that Mr Putin has not been informed by his ministry of defence at every turn over the last month.
“I want to caveat that we don’t have access to every bit of information that he’s been given or every conversation he’s had.
“But we have seen these press reports attributed to a US official and we would concur with the basic finding. I’m not going to get any more specific.”
Russia moving 20 per cent of forces currently stationed in Kyiv
Russia has started to reposition under 20 per cent of the forces arrayed around Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
The White House cautioned Russia was expected to refit and resupply them for redeployment, and not bring the forces home.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said some of the Russian forces may have already moved into Belarus, as opposed to their home garrisons.
Kirby also told a news briefing Russian contractor Wagner Group had deployed about 1,000 contractors into Ukraine’s Donbas region, which Moscow has declared a priority.
Majority of Americans back sending more troops to NATO in Ukraine crisis
A bipartisan 55 per cent of Americans support sending more U.S. troops to Washington’s NATO allies in central and eastern Europe in response to Russia’s five-week old invasion of Ukraine, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden has deployed thousands of additional troops to Europe to support North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies concerned by Moscow’s war on its smaller neighbor.
Biden has made clear no US troops will be sent to Ukraine though Washington is supplying Kyiv with weapons and has aggressively sanctioned Russia’s economy, including a ban on US imports of Russian oil.
Some 61 per cent of Democrats and 54 per cent of Republicans back further troop deployments to NATO countries, according to the poll.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced a new tranche of U.S. troops and military hardware bound for NATO allies, including 10 F-18 jets and more than 200 personnel heading to eastern Europe, including Lithuania.
Ex US Marine launches hunger strike in Russian jail
Former US Marine Trevor Reed has begun a hunger strike in a Russian jail to protest at being put in solitary confinement and not receiving proper medical care despite fears he has tuberculosis, his parents said on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old Texan is serving a nine-year jail term after being convicted of endangering the lives of two policemen while drunk on a visit to Moscow in 2019. He denied the charges and the United States called his trial a “theatre of the absurd”.
His parents said that Reed, who is in a prison in the region of Mordovia, was exposed t o an inmate with active tuberculosis in December, but that their son had not been tested for the illness despite his health rapidly deteriorating.
He was put in a prison hospital for 10 days, but then returned to the prison last week without having received “meaningful medical care beyond an X-ray which was taken incorrectly”, they said.
“Trevor’s Mordovian lawyer was able to see him (on Tuesday) and confirmed that Trevor began a hunger strike… to protest being sent back to solitary while injured and having TB,” the parents said in a statement.
“Soon after he returned, Trevor asked authorities at the IK-12 gulag to return to the hospital. Instead, authorities returned him to solitary confinement,” they said.
Ukraine forces recapture key road outside east Ukraine city
Ukrainian forces have pushed back Russian troops from a highway outside the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, and were clearing away the burnt-out wreckage of cars, AFP journalists reported Wednesday.
The gains by Kyiv’s forces come after Moscow said it would focus its military efforts on capturing the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, whose border is just south of Kharkiv.
AFP journalists about four kilometres (three miles) east of Kharkiv saw abandoned civilian vehicles riddled with bullet holes strewn across multiple lanes of the highway and the corpses of Russian soldiers on an embankment next to the road.
“The road was under fire from Russian forces who killed civilians. We pushed them back about 10 kilometres further north,” a commander in the 92nd brigade of the Ukrainian army told AFP on the scene.
Separatist leader claims 140,000 have left Mariupol for Russia or Donetsk
A Russian-backed separatist leader said on Wednesday that 140,000 people had left the Ukrainian city of Mariupol for Russia or the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic since Russian forces began besieging it, the Interfax news agency reported.
The port city of Mariupol, which had a prewar population of more than 400,000, is a key target for Russia in its apparent attempt to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, and pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
Denis Pushilin, head of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said on Russian television that “about 140,000 left Mariupol … Both towards the DPR and towards Russia”, Interfax reported.
Sweden hasn’t ruled out’ NATO membership, says PM
Sweden’s prime minister said Wednesday she hasn’t ruled out NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after having insisted until now on her country’s policy of military non-alliance.
“I don’t rule out NATO membership in any way”, Magdalena Andersson told Swedish public television SVT, adding that a review of the country’s security policy was underway.
“I want us to do a thorough analysis of our possibilities in this situation, of the threats and risks associated with them, to take the best decision for Sweden,” the Social Democrat leader said.
Sweden is not a member of NATO and is officially militarily non-aligned, though it is a partner of the alliance.
It abandoned its policy of neutrality after the end of the Cold War.
Europe would struggle to refill gas storage without Russian supplies
Europe’s plans to build stocks and ensure gas supplies for next winter could be upended if exports from Russia are halted in a standoff over payment terms, risking curbs on industrial use, analysts warned.
Russia typically provides Europe with around 40 per cent of its gas but the possibility of supply disruption since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has increased over the past week, with G7 nations rejecting a demand for payment in roubles.
The European Commission says gas held in storage typically accounts for around a quarter of that used in Europe over the winter months, where it is a major heating fuel.
In a bid to shore up supplies for next winter it has proposed legislation compelling gas storage operators to fill sites to at least 80 per cent of capacity by November 1.
But with stores currently only around a quarter full, and below the five-year average for the time of year of just under 34 per cent, the task looks incredibly difficult to meet without Russian supplies.
Fifa under fire for failing to stop Russia attending world football summit
Fifa is facing criticism for failing to stop Russia attending its annual world football summit despite Vladimir Putin’s internationally-agreed status as a sporting pariah.
Tense face-to-face meetings with Ukrainian counterparts beckon as two of the Russian Football Union’s (RFU) most influential football administrators attend the congress in Qatar.
Alexey Sorokin, who helped land Russia the 2018 World Cup, and Aleksandr Alaev, Secretary General of the RFU, are both expected to be in attendance in Doha.
There is even a Russian flag on show around the congress centre, despite Russia being banned from the World Cup just four weeks ago.
Fifa sources say they had no choice but to allow the nation to take part in talks over the long-term direction of the game.
As a result, Sorokin and Alaev are set to share a room with Ukraine’s ambassador to the state of Qatar, Andrii Kuzmenko, as the likes of Fifa president Gianni Infantino address delegates.
France’s foreign minister says ‘no progress’ in talks with Russia
Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have not advanced, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday.
There were no signs that suggest changes in Russia’s position, Le Drian told international broadcaster France24 in an interview.
Russia using banned ‘jumping’ landmines in Ukraine
Russian forces fighting in Ukraine have been condemned for using banned anti-personnel mines in the eastern Kharkiv region.
The mines were found by Ukrainian bomb disposal technicians on March 28.
The POM-3 mine, also known as “Medallion”, is equipped with a seismic sensor to detect an approaching person and fire an explosive charge into the air. The device rises to around head height before detonating. Shrapnel is said to cause death and injury within a 16-metre radius.
Ukraine does not possess this type of landmine or its delivery system.
“Countries around the world should forcefully condemn Russia’s use of banned anti-personnel landmines in Ukraine,” Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch, said.
“These weapons do not differentiate between combatants and civilians and leave a deadly legacy for years to come.”
Putin tells Scholz gas payments can continue in euros
The German government said that Russian President Vladimir Putin told Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday that Europe could continue paying for Russia gas in euros and not rubles as previously announced.
German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Putin had told Scholz that payments from Europe next month “would continue to be in euros and transferred as usual to the Gazprom Bank which is not affected by sanctions”.
The bank would then convert the payments into rubles, Hebestreit quoted Putin as saying.
Chechen chief Kadyrov says Russia will make no concessions in Ukraine
Ramzan Kadyrov, the powerful head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, said on Wednesday that Moscow would make no concessions in its war in Ukraine and that Kremlin negotiator Vladimir Medinsky had been wrong to suggest otherwise.
In a video statement on his Telegram that appeared to deviate starkly from Russia’s official position, Kadyrov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not just stop what he had started in Ukraine
UK tightens sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs’ jets and yachts
Britain put in place new legal powers on Wednesday to prohibit maintenance on aircraft and ships belonging to specific sanctioned Russian oligarchs or their businesses.
The government is acting in concert with Western allies to try to cripple the Russian economy as punishment for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. It has targeted Russia’s access to the international financial system, industries like shipping and defence, and wealthy elites close to President Vladimir Putin.
Britain said the new legislation effective from 1600 GMT prohibits maintenance on aircraft or ships belonging to specific sanctioned Russian oligarchs or their businesses.
“Today’s legislation adds new routes at our disposal to deprive oligarchs’ access to their luxury toys,” Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said in a statement.
Abramovich an effective mediator with Russia, says Ukrainian translator
Ukraine sees the billionaire Roman Abramovich as an effective mediator between Kyiv and Moscow who helps prevent misunderstandings from happening between the two sides, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Wednesday.
“It has long been known in the media space that he is an extremely effective mediator between delegations and partially moderates the process so that there is no misunderstanding at the outset,” he told a televised briefing.
Podolyak also called the reports that Abramovich had been poisoned several weeks as “conspiracy theories”.
He claimed that such reports were meant to put pressure on the delegations.
Ukraine to sanction companies who work with Russian defence industry
Ukraine is readying sanctions against enterprises which work with Russia’s military-industrial complex, Ukraine’s top security official said on Wednesday.
Security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov added that sanctions were also being prepared against companies who “help the Russian budget support the army.”
Germany, Austria activate emergency gas plans amid supply fears
Austria and Germany activated their emergency plans to secure gas supplies on Wednesday, as fears rose that Russia could cut off supplies if Western countries refused to make payments in rubles.
“A crisis room will now be established in the ministry” to monitor the supply situation, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told a press conference.
The “early warning” measure, the first of three alert levels under the government’s gas plan, was “preventative” and intended to assure supply of the fuel, Habeck said.
Only at the third “emergency” level would the government intervene in the market to divvy up limited supplies, prioritising “protected” consumers including homes and hospitals, the ministry said in a statement.
Biden and Zelensky discussed ‘additional capabilities’ for Ukraine military
US President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed “additional capabilities” to help the Ukrainian military, during a telephone call on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement.
Biden also told Zelensky that the United States would provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct aid, as Kyiv battles against invading Russian forces.
“The leaders discussed… 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 said.
Some 20,000 people are believed to have been killed since the Russian invasion began on February 24, according to Zelensky, though the number of casualties could not be independently verified.
Just finished an hour-long conversation with @POTUS. 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.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 30, 2022
Russian hackers targeted NATO and eastern European militaries , says Google
Russian hackers have recently attempted to penetrate the networks of NATO and the militaries of some eastern European countries, Google’s Threat Analysis Group said in a report published on Wednesday.
The report did not say which militaries had been targeted in what Google described as “credential phishing campaigns” launched by a Russian-based group called Coldriver, or Callisto.
“These campaigns were sent using newly created Gmail accounts to non-Google accounts, so the success rate of these campaigns is unknown,” the report said.
NATO was not immediately available for comment on the report.
US to give Ukraine $500million in aid
President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced that the U.S. will dispatch another $500 million in direct aid to Ukraine, the latest burst to Kyiv as the Russian invasion grinds on.
The White House in a statement said Biden told Zelenskyy during a 55 minute call on the latest developments in the war that the aid was on its way.
The U.S. Congress earlier this month approved spending up to $13.6 billion in humanitarian and military assistance for Ukraine.
The Biden administration had already dispatched $2 billion of that total before Wednesday’s announcement.
Sanctions on Russia must increase while peace talks ongoing, says Ukraine
International sanctions on Russia must be ratcheted up and Ukraine must be further armed while peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are ongoing, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
“The logic is extremely simple – the stronger Ukraine is, the better any future deal will be,” he said
US vacated warships from Black Sea before Ukraine war, general says
Jo Biden decided to keep US warships out of the Black Sea prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his top military commander in Europe, Air Force General Tod Wolters, told Congress on Wednesday.
While the White House has offered Ukraine arms and intelligence to bolster its efforts to resist Russia’s invasion, Biden has sought to keep the United States out of a direct military confrontation with Russia.
That also included pulling US military trainers from Ukraine.
Wolters added that US military aircraft were still flying over the Black Sea.
Peace deal ‘at gunpoint’ will not end EU’s sanctions on Russia
A peace deal between Russia and Ukraine will have to respect the territory and sovereignty of Ukraine in order to ease European sanctions against Moscow, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.
“A peace agreement at gunpoint, with the loss of Ukrainian territory and sovereignty, is not the way to get back to normal.
Nor will it automatically lead to easing our sanctions”, Rutte said in a speech during a state visit to Spain.
EU readying new sanctions against Russia
The European Commission is readying new sanctions against the Kremlin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, EU sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
The majority of the new measures are understood to depend on Putin’s stance on demanding Western countries pay their gas bills in roubles, a request rejected by Western nations.
The new package of EU sanctions could be ready as early as next week, two of the sources said.
The executive Commission is consulting with EU governments on a “compliance package,” they said.
This would apply what European leaders agreed at a summit last week about ensuring that existing sanctions are not by-passed, especially those against blacklisted individuals.
Officials have repeatedly said sanctions against oligarchs could be circumvented using family members, cryptocurrencies, trusts and shell companies in offshore jurisdictions.
Russian forces using phosphorus ammunition in attacks in eastern Ukraine, says governor
Russian forces are using phosphorus ammunition and shelling settlements on the front line separating Ukrainian-controlled territory from areas held by Russian-backed forces in the eastern Donetsk region, the local governor said on Wednesday.
Speaking on national television, Pavlo Kyrylenko also said that the latest attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol had likely failed as convoys of civilians were not being allowed through.
Ukraine and Russia have traded blame in the past when evacuation attempts broke down.
At least 80 civilians killed so far in Mykolayiv in Russian invasion
About 80 civilians have been killed and around 450 wounded in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, the local mayor said on Wednesday.
Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych also said on national television that Russia had used cluster munitions in Mikolayiv. He provided no evidence but said there was a “huge number of cluster bombs scattered around the city”.
Reuters could not independently verify his assertion. Russia has previously denied using cluster munitions or targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Cluster bombs are made up of a hollow shell that explodes in mid-air, dispersing dozens or even hundreds of smaller “bomblets” over a wide area.
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko condemns war
Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko on Wednesday condemned the war in Ukraine and said she would return to the stage after cancelling concerts in the wake of criticism that she was close to the Kremlin.
As many Russian artists face pressure to publicly denounce Putin’s invasion or risk losing their engagements, Netrebko – one of the world’s best-known opera singers – said on Facebook that she wanted to set the record straight and did not support President Vladimir Putin.
“I expressly condemn the war against Ukraine and my thoughts are with the victims of this war and their families,” she wrote.
Netrebko, 50, said she was “neither a member of a political party nor am I linked to any leader of Russia” and admitted that she “recognises and regrets that my actions and statements in the past could in part be misconstrued”.
She insisted she had met Putin “only a handful of times, mainly to accept awards for my art or at the opening of the Olympic Games”.
The singer said she had “never received financial support from the Russian government” and lives in Austria “which is also my tax home”.
Putin says gas for rubles will not hurt Europe’s contracts
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Moscow’s demand that Europe switch to paying for gas in rubles should not mean contracts were on worse terms.
“The decision taken should not lead to worsening of contractual terms for European importer companies of Russian gas,” the Kremlin said in a statement summarising Putin’s comments in a phone conversation with Scholz.
Russia and Germany to hold talks on rouble payment for gas
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had agreed in a call that experts from their countries would discuss how payment for Russian gas exports could be made in roubles, the TASS news agency reported.
Russia has said that, because of Western financial sanctions over Ukraine, it plans to require payment for its energy exports – especially the gas that Germany depends on – in roubles rather than the usual euros or dollars.
Kremlin says nothing ‘promising’ from Russia-Ukraine talks
The Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough following peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegates in Istanbul a day earlier.
“We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” Peskov said.
He added that Moscow considered it “positive” that Kyiv had started outlining its demands in writing.
“We carefully avoid making statements on the matters” that are discussed at the talks because “we believe that negotiations should take place in silence”, he added.
Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, described talks in Istanbul on Monday as “meaningful”.
Russian forces near Kyiv and in north “regrouping” to focus on Donbas
Russia’s defence ministry has said its forces were regrouping near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernohiv in order to focus on other key areas and complete the “liberation” of the breakaway Donbas region, Russian news agencies reported.
The ministry’s statement came a day after Russia said it would scale back operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv to support progress in peace talks.
But Russian attacks in both locations continued on Wednesday, according to Reuters reporters near Kyiv and the mayor of Chernihiv.
Telegraph Podcast: Ukraine’s impact on Boris Johnson and reaction from Poland
War in Ukraine, a humanitarian crisis, and reaction in Kyiv, Westminster and beyond. The Telegraph’s leading journalists take you beyond the headlines every weekday in our new podcast.
In this episode: Dominic Nicholls, the Telegraph’s Defence and Security Editor and Francis Dearnley, Assistant Comment Editor, discuss the latest updates in the Ukraine conflict, including whether Boris Johnson owes his ongoing survival post-Partygate to the war.
Plus, Alice Hearing talks to The Telegraph’s Steven Edginton about his interview with Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister.
Putin demands surrender of Mariupol to end shelling
Vladimir Putin has said the shelling of Mariupol will only end when Ukrainian troops surrender.
In a call with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday night, the Russian president said the “nationalist militants ” must lay down their arms.
According to French officials, Putin had agreed to consider plans to evacuate citizens out of the southern Ukrainian city which the Elysee palace said had become a “catastrophic” situation.
A statement from the French government read: “Civilian populations must be protected and must leave the city if they wish to.
“They must have access to food aid, water and the medicines they need. This very degraded humanitarian situation is linked to the siege of the city by the Russian armed forces.”
France, along with Turkey and Greece and several humanitarian groups, have presented the Russian president with a plan to evacuate the city.
Officials said Putin told Macron that he would “think about” the proposal.
Russia hopes Europe will find ‘creative solution’ to roubles-for-gas crisis
Russia hopes European countries will change their minds about paying for Russian gas in roubles and find a creative solution to the problem, the RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Wednesday.
Ryabkov also said he hoped Russia would not continue to be confronted with what he described as the West’s “desperate economic war”, RIA reported.
Slovakia cuts Russia’s embassy staff by 35
Slovakia has ordered Russia’s embassy to cut its staff by 35, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday, citing unacceptable activity by another Russian diplomat.
The aim of the move was to “set a maximum number of diplomatic and service passport holders at this (Russian) mission,” spokesperson Juraj Tomaga said in a statement.
The move cuts the embassy staff roughly to a half of its previous size, according to calculations in Slovak media.
On March 14, Slovakia expelled three Russian embassy staff based on secret service information.
“The step is an inevitable reaction to Russia’s embassy personnel continuing with activities running contrary to the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, Slovakia’s interests, and partnership with Russian Federation,” Tomaga said.
The Russian embassy in Bratislava was not immediately available to comment.
UN rights chief warns of ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine conflict
Russia’s widespread and indiscriminate attacks in populated areas of Ukraine are of “immense concern”, the UN rights chief said Wednesday, warning that they could amount to “war crimes”.
“Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“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.
Putin’s war sends inflation soaring in Germany and Spain
Inflation in Germany and Spain has soared to new highs as soaring energy prices sparked by the Ukraine war send shockwaves through the eurozone.
Consumer prices in Germany climbed at the fastest pace since reunification, up 7.6pc in March compared with a year earlier in figures comparable with the rest of the eurozone.
It was significantly higher than the 6.8pc increase expected by economists, underscoring how economic expectations are struggling to keep pace with geopolitical developments.
In Spain, prices rose by 9.8pc year-on-year, outstripping the 8pc rise forecast by economists. Electricity, fuel and food prices drove the biggest increase since 1985.
Russia sanctions should increase until they fully withdraw from Ukraine, says Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said Western powers should tighten the economic noose around Russia until it withdraws all its soldiers from Ukraine.
Asked by MPs when sanctions should be lifted against Vladimir Putin’s regime, Johnson said: “My view is we should intensify sanctions with a rolling programme until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine.”
At least 200 killed in Irpin during Russian invasion
At least 200 people have been killed in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin since Russia invaded Ukraine, its mayor said Wednesday, adding that more than half of the city had been destroyed and it was not safe for residents to return.
“I think about 200 to 300 people have died unfortunately,” mayor Oleksandr Markushyn told reporters.
“Fifty percent of the city is destroyed, including critical infrastructure,” he said, adding that while Irpin was “100 percent” under Ukrainian control, it was “still dangerous” and still being shelled by Russia.
Biden to speak with Zelensky in 10 minutes
President Joe Biden will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday to discuss US support in his country’s battle against the Russian invasion, the White House said.
During the call at 10:45 am (1445 GMT), Biden will “discuss our continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,” a statement said.
Boris Johnson says he is not aiming to remove Putin
Britain is not aiming for regime change in Russia or to remove President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday, saying his aim was to help to protect Ukrainians in the war.
“I understand the frustrations that people feel about Putin and to desire a change of government in itself is not an ignoble thing … that’s the objective of a lot of democratic politics,” Johnson told MPs.
But let’s be absolutely clear, it’s not the objective of the UK government, and it’s very, very important that everybody gets this.
We are simply setting out to help to protect the people of Ukraine, and to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence.
Russia is preparing renewed offensive operations, says Ukraine
Russian forces in Ukraine are regrouping and preparing for renewed offensive operations, Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said on Wednesday.
“(Russia’s) main efforts are concentrated on surrounding Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine,” Motuzyanyk said, adding that Russia was still trying to take the southern port city of Mariupol and the towns of Popasna and Rubizhne.
“It (Russia) is preparing to resume offensive operations,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s armed forces command had observed some movements of Russian forces away from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions but did not consider this to be a mass withdrawal.
Downing Street publishes new sanctions laws on Russia
Britain has published new Russia-related sanctions legislation which included a ban on providing technical assistance for ships and planes that would benefit a person who has been sanctioned.
Downing Street is acting in concert with Western allies to try to cripple the Russian economy as punishment for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
It has targeted Russia’s access to the international financial system, key industries like shipping and defence, and wealthy elites close to President Vladimir Putin.
An explanatory note accompanying the legal text published on a government website said:
“The Regulations prohibit the provision to, or for the benefit of, a designated person of technical assistance relating to aircraft and ships. This includes a power to designate persons for the purposes of that sanctions measure.”
The legislation was due to come into force at 1700 UK time (1600 GMT), the document said.
Street battles in east Ukrainian town of Popasne,
Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting in the streets of the eastern Ukrainian town of Popasne, the regional governor said on Wednesday.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces were trying to advance in the region.
“We expect an escalation (from Russia). They will try to reach the boundaries of the Luhansk region,”
Putin ‘misinformed’ by own advisers on how troops are performing
Putin is reportedly being “misinformed “about how badly the Russian military is performing because advisers “are too afraid to tell him the truth”.
A White House Official told US media outlets that the Russian president “didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts.”
There is now persistent tension between Putin and the MOD (Ministry of Defense), stemming from his mistrust in their leadership, NBC news quoted the US official as saying.
US official says Putin is being misinformed about how poorly Russian military is doing because advisers “are too afraid to tell him the truth.” Putin “didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts…showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information.”
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) March 30, 2022
UN atomic watchdog chief visits Ukraine nuclear plant
UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi visited a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Wednesday on his first trip to the country since Russia’s invasion raised fears of a nuclear accident.
Mr Grossi has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the conflict – the first in a country with a vast nuclear estate.
Russian forces seized control of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant site – where radioactive waste is still stored – on February 24, the first day of the invasion.
They also captured Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia on March 4, sparking alarm when shelling caused a fire at a training facility.
I’m at South #Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant to meet Ukrainian gov’t officials and staff, and start @IAEAorg technical assistance for safety and security of country’s nuclear facilities. Vital to be on the ground to provide effective support to 🇺🇦 in these extremely difficult times. pic.twitter.com/LqcR23SXgK
— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) March 30, 2022
Number of Ukraine refugees passes worst case UN estimate
he number of people who have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded has surpassed 4 million, the United Nations reported Wednesday as shelling continued in places where Moscow had vowed to ease its military operations.
“I do not know if we can still believe the Russians,” refugee Nikolay Nazarov, 23, said as he crossed Ukraine’s border into Poland with his wheelchair-bound father.
Despite Russia’s announcement during talks on Tuesday that its forces would ease their assault near Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and elsewhere, Nazarov said he expects “more escalation” in the country’s east, including the city he and his father fled.
“That is why we cannot go back to Kharkiv,” he said. “We are afraid of a new phase of war in eastern Ukraine.”
Up to 300 civilians killed in Ukrainian town of Irpin
An estimated 200-300 civilians were killed in the Ukrainian town of Irpin near Kyiv before the town was taken back from Russian forces this week, the local mayor said on Wednesday.
Mayor Oleksandr Markushyn said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had seized back full control of the town which has been one of the main hotspots of fighting with Russian troops near the capital.
He told a briefing on Wednesday that about 50 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed in Irpin, and some bodies were still trapped under rubble. He said there had been Russian shelling in the area all night.
Roman Abramovich asked ‘are we dying’ after being poisoned by chloropicrin
Roman Abramovich asked “are we dying” after he and two Ukrainian officials were poisoned with a chemical agent widely used during the First World War, Patrick Sawer reports.
A team of experts has concluded that the most likely source of the poisoning during peace talks at the start of the month was chloropicrin, a fumigant now used in agriculture which was deployed by the Germans against the Allies as a tear gas during the 1914-18 war.
Mr Abramovich was the suspected victim of poisoning while trying to negotiate a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine earlier this month.
The Chelsea FC owner, along with two senior Ukrainian negotiators, was said to have suffered peeling skin and temporary blindness following secret talks in Kyiv.
He has since continued to attend peace talks in Turkey, despite the incident which he feared at the time might kill him.
It has emerged that Mr Abramovich felt so unwell that he asked the scientist examining him: “Are we dying?”
The Bellingcat journalist Christo Gorev, who broke the story alongside the Wall Street Journal, has now revealed that experts who had assessed the three victims’ symptoms agreed the most likely source of the suspected poisoning was chloropicrin.
Ukrainian negotiator ‘optimistic’ after talks with Russia
Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Wednesday he felt optimistic after talks with Russia at which Moscow said it would scale down military operations near Kyiv and a city in northern Ukraine.
“I have an optimistic impression of the round of negotiations in Istanbul,” Podolyak told an online briefing following Tuesday’s talks in Turkey.
He said a proposed system of security guarantees for Ukraine, which would be offered in exchange for its neutrality, would be put to a nationwide referendum only after Russian troops withdrew to positions they held before invading Ukraine.
West cannot lift sanctions until Ukraine ‘has justice’, warns Zelensky
Ukraine’s president suggests ‘certain countries’ want measures lifted sooner because of their economic links to Russia, reports Joe Barnes.
Volodymyr Zelensky has warned “certain countries” that sanctions on Moscow cannot be lifted until the end of the war, amid fears of divides among the West on how to deal with Russia.
The Ukrainian President said late on Tuesday that “certain countries should not even expect that certain negotiations will facilitate the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation”. It came after the first round of peace talks in a fortnight.
He added: “The question of sanctions cannot even be raised until the war is over, until we get back what’s ours and until we restore justice.”
Diplomatic sources indicated that Berlin and Paris are looking for an earlier exit from the sanctions in order to rebuild economic ties with Russia.
Downing Street: UK won’t pay in roubles for Russian gas
The UK will not pay for Russian commodities like gas in roubles and is liaising with British companies who might be concerned about the issue or its impact on industries and manufacturers across Europe, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said.
The Kremlin indicated on Wednesday that all of Russia’s energy and commodity exports could be priced in roubles, with Germany triggering an emergency plan to manage gas supplies that could see Europe’s largest economy ration power if the standoff disrupts or halts supplies.
“Kwasi Kwarteng, working with his counterparts, have made clear that they won’t be paying in roubles,” a Downing Street spokesman told reporters.
Europe must shut ports to Russian ships, Zelensky tells Norwegian parliament
Norway and the rest of Europe should close their sea ports to Russian ships, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Norwegian parliament today.
“The European Union, and I do hope so Norway, need to introduce the ban on Russian vessels to use European ports for the time being while they are blocking our ports,” Mr Zelensky said via video link from Ukraine.
Russian cosmonauts and US astronaut return to earth
A record-breaking US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts reached Earth today, with tensions between Moscow and the West soaring over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said.
“The crew of Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, as well as NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, has returned to Earth,” Roscosmos said after footage showed the Soyuz descent module touching down at the expected time of 1128 GMT.
Nasa’s Mark Vande Hei is returning after setting a new record for the single longest spaceflight by a Nasa astronaut, clocking 355 days aboard the International Space Station.
Vande Hei is joined by cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, with whom he blasted off from Baikonur in April last year, and who now holds the record for the longest mission by a Russian at the ISS.
Anton Shkaplerov, who is rounding off a standard six-month mission, is the third member of the returning crew.
Denmark would support potential Finnish Nato bid
Denmark would fully support Finnish Nato membership if the country were to apply, its prime minister said on Wednesday.
“If or when Finland would choose to seek membership of Nato, Denmark would of course support it very strongly,” Mette Frederiksen told reporters during a visit to Estonia.
Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto said earlier this month that the country would review its security policy to decide whether to join Nato.
Russian strikes hit Red Cross building in Mariupol, says Kyiv
Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, Kyiv said today.
“In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukrainian Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on social media.
“Enemy aircraft and artillery fired on a building marked with a red cross on a white background, indicating the presence of wounded people or civilian or humanitarian cargo,” the statement said.
Ms Denisova did not specify when the strikes had taken place and said there was no confirmation yet if anyone had been killed or injured in the attack.
‘Don’t underestimate Putin and his army’ says Royal Marines commander
Brigadier Richard Cantrill says Russia’s failure so far to conquer Ukraine should not dupe the West into thinking their threat is abating, reports Tony Diver.
Russia is still a “very, very serious” military adversary and should not be underestimated by the West despite its failure to conquer Ukraine as quickly as many had expected, a Royal Marines commander has said.
Brigadier Richard Cantrill, who leads the Marines’ elite 3 Commando Brigade, said that despite the success of Ukrainian forces in repelling Russian troops and destroying their armoured vehicles, Vladimir Putin’s military remains a serious threat.
On Tuesday, Alexander Fomin, the Russian deputy defence minister, said Russia would now enter “phase two” of the conflict and “fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernigiv”.
Russian forces have been set back by their failure to take control of the airspace above Ukraine, and their armoured vehicles’ vulnerability to anti-tank weapons supplied by Western countries to the Ukrainian military.
Norway sends more anti-tank weapons to Ukraine
Norway has donated more weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against Russia’s invasion, the Norwegian defence ministry said today.
The latest shipment, which has already been completed, consists of 2,000 M72 anti-tank weapons, raising the total number of M72s donated by Norway to 4,000, the ministry said.
Sergei Lavrov to visit India this week
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit New Delhi on Thursday for a two-day trip, the Indian foreign ministry said, as the two countries look for ways to maintain trade and other relations despite the Ukraine crisis.
It will only be Mr Lavrov’s third visit overseas since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after a trip to Turkey for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart earlier this month and meetings in China starting today.
While both India and China have called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine they have refused to explicitly condemn Russia’s invasion. They have also continued to buy commodities from Russia hard hit by sweeping Western sanctions.
EU to prepare for gas supply ‘situations’
The European Commission said it will work closely with EU countries to prepare for gas supply situations, after Germany triggered an emergency plan to manage gas supplies in case of a potential disruption to flows from Russia.
“We are prepared for any such cases. We will of course, work closely with member states to have everybody be prepared for any sort of situations,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told a news conference.
Italian PM to talk to Putin today
Mario Draghi, the Italian Prime Minister, will talk to Vladimir Putin later today, Mr Draghi’s office said, without giving further details.
Mr Draghi said on Friday that he was planning to talk with Putin over the Ukraine conflict.
The Italian leader spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this week, reiterating Rome’s support for the Ukrainian authorities and people.
UN names experts to investigate possible Ukraine war crimes
The United Nations named three human rights experts to investigate possible war crimes in Ukraine where Russia has been accused of indiscriminate bombardment of civilians.
The independent panel, led by Erik Mose of Norway, will probe all accusations of rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law “in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” a statement said.
Ukraine and its Western backers have accused Russia’s armed forces of killing and inflicting suffering on residents by shelling and besieging cities, most notably the southern port of Mariupol.
Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Kremlin says nothing ‘promising’ from Russia-Ukraine talks
The Kremlin played down hopes of a breakthrough following peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegates in Istanbul yesterday.
“We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Moscow considered it “positive” that Kyiv had started outlining its demands in writing.
Taiwan: Russia’s faltering invasion will make China ‘more cautious’
Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine will make China more cautious about attacking Taiwan as Beijing is watching the conflict to learn military lessons, Taiwan’s government said today.
Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has raised its alert level since the Russian invasion, wary of Beijing possibly making a similar move on the island, though it has reported no signs this is about to happen.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement following a meeting of its China policy advisers that Beijing was watching Russia’s combat experience, Ukraine’s resistance and international sanctions “to deduce the possible situation of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait”.
It cited the advisers as saying that the war had “great lessons” for China’s People’s Liberation Army, “especially the Russian military’s over-estimation of its long-range precision strikes”.
Russia misjudged the war situation, did not properly analyse intelligence and its generals were promoted based on personal relationships, not talent, they added.
“This will also affect the trust of Chinese communist leaders in their army, and they will be more cautious when using force.”
Russia will not demand immediate switch to gas payments in roubles
Russia will not immediately demand that other countries pay for its gas exports in roubles, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, promising a gradual shift.
Russia’s top lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin warned the European Union earlier today that if it wanted Russian natural gas then it would have to pay in roubles, and cautioned that oil, grain, metals, fertiliser, coal and timber exports could also soon be priced the same way.
Over four million refugees have fled war, says UN
More than four million Ukrainians have now fled the country to escape Russia’s “senseless war”, the UN said today.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said 4,019,287 Ukrainians had fled across the country’s borders since the Russian invasion on February 24, with more than 2.3 million having headed west into Poland.
“Refugees from Ukraine are now four million, five weeks after the start of the Russian attack,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said on Twitter.
“I have just arrived in Ukraine. In Lviv I will discuss with the authorities, the UN and other partners ways to increase our support to people affected and displaced by this senseless war.”
The number of refugees has surpassed UNHCR’s initial estimate that the war could create up to four million.
The agency says the speed and scale of the displacement is unprecedented in Europe since World War II.
Finland resumes freight rail link to Russia
Finland’s national railway operator VR Group will resume freight services between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg today, but passenger services will remain suspended, the company announced.
The operator had halted the service as a result of UK sanctions against Russian Railways, but it was later clarified that the sanctions do not apply to VR Group’s contracts, it said in a statement.
Passenger services between the two countries, which were suspended on Monday until further notice, will remain closed.
UK issues 25,500 visas to Ukrainian refugees
The British Government said it had issued 25,500 visas to Ukrainians under schemes set up to bring in refugees after Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
Data from the Home Office showed that 22,800 visas had been given under the Ukraine family scheme, with 2,700 being offered under the sponsorship scheme.
Russia and China condemn Western sanctions on Moscow
Foreign ministers from Russia and China condemned what they called illegal and counter productive Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its action in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, where China was set to host two days of meetings on Afghanistan.
“The ministers had a thorough exchange of views on the situation around Ukraine. The head of the Russian foreign ministry informed his Chinese counterpart about the progress of the special military operation … and the dynamics of the negotiation process with the Kyiv regime,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The sides noted the counterproductive nature of the illegal unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its satellites.”
Russia denies striking site of Hasidic Jewish pilgrimage
Russia denied claims by Ukraine that it had struck the town of Uman, visited by tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews each year, and showed pictures of what it said were Ukrainian forces loading arms near a synagogue there.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Israeli lawmakers on March 20 that Russia had struck Uman on the first day of the invasion in February, according to a transcript of the speech supplied by The Times of Israel.
“I want to underscore that the Russian armed forces do not strike civilian targets as part of the special military operation,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said of Zelensky’s remark.
Russia, Mr Konashenkov said, had not hit any religious buildings or other places of public worship.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.
Lavrov hails China as part of emerging ‘just world order’
Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, said Moscow and Beijing are leading the way towards a fairer world order, as he makes his first visit to the key ally since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month.
Lavrov landed in the eastern city of Huangshan early on Wednesday.
In a video released by the Russian foreign ministry ahead of a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Lavrov said the world was “living through a very serious stage in the history of international relations”.
At the end of this reshaping of global relations “we, together with you, and with our sympathisers will move towards a multipolar, just, democratic world order”, Lavrov said.
The two foreign ministers were shown on Chinese state TV in face masks bumping elbows in front of their national flags ahead of the meeting.
Lavrov will attend a series of meetings hosted by China to discuss ways to help Afghanistan.
Russia moving troops to encircle Ukrainian forces in east, Zelensky adviser says
Russia is moving its forces from northern to eastern Ukraine to try to encircle Ukrainian troops, but is keeping some behind near the capital Kyiv to tie down part of the Ukrainian military there, a presidential adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky said today.
Speaking on national television, Oleksiy Arestovych also said Ukraine had improved its negotiating position since before the start of the Russian invasion, pushing to secure neutral status but with external security guarantees.
Poland plans to stop using Russian oil by end of year
Poland plans to stop using Russian oil by the end of 2022 and to stop importing Russian coal by May at the latest, the Polish prime minister said today, as it cuts economic ties with Moscow due to the war in Ukraine.
“We will impose a total embargo on Russian coal, and I hope that by April, May at the latest, we will have completely exited from Russian coal,” Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference. “We will do everything to stop using Russian oil by the end of this year.”
Chernigiv ‘shelled all night’ despite Russian vows
Ukrainian authorities said that Russian forces had bombarded the northern city of Chernigiv despite Moscow’s earlier claims that it was “radically” scaling back military activity in the area.
“The enemy has demonstrated its ‘decrease in activity’ in the Chernigiv region with strikes on Nizhyn, including air strikes. Chernigiv was shelled all night,” regional governor Vyacheslav Chaus wrote on social media.
Raab: Sanctions to remain until Russian ‘invasion is withdrawn’
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said UK sanctions against Russia will remain in place until the invasion of Ukraine is “withdrawn”.
“The sanctions are there to tighten the grip on Putin’s war machine,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Until the invasion is withdrawn – and I think that would need to be either entirely or verifiably – I don’t think the sanctions can or should be lifted.”
Mr Raab was cautious about the prospect of the UK acting as an independent guarantor of Ukraine’s security if it declared itself to be neutral as part of a peace deal with Moscow.
“It would depend on what precisely is involved. We have been very clear we are not going to engage Russia in direct military confrontation. Ukraine is not a Nato member,” he said.
“We will consider anything that (Ukrainian) President Zelensky says he needs very carefully. But we are not going to, I think, replicate unilaterally the Nato commitments that apply to Nato members.”
Chinese foreign minister: Relations with Russia continue to develop resiliently
Chinese and Russian relations have “withstood the test of international turbulence” and continue to develop resiliently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said when he met his Russian counterpart today.
It was the Chinese Foreign Minister’s first in-person meeting with Sergei Lavrov since the war in Ukraine broke out.
Shelling in almost all frontline cities in Donetsk region
Russian forces are shelling nearly all cities along the frontline separating Ukrainian government-controlled territory from areas held by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk region, the regional Donetsk governor said today.
Pavlo Kyrylenko said on national television that the situation could worsen as Russian forces concentrated their efforts to attack the Donetsk region.
Morning briefing: Five developments as Kyiv warns ammunition at Chernobyl could explode
Good morning. Russian forces bombarded Kyiv overnight, despite the Kremlin pledging yesterday to scale back its attack on Ukraine’s capital.
It comes amid significant losses for Russia in Ukraine, with one Kyiv official claiming on Tuesday night that Russia was effectively becoming “demilitarised”.
Russian forces hit industrial facilities in western Ukraine
Russian forces hit industrial facilities in three strikes on the Khmelnitskyi region of western Ukraine overnight, regional governor Serhiy Hamaliy said this morning.
He gave no details of the targets but said fires had been “localised” and checks were being made to determine whether there were any casualties.
Governor of Chernihiv region sees no let-up in Russian attacks
The governor of Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region said that he has seen no let-up in Russian attacks despite a promise by Moscow to scale down military operations there.
“Do we believe in it (the promise)? Of course not,” Governor Viacheslav Chaus said on Telegram.
“The ‘decreased activity’ in the Chernihiv region was demonstrated by the enemy carrying out strikes on (the city of) Nizhyn, including air strikes, and all night long they hit (the city of) Chernihiv.”
Ukraine warns ammunition could explode near Chernobyl
Ukraine’s armed forces say there is a danger of ammunition exploding at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant and that Russian forces occupying the plant must pull out of the area, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said today.
Ms Vereshchuk also said that Ukraine had asked Russia at talks yesterday to allow 97 humanitarian corridors to be established to the worst-hit towns, cities, and villages in Ukraine.
“We demand that the UN Security Council immediately take measures to demilitarise the Chernobyl exclusion zone and introduce a special UN mission there to eliminate the risk of the repeat of a nuclear catastrophe,” she said.
Moscow and Beijing agree to widen cooperation, reports suggest
Russia and China agreed to widen cooperation at a meeting of their foreign ministers in China today, the Russian news agency Interfax cited Russia’s foreign ministry as saying, amid what Moscow described as “difficult international conditions”.
The increased cooperation includes building up foreign policy coordination and speaking with one voice on global affairs.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui.
Germany activates emergency gas plan to secure supply
Germany raised the alarm level under its emergency gas plan as fears rose that Russia could cut off supplies if Western countries refused to make payments in rubles.
After G7 countries rejected the Russian demand, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said at a press conference that he had called for the first “early warning” alert level under the plan, establishing a crisis team in the ministry to monitor the situation.
Fighting continues outside Kyiv but Ukrainian capital not shelled overnight
Shelling could be heard outside Kyiv overnight but the Ukrainian capital itself was not shelled by Russian forces, deputy mayor Mykola Povoroznyk said this morning.
Heavy shelling had been reported on Tuesday night, only hours after Russia said it would “dramatically reduce” its military operations in the Ukrainian capital.
“The night passed relatively calmly, to the sounds of sirens and the sound of gunfire from battles around the city, but there was no shelling in the city itself” Mr Povoroznyk said.
What is in potential Russia-Ukraine peace deal?
Ukrainian demands require agreement from other nations, including UK and US, to ‘provide arms’ or a ‘no-fly zone’ in the event of an attack, reports Justin Huggler.
Ukraine offered to give up its ambitions of joining Nato on Tuesday – but only in exchange for security guarantees “stronger than Nato’s”.
At peace talks in Istanbul, Ukrainians said Kyiv was prepared to give in to one of Vladimir Putin’s key demands and abandon its quest to join Nato.
But in return Ukraine wants a binding commitment from countries such as the UK and US to come to its aid if it was attacked.
In other words, it wants the same protection Nato membership confers under Article V of its treaties, which states that an attack on one is an attack on all.
‘If you want gas, find roubles,’ Russian lawmaker tells EU
Russia’s top lawmaker warned the EU that if it wanted Russian natural gas then it would have to pay in roubles, and cautioned that oil, grain, metals, fertiliser, coal and timber exports could also soon be priced in roubles.
“If you want gas, find roubles,” Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said.
“Moreover, it would be right – where it is beneficial for our country, to widen the list of export products priced in roubles to include: fertiliser, grain, food oil, oil, coal, metals, timber etc.”
It was not immediately clear whether such a move could become official Russian policy, though Putin, when announcing the rouble decision for natural gas, said it was only the start of the process.
Raab: UK taking ‘very sceptical view’ towards Russian pledges
Britain will take a “very sceptical view” towards any promises coming from Russia about Ukraine and will respond to Moscow based on its actions, not its words, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said today.
“I would be very careful in taking at face value what is coming out of Putin’s war machine,” he told Times Radio, adding that room for diplomacy must still be made.
“Ultimately, they need to be tested by their actions and they need to withdraw from Ukraine, not just reposition.
“But I think we take a very sceptical view about anything coming out of Moscow.”
Residential areas of Lysychansk shelled
Residential areas of Ukraine’s eastern city of Lysychansk were shelled by heavy artillery this morning, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai wrote on Telegram.
“A number of high-rise buildings have been damaged. Information on casualties is being confirmed,” he said. “Many buildings have collapsed. Rescuers are trying to save those still alive.”
Chinese and Russian foreign ministers meet
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, state broadcaster CGTN reported.
Mr Lavrov and diplomats from other countries were scheduled to hold talks hosted by China on Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Trump asks Putin to reveal information about Biden’s son
Donald Trump has called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to reveal any compromising information he might have on US President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
In an interview broadcast on Tuesday by Real America’s Voice “Just the News” show, Mr Trump repeated an unproven claim that powers in Moscow gave $3.5 million to Hunter Biden.
“That’s a lot of money,” he said.
“She gave him $3.5 million so now I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it.
“I think we should know that answer.”
Russia’s pledge to deescalate military activity met with skepticism
Skepticism remains high as to whether Moscow will “radically” reduce military activity around Ukraine’s capital as promised in peace talks.
Air raid sirens sounded several times on the ground overnight in the Kyiv and continued to blare into the morning.
Negotiations held in Istanbul have been described as “meaningful” and “positive” on both sides, in sharp contrast to previous rounds of discussions.
Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said Russia would “radically, by several times reduce the military activity” around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernigiv.
But the Pentagon claimed Russia had merely repositioned a “small number” of forces near Kyiv and could be preparing a “major offensive” elsewhere.
US warns Moscow may ‘detain’ Americans in Russia
The US State Department has issued a travel advisory warning that Moscow “may single out and detain US citizens in Russia”, repeating previous warnings that Americans should avoid travel to the country.
The reason behind the warning, issued on Tuesday, was due to the “unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces”.
The travel advisory also stated that Russian authorities could potentially harass US citizens, advising Americans travelling or living in Russia to leave immediately.
Ukrainian President to address Australia’s parliament
Volodymr Zelensky will give a video address to Australia’s parliament on Thursday evening.
Australia’s Employment Minister Stuart Robert told parliament that Mr Zelensky would speak on video at 6.30am GMT.
It comes as Australia has provided defence equipment and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, while imposing an array of sanctions on Russia.
Australia has imposed a total of 476 sanctions on 443 individuals, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia becoming ‘demilitarised’ due to ‘unprecedented’ losses
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations has told the Security Council that the “demilitarisation of Russia is well under way”.
Sergiy Kyslytsya said on Tuesday that since the invasion of Ukraine the Russians have lost more than 17,000 military personnel, over 1,700 armored vehicles and almost 600 tanks.
He also said Russia also has lost 300 artillery systems, 127 planes and 129 helicopters, almost 100 rocket launchers systems, 54 air defence systems and seven ships.
Mr Kyslytsya said that is “an unprecedented blow to Moscow, where the numbers of Soviet losses in Afghanistan pale in comparison”.
American and Russians to share space capsule
A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are set to depart the International Space Station (ISS) together on a Soyuz capsule back to Earth on Wednesday, despite heightened antagonism between their two countries over the war in Ukraine.
The Russian Soyuz capsule carrying Nasa’s Mark Vande Hei and his cosmonaut peers Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov is scheduled to undock from ISS at 6.45am UK time and make a parachute landing in central Kazakhstan nearly five hours later.
The landing zone lies roughly 250 miles (400 km) to the northeast of Russia’s space launch facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Concert for Ukraine raises more than £12 million
A fundraising concert for Ukraine featuring Ed Sheeran and the country’s 2016 Eurovision winner has raised £12.2 million for the humanitarian effort in the war-torn nation.
The two-hour Concert for Ukraine was organised to raise money for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and its response to the Russian invasion.
The evening at the Resorts World Arena featured a star-studded line-up also including Camila Cabello, Anne-Marie and Gregory Porter – and was punctuated by short video pieces documenting the lives of displaced Ukrainians both inside and outside the country.
At the end of the night, the hosts announced that ticket sales, advertising, sponsorship and donations had led to the grand total, but it was expected to continue rising.
Today’s top stories
Vladimir Putin has failed in his plan to capture Kyiv, with Moscow on Tuesday pledging to withdraw forces from the Ukrainian capital
Talks in Istanbul broke up on Tuesday after Ukraine offered to make itself permanently neutral
Boris Johnson said Putin could still seek to “twist the knife” despite Russia’s faltering invasion as the Cabinet decided to step up military aid to Ukraine
After a call with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy, Joe Biden, the US president, said the West would “keep strong the sanctions” while following Moscow’s next moves
A Western official said the Russians were reinforcing the Donbas with battalion tactical groups to “envelop” Ukrainian forces in the area
Heavy fighting continued in the besieged city of Mariupol in the south east, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south
Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian-born businessman, insisted he had “nothing to hide” as he backed the publication of security advice linked to his appointment to the House of Lords
Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic on Tuesday expelled 45 Russian spies posing as diplomats in a coordinated attempt to pile more pressure on Moscow