UKRAINE UPDATE: 28 MARCH 2022
Kyiv says in-person talks to resume in Turkey; Regulator tells Russian media not to publish Zelensky interview
In-person talks between Ukrainian and Russian negotiating teams will resume this week, officials said. French President Emmanuel Macron warned against an escalation of ‘words or actions’, a day after President Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power’. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US doesn’t have a strategy of regime change.
Biden’s comments capped an emotional address in Warsaw Saturday. He earlier called Russia’s leader “a butcher”. The insults “narrow the window of opportunity for normalising dialogue, so much needed now, with the current US administration”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to address a pro-Ukraine rally in Washington, DC, on Sunday.
The Luhansk People’s Republic plans to hold a referendum on becoming part of Russia, according to Interfax. The announcement drew a sharp retort from Kyiv.
- Biden calls for Putin’s removal in risky escalation
- Russia says Donbas is Ukraine focus in possible shift of war aim
- US, EU reach LNG supply deal to cut dependence on Russia
- With Ukraine’s culture under fire, museums stage rescue mission
- Russia seizes rare Swiss watches in sanctions reprisal
- Russian tankers going dark raises flags on sanctions evasion
Regulator tells Russian media not to publish Zelensky interview
Russia’s main media regulator threatened local outlets with regulatory probes if they published a new interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Shortly after the warning, Zelensky posted a video of the entire conversation to his Telegram channel.
Roskomnadzor, as the agency is known, didn’t explain on what grounds it was seeking to block the publication, but Russian authorities have steadily tightened controls over coverage related to the invasion. Several independent outlets, including Meduza, TV Rain, Novaya Gazeta and Kommersant, had announced plans to release the interview.
Kharkiv nuclear research facility hit by shelling
Russian shelling caused additional damage to a nuclear research facility in Kharkiv, although on-site radiation levels remain within standard limits.
Saturday’s attack seriously damaged the thermal insulation lining of the facility’s “Neutron Source” building, while also causing partial shedding of lining materials in the installation’s experimental hall, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine said on its website.
Ongoing shelling risks more damage and could lead to radiation contamination of surrounding areas, according to the statement. The installation has been in long-term shutdown mode since February 24.
Separatist says no immediate plans for vote to join Russia
A separatist leader backed off an earlier statement that his region may hold a vote soon to become part of Russia, saying that no such preparations are under way and that any referendum would only come after fighting ends, Tass reported.
Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, said earlier comments were his “personal, private opinion”.
“In the future, having gotten their freedom, the residents of our republics will have the absolute right to determine their future,” he said.
Pasechnik’s earlier statement about an imminent vote drew denunciations from officials in Kyiv, who called it an illegitimate step aimed at partitioning Ukraine. In Moscow, a senior Russian legislator was also cool to the idea, saying now isn’t the time for a vote, Tass reported.
Ukraine announces talks with Russia in Turkey from Monday
Ukrainian and Russian delegations will meet in Turkey for talks from March 28-30, a Ukrainian legislator and a member of the negotiations group, David Arakhamiya, said on Facebook.
Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, offered slightly different information in a Telegram post. He said the sides had agreed to hold in-person talks from March 29-30 after the latest round was conducted via video link. He didn’t specify the location of the planned session.
Turkey is one of several countries whose government has looked to help mediate talks.
Ukraine starts ‘small’ counterattacks
Ukraine has started “small tactical counteroffensives” in the northern Sumy, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions, and in the Kherson area in the south, according to presidential spokesman Oleksiy Arestovych. He said that Russian troops want to encircle the Ukrainian army in eastern Donbas, seize the city of Mariupol, which has been under siege for almost a month, and keep control of the Kherson region.
“We now have hope” to retake territories in the north and near the capital Kyiv, Arestovych said. “It also means potentially a sharp worsening of the situation near Mariupol and in Donbas. Ukrainian authorities understand this situation very well and are taking all necessary steps.”
Arestovych said the next two weeks will see reports of Ukrainian counterattacks and the liberation of some areas, and that the situation will be difficult in the east. “We have to be emotionally ready,” he said.
Most Americans not confident in Biden on Ukraine – NBC poll
Seven in 10 Americans polled by NBC News said they had very little, or only some, confidence in President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine. Just 12% expressed a great deal of confidence. More than 80% were concerned that the war would lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and 74% were worried that the US would send combat troops into Ukraine.
Biden’s overall approval dipped to 40%, the lowest mark of his presidency, from 43% in January. The March 18-22 poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to Nato, said on CNN that Biden’s comment on Saturday that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” was probably “a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard” during a trip to Warsaw, including meetings with war refugees. Smith echoed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that the US isn’t pursuing a policy of regime change in Russia.
ECB’s Visco warns markets integration is ‘uncertain’ after war
European Central Bank (ECB) Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said that since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine market integration had become more “uncertain.”
The invasion “is putting at risk the international economic and financial set-up”, Visco said at an event on Sunday. Key pillars of “markets integration and multilateral cooperation are clearly more uncertain now”.
Also on Sunday, ECB President Christine Lagarde told the Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros that the euro area isn’t seeing a “material risk” of stagflation tied to the war and the resultant jump in energy prices. Growth is continuing and the labour market is strong, she said.
Russia trying to cleave Ukraine in two, Kyiv says
Russia wants to split up Ukraine and carve out a separate, Moscow-controlled region after failing to take over the capital, Kyiv, and knock out the government, Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, said in a statement on Facebook.
Moscow may be trying to combine occupied regions in Donbas into a single “quasi-state entity” that will oppose Ukraine’s independence. “In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine,” Budanov said.
Russian forces may still attempt to establish a land-link from Russian territory to occupied Crimea via Donbas and Ukraine’s Sea of Azov coast, he said. The main obstacle is Ukraine’s continued defence of the besieged port of Mariupol, in which a significant number of Russian forces are engaged in attacking.
Macron warns of escalation after Biden comments
Emmanuel Macron said he wants to avoid escalation with Russia after Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a “butcher” and said he couldn’t stay in power.
Macron said he’s still talking with Putin because France wants to end the invasion of Ukraine. “We have chosen not to intervene militarily in this conflict,” he told France 3 TV. “We shouldn’t escalate, with words or actions.”
Switzerland ‘tighten controls on refugees’
Switzerland is tightening controls on refugees from Ukraine, newspaper SonntagsZeitung reported, citing officials from Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).
Ukrainian passports presented will now be checked for authenticity after limited reports of attempted abuse. The SEM said it had, so far, refused to grant refugee status to 19 people, with about 8,900 granted temporary asylum.
Ukraine buys anti-tank weapons from Germany
Ukraine ordered 5,100 light anti-tank weapons from German’s Dynamit Nobel Defence GmbH at a cost of €25-million, Bild am Sonntag reported, citing Andrij Melnyk, Kyiv’s ambassador to Germany.
Some 2,650 of the type RGW90 HH “Matador” weapons arrived in Ukraine on Saturday. The rest will be sent in weekly tranches through the end of May, according to the newspaper. German authorities cleared the exports within three days.
UK says Putin’s fate is ‘up to the Russian people’
A UK Cabinet minister said the future of Russian President Vladimir Putin should be “up to the Russian people”.
The comments by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Sky News came after President Joe Biden on Saturday said Putin “cannot remain in power,” an apparently ad-libbed remark. Top diplomat Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the US isn’t pursuing regime change in Russia, amplifying comments from the White House after Biden’s speech.
“Both the United States and the United Kingdom agree that it’s up to the Russian people to decide who should be governing them,” Zahawi said.
Russia seizes luxury Swiss watches in Moscow
Russian agents seized millions of dollars worth of Audemars Piguet watches in an apparent retaliation for Swiss sanctions, the newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported.
Switzerland abandoned its traditional neutral stance and matched European Union sanctions banning the export of luxury goods to Russia earlier this month.
Truss hints at blueprint for sanctions ‘off-ramp’
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that the government will consider lifting sanctions against Russia if there’s a commitment to no further aggression on top of a ceasefire and withdrawal from Ukraine, the Telegraph reported.
The remarks appear to sketch out Britain’s blueprint for an “off-ramp” that could be offered to Putin to end his invasion, and chime with remarks by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has said that US sanctions against Russia are “not designed to be permanent” and could “go away” if Moscow changes its behaviour, the newspaper reported.
For now, Truss said she doesn’t believe Russia is serious about peace talks. “We need to double down on sanctions. We need to double down on the weapons that we’re sending Ukraine.”
Blinken says US not pursuing regime change
“As you know, and as you’ve heard us say, repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else,” the top US diplomat said in Jerusalem.
Biden and the White House “made the point last night that quite simply, that President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine, or anywhere else”, he said at a joint press availability with Israel’s foreign minister.
The Kremlin on Saturday pushed back at Biden’s comments, saying that insults by the US president “narrow the window of opportunity for normalising dialogue”.
Two evacuation corridors open on Sunday
Two humanitarian corridors had been agreed to for Sunday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video statement.
One is from Mariupol for people able to flee in personal cars; another is from Rubizhne in the Luhansk region in the far east. Ukraine continues work to reopen other humanitarian corridors.
Poland, where most Ukrainian refugees are fleeing, reported 31,100 people crossed the border on Saturday and another 5,200 early on Sunday.
Russia ‘attempting to encircle forces near separatist regions’
Russia is stepping up attempts to encircle Ukrainian forces directly facing the separatist regions in the east, advancing from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south, the UK defence ministry said.
“The battlefield across northern Ukraine remains largely static, with local Ukrainian counterattacks hampering Russian attempts to reorganise their forces,” the ministry said in a daily intelligence assessment.
The city of Chernihiv in Ukraine’s north, near the Belarus border, has been encircled with no evacuation routes possible, its mayor said on Saturday.
Japan PM warns of world’s biggest crisis since WW2
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that the war in Ukraine could lead to the world’s greatest crisis since World War 2, Kyodo News reported.
“One-sided changes driven by force cannot be accepted in the Indo-Pacific, and particularly in East Asia,” Kishida said in a speech to new graduates at the National Defence Academy. Kishida also said he would strengthen Japan’s defence capabilities through a revision of the country’s national security strategy by the end of the year.
Atomic agency watching ‘developments’ near Chernobyl
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was “monitoring developments” after being told by Ukrainian officials that Russian troops had taken control of Slavutych, a town near the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine.
The IAEA said in a tweet on Saturday that many of the plant’s staff live in Slavutych and that there had been “no staff rotation” at Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear accident, since Monday.
US to provide $100m in ‘civilian security’ aid
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US would be providing $100-million to Ukraine for law enforcement, border security, protection for government infrastructure and other “civilian security assistance.”
“The increased funding will continue a steady flow of personal protection equipment, field gear, tactical equipment, medical supplies, armoured vehicles and communication equipment for the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service and the National Police of Ukraine,” Blinken said in a State Department statement released on Saturday.
Moscow fires back after Biden’s remark on Putin
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, told the Tass news agency on Saturday that Biden’s reference to Putin as a “butcher” further diminishes the possibility for future relations between the US and Russia. “The state leader should remain sober,” Peskov said.
Russia has threatened periodically since the war started to cut off ties totally as the US imposes heavy economic penalties on Moscow and as Biden has branded Putin a war criminal.
“He’s a butcher,” Biden responded when asked about Putin’s actions against Ukraine while visiting Poland. DM