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Russians starting to 'reposition' to focus on Donbas

March 30, 2022

Russia has continued to bombard areas where it pledged to scale back. Meanwhile, the US says some troops have begun moving away from Kyiv for deployments elsewhere in Ukraine.

 Ukrainian serviceman fires with a mortar
Ukrainian forces say the are still fighting Russian forces just outside KyivImage: Serhii Nuzhnenko/REUTERS
  • Putin tells Scholz gas payments can continue in euros
  • US to give Ukraine $500 million in budget aid
  • UN World Food Program chief warns of food "catastrophe"
  • Ukraine reports that shelling continues despite Russian pledges to reduce military activities around Kyiv and Chernihiv
  • Germany has raised its warning level for gas supplies

This live updates article is closed. For the latest news on the war in Ukraine, please click here.

UK spy chief says Putin not being told the truth

The head of the United Kingdom's eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, said Russia's President Vladimir Putin "has massively misjudged the situation" in Ukraine.

In a speech to Australian National University in Canberra, Jeremy Fleming revealed details about the state of the Russian military operation.

"We've seen Russian soldiers, short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft," Fleming said, according to a transcript of his speech.

"We believe Putin's advisers are afraid to tell him the truth," he added.

The US earlier made the same intelligence assessment.

"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," Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, told reporters during a press briefing.

UK and Russia's top diplomats head to New Delhi

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will both be in India on Thursday.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Truss would underline the "importance of democracies working together to deter aggressors."

Lavrov would also be in New Delhi for a two-day trip, the Indian foreign ministry said.

India has frustrated Western allies by refusing to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The country has also been taking advantage of discounted oil prices to increase imports from Russia.

Russians to offer cease-fire in Mariupol on Thursday

Russia has promised a temporary cease-fire to let residents of the besieged port of Mariupol flee on Thursday.

"Russia's Armed Forces declare - exclusively for humanitarian purposes - a cease-fire on March 31 from 10 am," Major General Mikhail Mizintsev said according to Interfax.

However, safe evacuation corridors have functioned only sporadically at best with Russian and Ukrainian forces blaming each other of sabotaging the escape of civilians.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said street fighting was heavy in Mariupol and half the city was in the hands of Russian forces.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russian forces were "very, very close" to the center of the strategic port city.

Situation in Mariupol desperate

Russians regrouping to focus on Donbas

Russia's Defense Ministry reiterated its plan to focus forces on securing the separatist republics in the Donbas despite its forces continuing to bombard Kyiv and Chernihiv on Wednesday.

"A planned regrouping of troops is taking place in the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas," spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said.

The general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a Facebook post a "partial withdrawal" of Russian forces from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions was underway.

The US also confirmed that "less than 20 percent'' of the Russian contingent in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital were starting to "reposition.''

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russia was expected to refit and resupply them for redeployment and not bring the forces home.

Kirby also told a news briefing Russian contractor Wagner Group had deployed about 1,000 contractors into the Donbas region.

Nobody in Ukraine trusts the words from Russian side: DW's Mathias Bölinger in Kyiv

Majority of Americans back sending more troops to Europe

The majority of Americans support sending more troops to Nato allies in Europe.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 55% of Americans support sending additional forces.

More than 100,000 US troops are currently in Europe, up from the roughly 80,000 before Russian forces moved into Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced additional aircraft, including 10 F-18 jets, and more than 200 personnel would be headed to eastern Europe, including Lithuania.

The poll also showed 61% of Americans feel US sanctions on Russia are worth the price of higher fuel costs.

US and Russian crew return to Earth from ISS

US astronaut Mark Vande Hei caught a Russian ride back to Earth on Wednesday,

He and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan after undocking from the International Space Station.

Vande Hei set a new American record of 355 consecutive days in orbit, surpassing the previous 340-day record set by astronaut Scott Kelly in 2016.

Despite escalating tensions between the US and Russia over the war in Ukraine, Vande Hei's return followed customary procedures.

The three who returned were replaced by three Russian cosmonauts who joined the ISS earlier this month, joining three Americans and one German in orbit.

Germany says Putin agreed to keep payments for gas in euros

Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that European companies could continue paying for gas in euros, a German readout of a call between the two leaders stated.

Putin said the money would be paid into Gazprom Bank, which is not a subject of sanctions, and then transferred in rubles to Russia.

The German readout says Scholz did not agree to the procedure, and instead asked the Russian leader to send him written information for clarity.

Putin had said last week "unfriendly" countries would have to pay for Russian gas in Russian rubles.

G7 countries have said payment in rubles would breach existing contracts.

Germany triggered an emergency plan on Wednesday to manage gas supplies that could see Europe's largest economy ration power if a standoff over a Russian demand to pay for fuel with rubles disrupts or halts supplies.

US to provide Ukraine with $500 million in 'direct budgetary aid'

President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy the US would provide $500 million (€448 million) in direct budgetary aid to Ukraine. 

The two leaders spoke on the phone, and Biden assured Zelenskyy that the US was, "working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine," a White House readout of the call said.

They also discussed "additional capabilities" to help the Ukrainian military.

Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter he shared an assessment of the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table with Biden.

He said they also spoke about a new package of enhanced sanctions against Russia and financial and humanitarian aid.

A peace deal will not automatically end sanctions British and Dutch PMs say

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Western nations should tighten sanctions against Moscow until Russian President Vladimir Putin withdraws all his soldiers from Ukraine.

"My view is we should intensify sanctions with a rolling program until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine," Johnson told British lawmakers. 

It's a view echoed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who spoke during a state visit to Spain.

"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.

Chechen fighters in Ukraine: A war within a war

Complications with Mariupol evacuations

The governor of Ukraine's Donetsk region says the evacuation of civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol likely failed on Wednesday.

Speaking on national television, Pavlo Kyrylenko said convoys of civilians were not being allowed to leave. Ukraine and Russia had traded blame in the past when evacuation attempts broke down.

On Tuesday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, "nationalists" in the city must surrender before the "difficult humanitarian situation" could be resolved.

Meanwhile, UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said her office was investigating allegations that some Mariupol residents have been forcibly evacuated to areas controlled by Russian forces or Russia itself.

NATO must 're-examine' permanent force in eastern Europe

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Tod Wolters, told the US Congress House Russia's invasion of Ukraine should prompt a re-examination of NATO's permanent presence in eastern Europe.

"It's got to change," Wolters said when asked about the possibility of a more permanent presence of US troops in the Baltics and elsewhere.

"And certainly this is an opportunity as a result of this senseless act on behalf of Russia, to re-examine the permanent military architecture that exists not only in Eastern Europe, but in our air policing activity in aviation and in our standing naval maritime groups," he said.

Ukraine says Russian forces are regrouping

Russian forces in Ukraine are regrouping and preparing for renewed offensive operations, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said.

"(Russia's) main efforts are concentrated on surrounding Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine," he added.

Motuzyanyk said they are still focussed on taking the besieged port city of Mariupol and the towns of Popasna and Rubizhne in Luhansk.

Russian negotiators on Tuesday pledged to scale back military activities around Kyiv and Chernihiv during talks with Ukrainian officials in Turkey.

Ukraine had observed some movements of Russian forces away from those two regions but did not consider this to be a mass withdrawal, Motuzyanyk said.

Advisers 'too afraid' to tell Putin the truth

Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by advisers who were "too afraid" to tell him how badly the war in Ukraine is really going, a US official said on Wednesday.

Moscow's incursion has been largely halted by stiff resistance from Kyiv forces who have recaptured territory.

"We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military," leading him to mistrust the military leadership, the Washington official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, and reported by Reuters.

"Putin didn't even know his military was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president," the official said.

Refugees from Ukraine flee to Germany

UN: 'Credible allegations' of war crimes

Russian air strikes and heavy shelling have killed civilians in acts that may amount to war crimes, the top United Nations human rights official said on Wednesday.

Michelle Bachelet also said her office had received "credible allegations" that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times and said her office was investigating alleged use of cluster munitions by Ukraine.

Berlin ramps up security in light of war

UN providing food to one million in Ukraine

The UN is feeding some one million people in Ukraine, it said Wednesday, though it warned many more were going hungry.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it has managed, despite security issues, to "deliver food supplies to the most vulnerable people across the country."

That included getting 330,000 loaves of freshly baked bread to families in the city of Kharkiv, and supplies into the conflict areas of Sumy and Kharkiv.

"Just one month ago, we had no presence on the ground, no staff, no network of suppliers or partners. To build an operation from the ground up and get food to one million people seemed a monumental challenge," Jakob Kern, WFP's emergency coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement.

"Now that the structures are in place, we need the funding to keep delivering assistance, and to help three million people in need."

Red Cross building hit in Mariupol

Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, Kyiv said Wednesday.

"In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross," Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said in a statement.

"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 added.

Poland aims to end Russia oil imports by year's end

Poland has said it intends to end all Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

"We are presenting the most radical plan in Europe for departing from Russian oil by the end of this year,'' Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a news conference.

Estonian PM urges NATO to up Baltic defense

The NATO alliance must increase its defensive capabilities in the Baltic region, Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on Wednesday.

"In order to have peace we have to prepare for war," Kallas told a joint news conference alongside Denmark's prime minister at Estonia's Tapa military base.

The current situation in the region that comprises of Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Estonia, "is not sufficient" for a credible defense, she said.

"We would need combat-ready divisions supported by enablers to provide air defense, long-range fire and command elements. We must move from air policing to air defense. We need more NATO ships patrolling the Baltic sea," Kallas said.

The three Baltic states are all members of NATO, the EU and the eurozone.

Russian arts funding and the Ukraine war

Zelenskyy urges European ports to shut out Russian ships

Norway and the rest of Europe should close their sea ports to Russian ships, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Scandinavian country's parliament in Oslo.

"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," Zelenskyy said via video link from Ukraine.

He also called on the Nordic country to supply more energy to Ukraine.

Norwegian judge tapped to lead Russian war crimes probe

The UN Human Rights Council has named Norwegian judge Erik Mose to lead its investigation into possible war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. Mose is a former member of Norway’s Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. He was also the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The top UN rights body agreed in a historic vote earlier this month to establish the highest-level probe possible into abuses committed leading up to and since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Chechen forces in Ukraine

According to the UN, 1,179 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 1,860 injured due to Russian attacks on civilian targets, including shelters and hospitals.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has also already begun investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.

Germany 'drastically' reduces GDP forecast amid invasion

Germany on Wednesday slashed its 2022 growth forecast in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine amid concern over energy supplies and prices.

Germany: Concern over natural gas supply

UN: Ukrainian refugees now number 4 million

The number of Ukrainians fleeing abroad is now 4,019,287, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said. Most, over 2 million, have fled to neighboring Poland. Germany, meanwhile, has officially registered some 280,000 asylum seekers, although the actual number is suspected to be much higher.

Four million is a little over 9% of the 44 million inhabitants Ukraine had before the Russian invasion began last month. Half of those fleeing are estimated to be children.

Aid workers say the flow has eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war. An estimated 6.5 million people have also been internally displaced from their homes within Ukraine.

Ukraine war disrupts global food security

Chernihiv governor: Shelling continues despite Russian pullback promise

The leader of Ukraine’s northern region of Chernihiv has said that Russian attacks continued throughout the night, despite vows from the Kremlin that it was going to reduce military activity in the area.

Governor Viacheslav Chaus posted a video message online saying that civilian targets had been destroyed, including libraries and shopping centers.

Of Russia's statement that it would decrease its military activity, he said: "Do we believe that? Of course not."

"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."

Similarly, officials in Kyiv said that attacks on the city's surroundings had also continued despite a similar vow for that area.

At the same time, the governor of the Khmelnytskyi region in the west of Ukraine said Russian forces had hit industrial facilities in the region in three strikes overnight. 

Shelling in Kyiv suburbs has actually intensified: Mathias Bölinger

German Economy Minister raises warning level for gas supplies

Robert Habeck, economy minister and vice-chancellor, has triggered the early warning level for gas supplies as Moscow continues to demand to be paid in rubles.

This move is the first of three warning levels, and it entails the creation of a crisis team in his office to deal with the tense situation of gas supply. Germany’s gas storage is currently filled to about 25% capacity, Habeck said.

"There are currently no supply shortages," he explained. "Nevertheless, we must increase precautionary measures in order to be prepared in the event of an of an escalation on the part of Russia."  

Habeck called on businesses and individuals to try and reduce their energy consumption as much as possible.

Robert Habeck: 'Every kilowatt-hour of energy saved helps'

US astronaut to return to Earth aboard Russian Soyuz

A US astronaut is set to return to Earth today aboard a Russian spacecraft.

US astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov are due to leave the International Space Station (ISS) in a Russian Soyuz space capsule at 0721 GMT. They are scheduled to land in central Kazakhstan at 1128 GMT.

Speculation that Vande Hei might not return to Earth on the Soyuz spacecraft due to tensions over the war in Ukraine has been denied by both the United States and Russia.

Vande Hei and Dubrov arrived at the ISS on April 9, 2021. Vande Hei broke Scott Kelly's record for the longest stay in space by a US astronaut at 341 consecutive days.

US State Department warns against travel to Russia

The US State Department issued a travel advisory on Tuesday that reiterated warnings against traveling to Russia.

The advisory warned that Russia "may single out and detain US citizens in Russia." It called for Americans in Russia to leave "immediately."

The statement warned Americans not to travel "due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces" and "the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials."

The advisory added that the US Embassy "has severe limitations on its ability to assist US citizens" in Russia and that changing conditions may impose further limitations in the future.

Ukraine's UN ambassador: 'Demilitarization' of Russia underway

Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsa told the UN Security Council that the "demilitarization of Russia is well underway."

Kyslytsa said Russia has lost more than 17,000 military personnel, over 1,700 armored vehicles and almost 600 tanks. It has also lost 300 artillery systems, 127 planes and 129 helicopters, almost 100 rocket launcher systems, 54 air defense systems and seven ships, according to Kyslytsa.

Kyslytsa called this "an unprecedented blow to Moscow, where the numbers of Soviet losses in Afghanistan pale in comparison.''

The "demilitarization" of Ukraine was one of Moscow's initial war aims when announcing the invasion, alongside "de-Nazification." Russia maintains that it has been targeting military infrastructure during what it calls a "special operation."

Kyiv residents react to Ukraine-Russia talks in Turkey

Ukrainian military distrusts Russian withdrawal

Ukrainian military officials expressed skepticism over Russia's announcement it would draw down military activities around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Russia made the announcement on Tuesday after talks between Kyiv and Moscow in Turkey.

"There are indications that the Russian forces are regrouping to focus their efforts on eastern Ukraine," Ukraine's general staff said in a statement.

"At the same time, the so-called 'withdrawal of troops' is most likely a rotation of individual units and is aimed at misleading the Ukrainian military leadership.''

Ukrainian forces regain territory around Kyiv

Death toll from strike in Mykolaiv rises to 12

Ukrainian authorities updated the death toll from the Russian strike on the regional government's building in Mykolaiv to 12.

Authorities had previously reported 7 deaths from Tuesday's strike. At least 22 people have been wounded.

Ukrainian official Mykola Ponasenko said that 12 bodies have been recovered from the debris of the regional administration headquarters in Mykolaiv. Ponasenko said the search for more bodies was continuing.

Will NATO draw a red line for Putin?

Ukraine's Zelenskyy notes positive signals in talks with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that talks with Russian negotiators had given some positive signals. At the same time, he was wary of Russian claims that it was scaling back its offensive, as Russian forces remain on Ukrainian soil. 

"The enemy is still on our territory," Zelenskyy said.

Russia announced after Tuesday's talks between Kyiv and Moscow in Turkey that it would significantly reduce military operations near Kyiv and the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

Ukraine's president said that the "courageous and effective actions" of Ukrainian troops had forced Russia to reduce its operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Zelenskyy said that negotiations will continue as far as Ukraine is concerned, but said that he did not trust "words coming from representatives of the country that continues fighting to destroy us." He added that Ukraine's negotiators won't compromise on the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the country.

Ukraine-Russia talks in Turkey

UN food chief warns of food "catastrophe"

The UN food chief warned on Tuesday that the war in Ukraine was threatening to devastate the World Food Program's (WFP) efforts to feed some 125 million people globally.

"It's not just decimating dynamically Ukraine and the region, but it will have global context impact beyond anything we've seen since World War Two," WFP Executive Director David Beasley said, adding that Ukraine had gone "from the breadbasket of the world to breadlines."

Can high food prices turn into global emergency?

Beasley said that 50% of grain bought by the WFP comes by Ukraine.

"The farmers are on the frontlines," he said, calling the humanitarian crisis born out of the crisis "catastrophe on top of castatrophe."

Beasley said that the crisis could worsen as fertilizer products from Belarus and Russia stop arriving in Ukraine.

"If you don't put fertilizer on the crops, your yield will be at least 50% diminished. So we're looking at what could be a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe in the months ahead," Beasley said.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia blamed Western sanctions on Russia for the disruption of the global food market.

Food prices rise ahead of Ramadan

Summary of events in Ukraine-Russia crisis on Tuesday

US Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby announced that the country's armed forces were moving fighter jets, transport planes and 400 soldiers to Eastern Europe.

Donetsk Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin said that the region will consider joining Russia.

Russia pledged to reduce its military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv in light of negotiations with Ukraine in Istanbul, Turkey. Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said that this constituted de-escalation of the conflict but did not amount to a cease-fire.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned the seriousness of Russia's claims of progress at the Ukraine-Russia talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

Can Putin survive the war in Ukraine politically?

The Pentagon later noted that some Russian troops were leaving the Kyiv region. US Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby said that this was a "repositioning" of Russian forces, and not a true withdrawal.

Poland approved a law to ban imports of Russian coal.

Amnesty International accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine including the "indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of civilians."

lo, jsi,sdi,es/wd,kb (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)